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It is sometimes useful to warn the reader what he is to expect in each portion of a long poem, as it is offered to him. The second book of the “ Paradise Regained begins soberly,—perhaps in a tone almost prosaic. To begin low, and rise by a gradual climax, is admitted to be one of the great arts of beautiful composition.
The anxiety and alarm felt by the disciples of Jesus, at missing him so soon, while detained in the wilderness, coming suddenly on their joy at the discovery of his advent; and the pathetic yet patient reflections of Mary at the loss of her son, though related with extreme plainness, are full of deep interest, and the most affecting natural touches : they abound in passages which excite human sympathy.
Satan, hitherto defeated in his temptations of our Saviour, now resorts again to his council of peers : at which occurs that magnificent dialogue between the sensual Belial and him, which is at any rate as rich and poetical as the finest in “ Paradise Lost;" and shows a vein of warmth, and imagery, and invention, and language, that is evidence how strongly the poet's genius was yet in its full bloom and verdure. Satan's answer to Belial is the more powerful, as coming from the prince of darkness himself : how then does the lustful fiend stand rebuked !
Now Jesus had fasted forty days, and began to suffer by hunger : Satan seizes the occasion, and resolves to take advantage of it. Our Saviour, weary and exhausted, slept under the cover of trees, and dreamed of food supplied by an angel, who invited him to eat. He waked with the morning, and found that all was but a dream :
Fasting he went to sleep, and fasting waked. He walked to the top of a hill, to see if there was any human habitation within reach ; and there a rich but solitary landscape displayed itself before him, raised magically by Satan and his imps, for the purposes of the delusion which was to follow.
While gazing upon this magnificent prospect, Satan again accosts him, and endeavours to alarm his faith at being left thus destitute :
As his words had end,
A dinner spread, &c.
I can at will, doubt not, as soon as thou,
And count thy specious gifts, no gifts, but guiles.
1 Both table and provision vanish'd quite,
With sound of harpies' wings and talons heard. The tempter was not yet to be foiled: he now makes an offer of riches, and
descants upon their advantages for the purposes of that dominion which he assumes that our Saviour was sent to obtain.
Jesus answers, that wealth without virtue, valour, and wisdom, is impotent; and that 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 underand 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 10 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 tio soft garments of a dove-like tenderness: he neither adorned himself with jewels for gold leaf ; all was plain as nature made him.
Thus bis 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 dues 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 yes, 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.
ARGUMENT, 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 infernai 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 succred. Satan then suggests other modes of temptation, particularly proposing to avail himell 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 nur 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.-Satın, 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
a Meanwhile the nero-baptized, &c. 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, bas 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 bis subject, in order to relieve and refresh the reader's attention. The following conversation betwist 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 the most spirited specches 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 declararations of John the Baptist, and the voice from heaven, was that he was a great prophct, and this was all they did in fact collect : they were uncertain whether he was their proniad 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 liim “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world," referring, as is generally supposed, to Isaiah, lii. i. 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.
c And with him talk'd, and with him lodged. These particulars are founded, as Dr. Newton observes, on what is related in the first
Andrew and Simon', famous after known,
Rode up to heaven', yet once again to come. 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.
d I mean
Andrew and Simon. 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 calling still upon that noble name,
I mean Renaldo's house of Montalbane.
How she had seen the bridge of the pagan made,
e Sometimes they thought he might be only shown. Virg. "Æn." vi. 870:
Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata, nec ultra
And the great Thisbile, who on fiery wheels
Rode up to heaven. Elijah, spatched 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,' Bt. 6:
See, see the chariot, and those rushing wheels,
That whirl'd the prophet up at Chebar flood. And " In Obit. Præsul. Eliens.” ver. 49:
Vates ut olim raptus ad cælum senex,
Auriga currus ignei. And I think we may trace it more than once in the “Prose Works,” either by comparison of allusion. The “fiery-wheeled throne,” in “ Il Penseroso," has another origin.-T.
Mr. Dunster adds, from the poet's "In Proditionem Bombardicam,” ver. 5 :
Scilicet hos alti missurus ad atria cæli,
Sulphureo curru, flammivolisque rotis:
Liquit Iordanios turbine raptus agros.
Pure spirit, that rapt'st above the firmest sphear,
In fiery coach thy faithful messenger, &c.
0, thou fair chariot flaming brauely bright,
Rapt'st vp the Thesbit. 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.
note on Matt. iv. 15, and likewise refers to Casaubon's note on Johni. 28. But it should be observed that Beza has the same remark, and that he renders répay toll 'lopồavov, not
on whichever side of the river we place it, it must have been nearly opposite Jericho; as it from Jerusalem ; and that Jericho lay directly in the way to it. (See Pocock's - Trarels is said, Judges, vii. 24, about the inhabitants of Mount Ephraim "taking the waters,"
For this construction of trepav, he cites many authorities in his trans Jordanum, but secus Jordanum, "nigh to Jordan," both in Matt. iv, 15, and
* De Nominibus Hebræis,” speaks of Bethabara, as standing partly Jericho is called “the city of palms," Deut. xxxiv. 3: and Josephus, Strabo, Pliny, and
Ænon is mentioned, John i. 23, as is likewise Salim or Salem : but there appears to be no particular reason for our
Therefore, as those young prophets then with care
The city of palms', Ænon, and Salem old, ed. Basil. 1573. Dr. 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 Sandys'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's 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 saya 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 bad read, not only on account of the fame and excellence of the writer, but as he was also bis 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," &c.
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 Commertary on Tertullian, “ De Resurrect
. Carn."c. 23, says, all the ancient Fathers have delivered, “ tradit tota Patrum antiquitas.”—DUNSTER,
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. Adrichomus in his “ Theatrum Terra Sanctæ,” places Bethabara on the eastern bank of the river Jordan at a small distance from the Dead Sca, 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
, is expressly said, Joshua iii. 16, Eastern travellers also show, that the place, where the tradition of that country support
the people passed over right against Jericho.” The Jesus to have been baptized by John in Jordan, was not more than a day's journey distance of the river with Jericho, that is, on the western bank. This opinion be gronnds on what bishop Pearce reconciles by showing that hepar often signifies in Scripture, " ou the video bara indeed (John i. 28.) is described ?.beyond Tordan," képay toũ lopāárov : bue of,” or “ on this side of." John i. 28. St. Jerom, on the western, and partly on the eastern bank of the river Jordan.-DUNSTE.H.
i The city palms, &c. all writers, describe it as abounding with those trees.