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NOTES AND A GENERAL INDEX.
FROM THE LONDON STEREOTYPE EDITION.
TWO VOLUMES COMPLETE IN ONE, WITH ENGRAVINGS ON STEEL.
PUBLISHED BY J. J. WOODWARD.
STEREOTYPED BY L. JOHNSON,
Saturday, March 1, 1711-12.
Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus
Never presume to make a god appear But for a business worthy of a god.-Roscommon.' HORACE advises a poet to consider thoroughly the nature and force of his genius. Milton seems to have known perfectly well wherein his strength lay, and has therefore chosen a subject entirely conformable to those talents of which he was master. As his genius was wonderfully turned to the sublime, his subject is the noblest that could have entered into the thoughts of man. Every thing that is truly great and astonishing has a place in it. The whole system of the intellectual world; the chaos, and the creation: heaven, earth, and hell; enter into the constitution of his poem.
Having in the first and second books represented the infernal world with all its horrors, the thread of his fable naturally leads him into the opposite regions of bliss and glory.
If Milton's majesty forsakes him any where, it is in those parts of his poem where the divine persons are introduced as speakers. One may, I think, observe, that the author proceeds with a kind of fear and trembling, whilst he describes the sentiments of the Almighty. He dares not give his imagination its full play, but chooses to confine himself to such thoughts as are drawn from the books of the most orthodox divines, and to such expressions as may be met with in scripture. The beauties, therefore, which we are apt to look for in these speeches, are not of a poetical nature, nor so proper to fill the mind with sentiments of grandeur, as with thoughts of devotion. The passions which they are designed to raise, are a divine love and religious fear. The particular beauty of the speeches in the third book, consists in that shortness and perspicuity of style, in which the poet has couched the greatest mysteries of Christianity, and drawn together, in a regular scheme, the whole dispensation of Providence with respect to man. He has represented all the abstruse doctrines of predestination, free-will and grace, as also the great points of incarnation and redemption, (which naturally grow up in a poem that treats of the fall of man) with great
energy of expression, and in a clearer and stronger light than I ever met with in any other writer. As these points are dry in themselves to the generality of readers, the concise and clear manner in which he has treated them is very much to be admired, as is likewise that particular art which he has made use of in the interspersing of all those graces of poetry which the subject was capable of receiving.
The survey of the whole creation, and of every thing that is transacted in it, is a prospect worthy of Omniscience, and as much above that in which Virgil has drawn his Jupiter, as the Christian idea of the Supreme Being is more rational and sublime than that of the Heathens. The particular objects on which he is described to have cast his eye, are represented in the most beautiful and lively manner:
Now had th' Almighty Father from above
Satan's approach to the confines of the creation is finely imaged in the beginning of the speech which immediately follows. The effects of this speech in the blessed spirits, and in the divine person to whom it was addressed, cannot but fill the mind of the reader with a secret pleasure and complacency:
Thus while God spake, ambrosial fragrance fill'd
prising accidents, are nevertheless probable when we are told, that they were the gods who thus transformed them. It is this kind of machinery which fills the poems both of Homer and Virgil with such circumstances as are wonderful but not impossible, and so frequently produce in the reader the most pleasing passion that can rise in the mind of man, which is admiration. If there be any instance in the Eneid liable to exception upon this account, it is in the beginning of the third book, where Æneas is represented as tearing up the myrtle that dropped blood. To qualify this wonderful circumstance, Polydorus tells a story from the root of the myrtle, that the barbarous inhabitants of the country having pierced
I need not point out the beauty of that | circumstance, wherein the whole host of angels are represented as standing mute; nor show how proper the occasion was to produce such a silence in heaven. The close of this divine colloquy, with the hymn of angels that follows upon it, are so wonderfully beautiful and poctical, that I should not forbear inserting the whole passage, if the bounds of my paper would give me
No sooner had th' Almighty ceas'd, but all
Satan's walk upon the outside of the uni-him with spears and arrows, the blood verse, which at a distance appeared to him which was left in his body took root in his of a globular form, but upon his nearer ap- wounds, and gave birth to that bleeding proach looked like an unbounded plain, is tree. This circumstance seems to have the natural and noble; as his roaming upon the marvellous without the probable, because frontiers of the creation, between that mass it is represented as proceeding from natuof matter which was wrought into a world, ral causes, without the interposition of any and that shapeless unformed heap of mate- god, or other supernatural power capable rials which still lay in chaos and confusion, of producing it. The spears and arrows strikes the imagination with something asto-grow of themselves without so much as the nishingly great and wild. I have before modern help of enchantment. If we look spoken of the Limbo of Vanity, which the into the fiction of Milton's fable, though we poet places upon this outermost surface of find it full of surprising incidents, they are the universe, and shall here explain myself generally suited to our notions of the things more at large on that, and other parts of and persons described, and tempered with the poem, which are of the same shadowy a due measure of probability. I must only make an exception to the Limbo of Vanity, with his episode of Sin and Death, and some of the imaginary persons in his chaos.These passages are astonishing, but not credible: the reader cannot so far impose upon himself as to see a possibility in them; they are the description of dreams and shadows, not of things or persons. I know that many critics look upon the stories of Circe, Polypheme, the Sirens, nay the whole Odyssey and Iliad, to be allegories; but allowing this to be true, they are fables, which, con
If the fable is only probable, it differs nothing from a true history; if it is only marvellous, it is no better than a romance. The great secret, therefore, of heroic poe-sidering the opinions of mankind that pretry is to relate such circumstances as may vailed in the age of the poet, might possibly produce in the reader at the same time both have been according to the letter. The belief and astonishment. This is brought to persons are such as might have acted what pass in a well-chosen fable, by the account is ascribed to them, as the circumstances of such things as have really happened, or in which they are represented might posat least of such things as have happened sibly have been truths and realities. This according to the received opinions of man- appearance of probability is so absolutely kind. Milton's fable is a master-piece of requisite in the greater kinds of poetry, that this nature; as the war in heaven, the con- Aristotle observes the ancient tragic writers dition of the fallen angels, the state of inno- made use of the names of such great men cence, the temptation of the serpent, and as had actually lived in the world, though the fall of man, though they are very asto- the tragedy proceeded upon adventures nishing in themselves, are not only credible, they were never engaged in, on purpose to but actual points of faith. make the subject more credible. In a word, besides the hidden meaning of an epic allegory, the plain literal sense ought to appear probable. The story should be such as an ordinary reader may acquiesce in, whatever natural, moral, or political truth may be discovered in it by men of greater penetration.
Aristotle observes, that the fable of an epic poem should abound in circumstances that are both credible and astonishing; or, as the French critics choose to phrase it, the fable should be filled with the probable and the marvellous. This rule is as fine and just as any in Aristotle's whole Art of Poetry.
The next method of reconciling miracles with credibility, is by a happy invention of the poet: as in particular, when he introduces agents of a superior nature, who are capable of effecting what is wonderful, and what is not to be met with in the ordinary course of things. Ulysses's ship being turned into a rock, and Æneas's fleet into a shoal Satan, after having long wandered upon of water-nymphs, though they are very sur-the surface or outermost wall of the uni
verse, discovers at last a wide gap in it, poem. The same observation might be which led into the creation, and is described applied to that beautiful digression upon as the opening through which the angels hypocrisy in the same book. pass to and fro into the lower world, upon their errands to mankind. His sitting upon the brink of this passage, and taking a No. 316.] Monday, March 3, 1711-12. survey of the whole face of nature, that appeared to him new and fresh in all its beauties, with the simile illustrating this circumstance, fills the mind of the reader with as surprising and glorious an idea as any that arises in the whole poem. He looks down into that vast hollow of the universe with the eye, or (as Milton calls it in his first book) with the ken of an angel. He surveys all the wonders in this immense amphitheatre that lie between both the poles of heaven, and takes in at one view the whole round of the creation.
His flight between the several worlds that shined on every side of him, with the particular description of the sun, are set forth in all the wantonness of a luxuriant imagination. His shape, speech, and behaviour, upon his transforming himself into an angel of light, are touched with exquisite beauty. The poet's thought of directing Satan to the sun, which, in the vulgar opinion of mankind, is the most conspicuous part of the creation, and the placing in it an angel, is a circumstance very finely contrived, and the more adjusted to a poetical probability, as it was a received doctrine among the most famous philosophers, that every orb had its intelligence; and as an apostle in sacred writ is said to have seen such an angel in the sun. In the answer which the angel returns to the disguised evil spirit, there is such a becoming majesty as is altogether suitable to a superior for business, and others for the indulging of being. The part of it in which he repre-pleasures; but now one face of indolence sents himself as present at the creation, is overspreads the whole, and I have no landvery noble in itself, and not only proper mark to direct myself by. Were one's time where it is introduced, but requisite to pre-a little straitened by business, like water pare the reader for what follows in the enclosed in its banks, it would have some seventh book: determined course; but unless it be put into some channel it has no current, but becomes a deluge without either use or motion.
Libertas; quæ sera, tamen respexit inertem. Virg. Ecl. i. 28. Freedom, which came at length, though slow to come. Dryden. 'MR. SPECTATOR,-If you ever read a letter which is sent with the more pleasure for the reality of its complaints, this may have reason to hope for a favourable acceptance; and if time be the most irretrievable loss, the regrets which follow will be thought, I hope, the most justifiable. The regaining of my liberty from a long state of indolence and inactivity, and the desire of resisting the farther encroachments of idleness, make me apply to you; and the uneasiness with which I recollect the past years, and the apprehensions with which I expect the future, soon determined me to it. Idleness is so general a distemper, that I cannot but imagine a speculation on this subject will be of universal use. There is hardly any one person without some allay of it; and thousands besides myself spend more time in an idle uncertainty which to begin first of two affairs, than would have been sufficient to have ended them both. The occasion of this seems to be the want of some necessary employment, to put the spirits in motion, and awaken them out of their lethargy. If I had less leisure, I should have more; for I should then find my time distinguished into portions, some
'When Scanderbeg, Prince of Epirus, was dead, the Turks, who had but too often felt the force of his arm in the battles he had won from them, imagined that by wearing a piece of his bones near their heart, they should be animated with a vigour and force like to that which inspired him when living. As I am like to be but of little use whilst I live, I am resolved to do what good I can after my decease; and have accordingly ordered my bones to be disposed of in this manner for the good of my countrymen, who are troubled with too exorbitant a degree of fire. All fox-hunters, upon wearing me, would in a short time be brought to endure their beds in a morning, and perhaps even quit them with regret at ten.
Instead of hurrying away to tease a poor animal, and run away from their own thoughts, a chair or a chariot would be thought the most desirable means of per
I saw when at his word the formless mass,
In the following part of the speech he points out the earth with such circumstances, that the reader can scarce forbear fancying himself employed on the same distant view of it.
Look downward on that globe, whose hither side
I must not conclude my reflections upon this third book of Paradise Lost, without taking notice of that celebrated complaint of Milton with which it opens, and which certainly deserves all the praises that have been given it; though, as I have before hinted, it may rather be looked upon as an excrescence than as an essential part of the