« VorigeDoorgaan »
It is possible, that the traditions, HAVING examined the action on which the Iliad and Æneid were of Paradise Loft, let us in the next built, had more circumstances in place consider the actors. This is them than the history of the fall Aristotle's method of considering; of Man, as it is related in Scrip- first the fable, and secondly the ture. Besides it was easier for manners, or as we generally call Homer and Virgil to dash the truth them in English, the fable and the with fi&tion, as they were in no characters. danger of offending the religion of Homer has excelled all the he. their country by it. But as for roic poets that ever wrote, in the Milton, he had not only a very multitude and variety of his chafew circumstances upon which to racters. Every God that is admitraise his poem, but was also obliged ted into his poem, acts a part which to proceed with the greatest cau- would have been suitable to no tion in every thing that he added other Deity. His princes are as out of his own invention. And, much diftinguished by their man. indeed, notwithstanding all the re- ners as by their dominions; and straints he was under, he has filled even those among them, whose his story with so many surprifing characters seem wholly made up of incidents, which bear so close ana- courage, differ from one another logy with what is delivered in holy as to the particular kinds of courage Writ, that it is capable of pleasing in which they excel. In short, the moft delicate reader, without there is scarce a speech or action giving offense to the most scru. in the Iliad, which the reader may pulous.
not ascribe to the person that speaks The modern critics have col- or acts, without seeing his name at lected from several hints in the the head of it. Iliad and Æneid the space of time, Homer does not only out-shine which is taken up by the action all other poets in the variety, but of each of those poems; but as also in the novelty of his chaa great part of Milton's story racters. He has introduced among was transacted in regions that lie his Grecian princes a person, who out of the reach of the sun and the had lived in three ages of men, sphere of day, it is impossible to and conversed with Theseus, Hergratify the reader with such a cules, Polyphemus, and the first calculation, which indeed would race of heroes. His principal actor be more curious than instructive; is the son of a Goddess, not to none of the critics, either an- mention the ofspring of other Deicient or modern, having laid down ties, who have likewise a place in rules to circumscribe the action of his poem, and the venerable Troan epic poem within any deter- jan prince who was the father of mined number of years, days, or so many kings and heroes. There hours.
is in these several characters of
Homer, a certain dignity as well But of this more particularly as novelty, which adapts them in hereafter,
a more peculiar manner to the
nature of an heroic poem. Tho' characters in these two perfons. We at the same time, to give them the fee Man and Woman in the highest greater variety, he has described a innocence and perfection, and in Vulcan, that is, a buffoon among the most abject state of guilt and his Gods, and a Therfites among infirmity. The two last characters his mortals.
are, indeed, very common and obVirgil falls infinitely short of vious, but the two first are not only Homer in the characters of his more magnificent, but more new poem, both as to their variety and than any characters either in Virgil novelty, Æneas is indeed a perfect or Homer, or indeed in the whole character, but as for Achates, tho? circle of nature. he is stiled the heroe's friend, he Milton was so sensible of this. does nothing in the whole poem defect in the subject of his poem, which may deserve that title. Gyas, and of the few characters it would Mneftheus, Sergeftus, and Cloan- afford him, that he has brought inthus, are all of them men of the to it two actors of a shadowy and same stamp and character, fictitious nature, in the persons of ---- fortemque Gyan, fortemque
Sin and Death, by which means he Cloanthum. Virg.
has wrought into the body of his fable a very beautiful and well
f There are indeed several very na. invented allegory. But notwithtural incidents in the part of Asca- standing the fineness of this allegory nius; as that of Dido cannot be may atone for it in some measure; sufficiently admired. I do not see I cannot think that persons of such any thing new or particular in Tur- a chimerical existence are proper nus. Pallas and Evander are re- actors in an epic poem; because mote copies of Hector and Priam, there is not that measure of probaas Lausus and Mezentius are almost bility annexed to them, which is parallels to Pallas and Evander. requisite in writings of this kind, The characters of Nisus and Euri- as I shall show more at large herealus are beautiful, but common, after. We must not forget the parts of Si- Virgil has, indeed, admitted non, Camilla, and some few others, Fame as an actress in the Æneid, which are fine improvements on the but the part the acts is very short, Greek poet. In short, there is nei- and none of the most admired cirther that variety nor novelty in the cumstances in that divine work. persons of the Æneid, which we We find in mock-heroic poems, meet with in those of the Iliad. particularly in the Dispensary and
If we look into the characters the Lutrin, several allegorical perof Milton, we shall find that he has sons of this nature, which are very introduced all the variety his fable beautiful in those compositions, and was capable of receiving. The may, perhaps, be used as an arguwhole species of mankind was in ment,' that the authors of them two persons at the time to which were of opinion, such characters the subject of his poem is confined. might have a place in an epic work. We have, however, four diftin&t For my own part, I should be glad
the reader would think so, for the Angels are indeed as much diver: ake of the poem I am now exa- fified in Milton, and diftinguihed mining, and must further add, that by their proper parts, as the Gods if such empty unsubftantial beings are in Homer or Virgil. The reader may be ever made use of on this will find nothing ascribed to Uriel, occafion, never were any more Gabriel, Michael, or Raphael, nicely imagined, and employed in which is not in a particular manmore proper actions, than those of ner suitable to their respective chawhich I am now speaking.
racters. Another principal actor in this There is another circumstance in poem is the great enemy of man- the principal actors of the Iliad kind. The part of Ulysses in Ho- and Æneid, which gives a peculiar mer's Odyssey is very much ad- beauty to those two poems, and mired by Aristotle, as perplexing was therefore contrived with very chat fable with very agreeable plots great judgment. I mean the auand intricacies, not only by the thors having chosen for their hemany adventures in his voyage, roes persons who were so nearly and the subtlety of his behaviour; related to the people for whom but by the various concealments they wrote. Achilles was a Greek, and discoveries of his perfon in se- and Eneas the remote founder of veral parts of that poem. But the Rome. By this means their country. crafty being I have now mentioned, men (whom they principally propomakes a much longer voyage than sed to themselves for their readers) Ulysses, puts in practice many more were particularly attentive to all wiles and stratagems, and hides the parts of their story, and syma himself under a greater variety of pathized with their heroes in all shapes and appearances, all of their adventures. A Roman could which are severally detected, to the not but rejoice in the escapes, sucgreat delight and surprise of the cesses, and victories of Æneas, and reader.
be grieved at any defeats, misforWe may likewise observe with tunes, or disappointments that behow much art the poet has varied fel him; as a Greek must have had several characters of the persons the same regard for Achilles. And that speak in his infernal assembly. it is plain, that each of those poems On the contrary, how has he repre. have lost this great advantage, sented the whole Godhead exert among those readers to whom their ing itself towards Man in its full heroes are as ftrangers, or indiffebenevolence under the three-fold rent persons. distinction of a Creator, a Re- Milton's poem is admirable in deemer, and a Comforter! this respect, since it is impossible
Nor muft we omit the person of for any of its readers, whatever Raphael, who, amidst his tender- nation, country or people he may ness and friendship for Man, shows belong to, not to be related to the such a dignity and condescension in persons who are the principal actors all his speech and behaviour, as are in it; but what is still infinitely suitable to a superior nature. The more to its advantage, the principal
actors actors in this poem are not only be supposed to square exactly with our progenitors, but our represen- the heroic poems which have been tatives. We have an actual interest made since his time; since it is evi. in every thing they do, and no less dent to every impartial judge his than our utmost happiness is con- rules would still have been more cerned, and lies at stake in all their perfect, could he have perused the behaviour.
Æneid which was made fome hunI fall subjoin as a corollary to dred years after his death. the foregoing remark, an admirable In my next, I shall go through observation out of Aristotle, which other parts of Milton's poem; and hath been very much misrepresent- hope that what I shall there ad ed in the quotations of some mo- vance, as well as what I have al. dern critics. If a man of perfect ready written, will not only serye • and consummate virtue falls into as a comment upon Milton, but • a misfortune, it raises our pity, upon Aristotle. « but not our terror, because we do • not fear that it may be our own We have already taken a ge• case, who do not resemble the neral survey of the fable and cha• suffering person. But as that great racters in Milton's Paradise Loft: philosopher adds, • If we see a The parts which remain to be con* man of virtue, mixt with infir- fider'd, according to Aristotle's me. • mities, fall into any misfortune, thod, are the sentiments and the • it does not only raise our pity but language. Before I enter upon • our terror; because we are afraid the firft of these, I must advertise • that the like misfortunes may my reader, that it is my design as • happen to ourselves, who re- soon as I have finished my general • semble the character of the suf. reflections on these four several • fering person.
heads, to give particular instances I shall only remark in this place, out of the poem now before us of that the foregoing observation of beauties and imperfections which Aristotle, tho it may be true in may be observed under each of other occasions, does not hold in them, as also of such other partithis ; because in the present case, culars as may not properly fall unthough the persons who fall into der any of them. This I thought misfortune are of the most perfect fit to premise, that the reader may and consummate virtue, it is not not judge too haftily of this piece to be considered as what may pof- of criticism, or look upon it as imfibly be, but what actually is our perfect, before he has seen the own case; fince we are embarkid whole extent of it. with them on the same bottom, and The sentiments in an epic poem must be partakers of their happiness are the thoughts and behaviour or misery.
which the author ascribes to the In this, and some other very few persons whom he introduces, and instances, Aristotle's rules for epic are joft when they are conformpoetry (which he had drawn from able to the characters of the several his reflections upon Homer) cannot persons. The sentiments have like
wise a relation to things as well as genius in Shakespear to have drawn persons, and are then perfect when his Calyban, than his Hotspur or they are such as are adapted to the Julius Cæfar: The one was to be subject. If in either of these cases supplied out of his own imaginathe poet endevors to argue or ex- tion, whereas the other might have plain, to magnify or diminish, to been formed upon tradition, history saise love or hatred, pity or ter- and observation. It was much earor, or any other passion, we ought fier therefore for Homer to find to consider whether the sentiments proper sentiments for an assembly he makes use of are proper for of Grecian generals, than for Mil. those ends. Homer is censured by ton to diversify his infernal council the critics for his defect as to this with proper characters, and inspire particular in several parts of the them with a variety of sentiments. Íliad and Odyssey, tho' at the same The loves of Dido and Æneas are time those who have treated this only copies of what has passed begreat poet with candor, have attri- tween other persons. Adam and buted this defeat to the times in Eve before the fall, are a different which he lived. It was the fault species from that of mankind, who of the age, and not of Homer, if are descended from them; and there wants that delicacy in some none but a poet of the most unof his sentiments, which now ap- bounded invention, and the most pears in the works of men of a exquisite judgment, cou'd have filmuch inferior genius. Besides, if led their conversation and behathere are blemishes in any particu- viour with so many apt circumlar thoughts, there is an infinite ftances during their state of innobeauty in the greatest part of them. cence. In short, if there are many poets Nor is it sufficient for an epic who would not have fallen into the poem to be filled with such thoughts meannefs of some of his senti- as are natural, unless it abound also ments, there are none who could with such as are sublime. Virgil have risen up to the greatness of in this particular falls short of Hoothers. Virgil has excelled all mer. He has not indeed so many others in the propriety of his sen- thoughts that are low and vulgar; timents. Milton shines likewise but at the same time has not so very much in this particular : Nor many thoughts that are sublime must we omit one consideration and noble. The truth of it is, which adds to his honor and re. Virgil feldom rises into very aftoputation. Homer and Virgil in- nishing sentiments, where he is not troduced persons whose characters fired by the Iliad. He every where are commonly known among men, charms and pleases us by the force and such as are to be met with ei- of his own genius; but seldom ele. ther in hiftory, or in ordinary con- vates and transports us where he versation. Milton's characters, most does not fetch his hints from Homer. of them, lie out of nature, and Milton's chief talent, and indeed were to be formed purely by his his distinguishing excellence lies in own invention. It shows a greater the sublimity of his thoughts. There