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Neither does modern criticism afford us much greater assistance in entering on these inquiries. Though various writers have touched on the subject, and have sheltered many seeming anomalies in poetry, under the general term licence, yet they have no where defined with accuracy what the term signifies. Many expressions occur in the works both of poets and criticks, which infer the existence of such a principle in poetry as certain and acknowledged: some few passages might be pointed out, where a description of its nature is cursorily attempted, and others where bounds are partially prescribed to its power. But in the only attempts wherein they have undertaken to define its nature, they are found either to give too great a latitude to its meaning, or to circumscribe it within too narrow limits. The former seems to be the case, where poetick licence is described as being that particular character which distinguishes and sets bounds between poetry and mere prose:' for to
• Mr. Dryden thus defines this term,“ Poetical licence I take to be the liberty which poets have assumed to themselves, in all ages, of speaking things in verse, which are beyond the severity of prose. It is that particular character which distinguishes and sets the bounds betwixt oratio soluta and poetry.”
Pref. to State of Innoc.
select a single instance, verse, which constitutes an essential difference between both kinds of composition, is not in any respect of a licentious character, however included in this description. And on the other hand, those attempts at illustrating its nature, must be at once pronounced too confined in their application, which would straighten it (as is the case in some few tracts written expressly on the subject,) to the immunities of mere poetical diction.
From the insufficiency of these attempts, it is of course still necessary that some effort should be made to complete the definition of the terms under consideration. And in order to arrive at one more just and comprehensive, it is expedient to make a few preliminary observations; which, if they do not appear wholly adequate to the end of their application, will at least afford some assistance in arranging the scattered members of poetry, and thus bringing within the bounds of comprehension an art so apparently unlimited in its nature and varied in its apThe study of human nature, in which every poet should be read, is merely a contexture of different sciences. Every thing which regards man's state and situation, either has been made, or is capable of becoming the subject of such learned or philosophical investigation. To History is committed the perpetuation of his achievements in the more active and splendid scenes of life. The circumstances not only of his nature and existence, but of those inferiour beings, and of that inanimate world, which becomes considerable from being connected with him, supply Natural History with its various speculations. From the varieties in his manners, his conduct, and his opinions, Ethicks derive their matter of discussion. The peculiarities of his language give to Grammar, and Rhetorick their scope and origin. And to Criticism is consigned the regulation of those finer productions of the art, which furnish his taste with the means of elegant gratification.
See particularly Christ. Ware, Senar. sine de Leg. et Licent. Vet. Poetar.
That each of these sciences enter the composition of poetry, is a truth so evident, as to need no proof in order to be admitted. And he who would succeed in this art, must not only have his observation considerably
exercised in the different subjects of their investigation, but 'must have reduced his speculations in them under such general heads, as will give his thoughts the consistence and utility, which arise from system. He cannot hope, without being somewhat of a good historian, to succeed in those higher walks of his art, which take their subject from the oral or written annals of a nation. Without much of the skill and observation of a naturalist, his descriptions of rural scenery, and his delineation of life and manners, must be cold and uninteresting. That knowledge of the human heart and character, of the calm tenour of sentiment, and the warm ebullition of passion, which he is so frequently called upon to display, he must derive from the same study whence the moral philosopher constructs his system of ethicks. Over language in all the varieties of sense, structure, embellishment, and harmony, he must exercise the skill of a grammarian and a rhetorician.' And he must complete his education in this circle of sciences, by acquiring a perfect insight into those critical rules by which his art is to be tried on the touchstone of excellence.