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Clausa domus, mensasque metu liquere priores.
Æneid, lib. III. 210.
Fundimur, et telo lumen terebramus acuto
Æneid, lib. III. 613.
EPIC AND DRAMATIC COMPOSITION.
The same end had in view, and the same means employed, in both epic and
dramatic poetry-The advantages of dramatic poetry-Aristotle's division of tragedy-The Pathetic and the Moral a better division-Farther illustratedFacts or circumstances may be invented, but no unaccountable event to be admitted—Effect of pathetic poems—They excite to what is right, and deter from what is wrong--They improve our sympathy—They fortify the mind against misfortunes—The instruetions afforded by moral poems, from the moral truth they convey—Tender passions, the province of tragedy; grand and heroic actions, of epic poetry-Venial faults, the best subjects for tragedy-Aristotle's four propositions-When a perfect character is fitted to the pathetic–In epic poetry the subject must be of distant date-In tragedy and comedy, not necessary-In dramatic poetry, a pause in the action necessary at the close of every act-The sentiment and tone of language to be subservient to the actionMachinery to be excluded from epic poetry—The embellishment of allegory admitted in an historical poem-Allegorical and real being not to be introduced co-operating-The character of an episode-To be connected with the principal subject—To be lively and interesting-To be short, and introduced where the subject relents—Drama has a double plot—The nature of the under-plotViolent actions not to be represented on the stage-Speeches in dialogue, to be connected with each other-Rhyme excluded from dialogue-Ordinary facts to be expressed in plain language.
TRAGEDY differs not from the epic in substance: in both the same ends are pursued, namely, instruction and amusement; and in both the same means is employed, namely, imitation of human actions. They differ only in the manner of imitating: epic poetry employs narration; tragedy represents its facts as passing in our sight: in the former, the poet introduces himself as an historian; in the latter, he presents his actors, and never himself.*
This difference regarding form only, may be thought slight: but the effects it occasions, are by no means so; for what we see makes a deeper impression than what we learn from others. A narrative poem is a story told by another: facts and incidents passing upon the stage, come under our own observation; and are beside much
* The dialogue in a dramatic composition distinguishes it so clearly from other compositions, that no writer has thought it necessary to search for any other distinguishing mark. But much useless labor has been bestowed, to distinguish an epic poem by some peculiar mark. Bossu defines it to be, “ A composition in verse, intended to form the manners by instructions disguised under the allegories of an important action;" which excludes every epic poem founded upon real facts, and perhaps includes several of Æsop's fables. Voltaire reckons verse so essential, as for that single reason to exclude the adventures of Telemachus. See his Essay upon Epic Poetry. Others, affected with substance more than with form, hesitate not to pronounce that poem to be epic.— It is not a little diverting to see so many profound critics hunting for what is not : they take for granted, without the least foundation, that there must be some precise criterion to distinguish epic poetry from every other species of writing. Literary compositions run into each Other, precisely like colors: in their strong tints they are easily distinguished; but are susceptible of so much variety, and of so many different forms, that we never can say where one species ends and another begins. As to the general taste, there is little reason to doubt, that a work where heroic actions are related in an elevated style, will, without farther requisite, be deemed an epic poem.
enlivened by action and gesture, expressive of many sentiments beyond the reach of words.
A dramatic composition has another property, independent alto. gether of action; which is, that it makes a deeper impression than narration : in the former, persons express their own sentiments; in the latter, sentiments are related at second hand. For that reason, Aristotle, the father of critics, lays it down as a rule, that in an epic poem the author ought to take every opportunity of introducing his actors, and of confining the narrative part within the narrowest bounds.* Homer understood perfectly the advantage of this method; and his two poems abound in dialogue. Lucan runs to the opposite extreme, even so far as to stuff his Pharsalia with cold and languid reflections: the merit of which he assumes to himself, and deigns not to share with his actors. Nothing can be more injudiciously timed, than a chain of such reflections, which suspend the battle of Pharsalia after the leaders had made their speeches, and the two armies are ready to engage.
Aristotle, regarding the fable only, divides tragedy into simple and complex: but it is of greater moment, with respect to dramatic as well as epic poetry, to found a distinction upon the different ends attained by such compositions. A poem, whether dramatic or epic, that has nothing in view but to move the passions and to exhibit pictures of virtue and vice, may be distinguished by the name of pathetic : but where a story is purposely contrived to illustrate some moral truth, by showing that disorderly passions naturally lead to external misfortunes; such composition may be denominated moral. I Besides making a deeper impression than can be done by cool reasoning, a moral poem does not fall short of reasoning in affording conviction: the natural connection of vice with misery, and of virtue with happiness, may be illustrated by stating a fact as well as by urging an argument. Let us assume, for example, the following moral truths; that discord among the chiefs renders ineffectual all common measures; and that the consequences of a slightly-founded quarrel, fostered by pride and arrogance, are no less fatal than those of the grossest injury: these truths may be inculcated, by the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles at the siege of Troy. If facts or circumstances be wanting, such as tend to rouse the turbulent passions, they must be invented; but no accidental nor unaccountable event ought to be admitted; for the necessary or probable connection between vice and misery is not learned from any events but what are naturally occasioned by the characters and passions of the persons represented, acting in such and such circumstances. A real event of which we see not the cause, may afford a lesson, upon the * Poet. chap. 25. sect. 6.
+ Lib. 7. from line 385 to line 460. # The same distinction is applicable to that sort of fable which is said to be the invention of Æsop. A moral, it is true, is by all critics considered as essential to such a fable. But nothing is more common than to be led blindly by authority; for of the numerous collections I have seen, the fables that clearly inculcate a moral, make a very small part. In many fables, indeed, proper pictures of virtue and vice are exhibited: but the bulk of these collections convey no instruction, nor afford any amusement beyond what a child receives in reading an ordinary story.
presumption that what has happened may again happen: but this cannot be inferred from a story that is known to be a fiction.
Many are the good effects of such compositions. A pathetic composition, whether epic or dramatic, tends to a habit of virtue, by exciting us to do what is right, and restraining us from what is wrong. Its frequent pictures of human woes, produce, besides, two effects extremely salutary: they improve our sympathy, and fortify us to bear our own misfortunes. À moral composition obviously produces the same good effects, because by being moral it ceases not to be pathetic: it enjoys beside an excellence peculiar to itself; for it not only improves the heart as above mentioned, but instructs the head by the moral it contains. I cannot imagine any entertainment more suited to a rational being, than a work thus happily illustrating some moral truth: where a number of persons of different characters are engaged in an important action, some retarding, others promoting, the great catastrophe: and where there is dignity of style as well as of matter. A work of that kind has our sympathy at command; and can put in motion the whole train of the social affections : our curiosity in some scenes is excited, in others gratified and our delight is consummated at the close, upon finding from the characters and situations exhibited at the commencement, that every incident down to the final catastrophe is natural, and that the whole in conjunction make a regular chain of causes and effects.
Considering that an epic and a dramatic poem are the same in substance, and have the same aim or end, one will readily imagine, that subjects proper for the one must be equally proper for the other. But considering their difference as to form, there will be found reason to correct that conjecture at least in some degree. Many subjects may indeed be treated with equal advantage in either form; but the subjects are still more numerous for which they are not equally qualified; and there are subjects proper for the one, and not for the other. To give some slight notion of the difference, as there is no room here for enlarging upon every article, I observe, that dialogue is better qualified for expressing sentiments, and narrative for displaying facts. Heroism, magnanimity, undaunted courage, and other elevated virtues, figure best in action: tender passions, and the whole tribe of sympathetic affections, figure best in sentiment. It clearly follows, that tender passions are more peculiarly the province of tragedy, grand and heroic actions of epic poetry:
I have no occasion to say more upon the epic, considered as peculiarly adapted to certain subjects. But as dramatic subjects are more complex, I must take a narrower view of them; which I do the more willingly, in order to clear a point involved in great obscurity by critics.
In the chapter of Emotions and Passionsf it is occasionally shown, * See Chap. 2. Part 1. Sect. 4. + In Racine tender sentiments prevail; in Corneille, grand and heroic manners. Hence clearly the preference of the former before the latter, as dramatic poets. Corneille would have figured better in an heroic poem.
# Part 4.