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JJut most by lewd and lavish act of Sin,
Majk at Ludlow Castle.
This philosophy of imbrutedsouls becoming thick Jhadows is so remote from any ideas entertain'd at present of the effects of Sin, and at the fame time is so agreeable to the notions of Plato f a double favourite of Milton, sor his own fake, and for the fake of his being a favourite with his Italian Masters) that there is not the least question of it's being taken from the, Phaedo.
'H To«*u7»j \j/vj£ji (Zxpuvilxi ri x) Ixkcixi .srx\n u$ Tow opalow Tottov, (pofew Ts ajidaj ri J*, ad», •sreoj rx fAvripala, x} Touj rafpif? xuAivdu^ici;)]' Zhji x in x, coffin xtlx yup^uv (DciofjJti (pxvixirfJi.xlx, oia zrxpep(ovla» a» Toiaulai ^J/up^ai sidwAa, ai pn xaflajwj aVoAu8e«t*»
There is no wonder, now one fees the fountain Milton drew from, that, in admiration of this poetical philosophy (which nourish'd the fine spirits of that time, tho' it corrupted some) he should make the B 3 other
other speaker in the Scene cry out, as in a fit of extasy,
How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh, and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns —
The very ideas which Lord Shaftesbury hasem* ployed in his encomiums on the Platonic philosophy; and the very language which Dr. Henry More would have us'd if he had known to express himself so soberly.
3. Having said so much of Plato; whom the Italian writers have help'd to make known to us, let me just observe one thing, to our present purpose, of those Italian writers themselves. One of their peculiarities, and almost the first that strikes us, is a certain sublime mystical air which runs thro' all their fictions. We find them a fort of philosophical fanatics, indulging themselves in strange conceits " con"cerning the Soul, the chyming ef celestial orbs, and "presiding Syrens." One may tell by these marks, that they doted on the fancies of Plato; if we had not, besides, direct evidence for this conclusion. Tasio fays of himself, and he applauds the fame thing in Petrarch, "Lesli gia tutte l'opere di Platone, e mi "rimassero molti semi nella mente della sua dottri"na." I take these words from Menage, who has
much more to the same purpose, in his elegant observations on the Amintas of this poet.
One fees then where Milton had been for that imagery in the Arcades.
—————— then listen I
To the celestial Syrens harmony,
The best comment on these verses isa passage in the xth Book of Plato's Republic, where this whole system, of Syrens quiring to the fates, is explained or rather deliver'd.
IV. We have seen a Mark of Imitation, in the allusion of writers to certain strange, and foreign tenets of philosophy. The observation may be extended to all those passages (which are innumerable in our poets) that allude to the rites, customs, language and theology of Paganism.
It is true indeed this Species of Imitation is not that which is, properly, the subject of this Letter. The most original writer is allowed to furnish himself with poetical ideas from all quarters. And the management of learned Allusion is to be regarded, perhaps, as one of the nicest offices of Invention. Yet it may be useful to see from what sources a great poet derives his materials; and the rather, as this detection will sometimes account for the manner B 4. in in which he disposes of them. However I will but detain You with a remark or two on this class of Imitations.
i. I observe that even Shakefpear himself abounds in learned Allusions. How he came by them, is another question; tho' not so difficult to be answered, You know, as some have imagined. They, who are in such 'astonishment at the learning of Shakespear, besides that they certainly carry the notion of his illiteracy too far, forget that the Pagan imagery was familiar to ajl the poets of his time —: that abundance of this sort of learning was to be pick'd up from almost ev'ry English book, he could take into his hands — that many of the best writers in Greek and Latin had been translated into English — that his conversation lay amongst the most learned, that is, the most paganiz'd poets of his age — but above all, that, if he had never look'd into books, or convers'd with bookish men, he might have learn'd almost all the secrets of paganism (so far, I mean, as a poet had any use of them) from the Masks of B. Johnson; contriv'd by that poet with so pedantical an exactness, that one is ready to take them for lectures and illustrations on the antient learnings rather than exercises of modern wit. The taste of the age, much devoted to erudition, and still more, the taste of the Princes, for whom he writ, gave a prodigious vogue to these unnatural exhibitions. And the knowledge of antiquity, requisite to succeed in them, was, I imagine, the reason that Shakefpear was
not not over fond to try his hand at these elaborate trifles. Once indeed he did, and with such success as to disgrace the very best things of this kind we find in Johnson. The short Mask in the Tempest is fitted up with a classical exactness. But it's chief merit lies in the beauty of the Shew, and the richness of the poetry. Shakespear was so sensible of his Superiority, that he could not help exulting a little upon it, where he makes Ferdinand fay,
This is a most majestic Vision, and
*Tis true, another Poet, who possess'd a great part of Shakespear's Genius and all Johnson's learning has carried this courtly entertainment to it's last persection. But the Majk at Ludloiv Castle was, in. some measure, owing to the fairy Scenes of his Predecessor; who chose this province of Tradition, not only as most suitable to the witness of his vast creative imagination. but as the safest for his unlettered Muse to walk in. For here he had much, You know, to expect from the popular credulity, and nothing to sear from the classic superstition of that time.
2. It were endless to apply this note of imitation to other poets consessedly learned. Yet one instance is curious enough to be just mention'd.
Mr. Waller, in his famous poem on the victory over the Dutch on June 3. 1665. has the following lines;