Page images

Book XII. ver. 1.

As one who in his journey bates at noon,

Though bent on fpeed; fo here the arch-angel paus'd
Betwixt the world destroy'd and world restor'd,

If Adam ought perhaps might interpose;

Then with transition sweet new speech refumes.

At the fame time the Author made fome few additions in other places of the Poem, which are here inferted for the fatisfaction of the curious.

Book V. ver. 637.

"They eat, they drink, and with refection fweet
"Are fill'd, before the all-bounteous King, &c.

were thus enlarged in the second edition.

They eat, they drink, and in communion sweet
Quaff immortality and joy, fecure

Of furfeit, where full measure only bounds
Excefs, before th' all-bounteous King, &c.,

Book XI. ver. 484. after

"Inteftin stone and ulcer, colic pangs,

thefe three verses were added,

Daemoniac phrenzy, moaping melancholy,
And moon-ftruck madness, pining atrophy;
Marafinus, and wide-wafting pestilence.

And ver. 551. of the fame Book, which was originally thus,

"Of rendering up. Michael to him reply'd.

receiv'd this addition,

Of rendering up, and patiently attend

My diffolution. Mickael reply'd.

[blocks in formation]

THERE is nothing in nature more irksome than general difcourfes, especially when they turn chiefly upon words: for this reason I fhall wave the difcuffion of that point which was started some years fince, Whether Milton's Paradise Lost may be called an Heroic Poem? Those who will not give it that title may call it (if they please) a Divine Poem. It will be fufficient to its perfection if it has in it all the beauties of the highest kind of poetry; and as for those who alledge it is not an heroic poem, they advance no more to the diminution of it, than if they should say Adam is not Æneas, nor Eve Helen.

I shall therefore examine it by the rules of Epic poetry, and fee whether it falls fhort of the Iliad or Eneid in the beauties which are effential to that kind of writing. The first thing to be considered in an epic poem is the Fable, which is perfect or imperfect ac

cording as the Action, which it relates, is more or lefs fo. This Action should have three qualifications in it. First, it should be but One Action: Secondly, it fhould be an Entire Action: and, Thirdly, it should be a Great Action. To confider the Action of the Iliad, Æneid, and Paradise Loft, in these three several lights. Homer, to preferve the Unity of his Action, haftens into the midst of things, as Horace has obferved: had he gone up to Leda's egg, or begun much later, even at the rape of Helen, or the investing of Troy, it is manifest that the story of the poem would have been a series of feveral Actions. He, therefore, opens his poem with the difcord of his princes, and artfully interweaves, in the feveral fucceeding parts of it, an account of every thing material which relates to them, and had paffed before this fatal diffenfion. After the fame manner Æneas makes his first appearance in the Tyrrhene feas, and within fight of Italy, because the Action proposed to be celebrated was that of his fettling himself in Latium : but because it was neceffary for the reader to know 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 fecond and third books of the Æneid; the contents of both which books come before those of the first book in the thread of the ftory, though, for preferving of this Unity of Action, they follow it in the disposition of the poem. Milton, in imitation. of these two great poets, opens his Paradise Loft 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 fame order that they happened) he cast them into the Fifth, Sixth,and Seventh Books, by way of episode to this noble Poem.

Aristotle himself allows, that Homer has nothing to boast of as to the Unity of his Fable, though, at the fame time, that great critic and philofopher endeavours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet, by imputing it, in fome measure, to the very nature of an epic poem. Some have been of opinion that the Æneid also labours in this particular, and has episodes which may be looked upon as excrefcences rather than as parts of the Action. On the contrary, the Poem which we have now under our confideration hath no other episodes than fuch as naturally arife from the subject, and yet is filled with fuch a multitude of aftonishing incidents, that it gives us at the fame time a pleasure of the greatest variety, and of the greatest simplicity; uniform in its nature, though diversified in the execution.

1 muft obferve also, that as Virgil, in the poem which was defigned to celebrate the original of the Roman empire, has described the birth of its great

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 profeffed enemies. Befide the many other beauties in fuch an episode, its running parallel with the great Action of the Poem hinders it from breaking the Unity so much as another episode would have done that had not so great an affinity with the principal subject. In fhort, this is the fame kind of beauty which the cris tics 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 Aristotle deferibes 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 should be omitted in that juft and regular progrets which it must be supposed to take from its orie ginal to its confummation. Thus we fee the anger of Achilles in its birth, its continuance, and effects; and Eneas's fettlement 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 see it contrived in Hell, execu ted upon Earth, and punished by Heaven. The parts

« PreviousContinue »