Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

These, and the like wonderful incidents in this part of the work, have in them all the beauties of novelty, at the same time that they have all the graces of nature : they are such as none but a great genius could have thought of; though, upon the perusal of tben, they seem to rise of themselves from the subject of which he treats. In a word, though they are natural they are not obvious ; which is the true character of all five writing.

The impression which the introduction of the Tree of Life left in the mind of our first parent is described with great strength and judgment; as the image of the several beasis and birds passing in review before him is very beautiful and lively.

Adam, in the next place, describes a conference which he held with his Maker upon the subject of solitude. The poet here represents the Supreme Being as making an essay of his own work, and putting to the trial tbat reasoning faculty with which he had endue his creature. Adam urges, in this divine colloquy, the impossibility of his being happy, though he was the inhabitant of Paradise, and lord of the whole creation, without the conversation and society of some rational creature, who should partake those blessings with him : this dialogue, which is supported chiefly by the beauty of the thoughts, without other poetical ornaments, is as fine a part as any in the whole poem : the more the reader examines the justness and delicacy of the sentiments, the more he will find himself pleased with it. The poet has wonderfully preserved the character of majesty and condescensiou in the Creator, and at the same time that of humility and adoration in the creature, in r. 367, &c.

Adam then proceeds to give an account of his second sleep, and of the dream in which he beheld the formation of Eve: the new passion that was awakened in him at the sight of her is touched very finely :

Under his forming hands a creature grew,
Man-like, but different sex ; so lovely fair,
That what seem'd fair in all the world, seemnd now

Mean, or in her summ'd up, &c. Adam's distress upon losing sight of this beautiful phantom, with his exclamations of joy and gratitude at the discovery of a real creature who resembled the apparition which had been presented to him in his dream; the approaches he makes to her, and his mannes of courtship ; are all laid together in a most exquisite propriety of sentiments. Though this part of the poem is worked up with great warmth and spirit, the love which he describes in it is in every way suitable to a state of innocence. If the reader compares the descrip:ion which Adam here gives of his leading Eve to the nuptial bower, with that which Mr. Dryden has made on the same occasion in a scene of his ‘Fall of Man;' he will be sensible of the great care which Milton took to avoid all thoughts on so delicate a subject that might be offensive to religion or good manners. The sentiments are chaste, but not cold; and convey to the mind ideas of the most transporting passion and of the greatest purity. What a noble mixture of rapture and innocence has the author joined together in the reflection which Adam makes on the pleasures of love, compared to those of sense!

These sentiments of love in our first parent give the angel such an insight into human nature, that he seems apprehensive of the evils which might betall the species in general from the excess of this passion; he therefore fortifies him against it by timely admonitions, which very artfully prepare the mind of the reader for the occurrences of the next book ; where the weakness of which Adam bere gives such distant discoveries, brings about that fatal event which is the subject of the poem : his discourse, which follows the genile rebuke he received from the angel, shows that his love, however violent it might appear, was still founded in reason, and consequently not improper for Paradise.

Adam's speech at parting from the angel has in it a deference and gratitude agreeable to an inferior nature; and at the same time a certain dignity and greatness suitable to the father of mankind in his state of innocence.— Addison.

[ocr errors]

BOOK IX.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

The most extraordinary part of this story is Eve's perverse resolve to separate herself from Adam in her morning cultivation of the garden, contrary to Adam's remonstrances ; and her so soon falling into the serpent's snares, though so very strongly warned: this is not consistent with the goodness which the poet before ascribed to her. To me it appears that there is a good deal of concealed satire in this: it was open to the poet to have represented her making a longer struggle ; and not having before exposed herself, almost as if voluntarily, to the temptation. Eve ought to have been too happy in her favoured state to be seduced by the serpent's arguments, which were only calculated to mislead those who were oppressed, and saw pleasures around them, all of which they were restrained from tasting. The moment Eve partook of the poison, it produced an intoxication, which madde it frightfully sensual ; and I must confess, I think that Milton is not blamelers, and has not his usual sanctity of strain, in the pictures he consequently draws: as poetry, it is exquisite ; as morality, it is dangerous,-almost disgusting. Allow the story to take this turn, and the bard almost exceeds himself in richness : the remorse, sickness, and despondence which follow, are nobly exhibited ; and here, perhaps, it will be contended, lies the moral : but the parties have deserved their fate ; and this lessens our pity for them: for Adam ought not so easily to have yielded to Eve's persuasions,—fully aware as he was of the consequences. All ilis, I must venture to say, is an outrage upon the probable. The mutual crimination and recrimination is drawn with perfect mastery; but Eve's reproach to Adam, as being the more offending person because he had indulged her, is a little too provoking.

The descriptive parts glow with a uniform freshness, splendour, and nature ; with a compactness of imagery, and a simple and naked force of language, which make all pictures of other poets fade away before them. There never appears a superfluous word, or one which is not pregnant with thought and matter.

The sentiments have a weight and a profundity of wisdom which seem like inspiration : out of every incident arises such reflections as have the spell of oracles.

As Milton lived in visions, all his dialogues were pertinent to his characters ; and it is by these dialogues that the imagery, as connected with them, is made to have a double force. The inanimate material world derives almost all its interest from its connexion with human intellectuality : for this reason Gray expressed an opinion that a merely descriptive poem was an imperfect work. The charm of Gray's . Elegy' is, that all his imagery has a moral adjunct ; but the moral of Milton is deeper, more extended, and more reflective, than of others : his illustra

tions are drawn from all the founts of knowledge, learning, and wisdom, sacred and | profane : he has the art of making us see features and colours in the forms of Dature, which we did not see before.

The ninth book is that on which the whole fate and fall of man turns ; and so far is the most important. It is called the most tender. If the submission to sensual human passions be tenderness, it is so ; taking the resistance to those passions to be loftiness. The serpent himself appears to have been enamoured of Eve's beauty and loveliness of mien, and for a moment to have repented of the evil he was plotting to bring upon her.

All that we know from the Mosaic history is, that the serpent tempted Eve, and Ere tempted Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit ; but we do not know by what wiles this sin was brought about. We may suppose that by the serpent the opera

tion of the evil passions of contradiction, disobedience, rebellion, and scepticism was meant ; just as we may suppose that Eve persisted in roaming alone in spite of Adam's dissuasions, merely because her pride was thwarted by her husband's fear that “some harm should befal her" in his absence.

Crities will say, that had she been more purely virtuous, Heaven would not have decreed the loss of Paradise ; and therefore that it was of the essence of the story to represent her thus guilty. It may be deemed highly presumptuous in me to suggest that Miton might have represented her equally guilty, with more proba. bility 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 deseription 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 fattery 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 tast: ing 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 anotler.

No more of talka where God or angel guest"
With man, as with his friend, familiar used
To sit indulgent, and with him partake
Rural repast; permitting him the while

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 bauds 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 upop 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 ex ample 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 hiniself, 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 , apologising for saying so much of himself as he there does, he adds,—" For, although a poet, saaring

3

[ocr errors]

25

[ocr errors]

20

25

Venial discourse unblamed. I now must change
Those notes to tragico; 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 stein 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 lated ;
Not sedulous by nature to indite

Wars, hitherto the only argumente in the high region of his fancies, with his garland and singing robes about him, might, withotit 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 port 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 prceeding book ; and the whole foregoing episode is a conversation with the angel.—Newton.

e I now must change

Those notes to tragic. author is now changing his subject, he professes likewise to change his style anteeably to it: the reader therefore must not expect such lofty images and descriptions 1x 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.

Long choosing and beginning late. Milcon 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.

e The only argument. The three species of the epic poem are morality, politics, and religion : these have been

As

d

[ocr errors]

Р

[ocr errors]

Heroic deem'd; chief mastery to dissect
With long and tedious havoc fabled knights,
In battles feign'd : the better fortitude
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 marshald 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; occupied by Homer, Virgil, and Milton. Here then the grand scene is closed, and all farther improvements of the epic at an end.—N ton.

A cruel sentence indeed, and a very severe statute of limitation ; enough, if it had ang 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.

f Races and games. As the ancient poets have done ; Homer in the twenty-third book of the “Iliad;" Virgil in the fifth book of the “ Æneid ;" 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,

g Bases. Bases signify the mantle which hung down from the middle to about the knees, or lower, worn by knights on horseback.--Todd.

h 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 sisty when this poem was published : and it is surprising, that, at that time of life, and after soch troublesome days as he had passed through, he should have so much poetical fire remaining, -NEWTON.

i Short arbiter

'Twixt day and night. 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.

« PreviousContinue »