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and spirit, the love which is described in it is every way suitable to a state of innocence. If the reader compares the description which Adam here gives of his leading Eve to the nuptial bower, with that which Mr. Dryden has made on the same occasion in a scene of his Fall of Man, he will be sensible of the great care which Milton took to avoid all thoughts on so delicate a subject, that might be offensive to religion or good manners. The sentiments are chaste, but not cold, and convey to the mind ideas of the most transporting passion, and of the greatest purity. What a noble mixture of rapture and innocence has the author joined together, in the reflection which Adam makes on the pleasures of love, compared to those of sense.
Thus have I told thee all my state, and brought
When I approach
Authority and reason on her wait,
These sentiments of love in our first parent, gave the angel such an insight into human nature, that he seems apprehensive of the evils which might befal the species in general, as well as Adam in particular, from the excess of this passion. He therefore fortifies him against it by timely admonitions; which very artfully prepare the mind of the reader for the occurrences of the next book, where the weakness of which Adam here gives such distant discoveries, brings about that fatal event which is the subject of the poem. His discourse, which follows the gentle rebuke he received from the angel, shews that his love, however violent it might appear, was still founded in reason, and consequently not improper for Paradise.
Neither her outside form so fair, nor ought
Adam's speech, at parting with the angel, has in it a deference and gratitude agreeable to an inferior nature, and at the same time a certain dignity and greatness suitable to the father of mankind in his state of innocence.
No. 351. SATURDAY, APRIL 12.
In to omnis domus inclinata recumbit.
VIRG. Æn, xil 59.
If we look into the three great heroic poems which have appeared in the world, we may observe that they are built upon very slight foundations. Homer lived near 300 years after the Trojan war; and, as the writing of history was not then in use among the Greeks, we may very well suppose, that the tradition of Achilles and Ulysses had brought down but very few particulars to his knowledge; though there is no question but he has wrought into his two poems such of their remarkable adventures as were still talked of among his contemporaries.
The story of Æneas, on which Virgil founded his poem, was likewise very bare of. circumstances, and by that means afforded him an opportunity of embellishing it with fiction, and giving a full range to his own invention. We find, however, that he has interwoven, in the course of his fable, the principal particulars, which were generally believed among the Romans, of Æneas's voyage and settlement in Italy.
The reader may find an abridgment of the whole story, as collected out of the ancient historians, and as it was received among the Romans, in Dionysius Halicarnasseus.
Since none of the critics have considered Virgil's fable with relation to this history of Æneas, it may not, perhaps, be amiss to examine it in this light, so far as it regards my present purpose. Whoever looks into the abridgment above-mentioned, will find that the character of Æneas is filled with piety to the gods, and a superstitious observation of prodigies, oracles, and predic. tions. Virgil has not only preserved this character in the per
son of Æneas, 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 bad been transmitted to the Romans in the history of Æneas, they will think the poet did very well in taking notice of it. The historian above-mentioned acquaints us, that' a prophetess had foretold Æneas 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 Æneas, 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!
1 The original folio, followed by Tickell, places that after Æneas. But an errata to the original No. 369, 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 Æneid, 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 Æneas 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 Æneid 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 reflection 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 Æneid. 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 epi. tome. I have insisted the longer on this consideration, as I look