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PREF A CE.
OMER is univerfally allowed to have had the greatest Invention of any writer whatever. The praife of judgment Virgil has justly contefted with him, and others may have their pretenfions as to particular excellencies; but his Invention remains yet unrivaled. Nor is it a wonder if he has ever been acknowledged the greatest of poets, who moft excelled in that which is the very foundation of poetry. It is the Invention that in different degrees diftinguishes all great Geniuses: the utmost ftretch of human study,learning,and industry, which mafters every thing besides, can never attain to this. It furnishes Art with all her materials, and without it, Judgment itself can at best but steal wifely: for Art is only like a prudent steward that lives on managing the riches of Nature. Whatever praises may be given to works of judgment, there is not even a single beauty in them to which the Invention must not contribute as in the most regular gardens, Art can only reduce the beauties of Nature to more regularity, and fuch a figure, which the common eye may better take in, and is therefore more entertained with. And perhaps the reason why common critics are inclined to prefer a judicious and methodical genius to a great and fruitful one, is, because they find it easier for themselves to purVOL. I.
fue their obfervations through an uniform and bounded walk of Art, than to comprehend the vast and various extent of Nature.
Our author's work is a wild paradise, where if we cannot fee all the beauties fo diftinctly as in an ordered garden, it is only because the number of them is infinitely greater. It is like a copious nursery, which contains the feeds and first productions of every kind, out of which thofe who followed him have but felected fome particular plants, each according to his fancy, to cultivate and beautify. If fome things are too luxuriant, it is owing to the richness of the foil; and if others are not arrived to perfection or maturity, it is only because they are over-run and oppreft by those of a stronger
It is to the strength of this amazing invention we are to attribute that unequalled fire and rapture, which is fo forcible in Homer, that no man of a true poetical fpirit is mafter of himself while he reads him. What he writes, is of the most animated nature imaginable; every thing moves, every thing lives, and is put in action. If a council be called, or a battle fought, you are not coldly informed of what was faid or done as from a third perfon; the reader is hurried out of himfelf by the force of the Poet's imagination, and turns in one place to a hearer, in another to a spectator. The courfe of his verfes refembles that of the army he defcribes,
Oi Οἱ δ ̓ ἄρ ̓ ἴσαν, ὡσεί τε πυρὶ χθὼν πᾶσα νέμοιο. "They pour along like a fire that fweeps the whole
<< earth before it." It is however remarkable that his fancy, which is every where vigorous, is not discovered immediately at the beginning of his poem in its fullest fplendor: it grows in the progress both upon himself and others, and becomes on fire, like a chariot-wheel, by it own rapidity. Exact difpofition, juft thought, correct elocution, polished numbers, may have been found in a thousand; but this poetical fire, this "vivida vis animi,” in a very few. Even in works where all thofe are imperfect or neglected, this can overpower criticism, and make us admire even while we disapprove. Nay, where this appears, though attended with abfurdities, it brightens all the rubbish about it, till we fee nothing but its own fplendor. This fire is difcerned in Virgil, but difcerned as through a glass, reflected from Homer, more fhining than fierce, but every where equal and constant: in Lucan and Statius, it bursts out in fudden, fhort, and interrupted flashes: in Milton it glows like a furnace kept up to an uncommon ardor by the force of art: in Shakespeare, it strikes before we are aware, like an accidental fire from heaven: but in Homer, and in him only, it burns every where clearly, and every where irresistibly.
I fhall here endeavour to fhew, how this vaft Invention exerts itself in a manner superior to that of any poet, through all the main conftituent parts of his work, as it is the great and peculiar characteristic which diftinguishes him from all other authors.
This ftrong and ruling faculty was like a powerful ftar, which, in the violence of its courfe, drew all things