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Paganism could not furnish out a real A&tion for a Fable greater than that of the Iliador Æneid, and therefore are Heathen could not form a higher Notion of a Poem than one of that kind, which they call an Heroic. Whether Milton's is not of a fublimer Nature I will not presume to determine : It is sufficient that I shew there is in the Paradise Lost all the Greatness of Plan, Regularity of Design, and masterly Beauties which we discover in Homer and Virgil.
I must in the next Place observe, that Milton has interwoven in the Texture of his Fable fome Particulars which do not seem to have Probability enough for an Epic Poem, particularly in the Actions which he ascribes to Sin and Death, and the Picture which he draws of the Limbo of Vanity, with other Passages in the second Book. Such Allegories rather favour of the Spirit of Spenser and Ariostog than of Homer and Virgil.
IN the Structure of his Poem he has likewise admitted. of too many Digressions. It is finely observed by Aristotle, that the Author of an Heroic Poem should seldom speak himself, but throw as much of his Work as he can into the Mouths of those who are his Principal Actors. Aristotle has given no reason for this Precept ; but I presume it is because the Mind of the Reader is more awed and elevated when he hears Æneas or Achilles speak, than when Virgil or Homer talk in their own persons. Besides that assuming the Character of an eminent Man is apt to fire the Imagination, and raise the Ideas of the Author. Tully tells us, mentioning his Dialogue of Old Age, in which Cato is the Chief Speaker, that upon a Review of it he was agreeably imposed upon, and fancied that it was Cato, and not he himself, who uttered his Thoughts on that Subject.
I F the Reader would be at the Pains to see how the Story of the Iliad and the Æneid is delivered by those Persons who act in it, he will be surprised to find how little in either of these Poems proceeds from the Authors, Milton has, in the general disposition of his Fable, very finely observed this great Rule ; insomuch, that there is scarce a third part of it which comes from the Poet ; the reft is spoken either by Adam and Eve, or by fome Good or Evil Spirit who is engaged either in their Destruction or Defence.
180 The SPECTATOR. N° 297.
The Spa FROM what has been here observed it appears, that Digressions are by no means to be allowed of in an Epic Poem. If the Poet even in the ordinary course of his Narration, should speak as little as possible, he should certainly never let his Narration sleep for the sake of any Reflexions of his own. I have often observed, with a fecret Admiration, that the longest Reflexion in the Eneid is in that Paffage of the Tenth Book, where Turnus is représented as dressing himself in the spoils of Pallas, whom he had slain. Virgil here lets his Fable stand still for the fake of the following Remark. How is the Mind of Man ignorant of Futurity, and unable to bear prosperous For-tune with Moderation? The Time will come when Tur. nusphall wish that he had left the Body of Pallas untouched, and curfe the Day on which be dressed himself in thefa Spoils. As the great Event of the Æneid, and the Death of Turnus, whom Æneas flew because he faw him adorned with the Spoils of Pallas, turns upon this Incident, Virgit went out of his way to make this Reflexion upon it, without which fosmall a Circumstance might possibly have flipt out of his Reader's Memory. Lucan, who was an Injudicious Poet, lets drop his Story very frequently for the fake of his unnecessary Digressions, or his Diverticula, as Scaliger calls them. If he gives us an Account of the Prodigies which preceded the Civil War, de declaims upon the Occafion, and shews how much happier it would be for Man, if he did not feel his Evil Fortone before it comes to pass; and fuffer not only by its real Weight, but by the Apprehenfion of it. Milton's Complaint for his Blindness, his Panegyrick on Marriage, his Reflexions on Adam and Eve's going Naked, of thte Angels Eating, and several other Passages in his Poem, are liable to the fame Exception, tho' I must confess there is fo great a Beauty in these very Digreffions, that I would not wish them out of his Poem.
I have, in a former Paper, fpoken of the Chara&ters of Milton's Paradise Loft, and declared my Opinion, as to the Allegorical Persons who are introduced in it.
IF we look into the Sentiments, I think they are fometimes defective under the following Heads; First, as there are several of them too much Pointed, and some that degenerate even into Punns. Of this lait kind I am afraid
is that in the Firft Book, where fpeaking of the Pygmies, be calls them,
The small Infantry Warr'd on by CranesANOTHER Blemish that appears in some of his Thoughts, is his frequent Allufion to Heathen Fables, which are not certainly of a Piece with the Divine Subject of which he treats. I do not find fault with thefe Allusions, where the Poet himself represents them as fabulous, as he does in fome Places, but where he mentions them as Truths and Matters of Fact. The Limits of my Paper will not give me leave to be particular in Instances of this kind ; the Reader will easily remark,them in his Perusal of the Poem...
A third fault in his Sentiments, is an unnecessary Oftentation of Learning, which likewise occurs very frequently. It is certain that both Homer and Virgil were Masters of all the Learaning of their Times, but it shews it felf in their Works after an indirect and concealed manner, Milton seems ambitious of letting us know, by his Excurfions on Free-will and Predeltination, and his many Glances upon History, Aftronomy, Geography, and the like, as well as by the Terms and Phrases he sometimes makes use of, that he was acquainted with the whole Circle of Arts and Sciences.
IF in the last place, we consider the Language of this great Poet, we must allow what I have hinted in a former Paper, that it is often too much laboured, and some times obscured by old Words, Transpositions, and foreign Idioms. Seneca's Objection to the Stile of a great Author, Riget ejus oratio,nihilin eâ placidum, nihil lene, is what many Criticks make to Milton : As I cannot wholly refute it, so I have already apologized for it in another Paper : to which I may further add, that Milton's Sentiments and Ideas were fo wonderfully Sublime, that it would have been impoffible for him to have represented them in their full Strength and Beauty, without having recourse to these foreign Affittances. Our Language funk under him, and was unequal to that Greatness of Soul, which furnifhed. him with such glorious Conceptions. :,
· A second Fault in his Language is that he often affects
Begirt th’ Almighty throne
I know there are Figures of this kind of Speech, that fome of the greatest Ancients have been guilty of it, and that Aristotle himself has given it a place in his Rhetorick among the Beauties of that Art. But as it is in it self poor and trifling, it is I think at present universally exploded by all the Masters of Polite Writing.
THE last Fault which I fhall take notice of in Milton's Stile, is the frequent use of what the Learned call Technic cal Words, or Terms of Art. It is one of the greatest Beauties of Poetry, to make hard things intelligible, and to deliver what is abstruse of it self in such easy Language as may be understood by ordinary Readers : Besides, that the Knowledge of a Poet should rather seem born with him.. or inspired, than drawn from Books and Systems. I have often wonder'd how Mr. Dryden could translate a Passage out of Virgil after the following manner.
Tack to the Larboard, and stand off to Sea.
Deer Starboard Sea and Land. Milton makes use of Larboard in the same manner. When he is upon Building he mentions Doric Pillars, Pilasters, Cornice, Freeze, Architrave. When he talks of Heavenly Bodies, you meet with Ecliptic and Eccentric, the Trepidation,Stars dropping from the Zenith, Rays culminating from the Equator. To which might be added many Instances. of the like kind in several other Arts and Sciences.
I shall in my next Papers give an account of the many particular Beauties in Milton, which would have been too long to insert under those general Heads I have already treated of, and with which I intend to conclude this Piece of Criticism.
N° 298. Monday, February 11.
Nufquam Tuta fides
Virg. Mr. SPECTATOR, London, Feb. 9. 1711-12. O T Am a Virgin, and in no case despicable ; but yet . | such as I am I must remain, or else become, 'tis to • be feared, less happy; for I find not the least good • Effect from the juft Correction you some time since
gave, that too free, that looser Part of our Sex which • spoils the Men ; the same Connivance at the Vices, the
same easy Admittance of Addresses, the same vitiated . Relish of the Conversation of the greatest of Rakes (or
in a more fashionable way of expressing one's self, of “ such as have seen the World most) still abounds, in
• THE humble Petition therefore of many of the most “ strictly virtuous , and of my self, is, That you'll once ? more exert your Authority, and that according to your • late Promise, your full, your impartial Authority, on o this fillier Branch of our Kind : For why should they be • the uncontroulable Mistresses of our Fate? Why should • they with impunity indulge the Males in Licentiousness • whilft single, and we have the dismal Hazard and • Plague of reforming them when married ? Strike home, • Sir, then, and spare not, or all our maiden Hopes, our • gilded Hopes of nuptial Felicity are frustrated, are va• nished, and you yourself, as well as Mr. Courtly, will, by • smoothing over immodest Practices with the Gloss of • soft and harmless Names, for ever forfeit our Esteem. ' Nor think that I'm herein more severe than need be: If
I have not reason more than enough, do you and the ' world judge from this ensuing Account, which, I think, ' will prove the Evil to be universal.
• YOU must know then, that since your Reprehension • of this Female Degeneracy came out, I've had a Tender of Respects from no less than five Persons, of tolerable