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VOLUME THE FOURTH.
PLANS OF OTHER TRAGEDIES.
Printed for J. Johnson, W. J. and J. Richardfon, R. Baldwin, Otridge and Son,
By Bye and Law, St. John's-Square, Clerkenwell.
THAT the Paradife Regained has been confiderably underrated by the world, feems of late to be an opinion almoft generally admitted. But perhaps we fhall ftate the fact more correctly, if we fay that it has been neglected, rather than under-rated; that it has been more unknown, than not admired. This is fo much the cafe, that I apprehend fome of the warmeft panegyrifts of the Paradife Loft have never honoured this Poem with a perufal; or only with a cafual and most unfair one, under a cloud of prejudices against it. A critick, whofe tafte, judgement, and candour are unquestioned, has given it abfolutely 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," fays Dr. Jofeph Warton, "it fhould be perhaps in the following order, PARADISE LOST, COMUS, SAMSON AGONISTES, LYCIDAS, L'ALLEGRO, IL PENSEROSO." (See concluding note to the Lycidas, in Warton's Edition of Milton's Juvenile Poems!) I fhould hope that PARA DISE REGAINED flipped accidentally out of the lift: indeed what the late Mr. Warton has faid of the Comus, I do not hefi, tate to apply to the Poem before us, and to hazard freely my unqualified opinion, that "the Author is here inferiour only to his
own Paradife Loft."
* I have ventured to form the remarks of the learned editor of Paradife Regained, fubjoined in his elegant edition of 1795 to the end of each book, into a Preliminary Difcourfe; as correfponding, in this modification, with the defign of Mr. Addifon's critical effay on Paradife Loft; which is, to point out ftrongly the particular beauties of the Poem to the reader's notice; or, in other words, to tell him the delicious fare which he may expect, and to bid him “fit down, and feed, and welcome at the table."
If we confider the FIRST BOOK, we shall find much to admire, and little to cenfure.
The Propofition of the Subject is clear and dignified, and is beautifully wound up in the concluding line, " And Eden rais'd in the wafte 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, affembled; his fpeech is admirable; and the effect of it is strongly de picted. This is ftrikingly contrafted by the fucceeding beautiful defcription of the Deity furrounded by his Angels; his Speech to them; and the triumphant Hymn of the Cœleftial Choir.-_-_-_-_-_ Indeed the whole opening of this Poem is executed in fo mafterly a manner, that, making allowance for a certain wish to compress, which is palpably vifible, very few parts of the Paradife Loft can in any refpect claim a pre-eminence.-The brief defcription of our Lord's entering "now the bordering defart wild, and with dark fhades and rocks environ'd round;" and again, where "looking round on every fide he beholds a pathlefs defart, dufk with horrid fhades," are fcenes 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 Paradife Loft, where the Divine Perfons are speakers, Milton has fo chaftened his pen, that we meet with few poetical images, and chiefly fcriptural fentiments, delivered, as near as may be, in fcriptural, and almost always in unornamented, language. But the poet seems to confider this circumftance of the Temptation, (if I may venture fo to exprefs myself,) as the laft, perfect, completion of the Initiation of the Man Jefus in the mystery of his own divine nature and office at least he feels himself entitled to make our Saviour while on earth, and "infhrined in fleshly tabernacle,” speak in a certain degree, avoρwπws, or, after the manner of men. Accordingly all the fpeeches of our bleffed 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 Paradife Loft. The in grafting Mary's Speech into that of her Son, it must be allowed, is not a happy circumftance. It has an awkward effect, loads the reft of the Speech, and might have been avoided, and better managed. The defcription of the probable manner of our Lord's
paffing the forty days in the wilderness is very picturesque; and the return of the wild beafts to their Paradifiacal mildness is finely touched. The appearance of the Tempter in his affumed character; the deep art of his two firft fpeeches, covered, but not totally concealed, by a femblance of fimplicity; his bold avowal and plaufible vindication of himself; the subsequent detection of his fallacies, and the pointed reproofs of his impudence and hypocrify, on the part of our Bleffed Lord,-cannot be too much admired. Indeed, the whole conclufion of this Book abounds fo much in closeness of reasoning, grandeur of fentiment, elevation of ftyle, and harmony of numbers, that it may well be queftioned whether poetry on such a subject, and especially in the form of dialogue, ever produced any thing fuperiour to it.
The fingular beauty of the brief description of night coming on in the defart, clofes the Book with fuch 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 defcriptive kind; but by recurring to what paffed at the river Jordan among Jefus's new difciples and followers upon his abfence, and by making Mary exprefs her maternal feelings upon it, the poet has given an extent and variety to his fubject: 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 folely to this place, instead of a part being incorporated in our Lord's foliloquy in the firft Book. There it seems aukwardly introduced, but here I conceive her fpeech might have been extended with good effect. Our Lord, (ver. 110.) is, in a brief but appropriate defcription, again prefented to us in the wilderness. The poet, in the mean time, makes Satan return to his infernal council, to report the bad fuccefs of his first attempt, and to demand their counfel, and affiftance, in an enterprife of fo much difficulty. This he does in a brief and energetick speech. Hence arises a debate; or at least a propofition on the part of Belial, and a rejection of it by Satan, of which I cannot fufficiently exprefs my admiration. The language of Belial is exquifitely defcriptive of the power of beauty, without a fingle 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 moft dif