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MR. ADDISON'S CRITICISM
Cedite, Romani fcriptores; cedite, Graii. Propert. El. 34, lib. 2, ver. 65,
THERE is nothing in nature more irksome than general difcourfes, especially when they turn chiefly upon words. For this reason I shall wave the difcuffion of that point which was started fome years fince, Whether Milton's Paradife Loft may be called an heroick poem ? Thofe, who will not give it that title, may call it (if they please) a divine poem. It will be fufficient to its perfection, if it has in it all the beauties of the highest kind of poetry; and as for those who allege it is not an heroick poem, they advance no more to the diminution of it, than if they should say Adam is not Æneas, or Eve Helen.
I shall therefore examine it by the rules of epick poetry, and see whether it falls short of the Iliad or Æneid, in the beauties which are effen
tial to that kind of writing. The first thing to be confidered in an epick poem, is the FABLE, which is perfect or imperfect, according as the action which it relates is more or less fo. This ACTION should have three qualifications in it. First, It should be but one action. Secondly, It fhould be an entire action. Thirdly, It should be a great action. To confider the action of the Iliad, Æneid, and Paradife Loft, in these three feveral lights. Homer, to preserve the unity of his action, haftens into the midst of things; as Horace has obferved. Had he gone up to Leda's egg, or begun much later even at the rape of Helen, or the investing of Troy; it is manifest, that the story of the poem would have been a series of feveral actions. He therefore opens his poem with the difcord of his princes, and artfully interweaves, in the several succeeding parts of it, an account of every thing material which relates to them, and had paffed before that fatal diffenfion. After the fame manner, Æneas makes his first appearance in the Tyrrhene feas, and within fight of Italy, because the action, proposed to be celebrated, was that of his fettling himself in Latium. But because it was neceffary for the reader to know what had happened to him in the taking of Troy, and in the preceding parts of his voyage, Virgil makes his hero relate it, by way of episode, in the fecond and third
books of the Eneid.
The contents of both which books come before those of the first book in the thread of the story, though, for preserving of this unity of action, they follow it in the difpofition of the poem. Milton, in imitation of these two great poets, opens his Paradife Loft, with an infernal council plotting the Fall of Man; which is the action he proposed to celebrate; and as for those great actions, which preceded in point of time, the battle of the angels, and the creation of the world, (which would have entirely destroyed the unity of his principal action, had he related them in the fame order that they happened,) he caft them into the fifth, fixth, and seventh books, by way of episode to this noble Poem.
Ariftotle himself allows, that Homer has nothing to boast of as to the unity of his fable, though at the fame time that great critick and philofopher endeavours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet by imputing it, in fome measure, to the very nature of an epick poem. Some have been of opinion, that the Eneid alfo labours in this particular, and has episodes which may be looked upon as excrescences rather than as parts of the action. On the contrary, the Poem, which we have now under our confideration, has no other episodes than such as naturally arise from the subject;
and yet is filled with fuch a multitude of aftonishing incidents, that it gives us at the fame time a pleasure of the greatest variety, and of the greatest fimplicity; uniform in its nature, though diverfified in the execution.
I must observe alfo, that, as Virgil, in the poem which was defigned to celebrate the original of the Roman empire, has defcribed the birth of its great rival, the Carthaginian commonwealth; Milton, with the like art in his Poem on the Fall of Man, has related the Fall of those Angels who are his professed enemies. Besides the many other beauties in such an episode, its running parallel with the great action of the poem hinders it from breaking the unity fo much as another epifode would have done, that had not fo great an affinity with the principal fubject. In fhort, this is the fame kind of beauty which the criticks admire in the Spanish Friar, or The Double Difcovery, where the two different plots look like counter-parts and copies of one another.
The fecond qualification required in the action of an epick poem, is, that it should be an entire action. An action is entire when it is complete in all its parts; or, as Ariftotle defcribes it, when it confifts of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nothing should go before it, be intermixed with it, or follow after it, that is not re
lated to it. As, on the contrary, no fingle step should be omitted in that juft and regular process, which it must be supposed to take from its original to its confummation. Thus we see the anger of Achilles in its birth, its continuance, and effects; and Æneas's fettlement in Italy, carried on through all the oppofitions in his way to it both by fea and land. The action in Milton excells (I think) both the former in this particular: We fee it contrived in Hell, executed upon Earth, and punished by Heaven. The
parts of it are told in the most distinct manner, and grow out of one another in the most natural order.
The third qualification of an epick poem is its Greatness. The anger of Achilles was of fuch confequence, that it embroiled the kings of Greece, destroyed the heroes of Afia, and engaged all the gods in factions. Æneas's fettlement in Italy produced the Cæfars, and gave birth to the Roman empire. Milton's fubject was still greater than either of the former; it does not determine the fate of fingle perfons or nations, but of a whole species. The united Powers of Hell are joined together for the deftruction of mankind, which they effected in part, and would have completed, had not Omnipotence itself interpofed. The principal actors are Man in his greatest perfection, and Woman