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A Brief Appraisal Of The Greek Literature In Its Foremost Pretensions
by [?]

When Dryden wrote his famous, indeed matchless, epigram upon the three great masters (or reputed masters) of the Epopee, he found himself at no loss to characterize the last of the triad–no matter what qualities he imputed to the first and the second, he knew himself safe in imputing them all to the third. The mighty modern had everything that his predecessors were ever thought to have, as well as something beside.[3] So he expressed the surpassing grandeur of Milton, by saying that in him nature had embodied, by concentration as in one focus, whatever excellencies she had scattered separately amongst her earlier favourites. But, in strict regard to the facts, this is far from being a faithful statement of the relations between Milton and his elder brothers of the Epos: in sublimity, if that is what Dryden meant by ‘loftiness of thought,’ it is not so fair to class Milton with the greatest of poets, as to class him apart, retired from all others, sequestered, ‘sole-sitting by the shores of old romance.’ In other poets, in Dante for example, there may be rays, gleams, sudden coruscations, casual scintillations, of the sublime; but for any continuous and sustained blaze of the sublime, it is in vain to look for it, except in Milton, making allowances (as before) for the inspired sublimities of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and of the great Evangelist’s Revelations. As to Homer, no critic who writes from personal and direct knowledge on the one hand, or who understands the value of words on the other, ever contended in any critical sense for sublimity, as a quality to which he had the slightest pretensions. What! not Longinus? If he did, it would have been of little consequence; for he had no field of comparison, as we, knowing no literature but one–whereas we have a range of seven or eight. But he did not: [Greek: To hypselon],[4] or the elevated, in the Longinian sense, expressed all, no matter of what origin, of what tendency, which gives a character of life and animation to composition–whatever raises it above the dead level of flat prosaic style. Emphasis, or what in an artist’s sense gives relief to a passage, causing it to stand forward, and in advance of what surrounds it–that is the predominating idea in the ‘sublime’ of Longinus. And this explains what otherwise has perplexed his modern interpreters–viz. that amongst the elements of his sublime, he ranks even the pathetic, i. e. (say they) what by connecting itself with the depressing passion of grief is the very counter-agent to the elevating affection of the sublime. True, most sapient sirs, my very worthy and approved good masters: but that very consideration should have taught you to look back, and reconsider your translation of the capital word [Greek: hypsos]. It was rather too late in the day, when you had waded half-seas over in your translation, to find out either that you yourselves were ignoramuses, or that your principal was an ass. ‘Returning were as tedious as go o’er.’ And any man might guess how you would settle such a dilemma. It is, according to you, a little oversight of your principal: ‘humanum aliquid passus est.‘ We, on the other hand, affirm that, if an error at all on the part of Longinus, it is too monstrous for any man to have ‘overlooked.’ As long as he could see a pike-staff, he must have seen that. And, therefore, we revert to our view of the case–viz. that it is yourselves who have committed the blunder, in translating by the Latin word sublimis[5] at all, but still more after it had received new determinations under modern usage.

[Footnote 3:
The beauty of this famous epigram lies in the form of the conception. The first had A; the second had B; and when nature, to furnish out a third, should have given him C, she found that A and B had already exhausted her cycle; and that she could distinguish her third great favourite only by giving him both A and B in combination. But the filling up of this outline is imperfect: for the A (loftiness) and the B (majesty) are one and the same quality, under different names. ]