Page images
[merged small][ocr errors]


This first book proposes, first in brief, the whole subject, man's disobedience, and the loss there.

upon of Paradise, wherein he was placed. Then touches the prime cause of his fall, the
serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent, who, revolting from God, and drawing to his side
many legions of Angels, was by the command of God driven out of heaven with all his crew
into the great deep. Which action passed over, the Poem hastes into the midst of things,
presenting Satan with his Angels now fallen into hell, described here, not in the centre, for
heaven and earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet aceursed ; but in a
place of utter darkness, fitliest called Chaos: here Satan with his Angels lying on the burning
lake, thunderstruck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls
up him who next in order and dignity lay by him: they confer of their miserable fall.
Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded : they rise;
their numbers, array of battel, their chief leaders named, according to the idols known
afterwards in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech, com-
forts them with hope yet of regaining heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world and a
new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy or report in heaven;
for that Angels were long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient
Fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers
to a full council. What his associates thence attempt. Pandæmonium, the palace of Satan,
rises, suddenly built out of the deep: the infernal Peers there sit in council,

[ocr errors]

Of Man's first disobedience a, and the fruit
Of that forbidden trec, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, heavenly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of chaos : or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flow'd
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar

Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
* Milton has proposed the subject of his poem in the first six verses : these lines are
perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned, as any of the whole poem ; in which particular
the author has conformed himself to the example of Homer, and the precept of Horace.
His invocation to a work, which turns in a great measure on the creation of the world, is
properly made to the Muse who inspired Moses in those books from whence our author
drew his subject; and to the Holy Spirit, who is therein represented as operating after a
particular manner in the first production of nature. The whole exordium rises very hap-
pily into noble language and sentiment, as I think the transition to the fable is exquisitely
beautiful and natural. -Addison.

b And Siloa's brook. Siloa was a sınall brook that flowed near the temple of Jerusalem : it is mentioned, Isaiah viii, 6; so that, in effect, Milton invokes the heavenly Muse that inspired David and the prophets on Mount Sion, and at Jerusalem; as well as Moses on Mount Sinai.—Newton.



Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme c.
And chiefly thou, O Spirit", that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou know'st; thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like sat'st broodinge on the vast abyss,
And madest it pregnant: what in me is dark
Illumine', what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great argument &

c Rhyme.
Rhyme bere means rerse.—T. WARTON.

Blank verse is apt to be loose, thin, and more full of words than thought : the blank verse of Milton is compressed, close-wove, and weighty in matter,

d And chiefly thou, 0 Spirit. Invoking the Muse is commonly a matter of mere form, wherein the poets neither mean, nor desire to be thought to mean, anything seriously: but the Holy Ghost here invoked is too rolemn a name to be used insignificantly; and besides, our author, in the beginning of his next work, “ Paradise Regained,” scruples not to say to the same divine person :-

Inspire, As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute, This address, therefore, is no mere formality : yet some may think that he incurs a worse charge of enthusiasın, or even profaneness, in vouching inspiration for his performance : but the Scriptures represent inspiration as of a much larger extent than is commonly appreheuded, teaching that every good gift," in naturals as well as in morals, “ descendeth from the great Father of Lights." James i. 17. And an extraordinary skill, even in mechanical arts, is there ascribed to the illumination of the Holy Ghost. It is said of Bezaleel, who was to make the furniture of the tabernacle, that “the Lord had filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of work. manship, and to devisc curious works,” &c. Exod. xxxv. 31.-Heylin.

It may be observed, too, in justification of our author, that other sacred poems are not without the like invocations, and particularly Spenser's hymns of Heavenly Love and Heavenly Beauty, as well as some modern Latin poems. But I conceive that Milton intended something moro; for I have been informed by those who had opportunities of conversing with his widow, that she was wont to say that he did really look upon himself as inspired; and I think his works are not without a spirit of enthusiasm. In the beginding of the second book of the “ Reason of Church Government,” speaking of his design of writing a poem in the English language, he says, “It was not to be obtained by the in Focation of Dame Memory and her siren daughters, but by devout prayer of that Eternal Spririt who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge ; and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases." p. 61, edit. 1738.-Newton.

e Dove-like sat'st brooding. Alluding to Gen. i. 2. “ The spirit of God moved on the face of the waters ;" for the | word that we translate moved, signifies properly brooded, as a bird doth upon her eggs; and

Milton says like a dode, rather than any other bird, because the descent of the Holy Ghost is compared to a dove, Luke iii. 22. As Milton studied the Scriptures in the original language, his images and expressions are oftener copied from them than from our translations.—NEWTON.

f What in me is dark

Nilumine. He calls the Holy Ghost the illumining Spirit in his “Prose Works,” vol. i. p. 273, edit. 1698. Compare Fairfax's “ Tasso," b. viii. st. 76:

Illumine their dark souls with light divine.-TODD.

& That to the highth of this great argument. The height of the argument is precisely what distinguishes this poem of Milton from all others. In other works of imagination, the difficulty lies in giving sufficient elevation to the subject : here it lies in raising the imagination up to the grandeur of the subject, in adequate conception of its mightiness, and in finding language of such majesty as will not

[ocr errors]


I may assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men 6.

Say first, for heaven hides nothing from thy view,
Nor the deep tract of hell', say first what cause
Moved our grand parents, in that happy state,
Favour'd of Heaven so highly, to fall off
From their Creator, and transgress his will
For one restraint, lords of the world besides?
Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?
The infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile,
Stirr’d up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind; what time his pride
Had cast him out from heaven, with all his host
Of rebel Angels; by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in glory above his peers),
He trusted to have equal'd the Most High“,

If he opposed ; and with ambitious aim degiade it. A genius less gigantic and less holy than Milton's would have shrunk from the attempt. Milton not only does not lower, but he illumines the bright, and enlarges the great : he expands his wings, and “sails with supreme dominion” up to the heavens, parts the clouds, and communes with angels and unembodied spirits.

h And justify the ways of God to men. Pope has thonglit fit to borrow this verse, with some little variation, “ Essay on Man," ep. i. 16 :-“But vindicate the ways of God to man." It is not easy to conceive any good reason for Pope's preferring vindicate ; but Milton uses justify, as it is the Scripture || word, " that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings." Rom. iii. 4.—And “the ways of God to men” are justified in the many argumentative discourses throughout the poem, particularly in the conferences between God the Father and the Son.—Newton.

| Say first, for heaven hides nothing from thy vieu,

Nor the deep tract of hell. The poets attribute a kind of omniscience to the Muse; and very rightly, as it enables them to speak of things which could not otherwise be supposed to come to their knowledge. Thus Homer, Il. ii. 485:

"Υμείς γάρ θεαι έστε, πάρεστέ τε, ίστε τα πάντα. And see Virgil, Æn. vii. 645. Milton's Muse being the Holy Spirit, must of course be omniscient : and the mention of heaven and hell is very proper in this place, as the sceve of a great part of the poem is laid sometimes in hell and sometimes in heaven.-NEWTON.

į By whose aid aspiring

To set himself in glory above his peers. Here Dr. Bentley objects, that Satan's crime was not his aiming “above his peers :" he was in place high above them before, as the Doctor proves from b. v. 812: but, though this be true, Milton may be right here ; for the force of the words seems not that Satan aspired to set himself above his peers, but that he aspired to set himself in glory; that is, in divino glory ; in such glory as God and his Son were set in. Here was his crime; and this is what God charges him with in b. v. 725:

who intends to erect his throne

Equal to ours.
And in b. vi. 88, Milton says that the rebel angels hoped

To win the Mount of God, and on his throne
To set the envier of his state, the proud

See also, to the sanie purpose, b. vii. 140, &c.—PEARCE.

k He trusted 10 hare equald the Most High. See Isaiah, ch. xiv. 13.--STILLINGFLEET.





[ocr errors]

Against the throne and monarchy of God
Raised impious war in heaven and battel proud
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.
Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men', he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquish'd, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded though immortal : but his doom
Reserved him to more wrath ; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes,
That witness d huge affliction and dismay,
Mix'd with obdurate pride and stedfast hate.
At once, as far as angels ken, he views
The dismal situation waste and wild:
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace, flamed; yet from those flames
No light", but rather darkness visible"
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

I Nine times the space that measures day and night

To mortal men, The nine days' astonishment, in which the angels lay entranced after their dreadful overthrow and fall from heaven, before they could recover either the use of thought or speech, is a noble circumstance, and very finely imagined. The division of hell into seas of fire, and into firm ground impregnated with the same furious element, with that particular circumstance of the exclusion of hope from those infernal regions, are instances of the same great and fruitful invention.-Addison.

m Yet from those flames No light. So the Wisdom of Solomon, ch. xviii. 5, 6:"No power of the fire might give them light; only there appeared unto them a fire kindled of itself, very dreadful.”—Todd.

n Darkness visible. Milton seems to have used these words to signify gloom : absolute darkness is, strictly speaking, invisible ; but where there is a gloom only, there is so much light remaining, as serves to show that there are objects, and yet that those objects cannot be distinctly sect. - PEARCE.

Seneca has a like expression, speaking of the grotto of Pausilipo, epist. lvii. :—“Nihil illo carcere longius, nihil illis faucibus obscurius, quæ nobis præstant, non ut per tenebras videamua, sed ut ipsas.” And, as Voltaire observes, Antonio de Solis, in his “ History of Mexico," speaking of the place wherein Montezuma consulted his deities, says, “It was a large dark subterranean vault, where some dismal tapers afforded just light enough to see the obscurity." So Euripides, “ Bacchæ," v.510 :

Ως αν σκότιον είσορα κνέφας. .
There is much the same image in Spenser, but not so bold, “ Faer. Qu." 1. i. 14:-

A little glooming light, much like a shade.
Or, after all, Milton might take the hint from his own “ Il Penseroso :"

Where glowing embers through the room
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom,-NEWTON.


[ocr errors]

And rest can never dwell ; hope never comes,
That comes to allo; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed :
Such place eternal justice had prepared
For those rebellious; here their prison ordain'd
In utter darkness; and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of heaven,
As from the centre thrice to the utmost polep.
0, how unlike the place from whence they fell !
There the companions of his fall o'erwhelm’d
With floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire?,
He soon discerns; and weltering by his side,
One next himself in power, and next in crime,
Long after known in Palestine, and named
Beëlzebub: to whom the arch-enemy",

Hope never comes,
That comes to all.
Sce Dante's “Inferno," ch. iii. 9 :-Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch' intrate.

P As from the centre thrice to the utmost pole. Thrice as far as it is from the centre of the earth, which is the centre of the world, according to Milton's system, b. ix. 103, and b x. 671, to the pole of the world; for it is the pole of the universe, far beyond the pole of the earth, which is here called the utmost pole. Homer makes the seat of hell as far beneath the deepest pit of earth as the heaven is above the earth, Iliad, viii. 16. Virgil makes it twice as far, Æneid, vi. 578 : and Milton thrice as far ; as if these three great poets bad stretched their utmost genius, and vied with each other, who should extend his idea of the depth of hell farthest. But Milton's whole description of hell as much exceeds theirs, as in this single circumstance of the depth of it. And how cool and unaffecting is the Τάρταρον ήερόεντα, the σιδήρειαί τε πύλαι και xánkeos oùdós of Homer,—the “lugentes campi," the “ferrea turris," and “horrisono stridentes cardine porta,” of Virgil, in comparison with this description by Milton, con: cluding with that artful contrast, “0, how unlike the place from whence they fell!" -NEWTON.

9 Tempestuous fire. Psalm xi. 6:4"Upon the wicked the Lord will rain fire and brimstone, and an horriblo tempest."— DUNSTER.

r To whom the arch-enemy. The thoughts in the first speech and description of Satan, who is one of the principal actors in this poem, are wonderfully proper to give us a full idea of bim : his pride, envy, and revenge, obstinacy, despair, and impenitence, are all of them very artfully interwoven. In short, his first speech is a complication of all those passions which discover themselves separately in several other of his speeches in the poem. The whole part of this great enemy of mankind is filled with such incidents as are very apt to raise and terrify the reader's imagination. of this nature, in the book now before us, is his being the first that awakens out of the general trance, with his posture on the burning lake, his rising from it, and the description of his shield and spear: to which we may add his call to the fallen angels, that lay plunged and stupefied in the sea of fire.

Amidst those impieties which this enraged spirit utters in other places of this poem, the author has taken care to introduce none that is not big with absurdity, and incapable of shocking a religious reader : his words, as the poet himself describes them, bearing only "a semblance of worth, not substance.” He is also with great art described as owning his adversary to be Almighty. Whatever perverse interpretation he puts on the justice, mercy, and other attributes of the Supreme Being, he frequently confesses his omnipotence ; that being the perfection he was forced to allow him, and the only consideration which could support his pride under the shame of his defeat — Addison.

« PreviousContinue »