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No. 321 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 321
Saturday, March 8, 1712. Addison.

Nec satis est pulchra esse poemata, dulcia sunto.


Those, who know how many Volumes have been written on the Poems of Homer and Virgil, will easily pardon the Length of my Discourse upon Milton. The Paradise Lost is looked upon, by the best Judges, as the greatest Production, or at least the noblest Work of Genius in our Language, and therefore deserves to be set before an English Reader in its full Beauty. For this Reason, tho I have endeavoured to give a general Idea of its Graces and Imperfections in my Six First Papers, I thought my self obliged to bestow one upon every Book in particular. The Three first Books I have already dispatched, and am now entering upon the Fourth. I need not acquaint my Reader that there are Multitudes of Beauties in this great Author, especially in the Descriptive Parts of his Poem, which I have not touched upon, it being my Intention to point out those only, which appear to me the most exquisite, or those which are not so obvious to ordinary Readers. Every one that has read the Criticks who have written upon the Odyssey, the Iliad and the Aeneid, knows very well, that though they agree in their Opinions of the great Beauties in those Poems, they have nevertheless each of them discovered several Master-Strokes, which have escaped the Observation of the rest. In the same manner, I question not, but any Writer who shall treat of this Subject after me, may find several Beauties in Milton, which I have not taken notice of. I must likewise observe, that as the greatest Masters of Critical Learning differ among one another, as to some particular Points in an Epic Poem, I have not bound my self scrupulously to the Rules which any one of them has laid down upon that Art, but have taken the Liberty sometimes to join with one, and sometimes with another, and sometimes to differ from all of them, when I have thought that the Reason of the thing was on my side.

We may consider the Beauties of the Fourth Book under three Heads. In the first are those Pictures of Still-Life, which we meet with in the Description of Eden, Paradise, Adams Bower, etc. In the next are the Machines, which comprehend the Speeches and Behaviour of the good and bad Angels. In the last is the Conduct of Adam and Eve, who are the Principal Actors in the Poem.

In the Description of Paradise, the Poet has observed Aristotle’s Rule of lavishing all the Ornaments of Diction on the weak unactive Parts of the Fable, which are not supported by the Beauty of Sentiments and Characters. [2] Accordingly the Reader may observe, that the Expressions are more florid and elaborate in these Descriptions, than in most other Parts of the Poem. I must further add, that tho the Drawings of Gardens, Rivers, Rainbows, and the like dead Pieces of Nature, are justly censured in an Heroic Poem, when they run out into an unnecessary length; the Description of Paradise would have been faulty, had not the Poet been very particular in it, not only as it is the Scene of the Principal Action, but as it is requisite to give us an Idea of that Happiness from which our first Parents fell. The Plan of it is wonderfully Beautiful, and formed upon the short Sketch which we have of it in Holy Writ. Milton’s Exuberance of Imagination has poured forth such a Redundancy of Ornaments on this Seat of Happiness and Innocence, that it would be endless to point out each Particular.

I must not quit this Head, without further observing, that there is scarce a Speech of Adam or Eve in the whole Poem, wherein the Sentiments and Allusions are not taken from this their delightful Habitation. The Reader, during their whole Course of Action, always finds himself in the Walks of Paradise. In short, as the Criticks have remarked, that in those Poems, wherein Shepherds are Actors, the Thoughts ought always to take a Tincture from the Woods, Fields and Rivers, so we may observe, that our first Parents seldom lose Sight of their happy Station in any thing they speak or do; and, if the Reader will give me leave to use the Expression, that their Thoughts are always Paradisiacal.