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detractors who feed and fatten on the body of a noble game, which they have hunted down. Nor would I, on the other side, be one of that abject crowd, who swell, without thought or reason, the general shout of applause or the condemnatory hiss.

It has been well remarked, that even in Milton's own lifetime, when he was poor, old, blind, and neglected, when his political enemies reigned triumphant, the "Paradise Lost" was received by the nation as a great work, and that the sale of 1,300 copies in two years, at that period, is a proof of great popularity.

The time immediately following produced Dryden's well known epigram:

"Three poets, iu three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn :
The first in loftiness of thought surpassed;
The next in majesty; in both the last.
The force of nature could no further go;

To make a third she joined the other two."

I cannot pause to criticise this dictum, which, to say the least, is far less correct than pointed. It reveals total ignorance of the relative merit of Homer, who is all nature, originality, and vigour, and of Virgil, who is all art, imitation, and elegance; and it certainly overshoots the mark by placing Milton above all the other poets, the world ever produced.

From that time Milton's fame was firmly established and generally acknowledged. But the foundation of a reasonable appreciation of the poet was laid by Addison, who first undertook to analyze and to demonstrate the beauties of the "Paradise Lost." But Addison was, I should almost be tempted to say, too amiable a critic. He practically followed the rule which he laid down, that "a true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, and to discover the concealed beauties of a writer." This is lowering the critic to the position of a paid advocate, instead of raising him to the dignity of an impartial judge. It is the general fault of editors, who are mostly too much in love with their authors to be just to him or others.

A greater proof of Milton's excellence than the praise of Addison is the disguised censure of Richard Bentley, the greatest of English and the greatest of European critics. Nay, the fact, that Bentley undertook to edit the "Paradise Lost," proves, that he considered Milton a worthy rival of the great poets of antiquity. But, in his critical annotations, Bentley very ingeniously and astutely, though perhaps not very honestly, exposes the blemishes of the poem, whilst pretending to extol the poet, and to purge his text from the interpolations and corruptions, which, as

he affects to believe, the incompetent hands of some over-zealous friend and editor introduced into the spotless original of the blind poet. Bentley's criticism, however, is only verbal and textual; he never rises to the contemplation of the poem as a whole; but his remarks are nevertheless highly interesting and instructive; they are invariably clever, sparkling with wit and ingenuity, and they indicate the finest tact for grammatical propriety and correctness of diction. His proposed alterations are, perhaps, not in a single instance real emendations of the text, i.e. restorations of the original reading, such as it must be supposed to have proceeded from the author's mind (and such alterations only have we a right and a duty to introduce into the text); they are, on the contrary, suggested improvements, such as a friend of the author would note on the margin of a proof sheet; and it must be owned, a great proportion of these suggestions are so happy and pleasing, that Milton, had he seen them, would no doubt have adopted them readily and thankfully.

Dr. Johnson's Life of Milton is a very able and useful performance. Johnson was not a blind idol-worshipper. He had his eyes open to see defects as well as merits; and he had the courage and good sense to qualify his praise, where he saw proper. Perhaps there is something of the rancour of party spirit in the judgment, which he passes on Milton the politician and the theologian; but of Milton the poet, he is, in spite of several exceptions that he takes, an honest and enthusiastic admirer. He speaks of the "Paradise Lost" as "a poem, which, considered with respect to design, may claim the first place, and, with respect to performance, the second among the productions of the human mind."

Milton's numerous editors and biographers and all the writers on English literature, as far as I am acquainted with them, express the same transcendent admiration. To name one for all-Macaulay, in that sparkling, though half juvenile treatise, which forms the first of his valuable contributions to the Edinburgh Review, expresses the same opinion: "We are sure," he says, "that the superiority of the 'Paradise Lost' to the Paradise Regained' is not more decided than the superiority of the Paradise Regained' to every poem, which has since made its appearance." Further on he says: "We hasten on to that extraordinary production, which the general suffrage of critics has placed in the highest class of human compositions."

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But all the praise so generally and generously bestowed upon the bard of "Paradise Lost" and "Regained" is summed up and expressed in what may be considered the general sentiment at present, viz. that in

the whole range of English poetry there is only one superior to him, and that one-Shakspeare.

Let us now turn to the examination of this wonderful work, the "Paradise Lost." A complete and exhausting critique I do not pretend to give. Such an undertaking would lead me far beyond the limits, to which I am bound in this place. I shall, therefore, but cursorily touch upon the subject matter of the poem, the plan and the mode of execution, and lastly, I shall enter more fully into the style and diction.

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With reference to the subject matter of "Paradise Lost," I find, that the general opinion of critics commends it as the best, that could have been found. Mr. Hallam, (Literat. of Europe, IV., 24,) whom I select as their representative, says, "The subject of Paradise Lost' is the finest, that has ever been chosen for heroic poetry." He goes on to say, "that the "Iliad' wants completeness, that the subject of the 'Odyssey' is hardly extensive enough for a legitimate epic, that the 'Aeneid' is spread over too long a space; that Tasso is superior both in choice and management of his subject to most of these." "Yet," he concludes, "the Fall of Man has a more general interest than the Crusade."*

It is foreign to my plan to criticise Mr. Hallam's rash judgment of the "Iliad" and "Odyssey;" nor will I impugn the truth of his concluding sentence, "that the Fall of Man has a more general interest than the Crusades," or, (to generalize his isolated dictum into a theory,) than any event of local or merely partial historical consequences:-I allow this to be perfectly correct; but I deny, that a subject is adapted for an epic poem in proportion to the general interest it excites. It is true, that a subject, if generally interesting, secures for the work an attentive hearing, and can hardly fail to make it popular, but the fitness for an epic poem mainly depends upon other conditions and circumstances than either its religious, or national, or historical interest. The poet must not trade upon a popular idea, but he must be able to create interest, where none existed, and maintain it through the variations of political, social, and religious revolutions. The interest must be poetical. This constitutes its title to superiority; all other interest serves merely as a recommendation. The highest questions, which agitate the human mind, the inquiries into the attributes of the Deity, the nature of our soul, and our future state, must for ever possess for us the most thrilling interest; but are they therefore fit subjects for

* Johnson's Life of Milton, page 165 :-" It is justly remarked by Addison, that this poem has, by the nature of its subject, the advantage above all others, that it is universally and perpetually interesting. All mankind will, through all ages, bear the same relation to Adam and to Eve, and must partake of that good and evil which extend to themselves


poetical narrative? The very cause, which invests them with the sanctity of religious awe, repels as uncongenial the fictions and illusions of the poet; they may inspire the Psalmist to pour forth his soul in prayer and admiration and awe and holy love, but they refuse to be moulded by the epic poet in plastic figures, forms familiar to us, and in which we discover extent, weight, colour, and all the grosser attributes of matter. Let not the epic poet plead the example of sacred writings. It is because of their sacredness that those forms should not be taken from the altar and arrayed as dramatis personae, and made to speak and act like other mortal beings, the earthborn though ever so sublime fancies of the poetic muse.* Who can listen to a conversation of God the Father and God the Son without the silent shudder of a man guilty unwillingly of sacrilege? Who can bear irony put into the mouth of God? Who can undertake to justify the ways of God to man except by prayer, and faith, and humble submission to Providence.

There was a time, when sacred history was the only subject of dramatical composition, when the Biblical account of the Fall, of the Flood, of Moses and David, nay of the Birth, the Life, the Death of Christ were acted on the stage. What was it, that called forth these phenomena ? It was not the poetic, but the religious interest in the subjects of these productions. We have overcome that period of imperfect development of true religious sentiment and poetical art. We acknowledge

*Hallam Lit. of Eur., vol. IV. c. 5, s. 25. "It is difficult to enlarge or adorn such a story by fiction. Milton has done much in this way, yet he was partly restrained by the necessity of conforming to Scripture."

+ Milton's Paradise Lost, v. 719.

"Son, thou in whom my glory I behold
In full resplendence, heir of all my might;
Nearly it now concerns us to be sure
Of our omnipotence, and with what arms
We mean to hold, what anciently we claim

Of deity or empire: such a foe

Is rising, who intends to erect his throne
Equal to ours throughout the spacious north;
Nor so content, hath in his thought to try
In battle, what our power is, or our right.

Let us advise, and to this hazard draw
With speed what force is left, and all employ

In our defence; lest unawares we lose

This our high place, our sanctuary, our hill."

This justification of the ways of God to man is, after all, not so much contained in the whole conduct of the poem, it is not practically exemplified by narrated events, but theoretically set forth in isolated passages, more especially in the speech of God to the Messiah, III. 80-134:-" Only begotten Son," &c.

that it was not correct taste, that produced mysteries and miracle plays, but an intense, though rude, not to say coarse, religiosity. We pardon the pious friars, who wrote their crude dramas to honour God in their way; we even respect them for their zeal, and we sympathise in some degree with their delighted and edified audiences; but we hold their productions to be false taste and a perversion of religion. We do not think, that these subjects are the best that could be selected, although they do possess a general interest. Mr. Hallam's theory therefore, it appears, does not apply to dramas. But is not the religious epic in its peculiar branch, what the miracle play is as a drama? What is the difference but this,-that the latter brings its persons before the bodily eye, whilst the epic paints them to our imagination?

The day of the miracle play is gone. It lingers, supported, and as it were sublimated, by the strains of music in our oratorios, where the words are overlooked and music alone fills the ear and the heart. The days of the sacred epic are numbered too. The time is coming, and we can discern its approach by unmistakeable signs,* when the subject of "Paradise Lost," in spite of the general interest which it excites, and which has made it so popular, will be among the first and most powerful reasons to remove it from the table, and erase it from the imagination of the pious Christian.t

In venturing to pronounce this prophecy, I take my standing exclusively upon the above-mentioned ground, viz., the general unfitness of a sacred subject for epic poetry. But I am aware, that other secondary causes, allied to and partly derived from the main cause, tend to the same effect. The mysteries of religion are dangerous ground. The

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*Hallam's Lit. of Europe, IV. 5, sec. 30:-"Yet much that is ascribed to God, sometimes with the sanction of Scripture, sometimes without it, is not wh lly pleasing, such as the Oath, that shook heaven's vast circumference,' and several other images of the same kind, which bring down the Deity in a manner not consonant to philosophical religion, however it may be borne out by the sensual analogies or mythic symbolism of oriental writing."

+ Johnson's Life of Milton, p. 172:- Pleasure and terror are indeed the genuine sources of poetry: but poetical pleasure must be such as human imagination can at least conceive; and poetical terror such as human strength and fortitude may combat. The good and evil of eternity are too ponderous for the wings of wit; the mind sinks under them in passive helplessness, content with calm belief and humble adoration."

Johnson's Life of Milton, p. 163:-"Milton has been censured for the impiety, which sometimes breaks from Satan's mouth; for there are thoughts, which no observation of character can justify, because no good man would willingly permit them to pass, however transiently, through his own mind. To make Satan speak as a rebel without any such expressions as might taint the readers imagination, was indeed one of the great difficulties in Milton's undertaking." This is a fault of the subject, not of the poet, and shows the truth of what we have advanced in the text.

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