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stating the dry facts of such a topic there can be little variety of expression: but I have rather relied upon the force of opinions and comments, than of facts already known: of the justness and taste of these, and of the manner in which they are expressed, others must judge: the quality on which I rely is their sincerity. I have not been pleading as a plausible advocate for one whom I have undertaken the task of praising: the difficulty has not been in finding pleas for admiration, but in finding language adequate to the demands for which excellence gave occasion. The personal character of the poet should be all along concurrent with the genius of his poetry. From his very childhood he was a worshipper of the Muse Urania.
It has been unfortunate for Milton that his most popular biographer should be Johnson, whose Memoir is written in such a deliberate spirit of detraction as to fix on the writer a certain degree of moral turpitude. As a critic he has here shown extreme insensibility and want of taste, except on the Paradise Lost,' of which his eulogy, though strongly expressed, is, as I shall attempt to prove, little more in substance than a copy from Addison.
He who criticised Milton with the most congenial spirit was Thomas Warton. Hayley had an amiable enthusiasm; but his style was languid, diffuse, and often sickly, full of colloquial and feminine superlatives; such as "most affectionate"
-"most tender"-"most afflicting." Hayley
was full of elegant erudition, but he had no imagination: Bishop Newton was classical, but feeble and unoriginal: Bentley and Warburton were acute but fantastic. It is hardly necessary to characterise minor annotators.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE CRITICISMS ON PARADISE LOST, BY ADDISON AND JOHNSON.'
THE two grand criticisms on the Paradise Lost' are those of Addison and Johnson. Whatever praise Johnson may have obtained for what he has written on this subject, a strict examination will show that he owes entirely to his predecessor: all is drawn from Addison: it is true, that he has clothed it in his own diction; and that it had passed through the ordeal of his own mind, so as not to be reproduced identical; but yet precisely similar it has a more compressed contexture; and more point, which is taken for more force.
Both critics consider this divine poem under the four heads of fable, characters, sentiments, and language; and both concur in all the necessary requisites of each, and that Milton has fulfilled them all. As an epitome of Addison, that which Johnson has written is valuable; as an original, it has no merit at all. In one respect it is more adapted to modern taste; that it less often insists on bringing those questions to the standard
models of Homer and Virgil; which, however excellent, must be now admitted to be sometimes arbitrary in general, however, they are founded on reason, and therefore indispensable.
As greatness is the first quality, the superiority of Milton's fable to those of Homer and Virgil cannot be disputed: nor is his manner of conducting it less skilful and perfect; having unity, always going forward to its end, and never interrupted by irrelevant episodes. The vastness of the invention of the outline, when little could be drawn from tradition, history, or observation, is stupendous.
The characters are equally out of the conception of mere human musing. The delineation of Satan, and the other Fallen Angels, would have appeared to any other mind but Milton's beyond the reach of human ability. The ideas of Adam and Eve before the Fall might not appear so utterly hopeless; but as they then partook of divinity, nothing but the boldest imagination could have ventured upon the subject.
The sentiments appropriate to such characters could only be supplied by a genius partaking of an inspiration above humanity. The grandeur of thought must have been incessant, and liable to no depressions: the imagination of many may be strong enough to invent and communicate the workings of human passions and human intellects; but of angels in obedient bliss, of angels in rebellion, who but Milton could venture to paint the designs or emotions?
Nor is the difficulty of adequate language less than of adequate conception. How are we to express the spiritual, but by the aid of signs drawn from materiality? And this is liable to the objection, that what is divine is degraded by an illustration from what is 'earthly. Even Milton himself has not escaped this censure.
ever, there is a considerable portion of Milton's poem which does not consist in the sublimity of imagery, but in what Johnson, I think, calls "argumentative sublimity;"-thoughts which are purely intellectual.
Johnson has not followed Addison through all the details in which these grand principles are examined and exemplified; but such as he has selected are mainly the same: nor has he failed to insist on the faults which have struck his predecessor. I am not sure that Addison himself, with all his candour, has not sometimes censured causelessly I think that he has done so in the famous allegory of Sin and Death in the tenth book; and I am fortified in this opinion by Bishop Atterbury, whose taste was not only unquestionable, but exquisite. It is an invention of inexpressible magnificence, both in conception and expression: its materiality is the object of disapprobation by the critics.
It seems to me impossible to draw the line how far the shadowy beings of spirit may be represented by poets as taking part in material agency: if not allowed at all, there must be an end to the sublimest allegories.