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their Pucelle, or their Alarique : The English have only to boast of Spencer and Milton, who neither of them wanted either Genius or Learning, to have been perfect Poets ; and yet both of them are liable to many Censures. For there is no Uniformity in the Design of Spencer: He aims at the Accomplishment of no one Action : He raises up a Heroe for every one of his Adventures: And endows each of them with some particular Moral Virtue, which renders them all equal, without Subordination or Preference. Every one is most Valiant in his own Legend ; only we must do them that Juftice to observe, that Magnanimity, which is the Character of Prince Arthur, shines throughout the whole Poem; and succours the rest, when they are in Distress. The Original of every Knight was then living in the Court of Queen Elizabeth ; and he attributed to each of them, that Virtue which he thought most conspicuous in them: An ingenious Piece of Flattery, tho' it turn'd not much to his Account. Had he liv'd to finish his Poem, in the fix remaining Legends, it had certainly been more of a Piece ; but cou'd not have been perfect, because the Model was not true. But Prince Arthur, or his chief Patron Sir Philip Sidney, whom he intended to make happy by the Marriage of his Gloriana, dying before him, depriv'd the Poet, both of Means and Spirit, to accomplish his Design: For the rest, his obsolete Language, and the ill Choice of his Stanza, are Faults but of the Second Magnitude : For notwithstanding the first, he is still intelligible, at least after a little Practice ; and for the last, he is the more to be admir'd; that la. bouring under such a Difficulty, his Verses are fo numerous, so various, and so harmonious, that only Vire gil, whom he profeffedly imitated, has surpass'd him, among the Romans; and only Mr. Waller among the English.
As for Mr. Milton, whom we all admire with so much Juftice, his Subject is not that of an Heroick Poem, properly so call'd. His Design is the Losing of our Happiness ; his Event is not prosperous, like that of all other Epique Works: His Heavenly Machines are many, and his Human Persons are but two. But I will not take Mr. Rhymer's Work out of his Hands: He has promis'd the World a Critique on that Author ; wherein, tho' he will not allow his Poem for Heroick, I hope, he
grant us, that his Thoughts are elevated, his Words sounding, and that no Man has so happily copy'd the Manner of Homer; or lo copiously translated his Grécisms, and the Latin Elegancies of Virgil. 'Tis true, he runs into a fiat Thought, fometimes for a hundred Lines together, but 'tis when he is got into a Track of Scripture: His antiquated Words were his Choice, not his Neceffity ; for therein he imitated Spencer, as Spencer did Chaucer. And tho', perhaps the Love of their Maflers may have transported both too far, in the frequent use of them; yet in my opinion, obsolete Words may then be laudably reviv'd, when either they are more founding, or more significant than those in Practice ; and when their Obscurity is taken away, by joining other Words to them, which clear the Sense; according to the Rule of Horace, for the Admiffion of new Words. But in both Cases, a Moderation is to be observ'd in the Use of thein. For unnecesary Coinage, as well as unnecessary Revival, runs into Affectation; a Fault to be avoided on either hand. Neither will 1 justify Milton for his blank Verse, tho' I may excuse him, by the Example of Hannibal Caro, and other Italians, who have us’d it: For whatever Causes he alledges for the abolishing of Rhyme (which I have not now the Leisure to examine) his own particular Reason is plainly this, that Rhyme. was not his Talent; he had neither the Ease of doing it, nor the Graces of it;, which is manifeftin his
Juvenilia, uvenilia, or Verses written in his Youth; where his Rhyme is always constrain'd and forc'd, and comes hardly from him, at an Age when the Soul is most pliant, and the Passion of Love makes almost every Man a Rhymer, tho' not a Poet.
By this time, my Lord, I doubt not but that you wonder, why I have run off from my Bias so long together, and made so tedious a Digreffion from Satyr to Heroick Poetry. But if you will not excuse it, by the tatling Quality of Age, which, as Sir William Davenant says, is always Narrative ; yet I hope the Usefulness of what I have to say on this Subject, will qualify the Remoteness of it; and this is the last time I will commit the Crime of Prefaces, or trouble the World with my
Notions of any thing that relates to Verse. I have then, as you see, observ'd the Failings of many great Wits amongst the Moderns, who have attempted to write an Epique Poem: Besides these, or the like Animadverfions of them by other Men, there is yet a farther Reafon given, why they cannot possibly succeed, so well as the Ancients, even tho' we cou'd allow them not to be inferior, either in Genius or Learning, or the Tongue in which they write, or all those other wonderful Qualifications which are necessary to the forming of a true ac-' complish'd Heroick Poet. The Fault is laid on our Re ligion: They say, that Christianity is not capable of those Embellishments which are afforded in the Belief of those Ancient Heathens.
And 'tis true, that in the severe Notions of our Faith, the Fortitude of a Christian confifts in Patience and Suf. fering, for the Love of GOD, whatever Hardships can befal in the World ; not in any great Attempts, or in performance of those Enterprizes which the Poets call Heroique ; and which are commonly the Effects of Intereft, Oftentation, Pride, and worldly Honours. That Humility and Resignation are our prime Virtues; and that these include no Action, but that of the Soul :
When, as on the contrary, an Heroique Poem requires to its neceffary Design, and as its laft Perfe&ion, fome great Action of War, the Accomplishment of fome extraordinary Undertaking, which requires the Strength and Vigour of the Body, the Duty of a Soldier, the Capacity and Prudence of a General; and, in Short, as much, or more of the Active Virtue, than the Suffering But to this, the Answer is very obvious. GOD has plac'd us in our several Stations ; the Virtues of a private Chriftian are Patience, Obedience, Submiffion, and the like; but those of a Magistrate, or General, or a King, are Pru. dence, Counsel, active Fortitude, coercive Power, awful Commands and the Exercise of Magnanimity, as well as Justice. So that this Objection hinders not, but that an Epique Poem, or the Heroique Action of some Great Commander, enterpriz'd for the Common Good, and Honour of the Christian Cause, and executed happily, may be as well written now, as it was of old by the Heathens ; provided the Poet be endu'd with the same Talents ; and the Language, tho' not of equal Dignity, yet as near approaching to it, as our Modern Barbarism will allow, which is all that can be expected from our own,
or any other now extant, tho' more refin'd; and therefore we are to 'reft contented with that only Inferiority, which is not possibly to be remedy'd.
I wish I could as easily remove that other Difficulty which yet remains. 'Tis objected by a great French Critique as well as an admirable Poet, yet living, and whom I have mentioned with that Honour which his Merit exacts from me, I mean Boileau, That the Machines of our Christian Religion in Heroique Poetry, are much more feeble to support the Weight than those of Heathenism. Their Doctrine, grounded as it was on ridiculous Fables,' was yet the Belief of the two vietorous Monarchies, the Grecian and Roman. Their Gods did not only interest themselves in the Event of Wars (which
is the Effect of a Superior Providence) but also espoused the several Parties, in a visible Corporeal Descent, manag'd their Intrigues, and fought their Battles Sometimes in opposition to each other : Tho' Virgil (more discreet than Homer in that last Particular) has contented himself with the Partiality of his Deities, their Favours, their Counsels or Commands, to those whose Cause they had espoused, without bringing them to the Outrageousness of Blows. Now our Religion (says he) is depriv'd of the greatest Part of those Machines ; at least the most shining in Epique Poetry, Tho' St. Michael in Ariosto
feeks out Discord, to send her among the Pagans, and finds her in a Convent of Friars, where Peace should reign, which indeed is fine Satyr ; and Satan in Tale, excites Solyman to an Attempt by Night on the Christian Camp, and brings an Hoft of Devils to his Afiftance; yet the Arch. Angel, in the former Example, when Dif cord was reftive, and would not be drawn from her beslov'd Monastery with fair Words, has the whip-hand of her, drags her out with many. Stripes, fets her, on God's Name, about her Bufiness; and makes her know the Difference of Strength betwixt a Nuncio of Heaven, and a Minister of Hell : The fame Angel, in the latter Instance from Tajo (as if God had never another Mersenger belonging to the Court, but was confin'd like Jupiter to Mercury, and Juno to Iris,) when he sees his time, that is, when half of the Christians are already kill'd, and all the rest are in a fair way of being routed, stickles betwixt the Remainders of God's Host, and the Race of Fiends; pulls the Devils backwards by the Tails, and drives them from their Quarry; or otherwise the whole Business had miscarry'd, and Jerusalem remain'd untaken. This, says Boileau, is a very unequal Match for the poor Devils, who are sure to come by the worst of it in the Combat ; for nothing is more easy, than for an Almighty Power to bring his old Rebels to