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IT hath been long (my dear countrymen) the subject of my concern and surprise, that whereas numberless poets, critics, and orators have compiled and digested the art of ancient poesy, there hath not risen among us one person so publick-spirited, as to perform the like for the modern. Although it is universally known, that our every way industrious moderns, both in the weight of their writings, and in the velocity of their judgments, do so infinitely excel the said ancients.
Nevertheless, too true it is, that while a plain and direct road is paved to their jos, or sublime; no track has been yet chalked out to arrive at our célos, or profund. The Latins, as they came between the Greeks and us, make use of the word altitudo, which implies equally heighth and depth. Wherefore considering with no small grief, how many promising geniuses of this age are wandering (as I may say) in the dark without a guide, I have undertaken this arduous, but necessary task, to lead them as it were by the hand, and step by step, the gentle down hill way to the bathos; the bottom, the end, the central point, the non plus ultra, of true modern poesy !
When When I consider (my dear countrymen) the extent, fertility, and populousness of our lowlands of Parnassus, the flourishing state of our trade, and the plenty of our manufacture; there arc two reflections, which administer great occasion of surprise ; the one, that all dignities and honours should be bestowed upon the exceeding few meagre inhabitants of the top of the mountain : the other, that our own nation should have arrived to that pitch of greatness it now possesses, without any regular system of laws. As to the first, it is with great pleasure I have observed of late the gradual decay of delicacy and refinement among mankind, who are become too reasonable to require, that we should labour with infinite pains to come up to the taste of these mountaineers, when they without any may condescend to ours. But as we have now an unquestionable majority on our side, I doubt not, but we shall shortly be able to level the highlanders, and procure a farther vent for our own product, which is already so much relished, encouraged, and rewarded by the nobility and gentry of Great Britain. CHAP. II.
Therefore to supply our former defect, I purpose to collect the scattered rules of our art, into regular institutes from the example and practice of the deep geniuses of our nation; imitating herein my predecessors, the master of Alexander, and the secretary of the renowned Zenobia : and in this my undertaking I am the more animated, as I expect more success than has attended even those great critics; since their laws, though they might be good, have ever been slackly executed ; and their precepts, however strict, obeyed only by fits and by a very small number. .
At the same time I intend to do justice upon our neighbours, inhabitants of the upper Parnassus; who, taking advantage of the rising ground, are perpetually throwing down rubbish, dirt, and stones upon us, never suffering us to live in peace. These men, while they enjoy the crystal stream of helicon, envy us our common water, which, (thank our stars) though it is somewhat muddy, flows in much greater abundance. Nor is this the greatest injustice, that we have to complain of: for, though it is evident that we never made the least attempt or inrode into their territories, but lived contented in our native fens; they have often not only committed petty larcenies upon our borders, but driven the country, and carried off at once whole cariloads of our manufacture; to reclaim some of which stolen goods is part of the design of this treatise.
For we shall see in the course of this work, that our greatest adversaries have sometimes descended toward us; and doubtless might now and then have arrived at the bathos itself, had it not been for that mistaken opinion they all entertained, that the rules of the ancients were equally necessary to the moderns; than which there cannot be a more grievous errour, as will be amply proved in the following discourse.
And indeed when any of these have gone so far, as by the light of their own genius to attempt new models, it is wonderful to observe, how nearly they have approached us in those particular pieces; though in their others they differed toto cælo from us.
That the bathos, or profund, is the natural taste of man,
and in particular of the present age.
THE taste of the bathos is implanted by nature itself in the soul of man; till perverted by custom or example, he is taught, or rather compelled to relish the sublime. Accordingly, we see the unprejudiced minds of children delight only in such productions, and in such images, as our true modern writers set before them. I have observed, how fast the general taste is returning to this first simplicicy and innocence; and if the intent of all poetry be to divert and instruct, certainly that kind, which diverts and instructs the greatest number, is to be preferred. Let us look round among the admirers of poetry; we shall find those, who have a taste of the sublime, to be very few; but the profund strikes universally, and is adapted to every capacity. It is a fruitless undertaking to write for men of a nice and foppish gusto, whom after all it is almost impossible to jiense; and it is still more chimerical to write for poterity, of whose taste we cannot make any judgment, and whose applause we can never enjoy. It must be confessed, our wise authors have a fresent end,
Et prodesse volunt, et delectare poëtæ.
The'r true design is profit or gain; in order to acquire which, it is necessary to procure applause by
administering pleasure to the reader: from whence it follows demonstrably, that their productions must be suited to the present state. And I cannot but congratulate our age on this peculiar felicity, that though we have made indeed great progress in all other branches of luxury, we are not yet debauched with any high relish in poetry, but are in this one taste less nice than our ancestors. If an art is to be estimated by its success, I appeal to experience, whether there have not been, in proportion to their number, as many starving good poets, as bad ones ?
Nevertheless, in making gain the principal end of our art, far be it from me to exclude any great geniuses of rank or fortune from diverting themselves this way. They ought to be praised no less than those princes, who pass their vacant hours in some ingenious mechanical or manual art. And to such as these, it would be ingratitude not to own, that our art has been often infinitely indebted.
The necessity of the bathos physically considered.
FARTHERMORE, it were great cruelty and injustice, if all such auchors as cannot write in the other way, were prohibited from writing at all. Against this I draw an argument from what seems to me an undoubted physical maxim; that poetry is a natural or morbid secretion from the brain. As I would not suddenly stop a cold in the head, or dry up my neigh- B4