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what may recommend Milton's morals as well as his poetry, the invitations to pleasure are so general, that they excite nq_distinct images of^corrupt enjo^njient, and take_n^^au^eroiisJbidd_Qn Jhe fancy.
The following soliloquies of Comus and the Lady are elegant, but tedious. The song must owe much to the voice if it ever can delight. At last the Brothers enter with too much tranquillity; and, when they have feared lest their sister should be in danger, and hoped that she is not in danger, the Elder makes a speech in praise of chastity, and the Younger finds how fine it is to be a philosopher.
Then descends the Spirit in form of a shepherd; and the Brother, instead of being in haste to ask his help, praises his singing, and enquires his business in that place. It is remarkable, that at this interview the Brother is taken with a short fit of rhyming. The Spirit relates that the Lady is in the power of Comus; the Brother moralizes again; and the Spirit makes a long narration, of no use because it is false, and therefore unsuitable to a good Being.
In all these parts the language is poetical, and the sentiments are generous; but there is something wanting to allure attention. The dispute between the Lady and Comus is the most animated and affecting scene of the drama, and wants nothing but a brisker reciprocation of objections and replies to invite attention and detain it.
The songs are vigorous and full of imagery; but they are harsh in their diction, and not very musical in thejr_nurribers.
Throughout the whole the figures are too bold, and the language too luxuriant, for dialogue. It is
drama in the epick style, inelegantly splendid, and tediously instructive.
The Sonnets were written in different parts of V>?tJijL^» Milton's life, upon different occasions. They deserve - not any particular criticism; for of the best it can only be said, that they are not bad; and perhaps only the eighth and the twenty-first are truly entitled to this slender commendation. The fabrick of a sonnet, however adapted to the Italian language, has-never succeeded in ours, which having greater variety of termination, requires the rhymes to be often changed^
Those little pieces may be dispatched without much anxiety; a greater work calls for greater care. I am now to examine Paradise Lost; a poem, which, considered with respect to design, may claim the first place, and with respect to performance the second, among the productions of the human mind.
By the general consent of criticks the first praise of genius is due to the writer of an epickj^oem, as it requires an assemblage of all the powers which are singly sufficient for other compositions. Poetry is the arf nf i^j^JTirr pleasure with truth, by calling lmagTn-" ation to the help of reason. Epick poetry undertakes" to teacli the most important truths by the most pleasing precepts, and therefore relates some great event in the" most affecting manner. History must supply the writer with the rudiments of narration, which he must improve and exidJjby a nobler art, must animate by dramatick energy, and diversify by retrospection and anticipation: morality must teach him the exact bounds, and different shades, of vice and virtue; from policy, and the practice of life, he has to learn the discriminations of character, and the tendency of the
passions, either single or combined; and physiology must supply him with illustrations and images. To put these materials to poetical use, is required an imagination capable_of painting nature, and realizing fiction. Nor is he yet a poet till he has attained the /whole extension of his language, distinguished all 'the delicacies of phrase, and all the colours of words, ) and learned to adjust their different sounds to all the . varieties of metrical modulation. - ^flflgM is of opinion, that the poet's fir^ work is to find a moral, which his fable is afterwards to illustrate ancfeslablish. This seems to have been the process only of JNJTilton: the moral of other poems is incidental and consequent: in^JVfilt.mi's only it. fo essential and intrinsick. His purpose wasthe_iiioj&t--useful and the most arduous; to vindicate the ways of -. God to man; to shew tlje reasonableness of religion, and the necessity of obedience to the Divine Lawr- -.
To convey this moral, there must be a fnhli>9.-«[ narration artfully constructed, so as to excite curiosity, and surprise expectation. In this part of his work, Milton must be confessed to have equalled every other poet. He has involved in his account of the Fall of Man the events which preceded, and those that were to follow it; he has interwoven the whole system of theology with such propriety, that every part appears to be necessary; and scarcely any recital is wished shorter for the sake of quickening the progress of the main action.
The subject of an epick poem is naturally an event of ffleaTimportan ce. That of Milton is not the destruction of a city, the conduct of a colony, or the foundation of an empire. His subject is the fate of
VOL. VI. M
worlds, the revolutions of Heaven and of Earth; rebellion, against the supreme King, raised by the highest order of created beings; the overthrow of their host, and the punishment of their crime; the creation of a new race of reasonable creatures; their original happiness and innocence, their forfeiture of immortality, and their restoration to hope and peace.
Great events can be hastened or retarded only by persons of elevated dignity. Before J^gnmtness displayed in Milton's poem. alLother jjreatness^shrinks^ away. The weakest of his agents are the highest and noblest of human beings, the original parents of mankind; with whose actions the elements consented; on whose rectitude, or deviation of will, depended the state of terrestrial nature, and the condition of all the future inhabitants of the globe.
Of the other agents in the poem, the chief are such as it is irreverence to name on slight occasions. The rest were lower powers;
of which the least could wield
Those elements, and arm him with the force
powers, which only the controul of Omnipotence restrains from laying creation waste, and filling the vast expanse of space with ruin and confusion. To display the motives and actions of beings thus superior, so far as human reason can examine them, or human imagination represent them, is the task which this mighty poet has undertaken and performed.
In the examination of epick poems much speculation is commonly employed upon the cliaracters. The characters in the Paradise Lost," which admit of examination, are those of angels and of man; of angels good and evil; of man in his innocent and sinful state.
Among the angels, the virtue of Raphael is mild and placid, of easy condescension and free communication; that of Michael is regal and lofty, and, as may seem, attentive to the dignity of his own nature. Abdiel and Gabriel appear occasionally, and act as every incident requires; the solitary fidelity of Abdiel is very amiably painted.
Of the evil angels the characters are more diversin^d7ToN&>-**i-nl fliS AdxJisofrTTbseTves, such sentiments are given as suit the most exalted and most depraved being. Milton has been censured by Clarke*, for the impiety which sometimes breaks from Satan's mouth; for there are thoughts, as he justly remarks, which no observation of character can justify, because no good man would willingly permit them to pass, however transiently, through-Jbiis own mind. To make Satan speak as a rebel, without any such expressions as might taint the reader's imagination, was indeed one of the great difficulties in Milton's undertaking; and I cannot but think that he has extricated himself with great happiness. There is in Satan's speeches little that can give pain to a pious ear. The language of rebellion cannot be the same with that of obedience. The malignity of Satan foams in haughtiness and obstinacy; but his expressions are commonly general, and no otherwise offensive than as they are wicked.
The other chiefs of the celestial rebellion are very judiciously discriminated in the first and second Author of the "Essay on Study." Dr. J.