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agency: "They are not unlike in several respects. As Homer's has been observed to be the history of gods, Milton's may be said to be that of devils. The gods of the one and the devils of the other are nearly of equal credit; the former altogether, and the latter for the greater part, being the creatures of a popular and fabulous superstition. Homer had his Pantheon, and Milton his Pandemonium; each their courts and counsels, and each a supreme regent. But wherein they differ, the difference is immense in the estimation of the two poems, with respect to their supernatural machinery. Willing or unwilling, man was subject to the caprice and violence of Homer's gods, and these gods usurped over the whole field of human action. While only by the consent of his own will could man be subjected to the influence of Milton's devils; and, if suffering under this influence, had still his refuge in an Almighty, wise and beneficent being. From the tyranny of Homer's gods, man had no refuge whatever. In the court of Homer's heaven, all was discord and misrule: god was opposed to god; and all the pretended power of Jove was impotent to reconcile the contending deities, or, by awe, to reduce them to submission. Milton's Satan was truly sovereign, and an union of sentiment and design pervaded the whole of his
gloomy domain. Milton's devils, though wicked beyond the style of Homer's gods, are uniformly grand: they exhibit that sublime of the terrific which the Epic aspires to. Homer's gods, though wicked enough, are as foolish and freakish as they are wicked: they are not superior to what we may conceive of the lowest rabble in Milton's hell. I enter not into the heaven of Milton, and, perhaps, it would have been as well, if he had not so familiarly unveiled that sacred region. But there Homer presents no parallel, and the comparison fails."* "All the Christian poets," says Chateaubriand, "have failed in delineating the Christian heaven. Some have erred through timidity, as Tasso and Milton; some through philosophy, as Voltaire; and some through exuberance, as Klopstock.+"
It would exceed the limits of our work to enter into a formal criticism of Milton's Paradise Lost, or of any of the imported and Anglicized Epics of other nations. The former has been minutely discussed and sufficiently praised by Addison in the Spectator; and still more discriminately examined by Johnson. "The want of human in
* Memoirs of the Manchester Philosophical Society, vol. i.
+ Genie du Christianisme.
terest," says the latter," is always felt. Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburthened, and look elsewhere for recreation: we desert our master, and look for companions."
Among many other valuable remarks of Dr. Johnson on the Paradise Lost, the following, relative to the conduct of its machinery, is peculiarly instructive to the student in English Composition. "After the operation of immaterial agents, which cannot be explained, may be considered that of allegorical persons, which have no real existence. To exalt causes into agents, to invest abstract ideas with form, and animate them with activity, has always been the right of poetry. But such airy beings are, for the most part, suffered only to do their natural office, and retire. Thus Fame tells a tale, and Victory hovers over a general, or perches on a standard; but Fame and Victory can do no more. To give them any real employment, or ascribe to them any material agency, is to make them allegorical no longer, but to shock the mind by ascribing effects to nonentity. In the Prometheus of Æschylus, we see Violence and Strength, and in the
Alcestis of Euripides, we see Death, brought upon the stage, all as active persons of the drama; but no precedents can justify absurdity. Milton's allegory of Sin and Death is undoubtedly faulty. Sin is indeed the mother of death, and may be allowed to be the portress of hell; but when they stop the journey of Satan, a journey described as real, and when Death offers him battle, the allegory is broken. That Sin and Death should have shewn the way to hell, might have been allowed; but they cannot facilitate the passage by building a bridge, because the difficulty of Satan's passage is described as real and sensible, and the bridge ought to be only figurative."
The two Latin Epics (the Æneid of Virgil and the Pharsalia of Lucan) are advantageously known to the English reader, by the translations of Dryden and of Rowe. The Eneid is an obvious imitation of Homer. It relates the Wanderings of Æneas as the Odyssey does those of Ulysses; and much of the former is merely a translation of the latter. Homer is the original and his style is more simple and sublime. Virgil might almost be termed a plagiarist; but he has adorned his thefts, and polished the diamonds which he stole from the mine.
The pictures of Virgil are more elegantly
finished, and his versification is more harmonious; but the bold enthusiasm of Lucan electrifies his readers by frequent bursts of the sublime. Virgil was a courtier, but Lucan was a republican; and the moral character of their heroes corresponded with the opposing principles of sycophancy and independence. The stern virtue of Cato is represented as braving the decrees of Fate; but Æneas is a miscreant who commits every crime, under the real, or pretended, belief that such is the will of heaven. His desertion of Dido is cruel and deceitful. He lands in Italy, and trembles at the sight of danger. Jupiter decides the combat in his favour, and Turnus, wounded and disarmed supplicates for life; but the pious hero, deaf to every entreaty, plunges a dagger into the heart of his victim, in revenge for the death of Pallas, on whose funeral pile, he had already sacrificed, in cold blood, his prisoners of war. "If," says the Abbe Cartaut, "Eneas was truly devout, he was a dangerous madman, whose frightful superstition induced him to commit the most horrible excesses. If he was only a hypocrite who shielded his actions under the ægis of the gods, he was a monster. However this may be, the enthusiasm of Virgil appears to have been excited by the smoke of the incense, amidst the grimaces of the temple,