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Among the works of invention, which are intended to promote the convenience, or increase the elegancies of society, the compositions of the Fine Arts are distinguished by a marked peculiarity in their end and execution. As they are directed to the object of contributing to the gratification, not of administering to the necessities of mankind, they seem, by their nature, to claim an exemption from that exactness and regularity of representation, which characterize the works of mere utility. Pursuing thus a peculiar end, they have been indulged in peculiar immunities; and to such an extent has the right of their professors to these exclusive privileges been acknowledged, that they have been allowed to heighten their delineations by such adscititious or imaginary embellishment, as, lying beyond the boundaries of nature and reality, appear more calculated to awaken our interest, or add to our delight.
But among the arts, thus privileged by universal suffrage, poetry not only stands the first in point of rank, but preserves this elevation in nearly the same degree of superiority, as their productions surpass the inferiour works of invention. The powers by which the less exalted of these sister arts excite the emotions of taste, are nearly limited to the use they are enabled to make of material objects; they may be almost said to find their verge terminate where there is no beauty or sublimity of colour, sound, or form. But not only all the sublimity and beauty of matter, but of mind, come under the poet's controul; he not only raises a new creation more novel, more fanciful, and more perfect than exists any where in reality; he not only animates his scenery with characters, but informs his characters with sentiments, and endows them with language suitable to their ideal existence. Indeed poetry in its imagery,
excels the other fine arts, not merely in the same degree that the intellectual world excels the corporeal: the power of a poet over his materials is nothing less than enchantment; he can as easily transfer the property of one object to another, as substitute one object for another; he can animate
matter into mind, and invest mind with the form and properties of matter.
On carrying up our inquiries into the nature of so extraordinary and considerable a portion of the materials of a poet to the source, and investigating the sentiments of the ancients on the subject before us, their opinions are found deserving of notice, more from the partiality which they have manifested towards this licentiousness in composition, than from the success which they have evinced in justifying or explaining it. In undertaking to account for those bolder effusions of the art, which they regarded as soaring too high for the controul of reason, or trammels of precept, they pronounced them to be the effects of a divine phrensy. Under this idea, which was no small favourite with antiquity, the votarist of the muse was feigned to receive by inspiration those sublime conceptions, which he imbibed with so much warmth, and delivered with so much enthusiasm. In vain did he, who was not thus favoured by heaven, endeavour to regulate his essays by art, or by labour; all his attempts must prove cold and lifeless, until animated with that effluence which could descend from the muse alone. While he
who received the divinity in tne moments when she was propitious, and wrote under her immediate inspiration, possessed the right of giving utterance to her dictates, how little conformable soeyer they might be found to the more rigid principles of criticism.
From the force of these descriptions of poetical enthusiasm, muchit is to be remarked should be subducted, and attributed to the extravagance of declamatory exaggeration. There is evidently displayed under the tissue of figurative language, an ambitious attempt at raising the description to the height of the subject described, and at accommodating it to the elevation of poetical expression. To a certain degree however they may be admitted; for they do not appear so difficult to be reconciled, as may be at first imagined, with notions which are at present very generally allowed. Few persons, it is presumed, will be found to deny the existence of that talent or aptitude for excelling in any of the arts of design, which we term genius; which, though capable of improvement or deterioration, is a natural endowment dispensed by the same Power which has bestowed on us pur grosser organs. As few, it is presumed,