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Affinity with the principal Subject. In fhort, this is the fame Kind of Beauty which the Critics admire in the Spanish Friar, or the Double Difcovery, where the two different Plots look like Counterparts and Copies of one another.
THE fecond Qualification required in the Action of an Epic Poem is, that it fhould be an entire Action: An Action is entire when it is complete in all its Parts; or, as Arifiotle defcribes it, when it confifts of a Beginning, a Middle, and an End. Nothing fhould go before it, be intermixed with it, or follow after it, that is not related to it. As on the contrary, no fingle Step fhould be omitted in that juft and regular Progrefs which it must be suppofed to take from its Original to its Confummation. Thus we fee the Anger of Achilles in its Birth, its Continuance, and Effects; and Æneas's Settlement in Italy, carried on through all the Oppofitions in his Way to it both by Sea and Land. The Action in Milton excels (I think) both the former in this Particular; we fee it contrived in Hell, executed upon Earth, and punished by Heaven. The Parts of it are told in the moft diftinét Manner, and grow out of one another in the most natural Order. །
THE third Qualification of an Epic Poem is its Greatnefs. The Anger of Achilles was of fuch Confequence, that it embroiled the Kings of Greece, deftroyed the Heroes of Afia, and engaged all the Gods in Factions. Æneas's Settlement in Italy produced the Cafars, and gave Birth to the Roman Empire. Milton's Subject was ftill greater than either of the former; it does not determine the Fate of fingle Perfons or Nations, but of a whole Species. The United Powers of Hell are joined together for the Deftruction of Mankind, which they effected in Part, and would have completed, had not Omnipotence itself interpofed. The principal Actors are, Man in his greatest Perfection, and Woman in her highest Beauty. Their Enemies are the fallen Angels: The Meffiah
Meffiah 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 affigned it in this admirable Poem.
IN Poetry, as in Architecture, not only the Whole, but the principal Members, and every Part of them, fhould be Great. I will not prefume to fay, that the Book of Games in the Eneid, or that in the Iliad, are not of this Nature, nor to reprehend Virgil's Simile of the Top, and many other of the fame Kind in the Iliad, as liable to any Cenfure in this Particular; but I think We may fay, without derogating from those wonderful Performances, that there is an Indifputable and Unqueftioned Magnificence in every Part of Paradife Loft, and indeed a much greater than could have been formed upon any Pagan Syftem.
BUT Ariftotle, by the Greatness of the Action, does not only mean that it fhould be great in its Nature, but also in its Duration; or in other Words, That it should have a due Length in it, as well as what we properly call Greatnefs. The juft Meafureof this Kind of Magnitude, he explains by the following Similitude. An Animal, no bigger than a Mite, cannot appear perfect to the Eye, because the Sight takes it in at once, and has only a confufed Idea of the Whole, and not a diftinct Idea of all its Parts: If on the contrary you should suppose an Animal of ten thousand Furlongs in Length, the Eye would be fo filled with a fingle Part of it, that it could not give the Mind an Idea of the Whole. What these Animals are to the Eye, a very fhort, or a very long Action would be to the Memory. The first would be, as it were, loft and swallowed up by it, and the other difficult to be contained in it. Homer and Virgil have fhewn their principal Art in this Particular; the Action of the Iliad, and that of the Æneid, were in themfelves exceeding short, but are so beautifully extended B 4
and diverfified by the Invention of Episodes, and the Machinery of Gods, with the like poetical Ornaments, that they make up an agreeable Story fufficient to employ the Memory without overcharging it. Milton's Action is enriched with fuch a Variety of Circumftances, that I have taken as much Pleasure in reading the Contents of his Books, as in the best invented Story I ever met with. It is poffible, that the Traditions, on which the Iliad and Eneid were built, had more Circumstances in them than the History of the Fall of Man, as it is related in Scripture. Befides, 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 by it. But as for Milton, he had not only a very few Circumftances upon which to raise his Poem, but was also obliged to proceed with the greatest Caution in every Thing that he added out of his own Invention. And, indeed, notwithstanding all the Restraints he was under, he has filled his Story with fo many furprifing Incidents, which bear fo close an Analogy with what is delivered in Holy Writ, that it is capable of pleafing the most delicate Reader, without giving Offence to the moft fcrupulous.
THE modern Critics have collected from several Hints in the Iliad, and Eneid the Space of Time, which is taken up by the Action of each of those Poems; but as a great Part of Milton's Story was trans acted in Regions that lie out of the Reach of the Sun, and the Sphere of Day, it is impoffible to gratify the Reader with fuch a Calculation, which indeed would be more curious than inftructive; none of the Critics, either Ancient or Modern, having laid down Rules to circumfcribe the Action of an Epic Poem with any Determined Number of Years, Days, or Hours.
But of this more particularly hereafter.
Vid. Spca. 308.
AVING examined the Action of Paradife
H Loft, let us in the next Place confider the
Actors. This is Ariftotle's Method of confidering; firft the Fable, and fecondly the Manners, or, as we generally call them in English, the Fable and the Characters.
HOMER has excelled all the Heroic Poets that ever wrote, in the Multitude and Variety of his Characters. Every God that is admitted into his Poem, acts a Part which would have been fuitable to no other Deity. His Princes are as much diftinguished by their Manners as by their Dominions; and even thofe among them, whofe Characters feem wholly made up of Courage, differ from one another as to the particular Kinds of Courage in which they excel. In fhort, there is fcarce a Speech or Action in the Iliad, which the Reader may not afcribe to the Perfon that fpeaks or acts, without feeing his Name at the Head of it.
HOMER does not only outfhine all other Poet's in the Variety, but alfo in the Novelty of his Characters. He has introduced among his Grecian Prin ces a Perfon, who had lived in three Ages of Men, and converfed with Thefeus, Hercules, Polyphemus, and the first Race of Heroes. His principal Actor is the Son of a Goddefs, not to mention the Offspring of other Deities, who have likewife a Place in his Poem, and the venerable Trojan Prince who was the Father of fo many Kings and Heroes. There is in B 5 thefe
thefe feveral 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. Tho' at the fame Time, to give them the greater Variety, he has described a Vulcan, that is, a Buffoon, among his Gods, and a Therfites among his Mortals.
VIRGIL falls infinitely fhort of Homer in the Characters of his Poem, both as to their Variety and Novelty. Eneas is indeed a perfect Character, but as for Achates, tho' he is filed the Heroe's Friend, he does nothing in the whole Poem which may deferve that Title. Gyas, Mineftheus, Sergeftus, and Cloanthus, are all of them Men of the fame Stamp and Character.
-fortemque Gyan, fortemque Cloanthum.
THERE are indeed several very natural Incidents in the Part of Afcanius; as that of Dido cannot be fufficiently admired. I do not fee any Thing new or particular in Turnus. Pallas and Evander are remote Copies of Hector and Priam, as Laufus and Mezentius are almoft Parallels to Pallas and Evander. The Characters of Nifus and Euryalus are beautiful, but common. We must not forget the Parts of Sinon, Camilla, and fome few others, which are fine Improvements on the Greek Poet. In fhort, there is neither that Variety nor Novelty in the Perfons of the Eneid, which we meet with in those of the Iliad.
IF we look into the Characters of Milton, we fhall find that he has introduced all the Variety his Fable was capable of receiving. The whole Species of Mankind was in two Perfons at the Time to which the Subject of his Poem is confined. We have, however, four distinct Characters in these two Perfons. We see Man and Woman in the highest Innocence and Perfection, and in the most abject State of Guilt and Infirmity. The two laft Characters are, indeed, very common and obvious, but the two firft are not only more magnificent, but more new than any Cha