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This celebrated passage in Lucan,
The heav'ns entomò the man that wants an urn, which is apply'd to soldiers that are slain in the field and lie unburied, may, at first view, seem elegant and ingenious; but when we consider that the carcass of a horse, a kite, or a crow is entomb'd in the same manner, the appearance of wit will subside. For wit (in the sense it is used when apply'd to polite composition) is elegance of thought, which adds beauty to propriety, and not only pleases the fancy, but informs the judgment.
It is amazing, that one of the beft poets this nation has. produced should have been the author of the following wretched lines :
Thou falt not wish her thine, thou shalt not dare
Thoughts are more or less juft and true, as they are more or less conformable to their object; and entire conformity is, in this respect, what we call the jüffness of a -thougbt ; for thoughts are just and fit when they perfectly agree with the things they represent.
Thoughts in poetry, however, may be juft without being philosophically true ; for it is the poet's business to represent things not as they are, but as they seem to be. In describ. ing the sainbow, for instance, he may with justness dwell on the colours that seem to compose that beatiful phænomenon, though the philosopher should stand by with his prism, to prove that the whole of this appearance was occasioned only by the refraction of the rays of light. Nor are metaphors, hyperboles, ironies, or equivocal expreffons, when properly used, nor fiction or fable, any deviation from this rule of right thinking ; for there is a great difference between falfhood and fiction, between that which is really false, and that which is only so in appearance. Tropes, figures, and fi&ions, when they are of any value, are raised on the foundation of right reason; they have truth for their basis, which is recommended and rendered more amiable by those airy disguises.
To think justly, therefore, and to raise beautiful thoughts, it is not sufficient that they have nothing in them false, for sometimes thoughts may become trivial by being only trus,
When Cicero applauds Crafus on the subject of his thoughts, after observing that they were just and true, he also adds, that they were new and uncommon; that besides truth and juftness to satisfy the mind, he had thrown in something more to captivate and surprise it. Truth, says father Bouhours, is to thoughts what foundations are to buildings, it fupports and gives them folidity ; but a building which has nothing to recommend it but folidity, will not please those who are killed in architecture. Befides folidity therefore, magnificence, beauty and delicacy are required; and these also must find a place in the thoughts of our poems, or they will be ever lifeless and unaffecting Truth, which on other occasions pleases though unadorned, requires embellishment here : though this ornament is sometimes no more than placing a thought, otherwise common and ordinary, in a new point of light, and giving it an agreeable turn.
Time stays for no man is a very true and just thought, but is very plain and common. It is raised, however, and. made in a manner new by the following turn:
Time in his full career keeps pressing on,
So when you tell a fluggard that he has lost an hour in the morning, which he can never recover, you tell him the truth, yet there is no beauty or wit in it, because the thought is trite and common; but in Sir ****'s remark on his friend, that he loft an bour in the morning, and ran after it all day, there is wit.
But, as Longinus observes, it is those elevated thoughts, which represent nothing but what is great to the mind, that principally heighten and animate our poems. The sublimity and grandeur of a thought will always gratify and transport the foul, if it be just and conformable to the subject; but where that conformity is wanting, dignity will rather disgust than please. To dress up a mean subject with pomp and splendor, is like putting the robes of royalty on a clown, which, instead of procuring him respect and esteem, will reduce him to the lowest degree of contempt and ridicule. The thoughts, therefore, as well as the style, must be suitable to the subject, or the writer will ever miss of his aim.
Sablime thoughts are no where to be found in such plenity, nor perhaps so well decorated, as in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament.--The Almighty's decking bimself with light as with a garment, Spreading out the heavens like a curtain, making the clouds his chariot, and riding upon the qvings of the wind, are thoughts amazingly majestic.
Homer also abounds with these strains of sublimity. The passages wherein he describes Jupiter shaking the heavens with a nod, and Neptune enraged at the destruction of the Grecians, are nobly conceived, but they fall short of the preceding
He spoke, and awful bends his sable brows,
Mean time the monarch of the watry main
The thought with which he has described the speed of the celestial coursers is altogether as magnificent. He difdains all comparisons drawn from the wind, hail, whirlwinds and torrents, which he had before apply'd to express the swiftness and impetuofity of his combatants, and to give us an idea of the rapidity of these immortal horses, he measures their strokes, as Longinus observes, by the whole breadth of the horizon.
Far as a shepherd from some point on high
Milton's Paradise Loft is replete with these sublime thoughts; among which, the several descriptions he has given us of Satan are admirably adapted to raise terror in the imagination of the reader.
Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate,
-he, above the rest
As Homer has described Discord, and Virgil Fame, with their feet standing upon the earth, and their heads extended above the clouds, Milton, in imitation of them, has thus described Satan;
-On th'o her side, Satan alarm’d,
The breaking up of this infernal affembly is also well described.
Their rising all at once was as the found
The following speech of Satan to the Sun is very beautiful, and, as Mr. Addison observes, has some transient touches of remorse and self-accusation.
O thou that, with surpassing glory crown'd,
We cannot leave Milton, without pointing out other paffages that are as sublime as those we have already quoted : for such are his undrawn chariots that inove by inftin&t ; his everlasting gates of heaven, that self-opend wide on golden hinges moving; and the Melliah attended by angels, looking down into Chaos, calming its confusion, and drawing the first out-lines of the creation ; which is thus happily described.
On heav'nly ground they stood, and from the shore
troubled waves, and thou deep, peace, Said then th'omnific word, your discord end:
Nor staid, but on the wings of cherubim