Having examined the Action of Paradise Lost, let us in the next place consider the Actors. [This is Aristotle's Method of considering, first the Fable, and secondly ] the Manners; or, as we generally call them in English, the Fable and the Characters.
Homer has excelled all the Heroic Poets that ever wrote, in the Multitude and Variety of his Characters. Every God that is admitted into this Poem, acts a Part which would have been suitable to no other Deity. His Princes are as much distinguished by their Manners, as by their Dominions; and even those among them, whose Characters seem wholly made up of Courage, differ from one another as to the particular kinds of Courage in which they excel. In short, there is scarce a Speech or Action in the Iliad, which the Reader may not ascribe to the Person that speaks or acts, without seeing his Name at the Head of it.
Homer does not only outshine all other Poets in the Variety, but also in the Novelty of his Characters. He has introduced among his Grecian Princes a Person who had lived thrice the Age of Man, and conversed with Theseus, Hercules, Polyphemus, and the first Race of Heroes. His principal Actor is the [Son ] of a Goddess, not to mention the [Offspring of other Deities, who have ] likewise a Place in his Poem, and the venerable Trojan Prince, who was the Father of so many Kings and Heroes. There is in these several Characters of Homer, a certain Dignity as well as Novelty, which adapts them in a more peculiar manner to the Nature of an Heroic Poem. Tho at the same time, to give them the greater Variety, he has described a Vulcan, that is a Buffoon among his Gods, and a Thersites among his Mortals.
Virgil falls infinitely short of Homer in the Characters of his Poem, both as to their Variety and Novelty. Æneas is indeed a perfect Character, but as for Achates, tho he is stiled the Heros Friend, he does nothing in the whole Poem which may deserve that Title. Gyas, Mnesteus, Sergestus and Cloanthus, are all of them Men of the same Stamp and Character.
--Fortemque Gyan, fortemque Cloanthum.
There are indeed several very Natural Incidents on the Part of Ascanius; as that of Dido cannot be sufficiently admired. I do not see any thing new or particular in Turnus. Pallas and Evander are [remote] Copies of Hector and Priam, as Lausus and Mezentius are almost Parallels to Pallas and Evander. The Characters of Nisus and Eurialus are beautiful, but common. [We must not forget the Parts of Sinon, Camilla, and some few others, which are fine Improvements on the Greek Poet.] In short, there is neither that Variety nor Novelty in the Persons of the Æneid, which we meet with in those of the Iliad.
If we look into the Characters of Milton, we shall find that he has introduced all the Variety [his Fable ] was capable of receiving. The whole Species of Mankind was in two Persons at the Time to which the Subject of his Poem is confined. We have, however, four distinct Characters in these two Persons. We see Man and Woman in the highest Innocence and Perfection, and in the most abject State of Guilt and Infirmity. The two last Characters are, indeed, very common and obvious, but the two first are not only more magnificent, but more new  than any Characters either in Virgil or Homer, or indeed in the whole Circle of Nature.
Milton was so sensible of this Defect in the Subject of his Poem, and of the few Characters it would afford him, that he has brought into it two Actors of a Shadowy and Fictitious Nature, in the Persons of Sin and Death,  by which means he has [wrought into ] the Body of his Fable a very beautiful and well-invented Allegory. But notwithstanding the Fineness of this Allegory may attone for it in some measure; I cannot think that Persons of such a Chymerical Existence are proper Actors in an Epic Poem; because there is not that measure of Probability annexed to them, which is requisite in Writings of this kind, [as I shall shew more at large hereafter].
Virgil has, indeed, admitted Fame as an Actress in the Æneid, but the Part she acts is very short, and none of the most admired Circumstances in that Divine Work. We find in Mock-Heroic Poems, particularly in the Dispensary and the Lutrin  several Allegorical Persons of this Nature which are very beautiful in those Compositions, and may, perhaps, be used as an Argument, that the Authors of them were of Opinion, [such ] Characters might have a Place in an Epic Work. For my own part, I should be glad the Reader would think so, for the sake of the Poem I am now examining, and must further add, that if such empty unsubstantial Beings may be ever made use of on this Occasion, never were any more nicely imagined, and employed in more proper Actions, than those of which I am now speaking.
Another Principal Actor in this Poem is the great Enemy of Mankind. The Part of Ulysses in Homers Odyssey is very much admired by Aristotle,  as perplexing that Fable with very agreeable Plots and Intricacies, not only by the many Adventures in his Voyage, and the Subtility of his Behaviour, but by the various Concealments and Discoveries of his Person in several Parts of that Poem. But the Crafty Being I have now mentioned, makes a much longer Voyage than Ulysses, puts in practice many more Wiles and Stratagems, and hides himself under a greater Variety of Shapes and Appearances, all of which are severally detected, to the great Delight and Surprize of the Reader.
We may likewise observe with how much Art the Poet has varied several Characters of the Persons that speak to his infernal Assembly. On the contrary, how has he represented the whole Godhead exerting it self towards Man in its full Benevolence under the Three-fold Distinction of a Creator, a Redeemer and a Comforter!
Nor must we omit the Person of Raphael, who amidst his Tenderness and Friendship for Man, shews such a Dignity and Condescension in all his Speech and Behaviour, as are suitable to a Superior Nature. [The Angels are indeed as much diversified in Milton, and distinguished by their proper Parts, as the Gods are in Homer or Virgil. The Reader will find nothing ascribed to Uriel, Gabriel, Michael, or Raphael, which is not in a particular manner suitable to their respective Characters.]
There is another Circumstance in the principal Actors of the Iliad and Æneid, which gives a [peculiar ] Beauty to those two Poems, and was therefore contrived with very great Judgment. I mean the Authors having chosen for their Heroes, Persons who were so nearly related to the People for whom they wrote. Achilles was a Greek, and Æneas the remote Founder of Rome. By this means their Countrymen (whom they principally proposed to themselves for their Readers) were particularly attentive to all the Parts of their Story, and sympathized with their Heroes in all their Adventures. A Roman could not but rejoice in the Escapes, Successes and Victories of Æneas, and be grieved at any Defeats, Misfortunes or Disappointments that befel him; as a Greek_ must have had the same Regard for Achilles_. And it is plain, that each of those Poems have lost this great Advantage, among those Readers to whom their Heroes are as Strangers, or indifferent Persons.
Milton's Poem is admirable in this respect, since it is impossible for any of its Readers, whatever Nation, Country or People he may belong to, not to be related to the Persons who are the principal Actors in it; but what is still infinitely more to its Advantage, the principal Actors in this Poem are not only our Progenitors, but our Representatives. We have an actual Interest in every thing they do, and no less than our utmost Happiness is concerned, and lies at Stake in all their Behaviour.
I shall subjoin as a Corollary to the foregoing Remark, an admirable Observation out of Aristotle, which hath been very much misrepresented in the Quotations of some Modern Criticks.
If a Man of perfect and consummate Virtue falls into a Misfortune, it raises our Pity, but not our Terror, because we do not fear that it may be our own Case, who do not resemble the Suffering Person. But as that great Philosopher adds, If we see a Man of Virtue mixt with Infirmities, fall into any Misfortune, it does not only raise our Pity but our Terror; because we are afraid that the like Misfortunes may happen to our selves, who resemble the Character of the Suffering Person.
I shall take another Opportunity to observe, that a Person of an absolute and consummate Virtue should never be introduced in Tragedy, and shall only remark in this Place, that the foregoing Observation of Aristotle  tho it may be true in other Occasions, does not hold in this; because in the present Case, though the Persons who fall into Misfortune are of the most perfect and consummate Virtue, it is not to be considered as what may possibly be, but what actually is our own Case; since we are embarked with them on the same Bottom, and must be Partakers of their Happiness or Misery.
In this, and some other very few Instances, Aristotle's Rules for Epic Poetry (which he had drawn from his Reflections upon Homer) cannot be supposed to quadrate exactly with the Heroic Poems which have been made since his Time; since it is plain his Rules would [still have been ] more perfect, could he have perused the Æneid which was made some hundred Years after his Death.
In my next, I shall go through other Parts of Milton's Poem; and hope that what I shall there advance, as well as what I have already written, will not only serve as a Comment upon Milton, but upon Aristotle.
[Footnote 1: [These are what Aristotle means by the Fable and &c.]]
[Footnote 2: [Offspring]]
[Footnote 3: [Son of Aurora who has]]
[Footnote 4: [that his Poem]]
[Footnote 5: It was especially for the novelty of Paradise Lost, that John Dennis had in 1704 exalted Milton above the ancients. In putting forward a prospectus of a large projected work upon the Grounds of Criticism in Poetry, he gave as a specimen of the character of his work, the substance of what would be said in the beginning of the Criticism upon Milton. Here he gave Milton supremacy on ground precisely opposite to that chosen by Addison. He described him as
one of the greatest and most daring Genius's that has appear'd in the World, and who has made his country a glorious present of the most lofty, but most irregular Poem, that has been produc'd by the Mind of Man. That great Man had a desire to give the World something like an Epick Poem; but he resolv'd at the same time to break thro the Rules of Aristotle. Not that he was ignorant of them, or contemned them.... Milton was the first who in the space of almost 4000 years resolv'd for his Country's Honour and his own, to present the World with an Original Poem; that is to say, a Poem that should have his own thoughts, his own images, and his own spirit. In order to this he was resolved to write a Poem, that, by virtue of its extraordinary Subject, cannot so properly be said to be against the Rules as it may be affirmed to be above them all ... We shall now shew for what Reasons the choice of Milton's Subject, as it set him free from the obligation which he lay under to the Poetical Laws, so it necessarily threw him upon new Thoughts, new Images, and an Original Spirit. In the next place we shall shew that his Thoughts, his Images, and by consequence too, his Spirit are actually new, and different from those of Homer and Virgil. Thirdly, we shall shew, that besides their Newness, they have vastly the Advantage of Homer and Virgil.]
[Footnote 6: Paradise Lost, Book II.]
[Footnote 7: interwoven in]
[Footnote 8: Sir Samuel Garth in his Dispensary, a mock-heroic poem upon a dispute, in 1696, among doctors over the setting up of a Dispensary in a room of the College of Physicians for relief of the sick poor, houses the God of Sloth within the College, and outside, among other allegories, personifies Disease as a Fury to whom the enemies of the Dispensary offer libation. Boileau in his Lutrin a mock-heroic poem written in 1673 on a dispute between two chief personages of the chapter of a church in Paris, la Sainte Chapelle, as to the position of a pulpit, had with some minor allegory, chiefly personified Discord, and made her enter into the form of an old precentor, very much as in Garths poem the Fury Disease
Shrill Colons person took, In morals loose, but most precise in look.]
[Footnote 9: [that such]]
[Footnote 10: Poetics II. § 17; III. §6.]
[Footnote 11: [particular]]
[Footnote 12: 1 Poetics II. § ii. But Addison misquotes the first clause. Aristotle says that when a wholly virtuous man falls from prosperity into adversity, this is neither terrible nor piteous, but ([Greek: miaron]) shocking. Then he adds that our pity is excited by undeserved misfortune, and our terror by some resemblance between the sufferer and ourselves.]
[Footnote 13: [have been still]]Translation of motto: