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Another essential property is, that the Fable be every where consistent with itself. As licentious as Allegorical fiction may seem in some respects, it is, nevertheless, fubject to this restraint. The poet is, indeed, at liberty in choosing his story, and inventing his persons, but, after he has introduced them, he is obliged to sustain them in their proper characters, as well as in more regular kinds of writing. It is difficult to give particular rules under this head; it may fuffice to say that this wild nature is, however, subject to an economy proper to itself; and, though it may fometimes seem extravagant, ought never to be absurd. Most of the Allegories in the Faerie Queene are agreeable to this rule; but in one of his other poems the Author has manifestly transgreffed it; the poem I mean is that which is called Prothalamion. In this the two brides are figured by two beautiful swans failing down the river Thames. The Allegory breaks, before the reader is prepared for it; and we see them, at their landing, in their true shapes, without knowing how this sudden change is effected. If this had been only a fimile, the poet might have dropped it at pleasure; but, as it is an Allegory, he ought to have made it of a piece, or to have invented some probable means of coming out of it.
The last property I shall mention is, that the Allegory be clear and intelligible; the Fable being designed only to clothe and adorn the Moral, but not to hide it, should, methinks, resemble the draperies we admire in some of the ancient statues, in which the folds are not too many, nor too thick, but so judiciously ordered, that the shape and beauty of the limbs may be seen through them.
It must be confeffed, that many of the ancient Fables appear to us, at this distance of time, very perplexed and dark; and, if they had any Moral at all, it is so clofely couched, that it is very difficult to discover it. Whoever reads the Lord Bacon's Wisdom of the Ancients, will be convinced of this. He has employed a more than ordinary penetration to decipher the most known traditions in the Heathen mythology; but his interpretations are often far-fetched, and so much at random, that the reader can have no affurance of their truth. It is not to be doubted that a great part of these fables were allegorical, but others might have been stories designed only to amuse, or to practife upon the credulity of the vulgar; or the doctrines they contained might be purposely clouded, to conceal them from common knowledge. But though, as I hinted in the former part of this discourse, this may have been a reason among philosophers, it ought not to be admitted among poets. An Allegory which is not clear is a riddle, and the sense of it lies at the mercy of every fanciful interpreter.
Though the epick poets, as I have shown, have sprinkled fome Allegories through their poems, yet it would be absurd to endeavour to understand them every where in a myftical fense. We are told of one Metrodorus Lampfacenus, whose works are loft, that turned the whole f writings of Homer
f turned the whole writings of Homer into an Allegory:] Mr. Hughes seems not to have known that another work of this kind exifted, which is in Greek, viz. “ Allegoriæ Homericæ quæ fub. Heraclidis nomine feruntur, &c.” This allegorical performance (of which the French criticks speak contemp, tuously) was first published by Aldus at the end of his edition of Æsop's Fables in 1505. Conrad Gefner republished this little tract, with a Latin version. It was again ifsued from the press, at Gottingen in 1782; by N. Schow, M.A. To which is added,
Ejufdem Commentatio. Critica in Stoicorum et Gramınaticorum Allegorias Homericas, una cum adnotatione critica in lectionem libelli.” A critical Letter from Heyne to the editor is prefixed. TODD. .
into an Allegory: it was, doubtless, by some such means that the principles of all arts and sciences whatever were discovered in that single author ; for nothing can escape an expositor who proceeds in his operations like a Rolycrucian, and brings with him the gold he pretends to find.
It is surprising that Tasso, whose Jerusalem was, at the time when he wrote, the best plan of an epick poem after Virgil
, should be poffeffed with this affectation, and thould not believe his work perfect till he had turned it into a mystery. I cannot help thinking that the Allegory, as it is called, which he has printed with it, looks as if it were invented after the poem was finished. He tells us that the Christian army represents man; the city of Jerusalem, civil happiness; Godfrey, the understanding ; Rinaldo and Tancred, the other powers of the foul; and that the body is typified by the common foldiers; with a great deal more that carries in it a strong cast of enthusiasm. He is indeed much more intelligible when he explains the flowers, the fountains, the nymphs, and the musical instruments, to figure to us sensual pleasures under the false appearance of good; but, for the rest, I appeal to any one who is acquainted with that poem, whether he would ever have discovered these myfteries if the poet had not let him into them? or whether even, after this, he can keep them long in his mind while he is reading it ?
Spenser's conduet is much more reasonable. As he designed his Poem upon the plan of the Virtues by which he has entitled his several Books, he fcarce ever loses fight of this design, but has almoft every where taken care to let it appear. Sir William Temple, indeed, cenfures this as a fault, and says, that though his flights of fancy were very noble and high, yet his moral lay to bare that it lost the VOL. II.
effe&t: but I confess I do not understand this : a moral which is not clear is, in my apprehension, next to no moral at all.
It would be ealy to enumerate other properties, which are various, according to the different kinds of Allegory, or its different degrees of perfection. Sometimes we are surprised with an uncommon moral, which ennobles the fable that conveys it; and at other times we meet with a known and obvious truth, placed in some new and beautiful point of light, and made surprising by the fiction under which it is exhibited. I have thought it sufficient to touch upon such properties only as seem to be the most effential, and perhaps many more might be reduced under one or other of these general heads.
I might here give examples of this noble and ancient kind of writing out of the Books of Holy Writ, and especially the Jewish Prophets, in which we find a spirit of poetry surprisingly sublime and majestick ; but these are obvious to every one's reading. The East seems indeed to have been principally, the region of these figurative and emblematical writings. Sir John Chardin, in his Travels, has given us a translation of several pieces of modern Persian poetry, which show that there are traces of the fame genius remaining among the present inhabitants of those countries. But, not to prolong this Discourse, I shall only add one instance of a very ancient Allegory, which has all the properties in it I have mentioned ; I mean that in Xenophon, of the Choice of Hercules, when he is courted by Virtue and Pleasure, which is said to have been the invention of Prodicus. This fable is full of spirit and elegance; the characters are finely drawn, and consistent, and the moral is clear. I hall not need to say any thing more of it, but refer the reader to the second volume of the Tatler, where he will find it very beautifully translated .
After what has been said, it must be confeffed that, excepting Spenser, there are few extraordinary instances of this kind of writing among the Moderns. The great mines of invention have been opened long ago, and little new ore seems to have been discovered or brought to light by latter ages. With us the art of framing fables, apologues, and allegories, which was so frequent among the writers of antiquity, seems to be, like the art of painting upon glass, but little practised, and in a great measure loft. Our colours are not to rich and transparent, and are either so ill prepared, or so unskilfully laid on, that they often fully the light which is to pass through them, rather than agreeably tincture and beautify it.
Boccalini must be reckoned one of the chief modern masters of Allegory; yet his Fables are often flat and ill chofen, and his invention seems to have been rather fruitful than elegant. I cannot, however, conclude this Essay on Allegory without observing, that we have had the fatisfaétion to see this kind of writing very lately revived by an excellent genius among ourselves, in the true spirit of the Ancients. I need only mention the Visions in the Tatler and Spe&tator, by Mr. Addison, to convince every one of this. The Table of Fame, the Vision of Justice, that of the different Pursuits of Love, Ambition, and Avarice; the Vision of Mirza, and several others; and especially that admirable Fable of the two Families of Pain and Pleasure, which are all imagined and
very beautifully translated.] The reader will find it tranNated, with new graces, fince that period, by a scholar of the first rank, the late accomplished bishop Lowth. It appeared first in Spence's Polymetis ; it will be most easy of access to readers, in Dodley's Collection of Puems, vol. iii. p. 7. TODD.