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through types and shadows, he rejoices in it; but when he finds the redemption of man compleated, and Paradise again renewed, he breaks forth in rapture and transport,
Goodness infinite, Goodness immense!
I have hinted in my sixth paper on Milton, that an heroic poem, according to the opinion of the best critics, ought to end happily, and leave the mind of the reader, after having conducted it through many doubts and fears, sorrows and disquietudes, in a state of tranquillity and satisfaction. Milton's fable, which had so many other qualifications to recommend it, was deficient in this particular. It is here, therefore, that the poet has shewn a most exquisite judgment, as well as the finest invention, by finding out a method to supply this natural defect in his subject. Accordingly he leaves the adversary of mankind, in the last view which he gives us of him, under the lowest state of mortification and disappointment. We see him chewing ashes, grovelling in the dust, and loaden with supernumerary pains and torments. On the contrary, our two first parents are comforted by dreams and visions, cheered with promises of salvation, and, in a manner, raised to a greater happiness than that which they had forfeited: in short, Satan is represented miserable in the height of his triumphs, and Adam triumphant in the height of misery. Milton's
very nobly. The last speeches of Adam and the archangel are full of moral and instructive sentiments. The sleep that fell upon Eve, and the effects it had in quieting the disorders of her mind, produces the same kind of consolation in the reader, who cannot peruse the last beautiful speech which is ascribed to the mother of mankind, without a secret pleasure and satisfaction.
Whence thou return'st, and whither went'st, I know;
Which he hath sent propitious, some great good
By me the promis'd Seed shall all restore. The following lines, which conclude the poem, rise in a most glorious
blaze of poetical images and expressions. Heliodorus in his Æthiopics acquaints us, that the motion of the gods differs from that of mortals, as the former do not stir their feet, nor proceed step by step, but slide over the surface of the earth by an uniform swimming of the whole body. The reader may observe with how poetical a description Milton has attributed the same kind of motion to the angels who were to take possession of Paradise.
So spake our mother Eve, and Adam heard
Fierce as a cometThe author helped his invention in the following passage, by reflecting on the behaviour of the angel, who, in holy writ, has the conduct of Lot and his family. The circumstances drawn from that relation are very gracefully made use of on this occasion.
In either hand the hast'ning angel caught,
The scene which our first parents are surprised with upon their looking back on Paradise, wonderfully strikes the reader's imagination, as nothing can be more natural than the tears they shed on that occasion.
They looking back, all th' eastern side beheld
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide. If I might presume to offer at the smallest alteration in this divine work, I should think the poem would end better with the passage here quoted, than with the two verses which follow.
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way. These two verses, though they have their beauty, fall very much below the foregoing passage, and renew in the mind of the reader that anguish which was pretty well laid by that consideration,
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide. The number of books in Paradise Lost is equal to those of the Æneid. Our author in his first edition had divided his poem into ten books, but afterwards broke the seventh and the eleventh each of them into two different books, by the help of some small additions. This second division was made with great judgment, as any one may see who will be at the pains of examining it. It was not done for the sake of such a chimerical beauty as that of resembling Virgil in this particular, but for the more just and regular disposition of this great work.
Those who have read Bossu, and many of the critics who have written since his time, will not pardon me if I do not find out the particular moral which is inculcated in Paradise Lost. Though I can by no means think,
with the last-mentioned French author, that an epic writer first of all pitches upon a certain moral, as the ground-work and foundation of his poem, and afterwards finds out a story to it: I am, however, of opinion, that no just heroic poem ever was, or can be made, from whence one great moral may not be deduced. That which reigns in Milton is the most universal and most useful that can be imagined; it is in short this, that obedience to the will of God makes men happy, and that disobedience makes them miserable.' This is visibly the moral of the principal fable which turns upon Adam and Eve, who continued in Paradise while they kept the command that was given them, and were driven out of it as soon as they had transgressed. This is likewise the moral of the principal episode, which shews us how an innumerable multitude of angels fell from their state of bliss, and were cast into hell, upon their disobedience. Besides this great moral, which may be looked upon as the soul of the fable, there are an infinity of under morals which are to be drawn from the several parts of the poem, and which makes this work more useful and instructive than any other poem in any language.
Those who have criticised on the Odyssey, the Iliad, and Æneid, have taken a great deal of pains to fix the number of months or days contained in the action of each of those poems. If any one thinks it worth his while to examine this particular in Milton, he will find, that from Adam's first appearance in the fourth book, to his expulsion from Paradise in the twelfth, the author reckons ten days. As for that part of the action which is described in the three first books, as it does not pass within the regions of nature, I have before observed that it is not subject to any calculations of time.
I have now finished my observations on a work which does an honour to the English nation. I have taken a general view of it under those four heads, the fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language, and made each of them the subject of a particular paper. I have in the next place spoken of the censures which our author may incur under each of these heads, which I
have confined to two papers, though I might have enlarged the number, if I had been disposed to dwell on so ungrateful a subject. I believe, however, that the severest reader will not find any little fault in heroic poetry, which this author has fallen into, that does not come under one of those heads among which I have distributed his several blemishes. After having thus treated at large of Paradise Lost, I could not think it sufficient to have celebrated this
poem in the whole, without descending to particulars. I have therefore bestowed a paper upon each book, and endeavoured not only to prove that the poem is beautiful in general, but to point out its particular beauties, and to determine wherein they consist. I have endeavoured to shew how some passages are beautiful by being sublime ; others by being soft ; others by being natural: which of them are recommended by the passion ; which by the moral ; which by the sentiment; and which by the expression. I have likewise endeavoured to shew how the genius of the poet shines by a happy invention; a distant allusion; or a judicious imitation : how he has copied or improved Homer or Virgil, and raised his own imaginations by the use which he has made of several poetical passages in Scripture. I might have inserted also several passages of Tasso, which our author has imitated; but as I do not look upon Tasso to be a sufficient voucher, I would not perplex my reader with such quotations, as might do more honour to the Italian than English poet. In short, I have endeavoured to particularize those innumerable kinds of beauty, which it would be tedious to recapitulate, but which are essential to poetry, and which may be met with in the works of this great author. Had I thought, at my first engaging in this design, that it would have led me to so great a length, I believe I should never have entered upon it; but the kind reception which it has met with among those whose judgments I have a value for, gives me no reason to repent of the pains I have been at in composing them."
Composing them. The substantive, to which them refers, is understood, and not expressed. This inaccuracy might have been avoided by saying,-- the kind reception which these papers have met with, &c.