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I question not but Bossu, and the two Daciers, who are for vindicating every thing that is censured in Homer, by something parallel in holy writ, would have been very well pleased had they thought of confronting Vulcan's tripodes with Ezekiel's wheels.
Raphael's descent to the earth, with the figure of his person, is represented in very lively colours. Several of the French, Italian, and English poets, have given a loose to their imaginations in the description of angels : but I do not remember to have met with any so finely drawn, and so conformable to the notions which are given of them in scripture, as this in Milton. After having set him forth in all his heavenly plumage, and represented him as alighting upon the earth, the poet concludes his description with a circumstance which is altogether new, and imagined with the greatest strength of fancy.
Like Maia's son he stood,
Raphael's reception by the guardian angels, his passing through the wilderness of sweets, his distant appearance to Adam, have all the graces that poetry is capable of bestowing. The author afterwards gives us a particular description of Eve in her domestic employments,
So saying, with dispatchful looks in haste
Though in this, and other parts of the same book, the subject is only the housewifery of our first parent, it is set off with so many pleasing images and strong expressions, as make it none of the least agreeable parts in this divine work.
The natural majesty of Adam, and at the same time his submissive behaviour to the superior being who had vouchsafed to be his guest; the solemn hail which the angel bestows upon the mother of mankind, with the figure of Eve ministering at the table, are circumstances which deserve to be admired.
Raphael's behaviour is every way suitable to the dignity of his nature, and to that character of a sociable spirit, with which the author has so judiciously introduced him. He had received instructions to converse with Adam, as one friend converses with another, and to warn bim of the enemy, who was contriving his destruction : accordingly he is represented as sitting down at a table with Adam, and eating of the fruits of Paradise. The occasion naturally leads him to his discourse on the food of angels. After having thus entered into conversation with man upon more indifferent subjects, he warns him of his obedience, and makes a natural transition to the history of that fallen angel, who was employed in the circumvention of our first parents.
Had I followed Monsieur Bossu's method in my first paper on Milton, I should have dated the action of Paradise Lost from the beginning of Raphael's speech in this book, as he supposes the action of the Æneid to begin in the second book of that poem. I could alledge many reasons for my drawing the action of the Æneid rather from its immediate beginning in the first book, than from its remote beginning in the second; and shew why I have considered the sacking of Troy as an episode, according to the common acceptation of that word. But as this would be a dry unentertaining piece of criticism, and perhaps unnecessary to those who have read my first paper, I shall not enlarge upon it. Which ever of the notions be true, the unity of Milton's action is preserved according to either of them; whether we consider the fall of man in its immediate beginning, as proceeding from the resolutions taken in the infernal council, or in its more remote beginning, as proceeding from the first revolt of the angels in heaven. The occasion which Milton assigns for this revolt, as it is found
ed on hints in holy writ, and on the opinion of some great writers, so it was the most proper that the poet could have made use of.
The revolt in heaven is described with great force of imagination, and a fine variety of circumstances. The learned reader cannot but be pleased with the poet's imitation of Homer in the last of the following lines :
At length into the limits of the north
s Homer mentions persons and things, which he tell us, in the language of the gods, are called by different names from those they go by in the language of men. Milton has imitated him with his usual judgment in this particular place, wherein he has likewise the authority of scripture to justify him. The part of Abdiel, who was the only spirit that in this infinite host of angels preserved his allegiance to his Maker, exhibits to us a noble moral of religious singularity. The zeal of the seraph breaks forth in a becoming warmth of sentiments and expressions, as the character which is given us of him denotes that generous scorn and intrepidity which attends heroic virtue. The author doubtless designed it as a pattern to those who live among mankind in their present state of degeneracy and corruption.
So spake the Seraph Abdiel, faithful found;
No. 333. SATURDAY, MARCH 22.
Vocat in certamina divos.
E are now entering upon the sixth book of Paradise Lost, in which the poet describes the battle of angels; having raised his reader's expectation, and prepared him for it by several passages in the preceding books, I omitted quoting these passages in my observations on the former books, having purposely reserved them for the opening of this, the subject of which gave occasion to them. The author's imagination was so inflamed with this great scene of action, that wherever he speaks of it, he rises, if possible, above himself. Thus where he mentions Satan in the beginning of his poem :
Him the Almighty Power
We have likewise several noble hints of it in the infernal conference.
prince, O chief of many throned powers,
There are several other very sublime images on the same subject in the first book, as also in the second.
What when we fled amain, pursu'd, and struck
A refuge from those wounds In short, the poet never mentions any thing of this battle, but in such images of greatness and terror as are suitable to the subject. Among several others, I cannot forbear quoting that passage, where the power who is described as presiding over the chaos, speaks in the third book.
Thus Satan ; and him thus the anarch old,
It required great pregnancy of invention, and strength of imagination, to fill this battle with such circumstances as should raise and astonish the mind of the reader; and at the same time an exactness of judgment, to avoid every thing that might appear light or trivial. Those who look into Homer, are surprised to find his battles still rising one above another, and improving in horror, to the conclusion of the Iliad. Milton's fight of angels is wrought up with the same beauty. It is ushered in with such signs of wrath, as are suitable to Omnipotence incensed. The first engagement is carried on under a cope of fire, occasioned by the flights of innumerable burning darts and arrows which are discharged from either host. The second onset is still more terrible, as it is filled with those artificial thunders which seem to make the victory doubtful, and produce a kind of consternation even in the good angels. This is followed by