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THE ARGUMENT .
The Subject proposed. Invocation of the Holy Spirit. — The
Poem opens with John baptizing at the river Jordan. Jesus coming there is baptized ; and is attested, by the descent of the Holy Ghost, and by a voice from Heaven, to be the Son of God. Satan, who is present, upon this immediately flies up into the regions of the air: where, summoning his Infernal Council, he acquaints them with his apprehensions that Jesus is that Seed of the Woman, destined to destroy all their power; and points out to them the immediate necessity of bringing the matter to proof, and of attempting, by snares and fraud, to counteract and defeat the person, from whom they have so much to dread. This office he offers himself to undertake ; and, his offer being accepted, sets out on his enterprise.—In the mean time God, in the assembly of Holy Angels, declares that he has given up his Son to be tempted by Satan ; but foretels that the Tempter shall be completely defeated by him :-upon which the Angels sing a hymn of triumph. Jesus is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, while he is meditating on the commencement of his great office of Saviour of Mankind. Pursuing his meditations he narrates, in a soliloquy, what divine and philanthropick impulses he had felt from his early youth, and how his mother Mary, on perceiving these dispositions in him, had acquainted him with the circumstances of his birth, and informed him that he was no less a person than the Son of God; to which he adds what his own inquiries and reflections had supplied in confirmation of this great truth, and particularly dwells on the recent attestation of it at the river Jordan. forty days, fasting, in the wilderness; where the wild beasts
Our Lord passes
a No edition of Paradise Regained had ever appeared with Arguments to the Books, before that which was published in 1795 by Mr. Dunster; from which they are adopted in this edition. Peck, indeed, endeavoured to supply the deficiency, in his Memoirs of Milton, 1740, p. 70, &c. But the arguments, which he has there given, are too diffuse, and want that conciseness and energy which distinguish Mr. Dunster's. TODD.
Satan now ap
become mild and harmless in his
presence. pears under the form of an old peasant; and enters into discourse with our Lord, wondering what could have brought him alone into so dangerous a place, and at the same time professing to recognize him for the person lately acknowledged by John at the river Jordan, to be the Son of God. Jesus briefly replies. Satan rejoins with a description of the difficulty of supporting life in the wilderness; and entreats Jesus, if he be really the Son of God, to manifest his divine power, by changing some of the stones into bread. Jesus reproves him, and at the same time tells him that he knows who he is. Satan instantly avows himself, and offers an artful apology for himself and his conduct. Our Blessed Lord severely reprimands him, and refutes every part of his justification. Satan, with much semblance of humility, still endeavours to justify himself; and, professing his admiration of Jesus and his regard for virtue, requests to be permitted at a future time to hear more of his conversation ; but is answered, that this must be as he shall find permission from above. Satan then disappears, and the Book doses with a short description of night coming on in the desart.
I, who ere while the happy garden sung
Ver. 1. I, who ere while the happy garden sung
By one Man's disobedience lost, now sing
Recover'd Paradise to all mankind,] This is plainly an allusion to the Ille ego qui quondam, &c. attributed to Virgil. Thus also Spenser:
" Lo, I the man, whose Muse whilom did mask,
NEWTON. Ver. 2. By one Man's disobedience, &c.] “ For as by one MAN'S DISOBEDIENCE many were made sinners; so by THE OBEDIENCE OF ONE shall many be made righteous,” Rom. v. 19
Newton. Ver. 3. Recover'd Paradise] It may seem a little odd, that Milton should impute the recovery of Paradise to this short scene of our Saviour's life upon earth, and not rather extend it to his agony, crucifixion, &c. But the reason no doubt was, that Paradise, regained by our Saviour's resisting the temptations of Satan, might be a better contrast to Paradise, lost by our first parents too easily yielding to the same seducing Spirit. Besides he might, very probably, and indeed very reasonably, be appre
By one Man's firm obedience fully tried
hensive, that a subject, so extensive as well as sublime, might be too great a burden for his declining constitution, and a task too long for the short term of years he could then hope for. Even in his Paradise Lost he expresses his fears, lest he had begun too late, and lest an age too late, or cold climate, or years, should have damped his intended wing; and surely he had much greater cause to dread the same now, and to be very cautious of launching out too far. THYER.
Ver. 7. And Eden rais'd in the waste wilderness.] There is, I think, a particular beauty in this line, when one considers the fine allusion in it to the curse brought upon the Paradisiacal earth by the fall of Adam: “ Cursed is the ground for thy sake : Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.” THYER. In the fourth book of this poem, (ver. 523) we have,
« And follow'd thee still on to this waste wild.” Waste, or wasteful, is an epithet which our author had annexed to wilderness, at an early period of his life. Thus in his translation of the cxxxvith Psalm, written when he was only fifteen, he has “ the wasteful wilderness.” In that instance, perhaps, he borrowed the whole phrase from his favourite Spenser: Faer. Qu.i. i. 32.
“ Far hence (quoth he) in wasteful wilderness
“ His dwelling is" But the expression and the application of it, in this place, were evidently taken from a passage in Isaiah, li. 3. “ The Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places, and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desart like the garden of the Lord.” DUNSTER.
I may add that the precise expression here used by Milton, is from Spenser's translation of Virgil's Culex :
“ I carried am to a waste wildernesse,
Thou Spirit, who ledst this glorious eremite Into the desart, his victorious field, Against the spiritual foe, and brought'st him thence By proof the undoubted Son of God, inspire,
So, also, in the romance of Palmerin of England, 4to. vol. 1. chap. 93.
“ The places of most renowne in this empire shall be changed to a waste and desolate wildernesse." TODD. Ver. 8. Thou Spirit, who ledst this glorious eremite
Into the desart, &c.] This invocation is so supremely beautiful, that it is hardly possible to give the preference even to that in the opening of the Paradise Lost. This has the merit of more conciseness. Diffuseness may be considered as lessening the dignity of invocations on such subjects. DUNSTER. Ibid.
who ledst this glorious eremite Into the desart,] It is said, Mat. iv. 1. was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” And from the Greek original épnuos the desart, and épnuírns an inhabitant of the desart, is rightly formed the word eremite; which was used before by Milton in his P. L. B. iii. 474. And by Fairfax, in his translation of Tasso, c. xi. st. iv. And in Italian, as well as Latin, there is eremita, which the French, and we after them, contract into hermite, hermit. Newton.
Heremite, or eremite, had been a very common spelling, both in poetry and prose, before Milton's time. Todd. Ver. 11.
inspire, As thou art wont, my prompted song else mute ;] See the
very fine opening of the ninth Book of the Paradise Lost, and also his invocation of Urania, at the beginning of the seventh Book. And in the introduction to the second Book of the Rcason of Church-Government urged against Prelacy, where he promises to undertake something, he yet knows not what, that may be of use and honour to his country, he adds; “ This is not to be obtained but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit, who: can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his Seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify whom he pleases.”-Here then we see, that Milton's invocations