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syllables may here suffice, as numerous occasions of noticing the fact will arise in the progress of these annotations :—he lays it on the first, B. iv. 351, B. vi. 838; on the second, B. iv. 602,
267 ; on the eighth, B. i. 287, B, ii. 110; on the ninth, B. i. 386, B. vii. 323; and on the tenth, B. iii. 393, B. vi. 767. But he does not content himself with mere change of pause, he uses even two or more pauses in the same verse, for the purpose of greater effect, as B. x. 851, B. vi. 852, B. ii. 950, et alibi. Nor is this variation of the pause mode by which he produces force of effect and melody of verse : he varies the metre also, for it is not, as is generally imagined, pure iambic--an iambic foot consists of one short and one long syllable, and six such constituted the ancient iambic line: the English iambic has but five feet. In imitation of some of the best ancient models which contain the mixed iambic, or fusion of other feet with the iambic, he frequently mixes with the iambic other feet as the trochee, or one long and one short syllable, thus (- -), spondee, two long (--), dactyl, one long and two short (-uu), the pyrrhic, two short (uu), anapæst, two short and one long (UU-), and the tribrach, three short (uuu); though the laws of versification seem to have prescribed that the concluding foot of the English pentameter, or line of five feet, should be an iambic, yet Milton has, with consummate grace and judgment, sometimes converted this into a spondee, for instance, in B. vi. 216, where the first foot is a trochee.
“Sīlěnce, ye troubled waves, and thou dēep-peāce." There are other peculiarities and licences borrowed from the classic poets in his versification, which must be kept in view, in order to form a just conception of its force and melody; sometimes the last vowel of a word, when the next begins with a vowel, is to be cut off in the reading and scansion, although the vowel is retained in print: this the grammarians call elision. Shakspeare, and Spenser occasionally take this liberty; sometimes the same word is to be read as two syllables, and sometimes, by what is grammatically termed contraction, as one; such as power, reason, riot, ruin, highest, spirit, &c. &c.; sometimes, too, the accent is shifted from the syllable on which established usage has fixed it; as in triumph,
exile, and sometimes he lengthens or shortens a syllable according to the exigencies of his metrical law.
But it is not merely his licence of prosody as auxiliary to poetic harmony that must be considered, in order to form a just estimate of the power and elegance of his style ; his careful selection of words, their arrangement and combination, the frequent classicalities of his phrases and allusions, and the antique structure of his sentences, have long given him a pre-eminence in our language, as the chief author who has kept alive the manner and spirit of the ancient authors. These variations of pause and metre, with all his metrical licences, his choice of words and their disposition, have enabled him to attain in the highest degree of all poets next to Homer, what is one of the rarest perfections of poetry, the assimilation of the sound to the sense : his lines by their smoothness and roughness, by the necessity of reading them slowly or rapidly, give a perfect picture, and, as it were, an echo of the subject matter. All critics agree in this, but in greater and lesser degrees according to their various tastes ; I have thought it better to state these principles generally, leaving the particular applications of them to the reader's judgment.
There are other beauties that deserve to be noticed ; such as his inversions, or throwing the words out of the common prose arrangement; his alliterations in various forms; his judicious use of monosyllabic lines ; his blending of the singular and plural numbers ; his change of tenses; and his detaching the auxiliary verb from the participle, by which he has contrived to give additional force and effect to his lines ; he frequently uses the contraction in such words as fallen, covering, dangerous, general, emperor, &c. More than these general principles I cannot state within the narrow limits of this edition.- I intended to have given an Essay on his use and imitation of the ancient authors; but such an essay, to be treated fully, or with considerable advantage to the reader, should be made the subject of a separate work, which it is my purpose to give.
The measure is English heroic verse without rhyme, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin ; rhyme being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter and lame metre; graced, indeed, since by the use of some famous modern poets, carried away by custom, but much to their own vexation, hinderance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse than else they would have expressed them. Not without cause, therefore, some both Italian and Spanish poets of prime note have rejected rhyme both in longer and shorter works, as have also long since our best English tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, trivial, and of no true musical delight; which consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings, a fault avoided by the learned ancients both in poetry and all good oratory. This neglect, then, of rhyme so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar readers, that it rather is to be esteemed an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem, from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming. *
This Preface, and the Arguments, were not given in the earliest copies of the First Edition, but they were subsequently given by the Author himself.
The First Book proposes, first in brief, the whole subject, Man's dis
obedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise, wherein he was placed : then touches the prime cause of his fall, the serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent ; who, revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of angels, was, by the command of God, driven out of heaven, with all his crew, into the great deep. Which action passed over, the poem hastens into the midst of things, presenting Satan, with his angels, now fallen into hell, described here, not in the centre, (for heaven and earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet accursed,) but in a place of utter darkness, fitliest called Chaos: here Satan, with his angels, lying on the burning lake, thunderstruck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity lay by him: they confer of their miserable fall: Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded. They rise; their numbers; array of battle: their chief leaders named according to the idols known afterwards in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech, comforts them with hope yet of regaining heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world, and a new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy, or report, in heaven; for, that angels were, long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers to a full council. What his associates thence attempt. Pandemonium, the palace of Satan, rises, suddenly built out of the deep: the infernal peers there sit in council.