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IT is the fate of those maxims, which have been thrown out by very eminent writers, to be received implicitly by most of their followers, and to be repeated a thousand times, for no other reason, than because they once dropped from the pen of a superiour genius: one of these is the assertion of Aristotle, that all poetry consists in imitation, which has been so frequently echoed from author to author, that it would seem a kind of arrogance to controvert it; for almost all the philosophers and cripcks, who have written upon the subject of poetry, mufick, and painting, how little soever they may agree in some points, seem of one mind in considering them as arts merely imitative: yet it must be clear to any one, who examines what passes in his own mind, that he is C c affected asfected by the finest poems, pieces of musick, and piclurts,upon a principle, which, whatever it be, is entirely distinct from Imitation. M. le Batteux has attempted to prove that all the fine arts have a relation to this common principle of imitating: but, whatever be said of painting, it is probable, that poetry and musick had a nobler origin; and, if the first language of man was not both poetical, and musical, it is certain, at least, that in countries, where no kind of imitation seems to be much admired, there are poets and musicians both by nature and by art: as in some Mahometan nations; where sculpture and painting are forbidden by the laws, where dramatick poetry of every sort is wholly unknown, yet, where the pleasing arts, of expressing the passions in verse, and of enforcing that expression by melody, are cultivated to a degree of enthusiasm. It /hall be my endeavour in this paper to prove, that, though poetry and musick have, certainly, a power of imitating the manners of men, and several objects in nature, yet, that their greatest effect is not produced by imitation, but by a very different principle; which must be sought for in the deepest recesses of the human mind.
To state the question properly, we must have a clear notion of what we mean by poetry and musick; but we cannot give a precise definition of them, till we have made a few previous remarks on their origin, their relation to each other, and their difference.
It seems probable then that poetry was originally no more than a strong, and animated expression of the human passions, of joy and grief, live and hate, admiraration and anger, sometimes pure and unmixed, sometimes variously modisied and combined: for, if we observe the voice and accents of a person asfected by any of the violent passions, we shall perceive something in them very nearly approaching to cadence and measure; which is remarkably the case in the language of a vehement Orator% whose talent is chiefly conversant about praise or censure, and we may collect from several passages in Tully, that the sine speakers of old Greece and Rome had a sort of rhythm in their sentences, less regular, but not less melodious, than that of the poets.
If this idea be just, one would suppose that the most ancient sort of poetry consisted in praising the deity; for if we conceive a being, created with all his faculties and fenses, endued with speech and reason, to open his eyes in a most delightful plain, to view for the sirst time the serenity of the sley, the splendour of the sun, the verdure of the sields and woods, the glowing colours of the flowers, we can hardly believe it possible, that he should refrain from bursting into an extasy of joy, and pouring his praises to the creatour of those wonders, and the authourof his happiness. This kind of poetry is used in all nations, but as it is the sublimest of all, when it is applied to its true object, so it has often been perverted to impious purposes by pagans and idolaters: every one knows that the dramatick poetry of the Europeans took its rise from the fame spring, and was no more at sirst than a song in praise of Bacchus; so that the only species of poetical composition, (if we except the Epick) which can in any sense be called imitative, was deduced from a
C c 2 oatujaj
natural emotion of the mind, in which imitation could, not be at all concerned.
The next source of poetry was, probably, love, or the mutual inclination, which naturally subsists between the sexes, and is founded upon personal beauty: hence arose the most agreeable odes, and love-songs, which we admire in the works of the ancient lyrick poets, not filled, like our sonnets and madrigals, with the insipid babble of darts, and Cupids, but simple, tender, natural; and consisting of such unaffected endearments, and mild complaints,
* Teneri sdegni, e placide e tranquille
as we may suppose to have passed between the first lovers in a state of innocence, before the refinements of society, and the restraints, which they introduced, had made the passion of love so fierce, and impetuous, as it is said to have been in Dido, and certainly was in Sappho, if We may take her own word for it. J
The grief, which the first inhabitants of the earth must have felt at the death of their dearest friends, and relations, gave rife to another species of poetry, which originally, perhaps, consisted of short dirges, and was afterwards lengthened into elegies.
* Two fines of Taji.
J Sec the ode of Saffh quoted by Lenginut, and translated by Beiltaa.