La Belle Assemblée, 1 (1806), 69–70.
On the Use of the Fables of Mythology
Education, Amusement, Imagination, Feeling, Reasoning, Superstition, Ancient Authorities, Supernaturalism
Observes: 'To disguise the asperity of instruction by the more enticing mask of amusement, is a mode of condescension which the world expects from those who wish either to disseminate knowledge or to purchase fame'. Notes that allegorical imagery has often been used to express natural phenomena, as with the 'qualities of air, of fire, of water, of earth, their combination and effects', and that 'moral and natural philosophy' were thus taught. Regrets the tendency to rest content with such 'fictions', to forget their morals, and to pass them from generation to generation and even make them into 'idols'. Traces heathenism to such idolatry, giving as an example reactions to the 'enormous edifices of Egypt, built probably for the purposes of science'. (69) Considers, therefore, that 'that mythology which is now thought trivial [...] had its commencement in the highest chambers of literature'. Notes that only when they are taken from classical literature are the ancient fables now found to provide acceptable materials for poetry, and observes: 'These illustrious authors have indeed become the common place book of the universe; and we have as just a right to make a liberal use of their contents, as to make transcriptions from that other great common place book, the volume of Nature'. Cites Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden as evidence that 'all the known supernatural machinery may with propriety and effect be used or alluded to in the same work', noting the presence in the work of 'the elementary beings of the Rosi-crucian Philosophy' and illustrations 'drawn promiscuously from ethics or from holy writ'. (70)
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