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suggest, that, however shocked the reader may be at first meeting the audacious dialogue, it is not impossible that, on a question of his own art, the great artist may after all be in the right; and that in no other way could he hope so perfectly to exhibit the character of that spirit, to which even in the Highest Presence neither humility nor elevation is possible.
It is too late to inquire whether the Fallen Angel is a fitting subject for poetry. The conception has been a hundred times embodied in the literature of every country of Europe, and to decide the question (supposing it still an open one) as the criticism which condemns Goethe would require, is in fact to demand that Poetry should cease to deal with the haunting mysteries of our nature and our condition; should confine itself to the task of exhibiting surface manners to the arts of deceiving and amusing the imagination, by expressing in metaphors, borrowed from the language of strong passion, states of mind in which such passion not only does not exist, but is impossible, by clothing in
one euphuistic robe or other (for the fashion will vary soon) forms of feeling so habitual as to be of little more moment than those of ordinary courtesy. -Do I think these things unworthy of the poet's occupation? Assuredly not ;-it is no light service
to render life more happy. It is no light service to create a security for generosity of conduct and feeling, by making the very forms of language in some degree utter calm reproach to him who would wilfully offend even against the lighter charities of life. But all this and descriptive and didactic poetry, and all that requires from the poet less than the devotion of the whole man - his purposes and powers is comparatively as nothing. The unresisted demand which Milton, and which in our own day Wordsworth, makes upon his reader's highest and best powers, the sympathy- so intense is it, that we ourselves seem to share with the poet in the act of creation - has it not its birth in our conviction of their perfect fair dealing with their own minds and with ours in the earnest sincerity with which they appeal to our own experience, and thus continually recall the shapeless past, and create anew moments of our former being rendering visible, as it were, a thing before felt, but which, to be seen, required this new and diviner light? And can we regard
excluded from his proper province-without at the same time destroying that faith in the poet, which renders possible the miracles of his artthe intimations more or less vaguely given us of our future destiny and our present relation with Spirits ?
I am far from defending the conception or the execution of this remarkable passage; but I have no doubt that, did I feel it a worthy task to exhibit what are perhaps the blemishes of the noblest poem in any modern language, I could point out in the "Paradise Lost" a hundred passages as likely as this to offend the taste which declaims against Goethe, for what it pardons - perhaps applauds in Milton.
How far the purposes of the poet may require or justify that which, considered in itself, may for this argument be regarded as a blemish - how far such shading may be necessary to enable him to exhibit in fitting prominence, in effective light and true proportions, objects which could neither be omitted nor otherwise adequately shown I will not now inquire; but once admitting that the highest subjects which can occupy man's thought are within the province of the poet, I have no doubt that any fair criticism on the particular mode in which he has treated his subject must be conducted with exclusive reference to the purposes of his art. If the "Fallen Angel" is permitted to be the hero of Epic or Dramatic Poetry, we must allow the poet to give him the burning language of hatred, and defiance, and despair; if the "Northern Phantom, the Gothic conception of the grotesque and half-formed
monster, be allowed as a part of his proper machinery to the fabulist; can we, when we have thus far submitted our imagination to this species of willing delusion, at once stop short, and refuse to proceed further under the guidance of the poet? Shall we allow him to show us in the first scene, the magician or the witch sealing the contract with their blood, and then complain that the last act is an offence against piety, because it exhibits the triumph of the fiend as he carries off his victim in fire, or introduces some casuist more subtle than the Devil detecting a flaw by which he defeats the legal effect of the instrument under which the fiend claims? If we admit the demoniac character of modern scepticism to be a fitting subject of poetry, we must be prepared to allow great latitude to the poet who undertakes its exhibition.
But justly considered, these passages will be received by all persons who read poetry in a kindred spirit with more than pardon, even where they do not command sympathy or approval. The very caprices in which the poet allows himself to indulge, are evidence at least of the perfect freedom with which his own mind is at work. Could such a mind as Milton's be, when embodying each of its conceptions, regarded as pleading with some captious critic of the hour, instead of obeying in genial
movement the impulses of its own spirit, it is probable that some of the deformities of the poem would be removed; but I have no doubt that in the same spirit of servile compliance every thing peculiar would have been adjusted by some model of the day that all would have been rendered uniform, and regular that the poem would have been as much read then, and as little read now, as if it were one of Mr. Waller's. The transcendent beauties of the poem could never have existed, except on the condition of the fearless exercise of the author's own genius. Do I think that he wrote in defiance of rules? Assuredly not; but the rules which he did adopt, were not the arbitrary measures accidentally supplied by the vitiated taste of his own day. — Less than the perfect success of the divine poem, could not have saved any statement of its plan in detailed argument from seeming to afford just ground for such criticism as Voltaire's or Waller's. Had no more than the poet's own arguments of the several books remained, there would not have been wanting those who would have charged with irreverence the attempt to describe in man's words the councils of Heaven, and to clothe with material imagery the wars of angels and archangels. I regard the passages to which I allude, as among what I will venture — hesitatingly