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CRITIQUE ON MILTON'S PARADISE Lost. No. 273.
HAVING examined the action of Paradise Lost, let us in the next place consider the actors. This is Aristotle's method of considering, 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 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 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 who speaks or acts, without secing his name at the head of 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 thrice the age of man, 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 Trojan 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 nianner to the nature of a heroic poem ;--though at the same time, to give them a greater variety, he has described a Vulcan VOL. III, E
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. Æneas is indeed a perfect character; but as for Achates, Though he is styled the hero's friend, he does nothing in the whole poem ahich may deserve that title. Gyas, Mnestheus, Sergestus and Cloanthus, are all of them men of the same stamp and character.
fortemque Gyan, fortemque Cloantbum. There are indeed several natural incidents in the part of Ascanius; and that of Dido cannot be susficiently admired. I do not see any thing new or particular in Turnas. Pallas and Evander are remote copies of Ilector and Priam, as Lausus and Mezentius are almost parallels to Pallas and Evander. The characters of Nisus and Euryalus are beautiful, but Common. We must not forget the parts of Sinon, Camilla, and some few others, which are fine improvemenis on the Greck poct. In short, there is neither that variety or novelty in the persons of the Encid 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 receiving. The whole species of mankind was in two persons at the time to which the subject of his poem is contined. We have, however, four distinct characters in these two persons. We see man and woman in the bighest innocence and perfection, and in the most abject state of guilt and intirmity. 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 cir. cle 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 wrought 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 measure of probability annexed to them, which is requisite in writings of this kind, as I shall show more at large hereafter.
Virgil has, indeed, admitted Fame as an actress in the Æneid; but the part she acts is very short, and none of the most admired circumstances in that divine work. We find in mnock-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 an argument, that the authors of them were of opinion, such characters might have a place in an epic work. For my own part, I should be glad the reader would think so, for the sake of the poem I am now examining; and must further add, that if such empty unsubstantial beings may be ever made use of on this occasion, never wore any more nicely imagined, and employed in more proper actions, than those of which I am now speaking.
Another principal actor in this poem is the great enemy of mankind. The part of Ulysses in Homer's Odyssey is very much admired by Aristotle, as perplexE 2
ing ing that fable with very agrecable plots and intricacies, not only by the many adventures in his voyage, and the subtilty of his behaviour, but by the various concealments and discoveries of his person in several parts of that poem. But the crafty being I have now mentioned, makes a much longer voyage than Ulysses, puts in practice many more wiles and stratagems, and hides himself under a greater variety of shapes and appearances, all of which are severally detected, to the great delight and surprise of the reader.
We may likewise observe with how much art the poet has varicd several characters of the persons that speak in his infernal assembly. On the contrary, how has he represented the whole Godhead exerting itself towards man in its full benevolence under the thrcefold distinction of a Creator, a Redeemer, and a Comforter!
Nor must we omit the person of Raphael, who, amidst his tenderness and friendship for man, shows such a dignity and condescension in all his speech and behaviour, as are suitable to a superior nature. The angels are indeed as much diversified in Milton, and distinguished by their proper parts, as the gods are in Homer or Virgil. The reader will find nothing ascribed to Uriel, Gabriel, Michael, or Raphael, which is not in a particular manner suitable to their respective characters.
There is another circumstance in the principal actors of the Iliad and Æneid, which gives a peculiar beauty to those two poems, and was therefore contrived with very great judgment. I mean the authors having chosen, for their heroes, persons who were so nearly related to the people for whom they wrote. Achilles was a Greek, and Æneas the remote founder of Rome. By this means their countrymen (whom
they they principally proposed to themselves for their read, ers) were particularly attentive to all the parts of their story, and sympathized with their heroes in all their adventures. A Roman could not but rejoice in the escapes, successes, and victories of Æneas, and be grieved at any defeats, misfortunes, or disappointments that befel kim; and a Greek must have had the same regard for Achilles. And it is plain, that each of those poems has lost this great advantage among those readers to whom their heroes are as strangers, or indif
Milton's poem is admirable in this respect, since it is impossible for any of its readers, whatever nation, country, or people he may belong to, not to be related to the persons who are the principal actors in it; but, what is still infinitely more to its advantage, the principal actors in this poem are not only our progenitors, but our representatives. We have an actual interest in every thing they do, and no less than our utmost happiness is concerned, and lies at stake, in all their behaviour,
I shall subjoin as a corollary to the foregoing remark, an admirable observation out of Aristotle, which hath been very much misrepresented in the quotations of some modern critics. “If a man of perfect and consummate virtue falls into a misfortune, it raises our pity, but not our terror, because we do not fear that it may be our own case, who do not resemble the suffering person.?:. But, as that great philosopher adds, if we see a man of virtue mixt with infirmities fall into any misfortune, it does not only raise our pity but our terror; because we are afraid that the like misfortunes may happen to ourselves, who resemble the character of tbe suffering person.'