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refined age, can genius effect such a he makes them utter; he pierces, by a prodigy? how often is it crushed in the single expression, at once to the outset of its career, or turned aside into heart. the humble and unobtrusive path of Milton strove to raise earth to heaimitation, to shun the danger with ven : Homer brought down heaven to which that of originality is beset ! earth. The latter attempt was a much
Milton's Paradise Lost contains easier one than the former; it was many more lines of poetic beauty than more consonant to human frailty ; Homer's Iliad; and there is nothing and, therefore, it has met with more in the latter poem of equal length,
The gods and goddesses in which will bear any comparison with the Iliad are men and women, endowthe exquisite picture of the primeval , ed with human passions, affections, innocence of our First Parents in his and desires, and distinguished only fourth book. Nevertheless, the Iliad from sublunary beings by superior is a more interesting poem than the power and the gift of immortality. Paradise Lost; and has produced and We are interested in them as we are will produce a much more exten- in the genii or magicians of an eastern sive impression on mankind. The
There is a sort of aerial reason is, that it is much fuller of epic poem going on between earth event, is more varied, is more filled and heaven. They take sides in the with images familiar to all mankind, terrestrial combat, and engage in the and is less lost in metaphysical or actual strife with the heroes engaged philosophical abstractions. Homer, in it. Mars and Venus were woundthough the father of poets, was essen- ed by Diomede when combating in tially dramatic; he was an incom- the Trojan ranks ; their blood, or parable painter; and it is his drama- rather the tic scenes, the moving panorama of “ Ichor which blest immortals shed,” his pictures, which fascinates the world. He often speaks to the heart,
flowed profusely; they fled howling and is admirable in the delineation of by a spiritual faith, fraught with su
to the palaces of heaven. Enlightened character; but he is so, not by con
blime ideas of the divine nature and vering the inward feeling, but by painting with matchless fidelity its
government, Milton was incomparexternal symptoms, or putting into ably more just in bis descriptions of the mouths of his characters the pre
the Supreme Being, and more elevated cise words they would have used in
in his picture of the angels and archsimilar circumstances in real life.
angels who carried on the strife in Even his immortal parting of Ilector
heaven ; but he frequently falls into and Andromache is no exception to metaphysical abstractions or theolothis remark; he paints the scene at
gical controversies, which detract from
the interest of his poem. the Scran gate exactly as it would have occurred in nature, and moves
Despite Milton's own opinion, the us as if we had seen the 'Trojan hero concurring voice of all subsequent taking off his helmet to assuage the
ages and countries has assigned to the terrors of his infant son,
Paradise Regained a much lower
and heard the lamentations of his mother at place than to the Paradise Lost. The parting with her husband. But he
reason is, that it is less dramatic-it
has less incident and action. Great does not lay bare the heart, with the terrible force of Dante, by'a line part of the poem is but an abstract theoor a word. There is nothing in Ho- logical debate between our Saviour and mer which conveys so piercing an idea
Satan. The speeches he makes them of misery as the line in the Inferno, close, the arguments cogent, the sen
utter are admirable, the reasoning is where the Florentine bard assigns the
timents elevated in the speakers, but reason of the lamentations of the spirits in Malebolge
dialectic too. In many of the speeches
of the angel Raphael, and in the “Questi non hanno speranza di morte."
council of heaven, in the Paradise Lost, * These have not the hope of death." there is too much of that species of There speaks the spiritual poet ; he discussion for a poem which is to does not paint to the eye, he does not interest the generality of men. Dryeven convey character by the words den says, that Satan is Milton's real hero ; and every reader of the der, is the theatre of their exploits. Paradise Lost must have felt, that in Jupiter, from the summit of Gargarus, the Prince of Darkness, and Adam could not have beheld the contending and Eve, the interest of the poem con- armies. The most ardent imaginasists. The reason is, that the vices tion, indeed, is satiated with his adof the first, and the weakness of the ventures, but the closest attention can two last, bring them nearer than any hardly follow their thread. Story after other characters in the poem to the story is told, the exploits of knight standard of mortality; and we are so after knight are recounted, till the mind constituted, that we cannot take any is fatigued, the memory perplexed, and great interest but in persons who all general interest in the poem lost. share in our failings.
Milton has admirably preserved the Perhaps the greatest cause of the unity of his poem; the grand and allsustained interest of the Iliad is the important object of the fall of man continued and vehement action which could hardly admit of subordinate or is maintained. The attention is sel- rival interests. But the great defect dom allowed to flag. Either in the in the Paradise Lost, arising from that council of the gods, the assembly of very unity, is want of variety. It is the Grecian or Trojan chiefs, or the strung throughout on too lofty a contest of the leaders on the field of key ; it does not come down suffibattle, an incessant interest is main- ciently to the wants and cravings of tained. Great events are always on mortality. The mind is awe-struck the wing: the issue of the contest is by the description of Satan careering perpetually hanging, often almost through the immensity of space, of the even, in the balance. It is the art battle of the angels, of the fall of with which this is done, and a state Lucifer, of the suffering, and yet unof anxious suspense, like the crisis subdued spirit of his fellow rebels, of of a great battle kept up, that the the adamantine gates, and pitchy great art of the poet consists. It is darkness, and burning lake of hell. done by making the whole drama- But after the first feeling of surprise tic-bringing the characters forward and admiration is over, it is felt by constantly to speak for themselvesall, that these lofty contemplations making the events succeed each other
are not interesting to mortals like ourwith almost breathless rapidity, and selves. They are too much above real balancing success alternately from one life—too much out of the sphere of side to the other, without letting it ordinary event and interest.
incline decisively to either. The fourth book is the real scene of Tasso has adopted the same plan in interest in the Paradise Lost; it is its his Jerusalem Delivered, and the con- ravishing scenes of primeval innotests of the Christian knights and Sa- cence and bliss which have given it racen leaders with the lance and the immortality. We are never tired of sword, closely resemble those of the recurring to the bower of Eve, to her Grecian and Trojan chiefs on the devotion to Adam, to the exquisite plain of Troy. Ariosto has carried it scenes of Paradise, its woods, its still further. The exploits of his Pa- waters, its flowers, its enchantments. ladins—their adventures on earth, in We are so, because we feel that it air, and water; their loves, their suf- paints the Elysium to which all asferings, their victories, their dangers— pire, which all have for a brief period keep the reader in a continual state of felt, but which none in this world can suspense. It is this sustained and durably enjoy. yaried interest which makes so many No one can doubt that Homer was readers prefer the Orlando Furioso endowed with the true poetic spirit, to the Jerusalem Delivered. But and yet there is very little of what we Ariosto has pushed it too far. In the now call poetry in his writings. There search of variety, he has lost sight of is neither sentiment nor declamation unity. His heroes are not congregat- -painting nor reflection. He is neied round the banners of two rival ther descriptive nor didactic. With potentates; there is no one object or great powers for portraying nature, interest in his poem. No narrow plain, as the exquisite choice of his epilike that watered by the Scaman- thets, and the occasional force of his similes prove, he never makes any open his mouth without descanting on laboured attempt to delineate her fea- the adventures of bis early years, and tures. He had the eye of a great the degenerate race of mortals who painter; but his pictorial talents are have succeeded the paladins of former employed, almost unconsciously, in days. He does not tell us that Achilles the fervour of narrating events, or the was wrathful andimpetuous; but every animation of giving utterance to time he speaks, the anger of the son thoughts. He painted by an epithet of Peleus comes boiling over his lips. or a line. Even the celebrated de- He does not describe Agamemnon as scription of the fires in the plain of overbearing and haughty; but the pride Troy, likened to the moon in a serene of the king of men is continually apnight, is contained in seven lines. pearing in his words and actions, and His rosy-fingered morn-cloud-com- it is the evident moral of the Iliad to pelling Jupiter-Neptune, stiller of represent its pernicious effects on the the waves-Aurora rising from her affairs of the Helenic confederacy. crocus bed--Night drawing her veil Ulysses never utters a word in which over the heavens—the black keel the cautious and prudent counsellor, careering through the lashing waves sagacious in design but prompt in exe-the shout of the far-sounding sea cution, wary in the council but decided -and the like, from which subse- in the field, far-seeing but yet persequent poets and dramatists have bor- vering, is not apparent. Diomede rowed so largely, are all brief allu- never falters ; alike in the field and sions, or epithets, which evidently did the council he is indomitable. When not form the main object of his strains. Hector was careering in his chariot He was a close observer of nature—its round their fortifications, and the king lights, its shades, its storms and calms, of men counselled retreat, he declarits animals, their migrations, theired he would remain, were it only cries and habits; but he never sus- with Sthenelus and his friends. So pends his narrative to describe them. completely marked, so well defined, We shall look in vain in the Iliad, are his characters, though they were and even the Odyssey, for the length- all rapacious chiefs at first sight, little ened pictures of scenery which are so differing from each other, that it has frequent in Virgil and Tasso, and ap- been observed with truth, that one pear in such rich profusion in Milton. well acquainted with the Iliad could He describes storms only as objects tell, upon hearing one of the speeches of terror, not to paint them to the eye. read out without a name, who was the Such things are to be found in the chief who uttered it. book of Job and in the Psalms, but The two authors, since his time, with the same brevity and magical who have most nearly approached force of emphatic expression. There him in this respect, are Shakspeare never was a greater painter of nature and Scott. Both seem to have rethan Homer; there never was a man ceived the pencil which paints the who aimed less at being so.
human heart from nature herself. The portraying ofcharacter and event Both bad a keen and searching eye was the great and evident object of the for character in all grades and walks Grecian bard; and there his powers of life; and what is a general accommay almost be pronounced unrivalled. paniment of such a disposition, a He never tells you, unless it is some- strong sense of the ridiculous. Both times to be inferred from an epithet, seized the salient points in mental what the man's character that he in- disposition, and perceived at a glance, troduces is. He trusts to the charac- as it were, the ruling propensity. ter to delineate itself. He lets us get Both impressed this character so acquainted with his heroes, as we do strongly on their minds, that they with persons around us, by hearing threw themselves, as it were, into the them speak, and seeing them act. very souls of the persons whom they In preserving character, in this dra- delineated, and made them speak and matic way of representing it, he is act like nature herself. It is this extrauorivalled. He does not tell you ordinary faculty of identifying themthat Nestor had the garrulity of age, selves with their characters, and and loved to recur to the events bringing out of their mouth the very of his youth; but he never makes him words which, in real life, would have
come, which constitutes the chief and Troy. Not that he has produced permanent attraction of these wonder- any poem which will for a moment ful masters of the human heart. Cer- bear a comparison with the Iliadvantes had it in an equal degree; and fine as the Lady of the Lake and Marthence it is that Homer, Shakspeare, mion are, it would be the height of Cervantes, and Scott, have made so national partiality to make any such great, and, to all appearance, durable comparison. But, nevertheless, Sir impression on mankind. The human Walter's mind is of the same dimenheart is, at bottom, every where the
sions as that of Homer. We see in same. There is infinite diversity in him the same combination of natural the dress he wears, but the naked sagacity with acquired information ; human figure of one country scarcely of pictorial cye with dramatic effect; differs from another. The writers who of observation of character with rehave succeeded in reaching this deep flection and feeling; of graphic power substratum, this far-hidden but com- with poetic fervour ; of ardour of imamon source of human action, are un- gination with rectitude of principle; derstood and admired over all the of warlike enthusiasm with pacific world. It is the same on the banks tenderness, which have rendered the of the Simoïs as on those of the Avon Grecian bard immortal. It is in his -on the Sierra Morena as the Scot- novels, however, more than his poetry, tish hills. They are understood alike that this resemblance appears ; the in Europe as Asia--in antiquity as author of Waverley more nearly apmodern times; one unanimous burst proaches the blind bard than the of admiration salutes them from the author of the Lay. His romances North Cape to Cape Horn-from the in
contain some passages age of Pisistratus to that of Napoleon. which are sublime, many which
Strange as it may appear to super- are beautiful, some pathetic. They ficial observers, Cervantes bears a are all interesting, and written in the close analogy, in many particulars, to same easy, careless style, interspersed Homer. Circumstances, and an in
with the most homely and grotesque herent turn for humour, made him expressions, which is so well known throw his genius into an exquisite to all the readers of the Iliad. The ridicu of the manners of chivalry; battle in Marmion is beyond all quesbut the author of Don Quixote tion, as Jeffrey long ago remarked, had in him the spirit of a great epic the most Homeric strife which has poet.
His lesser pieces prove it; been sung since the days of Homer, unequivocal traces of it are to be But these passages are few and far found in the adventures of the Knight between; his poems are filled with of La Mancha himself. The elevation numerous and long interludes, writof mind which, amidst all his aberra- ten with little art, and apparently tions, appears in that erratic charac- no other object but to fill up the ter; the incomparable traits of nature pages or eke out the story. It is in with which the work abounds; the prose that the robust strength, the faculty of describing events in the powerful arm, the profound knowledge most striking way; of painting scenes of the heart, appear; and it is there, in a few words ; of delineating char- accordingly, that he approaches at acters with graphic fidelity, and keep- times so closely to Homer. If we ing them up with perfect consistency, could conceive a poem, in which the which are so conspicuous in Don Quir- storming of Front-de-Bæuf's castle in ote, are so many of the most essen- Ivanhoe—the death of Fergus in Wavertial qualities of an epic poet. Nor ley—the storm on the coast, and death was the ardour of imagination, the scene in the fisher's hut, in the Antiromantic disposition, the brilliancy quary= the devoted love in the of fancy, the lofty aspirations, the Bride of Lammermoor — the fertender heart, which form the more vour of the Covenanters in Old Morelevated and not less essential part of tality, and the combats of Richard and such a character, wanting in the Saladin in the Talisman, were united Spanish novelist.
together, and intermingled with the Sir Walter Scott more nearly incomparable characters, descriptions, resembles Homer than any poet and incidents with which these novels who has sung since the siege of abound, they would form an epic poem. Doubts have sometimes been ex- Iliad. There are no councils of pressed, as to whether the Iliad and the gods; no messengers wingOdyssey are all the production of one ing their way through the clouds ; no man. Never, perhaps, was doubt combats of chiefs ; no cities to storm; not merely so ill founded, but so de- no fields to win. It is the infernal cisively disproved by internal evi- regions which the poet, under the dence. If ever in human composition guidance of his great leader, Virgil, the traces of one mind are conspicuous, visits; it is the scene of righteous rethey are in Homer. His beauties tribution through which he is led; it equally with his defects, his variety is the apportionment of punishment and uniformity, attest this. Never and reward to crime or virtue, in was an anthor who had so fertile an this upper world, that he is doomed imagination for varying of incidents; to witness. We enter the city of never was one who expressed them in lamentation—we look down the depths language in which the same words so of the bottomless pit—we stand at the coustantly recar. This is the invariable edge of the burning lake. His surcharacteristic of a great and powerful, vey is not a mere transient visit like but at the same time self-confident that of Ulysses in Homer, or of Æneas and careless mind. It is to be seen in Virgil. He is taken slowly and in the most remarkable manner in deliberately through every successive Bacon and Machiavel, and not a little circle of Malebolge; descending down of it may be traced both in the prose which, like the visitor of the tiers of and poetical works of Scott. The vaults, one beneath another, in a feureason is, that the strength of the dal castle, he finds every species of mind is thrown into the thought as malefactors, from the chiefs and kings the main object; the language, as a whose heroic lives were stained only subordinate matter, is little consider- by a few deeds of cruelty, to the deed. Expressions capable of energeti- praved malefactors whose base course cally expressing the prevailing ideas was unrelieved by one ray of virtue. of the imagination are early formed ; In the very conception of such a poem, but, when this is done, the powerful, is to be found decisive evidence of the careless mind, readily adopts them on mighty change which the human mind all future occasions where they are at had undergone since the expiring lays all applicable. There is scarcely a great of poetry were last heard in the ancient and original thinker in whose writ- world ; of the vast revolution of ings the same expressions do not very thought and inward conviction which, frequently recur, often in exactly the during a thousand years, in the solisame words. How much this is the tude of the monastery, and under the case with Homer-with how much sway of a spiritual faith, had taken discrimination and genius his epithets place in the human heart. A gay and expressions were first chosen, and and poetic mythology no longer how frequently he repeats them, al- amazed the world by its fictions, or most in every page, need be told to charmed it by its imagery. Relinone who are acquainted with his gion no longer basked in the sunwritings. That is the most decisive shine of imagination. The awful mark at once of genius and identity. words of judgment to come had been Original thinkers fall into repetition spoken ; and, like Felix, mankind had of expression, because they are always trembled. Ridiculous legends had speaking from one model—their own ceased to be associated with the shades thoughts. Subordinate writers avoid below—their place had been taken by this fault, because they are speaking images of horror. Conscience had refrom the thoughts of others, and share sumed its place in the direction of their variety. It requires as great an thought. Superstition had lent its effort for the first to introduce differ- awful power to the sanctions of relience of expression, as for the last to gion. Terror of future punishment reach diversity of thought.
bad subdued the fiercest passionsThe reader of Dante must not look internal agony tamed the proudest for the heart-stirring and animated spirits. It was the picture of a future narrative—the constant interest-the world-of a world of retributionbreathless suspense, which hurries conceived under such impressions, that us along the rapid current of the Dante proposed to give; it is that