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COMER is universally allowed to have had the
greatest Invention of any writer whatever. The praise of judgment Virgil has justly contested with him, and others may have their pretensions 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 most excelled in that which is the very foundation of poetry. It is the Invention that in different degrees distinguishes all great Geniuses : the utmost stretch of human ftudy,learning, and industry, which masters 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 wisely : 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 such 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. B
fue their observations 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 see all the beauties so distinctly as in an ordered garden, it is only because the number of them is infinitely greater. It is like a copious nursery, which con
tains the seeds and first productions of every kind, out - of which those who followed him have but selected some particular plants, each according to his fancy, to cultivate and beautify. If some things are too luxuriant, it is owing to the richness of the soil; and if others are not arrived to perfection or maturity, it is only because they are over-run and opprest by those of a stronger nature.
It is to the strength of this amazing invention we are to attribute that unequalled fire and rapture, which is so forcible in Homer, that no man of a true poetical fpirit is master 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 ac. tion. If a council be called, or a battle fought, you are not coldly informed of what was faid or done as from a third person; the reader is hurried out of him. self by the force of the Poet's imagination, and turns in one place to a hearer, in another to a spectator. The course of his verses resembles that of the army he defcribes,
Οι δ' άρ' ίσαν, ωσεί τε συρί χθών πάσα νέμουλο. “They pour along like a fire that Sweeps the whole
r6 earth < 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 splendor : it grows in the progress both
himself and others, and becomes on fire, like a chariot-wheel, by it own rapidity. Exact difpofition, just 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 those are imperfect or neglected, this can overpower criticism, and make us admire even while we disapprove. Nay, where this appears, though attended with absurdities, it brightens all the rubbish about it, till we fee nothing but its own splendor. This fire is discerned in Virgil, but discerned as through a glass, reflected from Homer, more shining than fierce, but every where equal and constant: in Lucan and Statius, it bursts out in sudden, short, 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 shall here endeavour to Thew, how this vast Invention exerts itself in a manner superior to that of any poet, through all the main constituent parts of his work, as it is the great and peculiar characteristic which dir. tinguishes him from all other authors.
This strong and ruling faculty was like a powerful star, which, in the violence of its course, drew all things