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not been lost. That passion which is peculiar to rational nature, the anguish arising from the consciousness of transgression, and the horrors attending the sense of the Divine Displeasure, are very justly described and forcibly impressed. But the passions are moved only on one occasion; sublinity is the general and prevailing quality in this poem ; sublimity variously modified, sometimes descriptive, sometimes argumentative.
The defects and faults of Paradise Lost, for faults and defects every work of man must have, it is the business of impartial criticism to discover. As, in disa playing the excellencies of Milton, I have not made long quotations, because of selecting beauties there had been no end, I shall in the same general manner mention that which seems to deserve censure ; for what Englishman can take delight in transcribing passag'es, which, if they lessen the reputation of Milton, diminish in some degree the honour of our country ?
The gencrality of my scheme does not admit the frequent notice of verbal inaccuracies; which Bentely, perhaps better skilled in grammar than poetry, has often found, though he sometimes made them, and which he imputed to the obtrusions of a reviser, whom the author's blindness obliged him to employ, a supposition rash and groundless, if he thought it true; and vile and pernici, ous, if, as is said, he in private allowed it to be false.
The plan of Paradise Lost has this inconvenience, that it comprises neither human actions nor human manners. The man and woman who act and suffer, are in a state which no other man or woman can ever know. The reader finds no transaction in which he can be engaged; beholds no condition in which he can by any effort of imagination place himself; he has, therefore, little natural curiosity or sympathy,
We all, indeed, feel the effects of Adam's disobedience; we all sin like Adam, and like him must all bewail our offences; we have restless and insidious ene. mies in the fallen angels, and in the blessed spirits we have guardians and friends ; in the Redemption of mankind we hope to be included; in the description of heaven and of hell we are surely interested, as we are all to reside hereafter either in the regions of horror or bliss.
But these truths are too important to be new; they have been taught to our infancy; tliey have mingled with our solitary thoughts and familiar conversation, and are habitually interwoven with the whole texture of life. Being therefore not new, they raise no unacctstomed emotion in the mind; what we knew before, we cannot learn; what is not unexpected, cannot surprise.
Of the ideas suggested by these awful scenes, from some we recede with reverence, except when stated hours require their association; and from others we shrink with horror, or admit them only as salutary inflictions, as countera poises to our interests and passions. Such images rather obstruct the career of fancy than incite it.
Pleasure and terrour are indeed the genuine sources of poetry; but poetical pleasure must be such as human imagination can at least conceive, and poetical terrour such as human strength and fortitude may combat. The good and evil of Eternity are too ponderous for the wings of wit.; the mind sinks under them in passive helplessness, content with calm belief and humble adoration.
Known truths, however, may take a different appearance, and be conveved to the mind hy a new train of intermediate images. This Milton has undertaken, and performed with pregnancy and vigour of mind peculiar to himself. , Whoever considers the few radical positions which the Scriptures afforded bim, will' wonder hy what energetic operation he expanded them to such extent, and ramified them to so much variety, restrained as he was by religious reverence from licentiousness of fiction.
Here is a full display of the united force of study and genius; of a great accumulation of materials, with judgement to digest, and fancy to combine them: Milton was able to select from nature, or from story, from an ancient fable, or from modern science, whatever could illustrate or adorn his thoughts. An accumulation of knowledge impregnated his mind, fermented by study, and exalted by imagination.
It has been therefore said, without an indecent hyperbole, by one of his encomiasts, that in reading Paradise Lost we read a book of universal knowledge.
But original deficience cannot be supplied. The want of human interest is always felt. Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed, and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for companions.
Another inconvenience of Milton's design is, that it requires the description of what cannot be described, the agency of spirits. He saw that in materiality supplied no images, and that he could not shew angels acting but by instruments of action; he therefore invested them with form and matter. This, being necessary, was therefore defensible; and he should have secured the consistency of his system, by keeping immateriality out of sight, and enticing his reader to drop it from his thoughts. But he has unhappily perplexed his poetry with his philosophy. His infernal and celestial powers are sometimes pure spirit, and sometimes animated body. When Satan walks with his lance upon the burning marle, he has a body; when in his passage between hell and the new world, he is in danger of sinking in the vacuity, and is supported by a gust of rising vapours, he has a body: when he animates the toad, he seems to be mere spirit, tliat can penetrate matter at pleasure ; when he starts up in his own shape, he has at least a determined form; and when he is brought before Gabriel he has a spear and a shield, which he had the power of hiding in the toad, though the arms of the contending angels are evidently material.
The vulgar inhabitants of Pandæmonium, being incorporeal spirits, are at lurge, though without number, in a limited space : yet in the battle, when they were overwhelmed by mountains, their armour hurt them, crushed in upon their suba tance, now grown gress by sinning. Tiis likewise happened to the uncorrupted angels, who were overthrown the sooner for their arms, for unarmed they might casily as spirits have evaded by contraction or remove. Even as spirits they are VOL. I.
hardly spiritual; for contraction and remove are images of matter; but if they could have escaped without their armour, they might have escaped from it, and left only the empty cover to be battered. Urie), when he rides on a sun-beam, is material; Satan is material when he is afraid of the prowess of Adam.
The confusion of spirit and matter which pervades the whole narration of the war of heaven fills it with incongruity; and the book, in which it is related, is, I believe, the favourite of children, and gradually neglected as knowledge is increased,
After the operation of immaterial agents, which cannot be explained, may be considered that of allegorical persons, which have no real existence. To exalt causes into agents, to invest abstract ideas with form, and animate then with activity, has always been the right of poetry. But such airy beings are, for the most part, suffered only to do their natural office, and retire. Thus Fame tells a tale, and Victory hovers over a general, or perches on a standard ; but Fame and Victory can do more. To give them any real employment, or ascribe to them any material agency, is to make them allegorical no longer, but to shock the mind by ascribing effects to non-entity. In the Prometheus of Æschylus we see Violence and Strength, and in the Alcestis of Euripides, we see Death, brought upon the stage, all as active persons of the drama; but no precedents can justify absurdity,
Milton's allegory of Sin and Death is undoubtedly faulty. Sin is indeed the mother of Death, and may be allowed to be the portress of hell; but when they stop the journey of Satan, a journey described as real, and when Death of fers him battle, the allegory is broken. That Sin and Death should have shewn the way to hell, might have been allowed; but they cannot facilitate the passage by building a bridge, because the difficulty of Satan's passage is described as real and sensible, and the bridge ought to be only figurative. The hell assigned to the rebellious spirits is described as not less local than the residence of man. It is placed in soms distant part of space, separated from the regions of harmony and order by a chaotick waste and an apoccupied vacuity ; but Sin and Death worked up a mole of aggravated soil, cemented with asphaltus; a work too bulky for ideal architects.
This unskilful allegory appears to me one of the greatest faults of the poem; and to this there was no temptation, but the author's opinion of its beauty.
To the conduct of the narrative some objection may be made. Satan is with great expectation brought before Gabriel in Paradise, and is suffered to ga away unmolested. The creation of man is represented as the consequence of the vacuity left in heaven by the expulsion of the rebels; yet Satan mentions it as a report rife in heaven before his departure.
To find sentiments for the state of innocence, was very difficult; and something of anticipation perhaps is now and then discovered. Adam's discourse of dreams seems not to be the speculation of a new-created being. I know not whether his answer to the angel's reproof for curiosity does not want something of propriety; it is the speech of a man acquainted with many other men. Some philosophical notions, especially when the philosophy is false, might
verse un have been better omitted. The angel, in a comparison, speaks of.
actness is rieer, before deer were yet timorous, and before Adam could understał comparison. Dryden remarks, that Milton has some flats among his elevations. English
ders of only to say, that all the parts are not equal. In every work, one part mu?
begin. for the sake of others; a palace must have passages ; a poem must have tra tions. It is no more to be required that wit should always be blazing, th
often that the sun should always stand at noon. In a great work there is a vicissitu, of luminous and opaque parts, as there is in the world a succession of day an
"the night. Milton, when he has expatiated in the sky, may be allowed sometimes to revisit earth; for what other author eversoared so high, or sustained his flight so long?
Milton being well versed in the Italian poets, appears to liave borrowed often from them; and, as every man catches something from his companions, his desire of imitating Ariosto's levity has disgraced his work with the Paradise of Fools; a fiction not in itself ill-imagined, but too ludicrous for its place.
His play on words, in which he delights too often; his equivocations, which Bentley endeavours to defend by the example of the ancients; his unnecessary and ungraceful use of terms of art; it is not necessary to mention, because they are easily remarked, and generally censured, and at last bear so little proportion to the whole, that they scarcely deserve the attention of a critick.
Such are the faults of that wonderful performance Paradise Lost; which he who can put in balance with its beauties must be considered not as nice but as dull, as less to be censured for want of candour, than pitied for want of sensibility.
Of Paradise Regained, the general judgement seems now to be right, that it is in many parts elegant, and every where instructive. It was not to be supposed that the writer of Paradise Lost could ever write without great effusions of fancy, and exalted precepts of wisdom. The basis of Paradise Regained is narJow, a dialogue without action can never please like an union of the narrative and dramatic powers. Had this poem been written not by Milton, but by some imitator, it would have claimed and received universal praise.
If Paradise Regained has been too much depreciated, Samson Agonistes has in requital been too much admired. It could only be by long prejudice, and the bigotry of learning, that Milton could prefer the ancient tragedies, with their encumbrance of a chorus, to the exhibitions of the French and English stages; and it is only by a blind confidence in the reputation of Milton, that a drama can be praised in which the intermediate parts have neither cause nor consequence, neither hasten nor retard the catastrophe.
In this tragedy are however many particular beauties, many just sentiments and striking lines; but it wants that power of attracting the attention which a well-connected plan produces.
Milton would not have excelled in dramatic writing; he knew human raa ture only in the gross, and had never studied the shades of character, nor the combinations of concurring, or the perplexity of contending passions. He had read much, and knew what books could teach; but had mingled little in the world, and was deficient in the knowledge which experience must confer. N2
hardly sh all his greater works there prevails an uniform peculiarity of Diction, could had cast of expression which bears little resemblance to that of any forleft onlr, and which is so far removed from common use, that an unlearned is matt.ien he first opens his book, finds himself surprised by a new language.
Th novelty has been, by those who can find nothing wrong in Milton the n't to his laborious endeavours after words suitable to the grandeur of his lated Our language, says Addison, sunk under him. But the truth is, that both in ledg and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedancick principle.
vas desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all his base is discovered and condemned; for there judgement operales freely, <ieither softened by the beauty, nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts; but such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance, the reader feels himself in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind, and criticism sinks in admiration.
Milton's style was not modified by his subject : what is shown with greater extent in Paradise Lost, may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets: the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last, may be said what Jonson says of Spenser, that he wrote na language, but has formed what Butler calls a Babylonish Dialect, in itself harsh and barbarotis, but made by exalted genius and extensive learning, the vehicle of so much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in its deformity.
Whatever be the fauits of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety: he was master of his language in its full extent; and has selected the melodious words with such diligence, that from his book alone the Art of English Poetry might be learned.
After lìis diction, something must be said of his versification. The measure, he says, is the English heroick verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many examples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The Earl of Surry is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme; and, besides our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particularly one, tending to reconcile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trissino's Italia Liberata ; and, finding blank verse easier than rhyme, was desirous of persuading himself that it is better. Rhyme, he says, and says truly, is no necessary adjunct of true poetry. But
perhaps, of poetry as a mental operation, metre or musick is no necessary adjunct: it is however by the musick of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all languages ; and in languages melodiously constructed with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot communicate its rules to another; where metre is scanty and imperfećt, some help is necessary. The musick of the English heroick line strikes the ear so faintly that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together :