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THIS Book on the whole is so perfect from beginning to end, that it would be difficult to find a single superfluous passage. Milton's poetical style is more serried than any other: rhymed metre leads to empty words, involutions, and circumlocutions; but it is in the thought, still more than in the language, that this closeness is apparent. The matter, the illustrations, and the allusions, are historically, naturally, or philosophically true. The learning is of every extent and diversity;-recondite, classical, scientific, antiquarian. But the most surprising thing is how he vivifies every topic he touches by poetry: he gives life and picturesqueness to the driest catalogue of buried names, personal or geographical. They who bring no learning, yet feel themselves charmed by sounds and epithets which give a vague pleasure to the mind, and stir up the imagination into an indistinct emotion.

Notwithstanding all that has been said so copiously about poetical imagination, by erities ancient and modern, I still think that the generality of authors and readers have a very confused idea of it. It is the power, not only of conceiving, but creating embodied illustrations of abstract truths, which are sublime, or pathetic, or beautiful. But those ideas which Milton has embodied, no imagination would have dared to attempt but his own: none else would have risen "to the highth of this great argument." Every one else would have fallen short of it, and degraded it.

Johnson says, that an "inconvenience of Milton's design is, that it requires the description of what cannot be described, the agency of Spirits. He saw that immateriality supplied no images, and that he could not show angels acting but by instruments of action; he therefore invested them with form and matter. This being necessary, was therefore defensible, and he should have secured the consistency of his system by keeping immateriality out of sight, and enticing his reader to drop it from his thoughts." Surely this was quite impossible for the reason Johnson himself has given. The imagination, by its natural tendencies, always embodies Spirit. Poetry deals in pictures, though not exclusively in pictures.

In this respect Milton's poetry is different from almost all other; that it is always founded on our belief, and a belief, which we consider a matter of duty and religion. Milton's imagination is always conscientious: and here again is his peculiarity. Almost every imaginative poet, except Milton, falls occasionally into fantasticality:-perhaps I ought to except also Shakspeare. This is the vice of poetry, where there is not the severest judgment and the most profound control; and it is a vice which the bad tasto of the public encourages. The flowers, as they are called, the corrupt ornaments of poetry, please vulgar apprehensions and feelings. Glaring colours, exaggerated forms, rouse ordinary eyes and intellects.

The classical taste, the sober grace of ideal majesty or beauty, appears tame to a mind vitiated with all the extravagances and fooleries of insane romance. The Gothic ages introduced numerous ignorant superstitions and absurd opinions, which in more enlightened times revolt a strict or sober understanding. Fictions founded on such systems, or interwoven with them, except so far as they are merely illustrative, may amuse as momentary sports of wanton or forced invention; but the sound intellect rejects them in its moments of seriousness.

Among the miraculous acquirements of Milton, was his deep and familiar intimacy with all classical and all chivalrous literature, the amalgamation in his mind of all the philosophy and all the sublime and ornamental literature of the ancients, and all the abstruse, the laborious, the immature learning of those who again drew off the mantle of Time from the ancient treasures of genius, and mingled with them their own crude conceptions and fantastic theories. He extracted from this mine all that would aid the imagination without shocking the reason. He never rejected philosophy;--but where it was fabulous, only offered it as ornament.

It will not be too much to say, that of all uninspired writings (if these be uninspired), Milton's are the most worthy of profound study by all minds which would know the creativeness, the splendour the learning, the eloquence, the wisdom, to which the human intellect can reach.

So far as poetry is made by mere figures of speech, it is a miserable art, which has nothing of invention or thought.

As to material pictures of spiritual existences, they always take such appearances when they visit us, though they can resolve themselves back into air. It is not inconsistent, therefore, or contrary to what we suppose to be the system of the creation, so to represent them. Animation is the soul of fiction; but it is true, that there may be animation without body.

Milton's force and sublimity of fable is especially attested by his frequent concurrence with the hints and language of the Scriptures, and his filling up those dark and mysterious intimations which escape less illuminated minds. Here then imagination took its grandest and most oracular form.

But they who have degraded and depraved their taste by vulgar, poetry, not only do not rise to the delight of this tone, but have no conception of it. They deem the bard's work to be a concentration of petty spangles of words, like false jewels made of paste by an adroit artisan. Everything is technical, and they judge only by skill in decoration.

In Milton's language, though there is internal force and splendour, there is outward plainness. Common readers think that it sounds and looks like prose: this is one of its attractions; while all which is stilted, and decorated, and affected, soon fatigues and satiates. To delight the ear and the eye is a mere sensual indulgence;-true poetry strikes at the soul.

After all which has been said of Milton by so many learned and able critics, these remarks may seem superfluous; but I persuade myself that some of the topics of praise here urged have not been duly noticed before. I must here also repeat my conviction, that of all critics, Addison is the most beautiful, eloquent, and just: he enters deep into the fable, the imagery, and the sentiment: most of the other commentators merely busy themselves with the explanation or illustration of the learning.

We are bound to study in what way Milton has exercised his mighty powers of invention and imagination, and what ought to be their purposes, their qualities, and their merits. If any one thinks the imagination to be an idle and empty power, he is as hard and dull as he is ignorant and blind. In the "Paradise Lost" we have demonstrated, what a grand and holy imagination can do.


[The following is from the hand of the poet himself: as it is short, I have given his own orthography,* peculiar in some points.-ED.]

"THE measure is English Heroick Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; Rime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter; grac't indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets, carried away by Custom, but much to thir own vexation, hindrance, and constraint, to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse, then else they would have exprest them. Not without cause, therefore, some both Italian and Spanish Poets of prime note, have rejected Rime both in longer and shorter Works, as have also, long since, our best English Tragedies; as a thing of it self, to all judicious ears, trivial and of no true musical delight; which consists only in apt Numbers, fit quantity of Syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings, a fault avoided by the learned Ancients both in Poetry and all good Oratory. This neglect then of Rime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar Readers, that it rather is to be esteem'd an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recover'd to Heroick Poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of Riming."

* From Milton's own edition, 1669.




THIS first book proposes, first in brief, the whole subject, man's disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise, wherein he was placed. Then touches the prime cause of his fall, the serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent, who, revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of Angels, was by the command of God driven out of heaven with all his crew, into the great deep. Which action passed over, the Poem hastes into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his Angels now fallen into hell, described here, not in the centre, for heaven and earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet accursed; but in a place of utter darkness, fitliest called Chaos: here Satan with his Angels lying on the burning lake, thunderstruck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity lay by him: they confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded they rise; their numbers, array of battel, their chief lenders named, according to the idols known afterwards in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech, comforts them with hope yet of regaining heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world and a new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy or report in heaven; for that Angels were long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers to a full council. What his associates thence attempt. Pandemonium, the palace of Satan, rises, suddenly built out of the deep: the inferual Peers there sit in council.

Or Man's first disobedience," and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,



Sing, heavenly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire

That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,


In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of chaos: or, if Sion hill

Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flow'd
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence

Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues

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a Milton has proposed the subject of his poem in the first six verses: these lines are perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned, as any of the whole poem; in which particular the author has conformed himself to the example of Homer, and the precept of Horace. His invocation to a work, which turns in a great measure on the creation of the world, is properly made to the Muse who inspired Moses in those books from whence our author drew his subject; and to the Holy Spirit, who is therein represented as operating after a particular manner in the first production of nature. The whole exordium rises very happily into noble language and sentiment, as I think the transition to the fable is exquisitely beautiful and natural.-ADDISON.

b And Siloa's brook.

Siloa was a small brook that flowed near the temple of Jerusalem: it is mentioned, Isaiah viii. 6; so that, in effect, Milton invokes the heavenly Muse that inspired David and the prophets on Mount Sion, and at Jerusalem; as well as Moses on Mount Sinai. -NEWTON.

Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly thou, O Spirit," that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou know'st; thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss,
And madest it pregnant: what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great arguments

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Blank verse is apt to be loose, thin, and more full of words than thought: the blank verse of Milton is compressed, close-wove, and weighty in matter.

And chiefly thou, O Spirit.

Invoking the Music is commonly a matter of mere form, wherein the poets neither mean nor desire to be thought to mean, anything seriously: but the Holy Ghost here invoked is too solemn a name to be used insignificantly; and besides, our author, in the beginning of his next work, "Paradise Regained," scruples not to say to the same divine person:


As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute.

This address, therefore, is no mere formality: yet some may think that he incurs a worse charge of enthusiasm, or even profaneness, in vouching inspiration for his performance: but the Scriptures represent inspiration as of a much larger extent than is commonly apprehended, teaching, that "every good gift," in naturals as well as in morals, "descendeth from the great Father of Lights." James i. 17. And an extraordinary skill, even in mechanical arts, is there ascribed to the illumination of the Holy Ghost. It is said of Bezaleel, who was to make the furniture of the tabernacle, that "the Lord had filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, and to devise curious works," &e. Exod. xxxv. 31.-HEYLIN.

It may be observed, too, in justification of our author, that other sacred poems are not without the like invocations, and particularly Spenser's hymns of Heavenly Love and Heavenly Beauty, as well as some modern Latin poems. But I conceive that Milton intended something more; for I have been informed by those who had opportunities of conversing with his widow, that she was wont to say that he did really look upon himself as inspired; and I think his works are not without a spirit of enthusiasm. In the beginning of the second book of the "Reason of Church Government," speaking of his design of writing a poem in the English language, he says, "It was not to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory and her siren daughters, but by devout prayer of that Eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge; and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases." p. 61, edit. 1738.-NEWTON.

e Dove-like sat'st brooding.

Alluding to Gen. i. 2. "The spirit of God moved on the face of the waters;" for the word that we translate moved, signifies properly brooded, as a bird doth upon her eggs; and Milton says like a dove, rather than any other bird, because the descent of the Holy Ghost is compared to a dove, Luke iii. 22. As Milton studied the Scriptures in the original language, his images and expressions are oftener copied from them than from our translations.-NEWTON.


f What in me is dark

He calls the Holy Ghost the illumining Spirit in his "Prose Works," vol. i. p. 273, edit. 1698. Compare Fairfax's "Tasso," b. viii. st. 76:

Illumine their dark souls with light divine.-TODD.

That to the highth of this great argument.

The height of the argument is precisely what distinguishes this poem of Milton from all others. In other works of imagination, the difficulty lies in giving sufficient elevation to the subject: here it lies in raising the imagination up to the grandeur of the subject, in adequate conception of its mightiness, and in finding language of such

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