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That the Paradise Regained has been considerably underrated by the world, seems of late to be an opinion almost generally admitted. But perhaps we shall state the fact more correctly, if we say that it has been neglected, rather than underrated; that it has been more unknown, than not admired. This is so much the case, that I apprehend some of the warmest panegyrists of the Paradise Lost have never honoured this Poem with a perusal; or only with a casual and most unfair one, under a cloud of
prejudices against it.—A critick, whose taste, judgement, and candour are unquestioned, has given it absolutely no place at all among the Works of its Author. “ If I might venture to place Milton's Works, according to their degrees of poetick excellence," says Dr. Joseph Warton, “ it should be perhaps in the following order, PARADISE Lost, Comus, Samson AGONISTES, LYCIDAS, L’ALLEGRO, IL PENSEROSO.” (See concluding note to the Lycidas, in Warton's Edition of Milton's Juvenile Poems!). I should hope that PARADISE REGAINED slipped accidentally out of the List: indeed what the late Mr. Warton has said of the Comus, I do not hesitate to apply to the Poem before us, and to hazard freely my unqualified opinion, that “ the Author is here inferiour only to his own Paradise Lost.”
I have ventured to form the remarks of the learned editor of Paradise Regained, subjoined in his elegant edition of 1795 to the end of each book, into a Preliminary Discourse ; as corresponding, in this modification, with the design of Mr. Addison's critical essay on Paradise Lost; which is, to point out strongly the particular beauties of the Poem to the reader's notice; or, in other words, to tell him the delicious fare which he may expect, and to bid him “ sit down, and feed, and welcome at the table." TODD. VOL. IV.
If we consider the First Book, we shall find much to admire, and little to censure.
The Proposition of the Subject is clear and dignified, and is beautifully wound up in the concluding line, “And Eden rais’d in the waste wilderness.”
The invocation of the Holy Spirit is equally devout and poetical. The Baptism of John carries us with the best effect in medias res.
Satan's Infernal Council is briefly, but finely, assembled; his speech is admirable; and the effect of it is strongly depicted. This is strikingly contrasted by the succeeding beautiful description of the Deity surrounded by his Angels; his Speech to them; and the triumphant Hymn of the Celestial Choir.Indeed the whole opening of this Poem is executed in so masterly a manner, that, making allowance for a certain wish to compress, which is palpably visible, very few parts of the Paradise Lost can in
any respect claim a pre-eminence.-—The brief description of our Lord's entering “now the bordering desart wild, and with dark shades and rocks environ'd round ;” and again, where “ looking round on every side he beholds a pathless desart, dusk. with horrid shades," are scenes worthy the pencil of Salvator. Our Lord's Soliloquy is a material part of the Poem, and briefly narrates the early part of his life. In the Paradise Lost, where the Divine Persons are speakers, Milton has so chastened his pen, that we meet with few poetical images, and chiefly scriptural sentiments, delivered, as near as may be, in scriptural, and almost always in unornamented, language. But the poet seems to consider this circumstance of the Temptation, (if I may venture so to express myself, as the last, perfect, completion of the Initiation of the Man Jesus in the mystery of his own divine nature and office: at least he feels himself entitled to make our Saviour while on earth, and “enshrined in fleshly tabernacle," speak in a certain degree, av pwnlvws, or, after the manner of men. Accordingly all the speeches of our blessed Lord, in this Poem, are far more elevated than any language that is put into the mouth of the Divine Speakers in any part of the Paradise Lost. The ingrafting Mary's Speech into that of her Son, it must be allowed, is not a happy circumstance. It has an awkward effect, loads the rest of the Speech, and might have been avoided, and better managed. The description of the probable manner of our Lord's passing the forty days in the wilderness is very picturesque ; and