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This species of composition includes a very nume. sous, and in general a very insignificant class of writting, called romances and novels. Of these, however, the influence is known to be great both on the morals and taste of a nation. Notwithstanding the bad ends to which this mode of writing is applied, it might be em. ployed for very useful purposes. * Romances and novels describe human life and manners, and discover the errors into which we are betrayed by the passions. Wise men in all ages have used fables and fictions as vehicles of knowledge ; and it is an observation of Lord Bacon, that the common affairs of the world are insufficient to fill the mind of man. He must create worlds of his own, and wander in the regions of imagination.
All nations whatsoever have discovered a love of fic. tion, and talents for invention. The Indians, Persians, and Arabians, abounded in fables and parables. Among the Greeks, we hear of the Ionian and Milesian tales. During the dark ages, fiction assumed an unusual form from the prevalence of chivalry. Romances arose,and carried the marvellous to its summit. Their knights were patterns not only of the most heroic courage, but of religion, generosity, courtesy, and fidelity ; and the he. roines were no less distinguished for modesty, delicacy, and dignity of manners. Of these romances the most perfect model is the Orlando Furioso. But, as magic and enchantment came to be disbelieved and ri. diculed, the chivallerian romances were discontinued, and were succeeded by a new species of fictitious wri. ting.
Of the second stage of romance writing, the Cleopa. tra of Madame Scuderi and the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney are good examples. In these, however, there was still too large a proportion of the marvellous ; and the books were too voluminous and tedious. Romance writing appeared, therefore, in a new form ; and dwin. dled down to the familiar novel. Interesting situations in real life are the ground work of novel writing. Upon this plan, the French have produced some works of considerable merit. Such are the Gil Blas of Le Sage and the Marianne of Marivaux. . In this mode of writing, the English are inferior to the French ; yet in this kind there are some performances which discover the strength of the British genius. No fiction was ever better supported than the Ad. ventures of Robinson Crusoe. Fielding's novels are highly distinguished for humour and boldness of character. Richardson, the author of Clarissa, is the most moral of all our novel writers ; but he possesses the unfortunate talent of spinning out pieces of amusement into an immeasurable length. The trivial performances which daily appear under the title of lives, adventures and histories, by anonymous authors, are most insipid, and, it must be confessed, often tend to deprave the morals, and to encourage dissipation and idleness.
NATURE OF POETRY....ITS ORIGIN AND PROGRESS.
· What, it may be asked, is poetry ? and how does it differ from prose ? Many disputes have been maintain. ed among critics upon these questions. The essence of poetry is supposed by Aristotle, Plato, and others, to consist in fiction. But this is too limited a description. Many think the characteristic of poetry, lies in imita. tion. But imitation of manners and characters may be carrried on in prose as well as in poetry.
Perhaps the best definition is this, " poetry is the language of passion, or of enlivened imagination, form. ed most commonly into regular numbers." As the pri. mary object of a poet is to please and to move, it is to the imagination and the passions that he addresses himself. It is by pieasing and moving, that he aims to instruct and reform.
Poetry is older than prose. In the beginning of society there were occasions upon which men met 10
getker for feasts and sacrifices, when music, dancing, and songs were the chief entertainment. The meetings of American tribes are distinguished by music and songs. In songs they celebrate their religious rites and martial achievements; and in such songs we trace the beginning of poetic compositon. · Man is by nature both a poet and musician. The same impulse which produced a poetic style, prompted a certain melody or modulation of sound, suited to the emotions of joy or grief, love or anger Music and poetry are united in song, and mutually assist and exalt each other. The first poets sung their own verses. Hence the origin of versification or the arrangement of words to tune or melody. .
Poets and songs are the first objects that make their appearance in all nations. Apollo, Orpheus and Amphion were the first tamers of mankind among the Greeks. The Gothic nations had their scalders or poets. The Celtic tribes had their bards. Poems and songs are among the antiquities of all countries; and, as the occasions of their being composed are nearly the same, so they remarkably resemble each other in style. They comprise the celebration of gods, and heroes, and victories. They abound in fire and enthusiasm ; they are wild, irregular, and glowing.
During the infancy of poetry, all its different kinds were mingled in the same composition'; but in the progress of society, poems assumed their different regular forms. Time separated into classes the several kinds of poetic composition. The ode and the elegy, the epic poem and the drama, are all reduced to rule, and exercise the acuteness of criticism,
· Nations, whose language and pronunciation were musical, rested their versification chiefly, on the quan: cities of their syllables ; but mere quantity has very lit
tle effect in English verse. For the difference made between long and short syllables in our manner of pronouncing them, is very inconsiderable.
The ouly perceptible difference among our syllables • arises from that strong percussion of voice which is
termed accent. This accent, however, does not always make the syllable longer, but only gives it more force of sound ; and it is rather upon a certain order and succession o accented and unaccented syllables, than upon their quantity, that the melody of our verse de. pends.
In the constitution of our verse there is another es. sential circumstance. This is the cæsural pause, which falls near the middle of each line. This pause may fall after the fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh syllable; and by this mean uncommon variety and richness are added to English versification.
Our English verse is of Iambic structure, composed of a nearly alternate succession of unaccented and ac. cented syllables. When the pause falls earliest, that is, after the fourth syllable, the briskest melody is thereby formed. Of this, the following lines from Pope, are a happy illustration :
On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore,
Oft she rejects but never once offends. When the pause falls after the fifth syllable, dividing the line into two equal portions, the melody is sensi. bly al:ered. The verse, losing the brisk air of the former pause, becomes more smooth and flowing.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind,
When the pause follows the sixth syllable, the melody becomes grave. The movement of the verse is more solemn and measured.
The wrath of Peleus' son, the direful spring
Of all the Grecian woes, 10 goddess sing! The grave cadence becomes still more sensible when the pause follows the seventh syllable. This kind of verse, however, seldom occurs ; and its effect is to diversify the melody.
Our blank verse is a noble, bold and disencumbered mode of versification. It is free from the full close, which rhyme forces upon the ear at the end of every couplet. Hence it is peculiarly suited to subjects of dignity and force. It is more favourable than rhyme to the sublime and highly pathetic. It is the most proper for an epic poem and for tragedy. Rhyme finds its proper place in the middle regions of poetry ; and blank verse in the highest.
The present form of our English heroic rhyme in couplets is modern. The measure used in the days of Elizabeth, James, and Charles I. was the stanza of eight lines. Waller was the first who introduced couplets ; and Dryden established the usage. Waller smoothed our verse, and Dryden perfected it. The versification of Pope is peculiar. It is flowing, smooth, and correct in the highest degree. He has totally thrown aside the triplets so common in Dryden. In ease and variety, Dryden excels Pope. He frequently . makes his couplets run into one another with somewhat of the freedom of blank verse.
It was not before men had begun to assemble in great cities, and the bustle of courts and large societies was known, that pastoral poetry assumed its present form. From the tumult of a city life, men looked