« AnteriorContinuar »
of critical remarks, here is no room to speak, because every thing is done under the immediate and visible direction of Heaven; but the rule is so far observed, that no part of the action could have been accomplished by any
other means. Of episodes, I think there are only two; contained in Raphael's relation of the war in Heaven, and Michael's prophetic account of the changes to happen in this world. Both are closely connected with the great action: one was necessary to Adam, as a warning; the other, as a consolation.
To the completeness or integrity of the design, nothing can be objected; it has distinctly and clearly what Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is perhaps no poem, of the same length, from which so little can be taken without apparent mutilation. Here are no funeral games, nor is there any long description of a shield. The short digressions at the beginning of the third, seventh, and ninth books, might doubtless be spared; but superfluities so beautiful, who would take away? or who does not wish that the Author of the Iliad. had gratified succeeding ages with a little knowledge of himself? Perhaps no passages are more frequently or more attentively read than those extrinsic paragraphs; and, since the end of poetry is pleasure, that cannot be unpoetical with which all are pleased.
The questions, whether the action of the Poem be strictly one? whether the Poem can be properly termed heroic ? and who is the hero? are raised by such readers as draw their principles of judgment rather from books than from reason. Milton, though he intituled Paradise Lost only a Poem, yet calls it himself Heroic Song. Dryden, petulantly and indecently, denies the heroism of Adam, because he was overcome; but there is no reason why the hero should not be unfortunate, except established practice, since success and virtue do not go necessarily together. Cato is the hero of Lucan ; but Lucan's authority will not be suffered by Quintilian to decide. However, if success be necessary, Adam's deceiver was at last crushed; Adam was restored to his Maker's favour, and therefore may securely resume his human rank.
After the scheme and fabric of the Poem, must be considered its component parts, the sentiments, and the diction.
The sentiments, as expressive of manners, or appropriated to characters, are, for the greater part, unexceptionably just.
Splendid passages, containing lessons of mo. rality, or precepts of prudence, occur seldom. Such is the original formation of this Poem, that as it admits no human manners till the Fall, it can give little assistance to human conduct. Its end is to raise the thoughts above sublunary cares or pleasures. Yet the praise of that fortitude, with which Abdiel maintained his sins gularity of virtue against the scorn of multitudes, may be accommodated to all times; and Raphael's reproof of Adam's curiosity after the planetary motions, with the answer returned by Adam, may be confidently opposed to any rule of life which any poet has delivered.
The thoughts which are occasionally called forth in the progress, are such as could only be produced by an imagination in the highest degree fervid and active; to which materials were supplied by incessant study and unlimited curiosity: The heat of Milton's mind might be said to sublimate his learning ; to throw off into his Work the spirit of science, unmingled with its grosser parts.
He had considered creation in its whole extent ; and his descriptions are therefore learned : he had accustomed his imagination to unrestrained indulgence; and his conceptions therefore were extensive. The characteristic quality of his Poem is sublimity. He sometimes descends to the elegant; but his element is the great. He can occasionally invest himself with grace; but his natural port is gigantic loftiness *. please when pleasure is required; but it is hiş peculiar power to astonish.
Algarotti terms it “gigantesca sublimita Miltoniana." VOL. I,
He seems to have been well acquainted with his own genius, and to know what it was that Nature had bestowed upon him more bountifully than
upon others : the power of displaying the vast, illuminating the splendid, enforcing the aweful, darkening the gloomy, and aggravating the dreadful. He therefore chose a subject on which too much could not be said ; on which he might tire his fancy without the censure of extravagance.
The appearances of nature, and the occurrences of life, did not satiate his appetite of greatness. To paint things as they are, requires a minute attention, and employs the memory rather than the fancy. Milton's delight was to sport in the wide regions of possibility: reality was a scene too narrow for his mind. He sent his faculties out upon discovery, into worlds where only imagination can travel; and delighted to form new modes of existence, and furnish sentiment and action to superior beings; to trace the counsels of hell, or accompany the choirs of heaven.
But he could not be always in other worlds : he must sometimes revisit earth, and tell of things visible and known. When he cannot raise wonder by the sublimity of his mind, he gives delight by its fertility.
Whatever be his subject, he never fails to fill the imagination. But his images and descriptions of the scenes or operations of Nature, do not seem to be always copied from original form, nor to have the freshness, raciness, and energy of immediate observation. He saw Nature, as Dryden expresses it, “ through the spec-. tacles of books ;” and on most occasions calls learning to his assistance. The garden of Eden brings to his mind the vale of Enna, where Prosperine was gathering flowers. Satan makes his way through fighting elements, like Argo between the Cyanean rocks, or Ulysses between the two Sicilian whirlpools, when he shunned Charybdis on the larboard. The mythological allusions have been justly censured, as not being always used with notice of their vanity; but they contribute variety to the narration, and produce an alternate exercise of the memory and the fancy,
His similies are less numerous, and more vari. ous, than those of his predecessors. But he does not confine himself within the limits of rigorous comparison : his great excellence is amplitude; and he expands the adventitious image beyond the dimensions which the occasion required. Thus, comparing the shield of Satan to the orb of the Moon, he crowds the imagination with the discovery of the telescope, and all the wonders which the telescope discovers.
Of his moral sentiments, it is hardly praise to affirm, that they excel those of all other poets,