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HILE the two capital species of poetry, the epic and dramatic, have long engaged
the nicest attention of taste and criticism, the humbler but not less pleasing productions of the Muse have not obtained that notice from the critic to which the exertions of the poet would seem to entitle them.
This will appear the more extraordinary when we reflect that some of the most excellent productions in the former have been the spontaneous
growth of a rude and uncultivated foil, whereas the latter have never flourished without acquired richness in the soil and the fostering hand of art. This critical neglect has given rise to uncertainty in the distinctions, and irregularity in the composition of most of the minor classes of poetry; and while the long established divisions of ode, elegy and epigram are involved in thefe difficulties, it is not a matter of wonder to meet with them in the modern pieces which range under the general title of Songs.
ALTHOUGH many of our most celebrated poets have exercised their talents in composing these little pieces, and their pleasing effect is universally known and acknowledged, yet have we but one professed criticism on their composition ; and this, though elegant and ingenious, is both too short and too superficial to give precision
and accuracy to our ideas on this subject. It is contained in a paper of the Guardian written by Mr. Phillips.
In attempting the task of determining with exactness the nature of song-writing, and the various distinctions of which it is susceptible, together with the specific excellence of each, I find it therefore necessary to go far back into the origin of poetry in general, and to recur to those first principles existing in the human mind, which alone can give a firm foundation to our deductions.
The original poetry of all nations must have been very much confined to the description of external objects, and the narration of events. This is a necessary consequence of the barrenness of infant language with regard to abstract ideas, and is confirmed by the remains of antiquity
which have reached us. Among a fierce and warlike people constantly engaged in enterprizes of arms, poetry was solely employed in rehearsing the valorous deeds of their heroes; and the horrid pictures of war and desolation were enlivened by the kindred imagery of whatever nature afforded of the awful, terrific and stupendous. In happier regions, where the mild inhabitants were suited to the softness and luxury of the climate, the business of poetry was to paint the surrounding profufion of beautiful objects, the pleasing incidents of a pastoral life, the tender cares and ravishing delights of love. This palsion found as apt a comparison with the beautiful scenes of nature, as war and destruction could do with its glooms and horrors.
OsSIAN and Theocritus will afford compleat instances of the first poetry in its two different branches. Mingling
storms, roaring torrents, swelling occans, lightning and thunder, paint the dreadful battle pieces of the Caledonian ; while the murmuring brook, the green meadow, the bleating flock, the fimple shepherd and his artless fair, deck out the rural landscape of the Grecian. Thus heroic and pastoral poetry are at first forined, consisting chiefly of description and imagery. The passion of military glory in the one, and of love in the other, would indeed add sentiment to the picture, but even these sentiments must be expressed by a reference to external objects. The lover who had fought for natural comparisons to paint the charms of his mistress, must seek for others to express the emotions of his mind. He must burn with desire, and freeze with disdain ; rage with the ocean, and figh with the zephir ; , hope must enlighten him with its rays, and despair darken him with its