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VOLUME THE FOURTH.
PLANS OF OTHER TRAGEDIES.
Printed for J. Johnson, W. J. and J. Richardson, R. Baldwin, Otridge and Son,
J. Sewell, J. Nichols, F. and C. Rivington, T. Payne, G. and J. Robinfon,
By Bye and Law; St. John's-Square, Clerkenwell.
PARADISE REGAINED *
THAT the Paradise Regained has been considerably underrated by the world, seems of late to be an opinion almost gene. rally admitted. But perhaps we shall state the fact more correctly, if we say that it has been neglected, rather than under-rated; that it has been more unknown, than not admired. This is fo much the case, that I apprehend some of the warmeft panegyrists of the Paradise Loft have never honoured this Poem with a perusal; or only with a casual and most unfair one, under a cloud of prejudices against it. A critick, whose taste, judgement, and candour are unquestioned, has given it absolutely no place at all among the Works of its Author. “ If I might venture to place Milton's Works according to their degrees of poetick excellence," says Dr. Joseph Warton, « it should be perhaps in the following order, PARADISE Lost, Comus, Samson AGONISTES, LYCIDAS, L'AL. LEGRO, IL PENSEROSO.” (See concluding note to the Lycidas, in Warton's Edition of Milton's Juvenile Poems!) I should hope that PARADISE REGAINED Nipped accidentally out of the lift : indeed what the late Mr. Warton has said of the Comus, I do not hesi, tate to apply to the Poem before us, and to hazard freely my un. qualified opinion, that “the Author is here inferiour only to his own Paradise Lost.”
* I have ventured to form the remarks of the learned editor of Paradise Regained, fubjoined in his elegant edition of 1795 to the end of each book, into a Preliminary Discourse; as corresponding, in this modification, with the design of Mr. Addison's critical essay on Paradise Loft; which is, to point out strongly the particular beauties of the Poem to the rcader's notice; or, in other words, to tell him the delicious farc which he may expect, and' to bid him “ fit down, iad feed, and welcome at the table.".
If we consider the First Book, we shall find much to admire, and little to censure.
The Proposition of the Subject is clear and dignified, and is beautifully wound up in the concluding line, “ And Eden rais'd in the waste wilderness."
The Invocation of the Holy Spirit is equally devout and po. etical. The Baptism of John carries us with the best effect in medias res.
Satan's Infernal Council is briefly, but finely, assem. bled; his speech is admirable ; and the effect of it is strongly de. picted. This is strikingly contrasted by the succeeding beautiful description of the Deity surrounded by his Angels; his Speech to them; and the triumphant Hymn of the Cæleftial Choir. Indeed the whole opening of this poem is executed in so masterly a manner, that, making allowance for a certain with to compress, which is palpably visible, very few parts of the Paradise Loft can in any respect claim a pre-eminence.—The brief description of our Lord's entering “ now the bordering desart wild, and with dark shades and rocks environ'd round ;” and again, where “ looking round on every fide he beholds a pathless defart, dusk with horrid fades," are scenes worthy the pencil of Salvator. Our Lord's Soliloquy is a material part of the Poem, and briefly narrates the early part of his life. In the Paradise Lost, where the Divine Persons are speakers, Milton has so chastened his pen, that we meet with few poetical images, and chiefly scriptural sentiments, delivered, as near as may be, in scriptural, and al, most always in unornamented, language. But the poet seems to consider this circumstance of the Temptation, (if I may venture so to express myself,) as the last, perfect, completion of the Initi, ation of the Man Jesus in the mystery of his own divine nature and office : at least he feels himself entitled to make our Saviour while on earth, and “inshrined in fleshly tabernacle," speak in a certain degree, av@pwwws, or, after the manner of men, Ac, cordingly all the speeches of our blessed Lord, in this poem, are far more elevated than any language that is put into the mouth of the Divine Speakers in any part of the Paradise Loft. The in. grafting Mary's Speech into that of her Son, it must be allowed, is not a happy circumstance. It has an awkward effect, loads the rest of the Speech, and might have been avoided, and better managed. The description of the probable manner of our Lord's paffing the forty days in the wilderness is very picturesque ; and the return of the wild beasts to their Paradisiacal mildness is finely touched. The appearance of the Tempter in his affumed character; the deep art of his two first speeches, covered, but not totally concealed, by a semblance of fimplicity ; his bold avowal and plausible vindication of himself; the subsequent detection of his fallacies, and the pointed reproofs of his impudence and hypocrisy, on the part of our Blessed Lord,,cannot be too much admired. Indeed, the whole conclusion of this Book abounds so much in closeness of reasoning, grandeur of sentiment, elevation of style, and harmony of numbers, that it may well be questioned whether poetry on such a subject, and especially in the form of dialogue, ever produced any thing superiour to it.
The fingular beauty of the brief description of night coming on in the desart, closes the Book with such admirable effect, that it leaves us con la bocca dolce.
The opening of the Second Book is not calculated to engage attention, by any particular beauty of the picturesque or descriptive kind; but hy recurring to what passed at the river Jordan among Jesus's new disciples and followers upon his absence, and by making Mary express her maternal feelings upon it, the poet has given an extent and variety to his subject. It might perhaps be wished, that all which he has put into the mouth of the Virgin, respecting the early life of her Son, had been confined solely to this place, instead of a part being incorporated in our Lord's fo. liloquy in the first Book. There it seems aukwardly introduced, but here I conceive her speech might have been extended with good effect.–Our Lord, (ver. 110.) is, in a brief but appropriate description, again presented to us in the wilderness. The poet, in the mean time, makes Satan return to his infernal council, to report the bad success of his first attempt, and to demand their counsel, and aslistance, in an enterprise of so much difficulty. This he does in a brief and energetick speech. Hence arises a debate; or at least a proposition on the part of Belial, and a rejection of it by Satan, of which I cannot sufficiently express my admiration, The language of Belial is exquisitely descriptive of the power of beauty, without a single word introduced, or even a thought conveyed, that is unbecoming its place in this divine Poem. Satan's reply is eminently fine : his imputing to Belial, as the most dif