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Besides the heat of invention and liveliness of wit, there must be the coldness of good sense and soundness of judgment, to distinguish between things and conceptions which at first sight or upon short glances seem alike; and to chuse among infinite productions of wit and fancy, which are worth preserving and cultivating, and which are better stifled in the birth, or thrown away when they are born, as not worth bringing up. Without the force of genius, all poetry is flat and languishing; without the succour of judgment it is wild and extravagant. The true wonder of poesy is that such contraries must meet to compose it; a genius both penetrating and solid; in expression, both delicacy and force; and the frame and fabric of a true poem must have something both sublime and just, amazing and agreeable. There must be a great agitation of mind to invent, a great calm to judge and correct; there must be upon the same tree, and at the same time, both flower and fruit. To work up this metal into exquisite figure, there must be employed the fire, the hammer, the chisel and the file. There must be a general knowledge of nature and of arts, and to go to the lowest that can be, there are required genius, judgment and application; for without this last, all the rest will not serve a turn, and none ever was a
great poet, that applied himself much to any thing else.
When I speak of poetry I mean not an ode or an elegy, a song or a satire; nor by a poet, the composer of any of these, but of a just poem; and after all I have said, it is no wonder there should be few that appeared in any parts or ages of the world, or that such as have, should be so much admired, and have almost divinity ascribed to them and to their works.
Whatever may have been the merits of those who are mentioned with so much admiration by the antients, but are lost to us, and unknown any further than their names, I think no man has been so bold among those that remain, to question the title of Homer and Virgil, not only to the first rank, but to the supreme dominion in this state, and from whom, as the great lawgivers as well as princes, all the laws and orders of it, are, or may be derived. Homer was, without dispute, the most universal genius that has been known in the world, and Virgil the most accomplished. To the first must be invention, the richest
allowed the most fertile
vein, the most general knowledge, and the most lively expression: to the last, the noblest ideas, the justest institution, the wisest conduct, and the choicest elocution. To speak
in the painter's terms, we find in the works of Homer, the most spirit, force, and life; in those of Virgil, the best design, the truest proportions and the greatest grace; the colouring in both seems equal, and indeed is in both admirable. Homer had more fire and rapture, Virgil more light and swiftness; or at least the poetical fire was more raging in one, but clearer in the other, which makes the first more amazing and the latter more agreeable. The ore was richer in one, but in the other more refined and better allayed to make up excellent work. Upon the whole, I think, it must be confessed, that Homer was of the two, and perhaps of all others, the vastest, the sublimest, and the most wonderful genius; and that he has been generally so esteemed, there cannot be a greater testimony given, than what has been by some observed, that not only the greatest masters have found in his works the best and truest principles of all their sciences or arts, but that the noblest nations have derived from them their original, or their several races, though it be hardly yet agreed, whether his story be true or fiction. In short, these two immortal poets must be allowed to have so much excelled in their kinds, as to have exceeded all comparison, to have even extinguished emulation, and in a manner confined true poetry, not only to their
own languages, but to their very persons.
And I am apt to believe so much of the true genius of poetry in general, and of its elevation in these two particulars, that I know not whether of all the numbers of mankind that live within the compass of a thousand years; for one man that is born capable of making such a poet as Homer or Virgil, there may not be a thousand born capable of making as great generals of armies, or ministers of state, as any the most renowned in story.
OF THE VALUE OF LIFE.
To quarrel with the present state of mankind is an ungrateful reflection upon Providence. What if the offices of life are not so fine and great as we can fancy, they are certainly much better than we can challenge. What pretence could nothing have to insist upon articles! As long as the conveniences in being may, if we please, exceed the inconveniences, we ought to be thank
ful; for the overplus of the advantage is pure unmerited favour. He that repines because he is not more than man, deserves to be less; and indeed the very complaint makes him so.
But the errors on this hand are not so common; people are not so apt to be too big to live, as to be too little to die. They are much more frequently over-fond of the world, than ashamed of it. A perfect indifference, however, is not required. The laws of self-preservation, the long acquaintance of soul and body, the untried condition of a separation, and regard for our friends, are sufficient reasons not to turn our backs upon life out of an humour. Life was given for noble purposes, and therefore we must not part with it foolishly it must not be thrown up in a pet, nor sacrificed to a quarrel, nor whined away in love. Pride, and passion, and discontent, are dangerous diseases. We are enlisted under Providence, and must wait till the discharge comes. To desert our colours would be of more than mortal consequences; he that goes into the other world before he is sent for will meet with no good welcome.
On the other side we may be too backward as well as too forward in resigning. Life may be overvalued as well as things; and he that buys it at the expence of duty purchases too dear.