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sent her thus guilty. It may be deemed highly presumptuous in me to suggest that Milton might have represented her equally guilty, with more probability and more spirituality. He might have painted mental delusions rather than the intoxicating pleasures of the senses: it was open to him to follow his own course in the inventions of his overflowing imagination; but it could never be necessary to Milton's genius to dwell on matter rather than on spirit. The luxuriance of description has made this a favourite book of the poem: it is this luxuriance which I think misplaced in so holy a work.
SATAN having encompassed the earth, with meditated guile, returns, as a mist, by night into Paradise; enters into the serpent sleeping. Adam and Eve in the morning go forth to their labours, which Eve proposes to divide in several places, each labouring apart: Adam consents not, alleging the danger, lest that enemy, of whom they were forewarned, should attempt her found alone: Eve, loth to be thought not circumspect or firm enough, urges her going apart, the rather desirous to make trial of her strength: Adam at last yields; the serpent finds her alone: his subtle approach, first gazing, then speaking; with much flattery extolling Eve above all other creatures. Eve, wondering to hear the serpent speak, asks how he attained to human speech, and such understanding, not till now: the serpent answers, that by tasting of a certain tree in the garden he attained both to speech and reason, till then void of both: Eve requires him to bring her to that tree, and finds it to be the tree of knowledge forbidden; the serpent, now grown bolder, with many wiles and arguments induces her at length to eat; she, pleased with the taste, deliberates awhile whether to impart thereof to Adam or not; at last brings him of the fruit; relates what persuaded her to eat thereof: Adam, at first amazed, but perceiving her lost, resolves, through vehemence of love, to perish with her; and, extenuating the trespass, eats also of the fruit: the effects thereof in them both; they seek to cover their nakedness; then fall to variance and accusation of one another.
No more of talk where God or angel guest'
a No more of talk.
These prologues, or prefaces of Milton to some of his books, speaking of his own person, lamenting his blindness, and preferring his subject to those of Homer and Virgil, and the greatest poets before him, are condemned by some critics; and it must be allowed that we find no such digression in the "Iliad" or "Æneid:"-it is a liberty that can be taken only by such a genius as Milton, and I question whether it would have succeeded in any hands but his. As Voltaire says upon the occasion, I cannot but own that an author is generally guilty of an unpardonable self-love, when he lays aside his subject to descant upon his own person:-but that human frailty is to be forgiven in Milton; nay, I am pleased with it. He gratifies the curiosity he has raised in me about his person;-when I admire the author, I desire to know something of the man; and he, whom all readers would be glad to know, is allowed to speak of himself. But this, however, is a very dangerous example for a genius of an inferior order, and is only to be justified by success. See Voltaire's "Essay on Epic Poetry," p. 111. But as Mr. Thyer adds, however some critics may condemn a poet's sometimes digressing from his subject to speak of himself, it is very certain that Milton was of a very different opinion long before he thought of writing this poem: for, in his discourse of the "Reason of Church Government," &c., apologizing for saying so much of himself as he there does, he adds,-" For, although a poet, soaring in the high region of his fancies, with his garland and singing robes about him, might, without apology, speak more of himself than I mean to do; yet for me, sitting here below in the cool element of prose, a mortal thing among many readers of no empyreal conceit, to venture and divulge unusual things of myself, I shall petition to the gentler sort, it may not be envy to me," vol. i. p. 59, ed. 1738.-NEWTON.
b God or angel guest.
Milton, who knew and studied the Scripture thoroughly, and continually profits himself of its vast sublimity, as well as of the more noble treasures it contains, and to which his poem owes its greatest lustre, has done it here very remarkably.-RICHARDSON.
The poet says that he must now treat no more of familiar discourse with either god or angel; for Adam had held discourse with God, as we read in the preceding book; and the whole foregoing episode is a conversation with the angel.-NEWTON.
To sit indulgent, and with him partake
Venial discourse unblamed. I now must change
And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse:
Since first this subject for heroic song
Pleased me, long choosing and beginning late;
Not sedulous by nature to indite
Wars, hitherto the only argument
Heroic deem'd; chief mastery to dissect
With long and tedious havoc fabled knights,
As the author is now changing his subject, he professes likewise to change his style agreeably to it: the reader therefore must not expect such lofty images and descriptions as before. What follows is more of the tragic strain than of the epic:--which may serve as an answer to those critics who censure the latter books of the "Paradise Lost," as falling below the former.-NEWTON.
d Long choosing and beginning late.
Milton intended pretty early to write an epic poem, and proposed the story of "King Arthur" for the subject: but that was laid aside, probably, for the reasons here intimated. The "Paradise Lost" he designed at first as a tragedy: it was not till long after that he began to form it into an epic poem; and, indeed, for several years he was so hotly engaged in the controversies of the times, that he was not at leisure to think of a work of this nature; and did not begin to fashion it in its present form, till after the Salmasian controversy which ended in 1655; and probably did not set about the work in earnest till after the Restoration: so that he was "long choosing, and beginning late."-NEWTON.
• The only argument.
The three species of the epic poem are morality, politics, and religion: these have been occupied by Homer, Virgil, and Milton. Here then the grand scene is closed, and all farther improvements of the epic at an end.-NEWTON.
A cruel sentence indeed, and a very severe statute of limitation; enough, if it had any foundation, to destroy any future attempt of any exalted genius that might arise. But, in truth, the assertion is totally groundless and chimerical. Each of the three poets might change the stations here assigned to them: Homer might assume to himself the province of politics; Virgil, of morality; and Milton, of both; who is also a strong proof that human action is not the largest sphere of epic poetry.-Jos. WARTON.
Of patience and heroic martyrdom
The sun was sunk, and after him the star
'Twixt day and night; and now from end to end
On man's destruction, maugre what might hap
His entrance, and forwarn'd the cherubim
That kept their watch; thence full of anguish driven,
Races and games.
As the ancient poets have done; Homer in the twenty-third book of the "Iliad;" Virgil in the fifth book of the "Eneid ;" and Statius in the sixth book of his "Thebaid:" or tilts and tournaments, which are often the subject of the modern poets, as Ariosto, Spenser, and the like.-NEWTON.
Bases signify the mantle which hung down from the middle to ak out the knees, or lower, worn by knights on horseback.-TODD.
An age too late, or cold.
He has a thought of the same kind in his "Reason of Church-Government," b. ii. speaking of epic poems:-" If to the instinct of nature, and the imboldening of art, aught may be trusted; and that there be nothing adverse in our climate, or the fate of this age, it haply would be no rashness, from an equal diligence and inclination, to present the like offer in our own ancient stories."-Or years damp, &c. For he was near sixty when this poem was published: and it is surprising that, at that time of life, and after such troublesome days as he had passed through, he should have so much poetical fire remaining.-NEWTON.
'Twixt day and night.
i Short arbiter
This expression was probably borrowed from the beginning of Sidney's "Arcadia, where, speaking of the sun about the time of the equinox, he calls him "an indifferent arbiter between the night and the day."-NEWTON.
The space of seven continued nights he rode
On the eighth return'd; and, on the coast averse
Now not, though sin, not time, first wrought the change,
In with the river sunk, and with it rose,
Satan, involved in rising mist; then sought
Where to lie hid sea he had search'd, and land
At Darien; thence to the land where flows
Most opportune might serve his wiles; and found
Of thoughts revolved, his final sentence chose;
To enter, and his dark suggestions hide
Thus he resolved; but first from inward grief
Seven continued nights.
Satan was three days compassing the earth from east to west, and four days from north to south, but still kept always in the shade of night; and, after a whole week's peregrination in this manner, on the eighth night returned by stealth into Paradise.— NEWTON.
The colures are two great circles, intersecting each other at right angles in the poles of the world, and encompassing the earth from north to south, and from south to north again.-NEWTON.
1 From Eden over Pontus.
As we had before an astronomical, so here we have a geographical account of Satan's peregrinations.-NEWTON.
m Ocean barr'd.
See Job xxxviii. 10:-" And set cars to the sea."-NEWTON.
The serpent, subtlest beast.
So Moses, Gen. iii. 1:-"Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field."
O earth, how like to heaven, if not preferr'd
Of contraries: all good to me becomes
Bane, and in heaven much worse would be my state.
To dwell, unless by mastering heaven's Supreme:
Nor hope to be myself less miserable
By what I seek, but others to make such
As I, though thereby worse to me redound:
For only in destroying I find ease
To my relentless thoughts; and, him destroy'd,
Or won to what may work his utter loss,
For whom all this was made; all this will soon
o If not preferr'd.
I reckon this panegyric upon the earth among the less perfect parts of the poem. The beginning is extravagant, and what follows is not consistent with what the author had said before, in his description of Satan's passage among the stars and planets, which are said then to appear to him as other worlds inhabited. See b. iii. 566. The imagination, that all the heavenly bodies were created for the sake of the earth, was natural to human ignorance; and human vanity might find its account in it, but neither of these could influence Satan.-HEYLIN.
It is common for people to undervalue what they have forfeited and lost by their folly and wickedness, and to overvalue any good that they hope to attain: so Satan is here made to question whether earth be not preferable to heaven; but this is spoken of earth in its primitive and original beauty before the Fall.
Satan was willing to insinuate imperfection in God, as if he had mended his hand by creation, and as if all the works of God were not perfect in their kinds, and in their degrees, and for the ends for which they were intended.-NEWTON.
p Of growth, sense, reason.
The three kinds of life, rising as it were by steps, the vegetable, animal, and rational; of all which man partakes, and he only: he grows as plants, minerals, and all things inanimate; he lives as all other animal creatures; but is over and above endued with reason.-RICHARDSON.