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possible for any of its readers, whatever nation, country, or peopie he may belong to, rot to be related to the persons who are the principal actors in it; but what is still infinitely more to its advantage, the principal actors in this poem are rot only our progeniiors, bui our representatives. We have an actual interest in every thing they do, and no less than our utmost happiness is concerned, and lies at stake in all their behaviour.
I shall subjoin as a corollary to the foregoing remark, an admirable observation out of Aristotlí, which hath heen very much misrepresented in the quotations of some modern critics. " If a man of perfect and consummate virtue talls into a misfortune, it raises our pity, but not our terror, because we do not fear hat it may be our own case, who do not resemble the suffering person." But as that great philose pher adds, “If we see a man of virtue, mixt with infirmities, fall into any misfortune, it does not oriy raise our pity but our terror; because we are afraid that the like misfortune may happen to ourselves, who resemble the character of the suffering person."
shall only remaik, in this plac?, that the foregoing ob. servation of Aristotle, though it inay be true in other occa. siors, does not hold in this; because in the present case, though the persons who fall into misfortune are of the most perf: &t aid consummate viri uc, it is not to be cor.si. dered as what may possibly be, but what actually is our own case; since we are embarked with them on the same bottom, and must be partakers of their happiness or misery.
In this, and some other very few instarces, Aris:otle's rules for epic poetry (which he had drawn from liis reflections upon Homer) cannot be supposed to square exactly with the heroic poems which liave been made since his time; since it is evident to every impartial' jud'e his rules would still have been more periect, could he have peru .ed the Æneid, which was made some hundred years after his
In my next, I shall go' through oher parts of Milton's poem; and hope that what I shall ihtie advance, as well
as what I have already written, will not only serve as a comment upon Milton, but ison Aristotle.
We have already taken a general survey of the Fable and Characters in Milton's i'aradise Lost: the parts which re. main to be considered, according to Aristotle's method, are the Sentiments and the Language. Before I enter upon the first of these, I must advertise my reader, that it is my design, as soon as I have finished my general reflections on these four several heads, to give particular ins:arices out of the poem now before us of beauties and imperiections, which may be observed under each of them, as also of such other particulars as may not properly fall under any of them. This I thoughi fit to premise, that the reader may not j dge too hastily of this piece of criticism, or look upon it as imperfect, before he has seen the whole extent of it.
The sentiments in an epic poem are the thoughts and behaviour which ilie author ascribes to the persons whom be introduces, and are just when they are contirmable to the characts vf the several persons. The sentimenis have likewise a relation to things as well as persons, and are then perfect when they are such as are acapred to the subject. If in either of these cases the poet endeavours to argue or explain, io magnity or diminish, to raise luve or hatred, pity or terror, or any other passion, we cught in consider whether the sentiments be makes use of are proper for those ends. Homer is censured by the critics for his defect as to this particular in several parts of the Iliad and Odyssey, though at the same time those who have treated this great poet with candour, have attributed this delect to the time in which he lived It was the fault of the age, and not of Homer, it there wants that delicacy in some of his sentiments, which now appears in the works of men of a much interior genius. Besides, if there are blemishes in any par. ticular tnoughts, there is an infinite beauty in the greatest part of them In short, if there are many poets who would not have fallen into the meanness of some of his sencia meuts, there are none who could have risen up to the greatvess of others. Virgil has exculled all others in the pro. priety of his sentiments. Milion shines likewise very much
in this particular : nor must we omit one consideration which adds to his honour and reputation. Homer and Virgil introduced persons whose claraciers are commonly known among men, and such as are to be met with either in history, or in ordinary conversation. Milton's characters, most of them, lie ot of nature, and were to be formed purely by his own invention.
It shows a greater genius in Shakespear to have drawn his Calyban, than his Hotspur or Julius Cæsar:, the one was to be supplied out of his own imagination, whereas the other might have been formed upon tradition, histcry, and observation. It was much easier therefore for Honier to find proper senti. ments for an assembly of Grecian generals, than for Milton to diversify his infernal council with proper characłers, and inspire them with a variety of sentiments. The loves of Dido' and Æneas are only copies of what has passed be. tween other persons. Adam and Eve, before the fall, are a different species from that of mankind, who are descended from them; and none but a poet of the most unbounded invention, and the most exquisite judgment, could have filled their conversation and behaviour with so many apt circumstances during their state of innocence.
Nor is it suficient for an epic poem to be filled with such thoughts as are natural, unless it abound also with such as are sublime. Virgil in this particular alls short of Homer. He has not indeed so many thcuatics that are low and vulgar; but at the same time has not so many thoughts that are sublime and noble. The truth of it is, Virgil se!do in rises into very astonishing sentinents, where he is not fired by the Iliad. He every where charms and pleases us by the force of his own gen us; but seldom elevates and transports us where he does not ferch bis hints from Homer.
Milton's chief talent, and indeed his distinguishing excellence lies in the sublimity of his thoughts. There are others of the Moderns who rival him in every other part of pnetry; but in the greatness of his sentiments he tr:umphs over all the poets boih modern and ancient, Homer only ex cepted. It is impossible for the imagination of man to distend itself with greater ideas, than ihose which he has laid together in his first, second, and sixth books. The seventh,
which describes the creation of the world, is likewise wonde fully sublime, though not so apt to stir up emotion in the mind of the reader, nor consequently so perfect in the epic way of writing, because it is filled with less action.-Let the judicious reader compare what Longinus has ob. served on several passages in Horner, and he will find paral. lels for most of thim in the Paradise Lost.
From what has been said we may infer, that as there are two kinds of sentiments, the natural and the sublime, which are always to be pursued in an heroic poem, there are also two kinds of thoughts which are carefully to be avoided. The first are such as are affected and unnatural; the second such as are mean and vulgar. As for the first kind of thoughts we meet with little or nothing that is like them in Virgil : he has none of those trifling points and puerilities that are so often to be met with in Ovid, none of the epigrammatic turns of Lucan, none of those swelling senti. ments which are so frequently in Statius and Claudian, none of those mixed embellishments of Tasso. Every thing is just and natural. His sentiments show that he had a perfect insight into human nature, and that he knew every thing which was the most proper to affect it.
Mr. Dryden has in some places, which I may hereafter take notice of, misrepresented Virgil's way of thinkings as to this particular, in the translation he has given us of the Æneid. I do not remember that Homer any where falls into the faults above-mentioned, which were indeed the false refinements of later ages. Milton, it must be confest, has sometimes erred in this respect, as I shall shew more at large in another paper; though considering all the poets of the age in which he writ, were infected with this wrong way of thinking, he is rather to be admired that he did not give more into it, than that he did sometimes compiy with the vicious taste which still prevails so much among modern writers.
But since several thoughts may be natural which are low and groveling, an epic poer shouid not only avoid such sentiments as are unnatural or affected, but also such as are mcan and vulgar. Homer has opened a great field of railJery to men or more delicacy than greatness of genius, by
the homeliness of some of his sentiments. But, as I have before said, these are rather to be imputed to the simplicity of the age in which he lived, to which I may also add, oi that which he described, than to any imperfection in that divine poet. Zoilus among the Anciests, and Monsieur Perrault, among the Moderns, pushed their ridicule very far upon him, on account of some such sentiments. There is no blemish to be observed in Virgil, under this head, and but a very few in Milton.
I shall give but one instance of this impropriety of thought in Homer, and at the same time compare it with an instance of the same natore, both in Virgil and Milton. Sentiments which raise laughter, can very seldom be admitted with any decency into an heroic poem, whose business is to excite passions of a much nobler nature. Homer, however, in his characters of Vulcan and Thersites, in his history of Mars and Venus, in his behaviour of Irus, and in other passages, has been observed to have lapsed into the burlesque character, and to have departed from that serious air which seens essential to the magniñcence of an epic poem.
( Terrie.ober but one laugh in the whole neid, which rises in the fifth book upon Mionetes, where he is represented as thrown over board, and drying himself upon a rock. Buc th s piece of mirth is so well timed, that the severest critic can have nothing to say against it, for it is in the book of games and diversions, where the reader's mind may be supposes to be sufficiently relaxed for such an entertainment.The only picce of pleasaniry in Paradise Lost, is where the evil spirits are described as rallying the Angels upon the success of their new invenied artillery. This passage I look opon to be the most exceptionable in the whole poem, as being nothing else but a string of puns, and those tou very indifierent.
Satan beheld their plight,