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the discontinuance of the story in vision, at the commencement of the twelfth book; and have regarded the circumstance, whether resulting from apprehérded difficulty or from error in the great poet's judgment, as forming a blemish in the work and conducting it with abated vigour to the goal. But to suggest the defects of this glorious poem would be a short labour, while a display of its beauties would occupy a volume. With respect to grandeur of conception, it must be regarded as the first, and to the general exhibition of intellectual power, as unquestionably the second among all the productions of human genius'; while, in the subordinate excellences of composition, it will be found to yield the precedency only to the wonderful Iliad," or to the august and polished Æneid. If we reflect indeed on the greatly inferior language, in which the English poet has been compelled to embody the creatures of his brain, we shall be much more surprised at the approach in perfection which he has made to the poetic diction of the two mighty masters of heroic song, than at his
u When I make this assertion I am not ignorant of the great and daring imagivation of Dante, of the sportive and affluent fancy of Ariosto; of the powerful yet regulated and classic genius of Tasso,
acknowledged inability to exalt the beauty and harmony of his muse into a doubiful competition with theirs.
In the second edition of the Paradise Lost, which was published, as we have already suggested, in 1674, the author divided the seventh and the tenth book, for the purpose of breaking the length of their narration, each into two; and thus changed the original distribution of his work from ten into twelve books.
On this new arrangement, the addition of a few lines became necessary to form a regular opening to the eighth and the twelfth book; and these nine verses, for such is their number, with six
* The additional Lines are the following ones included between
the inverted commas“
BOOK V. v. 637.
others, inserted partly in the fifth book and partly in the eleventh, constituted all the alterations deemed necessary by the poet in that mighty production of his mind, on which his fame with posterity was principally to rest and which formed the great and the crowning exploit of his life. The Paradise Lost therefore may be contemplated with more wonder as springing, like another Pallas, in a state of full maturity from the head of its mighty father, and proudly relinquishing every subsequent demand on him for the assistance of parental affection. I notice this circumstance indeed, which has been remarked before me by Fenton, rather for its curiosity than to detract from the merit of those, who make their advances to relative perfection by frequent and laborious revision. The final excellence of the work is all with which the world is concerned; and the existence of the mental power, which
“ Of surfeit, where full measure only bounds
Book XI. v. 484.
eventually accomplishes the object, is all that respects the reputation of the writer.
That, under the disadvantage of blindness, the poet should be able to preserve entire the combination of such a poem as the Paradise Lost, is indeed a just subject of surprise. In compositions of any length, in which strict unity of design is required, the author, after the first construction of his fable, has his papers before him to correct those accidental deviations from his course, into which he may unwarily have been betrayed. But without this resource against error, and with a very inadequate substitute for it in the occasional readings of a friend, Milton must have retained in his memory all the intricacies of his fable; and have seen them all, during the time of composition, in one strong point of concentrated vision. Through the whole extent of his poem no incongruity is to be detecled; and all the various lines are drawn with infallible rectitude to their just' point.
y A modern French critic (Le Harpe in his Lyceum, vol. xiv.) calls the Paradise Lost a shapeless production,-a poem which has neither course nor plan; and which joins to many other faults that of terminating at the end of the fifth canto, so that it is impossible to wade through what follows without languor!!! To what cause are we to impute this strange language of the critic? It seems to argue the most entire ignorance of his subject in union with the most consummate conceit: but it may
Bentley indeed imagined that he had discovered inconsistency in the relations, in different parts of the poem, of the expulsion of the rebel Angels from heaven : but the acuteness of the great critic, which had been so illustriously displayed in a variety of preceding instances, failed him in this; as it did in almost every other when it was exercised on the Paradise Lost. In the sixth book, the apostate Angels are certainly driven into the deep by the sole might of the Messiah: but although the army of the faithful, which had before been engaged in the combat,
“ silent stood,
proceed from nothing more than the wish of propitiating popular regard by the sacrifice of a majestic foe on the altar of national vanity.
z The great Bentley, when he undertook the editing of Milton, was far advanced in age, and soon after this work, which formed his last publication, his faculties discovered very evident decline. In many of his former works he has displayed a vigour and sagacity of mind, an extent and accuracy of erudition which are truly wonderful, and which, perhaps, have never been exceeded. But his edition of Milton, though it exhibits many characters of the great critic, must be pronounced to be altogether an egregious failure. To the critical sagacity of Bentley may be applied what Virgil says of the sword of Metiscus.
“ Idque diu dum terga dabant palantia Teucri
Suffecit: postquam arma Dei ad Vulcania ventum,