Imatges de pàgina
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cording as the Action, which it relates, is more or less fo. This Action Mould have three qualifications in it. First, it should be but One Action : Secondly, it should be an Entire Action : and, Thirdly, it should be a Great Action. To consider the Action of the lliad, Æneid, and Paradise Lost, in these three several lights. Homer, to preserve the Unity of his Action, hastens into the midst of things, as Horace has observed : 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 several Actions. He, therefore, opens his poem with the difcord of his princes, and artfully interweaves, in the several fucceeding parts of it, an account of every thing material which relates to them, and had passed before this fatal dissenfion. After the same manner Æneas makes his first appearance in the Tyrrhene seas, and within light of Italy, because the Action proposed to be celebrated was that of his fets tling himself in Latium : but because it was necessary 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 second and third books of the Æneid; the contents of both which books come before those of the first hook in the thread of the story, though, for preserving of this Unity of A&ion, they follow it in the disposition of the poem. Milton, in imitation. of these two great poets, opens 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 hc related them in the same 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 same time, that great critic and philofopher endeavours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet, by imputing it, in some 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 such as naturally arise from the subject, and yet is filled with such a multitude of astonishing incidents, that it gives us at the same time a pleasure of the greatest variety, and of the greatest fimplicity; 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 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 profefied enemies. Beside the many other beautics in such an episode, fts 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 pot so great an affinity with the principal subject. In short, this is the same kind of beauty which the cri. tics admire in the Spanish Friar; or, the Double Dif. covery, where the two different plots look like counterparts and copies of one another.

The second qualification required in the A&tion of an epic poem is, that it should be an entire Action, An Action is entire when it is complete in all its parts; or, as Aristotle describes it, when it confifts of a be. ginning, a middle, and an end. Nothing Phould 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 just and regular progreis which it must be supposed to take from its orie ginal to its consummation. Thus we see the anger of Achilles in its birth, its continuance, and effects; and Æneas's settlement in Italy carried on through all the oppositions 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

of it are told in the most distin&t manner, and grow Out of one another in the most natural order.

The third qualification of an epic poem is its Great ness. The anger of Achilles was of such consequence that it embroiled the kings of Greece, destroyed the herocs of Asia, and engaged all the gods in factions. Æneas's settlement in Italy produced the Cæsars, and gave birth to the Roman empire. Milton's fubject was ftill greater than either of the former; it does not determine the fate of fingle persons or nations, but of a whole species. The united powers of Hell are joined together 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 Nort, every thing that is great in the whole circle of being, whether within the verge of Nature or cut of it, has a proper part assigned it in this admirable Poem.

In poetry, as in archite&ture, not only the whole, but the principal members, and every part of them, fhould be great. I will not presume to say that the book of Games in the Æneid, or that in the Iliad, are pol of this nature; nor to reprehend Virgil's fimile 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 indisputable and unquestioned magnificence in every part of Paradise Lost, and indeed a much greater than could have been formed upon any Pagan system.

But Aristotle, by the Greatness of the Action, does not only mean that it hould 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 Greatness. The just measure of 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 light takes it in at once, and has only a confused idea of the whole, and not a distinct idea of all its parts : if, on the contrary, you should suppose an animal of ten thousand furlongs in length, the eye would be so filled with a single part of it, that it could not give the mind an idea of the whole. What these animals are to the eye, a very short 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 hown their principal art in this particular; the Action of the Iliad and that of the Æneid, were in themselves exceeding short, but are so beautifully extended and diversified 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

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