« PreviousContinue »
The same reason recommended to him several old words, which also makes his poem appear the more venerable, and gives it a greater air of antiquity.
I must likewise take notice, that there are in Milton several words of his own coining, as Cerberean, miscreated, hell-doom'd, embryon atoms, and many others. If the reader is offended at this liberty in our English poet, I would recommend him to a discourse in Plutarch, which shows us how frequently Homer has made use of the same liberty.
Milton, by the above-mentioned helps, and by the choice of the noblest words and phrases which our tongue would afford him, has carried our language to a greater height than any of the English poets have ever done before or after him, and made the sublimity of his style equal to that of his sentiments.
I have been the more particular in these observations on Milton's style, because it is that part of him in which he appears the most singular. The remarks I have here made upon the practice of other poets, with my observations out of Aristotle, will perhaps alleviate the prejudice which some have taken to his poem upon this account; though, after all, I must confess, that I think his style, though admirable in general, is in some places too much stiffened and obscured by the frequent use of those methods, which Aristotle has prescribed for the raising of it.
This redundancy of those several ways of speech which Aristotle calls foreign language, and with which Milton has so very much enriched, and in some places darkened, the language
Which also makes. In this construction, the antecedent to which is
Better refer which to words, and read-make-and give.-H. Before or after him. Better expunge these words, and then the time will be left indetinite, as it should be; for the preter-perfect tense "have" cannot be applied to before and after. Orelse, point thus—have ever done, before or after him-and then the expression will be right, because elliptical, and as if he had said—“ Whether they lived before or after him.”
of his poem, was the more proper for his use, because his poem is written in blank verse. Rhyme, without any other assistance, throws the language off from prose, and very often makes an indifferent phrase pass unregarded; but where the verse is not built upon rhymes, there pomp of sound, and energy of expression, are indispensably necessary to support the style, and keep it from falling into the flatness of prose.
Those who have not a taste for this elevation of style, and are apt to ridicule a poet when he goes out of the common forms of expression, would do well to see how Aristotle has treated an ancient author, called Euclid, for his insipid mirth upon this occasion. Mr. Dryden used to call this sort of men his prose-critics.
I should, under this head of the language, consider Milton's numbers, in which he has made use of several elisions, that are not customary among other English poets, as may be particularly observed in his cutting off the letter Y, when it precedes a vowel. This, and some other innovations in the measure of his verse, has varied his numbers, in such a manner, as makes them incapable of satiating the ear, and cloying the reader, which the same uniform measure would certainly have done, and which the perpetual returns of rhyme never fail to do in long narrative poems. I shall close these reflections upon the language of Paradise Lost, with observing that Milton has copied after Homer, rather than Virgil
, in the length of his periods, the copiousness of his phrases, and the running of his verses into one another.
* Elisions. He learned this secret from the Italian poets.-H.
No. 291. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2.
- Ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis
HOR. Ars Poet. y. 351.
I have now considered Milton's Paradise Lost under those four great heads of the fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language; and have shewn that he excels, in general, under each of these heads. I hope that I have made several discoveries which may appear new, even to those who are versed in critical learning. Were I indeed to chuse my readers, by whose judgment I would stand or fall, they should not be such as are acquainted only with the French and Italian critics, but also with the ancient and modern who have written in either of the learned languages. Above all, I would have them well versed in the Greek and Latin poets, without which a man very often fancies that he understands a critic," when in reality he does not comprehend his meaning.
It is in criticism, as in all other sciences and speculations ; one who brings with him any implicit notions and observations which he has made in his reading of the poets, will find his own reflections methodized and explained, and perhaps several little hints that had passed in his mind, perfected and improved in the works of a good critic; whereas one who has not these previous lights, is very often an utter stranger to what he reads, and apt to put a wrong interpretation upon it.
* Understands a critic. To understand a critic, and to comprehend his meaning, is the same thing. What he meant to say, was—"fancies that he confutes a critic, when in reality, he does not comprehend his meaning.--H.
Nor is it sufficient, that a man who sets up for a judge in criticism, should have perused the authors above-mentioned, unless he has also a clear and logical head. Without this talent, he is perpetually puzzled and perplexed amidst his own blunders, mistakes the sense of those he would confute, or if he chances to think right, does not know how to convey his thoughts to another with clearness and perspicuity. Aristotle, who was the best critic, was also one of the best logicians that ever appeared in the world.
Mr. Locke's essay on human understanding would be thought a very odd book for a man to make himself master of, who would get a reputation by critical writings; though at the same time it is very certain, that an author who has not learned the art of distinguishing between words and things, and of ranging his thoughts, and setting them in proper lights, whatever notions he may have, will lose himself in confusion and obscurity. I might further observe, that there is not a Greek or Latin critic who has not shewn, even in the style of his criticisms, that he was a master of all the elegance and delicacy of his native tongue.
The truth of it is, there is nothing more absurd than for a man to set up for a critic, without a good insight into all the parts of learning; whereas many of those who have endeavoured to signalize themselves by works of this nature among our Eng. lish writers, are not only defective in the above-mentioned particulars, but plainly discover by the phrases which they make use of, and by their confused way of thinking, that they are not acquainted with the most common and ordinary systems of arts and sciences. A few general rules extracted out of the French authors, with a certain cant of words, has sometimes set up an illiterate heavy writer for a most judicious and formidable critic.
One great mark, by which you may discover a critic who has neither taste nor learning, is this, that he seldom ventures to
praise any passage in an author which has not been before received and applauded by the public, and that his criticism turns wholly upon little faults and errors. This part of a critic is so very easy to succeed in, that we find every ordinary reader, upon the publishing of a new poem, has wit and ill-nature enough to turn several passages of it into ridicule, and very often in the right place. This Mr. Dryden bas very agreeably remarked in those two celebrated lines,
Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation. The most exquisite words and finest strokes of an author are those which
the most doubtful and exceptionable, to a man who wants a relish for polite learning; and they are these, which a sour undistinguishing critic generally attacks with the greatest violence. Tully observes, that it is very easy to brand or fix a mark upon what he calls verbum ardens, or as it may be rendered into English a glowing bold expression' and to turn it into ridicule by a cold ill-natured criticism. A little wit is equally capable of exposing a beauty, and of aggravating a fault; and though such a treatment of an author naturally produces indignation in the mind of an understanding reader, it has however its effect among the generality of those whose hands it falls into; the rabble of mankind being very apt
* A true critic dwells, with more pleasure, upon the excellencies of the author he criticises, than upon his imperfections: but his duty is, to poiut out either, as occasion serves. As to what is said of discharging this office, in the way of ridicule, and not of serious observation, that is another affair. One would reason with a good writer, and laugh at a bad one. Yet the rule is not without exceptions: the ridicule on Dryden, in the Rehearsal, was just as well placed, as the serious criticism of our author, on Milton, in his next paper. ---H.