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Death's harbinger: sad task, yet argument
Not less but more heroic than the wrath
Of stern Achilles on his foe pursu'd
Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage
Of Turnus for Lavinia disespous'd,
Or Neptune's ire or Juno's, that so long
Perplex'd the Greek and Cytherea's son ;
If answerable stile I can obtain
Of my celestial patroness, who deigns

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death, so there is misery, which large in the Æneid. The anger does not usher in death, but in- that he is about to sing is an voke it in vain. But by misery argument more heroic not only here, Milton means sickness, than the anger of men, of Achildisease, and all sorts of mortal les and Turnus, but than that pains. So when in b. xi. Michael even of the gods, of Neptune is going to name the several and Juno. The anger of the diseases in the lazar-house re- true God is a more noble subpresented to Adam in a vision, ject than of the false gods. In he says ver. 475.

this respect he has the advantage --that thou may'st know

of Homer and Virgil, his arguWhat misery th' inabstinence of Evement is more heroic as he says, Shall bring on men.

if he can but make his style

Pearce. answerable. 13. -Sad task, yet argu

21. —my celestial patroness,] ment] The Paradise Lost, even His heavenly Muse, his Urania, in this latter part of it, concern

whom he had invoked i. 6. vii. ing God's anger and Adam's 1, 31. And he boasts of her distress, is a more heroic subject nightly visitation, as he was not than the wrath of Achilles on his unaccustomed to study and comfoe, Hector, whom he pursued pose his verses by night; as he three times round the walls of intimates himself at the beginTroy according to Homer; or ning of book the third. than the rage of Turnus for La

-but chief vinia disespoused, having been Thee, Sion, and the flow'ry brooks first betrothed to him, and after

beneath, wards promised to Æneas ac

That wash thy hallow'd feet, and cording to Virgil; or Neptune's

warbling flow, ire that so long perplexed the

Nightly I visit. Greek, Ulysses, as we read in the And it is probable that in both Odyssey; or Juno's ire that for these passages he alludes to the so many years perplexed Cythe- beginning of Hesiod's Theogony, rea's son, Æneas, as we read at where he mentions likewise the

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Her nightly visitation unimplor'd
And dictates to me slumbʼring, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse:
Since first this subject for heroic song

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Pleas'd me long choosing, and beginning lale;
Not sedulous by nature to indite
Wars, hitherto the only argument
Muses walking by night, ver. 26. -long choosing, and be-
10.

ginning late;] Our author in

tended pretty early to write an Εννυχιαι στειχου, περικαλλεα οσσαν

epic poem, and proposed the

story of King Arthur for the sub21.] Milton's third wife re- ject of it: but that was laid aside lated of him, that he used to probably for the reasons here incompose his poetry chiefly in timated. The Paradise Lost he winter, and on his waking in a designed at first as a tragedy ; morning would make her write it was not till long after that he down sometimes twenty or thirty began to form it into an epic verses: and being asked whether poem: and indeed for several he did not often read Homer years he was so hotly engaged and Virgil, she understood it as in the controversies of the times, an imputation upon him for that he was not at leisure to stealing from those authors, and think of a work of this nature, answered with eagerness that he and did not begin to fashion it stole from nobody but the Muse in its present form till after the who inspired him; and being Salmasian controversy which asked by a lady present who the ended in 1655, and probably did Muse was, replied it was God's not set about the work in earnest grace, and the Holy Spirit that till after the Restoration, so that visited him nightly. Newton's he was long choosing, and beLife of Milton.

ginning lale. Mr. Richardson also

says,

that 28. -hitherto the only argu“ Milton would sometimes lie

ment “ awake whole nights, but not Heroic deem'd,]

a verse could he make; and By the moderns as well as by “ on a sudden his poetical fancy the ancients; wars being the “ would rush upon him with an principal subject of all the heimpelus or æstrum.See John- roic poems from Homer down son's Life of Milton. Dunster. to this time. But Milton's sub23. --or inspires

ject was different, and whatever Easy my unpremeditated verse:) others may call it, we see he Here is the same kind of beauty reckons it himself An heroic that we observed before in iii. poem, though he names it only 37. The verse flows so easy, A poem in his title page. It that it seems to have been made is indeed, as Mr. Warburton without premeditation.

most excellently observes in his

spe 30

Heroic deem’d, chief mast’ry to dissect
With long and tedious havoc fabled knights
In battles feign'd; the better fortitude
Of patience and heroic martyrdom
Unsung; or to describe races and games,
Or tilting furniture, imblazon'd shields,
Impresses quaint, caparisons and steeds ;

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Divine Legation of Moses, book affectation of this sort of knowii. sect. 4. the third species of ledge, which certainly debases epic poetry. For just as Virgil his poetry. Richardson. rivalled Homer, so Milton emu- 33. or to describe races and lated both. He found Homer games,] As the ancient poets possessed of the province of have done; Homer in the morality, Virgil of politics, and twenty-third book of the Iliad, nothing left for him but that of Virgil in the fifth book of the religion. This he seized, as Æneid, and Statius in the sixth aspiring to share with them in book of his Thebaid: Or tilts the government of the poetic and torneaments, which are often world; and by means of the the subject of the modern poets, superior dignity of his subject, as Ariosto, Spenser, and the got to the head of that trium- like. virate which took so many ages.

34.

-imblazon'd shields,] in forming. These are the three' The Italian poets in general are species of the epic poem; for its much too circumstantial about largest province is human ac- these trifling particulars. But I tion, which can be considered cannot help thinking that our but in a moral, a political, or author had principally in view religious view; and these the Boiardo, who, in his catalogue three great creators of them; of Agramante's troops, gives us for each of these poems was a most fastidious detail of imstruck out at an heat, and came blazonry, having for above a to perfection from its first essay. hundred verses together noHere then the grand scene is thing else scarcely but names of closed, and all farther improve warriors, and descriptions of the ments of the epic at an end. devices and impresses which

29. -chief mastry to dissect they bore in their arms. See &c.] As the admired subjects Boiardo's Orland. Inam. b. ii. for an heroic poem were mis- c. 29. Thyer. taken, so those were wrong who 35. Impresses quaint, &c.] thought the dissecting of knights Uncommon witty devices or was a principal part of the skiil emblems, painted on their of a poet, describing wounds as shields usually with a motto. a surgeon. He doubtless here We remember one which was glanced at Homer's perpetual not painted; it was a blank

Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights
At joust and torneament; then marshall’d feast
Serv'd up in hall with sewers, and seneschals ;
The skill of artifice or office mean,
Not that which justly gives heroic name
To person or to poem. Me of these
Nor skill'd nor studious, higher argument
Remains, sufficient of itself to raise
That name, unless an age too late, or cold

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asseours.

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shield, the motto imported that of spelling obliges us to print it the wearer would win by his in both places alike ; and we valour wherewith to adorn it. prefer torneament, because we Bases from bas (French) they suppose the Italian to have been fall low to the ground; they are the original word; as we write also called the housing from impresses according to the Latin, houssé, bedaggled. Seners from because that word is originally asseoir (French) to set down; derived from the Latin. Shakefor those officers set the dishes speare too uses the word impress on the table; in old French as a substantive in the same

Seneschals from two sense, Richard II. act iii. German words signifying a ser

From mine own windows torn my vant of a family; and was ap

household coat, plied by way of eminence to the

Ras'd out my impress. principal servant, the steward. And Fairfax in Tasso, cant. xx. Richardson.

st. 28. We may observe that Milton spells the word impreses after Their arms, impresscs, colours, gold

and stone. the Italian impresa, and not as we commonly do impresses, as if 41. -me of these it was of Latin extraction: but Nor skilld nor studious, higher as he has used the words im

argument pressed, iji. 388. and in other Remains,] places, and impress, iv. 558. See Mr. Dunster's note, b. ii. we have caused it to be printed 443. on the Latinism me higher impresses out of regard to the argument remains. E. uniformity of spelling. And so 44. —-unless an age too late or torneanient he spells here after

cold the Italian torneamento, though Climate] in xi. 652. he writes it tourna. He has a thought of the same ment, which seems to be after 'kind in his Prose Works The the French tournny: but the Reason of Church Government, same regard to the uniformity Book the second, p. 60. Edit.

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Climate, or years damp my intended wing
Depress'd, and much they may, if all be mine,
Not hers who brings it nightly to my ear.

The sun was sunk, and after him the star
Of Hesperus, whose office is to bring
Twilight upon the earth, short arbiter
'Twixt day and night, and now from end to end
Night's hemisphere had veil'd th' horizon round:
When Satan who late fled before the threats

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no

very

1739. “ As Tasso gave to a prince 53. When Satan who late fled of Italy his choice, whether &c.] If we look into the three “ he would command him to great heroic poems which have “ write of Godfrey's expedition appeared in the world, we may " against the infidels, or Beli- observe that they are built upon “sarius against the Goths, or very slight foundations. Homer

Charlemagne against the Lom- lived near three hundred years “bards ; if to the instinct of after the Trojan war; and, as “ nature and the imboldening the writing of history was not “ of art ought may be trusted, then in use among the Greeks, " and that there be nothing ad- we may very well suppose, that “ verse in our climate, or the fate the tradition of Achilles and of this age, it haply would be Ulysses had brought down but

rashness from an equal di- few particulars to his knowligence and inclination to pre- ledge; though there is no ques« sent the like offer in our own tion but he has wrought into his “ ancient stories." Or years two poems such of their remarkdamp &c. for he was near sixty able adventures, as were still when this poem was published. talked of among his contempoAnd it is surprising, that at that raries. The story of Æneas, on time of life, and after such trou- which Virgil founded his poem, blesome days as he had passed was likewise very bare of cirthrough, he should have sd cumstances, and by that means much poetical fire remaining. afforded him an opportunity of 50. -short arbiter

embellishing it with fiction, and 'Twixt day and night,] giving a full range to bis own This expression was probably invention. We find however borrowed from the beginning that he has interwoven in the of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, course of his fable the principal where, speaking of the sun particulars which were generally about the time of the equinox, believed among the Romans of he calls him an indifferent arbiter Æneas's voyage and settlement between the night and the day. in Italy. The reader may find

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