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pears most in his description of actions ; Milton's in that of wonderful and stupendous objects.
But, while Milton excels most in fublimity, his work abounds in the beautiful, the pleasing, and the tender. When the scene is in Paradise, the imagery is gay and smiling. His descriptions show a fertile imagination ; and in his fimilies he is remarkably happy. If faulty, it is from their too frequent allusions to matters of learning, and to antient fables. It must also be confeffed, that there is a falling off in the latter part of Paradise Loit.
The language and versification of Milton have high merit. His blank verse is harmonious and diversified ; and his style is full of majetty. There may be found indeed some prosaic lines in his poem. But in a work so long and so harmonious these may be forgiven.
Paradise Lost amid beauties of every kind has many inequalities. No high and daring genius was ever uniformly correct. Milton is too frequently theological and metaphysical ; his words are often technical; and he is affectedly oftentatious of his learning. Many of his faults however are to be imputed to the pedantry of his age. He discovers a vigor, a grasp of genius, equal to every thing great ; sometimes he rises above every other poet; and sometimes he falls below himfelf.
In all civilized nations dramatic poetry has been a
N favorite amusement. It divides itself into the two forms of Tragedy and Comedy. Of these tragedy is the most dignified; as great and serious objects interest us more, than little and ludicrous ones. The former rests on the high passions, the virtues, crimes, and sufferings of mankind; the latter on their humors, follies, and pleasures; and ridicule is its sole instrument.
Tragedy is a direct imitation of human manners and actions. It does not, like an epic poem, exhibit characters by description or narration; it fets the personages before us, and makes them act and speak with propriety. This species of writing therefore requires deep knowledge of the human heart; and, when happily executed, it has the power of railing the strongeft emotions.
In its general strain and spirit tragedy is favorable to virtue. Characters of honor claim our respect and approbation; and, to raise indignation, we must paint a person in the odious colors of vice and depravity. Virtuous men indeed are often represented by the tragic poet, as unfortunate ; for this happens in real
life. But he always engages our hearts in their bea half; and never represents vice, as finally triumphant and happy. Upon the fame principle, if bad men fucceed in their designs, they are yet finally conducted to punishment. It may therefore be concluded, that tram gedies are moral compositions,
It is affirmed by Aristotle, that the design of tragedy is to purge our passions by means of pity and terror. But perhaps it would have been more accurate, to have said that the object of this fpecies of composition is to improve our virtuous fenfibility. If a writer excite our pity for the afflicted, inspire us with proper sentiments on beholding the vicissitudes of life, and fimulate us to a-void the misfortunes of others by exhibiting their er: rors; he has accomplished all the moral purposes of tragedy.
In a tragedy it is necessary to have an interesting story, and that the writer conduct it in a natural and probable manner. For the end of tragedy is not fo much to elevate the imagination, as to affect the heart. This principle, which is founded on the clearest reason, excludes from tragedy all machinery, or fabulous intervention of gods. Ghosts alone from their foundation in popular belief have maintained their place in tragedy.
To promote an impression of probability, the story of a tragedy according to some critics should never be
a pure fi&tion, but ought to be built on real facts. This however is carrying the matter too far. For a fictitious tale, if properly conducted, will melt the heart as mueh, as real history. Hence the tragic poet mixes many fictitious circumstances with well known facts. Most readers never think of separating the historical from the fabulous. They attend only to what is probable, and are touched by events, that resemble nature. Accordingly some of the most affecting tragedies are entirely fictitious in their subjects. Such are the Fait Penitent, Douglas, and the Orphan.
In its origin tragedy was rude and imperfect. A. mong the Greeks it was at first nothing more, than the song, which was sung at the festival of Bacchus. These songs were sometimes sung by the whole company, and sometimes by feparate bands, answering alternately to each other, and making a chorus. To give this entertainment some variety, Thespis, who lived about five hundred
before the Christian æra, introduced a person between the songs, who made a recitation in verse. Æschylus, who lived fifty years after him, introduced a dialogue between two persons or actors, comprehending some interesting story; and placed them on a stage, adorned with scenery. The drama now began to assume a regular form ; and was soon after brought to perfection by Sophocles and Euripides.
It thus appears that the chorus was the foundation of tragedy. But, what is remarkable, the dramatic din
alogue, which was only an addition to it, at length became the principal part of the entertainment, and the chorus, losing its dignity, came to be accounted only an accessory in tragedy. At last in modern tragedy it has entirely disappeared ; and its absence from the stage forms the chief distinction between the antient and modern drama.
The chorus, it must be allowed, rendered tragedy more magnificent, instructive, and moral. But on the other hand it was unnatural, and lessened the interest of the piece. It removed the representation from the resemblance of life. It has accordingly been with propriety excluded from the stage.
The three unities of action, place, and time, have been confidered, as essential to the proper conduct of dramatic fable. Of these three unity of action is undoubtedly most important. This consists in the relation, which all the incidents introduced bear to fome design or effectcombining them naturally into one whole. This unity of fubject is most essential to tragedy. For a multiplicity of plots by distracting the attention prevents the paffions from rising to any height. Hence the abfurdity of two independent actions in the fame play. There may indeed be underplots ; but the poet fhould make these fubfervient to the main action. They should conspire to bring forward the catastrophe