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- impressions that patronising us is being for or against
the opera, but truly promoting their own diversions in a more just and elegant manner than has been hitherto performed.
We are, Sir,
« Thomas Clayton
· Charles Dieupart. There will be no performances in York-buildings until • after that of the subscription.'
Saturday, January 19.
Reddere persona soit convenientia cuique.
Hor. Ars Poet. ver. 316. He knows what beft befits each character.
We have already taken a general survey of the
fable and characters in Milton's Paradise Lost. The parts which remain to be considered, according to Aristotle's method, are the sentiments and language. Before I enter upon the first of these, I must advertise my reader, that it is my design, as soon as I have finished my general reflexions on these four several heads, to give particular instances out of the
poem which is now before us of beauties and imperfections which may be observed under each of them, as also of such other particulars as may not properly fall under any of them. This I thought fit to premise, that the reader may not judge too haftily of this piece of criticism, or look upon it as imperfect, before he has seen the whole extent of it.
The sentiments in an epic poem are the thoughts and behaviour which the author ascribes to the persons whom he introduces, and are just when they are conformable to the characters of the several persons. The sentiments
have likewise a relation to things as well as persons, and are then perfect when they are such as are adapted to the subject. If in either of these cases the poet endeavours to argue or explain, to magnify or diminish, to raise love or hatred, pity or terror, or any other passion, we ought to consider whether the sentiments he makes use of are proper for those ends. Homer is censured by the critics for his defect as to this particular in several parts of the Iliad and Odyssey, though at the same time those, who have treated this great poet with candour, have attributed this defect to the times in which he lived, It was the fault of the age, and not of Homer, if there wants that delicacy in some of his sentiments, which now appears in the works of men of a much inferior genius. Besides, if there are blemishes in any particular thoughts, there is an infinite beauty in the greatest part of them. In short, if there are many poets who would not have fallen into the meannefs of some of his sentiments, there are none who could have risen àp.to the greatness of others. Virgil has excelled all others in the propriety of his sentiments. Milton fines likewise very much in this particular: nor must we omit one confideration which adds to his honour and reputation. Homer and Virgil introduced persons whose characters are commonly known among men, and such as are to be met with either in hiftory, or in ordinary conversation. Milton's characters, most of them lie out of nature, and were to be formed purely by his own invention. It shews a greater genius in Shakespear to have drawn his Calyban, than his Hotspur or Julius Cæsar: the one was to be supplied out of his own imagination, whereas the other might have been förmed upon tradition, history and observation. It was much easier therefore for Homer to find
sentiments for an assembly of Grecian generals, than for Milton to diversify his infernal council with proper characters, and inspire them with a variety of sentiments. The loves of Dido and Æneas are only copies of what has passed between other persons. Adam and Eve, before the fall, are a different fpecies from that of mankind, who are descended from them; and none but a poet of the most unbounded invention, and the most exquisite judgment,
could have filled their converfation and behaviour with fo many apt circumstances during their state of innocence.
Nor is it fufficient for an epic poem to be filled with such thoughts as are natural, unlefs it abound also with such as are sublime. Virgil in this particular falls thort of Homer. He has not indeed so many thoughts that are low and vulgar; but at the same time has not fo many thoughts that are fublime and noble. The truth of it is, Virgil feldom rises into very astonishing sentiments, where he is not fired by the Iliad. He every where charms and pleases us by the force of his own genius; but feldom elevates and transports us where he does not fetch his hints from Homer.
Milton's chief talent, and indeed his diftinguishing excellence, lies in the fublimity of his thoughts. There are others of the moderns who rival him in every other part of poetry; but in the greatness of his fentiments he triumphs over all the poets both modern and ancient, Homer only excepted. It is impossible for the imagination of man to distend itself with greater ideas, than those which he has laid together in his first, fecond, and fixth books. The feventh, which describes the creation of the world, is likewise wonderfully sublime, though not for apt to ftir ap emotion in the mind of the reader, nor consequently so perfect in the epic way of writing, because it is filled with less action. Let the judicious reader compare what Longinus has observed on several passages. in Homer, and he will find parallels for most of them in the Paradise Lost.
From what has been said we may infer, that as there are two kinds of sentiments, the natural and the sublime, which are always to be pursued in an heroic poem, there are also two kinds of thoughts which are carefully to be avoided. The first are such as are affected and unnatu-sal; the second such as are mean and vulgar. As for the first kind of thoughts, we meet with little or nothing that is like them in Virgil : he has none of those trilling points and puerilities that are so often to be met with in Ovid, none of the epigrammatic turns of Lucan, none of those swelling sentiments which are so frequent in Statius and Claudian, none of those mixed embellishments of Tasso. Every thing is just and natural. His.
sentiments thew that he had a perfect insight into human nature, and that he knew every thing which was the most proper to affect it.
Mr. Dryden has in some places, which I may hereafter take notice of, misrepresented Virgil's way of thinking as to this particular, in the translation he has given us of the Æneid. I do not remember that Homer any where falls into the faults above-mentioned, which were indeed the false refinements of later ages. Milton, it must be confeft, has fometimes erred in this respect, as I Mall show more at large in another paper ; though considering how all the poets of the age in which he writ were infected with this wrong way of thinking, he is rather to: be admired that he did not give more into it, than that he did sometimes comply with the vicious taste which still prevails fo much among modern writers.
But since several thoughts may be natural which are low and groveling, an epic poet Mould not only avoid such sentiments as are unnatural or affected, but also such as are mean and vulgar. Homer has opened a great field of raillery to men of more delicacy than greatness of genius, by the homeliness of some of his sentiments. But, as I have before said, these are rather to be imputed to the fimplicity of the age in which he lived, to which I may also add, of that which he described, than to any imperfection in that divine poet. Zoilus, among the ancients, and Monsieur Perrault, among the moderns, pushed their ridicule very far upon him, on account of fome such sentiments. There is no blemish to be observed in Virgil under this head, and but a very few in Milton.
I shall give but one instance of this impropriety of thought in Homer, and at the same time compare it with an instance of the same nature, both in Virgil and Milton. Sentiments, which raise laughter, can very feldom be admitted with any decency into an heroic poem, whose business it is to excite pafsions of a much nobler nature, Homer, however, in his characters of Vulcan and Therfites, in his story of Mars and Venus, in his behaviour of Irus, and in oiher passages, has been observed to have lapsed into the burlesque character and to have departed from that serious air which seems essential to the magni. ficent of an epic poen. I remember but one laugh in
the whole Æneid, which rises in the fifth book, upon Moncetes, where he is represented as thrown overboard, and drying himself upon a rock. But this piece of mirth is so well rimed, that the severest critic can have nothing to say againt it; for it is in the book of games and diverfions, where the reader's mind may be fupposed to be fufficiently relaxed for such an entertainment.
The only piece of pleasantry in Paradise Lost, is where the evil spirits are described as rallying the angels upon the fuccess of their new-invented artillery. This passage I look upon to be the moft exceptionable in the whole poem, as being nothing else but a ftring of puns, and those too very indifferent ones.
Satan beheld their plight,
O friends, why come not on those vietors proud!
To whom thus Belial in like gamesome mood:
Thus they among themselves in pleasant vein.