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the highest deeds have been performed in the lowest poverty: he then expounds what are the duties and what are the cares of a king; and how much more desirable it is to surrender a sceptre, than to gain one.
Were there in this book nothing but the spiritual and intellectual part, the thoughts and the sentiments, I, for one, should not think the less of it; but it is not so: there are duly intermixed that material, those picturesque descriptions, those striking incidents of fact, which the common critics and the generality of readers more especially deem to be poetry.
The whole story (and it is a beautiful story) is in part practical, though operated on by immaterial beings, whose delusive powers over our earthly conduct and fate are consistent with our belief. The temptations are such as a mere human being could not have resisted; and to have resisted them is a true test of Christ's divinity.
But the arguments by which they were resisted, contain the most profound doctrines of religion and morals, such as for ever apply to human life, extend and purify the understanding, and elevate the heart. We should have been glad to have learned the grand results at which the mighty mind of Milton had arrived, even if they had been expressed in prose; but how much more when arranged in all the glowing eloquence of poetry! when interwoven in a sublime story, and deriving practical application from their embodiments and their progressive influences!
The reply to the allurements of female beauty, and still more to the impotent splendour of wealth, unaccompanied by virtue and talent, is an outburst of imaginative strength and sublimity: it is wisdom irradiated by glory. Whoever does not find himself better and happier by reading and reflecting upon those grand and sentimental arguments, has neither head nor heart, but is a stagnant congeries of clayey coldness and inanimate insusceptibility.
We may be forgiven for dispensing with all poetry, of which the mere result is innocent pleasure; that is, they may lay it aside to whom it is no pleasure. But this is not the case with Milton's poetry: his is the voice of instruction and wisdom, to which he who refuses to listen, is guilty of a crime. If we are so dull, that we cannot understand him without labour and pain, still we are bound to undergo that labour and pain. They who are not ashamed of their own ignorance and inapprehensiveness are lost.
For the purpose of fixing attention, I suspect that Milton's latinized style is best calculated. He who has more acquired knowledge than native and quick taste, ought to study him as he studies Virgil and Homer: in him he will find all that is profound and eloquent in the ancient classics, amalgamated, and exalted at the same time by the aid of the sacred writings; all working together in the plastic mind of the most powerful and sublime of human poets.
Strength, not grace, was Milton's characteristic: his grasp was that of an unsparing giant; he showed the sinews and muscles of his naked form: he put on no soft garments of a dove-like tenderness: he neither adorned himself with jewels nor gold leaf; all was plain as nature made him.
Thus his descriptions of scenery, of the seasons, of morning and evening, were rich, but not embellished or sophisticated. In this book, the break of the dawn, the gathering of the night shades, the dark covering of the umbrageous forests, the open and sunny glades, are all painted in the sober hues of visible reality.
There is nothing enfeebling in any of Milton's visionariness. His bold and vigorous mind braces us for action; his strains beget a patient loftiness, prepared for temptations, difficulties, and dangers.
It is in vain for authors to attempt to effectuate this tone by practising the artifices of composition: it is produced solely by the poet's belief in what he writes; by his being under the impulse of the ideal presence of what he represents. He does not conjure up factitious images, factitious feelings, and factitious language. Where the soul is wanting, the dress or form will be of no avail.
Milton's purpose was to represent the embodiment and refraction of what he believed to be truth. What was visible to himself, but not palpable to common eyes, except by the Muse's aid, he wanted to make palpable and distinct to others. The immaterial world is covered with a mist, or a veil, to all but the gifted; unless they become a mirror for duller sights.
The disciples of Jesus, uneasy at his long absence, reason amongst themselves concerning it. Mary also gives vent to her maternal anxiety; in the expression of which she recapitulates many circumstances respecting the birth and early life of her Son.-Satan again meets his infernal council, reports the bad success of his first temptation of our blessed Lord, calls upon them for counsel and assistance. Belial proposes the tempting of Jesus with women. Satan rebukes Belial for his dissoluteness, charging on him all the profligacy of that kind ascribed by the poets to the heathen gods, and rejects his proposal as in no respect likely to succeed. Satan then suggests other modes of temptation, particularly proposing to avail himself of our Lord's hungering; and, taking a band of chosen spirits with him, returns to resume his enterprise.-Jesus hungers in the desert.-Night comes on; the manner in which our Saviour passes the night is described.—Morning advances.-Satan again appears to Jesus; and, after expressing wonder that he should be so entirely neglected in the wilderness, where others had been miraculously fed, tempts him with a sumptuous banquet of the most luxurious kind. This he rejects, and the banquet vanishes.-Satan, finding our Lord not to be assailed on the ground of appetite, tempts him again by offering him riches, as the means of acquiring power: this Jesus also rejects, producing many instances of great actions performed by persons under virtuous poverty, and specifying the danger of riches, and the cares and pains inseparable from power and greatness.
MEANWHILE the new-baptized," who yet remain'd
And on that high authority had believed,
a Meanwhile the new-baptized, &c.
. I mean
The greatest, and indeed justest objection to this poem is the narrowness of its plan, which, being confined to that single scene of our Saviour's life on earth, his temptation in the desert, has too much sameness in it; too much of the reasoning, and too little of the descriptive part; a defect most certainly in an epic poem, which ought to consist of a proper and happy mixture of the instructive and the delightful. Milton was himself, no doubt, sensible of this imperfection, and has therefore very judiciously contrived and introduced all the little digressions that could with any sort of propriety connect with his subject, in order to relieve and refresh the reader's attention. The following conversation betwixt Andrew and Simon upon the missing of our Saviour so long, with the Virgin's reflections on the same occasion, and the council of the devils how best to attack their enemy, are instances of this sort, and both very happily executed in their respective ways. The language of the former is cool and unaffected, corresponding most exactly to the humble, pious character of the speakers: that of the latter is full of energy and majesty, and not inferior to their most spirited speeches in the "Paradise Lost."-THYER.
b Jesus, Messiah, Son of God declared.
This is a great mistake in the poet. All that the people could collect from the declarations of John the Baptist, and the voice from heaven, was that he was a great prophet, and this was all they did in fact collect: they were uncertain whether he was their promised Messiah.-WARBurton.
But surely the declaration, by the voice from heaven, of Jesus being the beloved Son of God, was, as Milton terms it, "high authority" for believing that he was the Messiah. John the Baptist had also, John i. 29, expressly called him "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world," referring, as is generally supposed, to Isaiah, liii. 7. And, the day following, John's giving him the same title, "Behold the Lamb of God!" (John i. 36) is the ground of Andrew's conversion, who thereupon followed Jesus; and having passed some time with him, declared to his brother Peter, "We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ," John i. 41.-DUNSTER.
e And with him talk'd, and with him lodged.
These particulars are founded, as Dr. Newton observes, on what is related in the first chapter of St. John, respecting two of John's disciples (one of whom was Andrew, and the other probably John the Evangelist himself), following Jesus to the place where he dwelt, and abiding with him that day.-DUNSter.
Andrew and Simon, famous after known,
Andrew and Simon.
d I mean
This sounds very prosaic; but I find a like instance or two in Harrington's translation of the "Orlando Furioso," c. xxxi. st. 46:
And again, st. 55:
And calling still upon that noble name,
I mean Renaldo's house of Montalbane.
How she had seen the bridge of the pagan made,
Virg. "En." vi. 870 :
Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata, nec ultra
And the great Thisbite, who on fiery wheels
Elijah, snatched up into heaven in a fiery chariot, was a favourite image in Milton's early years, and perfectly coincided with his cast of genius. Thus, in his "Ode on the Passion," st. 6:
See, see the chariot, and those rushing wheels,
And "In Obit. Præsul. Eliens." ver. 49:
Vates ut olim raptus ad cœlum senex,
And I think we may trace it more than once in the "Prose Works," either by comparison or allusion. The "fiery-wheeled throne," in "Il Penseroso," has another origin. -T. WARTON.
Mr. Dunster adds,
from the poet's "In Proditionem Bombardicam," ver. 5:
Scilicet hos alti missurus ad atria cœli,
Qualiter ille, feris caput inviolabile Parcis,
Milton seems, in his descriptions of the prophet, to have had in mind Sylvester, "Du Bart." edit. 1621, p.
Pure spirit, that rapt'st above the firmest sphear,
In fiery coach thy faithful messenger, &c.
See likewise the note "In Obit. Præs. El." ver. 48. Or, as Mr. Dunster also remarks, Sylvester might have been a prompter in the following lines, "Du Bart."
O, thou fair chariot flaming brauely bright,
Milton, in like manner, writes "vates terræ Thesbitidis," Eleg. iv. 97. But Castalio likewise defends this orthography: "Elias autem Thesbita," &c. Regum, lib. iii. cap. 17, ed. Basil. 1573. Doctor Newton explains "Thisbite" by adding "Or Tishbite," as Elijah is called in the English translation of the Bible; and that Elijah was a native of Thisbe or Tishbe, a city of the country of Gilead, beyond Jordan. Elijah is called "the Thesbian prophet," in Sandy's "Christ's Passion," ed. 1640, p. 51.-TODD.
Yet once again to come.
It hath been the opinion of the church, that there would be an Elias before Christ'◄
Therefore, as those young prophets then with care
The city of palms, Enon, and Salem old,
second coming, as well as before his first; and this opinion the learned Mr. Mede supports from the prophecy of Malachi, iv. 5:—“ Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord," &c., and from what our Saviour says, Matt. xvii. 11:-"Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things." These words our Saviour spake when John Baptist was beheaded, and yet speaks as of a thing future, "and shall restore all things." But as it was not Elias in person, but only in spirit, who appeared before our Saviour's first coming, so will it also be before his second. The reader may see the arguments at large, in Dr. Mede's Discourse xxv., which no doubt Milton had read, not only on account of the fame and excellence of the writer, but as he was also his fellow-collegian.-NEWTON.
Though our Saviour used the future tense, something must be previously understood to limit the sense of it to what was then passed, to a prophecy already accomplished. Bishop Pearce, in his commentary on the passage, has, "was to come first and restore all things:" and Beza, in a note on the place, says, "Hæc autem intelligenda sunt forma dicendi e medio petita, perinde ac si diceret Christus, Verum quidem est quod scribæ dicunt etiam, videlicet antegressurum fuisse Messiam, et secuturæ instaurationi viam aperturum; sed dico vobis, Eliam jam venisse." It was however the general tradition of the elder writers of the Christian church, from those words of Malachi, that Elias the Tishbite was to come in person before our Lord's second advent; which opinion the Jesuit De la Cerda, in his Commentary on Tertullian, "De Resurrect. Carn." c. 23, says, all the ancient Fathers have delivered, "tradit tota Patrum antiquitas."DUNSTER.
h Nigh to Bethabara.
It has been observed in a preceding note (b. i. ver. 193), that M. D'Anville, in the map of Judea in his "Géographie Ancienne," has laid down Bethabara wrong. Adrichomius, in his "Theatrum Terræ Sanctæ," places Bethabara on the eastern bank of the river Jordan, at a small distance from the Dead Sea, nearly opposite Jericho. Indeed, if we consider it to have been the place where the Israelites passed over Jordan to go into the land of Canaan, on whichever side of the river we place it, it must have been nearly opposite Jericho; as it is expressly said, Joshua iii. 16, "the people passed over right against Jericho." The Eastern travellers also show, that the place, where the tradition of that country supposes Jesus to have been baptized by John in Jordan, was not more than a day's journey distant from Jerusalem; and that Jericho lay directly in the way to it. (See Pocock's "Travels in the East," and Maundrell's Journal.) Bishop Pearce places Bethabara on the same side of the river with Jericho, that is, on the western bank. This opinion he grounds on what is said, Judges, vii. 21, about the inhabitants of Mount Ephraim "taking the waters" (i. e. taking possession of all the springs), from them "unto Bethabara and Jordan." Bethabara indeed (John i. 28) is described "beyond Jordan," #tpav rov 'loodávov: but this Bishop Pearce reconciles by showing that repay often signifies in Scripture, "on the side of," or "on this side of." For this construction of répav, he cites many authorities in his note on Matt. iv. 15, and likewise refers to Casaubon's note on John i. 28. But it should be observed that Beza has the same remark, and that he renders πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, not trans Jordanum, but secus Jordanum, "nigh to Jordan," both in Matt. iv. 15, and John i. 28. St. Jerom, "De Nominibus Hebræis," speaks of Bethabara, as standing partly or on the western, and partly on the eastern bank of the river Jordan.-DUNSTEr.
i The city of palms, &c.
Jericho is called "the city of palms," Deut. xxxiv. 3: and Josephus, Strabo, Pliny, and all writers, describe it as abounding with those trees. Enon is mentioned, John iii. 23, as is likewise Salim or Salem: but there appears to be no particular reason for our author's calling it "Salem old," unless he takes it to be the same with the Shalem mentioned Gen. xxxiii. 18, or confounds it with the Salem where Melchizedek was king. Macharus was a castle in the mountainous part of Peræa or the country beyond Jordan, which river is well known to run through the lake of Genezareth, or the sea of Tiberias, or the sea of Galilee, as it is otherwise called so that they searched in each place on this side Jordan, or in Peræa, nipav 'Iopdávov, beyond it.-NEWTON.
By the expression, "on this side the broad lake Genezareth," I would understand, not on the opposite side of the river to Peran, but below the lake of Genezareth, or to the south of it, between that and the Asphaltic Lake, or the Dead Sea; which is exactly the situation of the places here mentioned, none of which could be properly said to have
Machærus, and each town or city wall'd
Where winds with reeds and osiers whispering play,
stood on this side, that is, on the western side of the lake of Genezareth, though three of them stood on the western side of the river Jordan. Or in Peræa, may be only understood to mean and in Peræa, or even in Peræa: such is often the conjunctive sense of vel, and sometimes of aut in Latin, and of in Greek. It is probable that Milton had the same idea of the situation of Bethabara with that noticed in the preceding note, as admitted by Bishop Pearce, and before suggested by Beza and Casaubon. This he may be supposed to have acquired from Beza, whose translation of the Greek Testament with notes, we may imagine, was in no small degree of repute at the time when our author visited Geneva. Accordingly, the first place where he makes the disciples seek Jesus is Jericho, on the same side of the river as Bethabara, and the nearest place of any consequence to it; then Enon and Salem, both likewise on the same side, but higher up towards the lake of Genezareth; then he seems to make them cross the river and seek him in all the places in the opposite country of Peræa, down to the town and strong fortress of Machærus, which is mentioned by Josephus, "De Bello Jud.” 1. vii. c. 6. Milton had good authority for terming Salem, "Salem old." St. Jerom shows that the Salem, Gen. xxxiii. 18, was not Jerusalem, "sed oppidum juxta Scythopolim, quod usque hodie appellatur Salem; ubi ostenditur palatium Melchizedec, ex magnitudine ruinarum veteris operis ostendens magnificentiam." See Hieronym. Epist. cxxvi. ad Evag.-Dunster.
3 On the bank of Jordan.
Mr. Dunster observes, that Maundrell, in his "Journey to Jerusalem," &c., describes the river Jordan as having its banks in some parts covered so thick with bushes and trees, such as tamarisks, oleanders, and willows, that they prevented the water from being seen till any one had made his way through them. In this thicket, he says, several sorts of wild beasts harbour, which are frequently washed out of their covert by the sudden overflowings of the river. Hence that allusion in Jeremiah, xlix. 19: "Behold, he shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan." The same critic also notices the reference made to the reedy banks of Jordan, in Giles Fletcher's "Christ's Triumph over Death," st. 2:
Or whistling reeds that rutty Jordan laves.
Milton, by the distinction which he here makes, had perhaps noticed Sandys's account of Jordan, in his "Travels;" who says, "Passing along, it maketh two lakes; the one in the Vpper Galilee, named Samachontis (now Houle), in the summer for the most part dry, ouergrowne with shrubs and reeds, which afford a shelter for bores and leopards; the other in the Inferior, called the Sea of Galilee, the lake of Genezareth, and of Tyberias," &c. p. 141, edit. 1615.-TODD.
* Whispering play.
The whispering of the wind is an image that Milton is particularly fond of, and has introduced in many beautiful passages of his "Paradise Lost." Thus in the opening of the fifth book, where Adam wakens Eve:
then with voice
Mild as when Zephyrus on Flora breathes,
He also applies whispering to the flowing of a stream; to the air that plays upon the water, or by the side of it; and to the combined sounds of the breeze and the current. In the fourth book of this poem, he terms the river Ilyssus, a "whispering stream:" and in "Paradise Lost," b. iv. 325, he describes
a tuft of shade that on a green
In his "Lycidas," ver. 136, likewise, he addresses the
valleys low, where the mild whispers use
Of shades, and wanton winds, and gushing brooks.
See also "Paradise Lost," b. iv. 158, viii. 516: "The mild whisper of the refreshing breeze" he had before introduced in his Latin poem "In Adventum Veris," ver. 27 which might have been originally suggested to him by Virgil's "Culex," v. 152:
At circa passim fesse cubuere capelle,
Aura susurrantis possit confundere venti.-DUNSTER.