London: Printed for C. Hitch and C. Davis…, 1742. First edition. Front joint neatly restored, top of spine chipped, corners slightly worn. A very good copy. Contemporary sheepskin with gilt red morocco spine label. Twelvemo. , 358 pp. Item #13217
Trapp (1697-1747) was the first professor of poetry at Oxford, taking up the chair on July 14, 1708, and holding it for ten years. The lectures were first published in 1711 in Latin as Praelectiones Poeticae. The above translation is by Rev. William Clarke and William Bowyer, who have provided “additional Notes.” In The Art of Discrimination (1964), Ralph Cohen notes that “although Trapp referred to ‘description’ as a literary device which had been practised by the ancients, he offered to extend the meaning of ‘description’ so that it referred to rural objects as well as to human action, and he sought to extend the meaning of poetry to include illustrations [reflection] as well as imitation [description].” Trapp’s Lectures on Poetry provide a very good resume of early eighteenth-century ideas about the theoretical and practical foundations of poetry. From time to time, he does give glimpses of originality, e.g., in his description of metaphor, which has been described as advanced for its day. Otherwise, the work impresses with its non-nonsense approach, its lack of uncertainty and diffuseness about subject matter. For example, poetry is briskly defined in the second lecture as “An Art of imitating or illustrating in metrical Numbers every Being in Nature, and every object of the Imagination, for the Delight and Improvement of Mankind.” This abundantly clear approach continues throughout his book, in which he considers the nature and origin of poetry in general, the style of poetry, beauty of thought or elegance and sublimity in poetry, epigrammatic poetry, elegies, pastorals, didactic poetry, lyric poetry, satire, drama, comedy and tragedy, and the epic. He is particularly interesting on the different passions inspired by comedy and tragedy, and surprisingly, does not seem to regard tragedy as superior to comedy, only different, noting that only a few are pleased by scenes of sorrow, while everyone is pleased with mirth. As a guide to received opinion about poetics in the early eighteenth century, Trapp’s Lectures are exemplary.