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picion, previous temptation, or admonition to what place they are going. The last week I went to an inn in the city to enquire for some provisions which were sent by a waggon out of the country; and as I waited in one of the boxes till the chamberlain had looked over his parcel, I heard an old and a young voice repeating the questions and responses of the church-catechism. I thought it no breach of good manners to peep at a crevice, and look in at people so well employed; but who should I see there but the most artful procuress in the town, examining a most beautiful country girl, who had come up in the same waggon with my things, “Whether she was “well educated, could forbear playing the wanton “ with servants and idle fellows, of which this town,” says she, “is too full :” at the same time, “Whether “she knew enough of breeding, as that if a 'squire “ or gentleman, or one that was her betters, should “give her a civil salute, she should curtesy and be “humble nevertheless.” Her innocent forsooths, ves’s, tand’t filease you’s, and she would do her endeavour, moved the good old lady to take her out of the hands of a country bumkin her brother, and hire her for her own maid. I staid till I saw them all marched out to take coach ; the brother loaded with a great cheese, he prevailed upon her to take for her civilities to his sister. This poor creature’s fate is not far off that of her’s whom I spoke of above, and it is not to be doubted, but after she has been long enough a prey to lust, she will be delivered over to famine. The ironical commendation of the industry and charity of these antiquated ladies, these directors of sin, after they can no longer commit it, make up the beauty of the inimitable dedication to the PlainDealer, and is a master-piece of raillery on this vice. But to understand all the purlieus of this game the better, and to illustrate this subject in future discourses, I must venture myself, with my friend Will,
into the haunts of beauty and gallantry; from pam. pered vice in the habitations of the wealthy, to distressed indigent wickedness expelled the harbours of the brothel. T
No. CCLXVII. SATURDAY, JANUARY 5.
Cedite Romani scriptores, cedite Graii.
THERE is nothing in nature so irksome as general discourses, especially when they turn chiefly upon words. For this reason I shall wave the discussion of that point which was started.some years since, whether Milton's Paradise Lost may be called an heroic poem 2 Those who will not give it that title, may call it, if they please, a divine poem. It will be sufficient to its perfection, if it has in it all the beauties of the highest kind of poetry; and as for those who allege it is not an heroic poem, they advance no more to the diminution of it, than if they should say Adam is not Æneas, nor Eve Helen. I shall therefore examine it by the rules of epic poetry, and see whether it falls short of the Iliad or AEneid, in the beauties which are essential to that kind of writing. The first thing to be considered in an epic poem, is the fable, which is perfect or imperfect, according as the action which it relates is more or less so. This action should have three qualifications in it. First, it should be but one action. Secondly, it should be an entire action; and, Thirdly, it should be a great action. To consider the action of the Iliad, AEneid, and Paradise Lost, in these three several lights. Homer, to preserve the unity of his action hastens into the midst of things, as Horace has observed: had he gone up to Leda’s egg, or begun much later, even at the rape of Helen, or the investing of Troy, it is manifest that the story of the poem would have been a series of several actions. He therefore opens his poem with the discord of his princes, and artfully interweaves, in the several succeeding parts of it, an account of every thing material which relates to them, and had passed before this fatal dissension. After the same manner AEneas makes his first appearance in the Tyrrhene seas, and within sight of Italy, because the action proposed to be celebrated was that of his settling himself in Latium. But because it was necessary for the reader to know what had happened to him in the taking of Troy, and in the preceding parts of his voyage, Virgil makes his hero relate it by way of episode in the second and third books of the AEneid. The contents of both which books come before those of the first book in the thread of the story, though for preserving of this unity of action they follow it in the disposition of the poem. Milton, in imitation of these two great poets, opens his Paradise Lost, with an infernal council plotting the fall of man, which is the action he proposed to celebrate ; and as for those great actions, which preceded in point of time, the battle of the angels, and the creation of the world, which would have intirely destroyed the unity of his principal action, had he related them in the same order they happened, he cast them into the fifth, sixth, and seventh books, by way of episode to this noble poem. Aristotle himself allows, that Homer has nothing to boast of as to the unity of his fable, though at the same time that great critic and philosopher endeavours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet by imputing it in some measure to the very nature of an epic poem. Some have been of opinion, that the Aneid also labours in this particular, and has episodes which may be looked upon as excrescences rather than as parts of the action. On the contrary, the poem, which we have now under our consideration, hath no other episodes than such as naturally arise from the subject, and yet is filled with such a multitude of astonishing incidents, that it gives us at the same time a pleasure of the greatest variety, and of the greatest simplicity ; uniform in its nature, though diversified in the execution. I must observe also, that as Virgil, in the poem which was designed to celebrate the original of the Roman empire, has described the birth of its great rival, the Carthaginian commonwealth : Milton, with the like art in his poem on the fall of man, has related the fall of those angels who are his professed enemies. Besides the many other beautics in such an episode, its running parallel with the great action of the poem hinders it from breaking the unity so much as another episode would have done, that had not so great an affinity with the principal subject. In short, this is the same kind of beauty which the critics admire in the Spanish Friar, or the Double Discovery, where the two different plots look like counterparts and copies of one another. The second qualification required in the action of an epic poem, is, that it should be an entire action : an action is entire when it is complete in all its parts; or, as Aristotle describes it, when it consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nothing should go before it, be intermixed with it, or follow after it, that is not related to it. As on the contrary, no single step should be omitted in that just and regular progress which it must be supposed to take from its original to its consummation. Thus we see the anger of Achilles in its birth, its continuance and effects; and Æneas's settlement in Italy, carried on through all the oppositions in his way to it both by sea and land. The action in Milton excels, I think, both the former in this particular: we see it contrived in hell, executed upon earth, and punished by heaven. The parts of it are told in the most distinct manner, and grow out of one another in the most natural order.
The third qualification of an epic poem is its greatness. The anger of Achilles was of such consequence, that it embroiled the kings of Greece, destroyed the heroes of Troy, and engaged all the gods in factions. Moneas's settlement in Italy produced the Caesars, and gave birth to the Roman empire. Milton’s subject was still greater than either of the former; it does not determine the fate of single persons or nations, but of a whole species. The united powers of hell are joined together for the destruction of mankind, which they effected in part, and would have completed, had not Omnipotence itself interposed. The principal actors are man in his greatest perfection, and woman in her highest beauty. Their enemies are the fallen angels: the Messiah their friend, and the Almighty their protector. In short, every thing that is great in the whole circle of being, whether within the verge of nature, or out of it, has a proper part assigned it in this admirable-poem.
In poetry, as in architecture, not only the whole, but the principal members, and every part of them should be great. I will not presume to say, that the book of games in the AEneid, or that in the Iliad, are not of this nature, nor to reprehend Virgil’s simile of the top, and many other of the same kind, in the Iliad, as liable to any censure in this particular; but I think we may say, without derogating from those wonderful performances, that there is an unquestionable magnificence in every part of Paradise Lost, and indeed a much greater than could have been formed upon any pagan system.