The Spectator, Volume 2. eBook

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This Redundancy of those several Ways of Speech, which Aristotle calls foreign Language, and with which Milton has so very much enriched, and in some Places darkned the Language of his Poem, was the more proper for his use, because his Poem is written in Blank Verse.  Rhyme, without any other Assistance, throws the Language off from Prose, and very often makes an indifferent Phrase pass unregarded; but where the Verse is not built upon Rhymes, there Pomp of Sound, and Energy of Expression, are indispensably necessary to support the Stile, and keep it from falling into the Flatness of Prose.

Those who have not a Taste for this Elevation of Stile, and are apt to ridicule a Poet when he departs from the common Forms of Expression, would do well to see how Aristotle has treated an Ancient Author called Euclid, [8] for his insipid Mirth upon this Occasion.  Mr. Dryden used to call [these [9]]sort of Men his Prose-Criticks.

I should, under this Head of the Language, consider Milton’s Numbers, in which he has made use of several Elisions, which are not customary among other English Poets, as may be particularly observed in his cutting off the Letter Y, when it precedes a Vowel. [10] This, and some other Innovation in the Measure of his Verse, has varied his Numbers in such a manner, as makes them incapable of satiating the Ear, and cloying the Reader, which the same uniform Measure would certainly have done, and which the perpetual Returns of Rhime never fail to do in long Narrative Poems.  I shall close these Reflections upon the Language of Paradise Lost, with observing that Milton has copied after Homer rather than Virgil in the length of his Periods, the Copiousness of his Phrases, and the running of his Verses into one another.


[Footnote 1:  Aristotle, Poetics, ii.  Sec.26.

  The excellence of Diction consists in being perspicuous without being

[Footnote 2: 

  Verum ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis
  Offendar maculis, quas aut incuria fudit,
  Aut humana parum cavit natura.

De Ar.  Poet., II. 351-3.]

[Footnote 3:  [see an Instance or two]]

[Footnote 4:  Poetics, ii.  Sec. 26]

[Footnote 5:  [,like those in Milton]]

[Footnote 6: 

That language is elevated and remote from the vulgar idiom which employs unusual words:  by unusual, I mean foreign, metaphorical, extended—­all, in short, that are not common words.  Yet, should a poet compose his Diction entirely of such words, the result would be either an enigma or a barbarous jargon:  an enigma if composed of metaphors, a barbarous jargon if composed of foreign words.  For the essence of an enigma consists in putting together things apparently inconsistent and impossible, and at the same time saying nothing but what is true.  Now this cannot be effected by the mere arrangement of words; by the metaphorical use of them it may.]

[Footnote 7:  On Life and Poetry of Homer, wrongly ascribed to Plutarch, Bk.  I. Sec. 16.]

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