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MR. ADDISON'S CRITICISM
Cedite, Romani fcriptores; cedite, Graii.
THERE is nothing in nature more irksome than general difcourfes, especially when they turn chiefly upon words. For this reafon I fhall wave the dif cuffion of that point which was started fome years fince, Whether Milton's Paradife Loft may be called an heroick poem? Thofe, who will not give it that title, may call it (if they pleafe) a divine poem. It will be fufficient to its perfection, if it has in it all the beauties of the highest kind of poetry; and as for thofe who allege it is not an heroick poem, they advance no more to the diminution of it, than if they fhould fay Adam is not Æneas, or Eve Helen.
I fhall therefore examine it by the rules of epick poetry, and fee whether it falls fhort of the Iliad or Eneid, in the beauties which are effential to that kind of writing. The first thing to be confidered in an epick poem, is the FABLE, which is perfect or imperfect, according as the action which it relates is more or lefs fo. This ACTION fhould
have three qualifications in it. Firft, it fhould be but one action. Secondly, it fhould be an entire action. Thirdly, it should be a great action. To confider the action of the Iliad, Eneid, and Paradife Loft, in these three feveral lights. Homer, to preferve the unity of his action, haftens into the midft of things; as Horace has obferved. Had he gone up to Leda's egg, or begun much later, even at the rape of Helen, or the investing of Troy; it. is manifeft, that the story of the poem would have been a series of feveral actions. He therefore
opens his poem with the difcord of his princes, and artfully interweaves, in the feveral fucceeding parts of it, an account of every thing material which relates to them, and had paffed before that fatal diffenfion. After the fame manner, Æneas makes his first appearance in the Tyrrhene feas, and within fight of Italy, becaufe the action, proposed to be celebrated, was that of his fettling himself in Latium. But because it was neceffary for the reader to know what had happened to him in the taking of Troy, and in the preceding parts of his voyage, Virgil makes his hero relate it by way of episode, in the second and third books of the Eneid. The contents of both which books come before thofe of the first book in the thread of the story, though, for preferving of this unity of action, they follow it in the difpofition of the poem. Milton, in imitation of these two great poets, opens his Paradife Loft, with an infernal council plotting the Fall of Man; which is the action he propofed to celebrate; and as for thofe great actions, which preceded in point of time, the battle of the angels, and the creation of
the world, (which would have entirely deftroyed the unity of his principal action, had he related them in the fame order that they happened,) he caft them into the fifth, fixth, and feventh books, by way of epifode to this noble Poem.
Ariftotle himself allows, that Homer has nothing to boaft of as to the unity of his fable, though at the fame time that great critick and philofopher endeavours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet by imputing it, in fome measure, to the very nature of an epick poem. Some have been of opinion, that the Eneid alfo labours in this particular, and has epifodes which may be looked upon as excrefcences rather than as parts of the action. On the contrary, the Poem, which we have now under our confideration, has no other episodes than fuch as naturally arise from the fubject; and yet is filled with fuch a multitude of aftonishing incidents, that it gives us at the fame time a pleasure of the greatest variety, and of the greateft fimplicity; uniform in its nature, though diverfified in the execution.
I must observe also, that, as Virgil, in the poem which was defigned to celebrate the original of the Roman empire, has defcribed the birth of its great rival, the Carthaginian commonwealth; Milton, with the like art in his Poem on the Fall of Man, has related the Fall of thofe Angels who are his profeffed enemies. Befides the many other beauties in fuch an epifode, its running parallel with the great action of the poem hinders it from breaking the unity fo much as another episode would have done, that had not fo great an affinity with the