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The action in Milton excels, I think, both the former in this particular; we see it contrived in hell, executed upon earth, and punished by heaven. The parts of it are told in the most distinct manner,
out of one another in the most natural method.
The third qualification of an epic poem is its greatness. The
of Achilles was of such consequence, that it embroiled the kings of Greece, destroyed the heroes of Troy, and engaged all the gods in factions. Æneas's settlement in Itaty produced the Cæsars, and gave birth to the Roman Empire. Milton's subject was still greater than either of the former: it does not determine the fate of single persons or nations, but of a whole species. The united powers of hell are joined together for the destruction of mankind, which they effected in part, and would have completed, had not Omnipotence itself interposed.The principal actors are man in his greatest perfection, and woman in her highest beauty. Their enemies are the fallen angels; the Messiah their friend, and the Almighty their protector. In short, every thing that is great in the whole circle of being, whether within the verge of nature or out of it, has a proper part assigned it in this
In poetry, as in architecture, not only the whole, but the principal members, and every part of them, should be great. I will not presume to say, that the book of games in the Æneid, or that in the Iliad, are not of this nature, nor to reprehend Virgil's simile of the top, and many others of the same kind in the Iliad, as liable to any censure in this particular; but I think we may
say, without derogating from those wonderful performances, that there is an unquestionable magnificence in every part of Paradise Lost, and indeed a much greater than could have been formed upon any Pagan system.
But Aristotle, by the greatness of the action, does not only mean that it should be great in its nature, but also in its duration: or, in other words, that it should have a due length in it, as well as what we properly call greatness. The just measure of this kind of magnitude, he explains by the following similitude. An animal no bigger than a mite can not appear perfect to the eye, because the sight takes it in at once, and has only a confused idea of the whole, and not a distinct idea of all its parts; if, on the contrary, you should șuppose an animal of ten thousand furlongs in length, the eye would be so filled with a single part of it, that it could not give the mind an idea of the whole. What these animals are to the eye, a very short or a very long action would be to the memory. The first would be, as it were, lost and swallowed up by it, and the other difficult to be contained in it. Homer and Virgil have shown their principal art in this particular; the action of the lliad, and that of the Æneid, were in themselves exceeding short, but are so beautifully extended and diversified by the invention of episodes, and the machinery of gods, with the like poetical ornaments, that they make up an agreeable story, sufficient to employ the memory without overcharging it. Milton's action is enriched with such a variety of circumstances, that I have taken as much pleasure in reading the contents of his books as in the best invented story
I ever met with. It is possible, that the traditions, on which the Iliad and Æneid were built had more circumstances in them than the history of The Fall of Man, as it is related in scripture. Besides, it was easier for Homer and Virgil to dash the truth with fiction, as they were in no danger of offending the religion of their country by it. But as for Milton, he had not only a very few circumstances upon which to raise his poem, but was also obliged to proceed with the greatest caution in every thing that he added out of his own invention. And, indeed, notwithstanding all the restraint he was under, he has filled his story with so many surprising incidents, which bear so close an analogy with what is delivered in holy writ, that it is capable of pleasing the most delicate reader, without giving offence to the most scrupulous.
The modern critics have collected from several hints in the Iliad and Æneid the space of time which is taken up by the action of each of those poems; but as a great part of Milton's story was transacted in regions that lie out of the reach of the sun and the sphere of day, it is impossible to gratify the reader with such a calculation, which indeed would be more curious than instructive; none of the critics, either ancient or modern, haring laid down rules to circumscribe the action of an epic poem with any determined number of years, days, or hours.
This piece of criticism, on Milton's Paradise Lost, shall be carried on in the following Saturday's paper. ADDISON.
No. 268. MONDAY, JANUARY 7.
-Minus aptus acutis
It is not that I think I have been more witty than I ought of late, that at present I wholly forbear any attempt towards it: I am of opinion that I ought sometimes to lay before the world the plain letters of my correspondents in the artless dress in which they hastily send them, that the reader may see I am not accuser and judge myself, but that the indictment is properly and fairly laid, before I proceed against the criminal.
As you are a Spectator-general, I apply myself to you in the following case, viz. I do not wear a sword, but I often divert myself at the theatre, where I frequently see a set of fellows pull plain people, by way of humour and frolic, by the nose upon frivolous or no occasions. Á friend of mine the other night, applauding what a graceful exit Mr. Wilkes made; one of these nose-wringers overhearing him, pinched him by the nose.
'I was in the pit the other night (when it was very much crowded,) a gentleman leaning upon me, and very heavily, I very civilly requested him to remove his hand; for which he pulled me by the nose. I would not resent it in so public a place, because I was unwilling to create a disturbance; but have since reflected upon it as a thing that is unmanly and disingenuous, renders the nose-puller odious, and makes the person pulled by the nose look little and contemptible. This grievance l humbly request you will endeavour to redress. I am your admirer, &c.
* This letter was written by a Mr. James Heywood, a famous linen draper, who lived till the year 1776.
JAMES EASY.' MR. SPECTATOR,
Your discourse of the 29th of December, (No. 261) on love and marriage, is of so useful a kind, that I can not forbear adding my thoughts to yours on that subject. Methinks it is a misfortune, that the marriage state, which in its own nature is adapted to give us the completest happiness this life is capable of, should be so uncomfortable a one to so many as it daily proves. But the mischief generally proceeds from the unwise choice people make for themselves and an expectation of happiness from things not capable of giving it. Nothing but the good qualities of the person beloved can be a foundation for a love of judgment and discretion; and whoever expects happiness from any thing but virtue, wisdom, good humour, and a similitude of manners, will find themselves widely mistaken. But how few are there who seek after these things, and do not rather make riches their chief, if not their only aim? How rare is it for a man when he engages himself in the thoughts of marriage, to place his hopes of having in such a woman a constant, agreeable companion; one who will divide his cares, and double his joys; who will manage that share of his estate he entrusts to her care with