No. 279. Saturday, January 19, 1712. Addison.

Reddere personæ scit convenientia cuique.

We have already taken a general Survey of the Fable and Characters in Milton's Paradise Lost. The Parts which remain to be considered, according to Aristotle's Method, are the Sentiments and the Language. [1]

Before I enter upon the first of these, I must advertise my Reader, that it is my Design as soon as I have finished my general Reflections on these four several Heads, to give particular Instances out of the Poem which is now before us of Beauties and Imperfections which may be observed under each of them, as also of such other Particulars as may not properly fall under any of them. This I thought fit to premise, that the Reader may not judge too hastily of this Piece of Criticism, or look upon it as Imperfect, before he has seen the whole Extent of it.

The Sentiments in an Epic Poem are the Thoughts and Behaviour which the Author ascribes to the Persons whom he introduces, and are just when they are conformable to the Characters of the several Persons. The Sentiments have likewise a relation to Things as well as Persons, and are then perfect when they are such as are adapted to the Subject. If in either of these Cases the Poet [endeavours to argue or explain, to magnify or diminish, to raise] [2] Love or Hatred, Pity or Terror, or any other Passion, we ought to consider whether the Sentiments he makes use of are proper for [those [3]] Ends. Homer is censured by the Criticks for his Defect as to this Particular in several parts of the Iliad and Odyssey, tho at the same time those, who have treated this great Poet with Candour, have attributed this Defect to the Times in which he lived. [4] It was the Fault of the Age, and not of Homer, if there wants that Delicacy in some of his Sentiments which now appears in the Works of Men of a much inferior Genius. Besides, if there are Blemishes in any particular Thoughts, there is an infinite Beauty in the greatest Part of them. In short, if there are many Poets who would not have fallen into the Meanness of some of his Sentiments, there are none who could have risen up to the Greatness of others. Virgil has excelled all others in the Propriety of his Sentiments. Milton shines likewise very much in this Particular: Nor must we omit one Consideration which adds to his Honour and Reputation. Homer and Virgil introduced Persons whose Characters are commonly known among Men, and such as are to be met with either in History, or in ordinary Conversation. Milton's Characters, most of them, lie out of Nature, and were to be formed purely by his own Invention. It shews a greater Genius in Shakespear to have drawn his Calyban, than his Hotspur or Julius Cæsar: The one was to be supplied out of his own Imagination, whereas the other might have been formed upon Tradition, History and Observation. It was much easier therefore for Homer to find proper Sentiments for an Assembly of Grecian Generals, than for Milton to diversify his infernal Council with proper Characters, and inspire them with a Variety of Sentiments. The Lovers of Dido and Æneas are only Copies of what has passed between other Persons. Adam and Eve, before the Fall, are a different Species from that of Mankind, who are descended from them; and none but a Poet of the most unbounded Invention, and the most exquisite Judgment, could have filled their Conversation and Behaviour with [so many apt [5]] Circumstances during their State of Innocence.

Nor is it sufficient for an Epic Poem to be filled with such Thoughts as are Natural, unless it abound also with such as are Sublime. Virgil in this Particular falls short of Homer. He has not indeed so many Thoughts that are Low and Vulgar; but at the same time has not so many Thoughts that are Sublime and Noble. The Truth of it is, Virgil seldom rises into very astonishing Sentiments, where he is not fired by the Iliad. He every where charms and pleases us by the Force of his own Genius; but seldom elevates and transports us where he does not fetch his Hints from Homer.

Milton's chief Talent, and indeed his distinguishing Excellence, lies in the Sublimity of his Thoughts. There are others of the Moderns who rival him in every other part of Poetry; but in the Greatness of his Sentiments he triumphs over all the Poets both Modern and Ancient, Homer only excepted. It is impossible for the Imagination of Man to distend itself with greater Ideas, than those which he has laid together in his first, [second,] and sixth Book[s]. The seventh, which describes the Creation of the World, is likewise wonderfully Sublime, tho not so apt to stir up Emotion in the Mind of the Reader, nor consequently so perfect in the Epic Way of Writing, because it is filled with less Action. Let the judicious Reader compare what Longinus has observed [6] on several Passages in Homer, and he will find Parallels for most of them in the Paradise Lost.

From what has been said we may infer, that as there are two kinds of Sentiments, the Natural and the Sublime, which are always to be pursued in an Heroic Poem, there are also two kinds of Thoughts which are carefully to be avoided. The first are such as are affected and unnatural; the second such as are mean and vulgar. As for the first kind of Thoughts, we meet with little or nothing that is like them in Virgil: He has none of those [trifling [7]] Points and Puerilities that are so often to be met with in Ovid, none of the Epigrammatick Turns of Lucan, none of those swelling Sentiments which are so frequent in Statins and Claudian, none of those mixed Embellishments of Tasso. Every thing is just and natural. His Sentiments shew that he had a perfect Insight into human Nature, and that he knew every thing which was the most proper to [affect it [8]].

Mr. Dryden has in some Places, which I may hereafter take notice of, misrepresented Virgil's way of thinking as to this Particular, in the Translation he has given us of the AEneid. I do not remember that Homer any where falls into the Faults above-mentioned, which were indeed the false Refinements of later Ages. Milton, it must be confest, has sometimes erred in this Respect, as I shall shew more at large in another Paper; tho considering how all the Poets of the Age in which he writ were infected with this wrong way of thinking, he is rather to be admired that he did not give more into it, than that he did sometimes comply with the vicious Taste which still prevails so much among Modern Writers.

But since several Thoughts may be natural which are low and groveling, an Epic Poet should not only avoid such Sentiments as are unnatural or affected, but also such as are [mean [9]] and vulgar. Homer has opened a great Field of Raillery to Men of more Delicacy than Greatness of Genius, by the Homeliness of some of his Sentiments. But, as I have before said, these are rather to be imputed to the Simplicity of the Age in which he lived, to which I may also add, of that which he described, than to any Imperfection in that Divine Poet. Zoilus [10] among the Ancients, and Monsieur Perrault, [11] among the Moderns, pushed their Ridicule very far upon him, on account of some such Sentiments. There is no Blemish to be observed in Virgil under this Head, and but [a] very few in Milton.

I shall give but one Instance of this Impropriety of [Thought [12]] in Homer, and at the same time compare it with an Instance of the same Nature, both in Virgil and Milton. Sentiments which raise Laughter, can very seldom be admitted with any Decency into an Heroic Poem, whose Business it is to excite Passions of a much nobler Nature. Homer, however, in his Characters of Vulcan [13] and Thersites [14], in his Story of Mars and Venus, [15] in his Behaviour of Irus [16] and in other Passages, has been observed to have lapsed into the Burlesque Character, and to have departed from that serious Air which seems essential to the Magnificence of an Epic Poem. I remember but one Laugh in the whole Æneid, which rises in the fifth Book, upon Monætes, where he is represented as thrown overboard, and drying himself upon a Rock. But this Piece. of Mirth is so well timed, that the severest Critick can have nothing to say against it; for it is in the Book of Games and Diversions, where the Readers Mind may be supposed to be sufficiently relaxed for such an Entertainment. The only Piece of Pleasantry in Paradise Lost, is where the Evil Spirits are described as rallying the Angels upon the Success of their new invented Artillery. This Passage I look upon to be the most exceptionable in the whole Poem, as being nothing else but a String of Punns, and those too very indifferent ones.

--Satan beheld their Plight, And to his Mates thus in Derision call'd. O Friends, why come not on those Victors proud? Ere-while they fierce were coming, and when we, To entertain them fair with open Front, And Breast, (what could we more?) propounded terms Of Composition, straight they chang'd their Minds, Flew off, and into strange Vagaries fell As they would dance: yet for a Dance they seem'd Somewhat extravagant, and wild; perhaps For Joy of offer'd Peace; but I suppose If our Proposals once again were heard, We should compel them to a quick Result.

To whom thus Belial in like gamesome Mood: Leader, the Terms we sent were Terms of Weight, Of hard Contents, and full of force urg'd home; Such as we might perceive amus'd them all, And stumbled many: who receives them right, Had need, from Head to Foot, will understand; Not understood, this Gift they have besides, They shew us when our Foes walk not upright.

Thus they among themselves in pleasant vein Stood scoffing [17]----


[Footnote 1: It is in Part II. of the Poetics, when treating of Tragedy, that Aristotle lays down his main principles. Here after treating of the Fable and the Manners, he proceeds to the Diction and the Sentiments. By Fable, he says (§ 2),

I mean the contexture of incidents, or the Plot. By Manners, I mean, whatever marks the Character of the Persons. By Sentiments, whatever they say, whether proving any thing, or delivering a general sentiment, &c.

In dividing Sentiments from Diction, he says (§22): The Sentiments include whatever is the Object of speech, Diction (§ 23-25) the words themselves. Concerning Sentiment, he refers his reader to the rhetoricians.]

[Footnote 2: [argues or explains, magnifies or diminishes, raises]]

[Footnote 3: [these]]

[Footnote 4: René le Bossu says in his treatise on the Epic, published in 1675, Bk, vi. ch. 3:

What is base and ignoble at one time and in one country, is not always so in others. We are apt to smile at Homers comparing Ajax to an Ass in his Iliad. Such a comparison now-a-days would be indecent and ridiculous; because it would be indecent and ridiculous for a person of quality to ride upon such a steed. But heretofore this Animal was in better repute: Kings and princes did not disdain the best so much as mere tradesman do in our time. Tis just the same with many other smiles which in Homers time were allowable. We should now pity a Poet that should be so silly and ridiculous as to compare a Hero to a piece of Fat. Yet Homer does it in a comparison he makes of Ulysses... The reason is that in these Primitive Times, wherein the Sacrifices ... were living creatures, the Blood and the Fat were the most noble, the most august, and the most holy things.]

[Footnote 5: [such Beautiful]]

[Footnote 6: Longimus on the Sublime, I. § 9. of Discord, Homer says (Popes tr.):

While scarce the skies her horrid head can bound, She stalks on earth.

(Iliad iv.)

Of horses of the gods:

Far as a shepherd from some spot on high O'er the wide main extends his boundless eye, Through such a space of air, with thundring sound, At one long leap th' immortal coursers bound.

(Iliad v.)

Longinus quotes also from the Iliad xix., the combat of the Gods, the description of Neptune, Iliad xi., and the Prayer of Ajax, Iliad xvii.]

[Footnote 7: [little]]

[Footnote 8: [affect it. I remember but one line in him which has been objected against, by the Criticks, as a point of Wit. It is in his ninth Book, where Juno, speaking of the Trojans, how they survived the Ruins of their City, expresses her self in the following words;

Num copti potuere copi, num incense cremorunt Pergama?

Were the Trojans taken even after they were Captives, or did Troy burn even when it was in Flames?]

[Footnote 9: [low]]

[Footnote 10: Zoilus, who lived about 270 B. C., in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, made himself famous for attacks upon Homer and on Plato and Isocrates, taking pride in the title of Homeromastix. Circes men turned into swine Zoilus ridiculed as weeping porkers. When he asked sustenance of Ptolemy he was told that Homer sustained many thousands, and as he claimed to be a better man than Homer, he ought to be able to sustain himself. The tradition is that he was at last crucified, stoned, or burnt for his heresy.]

[Footnote 11: Charles Perrault, brother of Claude Perrault the architect and ex-physician, was himself Controller of Public Buildings under Colbert, and after his retirement from that office, published in 1690 his Parallel between the Ancients and Moderns, taking the side of the moderns in the controversy, and dealing sometimes disrespectfully with Homer. Boileau replied to him in Critical Reflections on Longinus.]

[Footnote 12: [Sentiments]]

[Footnote 13: Iliad, Bk. i., near the close.]

[Footnote 14: Iliad, Bk. ii.]

[Footnote 15: Bk. v., at close.]

[Footnote 16: Odyssey, Bk. xviii]

[Footnote 17: Paradise Lost, Bk. vi. 1. 609, &c. Milton meant that the devils should be shown as scoffers, and their scoffs as mean.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. Ars Poet. v. 316.
'He knows what best befits each character.'