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It may be worth while to observe, that Milton has represented this violent impetuous spirit, who is hurried on by such precipitate passions, as the first that rises in that assembly, to give his opinion upon their present posture of affairs. Accordingly he declares himself abruptly for war, and appears incensed at his companions, for losing so much time as even to deliberate
All his sentiments are rash, audacious, and desperate. Such is that of arming themselves with tortures, and turning their punishments upon him who inflicted them.
No, let us rather chuse,
His preferring annihilation to shame or misery, is also highly suitable to his character; as the comfort he draws from their disturbing the peace of Heaven, that if it be not victory, it is revenge, is a sentiment truly diabolical, and becoming the bitterness of this implacable spirit.
Belial is described in the first book, as the idol of the lewd and luxurious. He is in the second book, pursuant to that description, characterized as timorous and slothful, and if we look into the sixth book, we find him celebrated in the battle of angels for nothing but that scoffing speech which he makes to Satan, on their supposed advantage over the enemy. As his appearance is uniform, and of a piece in these three several views, we find his sentiments in the infernal, assembly every way conformable to his character. Such are his apprehensions of a second battle, his horrors of annihilation, his preferring to be miserable rather than not to be.' I need not observe, that the contrast of thought in
this speech, and that which precedes it, gives an agreeable variety to the debate.
Mammon's Character is so fully drawn in the first book, that the poet adds nothing to it in the second. We were before told, that he was the first who taught mankind to ransack the earth for gold and silver, and that he was the architect of Pandæmonium, or the infernal palace, where the evil spirits were to meet in council. His speech in this book is every where suitable to so depraved a character. How proper is that reflection, of their being unable to taste the happiness of Heaven were they actually there, in the mouth of one, who while he was in heaven is said to have had his mind dazzled with the outward pomps and glories of the place, and to have been more intent on the riches of the pavement, than on the beatific vision. I shall also leave the reader to judge how agreeable the following sentiments are to the same character.
This deep world
Magnificence, and what can Heaven shew more? Belzebub, who is reckoned the second in dignity that fell, and is in the first book the second that awakens out of the trance, and confers with Satan upon the situation of their affairs, maintains his rank in the book now before us. There is a wonderful majesty described in his rising up to speak. He acts as a kind of moderator between the two opposite parties, and proposes a third undertaking, which the whole assembly gives into. The motion he makes of detaching one of their body in search of a new world is grounded upon a project devised by Satan, and cursorily proposed by him in the following lines of the first book,
Space may produce new worlds, whereof so rife
It is on this project that Belzebub grounds his proposal.
What if we find
The reader may observe how just it was, not to omit in the first book the project upon which the whole poem turns: as also that the prince of the fallen angels was the only proper person to give it birth, and that he next to him in dignity was the fittest to support it.
There is besides, I think, something wonderfully beautiful, and very apt to affect the reader's imagination, in this ancient prophecy or report in Heaven, concerning the creation of man. Nothing could shew more the dignity of the species, than this tradition which ran of them before their existence. They are represented to have been the talk of Heaven, before they were created. Virgil, in compliment to the Roman common-wealth, makes the heroes of it appear in their state of pre-existence; but Milton does a far greater honour to mankind in general, as he gives us a glimpse of them even before they are in being.
The rising of this great assembly is described in a very sublime and poetical manner.
Their rising all at once was as the sound
The diversions of the fallen angels, with the particular account of their place of habitation, are described with great pregnancy of thought, and copiousness of invention. The diversions are every way suitable to beings who had nothing left them but strength and knowledge misapplied. Such are their contentions at the race, and in feats of arms, with their entertainment in the following lines.
Others with vast Typhean rage more fell
Their music is employed in celebrating their own criminal exploits, and their discourse in sounding the unfathomable depths of fate, free-will, and fore-knowledge.
The several circumstances in the description of hell are finely imagined ; as the four rivers which disgorge themselves into the sea of fire, the extremes of cold and heat, and the river of oblivion. The monstrous animals produced in that infernal world are represented by a single line, which gives us a more horrid idea of them, than a much longer description would have done.
Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire. This episode of the fallen spirits, and their place of habitation, comes in very happily to unbend the mind of the reader from its attention to the debate. An ordinary poet would indeed have spun out so many circumstances to a great length, and by that means have weakened, instead of illustrated,' the principal fable.
• Illustrated,] It should have been instead of illustrating,–or, and not have illustrated.
The flight of Satan to the gates of hell is finely imagined.
I have already declared my opinion of the allegory concerning Sin and Death, which is, however, a very finished piece in its kind, when it is not considered as a part of an epic poem. The genealogy of the several persons is contrived with great delicacy. Sin is the daughter of Satan, and Death the off-spring of Sin. The incestuous mixture between Sin and Death produces those monsters and hell-hounds which from time to time enter into their mother, and tear the bowels of her who gave them birth. These are the terrors of an evil conscience, and the proper fruits of Sin, which naturally rise from the apprehensions of Death. This last beautiful moral is, I think, clearly intimated in the speech of Sin, where complaining of this her dreadful issue, she adds,
Before mine eyes in opposition sits
His end with mine involv'd I need not mention to the reader the beautiful circumstance in the last part of this quotation. He will likewise observe how naturally the three persons concerned in this allegory are tempted by one common interest to enter into a confederacy together, and how properly Sin is made the portress of hell, and the only being that can open the gates to that world of tortures.
The descriptive part of this allegory is likewise very strong, and full of sublime ideas. The figure of Death, the regal crown upon his head, his menace of Satan, his advancing to the combat, the outcry at his birth, are circumstances too noble to be past over in silence, and extremely suitable to this King of Terrors. I need not mention the justness of thought which is observed in the generation of these several symbolical persons, that Sin was produced upon the first revolt of Satan, that Death appeared soon after he was cast into hell, and that the terrors of conscience were conceived at the gate