SIR, Your most obedient Servant,
Hae sunt qui tenui sudant in Cyclade.
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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, &c. 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.