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The poets of the present day who would raise the epic song cry out, like Archimedes of old, “ give us a place to stand on and we will move the world.” This is, as we conceive, the true difficulty. Glancing for a moment at the progress of epic poetry, we shall see that the obscurity of fabulous times could be adapted to the earliest development only of the heroic character. There is an obvious incongruity in making times so far remote the theatre on which to represent the heroism of a civilized age; and it adds still more to the difficulty, that, although the darkness of fable still invests them, reason will no longer perceive the beings which the infant credulity of man once saw there.
To men in the early stages of society their phys. ical existence must seem almost without end, and they live on through life with as little reference to another state of being as we ourselves do in childhood. To minds in this state there was a remoteness in an event which had taken place one or two centuries before, of which we cannot conceive, and which rendered the time that Homer had chosen for his subject, though not materially differing in character, sufficiently remote for his purpose. If to these advantages possessed by Homer we add those which belonged to him from the religion of his times and from tradition, whose voice is to the poet more friendly than the plain written records of history, we must confess that the spot on which he built up his scenes of heroic wonder was peculiarly favorable. The advance, which the human mind had made towards civilization, prevented Virgil from making a like impression on his own age. To awaken admiration, he too was obliged to break from the bonds of the present, and soar beyond the bounds of history, before he could throw his spell of power over the mind. Why had he less influence ? Because he could not, like Homer, carry into the past the spirit of his times. To the enlarged minds of Virgil's day, the interval between the siege of Troy and their own time did not seem wider than it did to those who lived in the time of Homer. The true distance in time was chosen by each, but the character of Æneas did not possess those great attributes which could render it the Achilles of the
Romans. Lucan, while his characters exhibit the true heroic spirit of his age, fails of giving to them their due infiuence, from the want of some region of fiction beyond the dominion of history in which to place them. He cannot break from the present without violating every law of probability. To escape this thraldom and reach a point from which the heroic character of their age might be seen dilated to its full height, modern poets have fled beyond the bounds of time and woke the echoes of eternity. It was only from this point that the Christian world could be moved; it is only in that region without bounds, that the heroism of immortality can be shown in visible action. Milton and Dante chose this spot, on which with almost creative power they might show to mankind worlds of their own, from the void and formless Infinite," and from which their own heroic spirits might be reflected back upon their own times in all their gigantic proportions. But such has been the progress of the human mind since their time, that it would seem to have reached already another stage in its development, to have unfolded a new form of the heroic character, one which finds no paradise, nay, no heaven for itself in the creations of Milton, and for which the frowns of Dante's hell have no terror. This new page of the heroic character naturally leads us to inquire, whether we are to have no great
representation of it, no embodying of this spirit in some gigantic form of action, which shall stalk before the age, and by the contemplation of which our minds may be fired to nobler deeds.
In considering this question, we shall endeavor to show what reasons there are for not expecting another great epic poem, drawn from the principles of epic poetry and the human mind, and that these present an insuperable barrier to the choice of a subject, which shall exhibit the present development of the heroic character in action.
In doing this I shall exhibit, by an analysis of the Iliad, the true model of an epic poem, its origin and peculiarities, and in what manner those peculiarities have been changed, and, at last, lost by succeeding poets, according to the development of the heroic character in their several eras.
I shall thus be led to show that the taking away of the peculiarities of epic interest, and the final emerging of that interest in the dramatic, is the natural result of the influences to which the human mind in its progress is subjected; and that that influence, while it precludes all former subjects from representing the present development of the heroic character, throws, at the same time, an insuperable barrier in the
any subject. Looking upon Homer, at least as regards the Iliad, as a single man speaking throughout with one accent