Joseph Addison – Essays from “The Spectator” (ctd.)

Addison continues his argument about Paradise Lost. In poetry not only the whole should be great but also its parts. He says he won’t presume to criticise Virgil for things like the whole book about games in the Aeneid, or a flippant comparison of an angry queen to a spinning top, but in fact in a sense he does just by mentioning these things and saying that in contrast, Milton’s work is all great. It is also of exactly the right size. He quotes Aristotle who used the example with animals: the mite is too small to appreciate and an imaginary animal which would be ten thousand furlongs (2,000 km) in length would be too big. The memory of the reader is like the eye: the text needs to be of such length that it can hold everything in. Milton, in fact, had a more difficult job, because the material from Genesis is much more sparse than the mythology on which Homer and Virgil drew, and when he added things, he had to do so with care so as not to cause offense. It’s also impossible to calculate the time frame of his poem, as opposed to the Iliad or Aeneid, because so much of it takes time in the regions where there is no day and night.  The essay ends with a remark that it is going to be continued in the Saturday issue. As the Helpful Footnote informs us, there were eighteen parts in fact, but we can be pretty clear at this point that Addison thinks Milton is the best.

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