Imatges de pàgina
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fold distinction of a Creator, a Redeemer, and a Comforter!

Nor muft we omit the person of Raphael, who, 2midst 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 principally proposed to themselves for their readers) 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, him ; äs a Greek must have had the same regard for Achilles; and it is plain that cach of those poems have

loft this great advantage, among those readers to whom their heroes are as ftrangers or indifferent persons.

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 proge nitors, but our representatives : we have an actual interest in every thing they do, and no less than our atmoft 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 con' fummate 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 perfon :' but, as that great philosopher adds, 'If we see a man of virtue, mixt with infirmi.

ties, 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 the suffering person.'

I shall only remark in this place, that the foregoing observation of Aristotle, thought it may be true in other occasions, docs not hold in this ; because in the

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present case, though the persons who fall into misfortune are of the most perfect and consummate virtue, it is not to be considered as what may possibly be, but what actually is, our own case, since we are embarked with them on the fame bottom, and must be partakers of their happiness or misery.

In this, and fome other very few instances, Aristotle's rules for epic poetry, which he had drawn from his reflections upon Homer, cannot be supposed to fquare exactly with the heroic poems which have been made since his time, since it is evident to every impartial judge his rules would still have been more perfect could he have perused the Æneid, which was made some hundred years after his death.

We have already taken a general survey of the Fable and Characters in Milton's Paradise Lost: the parts which remain to be considered, according to Aristotle's method, are the Sentiments and the Language. Before I enter upon the first of these, I must advertise my reader that it is my design, as soon as I have finished my general reflections on these four several heads, to give particular instances out of the Poem now before us of beauties and imperfections which may be observed under each of them, as also of such other particulars as may not properly fall under any of them. This I thought fit to premise, that the reader may not judge too lastily of this piece of Criticism, or look upon it as imperfect, before he has seen the whole extent of it.

The Sentiments, in an epic poem, are the thoughts and behaviour which the author ascribes to the perfons whom he introduces, and are just, when they are conformable to the characters of the several persons. The Sentiments have likewise a relation to things as well as persons, and are then perfect when they are such as are adapted to the subject. If in either of these cases the poet endeavours to argue or explain, to magnify or diminish, to raise love or hatred, pity or tersor, or any other passion, we ought to consider whether the Sentiments he makes use of are proper for those ends. Homer is censured by the critics for his defect as to this particular in several parts of the Iliad and Odyssey, though, at the same time, those who

have treated this great poet with candour, have atE tributed this defect to the times in which he lived. It

was the fault of the age, and not of Homer, if there wants that delicacy in some of his sentiments which now appears in the works of men of a much inferior genius. Besides, if there are blemishes in any particular thoughts, there is an infinite beauty in the greatest part of them. In short, if there are many poets who would not have fallen into the meanness of some of his sentiments, there are none who could have risen up to the greatness of others. Virgil has excelled all others in the propriety of his sentiments. Milton shines likewise very much in this particular : nor must we omit one consideration which adds to his honour

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and reputation. Homer and Virgil introduced persons whose characters are commonly known among men, and such as are to be met with either in history or in ordinary conversation. Milton's characters, most of them, lie out of nature, and were to be formed purely by his own invention. It shows a greater genius in Shakespeare to have drawn his Calyban than his Hotfpur or Julius Cæfar: the one was to be fupplied out of his own imagination, whereas the other might have been formed upon tradition, history and observation. It was much eafier, therefore, for Homer to find proper sentiments for an assembly of Grecian generals, than for Milton to diversify his infernal council with proper characters, and inspire them with a variety of sentiments. The loves of Dido and Æneas are only copies of what has passed between other perfons. Adam and Eve before the fall are a different fpecies from that of mankind, who are descended from them; and none but a poet of the most unbounded invention, and the most exquisite judgment, could have filled their conversation and behaviour with so many apt circumstances during their state of innocence.

Nor is it fufficient for an epic poem to be filled with such thoughts as are natural, unless it abound also with such as are sublime. Virgil in this particular falls Sort of Homer. He has not indeed so many thoughts that are low and vulgar; but at the same time has not so many thoughts that are sublime and noble. The truth of it is, Virgil seldoin rises into very alto

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