Alexander Pope.

The works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) online

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Online LibraryAlexander PopeThe works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) → online text (page 17 of 20)
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becaufe they find it caficr for themfelvcs to purfuc
their obfervations through an uniform and bound-
ed walk of Art, than to comprehend the vaft and
various extent of Nature.

Our author's work is a wild paradife, where it
we cannot fee all the beauties fodiftinclly as in an
ordered garden, it is only becaufe the number of
them is infinitely greater. 'Tislike a copious nur-
fery which contains the feeds and iirft productions
of every kind, out of which thofe who followed
him have but felecled fome particular plants, each
according to his fancy, to cultivate and beautify.
If fome things are too luxuriant, it is owing to the
richnefs of the foil ; and if others arc not arrived
to perfection or maturity, it is only becaufe they
are over-run and opprcft by thofe of a ftronger na-

It is to the ftrength of this amazinjr invention


we are to attribute that unequall'd fire and rapture,
which is fo forcible in Homer, that no man of a
true poetical fpirit is mafter of htmfelf while he
reads him. What he writes, is of the moil ani-
mated nature imaginable j every thin;.' moves,
every thing lives, and is put in action. If a coun-
cil be called, or a battle fought, you arc not cold-
ly informed of what was fa id or done as from a
third perfon ; the reader is hurried out of htmfelf
by the force of the Poet's imagination, and turns
in one place to a hearer, in another to a fpeclator.
The courfe of his verfes refembles that of the army
he defcribcs,

Q', ?' j ,-u.i, UGH n tsvfi xfi

They pour along like a fire tbatfivecp* the ivholc earth
before it. 'Tib however remarkable, that his fancy,
which is every where vigorous, is not difcovercd
immediately at the beginning of his poem in its
fulleit fplendor : It grows in the progrcfs both up-


H O M E R's ILIA D. 301

on himfclf and others, and becomes on fire like a
charuit-whrel, by its own rapidity. Lxadt difpo-
fuion, juft thought, correct elocution, polifhcd
numbers, may have been found in a thoufand ; but
this poetical fire, this Vivida vis anirni y in a very
fe\v. E\cn in works whe:e all thofc are imperfect:
or neglected, this can over-power criticifm, and
make us admire even while we difapprove. Nay,
where this appears, though attended with abfurdi-
ties, it brightens all the rubbilh about it, till we
ii:e nothing but its own fplcndor. This Fire is
diiVcrned in Virgil, but difccrned as through a
glafs, reflected from Homer, more fhining than
fierce, but every where equal and conftant : In
Lucan and Statins, it burfts out in fuddcn, fhort,
and interrupted flafhcs : In Milton it glows like a
furnace kept up to an uncommon ardor by the force
of art : In Shakefpear, it ftrikes before we arc
. , like an accidental fire from heaven : But in
Homer, and in him only, it burns every where
clearly, and every where irrcfiflibly.

I fhall here endeavour to fhovv, how this vaft
Indention exerts itfelf in a manner fuperior to that
of any poet, through all the main conftitucnt parts
of h: .is it is the great and peculiar charac-

tcriflic which diftinguifiies him from all other au-

This ftrong and ruling faculty was like a power-
ful liar, which in the violence of its courlV, drew
all things within its vortex. It fecmcd not enough
to have taken in the whole circle of arts, and the
u!:i>lc compafs of nature to fupply his maxims
and reflections; all the inward paflions and nfivc-
tinns of mankind, to furnifli his characters ; and
;.!! the f.utward forms a:;d ima^.-; of tliin
1 .-lefv-riptions ; hut wanting yet an ampler fpherc
to expatiate- in, he opened a new and bound'cfs
wulk foi his imagination, and created a world for


302 P R E F A C E T O

himfclf in the invention of Fable. That which
Ariftotlc calls the Soul of poetry, was firft breathed
into it by Homer. I fhall begin with confidering
him in this part, as it is naturally the firft, and I
fpeak of it both as it means the dcfign of a poem,
und as it is taken for fiction.

Fable may be divided into the probable, the al-
:al, and the marvellous. The probable fable
is the recital of fuch actions as though they did not
happen, yet might, in the common courfe of na-
ture : Or of fuch as though they did, become fa-
bles by the additional epifodes and manner of tell-
ing them. Of this fort is tbe main ftory of an Epic
poem, the return of Ulyfles, tbe fetilement of tbe
Trojans in Italy, or the like. That of the Iliad is
the anger of Achilles, the mod fhort and fingle
fubject that ever was chofen by any Poet. Yet this
he has fupplicd with a vafter variety of incident*
and events, and crowded with a greater number or
councils, Ijvechcs, battles, and epifodes of all
kinxls, thnn are to be found even in thofc poems,
whofe fchemes arc of the utmoft latitude and irre-
gularity. The action is hurried on with the moft
vehement fpirit, and its whole duration employ
not fo much as fifty days. Virgil, for want of fo
warm a genius, aided himfelf by taking in a more
extenfive fubject, as woll as a greater length of
time, and contracting the defign of both Homer's
poems into one, which is yet but a fourth part as
large as his. The other Epic Poets have ufed the
fame practice, but generally carry 'd it fo far as to
fuperinducc a multiplicity of fables, deftroy the
unity of action, and lofe their readers in an unrca-
fonable length of time. Nor is it only in the main
defign that they have been unable to add to his in-
vention, but they have followed him in every epi-
fode and part of ftory. If he has given a regular
catahgut of an army, they all draw up their forces


H O M E R's ILIAD. 303

in the fan.- order. If he has funeral games for
Patroclus, Virgil has the fame for Anchifcs, and
Statius (rather than omit them) deftroys the unity
of his action for thofe of Archemorus. I
vifit the fhadcs, the /Tineas of Virgil and Scipio
of Siliu-. are fuit after him. If he be detained
from his return by the allurements of Calypfo, fb
is ./Eneas by Dido, and Rinaldo by Armida. If
Achilles be abfent from the army on the fcore of
a quarrel through half the poem, Rinaldo murt ab-
ient himfelf jult as long, on the like account. If
he gives his hero a fuit of celeftial armour, Virgil
and Taflb make the fame prefent to theirs. Virgil
has not only oblcrvcd this clofe imitation of Ho-
mer, but where he had not led the way, fupplied
the want from other Greek authors. Thus the
(lory of Sinon and the taking of Troy was copied
(fays Macrobius) almoft word for word from Pi-
lander, as the Loves of Dido and ./Eneas are taken
from thofe of Medea and Jafon in Apoilonius, and

: al others in the fame manner.
To proceed to the allegorical fable : If we re-
flect upon thofe innumerable knowledges, thole
kcrets of nature and phyfical philofophy, which
Homer it, generally fuppoled to have wrapp'd up
in his allegories, what a new and ample fcene of
wonder may this conliticration afford us ? How fer-
tile will that imagination appear, which was able
to clothe all the properties of elements, the qua-
lifications of the mind, the virtues and vices, in.
forms and pcrfons ; and to introduce them into
adtions agreeable to the inturc of the things they
flir.dowed ? This is a field in which no fuccc
poets could dilpute with Homer ; and whatever
comrm-iv :ons have bctn allowed them on this
head, are by no means for their invention in hav-
ing enlarged his circle, but for their judgment in
havirg contracted it. For when the mode of Iccrr-


ing changed in following ages, and fcience
delivered in a plainer manner : it then became as
reafonable in the more modern poets to lay it afide,
as it was in Homer to make ufe of it. And per-
haps it was no unhappy circumftance for Virgil,
that there was not in his time that demand upon
him of fo great an invention, as might be capable
of furnifhing all thofe allegorical parts of a poem.

The marvellous fable includes whatever is fupcr-
natural, and cfpccially the machines of the Gods.
He feems the firft who brought them into a fyltcm
of machinery for poetry, and fuch a one as makes
its greatcft importance and dignity. For we find
thofe authors who have been offended at the literal
notion of the Gods, constantly laying their accu-
fation againft Homer as the chief fuppoii of it.
But whatever caufe there might be to blame his
?nachines in a philofophical or religious view, they
are k fo perfect in the poetic, that mankind have
been ever fince contented to follow them : None
have been able to enlarge the fphcre of poetry be-
yond the limits he has let : Every attempt of this
nature has proved unfuccefsful ; and after all the
various changes of times and religions, his Gods
continue to this day the Gods of poetry 4

We come now to the cbaraQtri of his pcrfons :
And here we fhall find no author has ever drawn
fo many, with fo vifiblc and furprifmg a varietv.,
or given us fuch lively and affecting imprefiions of
them. Every one has fomething fo Angularly his
own, that no painter could have diilinguilhed them
more by their features, than die Poet has by their
manners. Nothing can be more exact than the
distinctions he has obferved in the differ cut degrees
of virtues and vices. The fingle quality of courage
is wonderfully diverfified in the fevcral characters
of the Iliad. That of Achilles is furious and in-
tra&able ; that of Diomcde forward, yet

H O M E R'S 1 I I A D. 305

to advice and fubject to command : That of Ajax
is heavy, and felt-confiding j of Hector active and
vigilant : The courage of Agamemnon is itifpiritcd
by love of empire arid ambition, that of Menelaus
mixed with foftnefs and tendcrnefs for his people :
We find in Idomeneus a plain direct foldicr, in Sar-
pedon a gallant and generous one. Nor is this ju-
dicious and aftoniming diverfity to be found only
in the principal quality which conftitutcs the main
of each character, but even in the underparts of it,
to which he takes care to give a tincture of that
principal one. For example,' the main characters
of Ulyfles and Neftor conlift in wifdom ; and they
are diftinct in this, that the wifdom of one is arti-
ficial and various^ of the other natural, open, and
regular. But they have, bcfides, characters of
courage ; and this quality alfo takes a different turn
in each from the difference of his prudence : for
one in the war depends (till upon caution^ the other
upon experience. It would be endlcfs to produce
infbnces of thefe kinds. The characters of Vir-
gil arc far from ftriking us in this open manner \
they lie in a great degree hidden and undiftinguim-
ed, and where they are marked moft evidently, af-
fect us not in proportion to thole of Homer. His
characters of valour are much alike ; even that ot"
Turnus fecms no way peculiar but as it is in a fu-
perior degree ; and we fee nothing that differences
the courage of Mneftheus from that of Scrgeftus,
Cloanthus, or the reft. In like manner it may be
remarked of Statius's heroes, that an air of impe-
tuolity runs thro' them all ; the fame horrid and
favage courage appears in his Capancus, Tydcus,
Hippomedon, etc. They have a parity of charac-
ter, which makes them fecm brothers of one fa-
mily. I believe when the reader is led into this
track of reflection, if he will purfue it thro' the
Epic and Tragic writers x he will be convinced how
VOL. VI. X infi.


infinitely fuperior in this point the invention of
Homer was to that of all others.

T\\e.fpee(hes are to be confulered as they flow
from the characters, being perfect or defective as
they agree or difagree with the manners of thofe
who utter them. As there is more variety of cha-
racters in the 7//W, fo there is of fpeeches, than
in any other poem. Every thing in it has man-
ners (as Ariftotle expreflcs it) that is, every thing
is acted or fpoken. It is hardly credible in a work
of fuch length, how fmall a number of lines are
employed in narration. In Virgil the dramatic
part is lefs in proportion to the narrative ; and the
fpeeches often confift of general reflections or
thoughts, which might be equally juft in any per-
fon's mouth upon the fame occafion. As many of
his pcrfons have no apparent characters, fo many
of his fpeeches efcape being applied and judged by
the rule of propriety. We oftner think of the au-
thor himfelf when we read Virgil, than when we
are engaged in Homer : All which are the effects
of a colder invention, that interefts us lefs in the
action defcribed : Homer makes us hearers, and
Virgil leaves us readers.

If in the next place we take a view of ihcfenti-
meiits, the fame prefiding faculty is eminent in the
fublimity and fpirit of his thoughts. Longinus
has given his opinion, that it was in this part Ho-
mer principally excelled. What were alone fuf-
iiccnt to prove the grandeur and excellence of his
fentiments in general, is, that they have fo remark-
able a parity with thofe of the Scripture : Duport,
in his Gnomologia Homerica, has collected innu-
merable instances of this fort. And it is with
juftice an excellent modern writer allows, that if
Virgil has not fo many thoughts that are low and
vulgar, he has not fo many that are fublimc and
ncble j and that the Roman author fddcm rifes in-


to very aftonifhing fentiments where he is not fired
by the Iliad.

If we obfervc his defcriptions^ image^ and fi-
tni/esj we (hall find the invention {till predomi-
nant. To what elfe can we afcribe that vaft com-
prchenfion of images of every fort, where we fee
each circumftance of art, and individual of nature
fummoned together, by the extent and fecundity
of his in agination ; to which all things, in their
various views, prefented themfclves in an inftant,
and had their irnprefiions taken off to perfection at
a heat ? Nay, he not only gives us the full prof-
peels of things, but feveral unexpected peculiari-
ties and fide views, unobferved by any Painter but
Homer. Nothing is fo furprifing as the defcrip-
tions of his battles, which take up no lefs than
half the Iliad) and are fupplied with fo vaft a va-
riety of incidents, that no one bears a likcnefs to
another ; fuch different kinds of deaths, that not
two heroes arc wounded in the fame manner ; and
fuch a profufion of noble ideas, that every battle
rifes above the laft in grcatnefs, horror, and con-
fufion. It is certain there is not near that num-
ber of images and defcriptions in any Epic Poet ;
though every one has aflifted himfelf with a great
quantity out of him : And it is evident of \
elpecially, that he has fcarcc any companions which
are not drawn from his mafter.

If we defcend from hence to the rxftr^Sm, we
fee the bright imagination of Homer (hining out in,
the morft enlivened forms of it. We acknowl
Irim the father of poetical diclion, the fir(t who
taught that language of the GoA to men. His cx-
prcmon is like the colouring of fomc great mafters,
which difcovers itfelf to be laid on boldly, and exe-
cuted with rapidity. It is indeed the ftrongeft ?.;i 1
moft glowing imaginable, and touched with the
jreatelt fptrit. Ariftotle haJ rcafon to fay, Ho

X 2


was the only poet who had found out living words ;
there are in him more daring figures and meta-
phors than in any good author whatever. An ar-
row is impatient to be on the wing, a weapon
thirfts to drink the blood of an enemy, and the
like. Yet his expreflion is never too big for the
fenfe, but juftly great in proportion to it. 'Tis
the fentiment that fwells and fills out the di&ion,
which rifea with it, and forms itfelf about it : And
in the fame degree that a thought is warmer, an
expreflion will be brighter ; as that is more ftrong,
this will become more confpicuous : Like glafs in
the furnace, which grows to a greater magnitude
and refines to a greater clearnefs, only as the
breath within is more powerful, and the heat more

To throw his language more out of profe, Ho-
mer feems to have affected the compound epithets.
This was a fort of compofition peculiarly proper
to poetry, not only as it heighten'd the diftion^ but
as it affifted and filled the numbers with greater
found and pomp, and likewife conduced in foms
meafure to thicken the images. On this laft conft-
deration I cannot but attribute thefe alfo to the
fruitfulnefs of his invention, fince (as he has ma-
naged them) they are a fort of fupernumerary pic-
tures of the perfons or things to which they are
joined. We fee the motion of Hector's plumes in
the epithet Ko^9t^^, the landfcape of mount Ne-
ritus in that of E;,&cft/M-, and fo of others, which
particular images could not have been infifted upon
Ib long as to exprefs them in a defcription (tho'
but of a fingle line) without diverting the reader
too much from the principal aclion or figure. As
a Metaphor is a fhoit fimile, one of thefe Epithets
is a fhort defcription.

Laftly, if we confider his verjification y we fhall
be fenfible what a (hare of praife is due to hit in-

H O M E R'S I L I A D. 309

vention in that. He was not fatisfy'd with his
language as he found it fettled in any one part of
Greece, but fearch'd thro' its differing dialefls with
this particular view, to beautify and perfed his
numbers : He confider'd thefe as they had a greater
mixture of vowels or confonants, and according^
Jy employed them as the verfe required either a
greater fmoothnefs or ftrength. What he moft
affecled was the lonicj which has a peculiar fweet-
nefs from its never ufmg contractions, and from
its cuftom of refolving the diphthongs into two fyl-
lables ; fo as to make the words open themfelves
with a more fpreading and fonorous fluency. With
this he mingled the Attic contractions, the broader
>oric 9 and the feebler flLolic^ which often rejects
its afpirate, or takes off its accent ; and compleat-
ed this variety by altering fome letters with the li-
cence of poetry. Thus his meafures, inftead of
being fetters to his fenfe, were always in readincfs
to run along with the warmth of his rapture, and
even to give a further i cprefentation of his notions,
in the correfpondence of their founds to what they
fignified. Out of all thefe he has derived that
harmony, which makes us confefs he had not on-
ly the richeft head, but the fined ear in the world.
This is fo great a truth, that whoever will but
confult the tune of his verfes, even without under-
ftandjng them (with the fame fort of diligence as
we daily fee pratifcd in the cafe of Italian Operas)
will find more fweetnefs, variety, and majdtyof
found, than in any other language or poetry. The
beauty of his numbers is allowed by the criticks to
be copied but faintly by Virgil himfelf, though
they aic fo juft to aicribe it to the nature of the
Latin tongue : Indeed the Greek has fome ad-
vantages both from the natural found of its wordt y
and the turn and cadence of its verfe, which agree
with the genius of no other language. Virgil was
X 3 very

very fcnfible of this, and ufcd the utmoft diligence
in working up a more intractable language to
whatsoever graces it was capable of; and in parti-
cular never failed to bring the found of his line to
a beautiful agreement with its fenfe. If the Gre-
cian poet has not been fo frequently celebrated on
this account as the Roman, the only reafon is,
that fewer criticks have underftood one language
t'lan the other. Dionyfius of Halicarnaflus has
pointed out many of our author's beauties in this
kind, in his trcatife of the Compojition of Words,
and others will be taken notice of in the courfe of
my Notes. It fuffices at prefent to obferve of his
numbers, that they flow with fo much eafe, as to
make one imagine Homer had no other care than
to tranfcribe as faft as the Mufes dictated ; and at
the fame time with fo much force and infpiriting
vigour, that they awaken and raife us like the
found of a trumpet. They roll along as a plenti-
ful river, always in motion, and always full ;
while we are borne away by a tide of verfe,
the moft rapid, and yet the moft fmootli imagin-

Thus on whatever fide we contemplate Homer,
what principally ftrikes us is his invention. It is
that which forms the character of each part of his
work ; and accordingly we find it to have made
his fable more extenfive and copious than any other,
his manners more lively and ftrvngly marked, his
fpeeches more off f fling and tranfported, his fenti-
menrs more warm andfub/irtie, his images and de-
fcriptions more full and animated, his expreflion
more raised and daring, and his numbers more ra-
pid and various. I hope, in what has been faid
qf Virgil, with regard to any of thefe heads, I
have no way derogated from his character. No-
thing is more abfurd or endlefs, than the cojnmon
method of comparing eminent writers by an op-


H O M E R'S I L I A D. 311

pofition of particular paflages in them, and form-
ing a judgment from thence of their merit upon
the whole. We ought to have a certain know-
ledge of the principal character and diftinguifhin:;
excellence of each : It is in that we are to confider
him, and in proportion to his degree in that we
are to admire him. No author or man ever ex-
celled all the world in more than one faculty ; and
as Homer has done this in invention, Virgil has in
judgment. Not that we are to think Homer want-
ed judgment, becaufe Virgil had it in a more emi-
nent degree ; or that Virgil wanted invention, bc-
caufc Homer pofleft a larger fhare of it : Each of
thcfe great authors had more of both than perhaps
any man befides, and are only faid to have lefs in
comparifon with one another. Homer was the
greater genius, Virgil the better artift. In one we
moft admire the man, in the other the work. Ho-
mer hurries and tranfports us with a commanding
impctuofity ; Virgil leads us with an attractive ma-
jefty : Homer fcatters with a generous profufion,
Virgil bcftows with a careful magnificence : Homer,
like the Nile, pours out his riches with a bound -
lefs overflow ; Virgil, like a river in its banks, with
a gentle and conftant ftream. When we behold
their battles, methinks the two Poets refemble the
Heroes they celebrate : Homer, boundlefs and ir-
refiftible as Achilles, bears all before him, and
fhines more and more as the tumult increafcs; Vir-
gil, calmly daring like ./Eneas, appears undifturb-
d in the midft of the ation ; difpofes all about
him, and conquers with tranquillity. And when
we look upon their machines, Homer fcems like
his own Jupiter in his terrors, (baking Olympus,
fcattering the lightnings, and firing the Heavens ;
Virgil, like the fame power in his benevolence,
counfelling with the Gods, laying plans for em-
pires, and regularly ordering his whole creation.

X 4 13ut

3 i2 P R F A C E T O

But after all, it is with great parts as with great
virtues, they naturally border on fom imperfec-
tion j and it is often hard to diftinguifh exactly
where the virtue ends, or the fault begins. As
prudence may fometimes fink to fufpicion, fo may
a great judgment decline to coldnefs ; and as mag-
nanimity may run up to profufion or extravagance,
fo may a great invention to redundancy or wildnefs.
If we look upon Homer in this view, we mall
perceive the chief objections againft him to pro-
ceed from fo noble a caufe as the t-xccfs of this fa-

Among thefe we may reckon fome of his mar-
vcllcus fifiions, upon which fo much criticifm has
b<uifpcnt, as furpailing all the bounds of proba-
bility. Perhaps it may be with great and fuperior
fouls, as with gigantick bodies, which exerting
themfelves with unufual firength, exceed what is
commonly thought the due proportion of parts, to
become miracles in the whole ; and like the old
heroes of that make, commit fomething near ex-
travagance, ami'wl a feries of glorious and inimit-
able performances. Thus Homer has his fpeaking
boffesy and Virgil his myrtles dij tilling blood, where
the latter has not fo much as contrived the cafy in-
tervention of a Deity to favc the probability.

It is owing to the fame vaft invention, that his
Shnila have been thought too exuberant and full of
circumftances. The force of this faculty is fcen
in nothing more, th^n in its inability to confine
itfelf to that fuigle ciicumftance upon which the
companion is grounded : It runs out into embel-
lifhments of additional images, which however
are fo managed as not to overpower the main one.
His fimiles are like pictures, where the principal
figure has not only its proportion given agreeable
to the original, but is alfo fet off with occafional
er.iamcnts and profpcCts. The fame will account

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Online LibraryAlexander PopeThe works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) → online text (page 17 of 20)