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insured to him the exercise and the independence of his own elevated mind. There is frequent allusion to the works of antiquity in Milton, yet no poet, perhaps who revered the antients with such affectionate enthusiasm, has copied them so little. This was partly owing to the creative opulence of his own genius, and partly to his having fixed on a subject so different from those of Homer and Virgil, that he may be said to have accomplished a revolution in poetry, and to have purified and extended the empire of the epic muse. One of the chief motives that induced his imagination to desert its early favorite Arthur, and attach it. self to our first parents, is partly explained in those admirable verses of the ninth book, where the poet mentions the choice of his own subject, contrasted with those of his illustrious predecessors :
Or Neptune's ire, or Juno's, that so long
- This subject for heroic song Pleas'd me long choosing, and beginning late; Not sedulous by nature to indite Wars, hitherto the only argument Heroic deem'd, chief mast'ry to dissect, With long and tedious havoc, fabled knights, In battles feign'd; the better fortitude Of patience and heroic martyrdom Unsung; or to describe races and games, Or tilting furniture, imblazon'd shields, Impresses quaint, caparisons and steeds, Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights At joust and torneament; then marshal'd feast Serv'd up in hall with sewers and seneschals; The skill of artifice or office mean, Not that which justly gives heroic name To person or to poem : me of these Nor skill'd, nor studious, higher argument Remains, sufficient of itself to raise That name.
Milton seems to have given a purer signification than we commonly give to the word hero, and to have thought it might be assigned to any person eminent and attrac
tive enough to form a principal figure in a great picture. In truth, when we recollect the etymology which a philosopher and a saint have left us of the term, we cannot admire the propriety of devoting it to illustrious homicides. Plato derives the Greek word from others, that imply either eloquence or love; and St. Augustine, from the Grecian name of Juno, or the air, because original heroes were pure departed spirits, supposed to reside in that element. In Milton's idea, the ancient heroes of epic poetry seem to have too much resembled the modern great man, according to the delineation of that character in Fielding's exquisite history of Jonathan Wild the Great. Much as the English poet delighted in the poetry of Homer, he appears to have thought like an American writer of the present age, whose fervent passion for the Muses, is only inferior to his philanthropy, that the Grecian bard, though celebrated as the prince of moralists by Horace, and esteemed a teacher of virtue by St. Basil, has too great a tendency to nourish that sanguinary madness in man
kind, which has continually made the earth a theatre of carnage.' I am afraid that some poets and historians may have been a little accessary to the innumerable massacres, with which men, ambitious of obtaining the title of hero, have desolated the world ; and it is certain, that a severe judge of Homer may with some plausibility, apply to him the reproach that his Agamemnon utters to Achilles :
Αιει γαρ τοι ερις τε φιλα, πολεμοι τε μαχαι τις
“For all thy pleasure is in strife and blood.”
Yet a lover of the Grecian bard may observe in his defence, that in assigning these words to the leader of his host, he shews the pacific propriety of his own sentiments; and that, however his verses may have instigated an Alexander to carnage, or prompted the calamitous frequency of war, even this pagan poet, so famous as the describer of battles, detested the objects of his description.
But whatever may be thought of the heathen bard, Milton, to whom a purer re
ligion had given greater purity, and I think greater force of imagination, Milton from a long survey of human nature, had contracted such an abhorrence for the atrocious absurdity of ordinary war, that his feelings in this point, seem to have influenced his epic fancy. He appears to have relinquished common heroes, that he might not cherish the too common characteristic of man--a sanguinary spirit. He aspired to delight the imagination, like Homer, and to produce, at the same time, a much happier effect on the mind. Has he succeeded in this glorious idea ? Assuredly he has :-to please is the end of poetry. Hömer pleases perhaps more universally than Milton ; but the pleasure that the English poet excites, is more exquisite in its nature, and superior in its effect. An eminent painter of France used to say that in reading Ilomer, he felt his nerves dilated, and he seemed to encrease in stature. Such an ideal effect as Homer, in this example, produced on the body, Milton produces in the spirit. To a reader who thoroughly relishes the two poems on Paradise,