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The most taking Tragedies among the Ancients were built on this last fort of Implex Fable, particularly the Tragedy of OEdipus, which proceeds upon a Story, if we may believe Aristotle, the most proper for Tragedy that could be invented by the Wit of Man. I have taken some pains in a former Paper to shew, that this kind of Implex Fable, wherein the Event is unhappy, is more apt to affect an Audience than that of the first kind; notwithstanding many excellent Pieces among the Ancients, as well as most of those which have been written of late Years in our own Country, are raised upon contrary Plans. I must however own, that I think this kind of Fable, which is the most persect in Tragedy, is not so proper for an Heroic Poem.
Milton seems to have been sensible of this Impersection in his Fable, and has therefore endeavoured to cure it by several Expedients; particularly by the Mortification which the great Adversary of Mankind meets with upon his return to the Assembly of Insernal Spirits, as it is described in that [a] beautisul Passage of the tenth Book ; and likewise by the Vision, wherein Adam at the close of the Poem sees his Off-spring triumphing over his great Enemy, and himself restored to a happier Paradise than that from which he fell-t
There is another Objection against Milton's Fable, which is indeed almost the same with the former, tho' placed in a different Light, namely, That the Hero in the Paradise Lost is unsuccesssul, and by no means a Match for his Enemies. This gave occasion to Mr. Dryden's Reflection, that the Devil was in reality Milton's Hero. I think I have obviated this Objection in my first Paper. The Paradise Lost is an Epic, [or a] Narrative Poem, he that looks for an Hero in it, searches for that which Milton never intended; but if he will needs fix the Name of an Hero upon any Person in it, 'tis certainly the Mefftah who
SUCCESSFUL, AND IT HAS TOO MANY DIGRESSION'S. 45
is the Hero, both in the Principal Action, and in the [chief] Episode[s]. Paganism could not surnish out a real Action for a Fable greater than that of the Iliad or Æneid, and therefore an Heathen could not form a higher Notion of a Poem than one of that kind, which they call an Heroic. Whether Milton's is not of a greater [sublimer] Nature I will not presume to determine, it is sufficient that I shew there is in the Para- j diseLqst all the Greatness of Plan, Regularity of Design, I and masterly Beauties which we discover in Honier and Virgil.
I must in the next Place observe, that Milton has ^ interwoven in the Texture of his Fable some Particulars which do not seem to have Probability enough for an Epic Poem, particularly in the Actions which Ee-ascribes to Sin and Death, and the Picture which he draws of the Lymbo of Vanity, with other Passages in the second Book. Such Allegories rather savour of the Spirit of Spencer and Ariosto, than of Homer and Virgil.
In the Structure of his Poem he has likewise ad- -4. mitted of too many Digressions. It is finely observed by Aristotle, that the Author of an Heroic Poem should seldom speak himself, but throw as much of his Work as he can into the Mouths of those who are his Principal Actors. Aristotle has given no Reason for this Precept; but I presume it is because the Mind of the Reader is more awed and elevated when he hears Æneas or Achilles speak, than when Virgil or Homer talk in their own Persons. Besides that assuming the Character of an eminent Man is apt to fire the Imagination, and raise the Ideas of the Author. Tully tells us, mentioning his Dialogue of Old Age, in which Cato is the chief Speaker, that upon a Review of it he was agreeably imposed upon, and fancied that it was Cato, and not he himself, who utter'd his Thoughts on that Subject.
If the Reader would be at the pains to fee how the Story of the Iliad and the Æneid is delivered by those 46 DEFECTS. THE SENTIMENTS: PUNS, TOO FREQUENT AL
Persons who act in it, he will be surprized to find how little in either of these Poems proceeds from the Authors. Milton has, in the general disposition os his Fable, very finely observed this great Rule; insomuch, that there is scarce a third part of it which comes from the Poet; the rest is spoken either by Adam and Eve, or by some Good or Evil Spirit who is engaged either in their Destruction or Desence.
From what has been here observed it appears, that Digressions are by no means to be allowed of in an Epic Poem. If the Poet, even in the ordinary course of his Narration, should speak as little as possible, he should certainly never let his Narration sleep for the fake of any Reflections of his own. .1 have often observed, with a secret Admiration, that the longest Reflection in the Æneid is in that Passage of the Tenth Book, where Turnus is represented] as dressing himself in the Spoils of Pallas, whom he had slain. Virgil here lets his Fable stand still for the sake of the following Remark. How is the Mind of Man ignorant of Futurity, and unable to bear prosperous Fortune with Moderation 1 The time will come when Turnus shall wish that he had left the Body of Pallas untouched, and curse the Day on which he dreffed himself in these Spoils. As the great Event of the Æneid, and the Death of Turnus, whom Æneas slew because he saw \him adorned with the Spoils of Pallas, turns upon this Incident, Virgil went out of his way to make this Reflection upon it, without which so small a Circumstance might possibly have slipped out of his Reader's Memory. Lucan, who was an Injudicious Poet, lets drop his Story very frequently for the sake of [his] unnecessary Digressions or his Diverticula, as Scaliger calls them. If he gives us an Account of the Prodigies which preceded the Civil War, he declaims upon the Occasion, and shews how much happier it would be for Man, if he did not seel his Evil Fortune before it comes to pass, and suffer not only by its real Weight, but by the Apprehension of it . Milton's Complaint
LUSION TO HEATHEN FABLES, OSTENTATION OF LEARNING. 47
I of his Blindness, his Panegyrick on Marriage, his Reflections on Adam and-ZszVs going naked, of the Angels eating, and several other Passages in his Poem, are liable to the same Exception, tho' I must consess there is so great a Beauty in these very Digressions, that I would not wish them out of his Poem.
I have, in a former Paper, spoken of the Characters of Milton's Paradise Lost, and declared my Opinion, as to the Allegorical Persons who are introduced in it.
If we look into the Sentiments, I think they are sometimes desective under the following Heads; First, as there are some [several] of them too much pointed, and some that degenerate even into Punns. Of this last kind I am afraid is that in the First Book, where, speaking of the Pigmies, he calls them.
The small Infantry
Warr'd on by Cranes
Another Blemish that appears in some of his Thoughts, is his frequent Allusion to Heathen Fables, which are not certainly of a Piece with the Divine Subject, of which he treats. I do not find sault with these Allusions, where the Poet himself represents them as sabulous, as he does in some Places, but where he mentions them as Truths and Matters of Fact. The Limits of my Paper will not give me leave to be particular in Instances of this kind: The Reader will easily remark them in his Perusal of the Poem.
A Third Fault in his Sentiments, is an unnecessary Ostentation of Learning, which likewise occurs very frequently. It is certain that both Homer and Virgil were Masters of all the Learning of their Times, but it shews it self in their Works after an indirect and concealed manner. Milton seems ambitious of letting us know, by his Excursions on Free-will and Predestination, and his many Glances upon History, Astronomy, Geography and the like, as well as by the Terms and Phrases he sometimes makes use of, that he was acquainted with the whole Circle of Arts and Sciences.
If, in the last place, we consider the Language of this great Poet, we must allow what I have hinted in a former Paper, that it is [often] too much laboured, and sometimes obscured by old Words, Transpositions, and Foreign Idioms. Seneca's Objection to the Stile oT a great Author, Riget ejus oratio, nihil in ed placidum, nihil lene, is what many Criticks make to Milton: as I cannot wholly resute it, so I have already apologized for it in another Paper; to which I may surther add, that Milton's Sentiments and Ideas were so wondersully Sublime, that it would have been impossible for him to have represented them in their sull Strength and Beauty, without having recourse to these Foreign Assistances. Our Language sunk under him, and was unequal to that greatness of Soul, which furnished him with such glorious Conceptions.
A second Fault in his Language is, that he often affects a kind of Jingle in his Words, as in the following Passages, and many others:
And brought into the World a World of woe.
Begirt th' Almighty Throne
Beseeching or besieging
This tempted our attempt
At one Slight bound high overleaps all bound.
I know there are Figures of this kind of Speech, that some of the greatest Ancients have been guilty of it, and that Aristotle himself has given it a place in his Rhetorick among the Beauties of that Art. But as it is in itsself poor and trifling, it is I think at present universally exploded by all the Masters of polite Writing.
The last Fault which I shall take notice of in Milton's Stile, is the frequent use of what the Learned call Technical Words, or Terms of Art. It is one of the great Beauties of Poetry, to make hard things intelligible, and to deliver what is abstruse of it self in such easy Language as may be understood by ordinary Readers: Besides that the Knowledge of a Poet should rather seem born with him, or inspired, than