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Pope, in a letter to Mr. Walsh, containing some critical observations on English versification, remarks, that in any smooth English verse of ten syllables, there is naturally a pause at the fourth, fifth, or sixth syllable, and upon the judicious change and management of these depends the variety of versification. But Milton, a master of greater melody than any other English poet, varies the pause according to the sense, through all the ten syllables, and scarcely ever suffers it to rest upon the same syllable in more than two, and seldom in so many verses together. Here it is upon the first syllable of the verse.
others on the grass
Couch'd-and now fill'd with pasture gazing sat. iv. 351. -such as in their souls infix'd
Plagues; they astonish'd all resistance lost. vi. 838. Upon the second,
these to their nests
Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale; iv. 602.
He speeds, and through the vast ethereal sky. v. 267. Upon the third,
-what in me is dark
what is low raise and support; i. 23.
-as the wakeful bird
Sings darkling, and in shadiest covert hid. iii. 39. Upon the fourth,
-on he led his radiant files,
Dazzling the moon ;-these to the bow'r direct iv. 798. at his right hand victory
Sat eagle-wing'd ;-beside him hung his bow, vi. 763. Upon the fifth,
-bears, tigers, ounces, pards,
Gambol'd before them ;-th' unwieldy elephant iv. 345.
-and in the air
Made horrid circles ;-two broad suns their shields vi. 305. Upon the sixth,
His stature reach'd the sky,-and on his crest iv. 988. Girt with omnipotence with radiance crown'd. vii. 194. Upon the seventh,
Majestic though in ruin-sage he stood ii. 305.
Birds on the branches warbling ;-all things smil'd viii. 265. Upon the eighth,
Hung on his shoulders like the moon,-whose orb i. 287. A fairer person lost not Heav'n;—he seem'd ii. 110. Upon the ninth,
Jehovah thund'ring out of Sion,-thron'd
And bush with frizled hair implicit ;-last
-thou that day
Thy Father's dreadful thunder didst not spare-iii. 393. Attended with ten thousand thousand saints-vi. 767. And sometimes to give the greater variety to the verse, there are two or more pauses in the same line: as
on the ground
Outstretch'd he lay, on the cold ground,-and oft
And swims,- -or sinks-or wades, or creeps, or flies:
Exhausted spiritless,-afflicted, fall'n.-vi. 852.
There are other excellencies in Milton's versification. The English heroic verse approaches nearest to the Iambic of the Ancients, of which it wants only a foot; but then it is to be measur'd by the tone and accent, as well as by the time and quantity. An Iambic foot is one short and one long syllable, and six such feet constitute an lambic verse; but the Ancients seldom made use of the pure Iambic, especially in works of any considerable length, but oftener of the mix'd Iambic, that is, with a proper intermixture of other measures; and of these perhaps Milton has express'd as happy a variety as any poet whatever, or inded as the nature of a verse will admit, that consists only of five feet, and ten syllables for the most part. Sometimes he gives us almost pure Iambics, as in i. ver. 314.
Sometimes he intermixes the Trochee or foot of one Iong and one short syllable, as in v. 49.
Sometimes the Spondee or foot of two long syllables, as
in v. 21.
Sometimes the Pyrrichius or foot of two short syllables, as in v. 64.
Sometimes the Dayle or foot of one long and two short syllables, as in v. 45
Sometimes the Anapest or foot of two short and one long syilable, as in v. 87.
Sometimes the Tribrachus or foot of three short syllables, as in v. 709
Sometimes there is variety of these measures in the same verse, and seldom or never the same measures in two verses toge.her. These changes are not only contrived for the greater variety, but to make the sound more expressive of the sense. So that Milton has abundantly exemplified in his own practice the rules laid down by himself in his preface, his versification having all the requisites of " true musical delight, which,' as he says, "consists only in apt numbers, fic quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn cut from one verse inte another."
4. With Loss of Eden,] Is meant no more than I ss of Paradise which was planted in Eden, which word Eden signifies delight or pleasure, and the country is supposed to be the same that was afterwards called Mesopotamia; particularly by our author in iv. 210, &c. Here the whole is put for a part, as sometimes a part for the whole, by a figure called Synecdoche.
4till one greater Man
Restores, and regain t e blissful seat,] As it is a greater Man, so it is a happier Paradise which our Saviour promised to the penitcnt thief, Luke xxiii. 43. This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise. But Milton had a notion that after the conflagration and the general judgment, the whole Earth would be made a Paradise, xii. 463.
The author, speaking here of regaining the blissful seat, had at this time formed some design of his poem of Paradise Regained. But however that be, in the beginning of that poem he manifestly alludes to the beginning of this, and there makes Paradise to be Regained by our Saviour's foiling the Tenpter in the wilderness.
I who ere while the happy garden sung,
Recover'd Paradise to all mankind,
By one Man's firm obedience fully try'dAnd Eden rais'd in the waste wilderness. 6.that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai,
Bentley says that Milton dictated sacred top. Horeb is called the mountain of God, 1 Kings, xix. 8, and the ground of it is said in Exod. iii. 5, to be boly. But let the mountain be never so boly, yet according to the rules of good poetry, when Milton speaks of the top of the mountain, he should give us an epithet peculiar to the top only, and not to the whole mountain. The epithet secret will not do here, because the top of this mountain is visible several leagues off. But Sinai and Horeb are the same mountain, with two several eminences, the higher of them called Sinai : and of Sinai Josephus in his Jewish Antiquit. Book iii. chap. 5, says, that "it is so high, that the top of it cannot be seen without straining the eyes." In this sense therefore, the top of it may well be said to be secret. In Exod: xvii. it is said that the Israelites, when encamped at the foot of Horeb, could find no water; from whence Dr. Bentley concludes, that Horeb had no clouds or mists about its top; and that therefore secret top cannot be here meant as implying that high mountains against rainy weather have their heads surrounded with mists. I never thought that any reader of Milton would have understood secret top in this sense. The words of Horeb or of Sinai imply a doubt of the poet, which name was properest to be given to that mountain, on the top of which Moses received his inspiration; because Horeb and Sinai are used for one another in Scripture, as may be seen by comparing Exod. iii. 1. with Acts vii. 30. Now it is well known from Exod. xix. 16. Ecclus. xlv. 5. and other places of Scripture, that when God gave his laws to Moses on the top of Sinai, it was covered with clouds, dark clouds, and thick smoke; it was therefore secret at that time in a peculiar sense : and the same thing seems intended by the epithet which our poet uses upon the very same occasion in xii. 227. God from the mount of Sinai, whose gray top Shall tremble, he descending, &c.
It appears from Scripture, that while Moses was with God in the mount, the people were not to come near it or touch it, till after a signal given, and then they were only to approach and not to ascend it, nor pass the bounds set for them, upon pain of death, Exod. xix. so that upon all accounts secret is the most proper epithet, that could have been chosen.
8. That shepherd, who first, &c.] For Moses kept the flock of Jethro bis father-in-law, Exod. iii. 1. and he is very properly said to have first taught the chosen seed, being the most ancient writer among the jews, and indeed the most ancient that is now extant in the world.
9. In the beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth] Alluding to the first words of Genesis.
11. and Siloa's brook] Siloa was a small river that flowed near the temple at Jerusalem. It is mentioned Isai. viii. 6. So that in effect he invokes the heavenly Muse, that inspired David and the prophets on mount Sion, and at Jerusalem,
as well as Moses on mount Sinai,
15. Above th Aonian mcunt,] A poetical expression for soaring to a height above ether poets. The mountains of Boeotia, anciently called Aonia, were the haunt of the Muses, and thus Virgil, Ecl. vi. 65; though afterwards that country was famous for the dulness of its inhabitants.
16. Things unattempted yet in prose or rhime.
It is evident that by hime in this place is meant verse in general; but Milton thought it would sound too low and familiar to the ear to say in prose or verse, and therefore chose rather to say in prose or rhime. When he says in prose or verse, he adds an epithet to take off from the commonness of the expression, as in v. 150.
Such prompt eloquence
It is said that Milton took the first hint of this poem from an Italian tragedy called Il Paradiso Perso; and that he has borrowed largely from Masenius, a German Jesuit, and other modern authors; but it is all a pretence. His is an original, if ever there was one. His subject indeed of the fall of Man, together with the principal episodes, may be said to be as old as Scripture, but his manner of handling them is entirely new, with new illustrations and new beau,