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The Henriade of Voltaire.
to the rules of critics. But it has great defects. It is founded on civil wars; and presents to the mind those odious objects, massacres and assassinations. It is also of too recent date, and too much within the bounds of well known history. The author has farther erred by mixing fiction with truth. The poem, for instance, opens with a voyage of Henry's to England, and an interview between him and Queen Elizabeth ; though Henry never saw England, nor ever conversed with Elizabeth. In subjects of such notoriety, a fiction of this kind shocks every intelligent reader.
A great deal of machinery is employed by Voltaire for the purpose of embellishing his poem. But it is of the worst kind, that of allegorical beings., Discord, cunning, and love, appear as personages, and mix with human actors. This is contrary to all rational criticism. Ghosts, angels and devils, have a popular existence ; but every one knows that allegorical beings are no more than representations of human passions and dispositions; and ought not to have place, as ac tors, in a poem which relates to human transac. tions.
In justice, however, it must be observed, that the machinery of St. Louis possesses real dignity. The prospect of the invisible world, which st. Louis gives to Henry in a dream, is the finest passage in the Henriade. Death bringing the souls of the departed in succession before God, and the palace of the destinies opened to Henry, are striking and magnificent objects.
Though some of Voltaire's episodes are properly extended, his narration is too general. The
Milton's Paradise Lost.
events are superficially related, and too much erowded. The strain of sentiment, however, which pervades the Henriade, is brigh and noble.
MILTON'S PARADISE LOST.
MILTON chalked out a new and very extraordinary course. As soon as we open his Paradise Lost, we are introduced into an invisible world, and surrounded by celestial and infernal beings. Angels and devils are not his machinery, but his principal actors. What in any other work would be the marvellous, is in this the natural course of events ; and doubts may arise whether his poem be strictly an epic composition. But, whether it be so or not, it is certainly one of the highest efforts of poetical genius; and in one great characteristic, of epic poetry, majesty and sublimity, is equal to any that bears this name.
The subject of his poem led Milton upon difficult ground. If it had been more human and less theological ; if his occurrences had been more conneeted with real life; if he had afforded a greater display of the characters and passions of men; his poem would have been more pleasing to most readers. His subject however was peculiarly suited to the daring sublimity of his genius. As he alone was fitetd for it, so he has sliown in the conduct of it a wonderful stretch of imagination and invention. From a few lints, given in the sacred scriptures, he has
raised a regular structure, and filled his poem with a variety
Milton's Paradise Lost.
of incidents. He is sometimes dry and hapsh, and too often the metaphysician and divine. But the general tenor of his work is interesting, elevated, and affeeting. The artful change of his objeets, and the scene, laid now in heaven, now on earth, and now in hell, affords sufficient diversity; while unity of plan is perfectly supported. Calm scenes are exhibited in the employments of Adam and Eve in Paradise, and busy scenes, and great actions, in the enterprises of Satan and in the wars of angels. The amiable innocence of our first parents and the proud ambition of Satan, afford a happy contrast through the whole poem, which gives it an uncommon charm. But the conclu. sion perhaps is too tragic for epic poetry.
The subject naturally admits no great display of characters; but such as could be introduced, are properly supported. Satan makes a striking figure ; and is the best drawn character in the poem. Milton has artfully given him a mixed charaeter, not altogether void of some good qualities. He is brave, and faithful to his troops, Amid his impiety, he is not without remorse. He is even touched with piety for our first papents; and from the necessity of his situation, justifies his design against them. He is actuated by ambition and resentment, rather than by pure malice. The characters of Beelzebub, Moloch, and Belial, are well painted. The good angels, though described with dignity, have more unifor. mity of character. Among them however the mild condescension of Raphael, and the tried fidelity of Abdiel, form proper characteristic distinctions. The attempt to describe God Almighty himself was too bold, and accordingly most un
Milton's Paradise Lost.
successful. The innocence of our first parents is delicately painted. In some speeches perhaps Adam appears too knowing and refined for his situation. Eve is hit off more happily. Her gentleness, modesty, and frailty, are expressively characteristic of the female character.
Milton's great and distinguishing excellence is his sublimity. In this, perhaps, he excels even Homer. The first and second books of Paradise Lost, are almost a continued series of the highest sublime. But bis sublimity differs from that of Homer; which is always accompanied by impetuosity and fire. The sublime of Milton is a calm and amazing grandeur. Homer warms and hurries us along; Milton fixes us in state of elevation and astonishment Homer's sublimity appear's most in his description of actions ; Milton's in that of wonderful and stupendous objects.
But, while Milton excels most in sublimity, his work abounds in the beautiful, the pleasing, and the tender. When the scene is in Paradise, the imagery is gay and smiling. His descriptions show a fertile imagination, and in his similes he
; is remarkably happy. If faulty, it is from their too frequent allusions to matters of learning, and to ancient fables. It must also be confessed that there is a falling off in the latter part of Paradise Lost.
The language and versification of Milton have high merit. His blank verse is harmonious and diversified; and his style is full of majesty. There inay be found indeed some prosais. 1 ;'s in his poem.
But in a work so long and so harmonious these may be forgiven.
Paradise Lost, amid beauties of every kind, has many inequalities. No high and daring genius was ever uniformly correct. Milton is too frequently theological and metaphysical; his words are often technical ; and he is affectedly ostentatious of his learning. Many of his faults how. ever are to be imputed to the pedantry of his age. He discovers a vigour, a grasp of genius, equal to every thing great ; sometimes he rises above every other poet; and sometimes he falls below himself.
DRAMATIC POETRY.... TRAGEDY.
In all civilized nations dramatic poetry has been a favorite amusement. It divides itself into the two forms of tragedy and comedy. Of these, tragedy is the most dignified; as great and serious objects interest us more than little and ludicrous ones. The former rests on the high passions, the virtues, crimes, and sufferings of mankind; the latter on their humours, follies, and pleasures; and ridicule is its sole instrument.
Tragedy is a direct imitation of human manners and actions. It does not, like an epic poem, exhibit characters by description or narration ; it sets the personages before us, and makes them act and speak with propriety. This species of writing, therefore, requires deep knowledge of the human heart; and, when happily executed, it has the power of raising the strongest emotions.