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praise any passage in an author which has not been before received and applauded by the public, and that his criticism turns wholly upon little faults and errors. This part of a critic is so very easy to succeed in, that we find every ordinary reader, upon the publishing of a new poem, has wit and ill-nature enough to turn several passages of it into ridicule, and very often in the right place. This Mr. Dryden has very agreeably remarked in those two celebrated lines,
Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls, must dive below.
[A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation. The most exquisite words and finest strokes of an author are those which very often appear the most doubtful and exceptionable, to a man who wants a relish for polite learning; and they are these, which a sour undistinguishing critic generally attacks with the greatest violence. Tully observes, that it is very easy to brand or fix a mark upon what he calls verbum ardens, or as it may be rendered into English 'a glowing bold expression' and to turn it into ridicule by a cold ill-natured criticism. A little wit is equally capable of exposing a beauty, and of aggravating a fault; and though such a treatment of an author naturally produces indignation in the mind of an understanding reader, it has however its effect among the generality of those whose hands it falls into; the rabble of mankind being very apt
A true critic dwells, with more pleasure, upon the excellencies of the author he criticises, than upon his imperfections: but his duty is, to point out either, as occasion serves. As to what is said of discharging this office, in the way of ridicule, and not of serious observation, that is another affair. One would reason with a good writer, and laugh at a bad one. Yet the rule is not without exceptions: the ridicule on Dryden, in the Rehearsal, was just as well placed, as the serious criticism of our author, on Milton, in his next paper.-H.
to think that every thing which is laughed at with any mixture of wit, is ridiculous in itself.
Such a mirth as this is always unseasonable in a critic, as it rather prejudices the reader than convinces him, and is capable of making a beauty, as well as a blemish, the subject of derision. A man who cannot write with wit on a proper subject, is dull and stupid, but one who shews it in an improper place, is as impertinent and absurd. Besides, a man who has the gift of ridicule, is apt to find fault with any thing that gives him an opportunity of exerting his beloved talent, and very often censures a passage, not because there is any fault in it, but because he can be merry upon it. Such kinds of pleasantry are very unfair, and disingenuous, in works of criticism, in which the greatest masters, both ancient and modern, have always appeared with a serious and instructive air.
As I intend in my next paper to shew the defects in Milton's Paradise Lost, I thought fit to premise these few particulars, to the end that the reader may know I enter upon it, as on a very ungrateful work, and that I shall just point at the imperfections, without endeavouring to enflame them with ridicule. I must also observe with Longinus, that the productions of a great genius, with many lapses and inadvertencies, are infinitely preferable to the works of an inferior kind of author, which are scrupulously exact and conformable to all the rules of correct writing.
I shall conclude my paper with a story out of Boccalini,' which sufficiently shews us the opinion that judicious author entertained of the sort of critics I have been here mentioning. A famous critic, says he, having gathered together all the faults of an eminent poet, made a present of them to Apollo, who received them very graciously, and resolved to make the author a suitable
'Ragguagli di Parnasso-a work full of wit, and in many things highly congenial to the cast of Addison 3 own mind.-G.
return for the trouble he had been at in collecting them. In order to this, he set before him a sack of wheat, as it had been just threshed out of the sheaf." He then bid him pick out the chaff from among the corn, and lay it aside by itself. The critic applied himself to the task with great industry and pleasure, and after having made the due separation, was presented by Apollo with the chaff for his pains.
No. 297. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9.
As perfect beauties often have a mole.
AFTER What I have said in my last Saturday's paper, I shall enter on the subject of this without further preface, and remark the several defects which appear in the fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language of Milton's Paradise Lost; not doubting but the reader will pardon me, if I alledge at the same time, whatever may be said for the extenuation of such defects. The first imperfection which I shall observe in the fable is, that the event of it is Unhappy.
The fable of every poem is according to Aristotle's division either Simple or Implex. It is called simple when there is no change of fortune in it: implex when the fortune of the chief
As it had been threshed out of the sheaf. The way of ridicule, as Mr. Addison observed, is easily abused. To make this lively story apply to the critic, Apollo should have set before him a sack of wheat, as it was brought to market: but then the joke had been lost; for one sees, in that case, how the separation of the chaff from the corn, might answer a good end.-H.
actor changes from bad to good, or from good to bad. The 'implex fable is thought the most perfect; I suppose, because it is more proper to stir up the passions of the reader, and to surprise him with a greater variety of accidents.
The implex fable is therefore of two kinds: in the first the chief actor makes his way through a long series of dangers and difficulties, 'till he arrives at honour and prosperity, as we see in the story of Ulysses and Æneas. In the second, the chief actor in the poem falls from some eminent pitch of honour and prosperity, into misery and disgrace. Thus we see Adam and Eve sinking from a state of innocence and happiness, into the most abject condition of sin and sorrow.
The most taking tragedies among the ancients were built on this last sort of implex fable, particularly the tragedy of Edipus, which proceeds upon a story, if we may believe Aristotle, the most proper for tragedy that could be invented by the wit of man. I have taken some pains in a former paper to shew, that this kind of implex fable, wherein the event is unhappy, is more apt to affect an audience than that of the first kind; notwithstanding many excellent pieces among the ancients, as well as most of those which have been written of late years in our own country, are raised upon contrary plans. I must however own, that I think this kind of fable, which is the most perfect in tragedy, is not so proper for an heroic poem.
Milton seems to have been sensible of this imperfection in his fable, and has therefore endeavoured to cure it by several expedients; particulalry by the mortification which the great adver
'The words in italics are added in accordance with the author's directions in the fol. ed. of No. 315. Yet Tickell, who must have had Addison's own copy before him, omits them.-G.
To cure it by several expedients. We do not say to cure an imperfection, but a disease. For once, our author's curious felicity, in the choice of his terms, forsook him. The proper word is, conceal, or, cov er.-H.
sary of mankind meets with upon his return to the assembly of infernal spirits, as it is described in a beautiful passage of the tenth book; and likewise by the vision, wherein Adam at the close of the poem sees his off-spring triumphing over his great enemy, and himself restored to a happier Paradise than that from which he fell.
There is another objection against Milton's fable, which is indeed almost the same with the former, though placed in a different light, namely, That the hero in the Paradise Lost is unsuccessful, and by no means a match for his enemies. This gave occasion to Mr. Dryden's reflection, that the devil was in reality Milton's hero. I think I have obviated this objection in my first paper. The Paradise Lost is an epic, or a narrative poem, and he that looks for an hero in it, searches for that which Milton never intended; but if he will needs fix the name of an hero upon any person in it, it is certainly the Messiah who is the hero, both in the principal action, and in the chief episodes. Paganism could not furnish out a real action for a fable greater than that of the Iliad or Æneid, and therefore an heathen could not form a higher notion of a poem than one of that kind which they call an heroic. Whether Milton's is not of a sublimer nature I will not presume to determine; it is sufficient, that I shew there is in the Paradise Lost all the greatness of plan, regularity of design, and masterly beauties which we discover in Homer and Virgil.
I must in the next place observe, that Milton has interwoven in the texture of his fable, some particulars which do not seem to have probability enough for an epic poem, particularly in the actions which he ascribes to sin and death, and the picture which he draws of the Limbo of Vanity, with other passages in the second book. Such allegories rather savour of the spirit of Spenser and Ariosto, than of Homer and Virgil.