صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

touches of remorse and self-accusation : but at length, he confirms himself in impenitence, and in his design of drawing men into his own state of guilt and misery. This conflict of passions is raised with a great deal of art, as the opening of his speech to the sun is very bold and noble.

O thou that with surpassing glory crown'd,
Look’st from thy sole dominion like the God
Of this new world, at whose sight all the stars
Hide their diminish'd heads; to thee I call,
But with no friendly voice, and add thy name,
O Sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams,
That bring to my remembrance from what state
I fell, how glorious once above thy sphere.

This speech is, I think, the finest that is ascribed to Satan in the whole poem. The evil spirit afterwards proceeds to make his discoveries concerning our first parents, and to learn after what manner they may be best attacked. His bounding over the walls of Paradise; his sitting in the shape of a cormorant upon the tree of life, which stood in the centre of it, and overtopped all the other trees of the garden ; his alighting among the herd of animals, which are so beautifully represented as playing about Adam and Eve; together with his transforming himself into different shapes, in order to hear their conversation; are circumstances that give an agreeable surprise to the reader, and are devised with great art, to connect that series of adventures in which the poet has engaged this great artificer of fraud.

The thought of Satan's transformation into a cormorant, and placing himself on the tree of life, seems raised upon that passage in the Iliad, where two deities are described, as perching on the top of an oak in the shape of vultures.

His planting himself at the ear of Eve under the form of a toad, in order to produce vain dreams and imaginations, is a circumstance of the same nature starting up in his own form is wonderfully fine, both in the literal description, and in the moral which is con

[ocr errors]

as his

cealed under it. His answer upon his being discovered, and demanded to give an account of himself, is conformable to the pride and intrepidity of his character.

Know ye not then, said Satan, fillid with scorn,
Know ye not me? Ye knew me once no mate
For you, there sitting where you durst not soar.
Not to know me argues yourselves unknown,
The lowest of your throng;

Zephon's rebuke, with the influence it had on Satan, is exquisitely graceful and moral. Satan is afterwards led away to Gabriel, the chief of the guardian angels, who kept watch in Paradise. His disdainful behaviour on this occasion is so remarkable a beauty, that the most ordinary reader cannot but take notice of it. Gabriel's discovering his approach at a distance, is drawn with great strength and liveliness of imagination.

O friends, I hear the tread of nimble feet
Hast’ning this way, and now by glimpse discern
Ithuriel and Zephon through the shade ;
And with them comes a third of regal port,
But faded splendor wan; who by his gait
And fierce demeanor, seems the prince of hell,
Not likely to part hence without contest;
Stand firm, for in his look defiance lours.

The conference between Gabriel and Satan abounds with sentiments proper for the occasion, and suitable to the persons of the two speakers.

the two speakers. Satan's clothing himself with terror, when he prepares for the combat, is truly sublime, and at least equal to Homer's description of Discord celebrated by Longinus; or to that of Fame in Virgil ; who are both represented with their feet standing upon the earth, and their heads reaching above the clouds.

While thus he spake, th' angelic squadron bright
Turn'd fiery red, sharp'ning in mooned horns
Their phalanx, and began to hem him round
With pointed spears, &c.

On th' other side, Satan, alarm'd,
Collecting all his might, dilated stood

Like Tenariff or Atlas unremov'd.
His stature reach'd the sky, and on his crest

Sat horror plum'd. I must here take notice, that Milton is every where full of hints, and sometimes literal translations, taken from the greatest of the Greek and Latin poets. But this I may reserve for a discourse by itself, because I would not break the thread of these speculations, that are designed for English readers, with such reflections as would be of no use but to the learned.

I must, however, observe in this place, that the breaking off the combat between Gabriel and Satan, by the hanging out of the golden scales in heaven, is a refinement upon Homer's thought, who tells us, that before the battle between Hector and Achilles, Jupiter weighed the event of it in a pair of scales. The reader may see the whole passage in the 22d Iliad.

Virgil, before the last decisive combat, describes Jupiter in the same manner, as weighing the fates of Turnus and Æneas. Milton, though he fetched this beautiful circumstance from the Iliad and Æneid, does not only insert it as a poetical embellishment, like the authors above-mentioned, but makes an artful use of it for the proper carrying on of his fable, and for the breaking off the combat between the two warriors, who were upon the point of engaging. To this we may further add, that Milton is the more justified in this passage, as we find the same noble allegory in holy writ, where a wicked prince, some few hours before he was assaulted and slain, is said to have been “ weighed in the scales, and to have been found wanting.'

I must here take notice, under the head of the machines, that Uriel's gliding down to the earth upon a sun-beam, with the poet's device to make him descend, as well in his return to the sun, as in his coming from it, is a prettiness that might have been adınired in a little fanciful poet, 'but seems below the genius of Milton. The description of the host of armed angels walking their nightly round in Paradise, is of another spirit;

So saying, on he led his radiant files,
Dazzling the moon;

as that account of the hymns, which our first parents used to hear them sing in these their midnight walks, is altogether divine, and inexpressibly amusing to the imagination.

We are, in the last place, to consider the parts which Adam and Eve act in the fourth book. The description of them as they first appeared to Satan, is exquisitely drawn, and sufficient to make the fallen angel gaze upon them with all that astonishment, and those emotions of envy, in which he is represented.

Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
God-like erect, with native honour clad,
In naked majesty seem'd lords of all;
And worthy seem’d, for in their looks divine
The image of their glorious Maker shone,
Truth, wisdom, sanctitude, severe and pure;
Severe, but in true filial freedom plac'd;
For contemplation he and valor formid;
For softness she, and sweet attractive grace ;
He for God only, she for God in him :
His fair large front, and eye sublime, declar'd
Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clust'ring, but not beneath his shoulders broad :
She as a veil down to her slender wasit
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dis-sheveld, but in wanton ringlets wavd.
So pass'd they naked on, nor shun'd the sight
Of God or angels, for they thought no ill :
So hand in hand they pass'd, the loveliest pair
That ever since in love's embraces met.

There is a fine spirit of poetry in the lines which follow, wherein they are described as sitting on a bed of flowers by the side of a fountain, amidst a mixed assembly of animals.

The speeches of these two first lovers flow equally from passion and sincerity. The professions they make to one another are full of warmth ; but at the same time founded on truth. In a word, they are the gallantries of Paradise.

VOL. IV.

[ocr errors]

When Adam, first of men
Sole partner and sole part of all these joys,
Dearer thyself than all;
But let us ever praise Him, and extol
His bounty, following our delightful task,
To

prune those growing plants, and tend these flowers,
Which were it toilsome, yet with thee were sweet.
To whom thus Eve reply'd : O thou for whom
And from whom I was form’d, flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my guide
And head, what thou hast said is just and right;
For we to him indeed all praises owe
And daily thanks : I chiefly, who enjoy
So far the happier lot, enjoying thee
Pre-eminent by so much odds, while thou
Like consort to thyself canst no where find, &c.

The remaining part of Eve's speech, in which she gives an account of herself upon her first creation, and the manner in which she was brought to Adam, is I think as beautiful a passage as any in Milton, or perhaps in any other poet whatsoever. These passages are all worked off with so much art, that they are capable of pleasing the most delicate reader, without offending the most severe.

That day I oft remember, when from sleep, &c.

A poet of less judgment and invention than this great author, would have found it very difficult to have filled these tender parts of the poem with sentiments proper for a state of innocence; to have described the warmth of love, and the professions of it, without artifice or hyperbole ; to have made the man speak the most endearing things, without descending from his natural dignity, and the woman receiving them without departing from the modesty of her character; in a word, to adjust the prerogatives of wisdom and beauty, and make each appear to the other in its proper force and loveliness. This mutual subordination of the two sexes is wonderfully kept up in the whole poem, as particu. larly in the speech of Eve I have before-mentioned, and upon the conclusion of it in the following lines.

« السابقةمتابعة »