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son of AEneas, but has given a place in his poem to those particular prophecies which he found recorded of him in history and tradition. The poet took the matters of fact as they came down to him, and circumstanced them after his own manner, to make them appear the more natural, agreeable, or surprising. I believe very many readers have been shocked at that ludicrous prophecy, which one of the harpies pronounces to the Trojans in the third book, namely, that before they had built their intended city, they should be reduced by hunger to eat their very tables. But, when they hear this was one of the circumstances that had been transmitted to the Romans in the history of AEneas, they will think the poet did very well in taking notice of it. The historian above-mentioned acquaints us, that' a prophetess had foretold AEneas he should take his voyage westward, till his companions should eat their tables; and that accordingly, upon his landing in Italy, as they were eating their flesh upon cakes of bread, for want of other conveniences, they afterwards fed on the cakes themselves; upon which one of the company said merrily, ‘We are eating our tables.” They immediately took the hint, says the historian, and concluded the prophecy to be fulfilled. As Virgil did not think it proper to omit so material a particular in the history of AEneas, it may be worth while to consider with how much judgment he has qualified it, and taken off every thing that might have appeared improper for a passage in an heroic poem. The prophetess who foretels it is an hungry harpy, as the person who discovers it is young Ascanius.
Heus etiam mensas consumimus, inquit Iulus!
See, we devour the plates on which we fed!
"The original folio, followed by Tickell, places that after Æneas. But an errata to the original No. 869, directs the change adopted in the text.—G.
Such an observation, which is beautiful in the mouth of a boy, would have been ridiculous from any other in the company. I am apt to think, that the changing of the Trojan fleet into water-nymphs, which is the most violent machine in the whole AFneid, and has given offence to several critics, may be accounted for the same way. Virgil himself, before he begins that relation, premises, that what he was going to tell appeared incredible, but that it was justified by tradition. What further confirms me that this change of the fleet was a celebrated circumstance in the history of AEneas is, that Ovid has given a place to the same metamorphosis in his account of the heathen mythology.
None of the critics I have met with having considered the fable of the AEneid in this light, and taken notice how the tradition, on which it was founded, authorizes those parts in it which appear the most exceptionable, I hope the length of this reflec. tion will not make it unacceptable to the curious part of my readers.
The history, which was the basis of Milton's poem, is still shorter than either that of the Iliad or AEneid. The poet has likewise taken care to insert every circumstance of it in the body of his fable. The ninth book, which we are here to consider, is raised upon that brief account in scripture, wherein we are told that the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field, that he tempted the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit, that she was overcome by this temptation, and that Adam followed her example. From these few particulars Milton has formed one of the most entertaining fables that invention ever produced. He has disposed of these several circumstances among so many agreeable and natural fictions of his own, that his whole story looks only like a comment upon sacred writ, or rather seems to be a full and complete relation of what the other is only an epitome. I have insisted the longer on this consideration, as I look upon the disposition and contrivance of the fable to be the principal beauty of the ninth book, which has more story in it, and is fuller of incidents, than any other in the whole poem. Satan's traversing the globe, and still keeping within the shadow of the night, as fearing to be discovered by the angel of the sun, who had before detected him, is one of those beautiful imaginations with which he introduces this his second series of adventures. Having examined the nature of every creature and found out one which was the most proper for his purpose, he again returns to Paradise; and, to avoid discovery, sinks by night with a river that ran under the garden, and rises up again through a fountain that issued from it by the tree of life. The poet, who, as we have before taken notice, speaks as little as possible in his own person, and, after the example of Homer, fills every part of his work with manners and characters, introduces a soliloquy of this infernal agent, who was thus restless in the destruction of man. He is then described as gliding through the garden under the resemblance of a mist, in order to find out that creature in which he designed to tempt our first parents. This description has something in it very poetical and surprising.
So saying through each thicket dank or dry,
The author afterwards gives us a description of the morning, which is wonderfully suitable to a divine poem, and peculiar to that first season of nature : he represents the earth, before it was curst, as a great altar, breathing out its incense from all parts, and sending up a pleasant savour to the nostrils of its Creator; to which he adds a noble idea of Adam and Eve, as offering their
morning worship, and filling up the universal consort of praise
Now when as sacred light began to dawn
The dispute which follows between our two first parents is represented with great art: it proceeds from a difference of judgment, not of passion, and is managed with reason, not with heat: it is such a dispute as we may suppose might have happened in Paradise, had man continued happy and innocent. There is great delicacy in the moralities which are interspersed in Adam's discourse, and which the most ordinary reader cannot but take notice of The force of love which the father of mankind so finely describes in the eighth book, and which is inserted in the foregoing paper, shews itself here in many fine instances; as in those fond regards he casts towards Eve at her parting from him :
Her long with ardent look his eye pursu'd
In his impatience and amusement during her absence.
Adam the while
But particularly in that passionate speech, where, seeing her irrecoverably lost, he resolves to perish with her, rather than to live without her.
-- Some cursed fraud Or enemy hath beguil'd thee, yet unknown, And me with thee hath ruin'd, for with thee Certain my resolution is to die; How can I live without thee, how forego Thy sweet converse, and love so dearly join'd, To live again in these wild woods forlorn ? Should God create another Eve, and I Another rib afford, yet loss of thee Would never from my heart; no, no, I feel The link of nature draw me: flesh of my flesh, Bone of my bone thou art, and from thy state Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe. The beginning of this speech, and the preparation to it, are animated with the same spirit as the conclusion, which I have here quoted. The several wiles which are put in practice by the tempter, when he found Eve separated from her husband, the many pleasing images of nature which are intermixed in this part of the story, with its gradual and regular progress to the fatal catastrophe, are so very remarkable, that it would be superfluous to point out their respective beauties. I have avoided mentioning any particular similitudes in my remarks on this great work, because I have given a general account of them in my paper on the first book. There is one, however, in this part of the poem which I shall here quote, as it is not only very beautiful, but the closest of any in the whole poem; I mean that where the serpent is described as rolling forward in all his pride, animated by the evil spirit, and conducting Eve to her destruction, while Adam was at too great a distance from her to give her his assistance. These several particulars are all of them wrought into the following similitude: