pg 141No. 315Saturday, March 1, 17121
- Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus
1HORACE advises a Poet to consider thoroughly the Nature and 2Force of his Genius.2 Milton seems to have known, perfectly Critical Apparatus3well, wherein his Strength lay, and has therefore chosen a Subject 4entirely conformable to those Talents, of which he was Master. As 5his Genius was wonderfully turned to the Sublime, his Subject is 6the noblest that could have entered into the Thoughts of Man. 7Every thing that is truly great and astonishing, has a place in it. 8The whole System of the intellectual World; the Chaos, and the 9Creation; Heaven, Earth and Hell; enter into the Constitution of 10his Poem.
11Having in the First and Second Book represented the Infernal 12World with all its Horrours, the Thread of his Fable naturally leads 13him into the opposite Regions of Bliss and Glory.
14If Milton's Majesty forsakes him any where, it is in those Parts of 15his Poem, where the Divine Persons are introduced as Speakers.3 16One may, I think, observe that the Author proceeds with a kind of 17Fear and Trembling, whilst he describes the Sentiments of the 18Almighty. He dares not give his Imagination its full play, but 19chuses to confine himself to such Thoughts as are drawn from the 20Books of the most Orthodox Divines, and to such Expressions as 21may be met with in Scripture. The Beauties, therefore, which we 22are to look for in these Speeches, are not of a Poetical nature, nora 23so proper to fill the Mind with Sentiments of Grandeur, as with 24Thoughts of Devotion. The Passions, which they are designed to 25raise, are a Divine Love and Religious Fear. The particular Beautypg 142 1of the Speeches in the Third Book, consists in that Shortness and 2Perspicuity of Stile, in which the Poet has couched the greatest 3Mysteries of Christianity, and drawn together, in a regular Scheme, 4the whole Dispensation of Providence, with respect to Man. He has 5represented all the abstruse Doctrines of Predestination, Free-Will 6and Grace, as also the great Points of Incarnation and Redemption, 7(which naturally grow up in a Poem that treats of the Fall of Man,) 8with great Energy of Expression, and in a clearer and stronger 9Light than I ever met with in any other Writer. As these Points are 10dry in themselves to the generality of Readers, the concise and 11clear manner in which he has treated them, is very much to be 12admired, as is likewise that particular Art which he has made use of 13in the interspersing of all those Graces of Poetry, which the Subject 14was capable of receiving.
15The Survey of the whole Creation, and of every thing that is 16transacted in it, is a Prospect worthy of Omniscience; and as much 17above that, in which Virgil has drawn his Jupiter,1 as the Christian 18Idea of the Supream Being is more rational and Sublime than that of 19the Heathens. The particular Objects on which he is described to 20have cast his Eye, are represented in the most beautiful and lively 21manner.
- 22Now had th' Almighty Father from above,
- 23From the pure Empyrean where he sits
- 24High thron'd above all height, bent down his Eye
- 25His own Works and their Works at once to view
- 26About him all the Sanctities of Heav'n
- 27Stood thick as Stars, and from his Sight receiv'd
- 28Beatitude past utterance: On his right
- 29The radiant image of his Glory sat,
- 30His only Son; On earth he first beheld
- 31Our two first Parents, yet the only two
- 32Of Mankind, in the happy garden plac'd,
- 33Reaping immortal fruits of Joy and Love,
- 34Uninterrupted joy, unrival'd love
- 35In blissful Solitude; he then survey'd
- 36Hell and the Gulf between, and Satan there
- 37Coasting the Wall of Heav'n on this side night
- 38In the dun air sublime, and ready now
- 39To stoop with wearied wings, and willing feet
- pg 1431On the bare outside of this world, that seem'd
- 2Firm land imbosom'd without firmament,
- 3Uncertain which, in Ocean or in Air.
- 4Him God beholding from his prospect high,
- 5Wherein past, present, future he beholds,
- 6Thus to his only Son foreseeing spake.1
7Satan's Approach to the Confines of the Creation,2 is finely imaged 8in the beginning of the Speech, which immediately follows. The 9Effects of this Speech in the blessed Spirits, and in the Divine 10Person, to whom it was addressed, cannot but fill the Mind of the 11Reader with a secret Pleasure and Complacency.
- 12Thus while God spake, ambrosial fragrance fill'd
- 13All Heav'n, and in the blessed Spirits elect
- 14Sense of new Joy ineffable diffus'd:
- 15Beyond compare the Son of God was seen
- 16Most glorious, in him all his Father shone
- 17Substantially express'd, and in his face
- 18Divine Compassion visibly appear'd,
- 19Love without end, and without measure Grace.3
20I need not point out the Beauty of that Circumstance, wherein 21the whole Host of Angels are represented as standing Mute;4 nor 22shew how proper the Occasion was to produce such a Silence in 23Heaven. The Close of this Divine Colloquy, with the Hymn of 24Angels that follows upon it,5 are so wonderfully beautiful and 25poetical, that I should not forbear inserting the whole Passage, if 26the bounds of my Paper would give me leave.
33Satan's Walk upon the Outside of the Universe,7 which, at a Dis-34tance, appeared to him of a globular Form, but, upon his nearer 35Approach, looked like an unbounded Plain, is natural and noble: As 36his roaming upon the Frontiers of the Creation, between that Masspg 144 1of Matter, which was wrought into a World, and that shapeless 2unform'd Heap of Materials, which still lay in Chaosa and Confusion, 3strikes the Imagination with something astonishingly great and 4wild. I have before spoken1 of the Limbo of Vanity,b which the Poet 5places upon this outermost Surface of the Universe, and shall here 6explain my self more at large on that, and other Parts of the Poem, 7which are of the same Shadowy nature.
8Aristotle observes, that the Fable of an Epic Poem should abound 9in Circumstances that are both credible and astonishing;2 or as the 10French Critics chuse to phrase it, the Fable should be filled with the 11Probable and the Marvellous.3 This Rule is as fine and just as any in 12Aristotle's whole Art of Poetry.
13If the Fable is only Probable, it differs nothing from a true History; 14if it is only Marvellous, it is no better than a Romance. The great 15Secret therefore of Heroic Poetry is to relate such Circumstances, 16as may produce in the Reader at thes ame time both Belief and 17Astonishment. This is brought to passc in a well chosen Fable,4 by 18the Account of such things as have really happened, or at least of 19such things as have happen'd according to the received Opinions of 20Mankind. Milton's Fable is a Master-piece of this Nature; as the 21War in Heaven, the Condition of the fallen Angels, the State of 22Innocence, the Temptation of the Serpent, and the Fall of Man, 23though they are very astonishing in themselves, are not only 24credible, but actual Points of Faith.
25The next Method of reconciling Miracles with Credibility, is by 26a happy Invention of the Poet; as in particular, when he introduces 27Agents of a superior Nature, who are capable of effecting what is 28wonderful, and what is not to be met with in the ordinary course ofpg 145 1things. Ulysses's Ship being turned into a Rock, and Æneas's Fleet 2into a Shoal of Water Nymphs; though they are very surprizing 3Accidents, are nevertheless probable, when we are told that they 4were the Gods who thus transformed them.1 It is this kind of 5Machinery which fills the Poems both of Homer and Virgil with such 6Circumstances as are wonderful, but not impossible, and so fre-7quently produce in the Reader the most pleasing Passion that can 8rise in the Mind of Man, which is Admiration.2 If there be any Critical Apparatus9Instance in the Æneid liable to Exception upon this Account, it is in 10the beginning of the third Book, where Æneas is represented as 11tearing up the Myrtle that dropped Blood.3 To qualifie this wonder-12ful Circumstance, Polydorus tells a Story from the Root of the 13Myrtle, that the barbarous Inhabitants of the Country having 14pierced him with Spears and Arrows, the Wood which was left in 15his Body took root in his Wounds, and gave birth to that bleeding 16Tree. This Circumstance seems to have the Marvellous without 17the Probable, because it is represented as proceeding from Natural Critical Apparatus18Causes, without the Interposition of any God, or other Supernatural 19Power capable of producing it. The Spears and Arrows grow of 20themselves, without so much as the Modern help of an Enchant-21ment. If we look into the Fiction of Milton's Fable, though we find 22it full of surprizing Incidents, they are generally suited to our 23Notions of the Things and Persons described, and temper'd with 24a due measure of Probability. I must only make an Exception to 25the Lymbo of Vanity,a with his Episode of Sin and Death,b and some of 26the imaginary Persons in his Chaos.4 These Passages are astonishing, 27but not credible; the Reader cannot so far impose upon himself as 28to see a Possibility in them, they are the Description of Dreams andpg 146 1Shadows, not of Things or Persons. I know that many Critics1 look Critical Apparatus2upon the Stories of Circe, Polypheme, the Sirens,2 nay the whole 3Odissey and Iliad, to be Allegories; but allowing this to be true, they 4are Fables, which considering the Opinions of Mankind that pre-Critical Apparatus5vailed in the Age of the Poet, might possibly have been according 6to the Letter. The Persons are such as might have acted what is 7ascribed to them, as the Circumstances in which they are repre-8sented, might possibly have been Truths and Realities. This appear-9ance of Probability is so absolutely requisite in the greater kinds of 10Poetry, that Aristotle observes the Ancient Tragick Writers made 11use of the Names of such great Men as had actually lived in the 12World, tho' the Tragedy proceeded upon Adventures they were 13never engaged in,a on purpose to make the Subject more Credible.3 14In a Word, besides the hidden Meaning of an Epic Allegory, the 15plain literal Sense ought to appear probable. The Story should be Critical Apparatus16such as an ordinary Reader may acquiesce in, whatever Natural, 17Moral, or Political Truth may be discovered in it by Men of greater Critical Apparatus18Penetration.
19Satan, after having long wandered upon the Surface, or outmost 20Wall of the Universe, discovers at last a wide Gap in it, which led 21into the Creation, and is describedb as the Opening through which 22the Angels pass to and fro into the lower World, upon their Errands 23to Mankind.4 His Sitting upon the brink of this Passage, and taking 24a Survey of the whole Face of Nature that appeared to him new and 25fresh in all its Beauties, with the Simile5 illustrating this Circum-26stance, fills the Mind of the Reader with as surprising and glorious 27an Idea as any that arises in the whole Poem. He looks down into 28that vast hollow of the Universe with the Eye, or (as Milton calls it 29in his first Book) with the Kenn of an Angel.6 He surveys all the 30Wonders in this immense Amphitheatre that lie between both thepg 147 1Poles of Heaven, and takes in at one View the whole Round of the 2Creation.
3His Flight between the several Worlds that shined on every side 4of him, with the particular Description of the Sun, are set forth in 5all the wantonness of a luxuriant Imagination.1 His Shape, Speech 6and Behaviour upon his transforming himself into an Angel of 7Light,2 are touched with exquisite Beauty. The Poet's Thought of 8directing Satan to the Sun, which in the Vulgar Opinion of Mankind 9is the most conspicuous Part of the Creation, and the placing in it 10an Angel, is a Circumstance very finely contriv'd, and the more 11adjusted to a Poetical Probability, as it was a receiv'd Doctrine 12among the most famous Philosophers, that every Orb had its Intelli-13gence;3 and as an Apostle in Sacred Writ is said to have seen such an 14Angel in the Sun.4 In the Answer which this Angel returns to the 15disguised Evil Spirit, there is such a becoming Majesty as is alto-16gether suitable to a Superior Being.5 The part of it in which he 17represents himself as present at the Creation, is very noble in it self, 18and not only proper where it is introduced, but requisite to prepare 19the Reader for what follows in the Seventh Book.
- 20I saw when at his word the formless Mass,
- 21This worlds material mould, came to a heap:
- 22Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar
- 23Stood rul'd, stood vast infinitude confin'd;
- 24Till at his second bidding darkness fled,
- 25Light shon, &c.6
26In the following part of the Speech he points out the Earth with 27such Circumstances, that the Reader can scarce forbear fancying 28himself employ'd on the same distant view of it.
33I must not conclude my Reflections upon this Third Book of 34Paradise Lost, without taking notice of that celebrated Complaint8pg 148 1of Milton with which it opens, and which certainly deserves all the 2Praises that have been given it; tho' as I have before hinted, it may 3rather be looked upon as an Excrescence, than as an essential Part of 4the Poem. The same Observation might be applied to that beautiful 5Digression upon Hypocrisie, in the same Book.1 L
- Never presume to make a God appear,
- But for a Business worthy of a God. ROSCOMMON.
Since Tragedy and Epopœia imitate that which is more Excellent, they ought to expose only admirable and extraordinary Incidents. … However we must not think that he advises the Poets to put things evidently false and impossible into Epopceia, and give them an entire liberty to run to such an excess, as would plainly destroy the Probability, and offend our Reason. And as in Tragedy, the Probable exceeds the Admirable, without excluding it; so in Epopœia, the Wonderful should excel the Probable, without destroying it.…
Now the Episodes of Circe, the Syrens, Polypheme, and the like, are necessary to the Action of the Odysseis, and yet they are not humanly probable. Homer artificially brings them under the Human Probability, by the Simplicity of those before whom he causes these fabulous Recitals to be made.… But even here the Poet is not unmindful of his more understanding Readers. He has in these Fables given them all the Pleasure that can be reaped from Moral Truths, so pleasantly disguised under these miraculous Allegories (ii. 223–4).