« AnteriorContinuar »
Their fancies like our bushy-points appear,
THE measure is English heroic verse without rhyme, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin ; rime being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter and lame meter; graced indeed since by the use of some famous modern poets, carried away by custom, but much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse than else they would have expressed them. Not without cause therefore some, both Italian and Spanish poets of prime note, have rejected rhyme both in longer and shorter works, as have also long since our best English tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, trivial and of no true musical delight : which consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings, a fault avoided by the learned Ancients, both in poetry and all good oratory. This neglect then of rhyme so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar readers, that it rather is to be esteemed an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem, from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhymiag.
Cedite Romani Scriptores, Cedite Graii.
THERE is nothing in nature more irksome than general discourses, especially when they turn chiefly upon words. For this reason I shall wave the discussion of that point which was started some years since, whether Milton's Paradise Lost may be called an Heroic Pcem? Those who will not give it that title, may call it, (if they please) a Divine Poem. It will be sufficient to its perfection, it it has in it all the beauties of the highest kind of poetry ; and as for those who allege it is not an heroic poem, they advance no more to the diminution of it, than if they should say Adam is not Æneas, nor Eve Helen.
I shall therefore examine 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 which it relates is more or iess so. This action should have three qualifications in it. First it should be but one action. Secondly, it should be an entire a. tion; 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, hastens into the midst of things, as Horace has observed : 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 manifest that the story of the poem would have been a series of several actions. He therefore opens his poem with the discord of his princes, and artfully interweaves, in the several succeeding parts of it, an account of every thing material which rem
lates to them, and had passed before this fatal dissention, iAfter the same manner, Æneas makes his first appearance
n the Tyrrhene seas, and within sight of Italy, because the action proposed to be celebrated was that of his settling himself in Latium. But because it was necessary for the reader to know what had happened to him in the taking of I roy, and in the preceding parts of his voyage, Virgil makes his hero relate it by way of episode in the second and third ooks of the Æneid : the contents of both which, bcoks come before those of the first book in the thred of the story, though for preserving of this unity of action, they follow it in the disposition of the poem. Milton, in imitation of these two great poets, opens his Paradise 1.ost with an infernal council plotting the fall of Man, which is the action he proposed to celebrate; and as for those great actions, the battle of the Angels, and the creation of the world, (which preceded in point of time, and which in my opinion, would have entirely destroyed the unity of his priví. cipal action, had he related them in the same order that they happerred) he cast them into the filth, sixth, and seventh books, by way of episode to this noble poem.
Aristotle himself allows, that Honier has nothing to boast of as to the unity of his fable, though at the sanie time that great critic and philosopher endeavours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet, by įmputing it in some measure to the very nature of an epic poem. Some have been of opinion, that the Æneid also labours in this particular, and has episodes which may be looked upon as excrescencies rather than as parts of the action. On the contrary, the poem, which we have now under cur consideration, hath no other episodes than such as naturally arise from the subject, and yet is filled with such a multitude of astonishing incidents, that it gives us at the same time a pleasure of the greatest variety, and of the greatest simplicity; uniform in its nature, though diversified in the execution.
I must observe also, that, as Virgil in the poem which was designed to celebrate ihe original of the Roman em. pire, has described the birth of its great rival, the Cartha. ginian commonwealth: Miiton, with the like art in his
prem on the fall of Man, has related the fall of those An. gels who are his professed enemies. Beside the miny other beauties in such an episode, its running parallel with the great action of the poem, hinders it from breaking the unity so much as another episode would have done, that had not so great an affinity with the principal subject. in short this is the same kind of beauty which the critics admire in the Spanish Fryar, or the Double Discoverv, where the two different plots look like counterparts and copies of one another.
The second qualification required in the action of an epic poem is, that it should be an entire action : an action is entire when it is complete in all its parts; or as Aristotle describes it, when it consists of a beginning, a middle, and an eid. Nothing should go before it, be intermixed with it, or follow after it, that is not related to it. As on the contrary, no single step should be omitted in that just and regular progress which it must be supposed to tahe from its original to its consummation. Thus we see the anger of Achilles in its birth, its contiruance, and effects; and Æneas's settlement in Italy, carried on through all the oppositions in his way to it both by sea and land. The action in Milion excels (I think) both the former in this particular; we see it contrived in Hell, executed upon Earth, and punished by Heaven. The parts of it are cold in the most distinct manner, and grow out of one another in the most natural order.
The third qualification of an epic poem is its greatness. The anger of Achilles was of such consequence, that it embroiled the kings of Greece, destroyed the heroes of Asia, and engaged all the Gods in factions. Aneas's settlement in Italy produced the Cæsars, ard gave birth to the Ronian empire. Milton s subiect was still greater than either of the former; it does not determine the fate of single peisons or nations, but of a whole species. The united powers of Hell are joined together for the destruction of mankird, which they cfielied in part, and would have completed, had not Omnipotence itself interposed. The princ:pal actors are Man in his greatest periection, and Woman in her highest beauty. Their enemies are the fallen Angels: the