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through the spectacles of books; and on most occasions calls Icarning to his assistance. The garden of Eden brings to his mind the vale of Enna, where Proser-* pine was gathering flowers. . Satan makes his way through fighting elements, like Argo between the Cyanean rocks, or Ulysses between the two Sicilian whirlpools, when he shunned Charybdis on the larboard. The mythological allusions have been justly censured, as not being always used with notice of their vanity; but they contribute variety to the narration, and produce an alternate exercise of the memory and the fancy.
His similies are less numerous, and more various, than those of his predecessors. But he does not confine himself within the limits of rigorous comparison: his great excellence is amplitude, and he expands the adventitious image beyond the dimensions which the occasion required. Thus comparing the shield of Satan to the orb of the Moon, he crouds the imagination with the discovery of the telescope, and all the wonders which the telescope discovers.
Of his moral, sentiments it is hardly praise to affirm that they excel those of all other poets ; for this superiority he was indebted to his acquaintance with the sacred writings. The ancient epick poets, wanting the light of Revelation, were very unskilful teachers of virtue: their principal characters may be great, but they are not amiable. The reader may rise from their works with a greater degree of active or passive fortitude, and sometimes of prudence; but he will be able to carry away few precepts of justice, and none of mercy.
From the Italian writers it appears, that the advantages of even Christian knowledge may be possessed in vain. Ariosto's pravity is generally known; and though the Deliverance of Jerusalem may be considered as a sacred subject, the poet has been very sparing of moral instruction.
In Milton every line breathes sanctity of thought, and purity of manners, except when the train of the narration requires the introduction of the rebelli. ous spirits; and even they are compelled to acknowledge their subjection to God, in such a manner as excites reverence, and confirms piety.
Of human beings there are but two; but those two are the parents of man. kind, venerable before their fall for dignity and innocence, and amiable after it for repentance and submission. In their first state their affection is tender without weakness, and their piety sublime without presumption. When they have sinned, they shew how discord begins in mutual frailty, and how it ought to cease in mutual forbearance; how confidence of the divine favour is forfeited by sin, and how hope of pardon may be obtained by penitence and prayer. A state of innocence we can only conceive, if indeed, in our present misery, it be possible to conceive it; but the sentiments and worship proper to a fallen and offending being, we have all to learn, as we have all to practise.
The poet, whatever be done, is always great. Our progenitors, in their first state, conversed with angels; even when folly and sin had degraded them, they had not in their humiliation the port of mean suitors; and they rise again to reverential regard, when we find that their prayers were heard.
As human passions did not enter the world before the Fall, there is in the Paradise Lost little opportunity for the pathetick; but what little there is has
arising from Divine Displeasure moved only on on
not been lost. That passion which is peculiar to rational nature, the anguish arising from the consciousness of transgression, and the horrors attending the sense of the Divine Displeasure, are very justly described and forcibly impressed. But the passions are moved only on one occasion ; sublimity is the general and prevailing quality in this poem; sublimity variously modified, sometimes descriptive, sometimes argumentative.
The defects and faults of Paradise Lost, for faults and defects every work of man must have, it is the business of impartial criticism to discover. As, in disa playing the excellencies of Milton, I have not made long quotations, because of selecting beauties there had been no end, I shall in the same general manner mention that which seems to deserve censure; for what Englishman can take delight in transcribing passages, which, if they lessen the reputation of Milton, diminish in some degree the honour of our country?
The generality of my scheme does not admit the frequent notice of verbal inaccuracies; which Bentely, perhaps better skilled in grammar than poetry, has often found, though he sometimes made them, and which he imputed to the obtrusions of a reviser, whom the author's blindness obliged him to employ, a supposition rash and groundless, if he thought it true; and vile and pernicious, if, as is said, he in private allowed it to be false.
The plan of Paradise Lost has this inconvenience, that it comprises neither human actions nor human manners. The man and woman who act and suffer, are in a state which no other man or woman can ever know. The reader finds no transaction in which he can be engaged; beholds no condition in which he can by any effort of imagination place himself; he has, therefore, little natural curiosity or sympathy.
We all, indeed, feel the effects of Adam's disobedience; we all sin like Adam, and like him must all bewail our offences; we have restless and insidious enemies in the fallen angels, and in the blessed spirits we have guardians and friends ; in the Redemption of mankind we hope to be included; in the description of heaven and of hell we are surely interested, as we are all to reside hereafter either in the regions of horror or bliss.
But these truths are too important to be new; they have been taught to our Infancy, they have mingled with our solitary thoughts and familiar conversation, and are habitually interwoven with the whole texture of life. Being therefore not new, they raise no unaccustomed emotion in the mind; what we knew before, we cannot learn; what is not unexpected, cannet surprise.
Of the ideas suggested by these awful scenes, from some we recede with reverence, except when stated hours require their association; and froní others we shrink with horror, or admit them only as salutary inflictions, as counterpoises to our interests and passions, Such images rather obstruct the career of fancy than incite it.
Pleasure and terrour are indeed the genuine sources of poetry; but poetical pleasure must be such as human imagination can at least conceive, and poetical terrour such as buman strength and fortitude may combat. The good and evil of Eternity are too ponderous for the wings of wit.; the
mind sinks under them in passive helplessness, content with calm belief and humble adoration.
Known truths, however, may take a different appearance, and be conveyed to the mind hy a new train of intermediate iinages. This Milton has undertaken, and performed with pregnancy and vigour of mind peculiar to himself. Whoever considers the few radical positions which the Scriptures afforded him, will wonder by what energetic operation he expanded them to such extent, and ramified them to so much variety, restrained as he was by religiaus reverence from licentiousness of fiction.
Here is a full display of the united force of study and genius; of a great accumulation of materials, with judgement to digest, and fancy to combine them: Milton was able to select from nature, or from story, from an ancient fable, or from modern science, whatever could illustrate or adorn his thoughts. An accumulation of knowledge impregnated his mind, fermented by study, and exalted by imagination. .
It has been therefore said, without an indecent hyperbole, by one of his encomiasts, that in reading Paradise Lost we read a book of universal knowledge.
But original deficience cannot be supplied. The want of human interest is always felt. Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed, and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation ; we desert our master, and seek for companions.
Another inconvenience of Milton's design is, that it requires the description of what cannot be described, the agency of spirits. He saw that immateriality supplied no images, and that he could not shew angels acting but by instruments of action; he therefore invested them with form and matter. This, being necessary, was therefore defensible; and he should have secured the consistency of his system, by keeping immateriality out of sight, and enticing his reader to drop it from his thoughts. But he has unhappily perplexed his poetry with his philosophy. His infernal and celestial powers are some:imes pure spirit, and sometimes animated body. When Satan walks with his lance upon the burning marle, he has a body; when in his passage between hell and the new world, he is in danger of sinking in the vacuity, and is supported by a gust of rising vapours, he has a body: when he animates the toad, he seems to be miere spirit, that can penetrate matter at pleasure; when he starts up in his own shape, he has at least a determined form; and when he is brought before Gabriel he has a spear and a shield, which he had the power of hiding in the toad, though the arms of the contending angels are evidently material.
The vulgar inhabitants of Pandæmonium, being incorporeal spirits, are at large, though without number, in a limited space: yet in the battle, when they were overwhelmed by mountains, their armour hurt them, crushed in upon their subtance, now grown gross by sinning. This likewise happened to the incorrupted angels, who were overthrown the sooner for their arms, for unarmed they might easily as spirits have evaded by contraction or remove. Even as spirits they are VOL. I.
hardly spiritual; for contraction and remove are images of matter; bu if they could have escape.. without their armour, they might have escaped from it, and left only the empty cover to be battered. Uriel, when he rides on a sun-beain, is material; Satan iş material when he is afraid of the prowess of Adam.
The confusion of spirit and matter which pervades the whole narration of the war of heaven fills it with incongruity; and the book, in wbich it is related, is, I believe, the favourite of children, and gradually neglected as know, ledge is increased.
After the operation of immaterial agents, which cannot be explained, may be considered that of allegorical persons, wbich have no real existence. To exalt causes into agents, to invest abstract ideas with form, and animate tliem with activity, has always been the right of poetry. But such airy beings are, for the most part, suffered only to do their natural office, and retire. Thus Fame tells a tale, and Victory hovers over a general, or perches on a standard ; but Fame and Victory can do more. To give them any real employment, or ascribe to them any material agency, is to make thein allegorical no longer, but to shock the mind by ascribing effects to non-entity. In the Promethius of Æschylus we see Violence and Strength, and in the Alcestis of Euripides, we see Death, brought upon the stage, all as active persons of the drama ; but no precedents can justify absurdity.
Milton's allegory of Sin and Death is undoubtedly faulty. Sin is indeed the mother of Death, and may be allowed to be the portress of hell; but when they stop the jousney of Satan, a journey described as real, and when Death of fers him battle, the allegory is broken. That Sin and Death should have slewn 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 soms distant part of space, separated from the regions of harmony and order by a chaotick waste and an unoccupied vacuity ; but Sin and Death worked up a mole of aggravated soil, cemented with asphaltus; a. work too bulky for ideal architects.
This unskilful allegory appears to me one of the grea: est faults of the poem; and to this there was no temptation, but the author's opinion of its beauty.
To the conduct of the narratiye some objection 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 departure.
To find sentiments for the state of innocence, 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 notions, especially when the philosophy is false, might
have been better omitted. The ángel, 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 arë not equal. In every work, one part must be for the sake of others; á palace must have passages; à poem must have transitions. It is no more to be required that wit should always be blazing, than that the sun should always ständ 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 expatiated in the sky, may be allowed sometimes to revisit earth; for what other author, eversoared so high, or sustained his fight 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-imagined, but too ludicrous for its place.
His play on words, in which be delights too often; his equivocations, which Bentley endeavours to defend by the example of the ancients; his unnecessary and ungraceful use of terins 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 critick.
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 pitied for want of sensibility.
Of Paradise Regained, the general judgement seems now to be right, that it isin many parts elegant, and every where instructive. It was not to be supposed that the writer of Paradise Lost could ever write without great effusions of fancy, and exalted precepts of wisdom. The basis of Paradise Regained is nartow, 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, Samson Agonistis has in requital been too much admired. It could only be by long prejudice, and the bigotry of learning, that Milton could prefer the ancient tragedies, with their encumbrance 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 interniediate parts have neither cause nor consequence, neither hasten nor retard the catastrophe.
In this tragedy are 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. Na