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munication so contrary to the nature of dramatick representation, that no pre. çedents can support it.
The discourse of the Spirit is too long; an objection that may be made to almost all the following speeches: they have not the spriteliness of a dialogue, animated by reciprocal contention, but seem rather declamations deliberately composed, and formally repeated, on a moral question. The auditor therefore listens as to a lecture, without passion, without anxiety.
The song of Comus has airiness and jollity; but, what may recommend Milton's morals as well as his poetry, the invitations to pleasure are so general, that they excite no distinct images of corrupt enjoyment, and take no dangeraus hold on the fancy.
The following soliloquies of Comus and the Lady are elegant, but tedious. The song must owe much to the voice, if it ever can delight. At last the Brothers enter, with too much tranquility; and when they have feared lest their sister should be in danger, and hoped that she is not in danger, the Elder makes a speech in praise of chastity, and the Younger finds how fine it is to be a philosopher.
Then descends the Spirit in form of a shepherd; and the Brother, instead of being in haste to ask his help, praises his singing, and enquires his business in that place. It is remarkable, that at this interview the brother is taken with a short fit of rhyming. The Spirit relates that the Lady is in the power of Comus; the Brother moralises again; and the Spirit makes a long narration, of no use because it is false, and therefore unsuitable to a good Being.
In all these parts the language is poetical, and the sentiments are generous ; but there is something wanting to allure attention.
The dispute between the Lady and Comus is the most animated and affecting scene of the drama, and wants nothing but a brisker reciprocation of ob jections and replies, to invite attention, and detain it.
The songs are vigorous, and full of imagery; but they are harsh in their diction, and not very musical in their numbers,
Throughout the whole, the figures are too bold, and the language too luxuriant for dialogue. It is a drama in the epick style, inclegantly splendid, and tediously instructive.
The Sonnets were written in different parts of Milton's life, upon different occasions. They deserve not any particular criticism; for of the best it can only be said that they are not bad; and perhaps only the eighth and twenty-first are truly intitled to this slender commendation. The fabrick of a sonnet, however adapted to the Italian language, has never succeeded in ours, which, having greater variety of termination, requires the rhymes to be often changed.
Those little pieces may be dispatched without much anxiety; a greater work calls for greater care. I am now to examine Paradise Lost; a poem, which, considered with respect to design, may claim the first place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind.
By the general consent of criticks, the first praise of genius is due to the writer of an epick poem, as it requires an assemblage of all the powers which are singly sufficient for other compositions. Poetiy is the art of uniting pleasure
with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason. Epick poetry undera takes to teach the most important truths by the most pleasing precepts, and therefore relates some great event in the most affecting manner. History must supply the writer with the rudiments of narration, which he must improve and exalt by a nobler art, must aniinate hy dramatick energy, and diversify by retrospection and anticipation ; motality must teach him the exact bounds, and c'fferent shades, of vice and vittue ; from policy, and the practice of life, he has to learn the discriminations of character, and the tendency of the passions, either single or combined ; and physiology must supply him with illustrations and images. To put these materials to poetical use, is required an imagination capable of painting nature, and realizing fiction. Nor is he yet a poet till be has attained the whole extension of his language, distinguished all the delicacies of phrase, and all the colours of words, and learned to adjust their different sounds to all the varieties of metrical modulation.
Bossu is of opinion that the poet's first work is to find a moral, which his fable is afterwards to illustrate and establish. This seems to have been the process only of Milton: the moral of other poems is incidental and consequent; in Milton's only it is essential and intrinsick. His purpose was the most useful and the most arduous; to vindicate the ways of God to man; to shew the reason; ableness of religion, and the necessity of obedience to the Divine Law.
To convey this moral, there inust be a fable, a narration artfully constructed, so as to excite curiosity, and surprise expectation. In this part of his work, Milton must be confessed to have equalled every other poet. He has involved in his account of the Fall of Man the events which preceded, and those that were. to follow it: he has interwoven the whole system of theology with such propriety, that every part appears to be necessary; and scarcely any recital is wished shorter for the sake of quickening the progress of the main actio!).
The subject of an epick poem is naturally an event of great importance. That of Milton is not the destruction of a city, the conduct of a colony, or the foundation of an empire. His subject is the fate of worlds, the revolutions of heaven and of earth; rebellion against the Supreme King, raised by the highest order of created beings; the overthrow of their host, and the punishment of their crime, the creation of a new race of reasonable creatures ; their original happiness and innocence, their forfeiture of immortality, and their testoration to hope and peace.
Great events can be hastened or retarded only by persons of elevated dignity Before the greatness displayed in Milton's poéni, all other greathess shrinks away. The weakest of his agents are the highest and noblest of human beings; the original parents of mankind;' with whose actions the elements consented; on whose rectitude, cr deviation of will, depended the state of terrestrial na tore, and the condition of all the future inhabitants of the globe.si
Of the other agents in the poem, the chief are such as it is irreverence to Name on slight occasions. The rest were lower powers;.
of which the least could wield
Of all their regions; powers, which only the controul of Omnipotence restrains from laying creation waste, and filling the vast expanse of space with ruin and confusion. To display the motives and actions of beings thus superior, so far as human reason can examine them, or human imagination represent them, is the task which this mighty poet has undertaken and performed.
In the examination of epick poems much speculation is commonly employed upon the characters. The characters in the Paradise Lost, which admit of examination, are those of angels and of man; of angels good and evil; of man in his innocent and sinful state.
Among the angels, the virtue of Raphael is mild and placid, of easy condescension and free communication; that of Michael is regal and lofty, and, as may seeni, attentive to the dignity of his own nature. Abdiel and Gabriel appear occasionally, and act as every incident requires; the solitary fidelity of Abdiel is very amiably painted.
Of the evil angels the characters are more diversified. To Satan, as Addison observes, such sentiments are given as suit the most exalted and most depraved being. Milton has been censured by Clarke *, for the impiety which sometimes breaks from Satan's mouth. For there are thoughts, as he justly remarks, which no observation of character can justify, because no good man would willingly permit them to pass, however transiently, through his own mind. To make Satan speak as a rebel, without any such expressions as might taint the reader's imagination, was indeed one of the great difficulties in Milton's undertaking, and I cane not but think that he has extricated himself with great happiness. There is in Satan's speeches little that can give pain to a pious ear. The language of rebellion cannot be the sanie with that of obedience. The malignity of Satan foams in haughtiness and obstinacy; but his expressions are commonly generalı and no otherwise offensive than as they are wicked.
The other chiefs of the celestial rebellion are very judiciously discriminated in the first and second books; and the ferocious character of Moloch appears, both in the battle and the council with exact consistency.
To Adam and to Eve are given, during their innocence, such sentiments as innocence can generate and utter. Their love is pure benevolence and mutual veneration. Their repasts are without luxury, and their diligence without toil. Their addresses to their Maker have little more than the voice of admiration and gratitude. Fruition left theta nothing to ask, and Innocence left then nothing to fear.
But with guilt enter distrust and discord, mutual accusation, and stubborn selfdefence; they regard each other with alienated minds, and dread their Creator as the avenger of their transgression. At last they seek shelter in his mercy, soften to repentance, and melt in supplication. Both before and after the Fall, the superiority of Adam is diligently sustained. • Author of the “ Essay on Study." Dr. J.
of the probable and the marvellous, two parts of a vulgar epick poem, which immerge the critick in deep consideration, the Paradise Lost requires little to be said. It contains the history of a miracle, of Creation and Redemption; it displays the power and the mercy of the Supreme Being; the probable therefore is marvellous, and the marvellous is probable. The substance of the narrative is truth; and as truth allows no choice, it is, like necessity, superior to rule. To the accidental or adventitious parts, as to every thing human, some slight exceptions may be made. But the main fabrick is immoveably supported.
It is justly remarked by Addison, that this poem has, by the nature of its subject, the advantage above all others, that it is universally and perpetually interesting. All mankind will, through all ages, bear the same relation to Adam and to Eve, and must partake of that good and evil which extend to themselves.
Of the machinery, so called from Ovos árò pinzains, by which is meant the occasional interposition of supernatural power, another fertile topick of critical remarks, here is no room to speak, because every thing is done under the immediate and visible direction of Heaven ; but the rule is so far observed, that no part of the action could have been accomplished by any other means.
Of episodes, I think there are only two, contained in Raphael's relation of the war in heaven, and Michael's prophetic account of the changes to happen in this world. Both are closely connected with the great action; one was necessary to Adam as a warning, the other as a consolation.
To the compleatness or integrity of the design nothing can be objected; it bas distinctly and clearly what Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is perhaps no poem, of the same length, from which so little can be taken without apparent mutilation. Here are no funeral games, nor is there any long description of a shield. The short digressions at the beginning of the third, seventh, and ninth books, might doubtless be spared; but superfluities so beautiful, who would take away? or who does not wish tbat the author of the Iliad has gratified succeeding ages with a little knowledge of himself? Perhaps no passages are more frequently or more attentively read than those extrinsic paragraphs; and since the end of poetry is pleasure, that cannot be un poetical with which all are pleased.
The qaestions, whether the action of the poem be strictly one, whether the poem can be properly termed heroick, and who is the hero, are raised by such readers as draw their principles of judgement rather from books than from reason.
Milton, though he intituled Paradise Lost only a poem, yet calls, it himself heroick song. Dryden, petulantly and indecently, denies the heroism of Adam, because he was overcome ; but there is no reason why the hero should not be unfortunate, except established practice, since success and virtue do not go necessarily together. Cato is the hero of Lucan; but Lucan's authority will not be suffered by Quintilian to decide. However, if success be necessary, Adam's deceiver was at last crushed; Adam was restored to his Maker's favour, and therefore may securely resume his human rank.
After the scheme and fabrick of the poem, must be considered its component parts, the sentiments and the diction.
The sentiments, as expressive of manners, or appropriated to characters, arca for the greater part, unexceptionably just.
Splendid passages, containing lessons of morality, or precepts of prudence, occur seldom. Such is the original formation of this poem, that as it admits no human · manners till the Fall, it can give little assistance to human conduce Its end is to raise the thoughts above sublunary cares or pleasures. Yet the praise of that fortitude, with which Abdiel maintained bis singularity of virtue against the scorn of multitudes, may be accommodated to all times; and Raphael's reproof of Adam's curiosity after the planetary motions, with the answer returned by Adain, inay be confidently opposed to any rule of lito. which any poet has delivered.
The thoughts which are occasionally called forth in the progress, are such as could only be produced by an imagination in the highest degree fervid and active, to which materials were supplied by incessant study and unlimited curiosity. The heat of Milton's mind might be said to sublimate his learning, to throw off into his work the spirit of science, unmingled with its grosser parts.
He had considered creation in its whole extent, and his descriptions are there. fore learned. He had accustonted his imagination to unrestrained indulgence, and his conceptions therefore were extensive. The characteristick quality of his poem is sublimity. Ho sometimes descends to the elegant, but his element is the great. He can occasionally invest himself with grace; but his natural port is gigantick loftiness *. He can please when pleasure is required; but it is his peculiar power to astonish.
He seems to have been well acquainted with his own genius, and to know what it was that Nature had bestowed upon him more bountifully than upon others; the power of displaying the vast, illuminating the splendid, enforcing the awful, darkening the gloomy, and aggravating the dreadful; lie therefore chose a subject on which too much could not be said, on which lie might tire his fancy without the censure of extravagance.
The appearances of nature, and the occurrences of life, did not satiate his appetite of greatness. To paint things as they are, requires a minute attention, and employs the memory rather than the fancy. Milton's delight was to sport in the wide regions of possibility; reality was a scene too narrow for his mind, He sent his faculties out upon discovery, into worlds where only imagination can travel, and delighted to form new modes of existence, and furnish sentiment and action to superior beings, to trace the councils of hell, or accom. pany the choirs of heaven.
But he could not be always in other worlds; he must sometimes revisit earth, and tell of things visible and known. When he cannot raise wonder by the sublimity of his mind, lie gives delight by its fertility.
Whatever be his subject, he never fails to fill the imagination. But his images and descriptions of the scenes or operations of Nature do not seem to be always copied from original form, nor to have the freshness, raciness, and energy of immediate observation. He saw Nature, as Dryden expresses it, • Algarotti terms it gigantesca sublimità Miltonjapa, Dr. ).