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up to Leda's egg, or begun much later, even at the rape of Helen, or the investing ot Troy, it is manifest that the story of the poem would have been a series of several actions. He, therefore, opens his poem with the discord of his princes, and artfully interweaves, in the several succeeding parts, an account of every thing material which relates to them, or that had passed before this fatal dissension. ter the same manner Eneas makes his first appearance in the Tyrrhene seas, and within sight of Italy, because the action proposed to be celebrated was that of settling himself in Latium but, because it was necessary to inform the reader, what had happened to him in the taking of Troy, and in the preceding parts of his voyage, Virgil makes his hero relate it by way of episode, in the second and third books of the Eneid; the contents of which come before those of the first book in the course of the story; though, for the preservation of this unity of action, they follow it in the disposition of the poem. Milton, in imitation of these two great poets, commences his Paradise Lost with an infernal council plotting the fall of man, which is the action he proposed to celebrate; and as for those great actions, the battle of the angels, and the creation of the world, (which preceded in point of time, and which, in my opinion, would have entirely destroyed the unity of his principal action, had he related them in the same order that they happened,) he introduced them in the fifth, sixth, and seventh books, by way of episode to this sublime pocm.

Aristotle himself allows, that Homer has nothing to boast of as to the unity of his fable; though that great critic and philosopher endeavours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet, by imputing it, in some measure, to the very nature of an epic poem. Same have been of opinion that the Eneid also is deficient in this particular, and has episode, which may be looked upon as excrescences, rather than as parts of the action. On the contrary, the poem which we have now under our consideration has no other episodes than such as naturally arise from the subject, and yet is filled with such a multitude of astonishing

incidents, that it gives us at once a pleasure of the most extensive variety, and the greatest simplicity; uniform in its nature, though diversified in the execution.

I must observe, also, that as Virgil', in the poem which was designed to celebrate the founder of the Roman empire, has described the origin of its great rival, the Carthaginian commonwealth; Milton, with the like art, in his poem on the fall of Man, has related the fall of those angels who are his professed enemies. Beside the many other beauties in such an episode, its running parallel with the great action of the poem, prevents it from breaking the unity, so much as another episode which had not so great an affinity with the principle subject. In short, this is the same kind of beauty which the critics admire in the Spanish Friar, or the Double Discovery; where the two different plots appear as counterparts, and copies.

The second qualification required in the action of an epic poem is, that it should be an entire action. An action is entire when it is complete in all it parts; or, as Aristotle describes it, when it consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nothing should go before it, be intermixed with it, or follow after it, that is not related to it; as, on the contrary, no single part should be omitted in that just and regular progress which it must be supposed to take from its origin to its consummation. Thus we see the anger of Achilles in its commencement, its continuance, and effects; and Æneas's settlement in Italy, carried on through all the oppositions in its way to it, both by sea and land. The action in Milton excels, I think, both the former in this particular; we see it contrived in Hell, executed upon Earth, and punished by Heaven. The parts of it are related in the most distinct manner, and grow out of each other in the most natural order.

The third qualification of an epic poem is, its greatness. The anger of Achilles was of such consequence that it embroiled the kings of Greece, destroyed the heroes of Asia, and enraged all the gods into factions. Eneas's settlement in Italy produced the Cæsars, and gave birth to the Roman empire. Milton's subject was still greater than either of the

former; it does not determine the fate of individuals, or nations, but of a whole species. The united powers of Hell are combined for the destruction of mankind, which they effected in part, and would have completed, had not Omnipotence itself interposed. The principal actors are, Man in his greatest perfection, and Woman in her highest beauty. Their enemies are the fallen Angels, the Messiah their friend, and the Almighty their protector. In short, every thing that is great in the whole circle of being, whether within the verge of Nature, or out of it, has a proper part assigned it in this admirable poem.

Aristotle, by the greatness of the action, does not onlymean that it should be great in its nature, but also in its duration; or, in other words, that it should have a due length, as well as what we properly call greatness. Homer and Virgil have shown their principal art in this particular; the action of the Iliad, and that of the Eneid, were in themselves exceeding short; but are so beautifully extended and diversified by the invention of episodes, and the intervention of gods, with similar poetical ornaments, that they form an agreeable story, sufficient to employ the memory, without overcharging it. Milton's action is enriched with such a variety of circumstances, that I have taken as much pleasure in reading the Contents of his Books, as in the best invented story I have ever met with. It is possible, that the traditions on which the Iliad and Æneid were founded, could have had more circumstances in them than in the history of the fall of man, as it is related in Scripture: besides, it was easier for Homer and Virgil to dash the truth with fiction, as they were in no danger of offending the religion of their country but Milton had not only a very few cireumstances upon which to raise his poem, but was also obliged to proceed with the greatest caution in every thing that he added from his own invention. And, notwithstanding all the restraints he was under, he has filled his story with so many surprising incidents, which bear so close analogy with what is delivered in Holy Writ, that it is capable of pleasing the most delicate reader, without giving offence to the most scrupulous.


Having examined the action of Paradise Lost, let us, in the next place, consider the actors. This is Aristotle's method of arrangment; first, the fable, and secondly, the manners; or, as we generally call them in English, the fable and the characters.

Homer has excelled all the heroic poets in the multitude and variety of his characters. Every god that is admitted into his poem, acts a part which would have been suitable to no other deity. His princes are as much distinguished by their manners as by their dominions; and even those among them, whose characters seem wholly made up of courage, differ from one another, as to the particular kinds of courage in which they excel. In short, there is scarce a speech, or action, in the Iliad, which the reader may not ascribe to the person that speaks or acts, without seeing his name prefixed to it.

Homer does not only outshine all other poets in the variety, but also in the novelty, of his characters. He has introduced among his Grecian princes, a person who had lived in three ages of men, and conversed with Theseus, Hercules, Polyphemus, and the first race of heroes. His principal actor is the son of a goddess, not to mention the offspring of other deities who have likewise a place in his poem, and the venerable Trajan prince, who was the father of so many kings and heroes. There is, in these several characters of Homer, a certain dignity, as well as novelty, which adapts them in a more peculiar manner to the nature of an heroic poem; and, to give them the greater variety, he has described a Vulcan, that is a buffoon, among his gods, and a Thersites among his mortals.

Virgil falls infinitely short of Homer in the characters of his poem, both as to their variety and novelty. Eneas is a perfect character; but as for Achates, though he is styled the hero's friend, he does not any thing in the whole poem which may deserve that title. Gyas, Mnestheus, Sergestus, and Cloanthus, are all of them men of the same character.

fortemque Gyam, fortemque Cloanthum.

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There are several very natural incidents in the part of Ascanius, as that of Dido cannot be sufficiently admired. I do not see any thing new or particular in Turnus. Pallas and Evander are remote copies of Hector and Priam, as Lausus and Mezentius are almost parallels to Pallas and Evander. The characters of Nisus and Eurialus are beautiful, but common. We must not forget the parts of Simon, Camilla, and some few others, which are fine improvements on the Greek poet. In short, there is neither that variety nor novelty in the persons of the Eneid which we meet with in those of the Iliad.

If we look into the characters of Milton, we shall find, that he has introduced all the variety his fable was capable of admitting. The whole species of mankind was in two persons, at the time to which the subject of his poem is confined. We have, however, four dictinct characters in these two persons. We see man and woman in the highest innocence and perfection, and in the most abject state of guilt and infirmity. The two last characters are, indeed, very common and obvious; but the two first are not only more magnificent, but more new than any characters, either in Virgil or Homer, or indeed in the whole circle of nature.

Milton was so sensible of this defect in the subject of his poem, and of the few characters it would afford him, that he has brought into it two actors of a shadowy and fictitious nature, in the persons of Sin and Death; by which means, he has introduced into the body of his fable a very beautiful and well invented allegory: but notwithstanding the fineness of this allegory may atone for it in some measure, I cannot think that persons of such a chimerical existence are proper actors in an epic poem; because there is not that degree of probability annexed to them which is requisite in writings of this kind.

Virgil has admitted Fame as an actress in the Eneid; but the part she acts is very short, and the incident none of the most admired in that divine work. We find in mock heroic poems, particularly in the Dispensary and the Lutrin, several allegorical persons of this nature, which are very beautiful in those compositions, and may perhaps be used as


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