No. 321 [from The Spectator] by Joseph Addison

Story type: Essay

No. 321
Saturday, March 8, 1712. Addison.

Nec satis est pulchra esse poemata, dulcia sunto.


Those, who know how many Volumes have been written on the Poems of Homer and Virgil, will easily pardon the Length of my Discourse upon Milton. The Paradise Lost is looked upon, by the best Judges, as the greatest Production, or at least the noblest Work of Genius in our Language, and therefore deserves to be set before an English Reader in its full Beauty. For this Reason, tho I have endeavoured to give a general Idea of its Graces and Imperfections in my Six First Papers, I thought my self obliged to bestow one upon every Book in particular. The Three first Books I have already dispatched, and am now entering upon the Fourth. I need not acquaint my Reader that there are Multitudes of Beauties in this great Author, especially in the Descriptive Parts of his Poem, which I have not touched upon, it being my Intention to point out those only, which appear to me the most exquisite, or those which are not so obvious to ordinary Readers. Every one that has read the Criticks who have written upon the Odyssey, the Iliad and the Aeneid, knows very well, that though they agree in their Opinions of the great Beauties in those Poems, they have nevertheless each of them discovered several Master-Strokes, which have escaped the Observation of the rest. In the same manner, I question not, but any Writer who shall treat of this Subject after me, may find several Beauties in Milton, which I have not taken notice of. I must likewise observe, that as the greatest Masters of Critical Learning differ among one another, as to some particular Points in an Epic Poem, I have not bound my self scrupulously to the Rules which any one of them has laid down upon that Art, but have taken the Liberty sometimes to join with one, and sometimes with another, and sometimes to differ from all of them, when I have thought that the Reason of the thing was on my side.

We may consider the Beauties of the Fourth Book under three Heads. In the first are those Pictures of Still-Life, which we meet with in the Description of Eden, Paradise, Adams Bower, etc. In the next are the Machines, which comprehend the Speeches and Behaviour of the good and bad Angels. In the last is the Conduct of Adam and Eve, who are the Principal Actors in the Poem.

In the Description of Paradise, the Poet has observed Aristotle’s Rule of lavishing all the Ornaments of Diction on the weak unactive Parts of the Fable, which are not supported by the Beauty of Sentiments and Characters. [2] Accordingly the Reader may observe, that the Expressions are more florid and elaborate in these Descriptions, than in most other Parts of the Poem. I must further add, that tho the Drawings of Gardens, Rivers, Rainbows, and the like dead Pieces of Nature, are justly censured in an Heroic Poem, when they run out into an unnecessary length; the Description of Paradise would have been faulty, had not the Poet been very particular in it, not only as it is the Scene of the Principal Action, but as it is requisite to give us an Idea of that Happiness from which our first Parents fell. The Plan of it is wonderfully Beautiful, and formed upon the short Sketch which we have of it in Holy Writ. Milton’s Exuberance of Imagination has poured forth such a Redundancy of Ornaments on this Seat of Happiness and Innocence, that it would be endless to point out each Particular.

I must not quit this Head, without further observing, that there is scarce a Speech of Adam or Eve in the whole Poem, wherein the Sentiments and Allusions are not taken from this their delightful Habitation. The Reader, during their whole Course of Action, always finds himself in the Walks of Paradise. In short, as the Criticks have remarked, that in those Poems, wherein Shepherds are Actors, the Thoughts ought always to take a Tincture from the Woods, Fields and Rivers, so we may observe, that our first Parents seldom lose Sight of their happy Station in any thing they speak or do; and, if the Reader will give me leave to use the Expression, that their Thoughts are always Paradisiacal.

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We are in the next place to consider the Machines of the Fourth Book. Satan being now within Prospect of Eden, and looking round upon the Glories of the Creation, is filled with Sentiments different from those which he discovered whilst he was in Hell. The Place inspires him with Thoughts more adapted to it: He reflects upon the happy Condition from which he fell, and breaks forth into a Speech that is softned with several transient Touches of Remorse and Self-accusation: But at length he confirms himself in Impenitence, and in his Design of drawing Man into his own State of Guilt and Misery. This Conflict of Passions is raised with a great deal of Art, as the opening of his Speech to the Sun is very bold and noble.

O thou that with surpassing Glory crown’d,
Look’st from thy sole Dominion like the God
Of this new World; at whose Sight all the Stars
Hide their diminish’d Heads; to thee I call,
But with no friendly Voice, and add thy name,
O Sun! to tell thee how I hate thy beams,
That bring to my Remembrance from what State
I fell, how glorious once above thy Sphere.

This Speech is, I think, the finest that is ascribed to Satan in the whole Poem. The Evil Spirit afterwards proceeds to make his Discoveries concerning our first Parents, and to learn after what manner they may be best attacked. His bounding over the Walls of Paradise; his sitting in the Shape of a Cormorant upon the Tree of Life, which stood in the Center of it, and overtopped all the other Trees of the Garden, his alighting among the Herd of Animals, which are so beautifully represented as playing about Adam and Eve, together with his transforming himself into different Shapes, in order to hear their Conversation, are Circumstances that give an agreeable Surprize to the Reader, and are devised with great Art, to connect that Series of Adventures in which the Poet has engaged [this [3]] Artificer of Fraud.

The Thought of Satan’s Transformation into a Cormorant, and placing himself on the Tree of Life, seems raised upon that Passage in the Iliad, where two Deities are described, as perching on the Top of an Oak in the shape of Vulturs.

His planting himself at the Ear of Eve under the [form [4]] of a Toad, in order to produce vain Dreams and Imaginations, is a Circumstance of the same Nature; as his starting up in his own Form is wonderfully fine, both in the Literal Description, and in the Moral which is concealed under it. His Answer upon his being discovered, and demanded to give an Account of himself, [is [5]] conformable to the Pride and Intrepidity of his Character.

Know ye not then, said Satan, fill’d with Scorn,
Know ye not Me? ye knew me once no mate
For you, there sitting where you durst not soar;
Not to know Me argues your selves unknown,
The lowest of your throng;–

Zephon’s Rebuke, with the Influence it had on Satan, is exquisitely Graceful and Moral. Satan is afterwards led away to Gabriel, the chief of the Guardian Angels, who kept watch in Paradise. His disdainful Behaviour on this Occasion is so remarkable a Beauty, that the most ordinary Reader cannot but take Notice of it. Gabriel’s discovering his Approach at a Distance, is drawn with great strength and liveliness of Imagination.

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O Friends, I hear the tread of nimble Feet
Hasting this Way, and now by glimps discern
Ithuriel and Zephon through the shade;
And with them comes a third of Regal Port,
But faded splendor wan; who by his gait
And fierce demeanor seems the Prince of Hell;
Not likely to part hence without contest:
Stand firm, for in his look defiance lours.

The Conference between Gabriel and Satan abounds with Sentiments proper for the Occasion, and suitable to the Persons of the two Speakers. Satan cloathing himself with Terror when he prepares for the Combat is truly sublime, and at least equal to Homers Description of Discord celebrated by Longinus, or to that of Fame in Virgil, who are both represented with their Feet standing upon the Earth, and their Heads reaching above the Clouds.

While thus he spake, th’ Angelic Squadron bright
Turn’d fiery red, sharpning in mooned Horns
Their Phalanx, and began to hem him round
With ported Spears, etc.

–On the other side Satan alarm’d,
Collecting all his might dilated stood
Like Teneriff, or Atlas, unremov’d.
His Stature reached the Sky, and on his Crest
Sat horror plum’d;–

I must here take [notice, [6]] that Milton is every where full of Hints and sometimes literal Translations, taken from the greatest of the Greek and Latin Poets. But this I may reserve for a Discourse by it self, because I would not break the Thread of these Speculations, that are designed for English Readers, with such Reflections as would be of no use but to the Learned.

I must however observe in this Place, that the breaking off the Combat between Gabriel and Satan, by the hanging out of the Golden Scales in Heaven, is a Refinement upon Homers Thought, who tells us, that before the Battle between Hector and Achilles, Jupiter weighed the Event of it in a pair of Scales. The Reader may see the whole Passage in the 22nd Iliad.

Virgil, before the last decisive Combat, describes Jupiter in the same manner, as weighing the Fates of Turnus and AEneas. Milton, though he fetched this beautiful Circumstance from the Iliad and AEneid, does not only insert it as a Poetical Embellishment, like the Authors above-mentioned; but makes an artful use of it for the proper carrying on of his Fable, and for the breaking off the Combat between the two Warriors, who were upon the point of engaging. [To this we may further add, that Milton is the more justified in this Passage, as we find the same noble Allegory in Holy Writ, where a wicked Prince, some few Hours before he was assaulted and slain, is said to have been weighed in the Scales, and to have been found wanting.]

I must here take Notice under the Head of the Machines, that Uriel’s gliding down to the Earth upon a Sunbeam, with the Poets Device to make him descend, as well in his return to the Sun, as in his coming from it, is a Prettiness that might have been admired in a little fanciful Poet, but seems below the Genius of Milton. The Description of the Host of armed Angels walking their nightly Round in Paradise, is of another Spirit.

So saying, on he led his radiant files,
Dazling the Moon;–

as that Account of the Hymns which our first Parents used to hear them sing in these their Midnight Walks, is altogether Divine, and inexpressibly amusing to the Imagination.

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We are, in the last place, to consider the Parts which Adam and Eve act in the Fourth Book. The Description of them as they first appeared to Satan, is exquisitely drawn, and sufficient to make the fallen Angel gaze upon them with all that Astonishment, and those Emotions of Envy, in which he is represented.

Two of far nobler Shape erect and tall,
God-like erect! with native honour clad
In naked Majesty, seem’d lords of all;
And worthy seem’d: for in their looks divine
The image of their glorious Maker shon,
Truth, Wisdom, Sanctitude severe and pure;
Severe, but in true filial freedom plac’d:
For contemplation he and valour form’d,
For softness she and sweet attractive grace;
He for God only, she for God in him.
His fair large front, and eye sublime, declar’d
Absolute rule; and Hyacinthin Locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustring, but not beneath his Shoulders broad.
She, as a Veil, down to her slender waste
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dis-shevel’d, but in wanton ringlets wav’d.
So pass’d they naked on, nor shun’d the Sight
Of God or Angel, for they thought no ill:
So hand in hand they passed, the loveliest pair
That ever since in loves embraces met.

There is a fine Spirit of Poetry in the Lines which follow, wherein they are described as sitting on a Bed of Flowers by the side of a Fountain, amidst a mixed Assembly of Animals.

The Speeches of these two first Lovers flow equally from Passion and Sincerity. The Professions they make to one another are full of Warmth: but at the same time founded on Truth. In a Word, they are the Gallantries of Paradise:

–When Adam first of Men–
Sole partner and sole part of all these joys,
Dearer thy self than all;–
But let us ever praise him, and extol
His bounty, following our delightful Task,
To prune these growing plants, and tend these flowrs;
Which were it toilsome, yet with thee were sweet.

To whom thus Eve reply’d. O thou for whom,
And from whom I was form’d, flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my Guide
And Head, what thou hast said is just and right.
For we to him indeed all praises owe.
And daily thanks; I chiefly, who enjoy
So far the happier Lot, enjoying thee
Preeminent by so much odds, while thou
Like consort to thy self canst no where find, etc.

The remaining part of Eves Speech, in which she gives an Account of her self upon her first Creation, and the manner in which she was brought to Adam, is I think as beautiful a Passage as any in Milton, or perhaps in any other Poet whatsoever. These Passages are all worked off with so much Art, that they are capable of pleasing the most delicate Reader, without offending the most severe.

That Day I oft remember, when from Sleep, etc.

A Poet of less Judgment and Invention than this great Author, would have found it very difficult to have filled [these [7]] tender Parts of the Poem with Sentiments proper for a State of Innocence; to have described the Warmth of Love, and the Professions of it, without Artifice or Hyperbole: to have made the Man speak the most endearing things, without descending from his natural Dignity, and the Woman receiving them without departing from the Modesty of her Character; in a Word, to adjust the Prerogatives of Wisdom and Beauty, and make each appear to the other in its proper Force and Loveliness. This mutual Subordination of the two Sexes is wonderfully kept up in the whole Poem, as particularly in the Speech of Eve I have before mentioned, and upon the Conclusion of it in the following Lines.

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So spake our general Mother, and with eyes
Of Conjugal attraction unreproved,
And meek surrender, half embracing lean’d
On our first father; half her swelling breast
Naked met his under the flowing Gold
Of her loose tresses hid: he in delight
Both of her beauty and submissive charms
Smil’d with superior Love.–

The Poet adds, that the Devil turned away with Envy at the sight of so much Happiness.

We have another View of our first Parents in their Evening Discourses, which is full of pleasing Images and Sentiments suitable to their Condition and Characters. The Speech of Eve, in particular, is dressed up in such a soft and natural Turn of Words and Sentiments, as cannot be sufficiently admired.

I shall close my Reflections upon this Book, with observing the Masterly Transition which the Poet makes to their Evening Worship in the following Lines.

Thus at their shady Lodge arriv’d, both stood,
Both turn’d, and under open Sky, ador’d
The God that made both [Sky,] Air, Earth and Heaven,
Which they beheld, the Moons resplendent Globe,
And Starry Pole: Thou also madst the Night,
Maker Omnipotent, and thou the Day, etc.

Most of the Modern Heroick Poets have imitated the Ancients, in beginning a Speech without premising, that the Person said thus or thus; but as it is easie to imitate the Ancients in the Omission of two or three Words, it requires Judgment to do it in such a manner as they shall not be missed, and that the Speech may begin naturally without them. There is a fine Instance of this Kind out of Homer, in the Twenty Third Chapter of Longinus.


[Footnote 1: From this date to the end of the series the Saturday papers upon Milton exceed the usual length of a Spectator essay. That they may not occupy more than the single leaf of the original issue, they are printed in smaller type; the columns also, when necessary, encroach on the bottom margin of the paper, and there are few advertisements inserted.]

[Footnote 2: At the end of the third Book of the Poetics.

The diction should be most laboured in the idle parts of the poem; those in which neither manners nor sentiments prevail; for the manners and the sentiments are only obscured by too splendid a diction.]

[Footnote 3: [this great]]

[Footnote 4: [shape]]

[Footnote 5: [are]]

[Footnote 6: notice by the way]

[Footnote 7: [those]]

* * * * *



The Author of the Spectator having prefixed before each of his Volumes the Name of some great Person to whom he has particular Obligations, lays his Claim to your Lordships Patronage upon the same Account. I must confess, my Lord, had not I already received great Instances of your Favour, I should have been afraid of submitting a Work of this Nature to your Perusal. You are so thoroughly acquainted with the Characters of Men, and all the Parts of human Life, that it is impossible for the least Misrepresentation of them to escape your Notice. It is Your Lordships particular Distinction that you are Master of the whole Compass of Business, and have signalized Your Self in all the different Scenes of it. We admire some for the Dignity, others for the Popularity of their Behaviour; some for their Clearness of Judgment, others for their Happiness of Expression; some for the laying of Schemes, and others for the putting of them in Execution: It is Your Lordship only who enjoys these several Talents united, and that too in as great Perfection as others possess them singly. Your Enemies acknowledge this great Extent in your Lordships Character, at the same time that they use their utmost Industry and Invention to derogate from it. But it is for Your Honour that those who are now Your Enemies were always so. You have acted in so much Consistency with Your Self, and promoted the Interests of your Country in so uniform a Manner, that even those who would misrepresent your Generous Designs for the Publick Good, cannot but approve the Steadiness and Intrepidity with which You pursue them. It is a most sensible Pleasure to me that I have this Opportunity of professing my self one of your great Admirers, and, in a very particular Manner,
Your Lordships
Most Obliged,
And most Obedient,
Humble Servant,

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[Footnote 1: This is the Thomas, Earl of Wharton, who in 1708 became Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and took Addison for his Chief Secretary. He was the son of Philip, Baron Wharton, a firm Presbyterian, sometimes called the good Lord Wharton, to distinguish him from his son and grandson. Philip Wharton had been an opponent of Stuart encroachments, a friend of Algernon Sidney, and one of the first men to welcome William III. to England. He died, very old, in 1694. His son Thomas did not inherit the religious temper of his father, and even a dedication could hardly have ventured to compliment him on his private morals. But he was an active politician, was with his father in the secret of the landing of the Prince of Orange, and was made by William Comptroller of the Household. Thwarted in his desire to become a Secretary of State, he made himself formidable as a bold, sarcastic speaker and by the strength of his parliamentary interest. He is said to have returned at one time thirty members, and to have spent eighty thousand pounds upon the maintenance of his political position. He was apt, by his manners, to make friends of the young men of influence. He spent money freely also on the turf, and upon his seat of Winchenden, in Wilts. Queen Anne, on her accession, struck his name with her own hand from the list of Privy Councillors, but he won his way not only to restoration of that rank, but also in December, 1706, at the age of 67, to his title of Viscount Winchendon and Earl of Wharton. In November, 1708, he became Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, with Addison for secretary. He took over with him also Clayton the musician, and kept a gay court, easily accessible, except to Roman Catholics, whom he would not admit to his presence, and against whom he enforced the utmost rigour of the penal code. He had himself conformed to the Church of England. Swift accused him, as Lord-lieutenant, of shameless depravity of manners, of injustice, greed, and gross venality. This Lord Wharton died in 1715, and was succeeded by his son Philip, whom George I., in 1718, made Duke of Wharton for his fathers vigorous support of the Hanoverian succession. His character was much worse than that of his father, the energetic politician and the man of cultivated taste and ready wit to whom Steele and Addison here dedicated the Fifth Volume of the Spectator.]

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