The Spectator, Volume 2. eBook

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No. 297.  Saturday, February 9, 1712.  Addison

 —­velut si
  Egregio inspersos reprendas corpore naevos.


After what I have said in my last Saturdays Paper, I shall enter on the Subject of this without further Preface, and remark the several Defects which appear in the Fable, the Characters, the Sentiments, and the Language of Milton’s Paradise Lost; not doubting but the Reader will pardon me, if I alledge at the same time whatever may be said for the Extenuation of such Defects.  The first Imperfection which I shall observe in the Fable is that the Event of it is unhappy.

The Fable of every Poem is, according to Aristotle’s Division, either Simple or Implex [1].  It is called Simple when there is no change of Fortune in it:  Implex, when the Fortune of the chief Actor changes from Bad to Good, or from Good to Bad.  The Implex Fable is thought the most perfect; I suppose, because it is more proper to stir up the Passions of the Reader, and to surprize him with a greater Variety of Accidents.

The Implex Fable is therefore of two kinds:  In the first the chief Actor makes his Way through a long Series of Dangers and Difficulties, till he arrives at Honour and Prosperity, as we see in the [Story of Ulysses. [2]] In the second, the chief Actor in the Poem falls from some eminent Pitch of Honour and Prosperity, into Misery and Disgrace.  Thus we see Adam and Eve sinking from a State of Innocence and Happiness, into the most abject Condition of Sin and Sorrow.

The most taking Tragedies among the Ancients were built on this last sort of Implex Fable, particularly the Tragedy of Oedipus, which proceeds upon a Story, if we may believe Aristotle, the most proper for Tragedy that could be invented by the Wit of Man. [3] I have taken some Pains in a former Paper to shew, that this kind of Implex Fable, wherein the Event is unhappy, is more apt to affect an Audience than that of the first kind; notwithstanding many excellent Pieces among the Ancients, as well as most of those which have been written of late Years in our own Country, are raised upon contrary Plans.  I must however own, that I think this kind of Fable, which is the most perfect in Tragedy, is not so proper for an Heroic Poem.

Milton seems to have been sensible of this Imperfection in his Fable, and has therefore endeavoured to cure it by several Expedients; particularly by the Mortification which the great Adversary of Mankind meets with upon his Return to the Assembly of Infernal Spirits, as it is described in [a, [4]] beautiful Passage of the Tenth Book; and likewise by the Vision wherein Adam at the close of the Poem sees his Off-spring triumphing over his great Enemy, and himself restored to a happier Paradise than that from which he fell.

There is another Objection against Milton’s Fable, which is indeed almost the same with the former, tho placed in a different Light, namely, That the Hero in the Paradise Lost is unsuccessful, and by no means a Match for his Enemies.  This gave Occasion to Mr. Dryden’s Reflection, that the Devil was in reality Milton’s Hero. [5]

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