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in prospect of Eden, and looking round upon the glories of the creation, is filled with sentiments different from those which he discovered whilst he was in hell. The place inspires him with thoughts more adapted to it; he reflects upon the happy condition from whence he fell, and breaks forth into a speech that is softened with several transient touches of remorse and self-accusation; but at length he confirms himself in impenitence, and in his design of drawing man into his own state of guilt and misery. This conflict of passions is raised with a great deal of art, as the opening of his speech to the sun is very bold and noble.
O thou that with surpassing glory crown'd,
This speech is, I think, the finest that is ascribed to Satan in the whole poem. The evil spirit afterwards proceeds to make his discoveries concerning our first parents, and to learn after what manner they may be best attacked. His bounding over the walls of Paradise; his sitting in the shape of a cormorant upon the tree of life, which stood in the centre of it; and overtopped all the other trees of the garden; his alighting among the herd of animals, which are so beautifully represented as playing about Adam and Eve, together with his transforming himself into different shapes, in order to hear their conversation; are circumstances that give an agreeable
surprise to the reader, and are devised with great art, to connect that series of adventures, in which the poet has engaged this artificer of fraud.
The thought of Satan's transformation into a cormorant, and placing himself on the tree of life, seems raised upon that passage in the Iliad, where two deities are described as perching on the top of an oak in the shape of vultures.
His planting himself at the ear of Eve under the form of a toad, in order to produce vain dreams and imaginations, is a circumstance of the same nature; as his starting up in his own form is wonderfully fine, both in the literal description, and in the moral which is concealed under it. His answer, upon his being discovered, and demanded to give an account of himself, is conformable to the pride and intrepidity of his character.
Know ye not then, said Satan, fill'd with scorn,
Zephon's rebuke, with the influence it had on Satan, is exquisitely graceful and moral. Satan is afterwards led away to Gabriel, the chief of the guardian angels, who kept watch in Paradise. His disdainful behaviour on this occasion is so remarkable a beauty, that the most ordinary reader can not but take notice of it. Gabriel's discovering his approach at a distance, is drawn with great strength and liveliness of imagination.
O friends! I hear the tread of nimble feet
Ithuriel and Zephon through the shade,
The conference between Gabriel and Satan abounds with sentiments proper for the occasion, and suitable to the persons of the two speakers. Satan's clothing himself with terror when he prepares for the combat is truly sublime, and at least equal to Homer's description of Discord celebrated by Longinus, or to that of Fame in Virgil, who are both represented with their feet standing upon the earth, and their heads reaching above the clouds.
While thus he spake, th' angelic squadron bright
On th' other side, Satan, alarm'd,
Collecting all his might, dilated stood
His stature reach'd the sky, and on his crest
I must here take notice, that Milton is every where full of hints, and sometimes literal translations, taken from the greatest of the Greek and Latin poets. But this I may reserve for a discourse by itself, because I would not break the thread of these speculations, that are designed for English readers, with such reflections as would be of no use but to the learned.
I must, however, observe in this place, that the breaking off the combat between Gabriel and
Satan, by the hanging out of the golden scales in heaven, is a refinement upon Homer's thought, who tells us, that before the battle between Hector and Achilles, Jupiter weighed the event of it in a pair of scales. The reader may see the whole passage in the twenty-second Iliad. (See No. 463.)
Virgil, before the last decisive combat, describes Jupiter in the same manner, as weighing the fates of Turnus and Æneas. Milton, though he fetched this beautiful circumstance from the Iliad and Æneid, does not only insert it as a poetical embellishment, like the authors above mentioned, but makes an artful use of it for the proper carrying on of his fable, and for the breaking off the combat between the two warriors, who were upon the point of engaging. To this we may further add, that Milton is the more justified in this passage, as we find the same noble allegory in holy writ, where a wicked prince, some few hours before he was assaulted and slain, is said to have been weighed in the scales, and to have been found wanting.
I must here take notice under the head of the machines, that Uriel's gliding down to the earth upon a sunbeam, with the poet's device to make him descend, as well in his return to the sun as in his coming from it, is a prettiness that might have been admired in a little fanciful poet, but seems below the genius of Milton. The description of the host of armed angels walking their nightly round in Paradise, is of another spirit;
So saying, on he led his radiant files,
As that account of the hymns which our first parents used to hear them sing in these their midnight walks, is altogether divine, and inexpressibly amusing to the imagination.
We are, in the last place, to consider the parts which Adam and Eve act in the fourth book. The description of them as they first appeared to Satan is exquisitely drawn, and sufficient to make the fallen angel gaze upon them with all that astonishment, and those emotions of envy, in which he is represented.
Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
There is a fine spirit of poetry in the lines which follow, wherein they are described as sitting on a bed of flowers by the side of a fountain, amidst a mixed assembly of animals.