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broken. "That Sin and Death fhould have shewn the way to hell, might have been allowed; but they cannot facilitate the passage by building a bridge, because the difficulty of Satan's paffage is described as real and sensible, and the bridge ought to be only figurative. The hell assigned to the rebellious spirits is described as not less local than the residence of man. It is placed in some distant part of space, separated from the regions of harmony and order by a chaotick waste and an unoccupied vacuity; but Sin and Death worked up a mole of aggravated foil, cemented with asphaltus ; a work too bulky for ideal architects.
This unskilful allegory appears to me one of the greatest faults of the poem ; and to this there was no temptation, but the author's opinion of its beauty.
To the conduct of the narrative fome objections may be made. Satan is with great expectation brought before Gabriel in Paradise, and is suffered to go away unmolested. The creation of man is represented as the consequence of the vacuity left in heaven by the expulsion of the rebels ; yet Satan mentions it as a report rife in beaven before his departure.
To find sentiments for the state of innocence, was very difficult ; and something of anticipation perhaps is now and then discovered. Adam's discourse of dreams seems not to be the speculation of a new-created being. I know not whether his answer to the angel's reproof for curiosity does not want something of propriety; it is the speech of a man acquainted with many other men. Some philosophical notions, especially when the philosophy is false, might have been better oniitted. The angel, in a comparison, fpeaks of timorous deer, before deer were yet timorous, and before Adam could understand the comparison.
Dryden remarks, that Milton has some flats among his elevations. This is only to fay, that all the parts are not equal. In every work, one part must be for the sake of others; a palace must have passages ; a poem must have tranfitions. It is no more to be required that wit should always be blazing, than that the fun should always stand at noon. In a great work there is a viciffitude of luminous and opaque parts, as there is in the world a succession of day and night, Milton, when he has expatiated in the sky, may be allowed sometimes to revisit earth; for what other author ever soared so high, or sustained his flight so long?
Milton, being well versed in the Italian poets, appears to have borrowed often from them; and, as every man catches something from his companions, his desire of imitating Ariosto’s levity has disgraced his work with the Paradise of Fools; a fiction not in itself ill-imagined, but too ludicrous for its place.
His play on words, in which he delights too often; his equivocations, which Bentley endeavours to defend by the example of the ancients ; his unnecessary and ungraceful use of terms of art; it is not necessary to mention, because they are easily remarked, and generally censured, and at laft bear so little proportion to the whole, that they scarcely deserve the attention of a critick.
Such are the faults of that wonderful performance Paradise Lost; which he who can put in balance with its beauties must be considered not as nice but as dull, as less to be censured for want of candour, than pitied for want of sensibility.
Of Paradise Regained, the general judgement seems now to be right, that it is in many parts elegant, and every-where instructive. It was not to be supposed that the writer of Paradise Loft could ever write without great effusions of fancy, and exalted precepts of wisdom. The basis of Paradise Regained is narrow; a dialogue without action can never please like an union of the narrative and dramatic powers. Had this poem been written not by Milton, but by some imitator, it would have claimed and received universal praise.
If Paradise Regained has been too much depreciated, Şampson Agonistes has in requital been too much admired. It could only be by long prejudice, and the bigotry of learning, that Milton could prefer the ancient tragedies, with their encumbrance of a chorus, to the exhibitions of the French and English stages; and it is only by a blind confidence in the reputation of Milton, that a drama can be praised in which the intermediate parts
have neither cause nor consequence, neither hasten nor retard the catastrophe.
In this tragedy are however many particular beauties, many just sentiments and striking lines; but it wants that power of attracting the attention which a well-connected plan produces,
Milton would not have excelled in dramatic writing; he knew human nature only in the gross, and had never studied the shades of character, nor the combinations of concurring, or the perplexity of contending pasfions. He had read much, and knew what books could teach; but had mingled little in the world, and was deficient in the knowledge which experience must confer.
Through all his greater works there prevails an uni form peculiarity of Diction, a mode and cast of expression which bears little resemblance to that of
former writer, and which is so far removed from cominon use, that an unlearned reader, when he first opens his book, finds himself surprised by a new language.
This novelty has been, by those who can find nothing wrong in Milton, imputed to his laborious endeavours after words fuitable to the grandeur of his ideas. Our language, says Addison, sunk under him. But the truth is, that, both in prose and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedancick principle. He was desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all his profe is discovered and condemned; for there judgement operates freely, neither softened by the beauty, nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts; but such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance, the reader feels himself in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind, and criticism sinks in admiration.
Milton's style was not modified by his subject: what is shown with greater extent in Paradise Lost, may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets: the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last, may be said what Jonson fays of Spenser, that be wrote no language, but has formed what Butler calls a Babylonish Dialect, in itself harsh and barbarous, but made by exalted genius, and extensive learning, the vehicle of so much instruction and so much plea
fure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in its deformity.
Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety: he was master of his language in its full extent; and has selected the melodious words with such diligence, that from his book alone the Art of English Poetry might be learned.
After his diction, something must be said of his versification. - The measure, he says, is the Englih heroick verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many examples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The Earl of Surrey is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme; and, besides our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particularly one tending to reconcile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trisino's Italia Liberata; and, finding blank verse easier than rhyme, was desirous of persuading himself that it is bet
Rhyme, he says, and says truly, is no necessary adjunct of true poetry. But perhaps, of poetry as a mental operation, metre or musick is no necessary adjunct: it is however by the musick of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all languages; and in languages melodiously constructed with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot coinmunicate its rules to another: where metre is scanty and imperfect, some help is necessary. The musick of the English heroick line strikes the ear fo faintly that it is 6