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With a wonderful dimness of discernment in poetic matters, considering his acuteness in others, he fancies he has settled the question by pronouncing such creations “impossible !" To the brazier they are impossible, no doubt; but not to the poet. Their possibility, if the poet wills it, is to be conceded ; the problem is, the creature being given, how to square its actions with probability, according to the nature assumed of it. Hobbes did not see, that the skill and beauty of these fictions lay in bringing them within those very regions of truth and likelihood in which he thought they could not exist. Hence the serpent Python of Chaucer,
Sleeping against the sun upon a day,
when Apollo slew him. Hence the chariot-drawing dolphins of Spenser, softly swimming along the shore lest they should hurt themselves against the stones and gravel. Hence Shakspeare's Ariel, living under blossoms, and riding at evening on the bat; and his domestic namesake in the “Rape of the Lock” (the imagination of the drawing-room) saving a lady's petticoat from the coffee with his plumes, and directing atoms of snuff into a coxcomb's nose. In the “ Orlando Furioso” (Canto xv., st. 65) is a wild story of a cannibal necromancer, who laughs at being cut to pieces, coming together again like quicksilver, and picking up his head when it is cut off, sometimes by the hair, sometimes by the nose! This, which would be purely childish and ridiculous in the hands of an inferior poet, becomes inter. esting, nay grand, in Ariosto’s, from the beauties of his style, and its conditional truth to nature. The monster has a fated hair on his head,—a single hair,—which must be taken from it before he can be killed. Decapitation itself is of no consequence, without that proviso. The Paladin Astolfo, who has fought this phenomenon on horseback, and succeeded in getting the head and galloping off with it, is therefore still at a loss what to be at. How is he to discover such a needle in such a bottle of hay? The trunk is spurring after him to recover it, and he seeks for some evidence of the hair in vain. At length he be. thinks himself of scalping the head. He does so ; and the moment the operation arrives at the place of the hair, the face of the head becomes pale, the eyes turn in their sockets, and the life. less pursuer tumbles from his horse.
Si fece il viso allor pallido e brutto,
Then grew the visage pale, and deadly wet;
It is thus, and thus only, by making Nature his companion wherever he goes, even in the most supernatural region, that the poet, in the words of a very instructive phrase, takes the world along with him. It is true, he must not (as the Platonists would say) humanize weakly or mistakenly in that region; otherwise he runs the chance of forgetting to be true to the supernatural itself, and so betraying a want of imagination from that quarter. His nymphs will have no taste of their woods and waters; his gods and goddesses be only so many fair or frowning ladies and gentlemen, such as we see in ordinary paintings; he will be in no danger of having his angels likened to a sort of wild. fowl, as Rembrandt has made them in his Jacob's Dream. His Bacchus's will never remind us, like Titian's, of the force and fury, as well as of the graces, of wine. His Jupiter will reduce no females to ashes; his fairies be nothing fantastical ; his gnomes not “ of the earth, earthy.” And this again will be wanting to Nature ; for it will be wanting to the supernatural, as Nature would have made it, working in a supernatural direction. Nevertheless, the poet, even for imagination's sake, must not become a bigot to imaginative truth, dragging it down into the region of the mechanical and the limited, and losing sight of its paramount privilege, which is to make beauty, in a human sense, the lady and queen of the universe. He would gain nothing by making his ocean-nymphs mere fishy creatures, upon the plea that such only could live in the water: his wood. nymphs with faces of knotted oak; his angels without breath and song, because no lungs could exist between the earth's atmosphere and the empyrean. The Grecian tendency in this respect is safer than the Gothic; nay, more imaginative; for it enables us to imagine beyond imagination, and to bring all things healthily round to their only present final ground of sympathy
-the human. When we go to heaven, we may idealize in a superhuman mode, and have altogether different notions of the beautiful ; but till then, we must be content with the loveliest capabilities of earth. The sea-nymphs of Greece were still beautiful women, though they lived in the water. The gills and fins of the ocean's natural inhabitants were confined to their lowest semi-human attendants; or if Triton himself was not quite human, it was because he represented the fiercer part of the vitality of the seas, as they did the fairer. .
To conclude this part of my subject, I will quote from the greatest of all narrative writers two passages ;-one exemplifying the imagination which brings supernatural things to bear on earthly, without confounding them; the other, that which paints events and circumstances after real life. The first is where Achilles, who has long absented himself from the conflict between his countrymen and the Trojans, has had a message from heaven, bidding him re-appear in the enemy's sight, standing outside the camp-wall upon the trench, but doing nothing more; that is to say, taking no part in the fight. He is simply to be seen. The two armies down by the sea-side are contending which shall possess the body of Patroclus; and the mere sight of the dreadful Grecian chief-supernaturally indeed impressed upon them, in order that nothing may be wanting to the full effect of his courage and conduct upon courageous men-is to determine the question. We are to imagine a slope of ground towards the sea, in order to elevate the trench; the camp is solitary; the battle (“ a dreadful roar of men,” as Homer calls it) is raging on the sea-shore; and the goddess Iris has just delivered her message, and disappeared.
Αυταρ Αχιλλευς ωρτο Διι φιλος" αμφι δ' Αθηνη
Αμφι δε οι κεφαλη νεφος εστεφε δια θεαων
Στη δ' επι ταφρον ιων απο τειχεος ουδ' ες Αχαιους
Αστυ περιπλομενων δημων υπο θυμοραιστεων:
Πασιν ορινθη θυμος αταρ καλλιτριχες ιπποι
Iliad, Lib. xviii., v. 203.
But up Achilles rose, the lov’d of heaven;
Upon the trench he stood, without the wall,
His mother's word; and so, thus standing there,
Of course there is no further question about the body of Patro. clus. It is drawn out of the press, and received by the awful hero with tears.
The other passage is where Priam, kneeling before Achilles, and imploring him to give up the dead body of Hector, reminds him of his own father; who, whatever (says the poor old king) may be his troubles with his enemies, has the blessing of knowing that his son is still alive, and may daily hope to see him return. Achilles, in accordance with the strength and noble honesty of the passions in those times, weeps aloud himself at this appeal, feeling, says Homer, “ desire" for his father in his very “limbs.” He joins in grief with the venerable sufferer, and can no longer withstand the look of “his great head and his grey chin.” Observe the exquisite introduction of this last word. It paints the touching fact of the chin's being imploringly thrown upward by the kneeling old man, and the very motion of his beard as he speaks.
“Ως αρα φωνησας απεβη προς μακρον Ολυμπον
'Equelas. II planos dešimtwv alto xapače,