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Adversary of Mankind meets with upon his return to the assembly of infernal spirits, as it is described in a beautiful passage of the tenth book; and likewise by the vision wherein Adam at the close of the poem sees his offspring triumphing over his great enemy, and himself restored to a happier Paradise than that from which he fell.
There is another objection against Milton's fable, which is indeed almost the same with the former, though placed in a different light, namely, that the hero in the Paradise Lost is unsuccessful, and by no means a match for his enemies. This gave occasion to Mr. Dryden's reflection, that the devil was in reality Milton's hero. I think I have obviated this objection in my first paper. The Paradise Lost is an epic or a narrative poem, and he that looks for an hero in it, searches for that which Milton never intended ; but if he will needs fix the name of an hero upon any person in it, it is certainly the Messiah who is the hero, both in the principal action, and in the chief episodes.
I must in the next place observe, that Milton has interwoven in the texture of his fable some particulars which do not seem to have probability enough for an epic poem, particularly in the actions which he ascribes to Sin and Death, and the picture which he draws of the Limbo of Vanity, with other passages in the second book.
In the structure of his poem he has likewise admitted of too many digressions. Milton's complaint for his blindness, his panegyric on marriage, his reflections on Adam and Eve's going naked, of the angels eating, and several other passages in his poem, are liable to the same exception, though I must confess there is so great a beauty in these very digressions, that I would not wish them out of his poem.
I have, in a former paper, spoken of the characters of Milton's Paradise Lost, and declared my opinion as to the allegorical persons who are introduced in it.
If we look into the sentiments, I think they are sometimes
defective under the following heads : first, there are several of them too much pointed, and some that degenerate even into puns. Of this last kind I am afraid is that in the first book, where, speaking of the pigmies, he calls them
“The small infantry
Warred on by cranes.” Another blemish that appears in some of his thoughts, is his frequent allusion to heathen fables, which are not certainly of a piece with the Divine subject of which he treats. I do not find fault with these allusions, where the poet himself represents them as fabulous, as he does in some places, but where he mentions them as truths and matters of fact. The limits of my paper will not give me leave to be particular in instances of this kind; the reader will easily remark them in his perusal of the poem.
A third fault in his sentiments, is an unnecessary ostentation of learning, which likewise occurs very frequently. Milton seems ambitious of letting us know, by his excursions on freewill and predestination, and his many glances upon history, astronomy, geography, and the like, as well as by the terms and phrases he sometimes makes use of, that he was acquainted with the whole circle of arts and sciences.
If, in the last place, we consider the language of this great poet, we must allow what I have hinted in a former paper, that it is often too much laboured, and sometimes obscured by old words, transpositions, and foreign idioms.
A second fault in his language is, that he often affects a kind of jingle in his words, as in the following passages, and many others :
“ And brought into the worid a world of woe.”
“Begirt th’Almighty throne
of the greatenta trifling, it i$.f polite writing
I know there are figures for this kind of speech, that some of the greatest ancients have been guilty of it; but as it is in itself poor and trifling, it is, I think, at present universally exploded by all the masters of polite writing.
The last fault which I shall take notice of in Milton's style, is the frequent use of what the learned call technical words, or terms of art. It is one of the great beauties of poetry to make hard things intelligible, and to deliver what is abstruse of itself in such easy language as may be understood by ordinary readers : besides, that the knowledge of a poet should rather seem born with him, or inspired, than drawn from books and systems. I have often wondered how Mr. Dryden could translate a passage out of Virgil after the following manner
"Tack to the larboard, and stand off to sea.
Veer starboard sea and land.” Milton makes use of larboard in the same manner. When he is upon building he mentions Doric pillars, pilasters, cornice, frieze, architrave. When he talks of heavenly bodies, you meet with ecliptic and eccentric, the trepidation, stars dropping from the zenith, rays culminating from the equator. To which might be added many instances of the like kind in several other arts and sciences.
CHAPTER XV. * CRITICISM ON “PARADISE LOST.” I HAVE seen in the works of a modern philosopher, a map of the spots in the sun. My last paper of the faults and blemishes in Milton's Paradise Lost, may be considered as a piece of the same nature. To pursue the allusion: As it is observed, that among the bright parts of the luminous body above mentioned, there are some which glow more intensely, and dart a stronger light than others; so, notwithstanding I have
already shown Milton's poem to be very beautiful in general, I shall now proceed to take notice of such beauties as appear to me more exquisite than the rest. Milton has proposed the subject of his poem in the following verses
“Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
These lines are perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned as any of the whole poem.
His invocation to a work which turns in a great measure upon the creation of the world, is very properly made to the Muse who inspired Moses in those books from whence our author drew his subject, and to the Holy Spirit, who is therein represented as operating after a particular manner in the first production of nature. This whole exordium rises very happily into noble language and sentiment, as I think the transition to the fable is exquisitely beautiful and natural.
The nine days' astonishment, in which the angels lay entranced after their dreadful overthrow and fall from heaven, before they could recover the use either of thought or speech, is a noble circumstance, and very finely imagined. The division of hell into seas of fire, and into firm ground impregnated with the same furious element, with that particular circumstance of the exclusion of Hope from those infernal regions, are instances of the same great and fruitful invention.
The thoughts in the first speech and description of Satan, who is one of the principal actors in this poem, are wonderfully proper to give us a full idea of him. His pride, envy, and revenge, obstinacy, despair, and impenitence, are all of them very artfully interwoven. In short, his first speech is a complication of all those passions which discover themselves separately in several other of his speeches in the poem. The whole part of this great enemy of mankind is filled with such incidents as are very apt to raise and terrify the reader's imagination. Of this nature, in the book now before us, is his being the first that awakens out of the general trance, with his posture on the burning lake, his rising from it, and the description of his shield and spear
“ Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate,
His pond'rous shield
Over the burning marl.” To which we may add his call to the fallen angels that lay plunged and stupefied in the sea of fire
“He call’d so loud, that all the hollow deep
Of hell resounded.” But there is no single passage in the whole poem worked up to a greater sublimity, than that wherein his person is described in those celebrated lines
"He, above the rest