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Of composition ; straight they chang'd their minds,
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 i he learned world is very much divided upon Milton as to this point, I hope they will excuse me if I appear particular in any or my opinions, and incline to those who judge the most advantageously of the author.
It is requisite that the language of an heroic pcem should be both perspicuous and sublime. In proportion as either of these two qualities are wanting, the language is imperfećt. Perspicuity is the first and inost 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, wie ein he speaks of Satan,
God and his Son except,
Adam the godliest man of men since born
It is plain, that in the former of these passages, according to the natural syntax, the divine persons mentioned in the first line are represenleu 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, impute to a pardonable inadvertency, or to the weakness of human nature, which cannot aitend to each minute particular, and give the last finishing to every circumstance in so long a work. The ancient critics, therefore, who were acted 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 authers who had so many greater beauties to atone for tliem.
If clearness and perspicuity were only to be consulted, the poet would have nothing else to do but to ciothe 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 ihrough the mouth of the vulgar, á poet should take particular care to guard himself against idiomatic ways of speakingOvid and Lucan have many poornesses of expression upon this account, as taking up with the hrst phrases that offered, without puiting themselves to the trouble of looking after such as would not only be natural, but also elevated and sublime. Milton has but a few faila irgs in this kind, of which, however, you may meet with some instances, as in the following passages.
Imbrio's and idiots, ermites and friars,
A wh le discourse they hold,
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 and Homer, they would not shock the ear of the most delicare modern reader, so much as they would have done that of an old Greek or Ro. man, 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 sublime. 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 shuvning 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, Æschylus, and sometimes Sophocles, were guilty of this fault; among the Latins, Claudian, and Statius; and among our own countrymen, Shakespear and Lee. In these authers the affectation of greatness often hurts the perspi.. cuity of the stile, as in many others the endeavour after perspicuity prejudices its greatness.
Aristotle has observed, that the idiomatic stile may be avoided, and the sublime formed, by the following methods. First, by the use of metaphors : such are those in Milon. Impar:dis’d in one another's arms.
And in his hand a recd
In these and innumerable other instances, the metaphors are very bold but just; I must how crooserve, that the metaphors are not thick sown in vilton, wirich always savours too much of wii ; that they never clash with one ano. ther, which, as Aristotle observos, turns a sentence into a
kind of 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 or her tongues. 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 se. veral dialects which Homer has made use of for this end. Miltor, in conformity with the practice of the ancient poets and with Aristotle's rule, has in used 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
Who shall tempt with wand'ring ieet
So both ascend in the visions of GodB. xi.
Under this head may be reckoned the placing the adjective after the substantive, the transposition of words, the turning the adjective into a substantive, with several other foreign modes of speech, which this poet has naturalized to give his verse the greater sound, and throw it out of piose.
The third method mentioned by Aristotle, is what agrees with the genius of the Greek language moie than with that of
any other tongue, and is therefore 19.ore used by Homer than by any other poet. I mean the lengthening of a phrase by the addition of words, which may ciher be inserted or omitted, as also by the extending or contracting of partia eular words by the insertion or on.ission ci curtain syllables.
Milton has put in practice this method of raising his language, as far as the nature of our tongue will permit, as in the passage above-mentioned, erenite, for what is hermite in common discourse. If you observe the measure of his verse, he has with great judgment suppressed a syllable in several words, and shortened those of two syllables into one, by which method, besides the above-mentioned advantage, he has given a greater variety to his numbers. But this practice is more particularly remarkable in the names of persons and of countries, as Beelzebub, Hessebon, and in many other particulars, wherein be has eit :er changed the name, or made use of that which is not the most commonly known, that he might the better depart from the language of the vulgar.
The same reason recommended to him several old words, which also makes his poem appear the more ven-rable, and gives it a greater air of antiquity.
I must likewise take notice, that there are in Milton several words of his own coining, as Cerberean, miscreated, Hello doom'd, embryon atoms, and many others. If the reader is offended at this liberty in our English poet, I would recommend him to a discourse in Plutarch, which show us how frequently Homer has made use of the same liberty.
Milton by the above mentioned helps, and by the choice of the noblest words and phrases which our tongue would afford kim, has carried our language to a greater height than any of the English poets have ever done before or after him, and made the sublimity of his stile equal to that of his sentiments.
I have been the more particular in these observations on Milton's stile, because it is that part of him in which he appears the most singular. The re narks I have here made upon the practice of other poets, with my ohservacions out of Aristotle, will perhaps alleviate the prejudice which some have taken to his poem upon this account; though after all, I must confess, that I think his stile, though admirable in general, is in some places too much stiffened and obscured by the frequent use of those methods, which Ari totle has prescribed for the raising of it.
This redundancy of those several ways of speech which