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“ Suppose a painter to a human head
Should join a horse's neck, and wildly spread
The magazine of nature supplies all those images which compose the most beautiful imitations. This the artist examines occasionally, as he would consult a collection of masterly sketches; and selecting particulars for his purpose, mingles the ideas with a kind of enthusiasm, or rò ferov, which is that gift of Heaven we call genius, and finally produces such a whole, as commands admiration and applause.
ON THE ORIGIN OF POETRY.
The study of polite literature is generally supposed to include all the liberal arts of poetry; painting, sculpture, music, eloquence, and architecture. All these are founded on imitation; and all of them mutually assist and illustrate each other. But as painting, sculpture, music, and architecture, cannot be perfectly attained without long practice of manual operation, we shall distinguish them from poetry and eloquence, which depend entirely on the faculties of the mind; and on these last, as on the arts which immediately constitute the Belles-Lettres, employ our attention in the present inquiry: or, if it should run to a greater length than we propose, it shall be confined to poetry alone; a subject that comprehends in its full extent the pro. vince of taste, or what is called polite literature, and differs essentially from eloquence, both in its end and origin.
Poetry sprang from ease, and was consecrated to pleasure; whereas eloquence arose from necessity, and aims at conviction. When we say poetry sprang from ease, perhaps we ought to except that species of it, which owed its rise to inspiration and enthusiasm, and properly belonged to the culture of religion. In the first ages of mankind, and even in the original state of nature, the unlettered mind must have been struck with sublime conceptions, with admiration and awe, by those great phenomena, which, though every day repeated, can never be viewed without internal emotion. Those would break forth in exclamations expressive of the passion produced, whether surprise or gratitude, terror or exultation. The rising, the apparent course, the setting, and seem ing renovation of the sun; the revolution of light and darkness; the splendor, change, and circuit of the moon, and the canopy of heaven bespangled with stars, must have produced expressions of wonder and adoration. “O glorious luminary! great eye of the world, source of that light which guides my steps ! of that heat which warms me when chilled with cold ! of that influence which cheers the face of nature ! whither dost thou retire every evening with the shades ? Whence dost thou spring every morning with renovated lustre, and never-fading glory? Art thou not the ruler, the creator, the God, of all that I behold? I adore thee, as thy child, thy slave, thy suppliant! I crave thy protection, and the continuance of thy goodness! Leave me not to perish with cold, or to wander solitary in utter darkness! Return, return, after thy wonted absence : drive before thee the gloomy clouds that would obscure the face of nature. The birds begin to warble, and every animal is filled with gladness at thy approach: even the trees, the herbs, and the flowers, seem to rejoice with fresher beauties, and send forth a grateful incense to thy power, whence their origin is derived !" A number of individuals, inspired with the same ideas, would join in these orisons, which would be accompanied with corresponding gesticulations of the body. They would be improved by practice, and grow regular from repetition. The sounds and gestures would naturally fall into measured cadence. Thus, the song and dance would be produced; and a system of worship being formed, the Muse would be consecrated to the purposes of religion.
Hence those forms of thanksgivings, and litanies of supplication, with which the religious rites of all nations, even the most barbarous, are at this day celebrated in every quarter of the known world. Indeed this is a circumstance in which all nations surprisingly agree, how much soever they may differ in every other article of laws, customs, manners and religion. The ancient Egyptians celebrated the festivals of their god Apis with hymns and dances. The superstition of the Greeks, partly derived from the Egyptians, abounded with poetical ceremonies, such as choruses and hymns, sung and danced at their apotheoses, sacrifices, games, and divinations. The Romans had their carmen seculare, and Salian priests, who on certain festivals sung and danced through the streets of Rome. The Israelites were famous for this kind of exultation : “And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her, with timbrels and with dances, and Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord,” &c.—" And David danced before the Lord with all his might." The psalms composed by this monarch, the songs of Deborah and Isaiah, are further confirmations of what we have advanced.
From the Phoenicians the Greeks borrowed the cursed Orthyan song, when they sacrificed their children to Diana. The poetry of the bards constituted great part of the religious ceremonies among the Gauls and Britons, and the carousals of the
Goths were religious institutions, celebrated with songs of triumph. The Mahometan Dervise dances to the sound of the flute, and whirls himself round until he grows giddy, and falls into a trance. The Marabous compose hymns in praise of Allah. The Chinese celebrate their grand festivals with processions of idols, songs, and instrumental music. The Tartars, Samoieds, Laplanders, Negroes, even the Caffres called Hottentots, solemnize their worship, such as it is, with songs and dancing; so that we may venture to say, poetry is the universal vehicle, in which all nations have expressed their most sublime conceptions.
Poetry was, in all appearance, previous to any concerted plan of worship, and to every established system of legislation. When certain individuals, by dint of superior prowess or understanding, had acquired the veneration of their fellow-savages, and erected themselves into divinities on the ignorance and superstition of mankind; then mythology took place, and such a swarm of deities arose, as produced a religion replete with the most shocking absurdities. Those whom their superior talents had deified, were found to be still actuated by the most brutal passions of human nature; and, in all probability, their votaries were glad to find such examples, to countenance their own vicious inclinations. Thus fornication, incest, rape, and even bestiality, were sanctified by the amours of Jupiter, Pan, Mars, Venus, and Apollo. Theft was patronized by Mercury, drunkenness by Bacchus, and cruelty by Diana. The same heroes and legislators, those who delivered their country, founded cities, established societies, invented useful arts, or contributed in any eminent degree to the security and happiness of their fellow-creatures, were inspired by the same lusts and appetites which domineered among the inferior classes of mankind; therefore, every vice incident to human nature was celebrated in the worship of one or other of these divinities, and every infirmity consecrated by public feast and solemn sacrifice.
In these institutions the poet bore a principal share. It was his genius that contrived the plan, that executed the form of wor. ship, and recorded in verse the origin and adventures of their gods and demi-gods. Hence the impurities and horrors of certain rites, the groves of Paphos and Baal-Peor, the orgies of Bacchus, the human sacrifices to Moloch and Diana. Hence the theogony of Hesiod, the theology of Homer, and those innumerable maxims scattered through the ancient poets, inviting mankind to gratify their sensual appetites, in imitation of the gods, who were certainly the best judges of happiness. It is well known, that Plato expelled Homer from his commonwealth, on account of the infamous characters by which he has distinguished his deities, as well as for some depraved sentiments which he found diffused through the course of the Iliad and Odyesey. Cicero enters into the spirit of Plato, and exclaims, in his first book, De Naturâ Deorum :-“Nec multa absurdiora sunt ea, quæ, poetarum vocibus fusa, ipsa suavitate nocuerunt: qui, et irâ inflammatos, et libidine furentes, induxerunt Deos, feceruntque ut eorum bella, pugnas, prælia, vulnera videremus: odia præterea, dissidia, discordias, ortus, interritus, querelas, lamentationes, effusas in omni intemperantiâ libidines, adulteria, vincula, cum humano genere concubitus, mortalesque ex immortali procreatos.” “Nor are those things much more absurd which, flowing from the poet's tongue, have done mischief even by the sweetness of his expression. The poets have introduced gods inflamed with anger and enraged with lust; and even produced before our eyes their wars, their wrangling, their duels, and their wounds. They have exposed, besides, their antipathies, animosities, and dissensions; their origin and death; their complaints and lamentations; their appetites indulged to all manner of excess; their adulteries, their fetters, their amorous commerce with the human species, and from immortal parents derived a mortal offspring."