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Those who have read Bossu, and many of the critics who have written since his time, will not pardon me if I do not find out the particular moral which is inculcated in Paradise Lost.Though I can by no means think, with the lastmentioned French author, that an epic writer first of all pitches upon a certain moral, as the groundwork and foundation of his poem, and afterwards finds out a story to it; I am however of opinion, that no just heroic poem ever was or can be made, from whence one great moral may not be deduced. That which reigns in Milton is the most universal and most useful that can be imagined. It is in short this, that obedience to the will of God makes men happy, and that disobedience makes them miserable. This is visibly the moral of the principal fable, which turns upon Adam and Eve, who continued in Paradise while they kept the command that was given them, and were driven out of it as soon as they had transgressed. This is likewise the moral of the principal episode, which shows us how an innumerable multitude of angels fell from their disobedience. Besides this great moral, which may be looked upon as the soul of the fable, there are infinity of under-morals which are to be drawn from the several parts of the poem, and which make this work more useful and instructive than any other poem in any language.
Those who have criticized on the Odyssey, the Iliad and Eneid, have taken a great deal of pains to fix the number of months and days contained in the action of each of those poems. If any one thinks it worth his while to examine this particular in Milton, he will find, that from Adam's first appearance in the fourth book, to his expulsion from Paradise in the twelfth, the author reckons
ten days. As for that part of the action which is described in the three first books, as it does not pass within the regions of nature, I have before observed that it is not subject to any calculations of time.
I have now finished my observations on a work which does an honour to the English nation. I have taken a general view of it under these four heads-the fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language, and made each of them the subject of a particular paper. I have in the next place spoke of the censures which our author may incur under each of these heads, which I have confined to two papers, though I might have enlarged the number if I had been disposed to dwell on so ungrateful a subject. I believe, however, that the severest reader will not find any little fault in heroic poetry, which this author has fallen into, that does not come under one of those heads among which I have distributed his several blemishes. After having thus treated at large of Paradise Lost, I could not think it sufficient to have celebrated this poem in the whole without descending to particulars. I have therefore bestowed a paper upon each book, and endeavoured not only to prove that the poem is beautiful in general, but to point out its particular beauties; and, to determine wherein they consist, I have endeavoured to show how some passages are beautiful by being sublime, others by being soft, others by being natural; which of them are recommended by the passion, which by the moral, which by the sentiment, and which by the expression. I have likewise endeavoured to show how the genius of the poet shines by a happy invention, a distant allusion, or a judicious imitation; how he has copied or improved Homer
or Virgil, and raises his own imaginations by the use which he has made of several poetical passages in scripture. I might have inserted also several passages in Tasso, which our author has imitated: but, as I do not look upon Tasso to be a sufficient voucher, I would not perplex my reader with such quotations as might do more honour to the Italian than to the English poet. In short, I have endeavoured to particularize those innumerable kinds of beauty which it would be tedious to recapitulate, but which are essential to poetry, and which may be met with in the works of this great author. Had I thought, at my first engaging in this design, that it would have led me so great length, I believe I should never have entered upon it: but the kind reception which it has met with among those whose judgment I have a value for, as well as the uncommon demands which my bookseller tells me have been made for these particular discourses, give me no reason to repent of the pains I have been at in composing them. L.
No. 370. MONDAY, MAY 5, 1712.
Totus mundus agit histrionem.
-All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
MANY of my fair readers, as well as very gay and well-received persons of the other sex, are extremely perplexed at the Latin sentences at the head of my speculations. I do not know whether I ought not to indulge them with translations of
each of them however, I have to-day taken down from the top of the stage in Drury-lane a bit of Latin which often stands in their view, and signifies, that The whole world acts the player,'. It is certain that if we look all round us, and behold the different employments of mankind, you hardly see one who is not, as the player is, in an assumed character. The lawyer who is vehement and loud in the cause wherein he knows he has not the truth of the question on his side, is a player as to the personated part, but incomparably meaner than he as to the prostitution of himself for hire; because the pleader's falsehood introduces injustice; the player feigns for no other end but to divert or instruct you. The divine, whose passions transport him to say any thing with any view but promoting the interests of true piety and religion, is a player with a still greater imputation of guilt, in proportion to his depreciating a character more sacred. Consider all the different pursuits and employments of men, and you will find half their actions tend to nothing else but disguise and imposture; and all that is done which proceeds not from a man's very self, is the action of a player. For this reason it is that I make so frequent mention of the stage. It is with me a matter of the highest consideration, what parts are well or ill performed, what passions or sentiments are indulged or cultivated, and consequently what manners and customs are transfused from the stage to the world, which reciprocally imitate each other. As the writers of epic poems introduce shadowy persons, and represent vices and virtues under the character of men and women; so I, who am a Spectator in the world, may perhaps sometimes make use of the names of the actors of the stage, to represent or
admonish those who transact affairs in the world. When I am commending Wilks for representing the tenderness of a husband and a father in Macbeth, the contrition of a reformed prodigal in Harry the Fourth, the winning emptiness of a young man of good-nature and wealth in the Trip to the Jubilee, the officiousness of an artful servant in the Fox; when thus I celebrate Wilks, I talk to all the world who are engaged in any of those circumstances. If I were to speak of merit neglected, misapplied, or misunderstood, might I not say Eastcourt has a great capacity? But it is not the interest of others who bear a figure on the stage, that his talents were understood; it is their business to impose upon him what cannot become him, or keep out of his hands any thing in which he would shine. Were one to raise a suspicion of himself in man who passes upon the world for a fine thing, in order to alarm him, one might say, If Lord Foppington was not on the stage (Cibber acts the false pretensions to a genteel behaviour so very justly), he would have in the generality of mankind more that would admire than deride him. When we come to characters directly comical, it is not to be imagined what effect a well-regulated stage would have upon men's manners. The craft of an usurer, the absurdity of a rich fool, the awkward roughness of a fellow of half courage, the ungraceful mirth of a creature of half wit, might for ever be put out of countenance by proper parts for Dogget. Johnson, by acting Corbacchio the other night, must have given all who saw him a thorough detestation of aged avarice. The petulancy of a peevish old fellow, who loves and hates he knows not why, is very excellently performed by the ingenious Mr. William Penketh