Imatges de pÓgina

beyond the purpose and the limits of this Introduction to enter into any detailed examination of Paradise Lost. That written by Addison in the Spectator should be read by every student of Milton. Its delicate discrimination of the author's original excellences, and the degree in which he was indebted to antiquity, is sometimes marred by the prevailing vice of eighteenth-century criticism, the habit of regarding works of the highest order as mere elegant entertainments, diversified with 'pleasing strokes of genius' and skilful arrangements of incidents depending not on art but on artifice.

Dr. Johnson, in his Lives of the Poets, has given a summary view of Paradise Lost arranged under the heads of the various requisites of an epic poem, the moral, the fable, &c. The warping prejudice which made Johnson'a dishonest man'in relation to Milton (as De Quincey has said) appears even in the eulogium which he is constrained to pronounce upon this great work. He insinuates that it is dull. De Quincey pertinently asks, 'to whom'? Allowing that its excellence is not continuously sustained 'to the height of its great argument,' yet perhaps no book, when it has been once carefully perused throughout, is more frequently recurred to by all lovers of literature, impelled to re-open it by the haunting visions of beauty or echoes of aërial melody that linger in the memory. But though Addison and Johnson have supplied the standard full-length notices of Paradise Lost, Miltonic criticism is deeply indebted to later and more appreciative writers. Coleridge, Landor, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, De Quincey, have each left us some flowers gathered in their passage through the “happy garden.' Their observations, for the most part detached and fragmentary, are not made afar off from a bleak critical height, but in close contact and sympathy with their subject, arising spontaneously from their intimate knowledge of it, and giving real help to its better comprehension by others.

All that can here be attempted is to direct the attention of the student to the main idea of the great poem and its bearing on Milton's time. Obedience, and obedience of a

ve is set forth as the tenure by which man held his original happiness. So far there is nothing distinctively Puritan. But in the longing retrospect to the state of innocence as the state of perfection, in the presentation of the solitary pair as the type of human society, we see the working of the spirit which, aiming at noble simplicity, had achieved barren nakedness, and which induced Milton to disparage all human arts and wisdom as vain and corrupt. Again, as in Puritan preaching the main emphasis is laid on the future world, the existing state of things being regarded as the insignificant 'point between two eternities,' we cannot expect from the Puritan poet any such proclamation of a present order and kingdom of a reigning God as.we find in Dante, who resembled him in his stern firm belief in his own inspiration. In Milton, accordingly, the action takes place in the far-away past and refers to the far-away future; while in his Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, Dante describes three phases of existence, as present and real as the life in Florence streets, and the revelation of them is made in the most matter-of-fact tone, by one who had himself performed the awful journey.

It is certainly no disparagement of Milton's genius to admit that both in the scheme and in the details of his great work he attempted the impossible. Only his marvellous power could have given the appearance of success. admire, with Coleridge, the judgment with which the Fall of Angels is supplied as a background to the Fall of Man, and the origin of Evil thus removed into the dim vista of preAdamite ages; but we cannot help seeing that the mystery, thus seemingly explained, is as mysterious as ever, nor that Adam and Eve have evidently the knowledge of evil before the Fall. Again, in the Divine dialogues, according to Coleridge, the author' takes advantage of the dramatic representation of God's address to the Son the Filial Alterity,' to introduce the personal interest required by poetry, and 'to slip in, as it were by stealth, language of affection, thought, or sentiment, in a variety which he does not attempt to employ elsewhere.' But in the endeavour to preserve the duality of the Divine Interlocutors, such limitation is inevitable as is ruinous to the effect of a work of art which (as this does) claims not merely

We may

our assent to the conditions, but our belief in the truth of its presentment. A striking example of the difficulties which abounded in Milton's theme is the great contest with the rebel angels. Strictly speaking, the devils (since they remain such), are not conquered by the goodness of God; they are only punished by His power. To give the appearance of victory, the contest is made no longer spiritual—of Good with Evil, but material-of Force with Force; and so we have the battle in the Sixth Book.

Ellwood's question. What hast thou to say of Paradise Regained'? led Milton to complete the treatment of his subject. We have in the later poem the triumph of obedience. This obedience is no longer a mere passive submission, or observance of a prohibitive command, but an active seeking after the indications of a Higher Will and an energetic concurrence in His purposes. And in selecting the Temptation rather than the Crucifixion as the climax of the self-surrender of Him who became obedient unto death, Milton was partly influenced by the antithesis between the scene, the circumstances and the event of this and of the primeval assault of the Enemy of man. But the personal reference is never absent in Milton's works. The down-trodden Puritans brooded over the disappointment of their darling hopes, 'and as the days increased, increased their doubt.' It was surely natural that their poet should turn to contemplate the circumstances in which the Kingdom of Heaven did come with power, and seek to realise rather the victory of the Son of Man over the perplexities of life and the suggestions of evil, than the final triumph of His death.

Galling as was the Stuart yoke to the Puritan, it was not heavier than that of the Roman on the Jew. The Jew's deliverance was indeed at hand, but not by the obvious expedient of revolt and independence. Such commonplace suggestions are urged upon the Deliverer by the Tempter with all the plausible rhetoric of worldly wisdom. But neither these arguments, nor the ' multitude of the Messiah's own thoughts' as to his person and office,

• Ill suiting, with his present state compared,'

can drive him into self-assertion. In the refusal to test His divinity he proves it, and in His utter self-abnegation the disobedient spirit is compelled to recognise the Son of God. The contemplation of the “irresistible might of weakness,' in 'humiliation and strong sufferance' thus overcoming the Power of Evil, must again have fed with calm and confident thoughts the mind of Milton • quietly expecting, without distrust or doubt.'

In Paradise Regained the poet claims the highest sanction for the Puritan opinion (transmitted from the early Lollard days) of the sole sufficiency of Scripture for all purposes of life. In its assertion he exalts Holy Writ as the triumphant rival of all Gentile wisdom and secular knowledge, and limits the inspiration of God to the words and actions therein recorded.

In the last Book of Paradise Lost, Milton had traced tyranny to its cause in those who are subjected to its sway, and makes their submission of themselves to inward baseness the precursor of outward slavery, “though to the tyrant thereby no excuse.' So much he might permit himself to say of those who had welcomed the return of the Stuart; but what of those who had fought so nobly in the good old cause '? They had surely not deserved their fate. Their bitter disappointment is set forth in Samson Agonistes. A great deliverance had been wrought, a glorious future seemed opening to the nation mewing her mighty youth'— and now her champions lay at the mercy of their foes. In this last poem of Milton, there is a change from the exclusive if lofty egotism of those passages in the Paradise Lost and Regained which refer directly to the author. He now expresses not merely his own sense of his own calamity as man and bard---not merely feeling, but fellow feeling. It is as the hero and representative of his race that Samson appeals to us. His brethren are not left wholly without hope, and still wistfully look to him as their deliverer.

The final victory of Samson is not without its parallel. The executions of the regicides, and the horrors attendant thereon, did more to check the ultra-royalist reaction than

any less public, if equally base acts of the Restoration government. Their brief fever over, the sobriety and good-nature of Englishmen were disgusted at the licence and the cruelty of Whitehall; and though the Puritan experiment, once so thoroughly tried, could not be repeated, the struggles and sufferings of the Puritans bore certain, if tardy fruit.

Milton died just half way between the Restoration and the Revolution. Fourteen years before his death the way to establish a free commonwealth had seemed to him 'ready and easy'; but it was not found till the spirit of compromise and concession (which he abhorred, but which it seems must ever rule Englishmen when engaged in lasting works of reform) had been evoked by a great emergency, and had rendered it possible to establish a settled liberty under the old forms of the constitution, and to afford conflicting tendencies scope and verge enough for their mutual opposition without danger to the national interests.

Looking back, 'in calm of mind, all passion spent,' at the great tragedy he had seen played out, Milton found no time or cause for lamentation. All is best, though we oft doubt.' A new acquisition of true experience had been gained, such as can be reaped even from the failures of true men.

• The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.' That would seem to be in brief the lesson of the great struggle of the seventeenth century. The elaborate machinery of government, readjusted and varied till its continual alteration produced and evinced the instability and anarchy it was intended to prevent; the attempt to attain exalted excellence by narrowing the idea of perfection; the continual self-conscious straining after a self-appointed rule of life; and the neglect or denial of those facts of life of which the rule took no account; - these were the failings and the errors of the Puritanic system.

But the unconquerable will to do right (according to the system); the patient endurance of suffering in what was, at least in its beginning, the cause of freedom; and the assurance that that cause, being of God, must stand fast for ever and ever-here was the virtue and the faith that gave lustre and

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