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E LE G I ES,
MANY DIFFERENT OCCASIONS.
« Tantùm inter densas, umbrosa cacumina, fagos “ Affiduè veniebat; ibi hæc incondita, folus, “ Montibus et sylvis ftudio jactabat inani !"
A PREFATORY ESSAY
E LE G
E G Y.
T is obfervable, that discourses prefixed to poetry are
contrived' very frequently to inculcate such tenets as may exhibit the performance to the greatest advantage. The fabric is very commonly raised in the first place, and the measures, by which we are to judge of its merit, are afterwards adjusted.
There have been few rules given us by the critics concerning the itructure of elegiac poetry; and far be it from the author of the following trifles to dignify his own opinions with that denomina:ion. He would only intimate the great variety of fubje&ts, and the different Styles in which the writers of elegy have hitherto in dulged themfeives, and endeavour to shield the follow.. ing ones by the latitude of their example.
If we consider the etymology * of the word, the epithet which + Horace gives it, or the confession B 2
- Neytly, particulam dolendi, + « Miserabiles elegos.".
which * Ovid makes concerning it, I think we may condude thus much lowever; that elegy, in its true and genuine acceptation, includes a tender and.querulous idea : that it looks upon this as its peculiar characteristic, and so long as this is thoroughly sustained, admits of a variety of fubjects; which, by its manner of treating them, it renders-its own. It throws its melancholy Pole over pretty different objects; which, like the dresses at a funeral proceffion, gives them all a kind of folemn and uniform appearance.
It is probable that elegies were written at firfi upon the death of intimate friends and near relations; celebrated beauties, or favourite mireles; beneficent governors and illustrious men: one may add perhaps, of all those, who are placed by Virgil in the laurel-grove of his Elysium. (See Hurd's Dissertation on Horace's Epiftle.)
Quique sui memores alios fecere merendo." After these subjects were sufficiently exhausted, and the severity of fate displayed in the most affecting in.. stances, the poets fought occasion to vary their complaints ; and the next tender species of forrow that presented itself, was the grief of absent or neglected lovers. And this indulgence might be indeed allowed them; but with this they were not contented. They had obtained a small corner in the province of love, and they took advantage, from thence, to over-run the whole
* « Heu nimis ex vero nunc tibi nomen erit."
Ovid. de Morte Tibulli.
territory. They sung its spoils, triumphs, ovations, and rejoicings *, as well as the captivity and exequies that attended it. They gave the name of elegy to their pleasantries as well as lamentations; till at laft, through their abundant fondness for the myrtle, they forgot that the cypress was their peculiar garland.
In this it is probable they deviated from the original design of elegy ; and it sould seem, that
any kind of subjects, treated in such a manner as to diffuse a pleasing melancholy, might far better deserve the name,
than the facetious mirth and libertine feftivity of the successful votaries of love.
But not to dwell too long upon an opinion which may seem perhaps introduced to favour the following performance, it may not be improper to examine into the use and end of elegy. The most important end of all poetry is to encourage virtue. Epic and tragedy chiefly recommend the public virtues; élégy is of a species which illustrates and endears the private. There is a truly virtuous pleasure connected with inany penlive contemplations, which it is the province and cellency of elegy to enforce. This, by presenting suitable ideas, has discovered sweets in melancholy which we could not find in mirth; and has led us with success to the dusty urn, when we could draw no pleasure from the sparkling bowl; as pastoral conveys an idea of fimplicity and innocence, it is in particular the talk and merit of elegy to shew the innocence and simpliB 3.
* 6 Dicite Io Pæan, & Io bis dicite Pæan.". OviD.