« PreviousContinue »
As the principal design of this episode was to give Adam an idea of the holy person who was to reinstate human nature in that happiness and perfection from which it had fallen, the poet confines himself to the line of Abraham, from whence the Messiah was to descend. The angel is described as seeing the patriarch actually travelling towards the land of promise, which gives a particular liveliness to this part of the narration :
• I see him, but thou canst not, with what faith
(Things by their names I call, though yet unnam’d.)' As Virgil's vision in the sixth Æneid probably gave Milton the hint of this whole episode, the last line is a translation of that verse where Anchises mentions the names of places, which they were to bear hereafter:
• Hec tum nomina erunt, nunc sunt sine nomine terre.' The poet has very finely represented the joy and gladness of heart which arises in Adam upon his discovery of the Messiah. As he sees his day at a distance through types and shadows, he rejoices in it ; but when he finds the redemption of man completed, and Paradise again renewed, he breaks forth in rapture and transport !
O goodness infinite, goodness immense! That all this good of evil shall produce,' &c. I have hinted in my sixth paper on Milton, that
an heroic poem, according to the opinion of the best critics, ought to end happily, and leave the mind of the reader, after having conducted it through many doubts and fears, sorrows and disquietudes, in a state of tranquillity and satisfaction. Milton's fable, which had so many other qualifications to recommend it, was deficient in this particular. It is here therefore that the poet has shown a most exquisite judgment, as well as the finest invention, by finding out a method to supply this natural defect in his subject. Accordingly he leaves the adversary of mankind, in the last view which he gives of him, under the lowest state of mortification and disappointment. We see him chewing ashes, groveling in the dust, and Foaden with supernumerary pains and torments. On the contrary, our two first parents are comforted by dreams and visions, cheered with promises of salvation, and in a manner raised to a greater happiness than that which they had forfeited. In short, Satan is represented miserable in the height of his triumphs, and Adam triumphant in the height of misery.
Milton's poem ends very nobly. The last speeches of Adam and the archangel are full of moral and instructive sentiments. The sleep that fell upon Eve, and the effects it had in quieting the disorders of her mind, produces the same kind of consolation in the reader, who cannot peruse the last beautiful speech, which is ascribed to the mother of mankind, without a secret pleasure and satisfaction :
• Whence thou return’st, and whither went'st, I know;
Is to stay here; without thee here to stay,
The following lines, which concludes the poem, rise in a most glorious blaze of poetical images and expressions.
Heliodorus in the Æthiopics acquaints us, that the motion of the gods differs from that of mortals, as the former do not stir their feet, nor proceed step by step, but slide over the surface of the earth by an uniform swimming of the whole body. The reader may observe with how poetical a description Milton has attributed the same kind of motion to the angels who were to take possession of Paradise :
. So spake our mother Eve; and Adam heard Well pleas'd but answer'd not; for now too nigh Th' archangel stood; and from the other hill To their fixed station, all in bright array The cherubim descended ; on the ground Gliding meteorous, as evening mist Ris'n from a river, o'er the marsh glides, And gathers ground fast at the lab’rer's heel Homeward returning. High in front advanc'd, The brandish'd sword of God before them blaz'd Fierce as a cometThe author helped his invention in the following passage, by reflecting on the behaviour of the angel who in holy writ has the conduct of Lot and his family. The circumstances drawn from that relation are very gracefully made use of on this occasion :
• In either hand the hast’ning angel caught
The scene which our first parents are surprised with, upon their looking back on Paradise, wonderfully strikes the reader's imagination, as nothing can be more natural than the tears they shed on that occasion :
• They looking back, all th' eastern side beheld Of Paradise, so late their happy seat, Wav'd over by that flaming brand, the gate With dreadful faces throng'd and fiery arms? Some natural tears they dropp'd but wip'd them soon; The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.' If I might presume to offer at the smallest alteration in this divine work, I should think the poem would end better with the passage here quoted, than with the two verses which follow:
• They hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,
These two verses, though they have their beauty, fall very much below the foregoing passage, and renew in the mind of the reader that anguish which was pretty well laid by that con.sideration :
“The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.' The number of books in Paradise Lost is equal to those of the Æneid. Our Author in his first edition had divided his poem into ten books, but afterwards broke the seventh and the eleventh each of them into two different books, by the help of some small additions. This second division was made with great judgment, as any one may see who will be at the pains of examining it. It was not done for the sake of such a chimerical beauty as that of resembling Virgil in this particular, but for the more just and regular disposition of this great work.
Those who have read Bossu, and many of the critics who have written since his time, will not pardon me if I do not find out the particular moral which is inculcated in Paradise Lost. Though I can by no means think, with the lastmentioned French author, that an epic writer first of all pitches upon a certain moral, as the groundwork and foundation of his poem, and afterwards finds out a story to it; I am however of opinion, that no just heroic poem ever was
or can be made, from whence one great moral may not be deduced. That which reigns in Milton is the most universal and most useful that can be imagined. It is in short this, that obedience to the will of God makes men happy, and that disobedience makes them miserable. This is visibly the moral of the principal fable, which turns upon Adam and Eve, who continued in Paradise while they kept the command that was given them, and were driven out of it as soon as they had transgressed. This is likewise the moral of the principal episode, which shows us how an innumerable multitude of angels fell from their disobedience. Besides this great moral, which may be looked upon as the soul of the fable, there are infinity of under-morals which are to be drawn from the several parts of the poem, and which make this work more useful and instructive than any other poem in any language.
Those who have criticized on the Odyssey, the Iliad and Æneid, have taken a great deal of pains to fix the number of months and days contained in the action of each of those poems. If any one thinks it worth his while to examine this particular in Milton, he will find, that from Adam's first appearance in the fourth book, to his expulsion from Paradise in the twelfth, the author reckons