« السابقةمتابعة »
exception upon this account, it is in the beginning of the third book, where Æneas is represented as tearing up the myrtle that dropped blood. To qualify this wonderful circumstance, Polydorus tells a story from the root of the myrtle, that the barbarous inhabitants of the country having pierced him with spears and arrows, the wood which was left in his body took root in his wounds, and gave birth to that bleeding tree. This circumstance seems to have the marvellous without the probable, because it is represented as proceeding from natural causes, without the interposition of any god, or other supernatural power capable of producing it: the spears and arrows grow of themselves, without so much as the modern help of an enchantment. If we look in- ? to the fiction of Milton's fable, though we find it full of surprising incidents, they are generally suited to our notions of the things and persons described, and tempered with a due measure of probability. I must only make an exception to the Limbo of Vanity, with his episode of Sin and Death, and some of the imaginary persons in his chaos. These passages are astonishing, but not credible; the reader cannot so far impose apon himself as to see a possibility in them; they are the description of dreams and shadows, not of things or per
I know that many critics look upon the stories of Circe, Polypheme, the Syrens, nay, the whole Odyssey and Iliad, to be allegories; but allowing this to be true, they are fables, which, considering the opinions of mankind that prevailed in the age of the poets, might possibly have been according to the letter. The persons are such as might have acted what is ascribed to them, as the circumstances in which they are represented, might possibly have been truths and realities. This appearance of probability is so absolutely requisite in the greater kinds of poetry, that Aristotle observes, the ancient tragic writers made use of the names of such great men as had actually lived in the world, though the tragedy proceeded upon adventures they were never engaged in, on purpose to make the subject more credible. In a word, besides the hidden
meaning of an epic allegory, the plain literal sense ought to appear probable. The story should be such as an ordinary reader may acquiesce in, whatever natural, moral, or political truth may be discovered in it by men of greater penetration.
Satan, after having long wandered upon the surface, or outmost wall of the universe, discovers at last a wide gap in it, which led into the creation, and is described as the opening through which the angels pass to and fro into the lower world, upon their errands to mankind. His sitting upon the brink of this passage, and taking a survey of the whole face of nature, that appeared to him new and fresh in all its beauties, with the simile illustrating this circumstance, fills the mind of the reader with as surprising and glorious an idea as any that arises in the whole poem. He looks down into that vast, hollow of the universe with the eye, or (as Milton calls it in his first book) with the ken of an angel. He surveys all the wonders in this immense amphitheatre that lie between both the poles of heaven, and takes in at one view the whole round of the creation.
His flight between the several worlds that shined on every side of him, with the particular description of the sun, are set forth in all the wantonness of a luxuriant imagination. His shape, speech, and behaviour, upon his transforming himself into an angel of light, are touched with exquisite beauty. The poet's thought of directing Satan to the sun, which in the vulgar opinion of mankind is the most conspicuous part of the creation, and the placing in it an angel, is a circumstance very finely contrived, and the more adjusted to a poetical probability, as it was a received doctrine among the most famous philosophers, that every orb had its intelligence; and as an apostle in sacred writ is said to have seen such an angel in the sun. In the answer which this angel returns to the disguised evil spirit, there is such a becoming majesty as is altogether suitable to a superior being. The part of it in which he represents himself as present at the creation, is very noble in itself,
and not only proper where it is introduced, but requisite to prepare the reader for what follows in the seventh book.
I saw, when at his word the formless mass,
In the following part of the speech he points out the earth with such circumstances, that the reader can scarce forbear fancying himself employed on the same distant view of it.
Look downward on the globe, whose hither side
His day, &c. I must not conclude my reflections upon this third book of Paradise Lost, without taking notice of that celebrated complaint of Milton with which it opens, and which certainly deserves all the praises that have been given to it; though, as I have before hinted, it may rather be looked upon as an excrescence, than as an essential part of the poem. The same observation might be applied to that beautiful digression upon hypocrisy, in the same book.
No. 321. SATURDAY, MARCH 8.
Nec satis est pulchra esse poemata, dulcia sunto.
THOSE, who know how many volumes have been written on the poems of Horace and Virgil, will easily pardon the length of my discourse upon Milton. The Paradise Lost is looked upon, by the best judges, as the
greatest production, or at least the noblest work of genius, in our language, and therefore deserves to be set before an English reader in its full beauty. For this reason, though I have endeavoured to give a general idea of its graces and imperfections in my six first papers, I thought myself obliged to bestow one upon every book in particular. The three first books I have already dispatched, and am now entering upon the fourth. I need not acquaint my reader, that there are multitudes of beauties in this great author, especially in the descriptive parts of his poem, which I have not touched upon; it being my intention to point out those only, which appear to me the most exquisite, or those which are not so obvious to ordinary readers. Every one that has read the critics, who have written upon the Odyssey, the Iliad, and the Æneid, knows very well, that though they agree in their opinions of the great beauties in those poems, they have nevertheless each of them discovered several master-strokes, which have escaped the observation of the rest. In the same manner, I question not but any writer, who shall treat on this subject after me, may find several beauties in Milton, which I have not taken notice of. I must likewise observe, that as the greatest masters of critical learning differ among one another, as to some particular points in an epic poem, I have not bound myself scrupulously to the rules which any one of them has laid down upon that art, but have taken the liberty sometimes to join with one, and sometimes with another, and sometimes to differ from all of them, when I have thought that the reason of the thing was on my side.
We may consider the beauties of the fourth book under three heads. In the first are those pictures of still-life, which we meet with in the descriptions of Eden, Paradise, Adam's Bower, &c. In the next are the machines, which comprehend the speeches and behaviour of the good and bad angels. In the last is the conduct of Adam and Eve, who are the principal actors
in the poem.
In the description of Paradise, the poet has observed
Aristotle's rule of lavishing all the ornaments of diction on the weak unactive parts of the fable, which are not supported by the beauty of sentiments and characters. Accordingly the reader may observe, that the expressions are more florid and elaborate in these descriptions, than in most other parts of the poem. I must further add, that though the drawings of gardens, rivers, rainbows, and the like dead pieces of nature, are justly censured in an heroic poem, when they run out into an unnecessary length; the description of Paradise would have been faulty, had not the poet been very particular in it, not only as it is the scene of the principal action, but as it is requisite to give us an idea of that happiness from which our first parents fell. The plan of it is wonderfully beautiful, and formed upon the short sketch which we have of it in holy writ. Milton's exuberance of imagination has poured forth such a redundancy of ornaments on this seat of happiness and innocence, that it would be endless to point out each particular.
I must not quit this head, without further observing, that there is scarce a speech of Adam or Eve in the whole poem, wherein the sentiments and allusions are not taken from this their delightful habitation. The reader, during their whole course of action, always finds himself in the walks of Paradise. In short, as the critics have remarked, that in those poems, wherein shepherds are actors, the thoughts ought always to take a tincture from the woods, fields, and rivers ; so we may observe, that our first parents seldom lose sight of their happy station in any thing they speak or do; and if the reader will give me leave to use the expression, that their thoughts are always paradisiacal.
We are in the next place to consider the machines of the fourth book. Satan being now within prospect of Eden, and looking round upon the glories of the creation, is filled with sentiments different from those which he discovered whilst he was in hell. The place inspires him with thoughts more adapted to it: he reflects upon the happy condition from whence he fell, and breaks forth into a speech that is softened with several transient