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T has been lamented by biographers, and echoed but few materials, for a narrative; and that the time of his birth and death, with the intermediate dates of his publications, are the chief anecdotes of him which we can communicate to the world.
This opinion, like many others, is not controverted, because it hath been long received. It appears, upon a superficial view, to have substance; but it will vanish
upon examination. It must be owned that the poet's journey through life is often difficult to be traced. The sensibility and ardour of his mind will not suffer him to travel on in the beaten and uniform track, along which the generality of mankind are satisfied to proceed. He often quits the common road for the unfrequented haunts of meditation ; he is fometimes seduced from his course by pleasure, and loft in her flowery labyrinth ; and sometimes disgusted with the toughness of the way, he leaves it in dejection, and seeks the cavern of despair.
It is with poets, as it is with the rest of mankind; but a few of them, comparatively speaking, are born to affluence. A rich inheritance is, indeed, more apt to lull genius, than to call forth its exer
tion. Human nature is not formed to Aourish in extremes. Poetical ardour is damped by penury, and disipated by wealth. Thus the mind of man is equally unfit for glorious atchievements, under the equinoctial fervor, and the polar frost. The thoughts of the inhabitant of Iceland are confined to the provision of necessary fuftenance; the pleasures of his life are circumscribed by the immediate, and blunt sensations of animal nature. The scene is more varied to the African, but not by intellectual activity. His senses are quick and fine, but he is too indolent to make them the fource of reflection and imagination. His body and his mind are enfeebled by the perpendicular sun. He reclines under a spreading Made; he inhales the fragrant breath of the zephyr; he is lulled by the murmuts of a neighbouring Aream. His happiness is, love without gallantry, and repose without contemplation.
As the poet then is generally born poor, he has the difficulties of life to combat by his own dexterity and endeavours. He is not protected and recommended by gold, that magical auxiliary, which gives vigour to the body, and alacrity to the mind; which railes us without talents or virtue, to the first departments of a state ; unlocks to us the cabinets of kings, and authorizes us to determine the fate of nations. Fortune deigns not to sinile upon him when he comes into the world ; and nature but iH prepares him to despise, and to defeat her frown.
Many causes confpire to break the schemes which he forms for his distant advantage, to disguft him against mankind, and to withdraw him from fociety. He grows impatient of a uniform and laborious progrels, from the delicacy of his frame; as a tender eye is injured by looking earneitly for any time on one object. Many people are of an open, un
guarded temper, by which they are so strongly ing kuenced, that they never learn fufficiently to restrain it, notwithstanding the repeated experience of the great inconveniences which it occafions. This is al. most a conftant characteristick of the poet. Warmly actuated by his present ideas, he communicates his most important designs, his sympathies, and antipa. thies, his affections, and resentments, to persons with whom it is improper to lodge his fecrets, without any regard to consequences; and thus he loses many confiderable advantages, many. sincere and weighty friends, by the treachery of his compat nions.
To extenuate this absurdity iņ fome degree, it must be observed, that it partly proceeds from his ingenuous and unsuspecting nature. He is above perfidy himself, and therefore he is flow to imagine that it resides in the breast of another. Indeed he is so poor a politician in the common transactions of life, he hath so romantick a constitution, that he is apt to disdain the inferiour morality, to confound prudence with cunning and pufillanimity, and to deem it unworthy the attention of a great mind.
He generally attributes to himself at least as great abilities as he poffeffes ; he is sensible that poetical talents are rare, and that they are universally admired. Flushed with this confciousuess, he haftily concludes that the favour of the Muses alone will fecure him that love and efteem which may be conciliated, but which can never be seized ; and that the world will be subdued by the power of numbers. He leaves others to make their way by the humble cultivation of candour and affability, who are incapable of advancing by nobler arts. He forgets that it is peculiarly incumbent upon him to acquire thefe modeft virtues; for mankind are naturally hurt with
the splendour of shining talents ; and affection is most willingly given to those who can never excite admiration. Thus he oftener complies with the impulse of sentiment than with the forms of the world ; he is apt to refuse wealth and titles that respect which we may certainly pay them without meanness, and deviates into haughtiness by avoiding servility. This behaviour, like his works, is unfortunately actuated by imagination. For whatevir consequence the poet may have in his own opinion, he will find his genius a very unequal competitor with power and riches. They have a strong and universal influence; and they inherit it by long prescription. The poet can only amuse us for a few hours; but they can protect, and make us happy for life. The poet gives us only flowery, and chimerical amusement; but to them we are indebted for subftantial conveniences and delights. It is his province to paint; it is theirs to realize.
The sensible reader will not suppose that I mean to affix this character, which I think belongs to poets in general, to every disciple of the Muses. No rules are more exceptionable than those by which we class the operations of the mind. Many individuals repress the unhappy bent of their conititution, the tendency of their profession, and the disposition of their nation. There are prudent poets, as there are uncorrupted ministers of state.
But I will venture farther to observe, that the more rapturous and sublime the soul of the poet is, the more evidently will he appropriate this description. The more vigorous his genius is, the weakes will be his conduct. Extreme sensibility is the source of great poetical talents ; and extreme sensibility can only be checked. by the most heroic virtue. I mean not that partial and feminine fenfibility, by