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Pope’s Retort Upon Addison
by [?]

‘Who would not laugh, if such a man there be?
Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?’

The sole reason for weeping is something that we knew already before we began to laugh.

It would not be right in logic, in fact, it would be a mis-classification, if I should cite as at all belonging to the same group several passages in Milton that come very near to Irish bulls, by virtue of distorted language. One reason against such a classification would lie precisely in that fact–viz., that the assimilation to the category of bulls lurks in the verbal expression, and not (as in Pope’s case) amongst the conditions of the thought. And a second reason would lie in the strange circumstance, that Milton had not fallen into this snare of diction through any carelessness or oversight, but with his eyes wide open, deliberately avowing his error as a special elegance; repeating it; and well aware of splendid Grecian authority for his error, if anybody should be bold enough to call it an error. Every reader must be aware of the case–

‘Adam the goodliest man of men since born
His sons; the fairest of her daughters Eve’–

which makes Adam one of his own sons, Eve one of her own daughters. This, however, is authorized by Grecian usage in the severest writers. Neither can it be alleged that these might be bold poetic expressions, harmonizing with the Grecian idiom; for Poppo has illustrated this singular form of expression in a prose-writer, as philosophic and austere as Thucydides; a form which (as it offends against logic) must offend equally in all languages. Some beauty must have been described in the idiom, such as atoned for its solecism: for Milton recurs to the same idiom, and under the same entire freedom of choice, elsewhere; particularly in this instance, which has not been pointed out: ‘And never,’ says Satan to the abhorred phantoms of Sin and Death, when crossing his path,

‘And never saw till now
Sight more detestable than him and thee.’

Now, therefore, it seems, he had seen a sight more detestable than this very sight. He now looked upon something more hateful than X Y Z. What was it? It was X Y Z.

But the authority of Milton, backed by that of insolent Greece, would prove an overmatch for the logic of centuries. And I withdraw, therefore, from the rash attempt to quarrel with this sort of bull, involving itself in the verbal expression. But the following, which lies rooted in the mere facts and incidents, is certainly the most extraordinary practical bull [1] that all literature can furnish. And a stranger thing, perhaps, than the oversight itself lies in this–that not any critic throughout Europe, two only excepted, but has failed to detect a blunder so memorable. All the rampant audacity of Bentley–‘slashing Bentley’–all the jealous malignity of Dr. Johnson–who hated Milton without disguise as a republican, but secretly and under a mask would at any rate have hated him from jealousy of his scholarship–had not availed to sharpen these practised and these interested eyes into the detection of an oversight which argues a sudden Lethean forgetfulness on the part of Milton; and in many generations of readers, however alive and awake with malice, a corresponding forgetfulness not less astonishing. Two readers only I have ever heard of that escaped this lethargic inattention; one of which two is myself; and I ascribe my success partly to good luck, but partly to some merit on my own part in having cultivated a habit of systematically accurate reading. If I read at all, I make it a duty to read truly and faithfully. I profess allegiance for the time to the man whom I undertake to study; and I am as loyal to all the engagements involved in such a contract, as if I had come under a sacramentum militare. So it was that, whilst yet a boy, I came to perceive, with a wonder not yet exhausted, that unaccountable blunder which Milton has committed in the main narrative on which the epic fable of the ‘Paradise Lost’ turns as its hinges. And many a year afterwards I found that Paul Richter, whose vigilance nothing escaped, who carried with him through life ‘the eye of the hawk, and the fire therein,’ had not failed to make the same discovery. It is this: The archangel Satan has designs upon man; he meditates his ruin; and it is known that he does. Specially to counteract these designs, and for no other purpose whatever, a choir of angelic police is stationed at the gates of Paradise, having (I repeat) one sole commission, viz., to keep watch and ward over the threatened safety of the newly created human pair. Even at the very first this duty is neglected so thoroughly, that Satan gains access without challenge or suspicion. That is awful: for, ask yourself, reader, how a constable or an inspector of police would be received who had been stationed at No. 6, on a secret information, and spent the night in making love at No. 15. Through the regular surveillance at the gates, Satan passes without objection; and he is first of all detected by a purely accidental collision during the rounds of the junior angels. The result of this collision, and of the examination which follows, is what no reader can ever forget–so unspeakable is the grandeur of that scene between the two hostile archangels, when the Fiend (so named at the moment under the fine machinery used by Milton for exalting or depressing the ideas of his nature) finally takes his flight as an incarnation of darkness,