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principal actors are man in his greatest perfection, and woman in her highest beauty. Their enemies are the fallen angels : the Messiah their friend, and the Almighty their protector. In short, every thing that is great in the whole circle of being, whether within the
verge of nature, or out of it, has a proper part assigned it in this admirable poem.
In poetry, as in arehitecture, not only the whole, but the principal members, and every part of them, should be great. I will not presume
that the book of Games in the Æneid, or that in the Iliad, are not of this nature; nor to reprehend Virgil's simile of a top, and many others of the same kind in the Iliad, as liable to any censure in this particular; but I think we may say, without derogating from those wonderful performances, that there is an indisputable and unquestioned magnificence in every part of Paradise Lost, and, indeed, a much greater than I could have been formed upon any Pagan system.
But Aristotle, by the greatness of the action, does not only mean that it should be great in its nature, but also in its duration; or, in other words, that it should have a due length in it, as well as what we properly call greatness. The just measure of this kind of magnitude, he explains by the following similitude. An animal, no bigger than a mite, cannot appear perfect to the eye, because the sight takes it in at once, and has only a confused idea of the whole, and not a distinct idea of all its parts; if, on the contrary, you should suppose an animal of ten thousand furlongs in length, the eye would be so filled with a single part of it, that it could not give the mind an idea of the whole. What these animals are to the eye, a very short or a very long action would be to the memory.
The first would be, as it were, * The book of Games. A mere prejudice. The critic forgets that the Games were ennobled, in the ideas of Paganism, by being made a part of the public religion.-H.
lost and swallowed up by it,'and the other difficult to be contained in it. Homer and Virgil have shewn their principal art in this particular; the action of the Iliad, and that of the Æneid were in themselves exceeding short; but are so beautifully extended and diversified by the invention of episodes, and the machinery of the gods, with the like poetical ornaments, that they make up an agreeable story sufficient to employ the memory without overcharging it. Milton's action is enriched with such variety of circumstances, that I have taken as much pleasure in reading the contents of his books, as in the best invented story I ever met with. It is possible, that the traditions on which the Iliad and Æneid were built, had more circumstances in them than the history of the Fall of Man, as it is related in scripture. Besides, it was easier for Homer and Virgil to dash the truth with fiction, as they were in no danger of offending the religion of their country by it. But as for Milton, he had not only a very few circumstances upon which to raise his poem, but was also obliged to proceed with the greatest caution in every thing that he added out of his own invention. And, indeed, notwithstanding all the restraints he was under, he has filled his story with so many surprising incidents, which bear so close an analogy with what is delivered in holy writ, that it is capable of pleasing the most delicate reader, without giving offence to the most scrupulous.
The modern critics have collected, from several hints in the Iliad and Æneid, the space of time which is taken up by the action of each of those poems; but as a great part of Milton's story was transacted in regions that lie out of the reach of the sun, and the sphere of day, it is impossible to gratify the reader with such a calculation, which, indeed, would be more curious than instructive; none of the critics, either ancient or modern, having laid down rules to circumscribe the action of an epic poem with any determined number of years, days, or hours.
But of this more particularly hereafter.'
No. 273. SATURDAY, JANUARY 12.
Notandi sunt tibi Mores.
Hor Ars Poet. 156.
Having examined the action of Paradise Lost, let us in the next place consider the actors. This is Aristotle's method of considering, first the fable, and secondly, the manners; or, as we generally call them in English, the fable and the characters.
Homer has excelled all the heroic poets that ever wrote, in the multitude and variety of his characters. Every god that is admitted into his poem, acts a part which would have been suitable to no other deity. His princes are as much distinguished by their manners as by their dominions; and even those among them, whose characters seem wholly made up of courage, differ from one another as to the particular kinds of courage in which they excel. In short, there is scarce a speech or action in the Iliad, which the reader may not ascribe to the person that speaks or acts, without seeing his name at the head of it.
Homer does not only out-shine all other poets in the variety, but also in the novelty of his characters. He hath introduced among his Grecian princes a person who had lived thrice the age of man, and conversed with Theseus, Hercules, Polyphemus, and the first race of heroes. His principal actor is the son of a goddess, not to mention the offspring of other deities, who have likewise a place in his poem, and the venerable Trojan prince, who was the father of so many kings and heroes. There is in these several characters of Homer, a certain dignity as well as novelty, which adapts them in a more peculiar manner to the nature of an heroic poem. Though at the same time, to give them the greater
Some editions read—This piece of criticism on Milton's Paradise Lost shall be carried on in the following Saturday's papers.-G.
a Vid. Spect. 308.
a gods, and a Thersites among his mortals.
Virgil falls infinitely short of Homer in the characters of his poem, both as to their variety and novelty. Æneas is, indeed, a perfect character ; but as for Achates, though he is styled the hero's friend, he does nothing in the whole poem which may deserve that title. Gyas, Mnestheus, Sergestus, and Cloanthus, are all of them men of the same stamp and character.
-fortemque Gyan, fortemque Cloanthum:
There are, indeed, several natural incidents in the part of Ascanius; as that of Dido cannot be sufficiently admired. I do not see any thing new or particular in Turnus. Pallas and Evander are remote copies of Hector and Priam, as Lausus and Mezentius are almost parallels to Pallas and Evander. The characters of Nisus and Euryalus are beautiful, but common. We must not forget the parts of Sinon, Camilla, and some few others, which are fine improvements on the Greek poet. In short, there is neither that variety nor novelty in the persons of the Æneid, which we meet with in those of the Iliad.
If we look into the characters of Milton, we shall find that he has introduced all the variety his fable was capable of receiving. The whole species of mankind was in two persons at the time
o to which the subject of this poem is confined. We have, however,
four distinct characters in these two persons. We see man and woman in the highest innocence and perfection, and in the most abject state of guilt and infirmity. The two last characters are, indeed, very common and obvious; but the two first are not only more magnificent, but more new, than any characters in Virgil or Homer, or indeed in the whole circle of nature.
Milton was so sensible of this defect in the subject of his poem, and of the few characters it would afford him, that he has brought into it two actors of a shadowy fictitious nature, in the persons of Sin and Death, by which means he has wrought into the body of his fable a very beautiful and well-invented allegory.* But, notwithstanding the fineness of this allegory may atone for it in some measure, I cannot think that persons of such a chimerical existence are proper actors in an epic poem; because there is not that measure of probability annexed to them, which is requisite in writings of this kind, as I shall shew more at large hereafter.
Virgil has, indeed, admitted Fame as an actress in the Æneid, but the part she acts is very short, and none of the most admired circumstances in that divine work. We find in the mock-heroic poems, particularly in the Dispensary and the Lutrin,' several allegorical persons of this nature, which are very beautiful in those compositions, and may, perhaps, be used as an argument, that the authors of them were of opinion, such characters might
i Garth's Dispensary and Boileau's Lutrin; the first nearly forgotten : the second as highly honored as ever.-G.
& Vide Spect. 279.
• And may, perhaps, be used as an argument. What may be used as an argument? Why, either the allegorical persons, or the beauty they have in such compositions. Very inaccurately expressed, take it which way you will. The whole had been better in some such form as this: “We find in mock-heroic poems, particularly in the Dispensary, and the Lutrin, several allegorical persons of this nature; and the beauty, they are seen to have in those compositions, may induce some to believe that the authors of them might think such characters fit to be employed in the serious epic.”—H.