« السابقةمتابعة »
anguish, or repeat his groans. Beelzebub, the next in rank, is nearest to him, yet the same distance honours the couch of his chief, as ever honoured the glorious throne. Satan is the first to awake, as the light strikes on the mountain ere it reaches the plain.—That face which rises highest in defiance, and lowers most darkly in hatred of God, and quivers in most intense pain under the shadow of deepest despair, must be the infernal idol!"
We mentioned simplicity as the third grand characteristic of Milton's genius. His is not, however, in general, a bare, but a rich simplicity; not the nakedness of desolation and poverty, but the sublime nakedness of unfallen Adam. In his earlier poems we find something which resembles exuberance of fancy-a play of imagery—a fine, light, aerial movement, as of a young cherub, with flushed cheek, restless eye, and fluttering pinions. But as his genius advances, this is gradually lost, and he grows and calms into a “Giant Angel,” wearing a beauty grave and terrible as his strength—his vast wings, like sunny clouds, slowly passing through the noon ; resting, when he rests, like a Pyramid, and moving, when he moves, like a Planet. Some have talked of the baldness of his later style, but these persons might as soon speak of dressing the Sphynx, as of improving on that austere and bold simplicity. His genius, as a whole, including its juvenile and elderly efforts, may be described in Moore's words on Lebanon :
Whose head in wintry grandeur towers,
And whitens with eternal sleet;
Is smiling rosy at his feet.”
While the young will continue to prefer Comus, the more matured will prefer the statelier and sterner heights of Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes.
Subordinate to those main elements, we find many others, from which we select one or two. His dramatic power has been greatly underrated. It seems to us only inferior to Shakspere's. He has divided the general angel or fiend element into a variety of finely individualised forms, and he has adapted the language to the character of each. He has done
this in spite of the somewhat unwieldy nature of his style. Byron has often been accused of masking himself under all his ideal characters--so that Childe Harold is Byron musing; Lara, Byron murdering; Manfred, Byron writhing in remorse; Cain, Byron speculating; and Don Juan, Byron pursuing love adventures. But no such charge can be brought against Milton. He can be identified neither with Michael nor with Satan; neither with Raphael nor Belial ; neither with Gabriel nor Moloch. Nor can any of these be confounded with one another. Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Abdiel, Uriel, are all holy, happy, powerful, and brave; but how different!--Michael is the strong Angel; Raphael, the eloquent; Gabriel, the wise ; Abdiel, the faithful; and Uriel, the watchful. Satan, Moloch, Belial, Mammon, Beelzebub, are all fallen, eloquent, bold, all in torment, hate, and hell; but distinct as are columns of different architectures. Satan is the Infernal Egotist: the pronoun “I” begins every sentence of peculiar pride, and the favourite exclamation of his anguish is “ Ah me !” Moloch is rash and desperate, and his fury vents itself in rugged laconics, in gasps and howls of hatred. Belial is the subtle, far revolving fiend, and his eloquence is fluent and sweet-a stream of sugared poison. Mammon is the downlooking Demon, and his words, like his thoughts, seek the centre. Beelzebub's speeches, like his character, are calm, measured—his talk is just thinking made audible, and has, withal, a cast of grave, terrific irony, which he fears not to apply to his fellow-fiends, when he says
“ Thrones, and imperial powers, offspring of Heaven,
Ethereal virtues! Or these titles now
Princes of Hell ?"
Advise, if this be worth
Hatching vain empires." We counsel the man who would be an orator, to read, not Demosthenes, Fox, Burke, Grattan, and Webster, but to give his days and his nights to the speeches of the Halls of Pandemonium. Milton, it is believed by many, began the
Paradise Lost in a dramatic form; had he completed it as a Drama, it had become a Tragedy surpassing any single play in Eschylus or Shakspere—it would have necessarily avoided the prose and platitudes which are found in the present Epic -it would have combined the rugged force of the Agonistes with a far richer, more imaginative, and passionate treatment, and would have stood more conspicuously and colossally alone among the Dramas, than it does now among the Epics of the World. There are many still who mate the Iliad and the Divina Commedia with the Paradise Lost; but there would, we think, have been none to compare the Prometheus Vinctus, or the Macbeth, to the “Fall of Man," by Milton, had he executed his purpose as he could have done. We do not mean to say, that his native genius was superior or equal to that of Shakspere and Eschylus, but merely that his blended art, genius, learning, and religion, would have constructed a greater separate dramatic structure than any they have left-a Drama combining the severity and the loftiness of the old Grecian model, with much of the subtlety, variety, and brilliance of the Shaksperean Play.
The manner in which Milton sublimates his learning has often been noticed by his critics. It is more wonderful than his learning itself. And yet that is worthy of all the encomiums which have been passed on it. It comes out, not only in those apparently elaborate, though in reality spontaneous and irresistible, accumulations of names and historic facts, which are found scattered through all his poems, but in the far-flashing allusions which everywhere abound. His style not only ever and anon sparkles with, but is steeped in, the most profound and recondite learning of his times. Buchanan has given the preference to learned Poets, in the lines
“ Sola doctorum monumenta vatům
Nesciunt Fati imperium severi ;
Here he errs in the word “sola,” but certainly, in the case of Milton and a few others, Poetry has found a graceful handmaid in Learning. Names, incidents, countries, characters,
which had been deemed barren, and left to rust on the upper or lower shelves of libraries, are summoned, by this mighty Poet, to his aid, and they cannot but come, and come, too, in dance and music. His catalogue of the Devils, his geographical excursions, his mythological fables, are among the most interesting and poetical parts of his poem. We are astonished to find Hallam objecting to them, in company with others who have stated, but can scarcely have felt, their faultiness. To those possessed of historical lore, these names, as Macaulay remarks, are charmed names—to others they are like a foreign language spoken by Gavazzi, or sung by Jenny Lind—their music affects them almost as deeply as their meaning could. If jargon, they are at least the potent jargon of a magician opening doors in rocks, rooting up pines, and making palaces and mountains come and go at his pleasure. And it is remarkable that this power—a power springing from a profound knowledge of the associations which words can awaken, and of the exquisite harmony which certain combinations of them can produce—a power first displayed by Homer, and which, in Milton, came to a climax—seems to have now vanished from literature. The only good specimens of it, since Milton, we remember, are in Thomson's picture of the Torrid Zone, and in the last chapter of Thomas Aird's Religious Characteristics. Even Pollok, in his description of the nations which embrace the Gospel at the Millennium, fails in this Ideal Geography. He selects the names at haphazard, and does not seem to have weighed them in the trembling scales of an ear at once musical and poetic, ere committing them to his page.
Much that is true, and much that is false—much sense, and much nonsense-has been written about the faults of Milton. His puns, bulls, conceits, and quibbles, we surrender at once to his severer critics. They are not very numerous, and only a vulture nostril, like that of Warburton, can smell in them a sweet savour, and delight in such a petty sacrifice. A good deal of lumbering prose there is, unquestionably, in all his later works, but it serves to relieve and balance his nobler passages, and ever and anon, amid the dull level, a fine line occurs, proving that the author is a “god of the plain" as well as of the “mountain," and that his flatness is not
that of weakness, but of recumbent strength. He has been charged, by Johnson, with using a “ Babylonish dialect, " but the Doctor had forgot his own style, and his own adage, “ Big thinkers require big words.”
Milton was a big and a learned thinker, and he required large and learned words. Even his astronomy and cosmogony, which were those of his age, have been made matter of accusation against him, as if a poet in any age were bound by the laws of strict scientific truth any more than by those of general experience, as if he might not, if he chose, find his astronomy in astrology, his cosmogony in the reveries of the Brahmins, and his chemistry in the dreams of the alchymists--and as if there were not a magnificent poetry, deducible, and by Dante and Milton actually deduced, from the Ptolemaic system of the universe. With greater force he has been accused of harsh inversions, ellipses, and frequent obscurity; but his darkness, we must remember, is never deliberate, and seldom very dense; he never, like many in modern days, sets himself on purpose " to darken counsel by words without knowledge;" and while the edges of his thought sometimes dip into clouds, the centre is always as the “ body of heaven in its clearness.” The question as to who is the hero of the Paradise Lost, has elicited much controversy, and led to divers unfounded charges against its author. Adam, Satan, and the Messiah have their respective partisans. It is a question of little consequence. Yet let us look at it for a moment. If a hero mean the most interesting and impressive character in an Epos, then Dryden is right, and Satan is the hero. If a hero mean the being you most sympathise with, then Adam is the hero. If a hero mean the personage who turns the tide of the plot, and gathers the greatest glory around him from the issue, then the Messiah is the hero. So that, while thus there are three candidates in Milton for the honour, in Homer there are only two, namely, Hector the most interesting character in the Niad, and with whom, too, you most warmly sympathise; and Achilles, the most powerful, and whose avatar is attended with the most triumphant results. We do not attempt to decide the question, except by saying that, in our notion, technically Messiah is the hero-really Satan. Messiah has