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the most success,-Satan impresses most deeply. Yet we are far from agreeing with the following extraordinary statement of Hallam's :-" The first two books confirm the sneer of Dryden, that Satan is Milton's hero, since they develop a plan of action which is ultimately successful; the triumph which he and his host must experience in the fall of man being hardly compensated by their temporary conversion into serpents.” As if that were the only compensation; as if the tenor of the whole argument were not to shew that the second Adam was to bruise the serpent's head by recovering the majority of the race from Satan's grasp, and by at last consuming Satan and his perverted world! The object of Satan was not only to ruin man, but to rob God of glory; and one purpose of the poet is to shew how neither part of the plan was successful, but that it all redounded to the devil's misery and disgrace, and to the triumph of God and of the Messiah. With a like carelessness does this critic add—“ Except one circumstance which seems rather physical intoxication than anything else, we do not find any sign of depravity superinduced upon the transgression of our first parents.” Has Mr Hallam forgotten that fine and most Shaksperean scene of their mutual recrimination, and of the gross injustice Adam does to Eve by calling her that “ bad woman,” that “serpent,” &c.? Was there no sign of depravity there? And was even “physical intoxication ” possible to undepraved beings? We refer our readers to Macaulay, Channing, and others, for a defence of our poet against other charges, such as the confusion he is said to make between matter and spirit in his angels—his digressions—his episode of Sin and Death, and many more, all of which are more or less founded on truth, but which have been all more or less exaggerated.
We pass to a rapid review of his poetic works, beginning in an inverted climax with his largest, and descending to his less. We think that Paradise Lost may be analysed into the following elements—the sublime, the beautiful, the pathetic, the didactic, the picturesque, the grotesque, and the prosaic. This, if not a thoroughly exhaustive division, will serve to open up its principal features.
The Sublime of this poem is chiefly found in the 1st, and
partly in the 2d, and in the 5th, 6th, and 7th books. Of these the 1st book is unquestionably the loftiest not only in this poem but in poetry. It is the highest mountain in all Milton's Himalayan range. It soars easily, proudly, consciously,“ above all Greek, all Roman fame.” We find in it-and it is the only book of this or any poem where we do—the element of sublimity existing undiluted and alone. Not a page, not a line, not a word detracts from the general sense of the vast, the gloomy, the terrible, the distant, the solitary, and the infinite. Satan—the scene around his followers and their actions, combine to form a whole inexpressibly and overwhelmingly grand. In the 2d book sublimity clings principally to the character of Satan, and is mixed up with the elements of the dramatic and the grotesque. In the 3d and 4th books, it is still more strictly confined to that tremendous Apparition, who has left hell, cleft chaos, and is hovering, like an eclipse, between earth and heaven. In the 5th book, this Apparition for a season fades away, and you see sublimity in its native seat-Heaven now described as preparing for war. In the 6th book, the principal grandeur is at first attached to Abdiel returning through night, dreadless and unpursued; it then lights on the crest of Satan, and at last sits down beside “ victory eagle-winged,” above the chariot of the Son. That description is certainly the sublimest single passage in the poem. It is copied partly indeed from Hesiod's War of the Giants, but is superior to it, or even to Achilles coming forth against the Trojans. As the Messiah in his progress snatched up his fallen foes, and drove them before him like leaves on the blast, Milton, in the whirlwind of his inspiration, snatches up words, allusions, images from Homer, Hesiod, and the Word of God, and bears them in triumph and in terror on -and as soon call a tornado a plagiarist of the forests it tears up in the fury of its power, as the poet. Much has been said of Milton's plagiarism, and the notes to many editions of his poem are disgraced by attempts to trace, often on the weakest evidence, almost all his fine things to others. Milton, however, was too rich to require to steal,--and although he often imitates, he always improves, and never commits base and palpable theft. If, indeed, to follow faithfully in one's own
way a signal given by another,--to finish in an unexpected and independent style the torso of another artist,--to deliver, by a masterly stroke, the Minerva struggling in the brain of another god, -to light a torch fairly and openly at the sun, --to change a mass of dead fuel into quick flame,—to snatch in the keen and desperate melée an axe from the next yeoman, and deal blows therewith,—to draw from other wells with a golden pitcher which shall hallow and beautify whatever it brings up ;-if this be a thief, then let us call Milton one, nay, the prince--the god—the Mercury of thieves. And nowhere do we find this divine theft more conspicuous than in the 7th book, where he fills up the colossal skeleton of the Scripture history of the creation as only a man of kindred genius and power to Moses could have done.
Of the Beautiful, we find little in the Paradise Lost till we reach the 4th book. But there the author of Lycidas and Comus exerts all his powers to lavish a tropical wealth of loveliness on our First Parents and their happy dwelling. Paradise is no nook of beauty: it is a large place, with mountains, and forests, and rivers, as well as flowers, and streams, and vales in it. But the bower in the midst is its centre, and sheds a softness and rosy lustre over the whole. Our First Parents, too, are more distinguished by their symmetry and beauty, than by their majesty and power. Beautiful beyond desire; simple beyond disguise ; graceful without consciousness; naked without shame; innocent, but not insipid ; dignified, but not proud ;-they are, at the same time, frail as tenderest plants, and must, like them, be constantly guarded ; you from the first tremble for them, and objects or beings for whom you tremble cannot be sublime. Nor do we think that either Uriel or Raphael, as persons, overpass the limit of the Beautiful--although nothing can be grander than the position of the former, in the Sun-or more magnificent than the discourse of the other.
The Pathos of the Poem is chiefly found in some of Satan's softer soliloquies and in the lamentations of the hapless pair after their fall. It is calmer and less subtle than the pathos of Shakspere, and we are not sure if any one scene equals that of Hector and Andromache in Homer; but it is extremely
eloquent and mellifluous. The reconciliation between Adam and Eve is generally thought a copy of that between Milton and his first wife.
The Didactic exists as an under-current through the greater part of the poem, but is found especially in the 3d and in the 8th books. Milton, sooth to say, is not a very good didactic poet. He is better at creating gigantic or graceful figures, than at expounding abstract truths. Had he given us a system of Theology in verse—an Essay on God-it had been altogether illegible.
The Picturesque is very abundant. How strikingly it is displayed in the description of Beelzebub “rising like a pillar of state;" in that of Raphael descending in his “downy gold” and “ feathered mail ;' in that of the Serpent with his
“ Circular base of rising folds, that tower'd, Fold above fold, a surging maze;"
in that of the lion at his creation, "pawing to free his hinder parts ;” and in the gallery of pictures shewn to Adam by Michael from the highest hill in Paradise ! Milton has been charged with being rather a musical than a picturesque Poet--but the passages we have alluded to, and many more, confute the charge. Indeed, his blindness was certain to increase the outstanding distinctness and clearness of his imagery, as well as his sense of harmonious sound.
The Grotesque he has too frequently interwoven with the Grand. Under this head we rank the Limbo of vanity-the speeches of the fallen angels on the second day of the war in Heaven-perhaps also the transformation of Satan and his crew into Serpents--and certainly the “ Sin and Death.” Yet, although too Dantesque or even Ariosto-like in its taste, the Allegory of Sin and Death abounds in most powerful poetry. It is a very rape of genius, but the progeny is glorious. For eloquence, interest, terrific suspense, there is nothing in the whole poem finer than the interview between Satan and his ghastly Son. This Allegory, however, must bear the blame of by far the coarsest and worst lines in the poem. They are these, put in the mouth of God, as he sees Sin and Death advancing upon the Earth :
“I call’d and drew them thither,
Of thy victorious arm, well-pleasing Son,” &c. We think that to the same category of grotesqueness must belong the scene between Satan and the Anarchs of Chaos, although here, too, the apparent absurdity is redeemed by the splendour of the poetry. Who but Milton could have written these words ?
“ Chaos and his dark pavilion spread
We name, finally, the Prosaic, as constituting no small portion of his poem. To this we have alluded a little before. It is found not at all in the first and second books; we meet with it first in the third ; in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh, it is almost entirely awanting; while the eighth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth abound with it-indeed it becomes much more frequent and more leaden after the Fall, when the purpose of the Poet seems nearly accomplished, and the flush of his original fervour has faded away. These are the leading constituents of his great poem. But there are, besides, certain passages, having a personal reference, and a very profound interest;—for example, his address to Light, at the opening of the third book, is one of the divinest instincts in Poetry. How appropriate the position it occupies! Milton had filled his imagination with Hell and Chaos—he had almost identified himself with the dread Pilgrim who had made his way out of Hell's midnight into the regions of Day—and hence at the sight of the first sunbeam he cannot but utter a cry of welcome as fervid and loud as if he had newly escaped from the outer darkness. So far from being, as it has been called, a splendid excrescence, the passage springs up natur