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mother of Death, and may be allowed to be the portress of Hell; but when they stop the journey of Satan, a journey described as real, and when Death offers him battle, the allegory is broken. That Sin and Death should have shown the way to Hell, might have been allowed; but they cannot facilitate the passage by building a bridge, because the difficulty of Satan's passage is described as real and sensible, and the bridge ought to be only figurative. The Hell assigned to the rebellious spirits is described as not less local than the residence of man. It is placed in some distant part of space, separated from the regions of harmony and order by a chaotic waste and an unoccupied vacuity; but Sin and Death worked up a mole of aggradated soil, cemented with asphaltus ; a work too bulky for ideal architects.
This unskilful allegory appears to me one of the greatest faults of the poem ; and to this there was no temptation but the author's opinion of its beauty,
To the conduct of the narrative some objections may be made, Satan is with great expectation brought before Gabriel in Paradise, and is suffered to go away unmolested. The creation of man is represented as the consequence of the vacuity left in Heaven by the expulsion of the rebels; yet Satan mentions it as a report “rife in Heaven" before his departare.
To find sentiments for the state of invocence was very difficult; and something of anticipation perhaps is now and then discovered. Adam's discourse of dreams seems not to be the speculation of a new.created being. I know not whether his answer to the angel's reproof for curiosity does not want something of propriety; it is the speech of a man acquainted with many other men. Some philosophical no. tions, especially when the philosophy is false, inight have been better omitted. The angel, in a comparison, speaks of timorous deer, before deer were yet timorous, and before Adam could understand the comparison.
Dryden remarks, that Milton has some flats among his elevations. This is only to say, that all the parts are not equal. In every work, one part must be for the sake of others : a palace must have passages; a poem must have transitions. It is no more to be required that wit should always be blazing, than that the Sun should always stand at noon. In a great work there is a vicissitude of luminous and opaque parts, as there is in the world a succession of day and night. Milton, when he has 'ex patiated in the sky, may be allowed sometimes to revisit Earth ; for what other author ever soared so high, or sustained his flight so long?
Milton, being well versed in the Italian poets, appears to have borrowed often 'from them; and, as every man catches something from his companions, his desire of imitating Ariosto's levity has disgraced his work with the Paradise of Fools; a fiction not in itself ill-iniagined, but too ludicrous for its place.
His play on words, in which he delights too often; his equivocations, which Bentley endeavours to defend by the example of the ancients ; his unnecessary and un. graceful use of terms of art, it is not necessary to mention, because they are easily remarked, and generally censured; and at last bear so little proportion to the whole, that they scarcely deserve the attention of a critic.
Such are the faults of that wonderful performance, Paradise Lost; which he who can put in balance with its beauties, must be considered not as nice but as dull, as, less to be censured for want of candour, than piticd for want of sensibility.
Of Paradise Regained, the general judgment seems now to be right, that it is in
many parts elegant, and every where instructire. It was not to be supposed that the writer of Paradise Lost could ever write without great effusions of fancy, and ex. alted precepts of wisdom. The basis of Paradise Regained' is narrow; a dialogue without action can never please like an union of the narrative and dramatic powers. Had this poem been written not by Milton, but by some imitator, it would have claimed and received universal praise. :: If Paradise Regained has been too much depreciated, Sampson Agonistes bas in requital been too much admired. It could only be by long prejudice, and the bi. gotry of learning, that Milton could prefer the ancient tragedies, with their encum. brance of a chorus, to the exhibitions of the French and English stages; and it is only by a blind confidence in the reputation of Milton, that a drama can be praised in which the intermediate parts have neither cause nor consequence, neither hasten nor retard the catastrophe.
In this tragedy arè however many particular beauties, many just sentiments and striking lines; but it wants that power of attracting the attention which a well-connected plan produces.
Milton would not have excelled in dramatic writing; he knew human nature only in the gross, and had never studied the shades of character, nor the combinations of concurring, or the perplexity of contending passions. He had read much, and knew what books could teach, but had mingled little in the world, and was deficient in the knowledge which experience must confer.
Through all his greater works there prevails an uniform peculiarity of diction, a mode and cast of expression which bears little resemblance to that of any former writer; and which is so far removed from common use, that an unlearned reader, when he first opens his book, finds himself surprised by a new language.
This novelty has been, by those who can find nothing wrong in Milton, imputed to his laborious endeavours after words suitable to the grandeur of his ideas. “ Our language,” says Addison, “sunk under him.” But the truth is, that, both in prose and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedantic principle. He was desir. ous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all his prose is discovered and condemned; for there judgment operates freely, neither softened by the beau. ty, nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts : but such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance, the reader feels himself in captivity to a higher and nobler mind, and criticism sinks in admiration.
Milton's style was not modified by his subject; what is shown with greater extent in Paradise Lost, may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets; the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian ; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last may said what Jonson says of Spenser, that “ he wrote no language,” but has formed what Butler calls a Babylonish dialect, in itself harsh and barbarous, but made by exalted genius and extensive learning the vehicle of so much instruction and so much plea. sure, that, likc other lovers, we find grace in its deformity.
Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety: he was master of his language in its full extent; and has selected the melodious words with such diligence, that from his book alone the art of English poetry might be learned.
After his diction, something must be said of his versification. The measure, he says, is the English heroic verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many examples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The earl of Surrey is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme: and, beside our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particularly one tending to recon. cile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trissino's Italia Liberata; and, finding blank verse easier than rhyme, was desirous of persuading himself that it is better.
“Rhyme,” he says, and says truly,“ is no necessary adjunct of true poetry.” But, perhaps, of poetry, as a mental operation, metre or music is no necessary adjunct : it is however by the music of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all lan. guages; and, in languages melodiously constructed with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot compiunicate its rules to another; where metre is scanty and imperfect, some help is necessary, The music of the English heroic lines strikes the ear so faintly, that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together; this co-operation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another as a distinct system of sounds; and this distinctness is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few skilful and happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. “Blank verse,” said an ingenious critic, ,
seems to be verse only to the eye.”
Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called the lapidary style; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alledges as precedents, not one is popular; what reason could urge in its defence has been confuted by the ear.
But, whatever be tlie advantages of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer; for I cannot wish his work to be other than it is ; yet, like other heroes, he is to be adınired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing may write blank verse; but those that hope only to please must condescend to rhyme.
The highest praise of genius is original invention. Milton cannot be said to have contrived the structure of an epic poem, and therefore owes reverence to that vigour and amplitude of mind to which all generations must be indebted for the art of pocti. cal narration, for the texture of the fable, the variation of incidents, the interpo. sition of dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the Icast indebted. He waa naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance; he did not refuse admission to the thoughts or images of his predeces. sors, but he did not seek them. From his cotemporaries he neither courted nor received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour gained; no exchange of praise, nor solici. tation of support. His great works were performed under discountenance, and in blindness; but difficulties vanished at his touch; he was born for whatever is arduous; and his work is not the greatest of heroic poems, only because it is not the first.
INQUIRY INTO THE ORIGIN
BY MR. TODD. .
"Tae petty circumstances, by which great minds are led to the first conception of great designs, are
so various and volatile, that nothing can be more difficult to discover: Fancy in particular is of a dature so airy, that the traces of her step are hardly to be discerned ; ideas are so fugitive, that if poets, in their life time, were questioned concerning the manner in which the seeds of considerable productions first arose in their mind, they might not always be able to answer the inquiry; can it then be possible to succeed in such an inquiry concerning a mighty genius, who has been consigned more than a century to the tomb, especially when in the records of his life, we can find no positive evidence on the point in question? However trifling the chances it may afford of success, the investigation is assuredly worthy our pursuit; for, as an accomplished critic has said, in speaking of another poet, with his usual felicity of discernment and expression, the inquiry cannot be void of entertainment whilst Milton is our constant theme : whatever may be the fortune of the chace, we are sure it will lead us through pleasant prospects and a fine country." " Hayley's Conjectures on the Origin of Paradise Losta
THE earliest observation respecting the Origin of Paradise Lost appears to have been made by Voltaire, in the year 1727. He was then studying in England; and had become so well acquainted with our language as to publish an English essay on epic poetry; in which are the following words:
“ Milton, as he was travelling through Italy in his youth, saw at Florence a comedy called Adamo, written by one Andreini, a player, and dedicated to Mary de Medicis, queen of France. The subject of the play was the fall of man; the actors, God, the Devils, the Angels, Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Death, and the seven mortal Sins: that topic, so improper for a drama, bat so suitable to the absurd genius of the Italian stage (as it was at that time), was bandled in a manner entirely conformable to the extravagance of the design. The scene opens with a Chorus of Angels; and a Cherubim thus speaks for the rest :
Let the rainbow be the fiddlestick of the fiddle of the heavens ! let the planets
1 A la lira del Ciel Iri sia l'arco,
Corde le sfere sien, note le stelle,
Choro d' Angeli, &c. Adamo, ed. 1617.