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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 last bear so little proportion to the whole, that they scarcely deserve the attention of a critic.
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.
The highest praise of genius is original invention. Milton cannot be said to have contrived the structure of an epic poem, and therefore owes reverence to that vigour and amplitude of mind to which all generations must be indebted for the art of poetical narration, for the texture of the fable, the variation of incidents, the interposition of dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hinderance: he did not refuse admission to the thoughts or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them. From his contemporaries he neither
courted nor received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour gained; no exchange of praise, nor solicitation of support. His great works were performed under discountenance, and in blindness, but difficulties vanished at his touch; he was born for whatever is arduous; and his work is not the greatest of heroic poems, only because it is not the
NO LESS SUBLIME THAN HIS POETICAL.
(From Mr. Hayley's Life of Milton.)
“ TAERE is a striking resemblance between the poetical and the moral character of Milton; they were both the result of the finest dispositions for the attainment of excellence that nature could bestow, and of all the advantages that ardour and perseverance in study and discipline could add, in a long course of years, to the beneficent prodigality of nature; even in infancy he discovered a passion for glory; in youth he was attached to temperance; and arriving at manhood, he formed the magnanimous design of building a lofty name upon the most solid and secure foundation :
• He all his study bent
In a noble consciousness of his powers and intentions, he was not afraid to give, in his early life, a most singular promise to his country, of producing such future works as might redound to her glory*; and though such personal calamities fell upon him, might fairly have absolved him from that engagement, yet never was any promise more magnificently fulfilled. Seneca has considered a man of resolution, struggling with adversity, as a spectacle worthy of God; our resolute countryman not only struggled with adversity, but, under a peculiar load of complicated calamities, he accomplished those works, that are justly reckoned among the noblest offspring of human genius.
* “ In the private academies of Italy, whither I was favoured to resort, perceiving that some trifles I had in memory, composed at under twenty, or thereabout (for the manner is, that every one must give some proof of his wit and reading there,) met with acceptance above what was looked for, and other things, which I had shifted, in scarcity of books and conveniencies, to patch up amongst them, were received with written encomiums, which the Italian is not forward to bestow on men of this side the Alps : I began thus far to assent both to them, and divers of my friends here at home, and not less to an inward prompting, which now grew daily upon me, that by labour and intent study (which I take to be my portion in this life,) joined with the strong propensity of nature, I might perhaps leave something so written to after times, as they should not willing let it die.” From a letter of Milton's.- Prose Works, Dr. Birch's Edit.
Vol. I. p. 62.