Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

I carry hence; though all by me is lost,
Such favour I unworthy am vouchsafed,
By me the promised Seed shall all restore.

So spake our mother Eve, and Adam heard
Well pleased, but answer'd not: for now, too nigh
The archangel stood; and from the other hill
To their fix'd station, all in bright array
The cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as evening mist
Risen from a river o'er the marish glides,
And gathers ground fast at the labourer's heel
Homeward returning. High in front advanced,
The brandish'd sword of God before them blazed,
Fierce as a comet; which with torrid heat,
And vapour as the Libyan air adust,
Began to parch that temperate clime: whereat
In either hand the hastening angel caught
Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand ;j the gate
With dreadful faces throng'd, and fiery arms.
Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon :
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

j Wared over by that flaming brand. Of brand for sword take the following explanation from Hickes S"In the second part of the “Edda Islandica,' among other appellations, a 'sword' is denominated 'brand;' and 'glad,' or 'glod,' that is, 'titio, torris, pruna ignita;' and the hall of Odin is said to be illuminated by drawn swords only. A writer of no less learning than penetration, N. Salanus Westmannus, in his dissertation, entitled, “Gladius Scythicus,' p. 6, 7, observes, that the ancients formed their swords in imitation of a flaming fire; and thus from brand,' a 'sword,' came our English phrase, to 'brandish a sword,' .gladium strictum vibrando coruscare facere.'"--T. Wartox.

* The poetical imagery of this passage is splendid, sublime, and at the same time pathetic; and of a majestic conciseness.

The eleventh and twelfth books are built upon the single circumstance of the removal of our first parents from Paradise; but though this is not in itself so great a subject as that in most of the foregoing books, it is extended and diversified with so many surprising incidents and pleasing episodes, that these last two books can by no means be looked upon as unequal parts of this divine poem.

Milton, after having represented in vision the history of mankind to the first great period of nature, despatches the remaining part of it in narration.

In some places the author has been so attentive to his divinity that he has neglected! his poetry: the narrative, however, rises very bappily on several occasions, where the subject is capable of poetical ornaments; as particularly in the confusion which he describes among the builders of Babel, and in his short sketch of the plagues of Egypt. --- The storin of hail and fire, and the darkness that overspread the land for three daye, are described with great strength: the beautiful passago which follows is raised upon i noble hints in Scripture:

[ocr errors]

Thus with ten wounds
The river-dragon tamed, at length submits

To let his sojourners depart, &c. The river-dragon is an allusion to the crocodile, which inhabits the Nile, from whence Egypt derives her plenty. This allusion is taken from that sublime passage in Ezekiel : _** Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon that lyeth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is my own, and I have made it for myself.” Milton has given us another very noble and poetical image in the saine description, which is copied almost word for word out of the history of Moses :

All night he will pursue, but his approach

Darkness defends between, till morning watch. 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 description, from ver. 128 to ver. 140.

The poet bas very finely represented the joy and gladness of heart which rises 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. 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, produce the saine 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. The following lines, which conclude the poem, rise in a most glorious blaze of poetical images and expressions.Addison.

It is difficult to add anything to Addison's Essays on the ‘Paradise Lost ;' but still I must extract a few additional encomiums from other critics, and first from Beattie :

In the concluding passage of the poem there is brought together, with uncommon strength of fancy, and rapidity of narrative, a number of circumstances wonderfully adapted to the purpose of filling the mind with ideas of terrifio grandeur :—the descent of the cherubim; the flaming sword; the archangel leading in haste our first parents down from the heights of Paradise, and then disappearing; and, above all, the scene that presents itself on their looking bebind them:

They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand; the gate

With dreadful faces throng'd, and fiery arms : to which the remaining verses form the most striking contrast that can be imagined. The final couplet renews our sorrow; by exhibiting, with picturesque accuracy, the most mournful scene in nature; which yet is so prepared, as to raise comfort, and dispose to resignation. And thus, while we are at once melting in tenderness, elevated with pious hope, and overwhelmed with the grandeur of description, the divine poem concludes.-BEATTIE.

If ever any poem was truly poetical, if ever any abounded with poetry, it is · Paradise Lost.' What an expansion of facts from a small seed of history! What worlds are invented, what embellishments of nature upon what our senses present us with! Divine things are more nobly, more divinely represented to the imagination, than by any other poem; a more beautiful idea is given of nature than any poet has pretended to :nature, as just come out of the hand of God, in all its virgin loveliness, glory, and purity; and the human race is shown, not, as Homer's, more gigantic, more robust, more valiant: but without comparison more truly amiable, more so than by the pictures and statues of the greatest masters; and all these sublime ideas are conveyed to us in the most effectual and engaging manner. The mind of the reader is tempered and prepared by pleasure ; it is drawn and allured; it is awakened and invigorated, to receive such impressions as the poet intended to give it. The poem opens the fountains of knowledge, piety, and virtue ; and pours along full streams of peaco, comfort, and joy, to such as can penetrate the true sense of the writer, and obediently listen to his song. In reading the Iliad or Æneis we treasure up a collection of fine imaginative pictures, as when we read · Paradise Lost;' only that from thence we have (to speak like a connoisseur) more Rafaelles, Correggios, Guidos, &c. Milton's pictures are more sublime

:7

and great, divine and lovely, than Homer's or Virgil's, or those of any other poets, ancient or modern.-RICHARDSON.

Throughout the whole of Paradise Lost' the author appears to have been a most critical reader and passionate admirer of Holy Scripture : be is indebted to Scripture

infinitely more than to Homer and Virgil, and all other books whatever. Not only the s principal fable, but all his episodes are founded upon Seripture: the Scripture has not

only furnished him with the noblest hints, raised his thoughts, and fired his imagination; but has also very much enriched his language, given a certain solemnity and majesty to his diction, and supplied him with inany of bis choicest, happiest expres. sions. Let men, therefore, learn from this instance to reverence the Sacred Writings: if any man can pretend to deride or despise them, it must be said of him, at least, that he has a taste and genius the most different from Milton's that can be imagined. Whoever has any true taste and genius, we are confident, will esteem this poem the best of modern productions, and the Scriptures the best of all ancient ones.- NEWTON.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Johnson's criticism, inserted in his Life of Milton,' is so universally known that I shall not repeat it here: it shows the critic to have been a master of language, and of perspicuity and method of ideas: it has not, however, the sensibility, the grace, and the nice perceptions of Addison : it is analytical and dry. As it does not illustrate any of the abstract positions by cited instances, it requires a philosophical mind to feel its full force: it has wrapped up the praises, which were popularly expressed by Addison, in language adapted to the learned. The truth is, that Johnson's head was more the parent

of that panegyric than his heart: he speaks by rule; and by rule he is forced to admire. | Rules are vain, to which the heart does not assent. Many of the attractions of Mil.

ton's poem are not at all indicated by the general words of Johnson. From Addison's critique, we can learn distinctly its character and colours; we can be taught how to appreciate; and can judge by the examples produced, how far our own gyınpathies go with the commentator: we cannot read therefore without being mado converts, where the comment is right. It is not only in the grand outline that Milton's mighty excellence lies; it is in filling up all the parts even to the least minutiæ; the images, the sen. timents, the long argumentative passages, are all admirable, taken separately; they form a double force, as essential parts of one large and magnificent whole. The images are of two sorts; inventive and retlective: the first are, of course, of the highest order.

If our conceptions were confined to what reality and experience have impressed upon us, our minds would be narrow, and our faculties without light. The power of inven. tive imagination approaches to something above humanity: it makes us participant of other worlds and other states of being. Still mere invention is nothing, unless its quality be high and beautiful. Shakspeare's invention was in the most eminent degree rich ; but still it was mere human invention. The invention of the character of Satan, and of the good and bad angels, and of the seats of bliss, and of Pandæmonium, and of Chaos and the gates of hell, and of Sin and Death, and other supernatural agencies, is unquestionably of a far loftier and more astonishing order.

Though the arts of composition, carried one step beyond the point which brings out the thought most clearly and forcibly, do harm rather than good ; yet up to this point they are of course great aids: and all these Milton possessed in tho utmost perfection : all the strength of language, all its turns, breaks, and varieties, all its flows and harmo. nies, and all its learned allusions, were his. In Pope there is a monotony aud techuical mellifluence: in Milton there is strength with harniony, and simplicity with elevation.

He is never stilted, never gilded with tinsel; never more cramped than if he were | writing in prose; and, while he has all the elevation, he has all the freedom of unshackled

language. To render metre during a long poem unfatiguing, there must be an infinite

diversity of combinations of sound and position of words, which no English bard but | Milton has reached. Johnson, assuming that the English heroic line ought to consist

of iambics, has tried it by false tests: it admits as many varied feet as Horace's Odes; and so scanned, all Milton's lines are accented right.

If we consider the · Paradise Lost' with respect to instruction, it is the deepest and the wisest of all the uninspired poems which ever were written: and what poem can bo good, which does not satisfy the understanding?

Of almost all other poems it may be said, that they are intended more for delight than instruction; and instruction in poetry will not do without delight: yet when to the highest delight is added the most profound instruction, what fame can equal the valuo of the composition? Such unquestionably is the compound merit of the • Paradise Lost.' It is a duty imperious on him who has an intellect capable of receiving this instruction, not to neglect the cultivation of it; in him who understands the English language, the neglect to study this poem is the neglect of a positive duty: here is to be found in combination what can be learned nowhere else.

There is a mode of presenting objects to the imagination, which purifies, sharpens,

and exalts the mind : there may be mere sports of the imagination, which may be innocent, but fruitless. Such is never Milton's produce; he never indulges in mere ornament or display: his light is fire, and nutriment, and guidance: like the dawn of returning day to the vegetation of the earth, which dispels the noxious vapours of night, and pierces the incumbent weight of the air ; it withdraws the mantle of dim shadows from common minds, and irradiates them with a shining lamp. As to what are called the figures of poetry, in which Pope deals so much, they are never admitted by the solid and stern richness of Milton.

The generality even of the better classes of poetry is not the food of the mind, but its mere luxury; Milton's is its substance, its life, its essence: he introduces the gravest, the most abstruse, the most learned topics into his poetry; and by a spiritual process, which be only possesses, converts them into the very essence of poetical inspiration. I assert, in defiance of Dryden, that there are no flats in Milton : inequalities there are ; but they are not flats, in Dryden's sense of the word. Dryden was a man of vigorous talent, but he was an artist in poetry: if active and powerful talent is genius, then he had genius; otherwise not: a clear perception and vigorous expression is not genius. Dryden had not a creative mind; Milton was all creation: we want new ideas, not old ones better dressed. Dryden thought that what was not worked up into a pointed iambic couplet was flat: he valued not the ore ; he deemed that the whole merit lay in the use of the tool, and the skill of its application. Milton said, “I am content to draw the pure golden ore from the mine, and I will not weaken it by over-polish.”

The merit of Milton was, that he used his gigantic imagination to bring into play his immense knowledge. Heaven, Hell, Chaos, and the Earth, are stupendous subjects of contemplation: three of them we can conceive only by the strength of imagination ; the fourth is partly exposed to our senses, but can be only dimly and partially viewed except through the same power. Who then shall dare to say, that the genius most fitted to delineate and illustrate these shadowy and evanescent wonders, and who has executed this work in a manner exceeding all human hope, has not performed the most

instructive, as well as the most delightful of tasks? and who shall dare to deny that į such a production ought to be made the universal study of the nation which brought it 1

Before such a performance all technical beauties sink to nothing. The question is, are the ideas mighty, and just, and authorized; and are they adequately expressed? If this is admitted, then ought not every one to read this poem next to the Bible? So thought Bishop Newton. But Johnson has the effrontery to assert, that though it may be read as a duty, it can give no pleasure : for this, Newton seems to have pronounced by anticipation the stigma due to him. Is any intellectual delight equal to that which a high and sensitive mind derives from the perusal of innumerable passages in every book of this inimitable work of poetical fiction ?- The very story never relaxes: it is thick-wove with incident, as well as sentiment, and argumentative grandeur: and how it closes, when the archangel waves the "flaming-brand" over the eastern gate of Paradise; and, on looking back, Adam and Eve saw the “dreadful faces” and “fiery arms" that “throng’d” round it-In what other poem is any passage so heart-rending and 80 terrible as this?

.forth?

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

وات - من هم - .

-- و م م . ر . . . ، :: متر

fem tien raja auch

ممسنی

1/ ،،،

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

یکی به - رامر

... / a nije tort Time befrio

« (

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »