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more honour to the Italian than the English poet. In short, I have endeavoured to particularize those innumerable kinds of beauty, which it would be tedious to recapitulate, but which are effential to poetry; and which may be met with in the works of this great author *. ADDISON.
* The preceding criticism may be found in the following eighteen Papers, in The Spectator, viz. Nos. 267, 273, 279, 285, 291, 297, 303, 309, 315, 321, 327, 333, 339, 345, 35, 357, 363, and 369. I have here formed them into a Preliminary Difcourfe; to which I add, from the 86th, 88th, 90th, 92d, and 94th Papers in The Rambler, (which seem to have been intended by Dr. Johnson as a Supplement to Mr. Addison's illuf. tration of the FABLE, the CHARACTERS, the SENTIMENTS, and the LANGUAGE,) a criticism on the VERSIFICATION. See p. 197.
Į venture to remark, that two paffages of uncommon beauty and excellence have escaped the notice of Mr. Addison: I mean the speech of Satan in the ninth book, ver. 99, &c. which ex. hibits perhaps the finest traits of character in the whole Poem; and the defcription of the fame Infernal Being, in the tenth book, after Eve has been feduced, changing his fhape to obferve the fequel; flying when he beholds the Son of God defcend to judge our first parents; returning afterwards, and listening to their fad difcourfe; and thence gathering his own doom.
"The fecret power a
Of harmony, in tones and numbers hit
By voice or hand; and various-meafur'd verfe."
ONE of the ancients has obferved, that the burthen of government is encreased upon princes by the virtues of their immediate predeceffours. It is, indeed, always dangerous to be placed in a ftate of unavoidable comparison with excellence; and the danger is ftill greater when that excellence is confecrated by death, when envy and interest
Dr. Warton is justly furprised, that Pope fhould notice two great mafters of VERSIFICATION, Waller and Dryden, and yet omit the name of Milton. "What! did Milton contribute nothing to the harmony and extent of our language?-Surely his verses vary, and refound as much, and difplay as much majefty and energy, as any that can be found in Dryden." See Essay on Pope, vol. ii, p. 351, edit. 1782.
I fhall enlarge thefe remarks of Dr. Johnfon by occafionally introducing other opinions refpecting MILTON'S VERSIFICA TION; together with various proofs, that the poet's "skill in harmony was not lefs than his invention or his learning."
cease to act against it, and those paffions by which it was at first vilified and oppofed now stand in its defence, and turn their vehemence against honeft emulation.
He, that fucceeds a celebrated writer, has the fame difficulties to encounter: He ftands under the shade of exalted merit, and is hindered from rifing to his natural height, by the interception of those beams which fhould invigorate and quicken him. He applies to that attention which is already engaged, and unwilling to be drawn off from certain fatisfaction; or perhaps to an attention already wearied, and not to be recalled to the fame object. One of the old poets congratulates himself that he has the untrodden regions of Parnaffus before him, and that his garland will be gathered from plantations which no writer had yet culled. But the imitator treads a beaten walk; and, with all his diligence, can only hope to find a few flowers or branches untouched by his predeceffour; the refuse of contempt, or the omiffions of negligence. The Macedonian conquerour, when he was once invited to hear a man that fung like a nightingale, replied with contempt, that he had heard the nightingale herSelf; and the fame treatment must every man expect, whose praise is, that he imitates another.
Yet, in the midft of thefe difcouraging reflections, I am about to offer to the reader fome ob
fervations upon Paradife Loft; and hope, that, however I may fall below the illuftrious writer who has fo long dictated to the commonwealth of learning, my attempt may not be wholly uselefs. There are, in every age, new errours to be rectified, and new prejudices to be oppofed. False taste is always busy to mislead those that are entering upon the regions of learning; and the traveller, uncertain of his way, and forfaken by the fun, will be pleased to see a fainter orb arife on the horizon, that may rescue him from total darkness, though with weak and borrowed luftre.
Addison, though he has confidered this Poem under most of the general topicks of criticism, has barely touched upon the VERSIFICATION; not probably because he thought the art of numbers unworthy of his notice, for he knew with how minute attention the ancient criticks confidered the difpofition of fyllables, and had himself given hopes of fome metrical obfervations upon the great Roman poet; but being the first who undertook to display the beauties, and point out the defects, of Milton, he had many objects at once 'before him, and paffed willingly over those which were most barren of ideas, and required labour rather than genius.
Yet verfification, or the art of modulating his numbers, is indifpenfably neceffary to a poet.
Every other power by which the understanding is enlightened, or the imagination enchanted, may be exercised in profe. But the poet has this peculiar fuperiority, that, to all the powers which the perfection of every other composition can require, he adds the faculty of joining musick with reason, and of acting at once upon the fenfes and the paffions. I fuppofe there are few who do not feel themselves touched by poetical melody, and who will not confefs that they are more or less moved by the fame thoughts, as they are conveyed by different founds; and more affected by the fame words in one order, than in another. The perception of harmony is indeed conferred upon men in degrees very unequal; but there are none who do not perceive it, or to whom a regular feries of proportionate founds cannot give delight.
In treating ON THE VERSIFICATION OF MILTON, I am defirous to be generally understood, and shall therefore ftudiously decline the dialect of grammarians; though, indeed, it is always difficult, and fometimes scarcely poffible, to deliver the precepts of an art without the terms by which the peculiar ideas of that art are expreffed, and which had not been invented but because the language, already in ufe, was infufficient. If therefore I fhall fometimes feem obfcure, may it be imputed to this voluntary interdiction, and to