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and his conceptions therefore were extenfive. The characteristick quality of his poem 'is sublimity. He sometimes defcends to the elegant, but his element is the great. He can occasionally inveft himself with grace; but his natural port is gigantick loftiness *. He can please when pleasure is required; but it is his peculiar power to astonish.
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, en
* Algarotti terms it gigantesca sublimità Miltoniana.
forcing the awful, 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 fublimity 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 spectacles of books; and on
most occasions calls learning to his affistance. The garden of Eden brings to his mind the vale of Enna, where Proserpine 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 cenfured, as not being always used with notice of their vanity; but they contribute variety to the narration, and produce an alternate exercise of the me. mory and the fancy. "His fimilies are less numerous, and more various, than those of his predeceffors. But he does not confine him
self 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; for this fuperiority he was indebted to his acquaintance with the sacred writings. The ancient epick poets, wanting the light of Revelation, were very unskilful teachers of virtue : their principal characters may be great,