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would be produced by so many piercing eyes and vivid understandings, turned loose at once upon man. kind, with no other business than to sparkle and intrigue, to perplex and to destroy.
For my part, whenever chance brings within my observation a knot of misses busy at their needles, I consider myself as in the school of virtue ; and though I have no extraordinary skill in plain work or embroidery, look upon their operations with as much satisfaction as their governess, because I regard them as providing a security against the most dangerous ensnarers of the foul, by enabling themselves to exclude idleness from their folitary moments, and with idleness her attendant train of passions, fancies, and chimeras, fears, sorrows, and desires. Ovid and Cervantes will inform them that love has no power but over those whom he catches unemployed; and Hector, in the Iliad, when he fees Andronache overwhelmed with terrors, sends her for consolation to the loom and the distaff.
It is certain that any wild wilh or vain imagination never takes such firm possession of the mind, as when it is found empty and unoccupied. The old peripa. tetick principle, that Nature abhors a vacuum, may be properly applied to the intellect, which will embrace any thing, however absurd or criminal, rather than be wholly without an object. Perhaps every man may date the predominance of those desires that disturb his life and contaminate his conscience, from some unhappy hour when too much leisure exposed him to their incursions ; for he has lived with little observation either on himself or others, who does not know that to be idle is to be vicious.
NUMB. 86. SATURDAY, January 12, 1751.
Legitimumque fonum digitis callemus et auro.
By fingers, or by ear, we numbers scan.
ONE of the ancients has observed that the bur
then of government is increased upon princes by the virtues of their immediate predecessors. is, indeed, always dangerous to be placed in a state of unavoidable comparison with excellence, and the danger is still greater when that excellence is consecrated by death; when envy and interest cease to act against it, and those passions by which it was at first vilified and opposed, now stand in its defence, and turn their vehemence against honest emulation,
He that succeeds a celebrated writer, has the same difficulties to encounter; he stands under the fhade of exalted merit, and is hindered from rising to his natural height, by the interception of those beams which should invigorate and quicken him. plies to that attention which is already engaged, and unwilling to be drawn off from certain fatisfaction ; or perhaps to an attention already wearied, and not to be recalled to the same object.
One of the old poets congratulates himself that he has the untrodden regions of Parnassus before him, and that his garland will be gathered from planta. tions which no writer had yet culled. . But the imita. for treads a beaten walk, and with all his diligence can only hope to find a few flowers or branches un
touched by his predecessor, the refuse of contempt, or she omissions of negligence. The Macedonian conqueror, when he was once invited to hear a man that fung like a nightingale, replied with contempt, " that he had heard the nightingale herself;" and the fame treatment must every man expect, whose praise is that he imitates another.
Yet, in the midst of these discouraging reflections, I am about to offer to my reader fome observations upon Paradise Lost, and hope, that, however I may fall below the illustrious writer who has so long dictated to the commonwealth of learning, my attempt may not be wholly useless. There
every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. False taste is always busy to mislead those that are entering upon the regions of learning; and the traveller, uncertain of his way, and forsaken by the fun, will be pleased to see a fainter orb arise on the horizon, that may rescue him from total darkness, though with weak and borrowed lustre.
Addison, though he has considered this poem under most of the general topicks of criticism, has barely touched
upon the versification; not probably because he thought the art of numbers unworthy of his notice, for he knew with how minute attention the ancient criticks considered the disposition of syllables, and had himself given hopes of some metrical observations upon the great Roman poet; but being the first who undertook to display the beauties, and point out the defects of Milton, he had many objects at once before him, and passed willingly over those which were most barren of ideas, and required labour, rather than genius.
Yet versification, or the art of modulating his numbers, is indispensably necessary to a poet. Every other power by which the understanding is enlightened, or the imagination enchanted, may be exercised in profe. But the poet has this peculiar fuperiority, that to all the powers which the perfection of every other composition can require, he adds the faculty of joining musick with reason, and of acting at once upon the senses and the passions. I fuppose there are few who do not feel themselves touched by poetical melody, and who will not confess that they are more or less moved by the fame, thoughts, as they are conveyed by different sounds, and more affected by the same words in one order than in another. The perception of harmony is indeed conferred upon men in degrees very unequal ; but there are none who do not perceive it, or to whom a regular series of proportionate sounds cannot give delight.
In treating on the versification of Milton I am defirous to be generally understood, and shall therefore ftudiously decline the dialect of grammarians ; though, indeed, it is always difficult, and sometimes scarcely possible, to deliver the precepts of an art, without the terms by which the peculiar ideas of that art are expressed, and which had not been invented but because the language already in use was insufficient. If, therefore, I shall sometimes seem obscure, it may be imputed to this voluntary interdiction, and to a desire of avoiding that offence which is always given by unusual words.
The heroick measure of the English language may be properly considered as pure or mixed.
It is pure
when the accent rests upon every second syllable through the whole line.
Courage uncertain dangers may abate,
MILTON. . The accent may be observed, in the second line of Dryden, and the second and fourth of Milton,' to repose upon every second syllable.
The repetition of this found or percussion at equal times, is the most complete harmony of which a single verse is capable, and should therefore be ex. actly kept in distichs, and generally in the last line of a paragraph, that the ear may rest without any sense of imperfection.
But, to preserve the series of sounds untransposed in a long composition, is not only very difficult but tiresome and disgusting; for we are foon wearied with the perpetual recurrence of the same cadence. Necessity has therefore enforced the mixed measure, in which fome variation of the accents is allowed ; this, though it always injures the harmony of the line, considered by itself, yet compensates the loss by relieving us from the continual tyranny of the fame found, and makes us more sensible of the harmony of the pure measure.
Of these mixed numbers every poet affords us innumerable instances, and Milton seldom has two pure lines together, as will appear if any of his graphs be read with attention merely to the musick.
of his para