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And linkt itself by carnal sensuality .. To a degenerate and degraded state.
Mask at Ludlow Castle. This philosophy of imbruted fouls becoming thick Sadows is so remote from any ideas entertained at present of the effects of Sin, and at the same time is so agreeable to the notions of Plato (a double favourite of Milton, for his own fake, and for the fake of his being a favourite with his Italian Masters), that there is not the least question of its being taken from the PHAEDO.
There is no wonder, .now one sees the fountain Milton drew from, that, in admiration of this poetical philosophy (which nourished the fine fpirits of that time, though it corrupted some), he should make the other speaker in the scene cry out, as in a fit of extasy,
How charming is divine philofophy!
Where no crude surfeit reigns the very ideas which Lord SHAFTESBURY has employed in his encomiums on the Plan tonic philosophy, and the very language which Dr. Henry MORE would have used, if he had known to express himself so soberly. .
3. Having said so much of Plato, whom the Italian writers have helped to make known to us, let me just observe one thing to our present purpose of those Italian writers themselves. One of their peculiarities, and almost the first that strikes us, is a certain sublime mystical air which runs through all their fictions. We find them a sort of philosophical fanatics, indulging themselves in strange conceits “ concerning “ the Soul, the chyming of celestial orbs, and “ presiding Syrens." One may tell by these marks, that they doted on the fancies of Plato; if we had not besides direct evidence for this conclusion. Tasso says of
himself, himself, and he applauds the same thing in Petrarch,“ Lesli già tutte l'opere di Platone, so è mi rimassero molti semi nella mente della “ sua dottrina.” I take these words from Menage, who has much more to the same purpose in his elegant observations on the Amintas of this poet.
One fees then where Milton had been for that imagery in the Arcades,
Then listen I
On which the fate of Gods and men is wound, . The best comment on these verses is a passage in the xth Book of Plato's Republic, where this whole system, of Syrens quiring to the fates, is explained or rather delivered.
IV. We have seen a Mark of Imitation, in the allusion of writers to certain strange, and foreign tenets of philosophy, The observation may be extended to all those passages (which are innumerable in our poets) that allude to the rites, customs, language, and theology of Paganism.
It is true, indeed, this species of Imitation is not that which is properly the subject of this letter. The most original writer is allowed to furnish himself with poetical ideas from all quarters. And the management of learned Allusion is to be regarded perhaps as one of the nicest offices of Invention. Yet it may be useful to see from what sources a great poet derives his materials; and the rather, as this detection will sometimes account for the manner in which he disposes of them. However, I will but detain you with a remark or two on this class of Imitations.
1. I observe, that even Shakespeare himfelf abounds in learned Allusions. How he came by them is another question; though not so difficult to be answered, you know, as some have imagined. They, who are in such astonishment at the learning of Shakespeare, besides that they certainly carry the notion of his illiteracy too far, forget that the Pagan imagery was familiar to all the poets of his time—that abundance of this sort of learning was to be picked up from almost every English book, he could take into his hands -- that many of the best writers in Greek and Latin had been tranflated into English - that his conversation lay among the most learned, that is, the most paganized, poets of his age—but above all, that, if he had never looked into books, or conversed with bookish men, he might have learned almost all the secrets of paganism (so far, I mean, as a poet had any use of them) from the Masks of B. Jonson ; contrived by that poet with so pedantical an exactness, that one is ready to take them for lectures and illustrations on the ancient learning, rather than exercises of modern wit. The taste of the age, much devoted to erudition, and still more, the taste of the Princes for whom he writ, gave a prodigious vogue to these unpatural exhibitions. And the knowledge of antiquity, requisite to succeed in them, was I imagine the reason that Shakespeare was not over-fond to try his hand at these elaborate trifles. Once indeed he dict, and with such success as to disgrace the very best things of this kind we find in Jonson. The short Mask in the Tempest is fitted up