No. 297. Saturday, February 9, 1712. Addison

--velut si Egregio inspersos reprendas corpore nævos.

After what I have said in my last Saturdays Paper, I shall enter on the Subject of this without further Preface, and remark the several Defects which appear in the Fable, the Characters, the Sentiments, and the Language of Milton's Paradise Lost; not doubting but the Reader will pardon me, if I alledge at the same time whatever may be said for the Extenuation of such Defects. The first Imperfection which I shall observe in the Fable is that the Event of it is unhappy.

The Fable of every Poem is, according to Aristotle's Division, either Simple or Implex [1]. It is called Simple when there is no change of Fortune in it: Implex, when the Fortune of the chief Actor changes from Bad to Good, or from Good to Bad. The Implex Fable is thought the most perfect; I suppose, because it is more proper to stir up the Passions of the Reader, and to surprize him with a greater Variety of Accidents.

The Implex Fable is therefore of two kinds: In the first the chief Actor makes his Way through a long Series of Dangers and Difficulties, till he arrives at Honour and Prosperity, as we see in the [Story of Ulysses. [2]] In the second, the chief Actor in the Poem falls from some eminent Pitch of Honour and Prosperity, into Misery and Disgrace. Thus we see Adam and Eve sinking from a State of Innocence and Happiness, into the most abject Condition of Sin and Sorrow.

The most taking Tragedies among the Ancients were built on this last sort of Implex Fable, particularly the Tragedy of Oedipus, which proceeds upon a Story, if we may believe Aristotle, the most proper for Tragedy that could be invented by the Wit of Man. [3] I have taken some Pains in a former Paper to shew, that this kind of Implex Fable, wherein the Event is unhappy, is more apt to affect an Audience than that of the first kind; notwithstanding many excellent Pieces among the Ancients, as well as most of those which have been written of late Years in our own Country, are raised upon contrary Plans. I must however own, that I think this kind of Fable, which is the most perfect in Tragedy, is not so proper for an Heroic Poem.

Milton seems to have been sensible of this Imperfection in his Fable, and has therefore endeavoured to cure it by several Expedients; particularly by the Mortification which the great Adversary of Mankind meets with upon his Return to the Assembly of Infernal Spirits, as it is described in [a, [4]] beautiful Passage of the Tenth Book; and likewise by the Vision wherein Adam at the close of the Poem sees his Off-spring triumphing over his great Enemy, and himself restored to a happier Paradise than that from which he fell.

There is another Objection against Milton's Fable, which is indeed almost the same with the former, tho placed in a different Light, namely, That the Hero in the Paradise Lost is unsuccessful, and by no means a Match for his Enemies. This gave Occasion to Mr. Dryden's Reflection, that the Devil was in reality Milton's Hero. [5]

I think I have obviated this Objection in my first Paper. The Paradise Lost is an Epic [or a] Narrative Poem, [and] he that looks for an Hero in it, searches for that which Milton never intended; [but [6]] if he will needs fix the Name of an Hero upon any Person in it, tis certainly the Messiah who is the Hero, both in the Principal Action, and in the [chief Episodes.] [7] Paganism could not furnish out a real Action for a Fable greater than that of the Iliad or Æneid, and therefore an Heathen could not form a higher Notion of a Poem than one of that kind, which they call an Heroic. Whether Milton's is not of a [sublimer [8]] Nature I will not presume to determine: It is sufficient that I shew there is in the Paradise Lost all the Greatness of Plan, Regularity of Design, and masterly Beauties which we discover in Homer and Virgil.

I must in the next Place observe, that Milton has interwoven in the Texture of his Fable some Particulars which do not seem to have Probability enough for an Epic Poem, particularly in the Actions which he ascribes to Sin and Death, and the Picture which he draws of the Limbo of Vanity, with other Passages in the second Book. Such Allegories rather savour of the Spirit of Spenser and Ariosto, than of Homer and Virgil.

In the Structure of his Poem he has likewise admitted of too many Digressions. It is finely observed by Aristotle, that the Author of an Heroic Poem should seldom speak himself, but throw as much of his Work as he can into the Mouths of those who are his Principal Actors. [9]

Aristotle has given no reason for this Precept; but I presume it is because the Mind of the Reader is more awed and elevated when he hears Æneas or Achilles speak, than when Virgil or Homer talk in their own Persons. Besides that assuming the Character of an eminent Man is apt to fire the Imagination, and raise the Ideas of the Author. Tully tells us [10], mentioning his Dialogue of Old Age, in which Cato is the chief Speaker, that upon a Review of it he was agreeably imposed upon, and fancied that it was Cato, and not he himself, who uttered his Thoughts on that Subject.

If the Reader would be at the Pains to see how the Story of the Iliad and the Æneid is delivered by those Persons who act in it, he will be surprized to find how little in either of these Poems proceeds from the Authors. Milton has, in the general disposition of his Fable, very finely observed this great Rule; insomuch that there is scarce a third Part of it which comes from the Poet; the rest is spoken either by Adam and Eve, or by some Good or Evil Spirit who is engaged either in their Destruction or Defence.

From what has been here observed it appears, that Digressions are by no means to be allowed of in an Epic Poem. If the Poet, even in the ordinary course of his Narration, should speak as little as possible, he should certainly never let his Narration sleep for the sake of any Reflections of his own. I have often observed, with a secret Admiration, that the longest Reflection in the Æneid is in that Passage of the Tenth Book, where Turnus is represented as dressing himself in the Spoils of Pallas, whom he had slain. Virgil here lets his Fable stand still for the-sake of the following Remark. How is the Mind of Man ignorant of Futurity, and unable to bear prosperous Fortune with Moderation? The Time will come when Turnus shall wish that he had left the Body of Pallas untouched, and curse the Day on which he dressed himself in these Spoils. As the great Event of the Æneid, and the Death of Turnus, whom Æneas slew because he saw him adorned with the Spoils of Pallas, turns upon this Incident, Virgil went out of his way to make this Reflection upon it, without which so small a Circumstance might possibly have slipped out of his Readers Memory. Lucan, who was an Injudicious Poet, lets drop his Story very frequently for the sake of his unnecessary Digressions, or his Diverticula, as Scaliger calls them. [11] If he gives us an Account of the Prodigies which preceded the Civil War, he declaims upon the Occasion, and shews how much happier it would be for Man, if he did not feel his Evil Fortune before it comes to pass; and suffer not only by its real Weight, but by the Apprehension of it. Milton's Complaint [for [12]] his Blindness, his Panegyrick on Marriage, his Reflections on Adam and Eves going naked, of the Angels eating, and several other Passages in his Poem, are liable to the same Exception, tho I must confess there is so great a Beauty in these very Digressions, that I would not wish them out of his Poem.

I have, in a former Paper, spoken of the Characters of Milton's Paradise Lost, and declared my Opinion, as to the Allegorical Persons who are introduced in it.

If we look into the Sentiments, I think they are sometimes defective under the following Heads: First, as there are several of them too much pointed, and some that degenerate even into Punns. Of this last kind I am afraid is that in the First Book, where speaking of the Pigmies, he calls them,

--The small Infantry Warrdon by Cranes--

Another Blemish [that [13]] appears in some of his Thoughts, is his frequent Allusion to Heathen Fables, which are not certainly of a Piece with the Divine Subject, of which he treats. I do not find fault with these Allusions, where the Poet himself represents them as fabulous, as he does in some Places, but where he mentions them as Truths and Matters of Fact. The Limits of my Paper will not give me leave to be particular in Instances of this kind; the Reader will easily remark them in his Perusal of the Poem.

A third fault in his Sentiments, is an unnecessary Ostentation of Learning, which likewise occurs very frequently. It is certain that both Homer and Virgil were Masters of all the Learning of their Times, but it shews it self in their Works after an indirect and concealed manner. Milton seems ambitious of letting us know, by his Excursions on Free-Will and Predestination, and his many Glances upon History, Astronomy, Geography, and the like, as well as by the Terms and Phrases he sometimes makes use of, that he was acquainted with the whole Circle of Arts and Sciences.

If, in the last place, we consider the Language of this great Poet, we must allow what I have hinted in a former Paper, that it is often too much laboured, and sometimes obscured by old Words, Transpositions, and Foreign Idioms. Senecas Objection to the Style of a great Author, Riget ejus oratio, nihil in eâ placidum nihil lene, is what many Criticks make to Milton: As I cannot wholly refuse it, so I have already apologized for it in another Paper; to which I may further add, that Milton's Sentiments and Ideas were so wonderfully Sublime, that it would have been impossible for him to have represented them in their full Strength and Beauty, without having recourse to these Foreign Assistances. Our Language sunk under him, and was unequal to that Greatness of Soul, which furnished him with such glorious Conceptions.

A second Fault in his Language is, that he often affects a kind of Jingle in his Words, as in the following Passages, and many others:

And brought into the World a World of Woe.

--Begirt th' Almighty throne Beseeching or besieging--

This tempted our attempt--

At one slight bound high overleapt all bound.

I know there are Figures for this kind of Speech, that some of the greatest Ancients have been guilty of it, and that Aristotle himself has given it a place in his Rhetorick among the Beauties of that Art. [14] But as it is in its self poor and trifling, it is I think at present universally exploded by all the Masters of Polite Writing.

The last Fault which I shall take notice of in Milton's Style, is the frequent use of what the Learned call Technical Words, or Terms of Art. It is one of the great Beauties of Poetry, to make hard things intelligible, and to deliver what is abstruse [of [15]] it self in such easy Language as may be understood by ordinary Readers: Besides, that the Knowledge of a Poet should rather seem born with him, or inspired, than drawn from Books and Systems. I have often wondered how Mr. Dryden could translate a Passage out of Virgil after the following manner.

Tack to the Larboard, and stand off to Sea. Veer Star-board Sea and Land.

Milton makes use of Larboard in the same manner. When he is upon Building he mentions Doric Pillars, Pilasters, Cornice, Freeze, Architrave. When he talks of Heavenly Bodies, you meet with Eccliptic and Eccentric, the trepidation, Stars dropping from the Zenith, Rays culminating from the Equator. To which might be added many Instances of the like kind in several other Arts and Sciences.

I shall in my next [Papers [16]] give an Account of the many particular Beauties in Milton, which would have been too long to insert under those general Heads I have already treated of, and with which I intend to conclude this Piece of Criticism.


[Footnote 1: Poetics, cap. x. Addison got his affected word implex by reading Aristotle through the translation and notes of André Dacier. Implex was the word used by the French, but the natural English translation of Aristotle's [Greek: haploì] and [Greek: peplegménoi] is into simple and complicated.]

[Footnote 2: [Stories of Achilles, Ulysses, and Æneas.]]

[Footnote 3: Poetics, cap. xi.]

[Footnote 4: that]

[Footnote 5: Dediction of the Æneid; where, after speaking of small claimants of the honours of the Epic, he says,

Spencer has a better for his "Fairy Queen" had his action been finished, or been one; and Milton if the Devil had not been his hero, instead of Adam; if the giant had not foiled the knight, and driven him out of his stronghold, to wander through the world with his lady-errant; and if there had not been more machining persons that human in his poem.]

[Footnote 6: [or]]

[Footnote 7: [Episode]]

[Footnote 8: [greater]]

[Footnote 9: Poetics, cap. xxv. The reason he gives is that when the Poet speaks in his own person he is not then the Imitator. Other Poets than Homer, Aristotle adds,

ambitious to figure throughout themselves, imitate but little and seldom. Homer, after a few preparatory lines, immediately introduces a man or woman or some other character, for all have their character.

Of Lucan, as an example of the contrary practice, Hobbes said in his Discourse concerning the Virtues of an Heroic Poem:

No Heroic Poem raises such admiration of the Poet, as his hath done, though not so great admiration of the persons he introduceth.]

[Footnote 10: Letters to Atticus, Bk. xiii., Ep. 44.]

[Footnote 11: Poetices, Lib. iii. cap. 25.]

[Footnote 12: [of]]

[Footnote 13: [which]]

[Footnote 14: Rhetoric, iii. ch. II, where he cites such verbal jokes as, You wish him [Greek: pérsai] (i.e. to side with Persia--to ruin him), and the saying of Isocrates concerning Athens, that its sovereignty [Greek: archàe] was to the city a beginning [Greek: archàe] of evils. As this closes Addison's comparison of Milton's practice with Aristotle's doctrine (the following papers being expressions of his personal appreciation of the several books of Paradise Lost), we may note here that Milton would have been quite ready to have his work tried by the test Addison has been applying. In his letter to Samuel Hartlib, sketching his ideal of a good Education, he assigns to advanced pupils logic and then

rhetoric taught out of the rules of Plato, Aristotle, Phalereus, Cicero, Hermogenes, Longinus. To which poetry would be made subsequent, or, indeed, rather precedent, as being less subtile and fine, but more simple, sensuous, and passionate. I mean not here the prosody of a verse, which they could not but have hit on before among the rudiments of grammar; but that sublime art which in Aristotle's Poetics, in Horace, and the Italian commentaries of Castelvetro, Tasso, Mazzoni, and others, teaches what the laws are of a true epic poem, what of a dramatic, what of a lyric, what decorum is, which is the grand masterpiece to observe. This would make them soon perceive what despicable creatures our common rhymers and play-writers be; and show them what religious, what glorious and magnificent use might be made of poetry, both in divine and human things.]

[Footnote 15: [in]]

[Footnote 16: [Saturdays Paper]]

Translation of motto:
HOR. 1 Sat. vi. 66.
'As perfect beauties somewhere have a mole.'