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10, 315.] Saturday, March 1, 1711-12. energy
of expression, and in a clearer and
stronger light than I ever met with in any Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus other writer. As these points are dry in Hor. Ars Poet. v. 191.
themselves to the generality of readers, the Never presume to make a god appear But for a business worthy of a god.- Roscommon.
concise and clear manner in which he has
treated them is very much to be admired, HORACE advises a poet to consider tho- as is likewise that particular art which he roughly the nature and force of his genius. has made use of in the interspersing of all Milton seems to have known perfectly well those graces of poetry which the subject wherein his strength lay, and has therefore was capable of receiving: chosen a subject entirely conformable to The survey of the whole creation, and of those talents of which he was master. As every thing that is transacted in it, is a his genius was wonderfully turned to the prospect worthy of Omniscience, and as sublime, his subject is the noblest that much above that in which Virgil has drawn could have entered into the thoughts of his Jupiter, as the Christian idea of the Suman. Every thing that is truly great and preme Being is more rational
and sublime astonishing has a place in it. The whole than that of the Heathens. The particusystem of the intellectual world; the chaos, lar objects on which he is described to have and the creation: heaven, earth, and hell; cast his eye, are represented in the most enter into the constitution of his poem.
beautiful and lively manner: Having in the first and second books represented the infernal world with all its Now had th' Almighty Father from above
(From the pure empyrean where he sits horrors, the thread of his fable naturally High thron'd above all height) bent down his eye, leads him into the opposite regions of bliss His own works and their works at once to view
About him all the sanctities of heaven
Stood thick as stars, and from his sight receiv'd If Milton's majesty forsakes him any Beatitude past utterance. On his right where, it is in those parts of his poem
The radiant image of his glory sat, where the divine persons are introduced
His only Son. On earth he first beheld
Our two first parents, yet the only two as speakers. One may, I think, observe,
Of mankind, in the happy garden plac'd, that the author proceeds with a kind of fear Reaping immortal fruits of joy and love. and trembling, whilst he describes the sen
Uninterrupted joy, unrivali'd love,
In blissful solitude. He then survey'd timents of the Almighty. He dares not give Hell and the gulf between, and Satan there his imagination its full play, but chooses to Coasting the wall of heav'n on this side night, confine himself to such thoughts as are
In the dun air sublime; and ready now drawn from the books of the most ortho
To stoop with wearied wings and willing feet
On the bare outside of this world, that seem'd dox divines, and to such expressions as Firm land imbosom'd without firmament; may be met with in scripture. The beau
Uncertain which, in ocean or in air.
Him God beholding from his prospect high, ties, therefore, which we are apt to look
Wherein past, present, future he beholds, for in these speeches, are not of a poetical Thus to his only Son foreseeing spake. nature, nor so proper to fill the mind with sentiments of grandeur, as with thoughts Satan's approach to the confines of the of devotion. The passions which they are creation is finely imaged in the beginning designed to raise, are a divine love and re-of the speech which immediately follows. ligious fear. The particular beauty of the The effects of this speech in the blessed speeches in the third book, consists in that spirits, and in the divine person to whom shortness and perspicuity of style, in which it was addressed, cannot but fill the mind the poet has couched the greatest mysteries of the reader with a secret pleasure and of Christianity, and drawn together, in a complacency: regular scheme, the whole dispensation of Providence with respect to man.
Thus while God spake, ambrosial fragrance filrd
All heav'n, and in the blessed spirits elect represented all the abstruse doctrines of
Sense of new joy ineffable diffus'd. predestination, free-will and grace, as also Beyond compare the Son of God was seen the great points of incarnation and redemp
Most glorious ; in him all his Father shone,
Substantially express'd ; and in his face tion, (which naturally grow up in a poem Divine compassion visibly appear'd, that treats of the fall of man) with great Love without end, and without measure grace.
I need not point out the beauty of that prising accidents, are nevertheless probable circumstance, wherein the whole host of when we are told, that they were the gods angels are represented as standing mute; who thus transformed them. It is this kind nor show how proper the occasion was to of machinery which fills the poems both of produce such a silence in heaven. The Homer and Virgil with such circumstances close of this divine colloquy, with the hymn as are wonderful but not impossible, and of angels that follows upon it, are so won- so frequently produce in the reader the derfully beautiful and poetical, that I should most pleasing passion that can rise in the * not forbear inserting the whole passage, if mind of man, which is admiration. If there the bounds of my paper would give me be any instance in the Æneid liable to exleave:
ception upon this account, it is in the beNo rocher had th’ Amighty ceasd, but all
ginning of the third book, where Æneas is The anulitude of cryols viib a shout
represented as tearing up the myrtle that (Loud as from numbers without number, sweet dropped blood. To qualify this wonderful As from blest voices) utt'ring joy, heav'n rung With jubilee, and loud Hosannas fill'd
circumstance, Polydorus tells a story from Th' eternal regions, &c. &c.
the root of the myrtle, that the barbarous
inhabitants of the country having pierced Satan's walk upon the outside of the uni- him with spears and arrows, the blood verse, which at a distance appeared to him which was left in his body took root in his of a globular form, but upon his nearer ap- wounds, and gave birth to that bleeding proach looked like an unbounded plain, is tree. This circumstance seems to have the natural and noble; as his roaming upon the marvellous without the probable, because frontiers of the creation, between that mass it is represented as proceeding from natuof matter which was wrought into a world, ral causes, without the interposition of any and that shapeless unformed heap of mate- god, or other supernatural power capable rials which still lay in chaos and confusion, of producing it. The spears and arrows strikes the imagination with something asto- grow of themselves without so much as the nishingly great and wild. I have before modern help of enchantment. If we look spoken of the Limbo of Vanity, which the into the fiction of Milton's fable, though we poet places upon this outermost surface of find it full of surprising incidents, they are the universe, and shall here explain myself generally suited to our notions of the things more at large on that, and other parts of and persons described, and tempered with the poem, which are of the same shadowy a due measure of probability. I must only nature.
make an exception to the Limbo of Vanity, Aristotle observes, that the fable of an with his episode of Sin and Death, and some epic poem should abound in circumstances of the imaginary persons in his chaos.that are both credible and astonishing; or, These passages are astonishing, but not as the French critics choose to phrase it, credible: the reader cannot so far impose the fable should be filled with the probable upon himself as to see a possibility in them; and the marvellous. . This rule is as fine they are the description of dreams and shaand just as any in Aristotle's whole Art of dows, not of things or persons. I know that Poetry.
many critics look upon the stories of Circe, If the fable is only probable, it differs Polypheme, the Sirens, nay the whole Odysnothing from a true history; if it is only sey and Iliad, to be allegories; but allowing marvellous, it is no better than a romance. this to be true, they are fables, which, conThe great secret, therefore, of heroic poe- sidering the opinions of mankind that pretry is to relate such circumstances as may vailed in the age of the poet, might possibly produce in the reader at the same time both have been according to the letter. The belief and astonishment. This is brought to persons are such as might have acted what pass in a well-chosen fable, by the account is ascribed to them, as the circumstances of such things as have really happened, or in which they are represented might posat least of such things as have happened sibly have been truths and realities. This according to the received opinions of man- appearance of probability is so absolutely kind. Milton's fable is a master-piece of requisite in the greater kinds of poetry, that this nature; as the war in heaven, the con- Aristotle observes the ancient tragic writers dition of the fallen angels, the state of inno- made use of the names of such great men cence, the temptation of the serpent, and as had actually lived in the world, though the fall of man, though they are very asto- the tragedy proceeded upon adventures nishing in themselves, are not only credible, they were never engaged in, on purpose to but actual points of faith.
make the subject more credible. In a word, The next method of reconciling miracles besides the hidden meaning of an epic allewith credibility, is by a happy invention of gory, the plain literal sense ought to appear the poet: as in particular, when he intro- probable. The story should be such as an duces agents of a superior nature, who are ordinary reader may acquiesce in, whatcapable of effecting what is wonderful, and ever natural, moral, or political truth may what is not to be met with in the ordinary be discovered in it by men of greater penecourse of things. Ulysses's ship being turned tration. into a rock, and Æneas's feet into a shoal Satan, after having long wandered upon of water-nvmphs, though they are very sur-the surface or outermost wall of the uni