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There is another circumftance in the principal actors of the Iliad and Eneid, which gives a peculiar beauty to thofe two poems, and was therefore contrived with very great judgement. I mean the authors' having chofen, for their heroes, perfons who were fo nearly related to the people for whom they wrote. Achilles was a Greek, and Æneas the remote founder of Rome. By this means their countrymen (whom they principally propofed to themselves for their readers) were particularly attentive to all the parts of their story, and fympathized with their heroes in all their adventures. A Roman could not but rejoice in the efcapes, fucceffes, and victories of Eneas, and be grieved at any defeats, misfortunes, or disappointments that befel him; as a Greek muft have had the fame regard for Achilles. And it is plain, that each of those poems have loft this great advantage, among thofe readers to whom their heroes are as ftrangers, or indifferent perfons.
Milton's Poem is admirable in this refpect, fince it is impoffible for any of its readers, what
fince it is impoffible for any of its readers, &c.] Yet a very ingenious writer has obferved, that the great defect in this Poem is "a want of intereft in the fable; every character, except two, being fupernatural; and we can never be greatly interested in the diftrefs, or profperity, of a perfon, into whofe fituation it is impoffible for us to put ourfelves." The fame critick, after noticing the mistake which Addifon here appears to have made as to the effect of national fable, (which feems to be rather the foothing the vanity of the reader, than the encrease of his intereft in the action,) adds, "one fhould hardly have fuppofed that Addifon could have been ignorant of the obvious truth, that every affection is exactly weakened in proportion to its becoming general." Pye's Commentary on the Poetick of Ariftotle, Chap. vi. Notę iii, pp. 162, 163. TODD.
ever nation, country, or people he may belong to, not to be related to the perfons who are the principal actors in it; but, what is ftill infinitely more to its advantage, the principal actors in this Poem are not only our progenitors, but our reprefentatives. We have an actual intereft in every thing they do; and no less than our utmost happiness is concerned, and lies at stake, in all their behaviour.
I fhall fubjoin as a corollary to the foregoing remark, an admirable observation out of Aristotle, which has been very much mifreprefented in the quotations of fome modern criticks. "If a man of perfect and confummate virtue falls into a miffortune, it raises our pity, but not our terrour, because we do not fear that it may be our own cafe, who do not refemble the fuffering perfon." But, as that great philofopher adds, "if we fee a man of virtue mixed with infirmities fall into any misfortune, it does not only raise our pity but our terrour; because we are afraid that the like misfortunes may happen to ourselves, who refemble the character of the fuffering perfon."
I fhall take another opportunity to obferve, that a person of an abfolute and confummate virtue should never be introduced in tragedy, and fhall only remark in this place, that the foregoing observation of Ariftotle, though it may be true in other occafions, does not hold in this; because in the prefent cafe, though the perfons who fall into misfortune are of the moft perfect and confummate virtue, it is not to be confidered as what may poffibly be, but what actually is, our own cafe; fince we are embarked with them on the fame
bottom, and muft be partakers of their happiness or mifery.
In this, and fome other very few inftances, Ariftotle's rules for epick poetry (which he had drawn from his reflections upon Homer) cannot be fuppofed to fquare exactly with the heroick poems which have been made fince his time; fince it is evident to every impartial judge, his rules would ftill have been more perfect, could he have perufed the Eneid, which was made fome hundred years after his death.
I fhall go through other parts of Milton's Poem; and hope that what I shall advance, as well as what I have already written, will not only ferve as a comment upon Milton, but upon Ariftotle.
We have already taken a general furvey of the FABLE and CHARACTERS in the Paradife Loft. The parts which remain to be confidered, according to Ariftotle's method, are the SENTIMENTS and the Before I enter upon the first of these, I muft advertise my reader, that it is my defign, as foon as I have finished my general reflections on thefe four feveral heads, to give particular inftances out of the Poem, now before us, of beauties and imperfections which may be obferved under each of them; as alfo of fuch other particulars, as may not properly fall under any of them. This I thought fit to premife, that the reader may not judge too haftily of this piece of criticism, or look upon it as imperfect, before he has feen the whole extent of it.
The fentiments in an epick poem are the thoughts, and behaviour, which the author afcribes to the
perfons whom he introduces; and are just when they are conformable to the characters of the several perfons. The fentiments have likewise a relation to things as well as perfons; and are then perfect, when they are fuch as are adapted to the subject. If in either of these cafes the poet endeavours to argue or explain, to magnify or diminish, to raise love or hatred, pity or terrour, or any other paffion, we ought to confider whether the fentiments he makes use of are proper for thofe ends. Homer is cenfured by the criticks for his defect as to this particular in feveral parts of the Iliad and Odyssey; though at the fame time thofe, who have treated this great poet with candour, have attributed this defect to the times in which he lived. It was the fault of the age, and not of Homer, if there wants that delicacy in fome of his fentiments, which now appears in the works of men of a much inferiour genius. Befides, if there are blemishes in any particular thoughts, there is an infinite beauty in the greateft part of them. In fhort, if there are many poets who would not have fallen into the meanness of fome of his fentiments, there are none who could have rifen up to the greatness of others. Virgil has excelled all others in the propriety of his fentiments. Milton fhines likewife very much in this particular nor muft we omit one confideration which adds to his honour and reputation. Homer and Virgil introduced perfons whofe characters are commonly known among men, and fuch as are to be met with either in hiftory, or in ordinary converfation. Milton's characters, moft of them, lie out of nature; and were to be formed purely by
his own invention. It fhows a greater genius in Shakspeare to have drawn his Caliban, than his Hotspur, or Julius Cæfar: the one was to be fupplied out of his own imagination, whereas the other might have been formed upon tradition, hiftory, and obfervation. It was much easier therefore for Homer to find proper fentiments for an affembly of Grecian generals, than for Milton to diverfify his infernal council with proper characters, and infpire them with a variety of fentiments. The loves of Dido and Æneas are only copies of what has paffed between other perfons. Adam and Eve, before the Fall, are a different fpecies from that of mankind, who are defcended from them; and none but a poet of the most unbounded invention, and the moft exquifite judgement, could have filled their converfation and behaviour with fo many apt circumftances during their state of
Nor is it fufficient for an epick poem to be filled with fuch thoughts as are natural, unless it abound alfo with fuch as are fublime. Virgil, in this particular, falls fhort of Homer. He has not indeed fo many thoughts that are low and vulgar, but, at the fame time, has not fo many thoughts that are fublime and noble. The truth of it is, Virgil feldom rises into very aftonishing fentiments, where he is not fired by the Iliad. He every where charms and pleafes us by the force of his own genius; but feldom elevates and transports us where he does not fetch his hints from Homer.
Milton's chief talent, and indeed his diftinguifh ing excellence, lies in the fublimity of his thoughts.