1693 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Milton

Samuel Wesley, in "Essay on Heroic Poetry" The Life of our Blessed Saviour (1693) sig. b.



As for Milton's Paradice Lost its an Original, and indeed he seems rather above the common Rules of Epic than ignorant of them. Its I'm sure a very lovely Poem, by what ever Name its call'd, and in it he has many Thoughts and Images, greater than perhaps any in Virgil or Homer. The Foundation is true History, but the turn is Fable: The Action is very Important, but not uniform; for one can't tell which is the Principal in the Poem, the Wars of the Angels, or the Fall of Man, nor which is the Chief Person Michael or Adam. Its true, the former comes in as an Episode to the latter, but it takes up too great a part thereof, because its link'd to it. His Discourse of Light is incomparable; and I think 'twas worth the while to be blind to be its Author. His Description of Adam and Eve, their Persons and Love, is almost too lively to bear reading: Not but that he has his inequalities and repetitions, the latter pretty often, as have, more or less, all other Poets but Virgil. For his antique Words I'm not like to blame him whoever does: And for his blank Verse, I'm of a different mind from most others, and think they rather excuse his uncorrectness than the contraries; for I find it's easier to run into it, in that sort of Verse, than in Rhyming Works, where the Thought is oftner turned; whereas here the Fancy flows on without check or controul. As for his Paradice Regain'd, I nothing wonder that it has not near the Life of his former Poem, any more than the Odysses fell short of the Iliads. Milton, when he writ this, was grown Older, probably poorer: He had not that scope for Fable, was confin'd to a lower Walk, and draws out that in four Books which might have been well compriz'd in one: Notwithstanding all this, there are many strokes which appear truly his; as the Mustering of the Parthian Troops, the Description of Rome by the Devil to our Saviour, and several other places.