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seems, above all other arts, peculiarly conversant about order, proportion, and symmetry, May it not therefore be supposed, on all accounts, most likely to help us to some rational notion of the je ne scai quoi in beauty P And, in effect, have we not learned from this digression, that as there is no beauty without proportion, so proportions are to be esteemed just and true, only as they are relative to some certain use or end, their aptitude and subordination to which end is, at bottom, that which makes them please and charm 2 Alc. I admit all this to be true. Euph. According to this doctrine, I would fain know what beauty can be found in a moral system, formed, connected, and governed by chance, fate, or any other blind unthinking principle ; forasmuch as without thought there can be no end or design, and without an end there can be no use, and without use there is no aptitude or fitness of proportion, from whence beauty springs Alc. May we not suppose a certain vital principle of beauty, order, and harmony, diffused throughout the world, without supposing a Providence inspecting, punishing, and rewarding, the moral actions of men? Without supposing the immortality of the soul, or a life to come, in a word, without admitting any part of what is commonly called faith, worship, and religion P Cri. Either you suppose this principle intelligent, or not intelligent : if the latter, it is all one with chance or fate which was just now argued against: if the former, let me entreat Alciphron to explain to me, wherein consists the beauty of a moral system, with a supreme intelligence at the head of it, which neither protects the innocent, punishes the wicked, nor rewards the virtuous To suppose indeed a society of rational agents acting under the eye of Providence, concurring in one design to promote the common benefit of the whole, and conforming their actions to the established laws and order of the Divine parental wisdom; wherein each particular agent shall not consider himself apart, but as the member of a great city, whose author and founder is God: in which the civil laws are no other than the rules of virtue and the duties
of religion: and where every one's true interest is combined with his duty: to suppose this would be delightful: on this supposition a man need be no Stoic or knight-errant, to account for his virtue. In such a system vice is madness, cunning is folly, wisdom and virtue are the same thing; where notwithstanding all the crooked paths and by-roads, the wayward appetites and inclinations of men, sovereign reason is sure to reform whatever seems amiss, to reduce that which is devious, make straight that which is crooked, and in the last act wind up the whole plot, according to the exactest rules of wisdom and justice. In such a system or society, governed by the wisest precepts, enforced by the highest rewards and discouragements, it is delightful to consider, how the regulation of laws, the distribution of good and evil, the aim of moral agents, do all conspire in due subordination to promote the noblest end, to wit, the complete happiness or wellbeing of the whole. In contemplating the beauty of such a moral system, we may cry out with the Psalmist, “Very excellent things are spoken of thee, thou city of God.” In a system of spirits, subordinate to the will, and under the direction, of the Father of spirits, governing them by laws, and conducting them by methods suitable to wise and good ends, there will be great beauty. But in an incoherent fortuitous system governed by chance, or in a blind system governed by fate, or in any system where Providence doth not preside, how can beauty be, which cannot be without order, which cannot be without design P When a man is conscious that his will is inwardly conformed to the Divine will, producing order and harmony in the universe, and conducting the whole by the justest methods to the best end : this gives a beautiful idea. But on the other hand, a consciousness of virtue overlooked, neglected, distressed by men, and not regarded or rewarded by God, ill used in this world, without hope or prospect of being better used in another, I would fain know, where is the pleasure of this reflection, where is the beauty of this scene? Or how could any man, in his senses, think the spreading such notions the way to spread or propagate virtue in the world? Is it not, I beseech you, an ugly system, in which you can suppose no law and prove no duty, wherein men thrive by wickedness and suffer by virtue P Would it not be a disagreeable sight to see an honest man peeled by sharpers, to see virtuous men injured and despised while vice triumphed P An enthusiast may entertain himself with visions and fine talk about such a system ; but when it comes to be considered by men of cool heads and close reason, I believe they will find no beauty nor perfection in it; nor will it appear, that such a moral system can possibly come from the same hand, or be of a piece with the natural, throughout which there shine so much order, harmony, and proportion.
If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakespear. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of Nature; it proceeded through Egyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakespear was inspiration indeed: he is not so much an imitator, as an instrument, of nature: and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are so much nature herself, that it is a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shews that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the same image; each picture, like a mock rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakespear is as much an individual, as those in
life itself: it is as impossible to find any two alike ; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful preservation of it ; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker. The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide or guess to the effect, or be perceived to lean toward it : but the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places; we are surprised at the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection, find the passion so just, that we should be surprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment. How astonishing is it again, that the passions directly opposite to these, laughter and spleen, are no less at his command 1 that he is not more a master of the great than the ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tenderness, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations ! Nor does he only excel in the passions: in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable. His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, something between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in those great and public scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts; so that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, that the philosopher, and even the man of the world, may be born, as well as the poet. I will conclude by saying of Shakespear, that with all his faults, and with all the irregularity of his drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finished and regular, as upon an ancient majestic piece of Gothic architecture, compared with a neat modern building: the latter is more elegant and glaring, but the former is more strong and more solemn. It must be allowed, that in one of these there are materials enough to make many of the other. It has much the greater variety, and much the nobler apartments; though we are often conducted to them by dark, odd, and uncouth passages. Nor does the whole fail to strike us with greater reverence, though many of the parts are childish, ill-placed and unequal
to its grandeur.
PREFACE TO HOMER'S ILIAD.
Homer 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 unrivalled. 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 study, learning, and industry, which master 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