« ForrigeFortsæt »
THE literary productions of every age have either exhi
bited the primary refemblances of nature, or reflected her features from each other, through the medium of Secondary imitation. The greater number of compositions, constructed of these derivative materials, must be confidered as artificial copies. Common abilities, invigorated by ftudy, may be adequate to the task of modifying and expanding the works of others. But the fources of original writing can only be difcovered in fuperior genius; and a peculiar concurrence of circumstances affifting its operations.
A happy coincidence, fuch as this, of external and internal causes, is necessary to poetic originality. For though genius seem abfolutely independent on time or place, we can best contemplate it, as affuming a fixed and decisive character in connexion with compofition; which muft, of neceffity, exhibit nature under her abstract or visible forms; and which B 2 generally
generally represents the characteristics of the age or country where it first appears, in customs, manners, or religion.
The powers of man are variously modified by the adventitious circumftances of foil or climate; but they are chiefly affected by the increase of civilized manners. They are improved by flow gradations; and arrive, after the labor of ages, to maturity. The conceptions of the barbarian may indicate a fervid imagination; yet are they always expressed with that incoherence and extravagance which mark primæval rudeness. In the progrefs of fociety, when the obftacles which had circumfcribed invention are removed, the profpects of literature grow more extensive and luminous; whilst to the description of magnificent scenery and marvellous atchievement, are added the more particular delineations of nature, and the pictures of fluctuating manners.
There is little room for the calm contemplations and minute portraitures of the poet even in an age juft emerged from barbarifm, where the bold contrafted features of virtue and vice are almoft the only difcriminations of character; where none but the prominent appearances of the natural world can intereft the fancy; and where the violent efforts of paffion ftill give the principal coloring to every literary production. Such an age may be diftinguished by the grandeur of poetic conception, by a striking boldness of combination. It may be termed indeed the very crisis of fublimities; fince we find the sublime most commonly originating in dark and indiftinct imagery. But to introduce into a picture the peculiar attributes of the object we paint; to hold up a diversity