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ancient tragedies, with their encumbrance of a chorus, in preference to the exhibitions on the English stage. He knew human nature only in the gross, and had never studied the shades of character, nor the combinations of concurring, or the perplexity of contending passions. He had read much, and knew what books could teach ; but had mingled little in the world, and was deficient in the knowledge which experience must confer. Through all his greater works, there prevails an uniform peculiarity of diction, a mode and cast of expression, which bears little resemblance to that of any former writer, and wbich is so far removed from common use, that an unlearned reader, when he first opens
the book, finds a new language. This novelty has been imputed by those, who can find nothing wrong in Milton, to his laborious endeavours after words suitable to the grandeur of his ideas. « Our language, » says Addison, « sank under him ; » but, in the opinion of our critic, « he had formed his style by a pedantic principle. He was desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This, in all his prose, is discovered and censured; but such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance; the reader feels himself in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind; criticism sinks in admiration.
Milton's style was not modified by his subject : what is shown, with greater extent, in Paradise Lost, may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets, and the disposition of his words appears frequently to be Italian, and sometimes combined with other languages. Dr. Johnson observes, that it may be said of Milton, what a former commentator said of Spenser, that he wrote, no language; but has formed what Butler calls a « Babylonish dialect; » in itself, harsh and barbarous; but made, by exalted genius, and extensive learning, the vehicle of so much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in deformity ; and the critic sums up these observations with remarking, that, whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety : he was master of his language in its full extent, and has selected the melodious words with such
diligence, that from his book alone, the «Art of English Poetry » might be learned.
The Doctor then proceeds to some observations on the versification of our immortal Bard, and adverts to his own expression, wherein he says, « The measure (that is of his Paradise Lost) is the English heroic verse without rhyme. » On this he reinarks, that of this mode he had many examples among the Italians, and some in his own country; and further, that the Earl of Surry is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme; and besides our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particularly one tending to reconcile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself; but he adds, these petty performances cannot be supposed do have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trissino’s « Italia Liberata; » and finding blank verse easier than rhyme, was desirous of persuading himself that it is better.
He then passed on to another expression of our Author, which is, that « Rhyme is no necessary adjunct of true Poetry. » To the truth of this the Doctor subscribes; but, at the same time, remarks, that though of poetry, as a mental operation, metre, or music, perhaps, is no necessary adjunct, it is known by the music of metre, that poetry has been discriminated in all languages; and in languages melodiously constructed, with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But he observes further, that one language cannot communicate its rules to another; where metre is scanty and imperfect, some help is necessary; that the music of the English heroic lines strike the ear so faintly, that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together; that this co-operation can only be obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another as a distinct system of sounds, and this distinction is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme; that the variety of pauses, so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods; and lastly, that there are only a few happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to
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perceive where the lines end or begin ; and concludes with the observation of an ingenious critic, as he calls him, « that blank verse seems to be verse only to the eye. »
Poetry, » our Critic further observes, without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please ; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared, but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse makes somes approach to that which is called the latidary style; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody ofnumbers; and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom he alleges as precedents, not one is popular; what reason could urge in its defence, has been confuted by the ear. » Dr. Johnson, notwithstanding his evident predeliction in favour of that species of poety which is called rhyme, in contradistinction to blank verse, entertains so high an opinion of our immortal Bard, that he makes the following observation.
« But, whatever be the advantages of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer ; for 1 cannot wish his work to be other than it is; yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing, may write blank verse; but those that hope only to please, must condescend to rhyme. »
In the summing up of this inimitable criticism upon an inimitable production, Dr. Johnson evinces an equal degree of judgment and candour; we therefore adopt it with singular pleasure and satisfaction.
« 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 borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the last indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance: 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 can 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 first. »
BY JOSEPH ADDISON, ESQUIRE.
Cedite, Romani scriptores; cedite, Graii !
There is not any thing in nature more irksome than general discourses, especially when they turn chiefly upon words; for this reason I shall wave that discussion which was advanced some years since, Whether Milton's Paradise Lost may be called an heroic poem? Those who will not give it that title, may call it (if they please ) a di
It will be sufficient to its perfection if it possess all the beauties of the highest kind of poetry; and those who allege it is not an heroic poem, advance no more to the diminution of its excellence, than if they should say, Adam is not Æneas, nor Eve Helen.
I shall therefore examime it by the rules of epic poetry, and see whether it falls short of the Iliad or Æneid in the beauties which are essential to that kind of writing. The first thing to be considered in an epic poem is the fable, which is perfect or imperfect, according as the action it relates is more or less so. This action should have three qualifications. First, it should he but one action : Secondly, it should be an entire action : and, thirdly, it should be a great action. To consider the action of the Iliad, Æneid, and Paradise Lost, in these three several lights : Homer, to preserve the unity of his action, comes to the point at once, as Horace has observed : had he gone