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many parts elegant, and every where instructive. It was not to be supposed that the writer of Paradise Lost could ever write without great effusions of fancy, and ex. alted precepts of wisdom. The basis of Paradise Regained is narrow; a dialogue without action can never please like an union of the narrative and dramatic powers. Had this poem been written not by Milton, but by some imitator, it would have claimed and received universal praise. · If Paradise Regained has been too much depreciated, Sampson Agonistes has in requital been too much admired. It could only be by long prejudice, and the bi. gotry of learning, that Milton could prefer the ancient tragedies, with their encum. brance of a chorus, to the exhibitions of the French and English stages; and it is only by a blind confidence in the reputation of Milton, that a drama can be praised in which the intermediate parts have neither cause nor consequence, neither hasten nor retard the catastrophe. . In this tragedy arc however many particular beauties, many just sentiments and striking lines; but it wants that power of attracting the attention which a well.con. nected plan produces.
Milton would not have excelled in dramatic writing; 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 rescmblance to that of any former writer; and which is so far removed from common use, that an unlearned reader, when he first opens his book, finds himself surprised by a new language.
This novelty has been, by those who can find nothing wrong in Milton, imputed to his laborious endeavours after words suitable to the grandeur of his ideas. Our language,” says Addison, "sunk under him." But the truth is, that, both in prose and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedantic principle. He was desir. ous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all his prose is discovered and condemned; for there judgment operates freely, neither sostened by the beau. ty, nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts : 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 nobler mind, and 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 fa. miliarity with the Tuscan poets; the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian ; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last may be said what Jonson says of Spenser, that “ he wrote no language,” bat 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 plea. sure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in its deformity.
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 poctry might be learned.
After his diction, something must be said of his versification. The measure, he says, is the English heroic verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many exam, ples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The earl of Surrey is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme: and, beside our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particularly one tending to recon. cile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to 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.
“Rhyme,” he says, and says truly,“ is no necessary adjunct of true poetry.” But, perhaps, of poetry, as a mental operation, metre or music is no necessary adjunct : it is however by the music of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all lan. guages; and, in languages melodiously constructed with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot communicate its rules to another; where metre is scanty and imperfect, some help is necessary. The music of the English heroic lines strikes the ear so faintly, that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together; this co-operation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another as a distinct system of sounds; and this distinctness is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few skilful and happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. 66 Blank verse,” said an ingenious critic, « seems to be verse only to the eye.”
Poetry may subsist 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 some approach to that which is called the lapidary style; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alledges as precedents, not one is popular; what reason could urge in its defence has been confuted by the ear.
But, whatever be the advantages of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer; for I cannot wish his work to be other than it is; yet, like other heroes, he is to be adınired 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.
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 poeti. cal narration, for the texture of the fable, the variation of incidents, the interpo. sition of dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He waa 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 predeces. sors, but he did not seek them. From his cotemporaries he neither courted for received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour gained; no exchange of praise, nor solicia tation of support. His great works were performed under discountenance, and it 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.
INQUIRY INTO THE ORIGIN
BY MR. TODD.
« The petty circumstances, by which great minds are led to the first conception of great designs, are
so various and volatile, that nothing can be more difficult to discover: Fancy in particular is of a nature so airy, that the traces of her step are hardly to be discerned; ideas are so fugitive, that if poets, in their life time, were questioned concerning the manner in which the seeds of considerable productions first arose in their mind, they might not always be able to answer the inquiry; can it then be possible to succeed in such an inquiry concerning a mighty genius, who has been consigned more than a century to the tomb, especially when in the records of his life, we can find no positiye evidence on the point in question? However trifling the chances it may afford of success, the investigation is assuredly worthy our pursuit; for, as an accomplished critic has said, in speaking of another poet, with his usual felicity of discernment and expression, the inquiry cannot be void of entertainment whilst Milton is our constant theme : whatever may be the fortune of the chace, we are sure it will lead us through pleasant prospects and a fine country." » Hayley's Conjectures on the Origin of Paradise Losta
THE earliest observation respecting the Origin of Paradise Lost appears to have been made by Voltaire, in the year 1727. He was then studying in England; and had become so well acquainted with our language as to publish an English essay on epic poetry; in which are the following words ; • “6 Milton, as he was travelling through Italy in his youth, saw at Florence a comedy called Adamo, written by one Andreini, a player, and dedicated to Mary de Medicis, queen of France. The subject of the play was the fall of iman; the actors, God, the Devils, the Angels, Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Death, and the seven mortal Sins : that topic, so improper for a drama, but so suitable to the absurd genius of the Italian stage (as it was at that time), was handled in a manner entirely conformable to the extravagance of the design. The scene opens with a Chorus of Angels; and a Cherubim thus speaks for the rest:1.
Let the rainbow be the fiddlestick of the fiddle of the heavens ! let the planets
1 A la lira del Ciel Iri sia l'arco,
Choro d'Angeli, &c, Adamo, ed. 1617.
be the notes of our music! let time beat carefully the measure, and the winds make the sharps' &c. Thus the play begins, and every scene rises above the last in profusion of impertinence !
6 Milton pierced throngh the absurdity of that performance to the hidden majesty of the subject, which, being altogether unfit for the stage, yet might bc (for the genius of Milton, and his only) the foundation of an epic poem.
" He took from that ridiculous trifle the first hint of the noblest work, which human imagination has ever attempted, and which he executed more than twenty years after.”
That Milton had certainly read the sacred drama of Andreini, is the opini. on both of Dr. Joseph Warton and of Mr. Hayley. Another elegant critic has observed, that Voltaire may have related a tradition perhaps current in England at the time it was visited by him; " a period at which, it may be presumed, some of the contemporarie; of Milton were living, for he was then only about fifty years dead. Milton, with the candour which is usually united with true ge. nius, probably acknowledged to his friends his obligations to the Italian dramatist, and the floating tradition met the ardent inquiries of the French poet'.” It may be worth mentioning here, that Dante, according to the account of some Italian critics 3, took the hint of his Inferno from a nocturnal representation of Hell, exhibited in 1304, on the river Arno at Florence"; and that Tasso is said to have conceived the idea of writing his Aminta at the representation, in 1567, of Lo Sfortunato of Agostino Argenti in Ferrara.
From the Adamo of Andreini a poetical extract, as well as the summary of the arguments of cach act and scene, were given by Dr. Warton, in an appen. dix to the second volume of his Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, 1782. Mr. Hayley has cited other specimens of the poetry in this “spirited, though irregular and fantastic, composition ;" from which Milton's fancy is supposed to have caught fire. The reader will find a few quotations also, from this rare and curious drama, in the Notes on Paradise Lost. But, if the Adamo be examined with the utmost nicety, Milton will be found no servile copyist : he will be found, as in numberless instances of his extensive, his curious, and careful reading, to have improved the slightest hints into the finest descriptions. Miltun indeed, with the skill and grace of an Apelles or a Phidias, has often animated the rude sketch and the shapeless block. I mean not to detract from the Italian drama "; but let it here be remarked once for all, in Milton's own
Hist. Mem. on Ital. Tragedy, p. 170. 3 Warton's Hist. of Eng. Poetry, vol. iib. p. 241. 4 Hist. Mem. ut supr.
s From the remarks of prince Giacomo Giustiniani, (the accomplished governour of Perugia) on the Adamo, which were transmitted to Mr. Walker, and by Mr. Walker obligingly communicated to me, it appears that the critics of Italy consider Milton not a little indebted to their countryman. I will cite the opinion of the liberal and elegant Tiraboschi : Certo benche L'Adamo dell'Andreini sia in confronto del Paradiso Perduto ciò che è il Poema di Ennio in confronto a quel di Virgilio, nonclimeno non può negarsi che le idee gigantesche, delle quali l'autore Inglese ha abbellito il suo Poema, di Satana, che entra nel Paradiso terrestre, e arde d'invidia al vedere la felicita dell' Como, del congresso de Demonj, della battaglia degli Angioli contra Lucifero, e più altre sommiglianti immagini veggonsi nell' Adamo adombrate per modo, che a me sembra molto credibile, che anche il Milton dalle immondezze, se così è lecito dire, dell' Andreini raccogliesse l'oro, di cui adorno il guo Poema. Per altro L'Adamo dell'Andreini, benche abbia alcuni tratti di pessimo gusto, ne hà altri ancora, che si posson proporre come modello di eccellente poesia.