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CRITIQUE

U PON

M I L T O N's PARADISE LOST.

SPECTATOR, No 267.

Cedite Romani Scriptores, cedite Graii.
Give place, ye Roman, and ye Grecian Wits.

Propert.

HERE is nothing in Nature more irk. some than general Discourses, especially when they turn chiefly upon Words. For this Reason I Thall wave the Difcussion of that point which was started

some Years since, Whether Milton's 'Pa. radise Lost may be called an Heroic Poem? Those who will not give it that Title, may call it (if they please) a Divine Poem. It will be fufficient to its Perfection, if

it

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it has in it all the Beauties of the highest kind of Poe-
try; and as for those who alledge 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 less so.

This Action should have three
Qualifications in it. First, It should be but One
Action. Secondly, It should be an Entire Action;
and Thirdly, It should be a Great Action. To con.
sider the Action of the Iliad, Æneid, and Paradise
Loft, in these three several Lights. Homer, to pre-
serve the Unity of his Action, haftens 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 mani-
fest 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 relates
to them, and had passed before this fatal Diffenfion.
After the fame Manner, Æneas makes his first Ap.
pearance in the Tyrrhene. Seas, and within the Sight
of Italy, because the Action proposed to be celebra-
ted 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 Troy, and in
the preceding Parts of his Voyage, Virgil makes his
Heroe. relate it by way of Episode in the second
and third Books of the Æneid: the Contents of both
which Books come before those of the first Book
in the Thread of the Story, tho' for preserving of
thiş Unity of Action, they follow it in the Dispo.

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fition of the Poem. Millon, in Imitation of these
two great Poets, opens his Parad se Loft with an in-
fernal 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 en-
tirely destroyed the Unity of his Principal Action,
had he related them in the same Order
that they happened) he cast them in- Vid. the End
to the fifth, fixth and seventh Books, of Spectator
by way of Episode to this noble 327.
Poem.

ARISTOTLE himself allows, that Homer has nothing to boast of as to the Unity of his Fable, though at the same time that great Critic and Philosopher endeavours to palliate this Imperfection in the Greek Poet by imputing 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 our Con. fideration, hath no other Episodes than such as natirally 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 the Original of the Roman Empire, has described the Birth of its great Rival, the Carthaginian Commonwealth: Milton with the like Art in his Poem on the Fall of Man, has related the Fall of those Angels who are his professed Enemies. Beside the many other Beauties in such an Episode, its running parallel with the great Action of the Poem, hin. ders it from breaking the Unity so much as another Episode would have done, that had not so great an

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