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When the Pagan temples ceased to be revered, and the Parnasian mount exifted no longer, it would have been difficult for the poet of later times to have preserved the divinity of his muse inviolate, if the western world too had not had its sacred fables. While there is any national superstition which credulity has confecrated, any hallowed tradition long revered by vulgar faith; to that fanctuary, that afylum, may the poet refort.--Let him tread the holy ground with reverence ; respect the established doctrine; exactly observe the accustomed rites, and the attributes of the object of veneration ; then shall he not vainly invoke an inexorable or absent deity. Ghosts, fairies, goblins, elves, were as propitious, were as assistant to S. and gave as much of the sublime, and of the marvel. lous, to his fictions, as nymphs, fatyrs, fawns, and even the triple Geryon, to the works of ancient bards. Our poet never carries his præternatural beings beyond the limits of the popular tradition. It is true, that he boldly exerts his poetic genius and fascinating powers in that magic circle, in which none e'er durst walk but he : but, as judicious as bold, he contains himself within it. He calls up all the fately phantoms in the regions of superstition, which our faith will receive with reverence. He throws into their manners and language a mysterious folemnity, favorable to fuperftition in general, with something highly characteristic of each particular being which he exhibits. His witches, his ghosts, and his fairies, seem Spirits of health or goblins damn'd; bring with them airs from heaven, or blasts from hell. His ghosts are fullen, melancholy, and terrible. Every fentence, uttered by the witches, is a prophecy, or a charm; their manners are malignant, their phrases ambiguous, their promises delusive. The witches' cauldron is a horrid collection of what is most horrid in their supposed incantations. Ariel is a spirit, mild, gentle, and sweet, poffefied of fupernatural powers, but subject to the command of a great magician.
The fairies are sportive and gay ; the innocent artificers of harmless frauds, and mirthful delusions. Puck's enumeration of the feats of a fairy is the most agreeable recital of their supposed gambols.
To all these beings our poet has assigned tasks, and appropriated manners adapted to their imputed dispofitions and characters; which are continually developing through the whole piece, in a series of operations conducive to the catastrophe. They are not brought in as subordinate or casual agents, but lead the action, and govern the fable ; in which respect our countryman has entered more into theatrical propriety than the Greek tragedians.
Every species of poetry has its distinct duties and obligations. The drama does not, like the epic, admit of episode, fuperfluous persons, or things incredible ; for, as it is observed by a critic of great ingenuity and taste, *“ that which passes in representation, and challenges, as it were, the scrutiny of the eye, must be truth itself, or something very nearly approaching to it.” It should indeed be what our imagination will adopt, though our reason would rea ject it. Great caution and dexterity are required in the dramatic poet to give an air of reality to fictitious existence.
In the bold attempt to give to airy nothing a local habitation and a person, regard must be paid to fix it in such scenes, and to display it in such actions, as are agreeable to the popular opinion.— Witches holding their fabbath, and faluting passengers on the blasted heath! ghosts, at the midnight hour, visiting the glimpses of the moon, and whispering a bloody secret, from propriety of place and action, derive a credibility very propitious to the scheme of the poet. Reddere personæ-convenientia cuique, cannot be less his duty in regard to these superior and divine, than to human
* Hurd, on Dramatic Imitation,
characters. Indeed, from the invariableness of their natures, a greater consiitency and uniformity is neceflary ; but most of all, as the belief of their intervention depends entirely on their manners and fentiments suiting with the preconceived opinion of them.
The magician Prospero raising a storm : witches performing infernal rites; or any other exertion of the supposed powers and qualities of the agent, were easily credited by the vulgar.
The genius of S. informed him that poetic fable mult rise above the simple tale of the nurse ; therefore he adorns the beldame tradition with flowers gathered on classic ground, but ftill wisely suffering those fimples of her native foil, to which the established superItition of her country has attributed a magic spell, to to be predominant. Can any thing be more poetical .than Prospero's address to his attendant fpirits before he dismisfes them?
Prof. Ye elves of hills, &c. Here are agreeably summed up the popular stories concerning the power of magicians. The incantations of the witches in Macbeth are more folemn and terrible than those of the Erichthe of Lucan, or of the Canidia of Horace. It may be said, indeed, that S. had an advantage derived from the more direful character of his national fuperftitions.
A celebrated writer in his ingenious letters on chivalry, has observed that the Gothic manners, and Gothic fuperftitions, are more adapted to the uses of poetry, than the Grecian, The devotion of those times was gloomy and fearful, not being purged of 'the terrors of the Celtic fables. The priest often availed himself of the dire inventions of his predecessor the druid. The church of Rome adopted many of the Celtic superstitions; others, which were not established by it as points of faith, still maintained a traditional authority among the vulgar, Climate, tem
per, modes of life, and institutions of government, seem all to have conspired to make the superstitions of the Celtic nations melancholy and terrible. Philofophy had not mitigated the austerity of ignorant devotion, or tamed the fierce fpirit of enthusiasm. As the bards, who were our philosophers and poets, pretended to be pofleffed of the dark secrets of magic and divination, they certainly encouraged the ignorant credulity, and anxious fears, to which such impoftures owe their suçcess and credit. The retired and gloomy scenes appointed for the most folemn rites of devotion; the aufterity and rigour of druidičal discipline and jurisdiction ; the fasts, the penances, the fad exconmunications from the comförts and privileges of civil life; the dreadful anathema, whose vengeance pursued the wretched beyond the grave-which bounds all human power and mortal jurisdiction-muft deeply imprint on che mind all those forms of superstition such an hierarchy presented. The bard, who was fubfervient to the druid, had mixed them in his heroic song ; in his historical annals; in his medical practice: genii affifted his heroes ; dæmons decided the fate of the battle ; and charms cured the fick, or the wounded. After the confecrated groves were cut down, and the temples demolished, the tales that sprung from thence were ftill preserved with religious reverence in the minds of the people.
The poet found himfelf happily situated amidst enchantments, gholts, goblins ; every element supposed the refidence of a kind of deity; the genius of the mountain, the fpirit of the floods, the oak endued with sacred prophecy, made men walk abroad with a fearful apprehension
Of powers unseen, and mightier far than they. On the mountains, and in the woods, ftalked the angry spectre ; and in the gayest and most pleasing scenes, even within the cheerful haunts of men amongst villages and farms,
Tripp'd the light fairies, and the dapper elves. The reader will easily perceive what resources re. mained for the poet in this visionary land of ideal forms. The general scenery of nature, considered as inanimate, only adorns the descriptive part of poetry; but being, according to the Celtic traditions, animated by a kind of intelligences, the bard could better make use of them for his moral purposes. That awe of the immediate presence of the deity, which, among the rest of the vulgar, is confined to temples and altars, was here diffused over every object. They passed trembling through the woods, and over the mountain, and by the lakes, inhabited by these invisible powers ; fuch apprehensions muft indeed
Deepen the murmur of the falling floods,
And shed a browner horror on the woods ; Give fearful accents to every whisper of the animate or inanimate creation, and arm every shadow with ter
With great reason, therefore, it was asserted, that the western bards had advantage over Homer in the superstitions of their country. The religious ceremonies of Greece were more pompous than folemn; and seemed as much a part of their civil institutions, as belonging to spiritual matters : nor did they impress so deep a sense of invisible beings, and prepare the mind to catch the enthusiasm of the poet, and to receive with veneration the phantoms he prefented.
Our countryman has another superiority over the Greek poets, even the earliest of them, who, having imbibed the learning of mysterious Egypt, addicted themselves to allegory; but our Gothic bard employs the potent agency of sacred fable, instead of mere amufive allegory. When the world becomes learned and philosophical, fable refines into allegory. But the age of fable is the golden age of poetry; when the beams of unclouded reason, and the steady lamp of inquisitive philosophy, throw their penetrating rays