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every good-natured reader will treat them with in, dulgence: afsuredly I fhall feel neither anger, nor inclination to contend in their defence, if any fee verer critic,
“ Irruat, & frustra ferro diverberet umbras."
In mentioning the imperfect rudiments of Paradise Lost, Johnson says, very justly, “ It is pleasant “ to see great works in their seminal state, preg“ nant with latent possibilities of excellence; nor “ could there be any more delightful entertainment " than to trace their gradual growth and expansion, 6 and to observe how they are sometimes suddenly " advanced by accidental hints, and sometimes
flowly improved by steady meditation.” Such entertainment would indeed be peculiarly delightful in respect to Milton. It is in some measure beyond our reach, because, if we except his sketches of plans for an allegorical drama, no real evidence is left concerning the origin and progress of his magnificent conception : but supposition is often a pleasant substitute for absolute knowledge; and in the hope that it may prove so in the present case, let me advance in this shadowy research, and after accounting for the first flashes of Milton's subject on his fancy, pursue the vein of conjecture, in confidering various ideas that might influence him in the prosecution of his work.
When Adam engaged the fancy of Milton, however that personage might first be impressed upon it as a subject of verse, many circumstances might
conspire to confirm his ascendency. The work of different arts, which the poet surveyed in his travels, had, perhaps, à considerable influence in attaching his imagination to our first parents. He had most probably contemplated them not only in 'the colours of Michael Angélo, who decorated Rome with his picture of the creation, but in the marble of Bandinelli, who had executed two large statues of Adam and Eve, which, though they were far from fatisfying the taste of connoisseurs, might stimulate even by their imperfections the genius of poet. In recollecting how painting and sculpture had both exercised their respective powers on these hallowed and interesting characters, the muse of Milton might be tempted to contend with the fifter
I must confefs, however, that Richardson, a fond idolater of these arts and of Milton, is rather inclined to believe that they did not much occupy the attention of the poet, even during his residence in Italy: yet I am persuaded he must have been greatly struck by the works of Michael Angelo, a genius whom he resembled so much in his grand characteristic, mental magnificence! and to whom he was infinitely superior in the attractive excellencies of delicacy and grace. In touching on a point of resemblance between the poet and this eminent artist, we cannot fail to observe the abundance and variety of charms in the poetry of Mil
All the different perfections, which are assigned as characteristics to the most celebrated painters, are united in this marvellous poet. He has the fublime grandeur of Michael Angelo, the chaste fim
plicity of Raphael, the sweetness of Correggio, and the richness of Rubens. In his Sampson we may admire the force of Rembrandt, and in his Comus the grace and gaiety of Albano and Poussin: in Ahort, there is no charm exhibited by paintings which his poetry has failed to equal, as far as aralogy between the different arts can extend. If Milton did not pay much attention in his travels to those works of the great paintets that he had opportunities of surveying (which I cannot think probable) it is certain that his own works afford a most excellent field to exercise and animate the powers of the pencil *. The article in which I apprehend a painter must find it most difficult to equal the felicity of the poet is, the delineation of his apostate angels. Here, perhaps, poetry has some important
* The learned, ingenious, enthusiastic Winckelman has advaneed, in his most celebrated work, a very different opinion ; but the ardour with which this extraordinary man had ftudied and idolized the antients, rendered him deplorably presumptuous and precipitate in feveral of his ideas relating to modern geniuss and particularly in what he has asserted of Milton. Some palfionate admirers of antiquity seem to lament the fall of paganism, as fatal to poetry, to painting, and to sculpture; but a more liberal and enlightened spirit of criticisin may rather believe, what it is very possible, I apprehend, to demonstrate, that
christianity can hardly be more favourable to the purity of mo. als, than it might be rendered to the perfection of these de
lightful arts. Milton himself may be regarded as an obvious and complete proof that the position is true as far as poetry is concerned. In what degrees the influence of the Chriftian religion can affect the other two, it may be pleasing, and perhaps useful, to consider in forne future composition devoted to their advancement.
advantage over her sister art; and even poetry herself is considered by austerer critics as unequal to the task. Johnson regarded the book of Paradise Loft,/which describes the war of Heaven, as fit to be “ the favourite of children.”—Imagination itself
may be depreciated, by the austerity of logic, as a childish faculty, but those who love even its excesses may be allowed to exult in its delights. No reader truly poetical ever perufed the fixth book of Milton without enjoying a kind of transport, which a stern logician might indeed condemn, but which he might also think it more desirable to share. I doubt not but while Milton was revolving his subject in his mind, he often heard from critical acquaintance such remarks as might have induced him, had his imagination been less energetic, to relinquish the angels as intractable beings, ill suited to the sphere of poetry. But if his glowing spirit was ever damped for a moment by suggestions of this nature, he was probably re-animated and encouraged by recollecting his respectable old acquaintance, the poets of Italy. He had not only seen the infernal powers occasionally delineated with great majesty and effect in the Jerusalem of Tasso, and Marini's “ Slaughter of the Innocents,” but he was probably acquainted with an Italian poem, little known in England, and formed expressly on the conflict of the apoftate spirits. The work I allude to is, the Angeleida of Erasmo Valvasone, printed at Venice, in 1590. This poet was of a noble family in the Venetian republic; as his health was delicate, he devoted himself to retired study, and cultivated the Muses
in his castle of Valvasone. His works are various, and one of his early compositions was honoured by the applause of Tafso. His Angeleida consists of three cantos on the War of Heaven, and is fingularly terminated by a sonnet, addressed to the triumphant Archangel Michael. Several passages in Valvasone induce me to think that Milton was familiar with his work. I will only transcribe the verses, in which the Italian poet afsigns to the infernal powers the invention of artillery :
Di falntro, e di zolfo oscura polve
L'Angelo rio, quando a concorrer forse
Valvasone acknowledges, in his preface, that he had been censured for having spoken so materially (ragionato cosi materialmente) of angels, who are only spirit. But he defends himself very ably on this point, and mentions with gratitude two excel