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cies of epic but the heroic, they had no choice but that of condemning the Orlando. The question then to be determined is, whether there be any thing in the nature of poetry that necessarily confines it to the species fixed by the critics? or, can the poet, who has genius to do so, trace out a new line for himself, and invent a species of poetry unknown to his predecessors? If not, Ariosto has erred in attempting what should not be attempted; but if this liberty be found consistent with the nature of poetry, Ariosto was justified in availing himself of it, as it opened to him a region of poetry which was more congenial to the character of his mind, and presented him with more expanded, more luxuriant, and more diversified scenes than he could hope to find in the fixed, computed, and adjusted prospects of Homer and Virgil, both of whom measured their ground, and disposed of their scenery, before they set out. To determine this question, it is necessary to ascertain what poetry is, wherein it differs from prose, and what are its privileges. Let us first then briefly endeavour to ascertain its own nature, and afterwards point out the extent of its privileges.
If our idea of poetry be correct, it may be defined in a few words, a circumstance, however, which is rather for us than against us; for long definitions are generally the result of confined and complicated perceptions or notions of things. Poetry then is, or at least appears to us to be, that mode of expression which evinces itself to have been dictated by some passion or internal emotion. The object of language, in general, is to express our perceptions of things, and of the relations and differences that exist between them, and the pleasures and pains, or modes of feeling, consequent upon these perceptions. This, we believe, embraces whatever is the object of our intellectual or sensitive faculties. All our primary perceptions are expressed in prose: if we describe a rose exactly as it exists in Nature, without any regard to the feelings which accompany our perceptions of its qualities, we express ourselves naturally in prose: if we describe our perceptions of its agreement or disagreement with any other object in nature, we still express ourselves in prose, provided our language be uninfluenced by any feelings arising from these perceptions.While, therefore, we describe our perceptions of things, or of their relations, uninfluenced by our feelings, we can never rise above the language of prose. It is the same when we describe the feelings excited in us by these perceptions, as a third person, or, to speak more plainly, as a person who is not affected by them, at the moment he describes them. Perhaps we may render ourselves more clearly understood by saying,
that the description of past feelings,-feelings that are extinct when the description is made, has nothing of poetry in it. It is difficult, however, to describe such feelings without being affected by them, while we are in the act of describing them, if they were either fondly cherished, or endured with pain and suffering; and therefore it is difficult to describe them without rendering the language poetical.
From these observations, we may define prose to be that species of expression which, while it communicates thoughts, evinces no proof of its having been dictated under the influence of mental agitation or passion. A lover talks plain prose when he describes the beauties of his mistress, and the devotedness of his attachment to her, if he has completely forgot this attachment, and is totally insensible, at the moment, to the charms of her person; for in this case, his description would not differ from that of a third person, who had laughed at his passion from the beginning. A third person can describe a passion poetically, only when he is himself affected by the passion which he describes. Prose, then, implies all absence of affection or disaffection, of love or hatred, for the object described. It describes its objects as they are in themselves, and as they stand related to other things; but the moment we are affected by any thing, and describe it as it appears through the medium of this affection, we describe it poetically, if the description be marked with the impress of the affection which produces it; that is, if it be obvious, from the mode of expression, that it was the affection excited by the object, not the object itself, abstracted from the affection, that dictated the description. Hence, a description will not be poetic, even when it is suggested by passion, unless it be so expressed as to evince itself the offspring of this passion, unless it has some character that would render it absurd, if uttered by him who feels no emotion or passion whatever. It is in conferring this character upon language, that the great secret of poetry consists; and as this can seldom be done without great art, poetry requires more contrivance and more art to conceal art, than would at first seem consistent with its passionate and energetic character. In general, it may be laid down as a rule, that no expression can be poetic which would be proper in the mouth of the man uninfluenced by passion. He who calls the man who has offended him a thief and a vagabond, speaks the language of passion; but as he only says, what any man might say without passion, who knew the person to be a thief and a vagabond, the language is not poetic -because it bears no internal evidence in itself, whether it was dictated by passion or not. But when Othello says to lago,— Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore,"
the language is poetic, as it is very obvious that such an expression could not proceed from a person who was perfectly free from the influence of passion: instead of using "villain," and "my love," he would have used Iago and Desdemona.To convert poetry into prose, we have therefore only to remove such terms, or such turns of expressions as indicate passion. When Belvidera says,
she speaks not only what her feelings inspire, but the terms in which she expresses herself evince that she is agitated by these feelings; for the terms, " dear, ashes," and " tender," prove her to have spoken under the influence of particular feelings, and prove also, that it was this influence that dictated the expression. Omit these terms, and the expression, "Lay me by my mother," is rigid prose. It is therefore to no purpose, that we express what our feelings or passions dictate, if the mode of expression is not impressed with the character of these feelings. Without this character, our language may be passionate, or at least dictated by passion, but it cannot be poetic. Hence poetry is not, according to Dr. Blair, the language of passion," for passion may express itself in language that is perfectly prosaic. It is only when the turn of expression, or the use of epithets, which passion only could suggest, indicates passion, that the language is poetical. So intimately, however, are poetry and passion connected with each other, that a prosaic form of expression will appear poetic, if we know antecedently, from the situation of the speaker, and the circumstances in which he is placed, that the expression he makes use of is dictated by mental agitation, though, of itself, it bears no internal evidence of passion. In making this observation, we believe we may claim the merit of originality, as well as in our definition of poetry; for we do not recollect to have seen the circumstance ever remarked by any writer. Its truth, however, requires only an example to render it manifest. If a goldsmith says to one of his customers, "we will make thee chains of gold inlaid with silver," the language is mere prose, because we know the goldsmith speaks what his interest dictates, and the expression in itself bears no evidence of passion; but when the spouse, in the canticle of canticles, addresses the same language to her beloved, it is highly poetical, because we know the language was prompted by the feelings of the spouse, though, in itself, it bears no evidence of these feelings. To render this sentence, however, perfectly poetical, or, in other words, to express it so as that we should acknowledge it poetical, were we even unacquaint
ed with the situation of the speaker, except so far as the mode of expression would convey an idea of it, we should introduce some terms that evinced its having been dictated under the influence of passion; such as we will make our beloved chains of gold," &c. We shall venture another example. If a gardener has been absent from home, and a labourer tells him on his return, "the fig tree hath put forth her green figs, the vines in flower yield their sweet smell," he talks very plain prose, because he speaks not under the influence of passion, but merely to inform his master of something of which he knows him to be ignorant; but when, as in the former instance, the spouse talks thus to her beloved, what language can be more poetic? In the case of the spouse, however, we consider it poetic only because we know it is dictated by passion, though the language in itself bears no evidence of this passion. The Qu'il mourût of the old Horatius is frequently quoted as an instance of sublime poetry, but if we were ignorant of the state of mind which produced it, if we mistook it for the verdict of a jury, where would be its poetry?
If poetry, then, be, as we have already defined it, that mode of expression which evinces itself to have been dictated by passion, every subject is poetic which originates in, and is conducted throughout, by the agency of passion. Hence, the subject of the Iliad is poetic, because all the circumstances which it relates arise from the wrath of Achilles. The Eneid is poetic, because all the events which it records, result from the passion of Æneas to found a new kingdom in Italy, a passion to which he sacrificed his attachment to Dido, and all other considerations. The subject of the Jerusalem Delivered is poetic, because it is entirely founded on religious zeal; and the Orlando Furioso is, consequently, poetic, because the subject is love and heroism, the two strongest passions to which the mind acknowledges obedience.
"Love, strong as death, the poet led
We know, however, that strong as this passion is, it yields to the stronger dominion which the passion of military glory exercises over the mind. Hector, strongly as he is attached to his beloved Andromache, will not linger with her within the walls of Troy, and refrain from the fight. Æneas abandons the love-sick and distracted Dido; and Rogero, whom some critics make the chief hero of the poem now under our consideration, will not listen to the counsels of his dear Bradamant, until he first fulfils his vow to Agramant, from whom he first received the honour of knighthood. With regard to the sub
ject of the Orlando Furioso, there can, therefore, be no question of its being poetic.
As to the manner in which Ariosto has conducted it, and the privileges of which he has availed himself, the following observations will shew, that he has transgressed no law to which the nature of poetry, as we have described it, could possibly subject him, and that he has usurped no privilege which it could possibly deny him.
The critics finding, as we have already observed, that the Orlando Furioso approached nearer to the epic than to any other species of poetry, have called it an epic poem; but not imagining there could be different species of this poem, and finding it transgressed many of the laws observed by Homer, Virgil, and Tasso, the greater portion of them, if we except his own countrymen, have condemned the Orlando, and looked upon it as a mere attempt at epic poetry. They maintain that he has no chief hero, a hero without whom they imagine epic poetry cannot exist, and condemn his want of unity of design and eternal digressions. His transitions, they say, are too abrupt, and destroy all continuity of action. They cannot endure him to violate, not only the laws of the Stagyrite, but, according to them, all the laws which true criticism, unfettered by the canons of authority and the schools, hold necessary in the design and conduct of an epic poem. Gravina, a sensible and judicious critic, in his Ragione Poetica*, attributes all his faults to the imitation of Bojardo, among which he enumerates his tiresome interruption of the narrative, the levity which sometimes characterizes him when his subject is most serious and important, the boldness of his exaggerations, and his idle interruption of and deviation from his subject. These are the faults which have stripped him, in the eyes of the critics, of those poetic laurels which they would have willingly bestowed upon him, had his conformity to the laws of the heroic epic equalled the beauty, the.chastity, the exquisite finish and elegance of his style, the luxuriance of his imagery, the accuracy and variety of his descriptions, the richness of his colouring, and the magic charms which he has bestowed on the wizard scenes of that romantic world, through which he conducts his readers.
It is obvious, then, that the critics have viewed the Orlando through the medium of the laws to which the Stagyrite and succeeding critics have thought proper to confine the heroic poet, and that if he be amenable to these laws, he is
* L. 11, No. XVI. p. 104.