Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

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.

ARGUMENT.

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'
With man, as with his friend, familiar used

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
Rural repast; permitting him the while

Venial discourse unblamed. I now must change
Those notes to tragic: foul distrust, and breach
Disloyal on the part of man, revolt
And disobedience: on the part of Heaven
Now alienated, distance and distaste,
Anger and just rebuke, and judgment given,
That brought into this world a world of woe,
Sin and her shadow Death, and Misery,
Death's harbinger: sad task! yet argument
Not less, but more heroic, than the wrath
Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued
Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage
Of Turnus for Lavinia disespoused;
Or Neptune's ire, or Juno's, that so long
Perplex'd the Greek, and Cytherea's son;
If answerable style I can obtain
Of my celestial patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,

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,
In battles feign'd: the better fortitude

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

d

[ocr errors][merged small]

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
Unsung; or to describe races and games,'
Or tilting furniture, imblazon'd shields,
Impresses quaint, caparisons and steeds,
Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights
At joust and tournament; then marshall'd feast
Served up in hall with sewers and seneshals:
The skill of artifice or office mean,
Not that which justly gives heroic name
To person or to poem. Me, of these
Nor skill'd nor studious, higher argument
Remains; sufficient of itself to raise
That name, unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or years, damp my intended wing
Depress'd; and much they may, if all be mine,
Not hers, who brings it nightly to my ear.

The sun was sunk, and after him the star
Of Hesperus, whose office is to bring
Twilight upon the earth, short arbiter

'Twixt day and night; and now from end to end
Night's hemisphere had veil'd the horizon round;
When Satan, who late fled before the threats
Of Gabriel out of Eden, now improved
In meditated fraud and malice, bent

On man's destruction, maugre what might hap
Of heavier on himself, fearless return'd.
By night he fled, and at midnight return'd
From compassing the earth; cautious of day
Since Uriel, regent of the sun, descried

His entrance, and forwarn'd the cherubim

That kept their watch; thence full of anguish driven,

Races and games.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

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.

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
With darkness; thrice the equinoctial line
He circled; four times cross'd the car of night
From pole to pole, traversing each colure ;*

On the eighth return'd; and, on the coast averse
From entrance or cherubic watch, by stealth
Found unsuspected way. There was a place,

Now not, though sin, not time, first wrought the change,
Where Tigris, at the foot of Paradise,
Into a gulf shot underground; till part
Rose up a fountain by the tree of life:

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
From Eden over Pontus,' and the pool
Mæotis, up beyond the river Ob;
Downward as far antarctic; and in length,
West from Orontes to the ocean barr'd

At Darien; thence to the land where flows
Ganges and Indus: thus the orb he roam'd
With narrow search; and with inspection deep
Consider'd every creature, which of all

Most opportune might serve his wiles; and found
The serpent subtlest beast" of all the field.
Him, after long debate irresolute

Of thoughts revolved, his final sentence chose;
Fit vessel, fittest imp of fraud, in whom

To enter, and his dark suggestions hide
From sharpest sight; for, in the wily snake
Whatever sleights, none would suspicious mark,
As from his wit and native subtlety
Proceeding; which, in other beasts observed,
Doubt might beget of diabolic power
Active within, beyond the sense of brute.

Thus he resolved; but first from inward grief
His bursting passion into plaints thus pour'd:

Seven continued nights.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

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.

Each colure.

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."

0

100

O earth, how like to heaven, if not preferr'd
More justly, seat worthier of Gods, as built
With second thoughts, reforming what was old!
For what God, after better, worse would build?
Terrestrial heaven, danced round by other heavens
That shine, yet bear their bright officious lamps,
Light above light, for thee alone, as seems;
In thee concentring all their precious beams
Of sacred influence! As God in heaven
Is centre, yet extends to all; so thou,
Centring, receivest from all those orbs; in thee,
Not in themselves, all their known virtue appears
Productive in herb, plant, and nobler birth
Of creatures animate with gradual life,
Of growth, sense, reason, all summ'd up in man.
With what delight could I have walked thee round,
If I could joy in aught! sweet interchange
Of hill, and valley, rivers, woods, and plains,
Now land, now sea, and shores with forest crown'd,
Rocks, dens, and caves! But I in none of these
Find place or refuge; and the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege

Of contraries: all good to me becomes

Bane, and in heaven much worse would be my state.
But neither here seek I, no, nor in heaven

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.

105

110

115

120

125

130

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.

« AnteriorContinua »