Gazette of the United-States. (New-York [N.Y.]) 1789-1793, December 26, 1789, Image 1

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    [No. LXXIV.j
"It is the bufincfs of philosophers to guide and oj
poets to delight mankind."
THE followingfpeculation,with the remarks
thai precede it, were put into the hands
of the Editor for publication, and they are pre
sented to the public as the feventy-fourtli num
ber of the Tablet.
" Sir,
" YOUR early attention to the Essay under thefignature
" 11, which I lately cnclofed to you, induces a performance on
" my part of the promil'e I then made. The following Sketch
" on Poetry, is an effulion of the fame pen, and will, I no
« doubt, afford an equal degree of pleasure to those of your rea
>' ders who delight in PuiLosppHY, Poetry, the Beauties
" of Composition, or liberal Criticism."
IT has been observed, that it seldom falleth to
the share of one man, to be both a philosopher
and a poet. Tliefe two characters in their full
extent, may be said to divide betwixt them the
whole empire of genius ; for all the productions
of the human mind, fall naturally under two
heads, works of imagination, and -works of reason.
There are indeed several kinds of composition,
which, to be perfect, must partake of both. In
our lnoft celebrated hillorians, for instance, we
meet with ajult mixture of the penetration of the
philosopher, and the ardor of the poet ; (till their
departments are very wide of one another, and
a finall degree of attention will be fufficient to
lhew, why it is so extremely difficult to unite in
any high degree, the excellence of each. The end
of the poet is to give delight to his readers, which
he attempts by addrelling their fancy, and moving
their sensibility. The philosopher proposes merely
to initruct, and therefore thinks it enough if he
jjrefents his thoughts in that order, which will
render them molt perspicuous, and seems bed
adapted to gain the attention. Their views de
mand therefore a very different procedure. All
that pafles under the eye of the poet lie surveys
iri one particular view : Every form and image
under which he prelentsit to the fancy, are des
criptive of its effects : lie delights to paint every
object in motion, that he may raise afimilar agita
tion in the bofomof his reader ; but the calm and
deliberate thinker, on the contrary, makes it his
chief endeavor to seek out the remoter causes
and principles which give birth to tbefe appear
It is the highest exertion of the philosopher to
Itrip off the falfe colors that serve to disguise—to
remove every particular which fancy, or which
folly have combined, and to prelent to view the
simple and naked tr.utli. But the poet, who ad
drefles the imagination and the heart, neglects
no circumstance, however fanciful, which may
serve to attach liisdefcriptions more closely to the
humanmind. In describing the awful appearan
ces of nature, he gladly avails liimfelf of all those
inagic terrors, with which ignorance and super
stition have furrorrnded them ; for though the
light of reason dispels these shades, they anftoer
the higher purposes ofthepoet in awakening the
Is is the delight ofpoetry to combine and aflociate;
of philofophyto separate and diftiiigtiifh. The one
releniblesa fkilful anatomilt, who lays open every
thing that occnrs, and examines the finallell par
ticular of its make. The other, a judicious
painter, who conceals what would offend the eye,
and enrbcllifhes «very subjeCt he undertakes to
represent. The fameflbjeCt therefore which has
engaged the investigating powers of the philoso
pher, takes a very different appearance from the
forming hand of the post, who adds every grace
of coloring, and artfully hides the nakedness of
its inwardftru<srure, on derail the agreeable fold
ings of elegance and beanty. In philosophical
difcuitioiis, the end of which is to explain, every
part ought to be unf >lded with the molt lucid
perspicuity. But woi ks of imaginatioji never ex
ert a more powerful influence, than when the
author has contrived to throw over them a /hade
of datirnefs and doubt. The reason of Phis is
obvious, the evils we but imperfectly discern seem
to bid defiance to cautiou—they nffeit the mind
with a fearful anxiety, and by presenting noljm
jt, the imagination easily conceives them bound
less. Thefe'fpecies o'fcompofition diffcritiHfur
rlier "with respect to the Situation of mind requi
site to produce thein.. Poetry is the offspring of
a ciind, heated to an uncommon degree—it is a
kind of spirit thrown off in the ferment of agita
ted feelings. But the ivtmolt calmneis and com
pofareis eliential to philofoplu'cal enquiry. No-
SATURDAY, December 26, 1739.
velty, surprise, and astonishment, kindle in the
bofoin the fire of poetry, whilst philol'ophy is
reared up by cool and continued efforts. There
is one circumstance relating to this kind ofcoifi
pofition too material to be omitted. Jnsvery na
tion it has been found that poetry is ofinuch ear
lier date than any other production of the hu
man mind ; as in the individual, tjie imagination
and pallions are more vigorous in youth, which
in mature age subside, and give way to thought
and reflection. Something limilar to this leenis
to vary that genius which distinguishes the differ
ent periods offociety. The jnoft admired poems
have been the offspring of uncultivated ages. Pure
poetry, conlifts in descriptions of nature, and the
display of the pallions ; to each of which, a rude
Hate of society is better adapted, than one more
polished. They who live inthat early period, in
which art has not alleviated the calamities of life,
are forced to feel their dependence upon nature ;
her appearances are ever open to their view, and
therefore strongly imprinted on their fancy.—
! hdy fhrinkat the approach of a ftorni, and mark
with anxious attention every variation of the sky.
1 lie change of feafbn, cloud and funihine, seren
ity and teuipeft, are to theiu reallources of sorrow
and of joy ; and we lueed not therefore wonder
they Itiould describe with energy wlTat tliey feel
with lb much force. But it is one chief advantage
of civilization, that by enabling us in fbine mca
fure to controul nature, we become left
its influence. It opens many newfources of en
joyment. In this situation the gay and cheerful
can always mingle in company; whilst the diffn
lion of knowledge opens to the studious a new
world, over which the whirlwind and the blast
can exert no influence. The face of nature gra
dually ft otu vi;-w, and tliofe who attempt
todelcriue ir, often content theiufelves with copy
ing from books, whereby thc-ir descriptions want
the frefhuefs and glow of original observation,
like the image of au objedr refratfied through va
rious mediums, each of which varies somewhat
of its iorin, and lefl'ons its splendor. The poe
try of uncivilized nations, has therefore often
excelled the productions of a more refined people,
in elevation and pathos. Accustomed to survey
nature in her general form, and grander move
ments, their descriptions cannot fail of carrying
with them an air of greainefs and sublimity. They
paint Icenes which everyone has felt, and which
tlietefore need only to be presented, to awaken
a iimiliar feeling again. For a while they delight
us with the vaftnefs of their conceptions, but the
wantof various embelliihinent, and the frequent
recurrence of the fame images, soon fatigue the
attention, and their poetry may be compared to
the world of waters, which fills us with amaze
ment, but upon which we gaze for a moment, and
then turn away our eyes. It is the advantage at
enlightened nations,that their fu peri or knowlege
enables them to supply greater variety ; aud to
renderpoetry more copious. They allure us with
an agreeable succession of images. They do not
weary with uniformity, nor overpower us with
any oneexertion, but by perpetually fhifting the
scenes, they keep us in a conlfant hurry of de
" The poet's eye, in « kl¥: phrettzy rolling,
" Dorh glance from heaven Co earth, from earth to heaven,
" And as imagination bodies forth,
*•' The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
'' Turns them to lhapes, and give.? to airy nothing
" A local habitation, and ajiame."
Shakespea reV Midfummcr Night's Dream.
I cannot help observing that poeticalgenius feeijxs
capable of a much greater variety than talents for
phiiqfophizing. The power of thinking and rea
soning is a simple energy, which exerts itfelf in
all men nearly iu the fame manner. Indeed the
chief varieties that have been observed in niay
be traced to two, a capacity of al'jtrail and mathe
watical rejifoniv.g—and ja talent for cpUcfting fails,
and making obfervatiotLS. These qualities of mind
blendid in various proportions, will for the most
part account for any peculiarities attending men's
modes of thinking. But the ingredients that
conftiiute a poet are far more various .and compli
cated. A poet is in a high degree under tjie in
fhience.of the imagination and paffiong, principles
of mind very various and extensive. Whatever
is complicated is capable of much greater variety,
and will be extremely more diverfified in its form,
than that which is .mure simple. In this cafe every
ingredient is a fouroe of variety, and by being
mingled in the compolition, in a greater or less
degree, may give original catt to the whole.
To explain the particular causes which vary the
direction of the fancy in different men, would
perhaps be 110 e»fy taik. We are led, it maybe,
at firft, through accident, to the survey of one class
of objeifls—this calls up a particular train of
thinking, which we afterwards freely indulge :
[£ Ufb.llJh.tiS bn l\ t<iHefday and
It ealily finds access to the mind upon aliocca&uns.
The flighted accident serves to fyggclk it. It is
nursed 1)/ habit, reared up with attention, till ic
gradually swells to a torrent, which bears away
every obllacle, and awakens in the mind a con
fcioufneik of peculiar pofvers. Such sensations
eagerly impel to a particular purpose, and are fuf
ficient to give to compofitien a diftirici and deter
minate character. Poetical genius is I'ikewiie
much under the influence oi' the pafiions. The
pleased and the splenetic, the fcriousand the gay,
lurvey nature with very ditferent eyes. That ele
vation of fancy which with a luelaucholly tur:i
will produce scenes of gloomy grandeur and aw
ful solemnity, will lead another of chearful com
plexion to delight, by presenting images of splen
dor and gaiety,and by inspiring gladii'efs andjoy.
Tho these and other limilarcau'fes may betraced,
that boundless variety which diverfifies the work.*
of imagination, and which is so great that 1 have
tho't the perusal of fine authors, is like traversing
the different regions of thd earth ; fotneglow with
a pleaf'autand refreshing warmth, wlnlit others
kindle with a tierce and fiery heat. In one we meet
with scenes of elegance and arf, all is correct
and regular, and a thousand beautiful objects
spread their colors to the eye and regale the sen
ses : In another we behold nature in an unadorn
ed majestic flmplicity—fcouring the plain with
tempefls—fitting upon a rock, or walking upon
the wings of the wind. Here wc meet with a
Sterne who fans us with the foftefl breeze
of delicacy : And there with a Rousseau who
hurries us along in whirlwind and tempest.
Hence that delightful succession of emotions which
are felt in the bosom of sensibility. V/e feel the
empire of genius, we imbibe Ls impreflicu, and
the mind resembles aninchantedmanfion, which
at one touch of fouie fupejior hand,at one, bright
ens into beauty, and a: another time, darkens
into horror !
Even where the talents of men approach most
nearly, an attentive eye will ever remark some
small shades of difference, fulficient to distinguish
them. Perhaps few authors have been diilin
guifhed by more similar features of character,
than Ho.m ta. and Miiton. That vpjftnefs of
thought which fills the imagination, and thatfen
>;biliry ol l'pirit which renders every circumllance
intereftingare thequalities of both. BuiWilton
isthe molt lubliine—Home p. the moll pjetnrel'que.
il o,ME£ lived in an early age, before knowledge
was much advanced, he could derive little from
any acquired abilities, and may be therefore ftiled
the poet oj naturt • to this fpurce perhaps we may
trace the principal difference between Homer
and Mii.tov. Thp Grecian poet was lefttothe
natural movements of his own mind, and to the
full influence ps [hat variety of paitions, which
are common roall. His conceptions aretheiefoii:
diffinguilhed by their fiinplicitv and force. In
Milton who was Jlulled in almoli every de
partment of science, learning seems fometiines
to have iliaded the fplendnr of his genius. No
epic poet excites emotion lb fervid as Homer, or
poflefles so much fire ; but in point of fubliwty
he can not be compared to Milton. I rather
think the Greek popt has been thought to excell
in this quality more than he really docs, for
want of a proper conception of itseffeCls. When
the perusal of an author raises lis above our ufuaJ
tone of mind, we immediately ascribe these sen
sations to the fublinjc, without considering whe
ther they light on the imagination or the feel
ings : Wheilier they elevate the fancy or only
fire the paflions. The sublime has for its object
the fancy only ; and its influence is not so much
to occasion any fervor of feeling, as the calmness
of fi*ed aflonifhment. If we consider the sublime
as thus distinguished from every other quality
Mt j-Ton will appear to poflefs it in an uncommon
degree : And here indeed lies the feeret of his
power. The perusal of Homer ijjfpires us with
an ardent sensibility. Milton with the ftillnels
of surprize. The one fills and delights the mind
with the confluence of various emotions. The
other amazes with the valbiefs of his ideas. The
movements of Milton's mind are steady and
progrelrive—he carries the fancy through vari
ous fucceflive stages ,of elevation, and gradually
encreafes the heat, by adding fuel to the fire.
1 he flights of Homer are more sudden and trans
itory. Milton whose mind was enlightened
by science aj)pears the molt compre'nenfive—he
fliews more acutenefs in his reflections, and more
subtlety of thought. Homer who lived iuor,e
with men, and had perhaps a deeper tin&ure ot
the human paflions, is by far the most vehement
and piiftnrefque. To the view of Milton the
wide scenes of the universe seem to have been
thrown open, which he regards with a cool and
comprehensive survey, little agitated, and supe
rior to tliofe emotions which affedt inferior mor
tals. Homer when he rises the highest goes not