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Rambler 158 [Rules of writing drawn from examples…]
by [?]

When rules are thus drawn, rather from precedents than reason, there is danger not only from the faults of an author, but from the errours of those who criticise his works; since they may often mislead their pupils by false representations, as the Ciceronians of the sixteenth century were betrayed into barbarisms by corrupt copies of their darling writer.

It is established at present, that the proemial lines of a poem, in which the general subject is proposed, must be void of glitter and embellishment. “The first lines of Paradise Lost,” says Addison, “are perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned, as any of the whole poem, in which particular the author has conformed himself to the example of Homer, and the precept of Horace.”

This observation seems to have been made by an implicit adoption of the common opinion, without consideration either of the precept or example. Had Horace been consulted, he would have been found to direct only what should be comprised in the proposition, not how it should be expressed; and to have commended Homer in opposition to a meaner poet, not for the gradual elevation of his diction, but the judicious expansion of his plan; for displaying unpromised events, not for producing unexpected elegancies.

–Specivsa dehinc miracula prouiat;
Antiphaten, Scyllamque, et cum Cyclope Charybdim.
Hon. Ar. Poet. 146.

But from a cloud of smoke he breaks to light,
And pours his specious miracles to sight;
Antiphates his hideous feast devours,
Charybdis barks, and Polyphemus roars.

If the exordial verses of Homer be compared with the rest of the poem, they will not appear remarkable for plainness or simplicity, but rather eminently adorned and illuminated:

Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polutropon, os mala polla
Plagchthae, epei Troiaes ieron ptoliethron eperse;
Pollon d anthropon iden astea, kai noon egno;
Polla d og en pontps pathen algea on kata thumon,
Arnumenos aen te psuchaen kai noston etairon;
All oud os etarous errusato, iemenos per;
Auton gar spheteraesin atasthaliaesin olonto.
Naepioi, oi kata bous uperionos Aeelioio
Aesthion; autar o toisin apheileto vostimon aemao;
Ton amothen ge, thea, thugater Dios, eipe kai eamin.]

The man, for wisdom’s various arts renown’d,
Long exercised in woes, O muse! resound.
Who, when his arms had wrought the destin’d fall
Of sacred Troy, and raz’d her heav’n-built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray’d,
The manners noted, and their states survey’d.
On stormy seas unnumber’d toils he bore,
Safe with his friends to gain his natal shore:
Vain toils! their impious folly dar’d to prey
On herds devoted to the god of day;
The god vindictive doom’d them never more
(Ah! men unbless’d) to touch that natal shore.
O snatch some portion of these acts from fate,
Celestial muse! and to our world relate.

The first verses of the Iliad are in like manner particularly splendid, and the proposition of the Aeneid closes with dignity and magnificence not often to be found even in the poetry of Virgil.

The intent of the introduction is to raise expectation, and suspend it; something therefore must be discovered, and something concealed; and the poet, while the fertility of his invention is yet unknown, may properly recommend himself by the grace of his language.

He that reveals too much, or promises too little; he that never irritates the intellectual appetite, or that immediately satiates it, equally defeats his own purpose. It is necessary to the pleasure of the reader, that the events should not be anticipated, and how then can his attention be invited, but by grandeur of expression?