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and who, when in hell compelled to resume the serpent shape,
Now dragon grown, larger than whom the sun
Like Atlas, wherever Milton is, the burden of the rolling
bering with his own angels in the vales of heaven, or at the foot of the
“Flaming Mount whose top
The revel of his fancy is always under severe restraint, and when his genius at times does dance, it is a measured and mystic dance, like that of the seraphim around the sacred hill.
His use of the Pagan Mythology has often been objected to
him as inconsistent with his reverence for the true Belief and the Book of God. But he never introduces the heathen gods except as tributaries and captives. His Dagons fall down before Jehovah; he has preserved in his poetry as in a vast museum, not a temple, the images of the fallen deities with the word “idols” labelled on them,-objects not of belief or reverence, but of curiosity or poetic interest. We have called him elsewhere a belated bard of the Bible. In austere loftiness, thick imagery, holy calm, holier fury, and magnitude of purpose, he bears them a striking resemblance. His differentia—apart from the peculiar inspiration which appertained to them—lies in greater unity and artistic consciousness. There is a cant in the criticism of this day about poetic unity, and certain criticasters have even gone the length of denying that one, however many poetic elements he possesses, can be an absolute poet, without this. That this is absurd, will appear when we remember—1st, that the poems which are really artistic wholes are very few— can, in fact, be counted on one's fingers; when we remember,
2dly, that many noble poems, such as Young's Night Thoughts,
Thomson's Seasons, and Bailey's Festus, do not possess unity; and when, to clench this argument, we remember, 3dly, that the highest poetry confessedly ever poured from the deep heart of man—that, namely, of the Hebrews—is fragmentary. What unity is there in the Psalms, or in those other fiery lyrics which are sprinkled through the books of the Old Testament? What band, save the band of individual genius, binds together the glorious minstrelsies of Isaiah, the pathetic strains of Jeremiah, or the mystic dreams of Ezekiel? In Job, indeed, there are a story and a plot; but they are very simple—they display scarcely any art, and the poetic power of the poem is in the gorgeousness of its separate passages. But Milton has striven after unity, and is one of the very few poets who have attained it. And this certainly has added a solid monumental, if also a somewhat artificial, character to his works. The productions of the Bible bards are the “trees of God, full of sap, and planted by his hand,” although scattered and single; those of Milton stand up like a cathedral of man's handiwork, built to, not by, God, but forming a shapely and symmetrical whole. Milton's sublimity has become proverbial. His natural element is the great. He may love the beautiful, but the sublime loves him. He walks at ease on heights “where angels bashful look,” and descends, with equal calm and boldness, amidst depths into which other souls dare only timidly peer. How perfectly at home he is in that wondrous hell of his which he has cut out from Chaos, and wrapped in devouring fires; in Chaos itself, through whose wild and worldshaking uproar, “the womb of nature and perhaps her grave," the ship of his genius moves on in triumphant security; on Niphates mount, looking down on half the world, and up to that ardent angel standing in the sun; on the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north, beside the throne and chariot of the Apostate; or over the surge of the primeval deep, as the Spirit is moving its subsiding waters, and the Son is taking the golden compasses from God's eternal store, or near the Brightness of the Father's glory, as He comes forth with whirlwind noise to chase his hapless enemies over the battlements of heaven!. Never for a moment on the giddiest of these giddy heights, or in the sablest of these dark imaginative depths, does he reel, or blench, or tremble, display weakness, or indicate terror. Girt, sandalled, white robed, “in privilege of virtue,” he becomes free of the universe, and is safe in hell as an angel of light would be, can stand on the crystal battlements or in the heart of the sun, with the dignity of a “Watcher,” and enter the heaven of heavens with the immunity of a “Holy One.” The only instance in which he seems to fail, is in the conversations which he records between God and the Son, but here he was hampered, not so much by the profundity of his reverence for both, as by the uncertainty of his views as to the relation they bore each other. He seems to have ceased being a Trinitarian, but had not fully become an Arian at the time he wrote Paradise Lost; and hence in those parts of the poem an awkwardness of manner— a stiffness of phraseology—a timidity of feeling—an eagerness to confine himself to the ipsissima verba of Scripture, and thus, while his dialogues of devils are most eloquent, varied, and powerful, his dialogues of Deity are exceedingly prosaic and dull. The sublime element which was in Milton, condensed most fully and culminated in the idea of Satan. As this is probably the grandest character in the whole world of Poetry, it is proper to analyse it at some little length. It seems Milton's intention to represent the “Progress” of a Pilgrim from the Celestial City to that of utter and deepening Destruction, and that he may effect this on a broader scale, he chooses a canvas of unearthly magnitude and identifies his Pilgrim with a fallen Angelic Nature. Like great sculptors, he must work out his thought on colossal materials. He means to give the history of Individual Will, perverted, and placed in deadly antagonism with General Will, that is, with the Will of God; and to this perverted Will he must link a form and person the loftiest and most potent of which the imagination can conceive, a person too, of the reality of whose existence the Bible had informed him. He finds this proud and terrible shape in Satan, the archangel, who, according to Holy Writ, had fallen from heaven, nor had fallen alone, but had carried the third part of its “Stars” along with him. Having accepted the hint and outline from Scripture, he proceeds in accordance with his own idea to fill it up. On Satan he lavishes every power but omnipotence and every gift but goodness. He has might that could wield the elements; fury, that could tear them in sunder; wisdom only less than divine, and the deficiency in which seems supplied by a subtle and far-reaching craft; courage that yields only to fall back into the arms of resolute despair; pride and ambition pointing upwards to the throne of the universe as their goal and prize; fidelity to his followers, and capacity of enduring personal suffering, equalled only by hatred to all that oppose his path, by regret for happiness gone from him, and by savage envy at the happiness enjoyed by others; remorse and revenge, haughtiness and horror, fearlessness and anguished prospect struggling in one tempestuous yet determined breast. This mighty moral anomaly, Milton incarnates in a figure reflecting at once its powers and its mis-proportions, wearing on his brow a celestial crown blasted, and a reflection of heaven's glory obscured, with eyes like sun-smitten tarns, the chiaroscuro of which hell's flames are not able to dim, but which “blaze and sparkle” above the billows of the lake of fire; an Atlantean stature, measured by “roods” of hell, as it had been originally by reaches and altitudes of glory; a brow trenched with thunder; a cheek “ faded” like a cloud on which the day has ceased to shine; a body maked, save when flames are its clothing, or when shield and sword seem to spring up around; and a mien, lofty, lonely, contemptuous, and defiant, fitting the Titanic spear which guides his uneasy but unshrinking steps over the burning marle, and the words which, like mutterings of thunder, or the fierce groans of earthquake, come forth from his mouth—
“Evil, be thou my Good . "
Such is Satan, as Milton shews him in the opening of his Poem. But such he had not always been, nor was always to remain. He had been once a pure and exalted Being, next to the Father and the Son themselves, till in an evil hour he allowed ambition to mount what seemed only the single step between him and absolute Dominion—as there seems but a single step between the summit of the mountain and the Sun— to enter his soul. Then his real fall commenced; for in the train of ambition came pride, hatred, envy, rebellion, and such carnal passion as spirits can feel, and his expulsion from Heaven was only the inevitable consequence of his sin. In Pandemonium his virtue is lost, his power is limited, his glory is shaded, but his courage, magnanimity, and daring are increased. He is lashed by the flames into fiercer rage, and his unequalled and unenvied possession of the burning Throne of Hell inflates his pride. He determines on a last great effort to regain at least a portion of his original power—if inferior to the task of dethroning God, he shall yet try to blast one of God's favourite works. But from the moment that he determines to seek to involve an unknown and unwitting race of beings in his own ruin, a new shade of darkness falls upon his character, and from the Foe of God and the rebel chief of Angels he sinks into the Tempter of Man. He drops, as it were, the weapons of Heaven he had turned against their giver; he will not even use the black fire and infernal thunder suggested by Moloch, but adopts, instead,