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often seen her rise up and smile, and curtsy to one at the lower end of the church in the midst of a Gloria Patri; and when I have spoken the assent to a prayer with a long Amen, uttered with decent gravity, she has been rolling her eyes round about in such a manner, as plainly shewed, however she was moved, it was not towards an heavenly object. In fine, she extended her conquests so far over the males, and raised such envy in the females, that what between love of those, and the jealousy of these, I was almost the only person that looked in a prayer-book all church-time. I had several projects in my head to put a stop to this growing mischief; but as I have long lived in Kent, and there often heard how the Kentish men evaded the Conqueror, by carrying green boughs over their heads, it put me in mind of practising this device against Mrs. Simper. I find I have preserved many a young man from her eye-shot by this means: therefore humbly pray the boughs may be fixed, until she shall give security for her peaceable intentions.
• Your humble servant,
FRANCIS STERNHOLD.' T.
N° 285. SATURDAY, JANUARY 26, 1711-12.
Ne, quincunque Deus, quincunque adhibebitur heros,
Hor, Ars. Poet. ver. 227,
But then they did not wrong themselves so much,
Having already treated of the fable, the characters, and sentiments in the Paradise Lost, we are in the last place to consider the language ; and as the learned world is very much divided upon
Milton to this point, I hope they will excuse me if I appear particular in any of my opinions, and incline to those who judge the most advantageously of the author.
It is requisite that the language of an heroic poem should be both perspicuous and sublime. In proportion as either of these two qualities are wanting, the language is imperfect. Perspicuity is the first and most necessary qualification; insomuch that a good-natured reader sometimes overlooks a little slip even in the grammar or syntax, where it is impossible for him to mistake the poet's sense. Of this kind is that passage in Milton, wherein he speaks of Satan :
- God and his Son except, Created thing nought valu'd he nor shunn'd: and that in which he describes Adam and Eve :
Adam the goodliest man of men since born
His sons, the fairest of her daughters Eve. It is plain, that in the former of these passages, according to the natural syntax, the divine persons mentioned in the first line are represented as created beings; and that, in the other, Adam and Eve are confounded with their sons and daughters. Such little blemishes as these, when the thought is great and natural, we should, with Horace, inipute to a pardonable inadvertency, or to the weakness of human nature, which cannot attend to each minute particular, and give the last finishing to every circumstance in so long a work. The ancient critics, therefore, who were actuated by a spirit of candour, rather than that of cavilling, invented certain figures of speech, on purpose to palliate little errors of this nature in the writings of those authors who had so many greater beauties to atone for them.
If clearness and perspicuity were only to be consulted, the poet would have nothing else to do but to clothe his thoughts in the most plain and natural expressions. But since it often happens that the most obvious phrases, and those which are used in ordinary conversation, become too familiar to the ear, and contract a kind of meanness by passing through the mouths of the vulgar; a poet should take particular care to guard himselfagainst idiomatic ways of speaking. Ovid and Lucan have many poornesses of expression upon this account, as taking up with the first phrases that offered, without putting themselves to the trouble of looking after such as would not only have been natural, but also elevated and sublime. Milton has but few failings in this kind,
of which, however, you may meet with some instances, as in the following passages :
Embrios and idiots, eremites and friars,
A while discourse they hold No fear lest dinner cool; when thus began Our author Who all ages to succeed, but feeling The evil on him brought by me, will curse My head, ill fare our ancestor impure, For this we may thank Adam.The great masters in composition know very well that many an elegant phrase becomes improper for a poet or an orator, when it has been debased by common use. For this reason the works of ancient authors, which are written in dead languages, have a great advantage over those which are written in languages that are now spoken. Were there any mean phrases or idioms in Virgil or Homer, they would not shock the ear of the most delicate modern reader, so much as they would have done that of an old Greek or Roman, because we never hear them pronounced in our streets, or in ordinary conversation.
It is not therefore sufficient, that the language of an epic poem be perspicuous, unless it be also suhlime. To this end it ought to deviate from the common forms and ordinary phrases of speech. The judgment of a poet very much discovers itself in shunning the common roads of expression, without falling into such ways of speech as may seem stiff and unnatural : he must not swell into a false sublime, by endeavouring to avoid the other extreme. Among the Greeks, Eschylus, and sometimes Sophocles, were guilty of this fault; among the Latins, Claudian and Statjus; and among our own countrymen, Shakspeare and Lee. In these authors the
affectation of greatness often Irurts the perspicuity of the style, as in many others the endeavour after perspicuity prejudices its greatness.
Aristotle has observed, that the idiomatic style may be avoided, and the sublime formed, by the following methods. First, by the use of metaphors; such are those of Milton :
Imparadis’d in one another's arms.
And in his hand a reed
In these and innumerable other instances, the metaphors are very bold but just: I must however observe, that the metaphors are not so thick sown in Milton, which always savours too much of vit: that they never clash with one another, which, as Aristotle observes, turns a sentence into a kind of an enigma or riddle; and that he seldom has recourse to them where the proper and natural words will do as well.
Another way of raising the language, and giving it a poetical turn, is to make use of the idioms of
Virgil is full of the Greek forms of speech, which the critics call Hellenisms, as Horace in his odes abounds with them much more than Virgil. I need not mention the several dialects which Homer has made use of for this end. Milton, in conformity with the practice of the ancient poets, and with Aristotle's rule, has infused a great many Latinisms, as well as Græcisms, and sometimes Hebraisms, into the language of his poem; as towards the beginning of it:
Nor did they not perceive the evil plight