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of which hell's flames are not able to dim, but which "blaze and sparkle" above the billows of the lake of fire ; an Atlantean stature, measured by "roods" of hell, as it had been originally by reaches and altitudes of glory; a brow trenched with thunder; a cheek "faded" like a cloud on which the day has ceased to shine; a body naked, save when flames are its clothing, or when shield and sword seem to spring up around; and a mien, lofty, lonely, contemptuous, and defiant, fitting the Titanic spear which guides his uneasy but unshrinking steps over the burning marle, and the words which, like mutterings of thunder, or the fierce groans of earthquake, come forth from his mouth—
"Evil, be thou my Good!"
Such is Satan, as Milton shews him in the opening of his Poem. But such he had not always been, nor was always to remain. He had been once a pure and exalted Being, next to the Father and the Son themselves, till in an evil hour he allowed ambition to mount what seemed only the single step between him and absolute Dominion—as there seems but a single step between the summit of the mountain and the Sun— to enter his soul. Then his real fall commenced; for in the train of ambition came pride, hatred, envy, rebellion, and such carnal passion as spirits can feel, and his expulsion from Heaven was only the inevitable consequence of his sin. In Pandemonium his virtue is lost, his power is limited, his glory is shaded, but his courage, magnanimity, and daring are increased. He is lashed by the flames into fiercer rage, and his unequalled and unenvied possession of the burning Throne of Hell inflates his pride. He determines on a last great effort to regain at least a portion of his original power—if inferior to the task of dethroning God, he shall yet try to blast one of God's favourite works. But from the moment that he determines to seek to involve an unknown and unwitting race of beings in his own ruin, a new shade of darkness falls upon his character, and from the Foe of God and the rebel chief of Angels he sinks into the Tempter of Man. He drops, as it were, the weapons of Heaven he had turned against their giver; he will not even use the black fire and infernal thunder suggested by Moloch, but adopts, instead,
the smaller and subtler engines of craft: for, although he has his armour with him on his journey, it is for defence, not assault; and although his progress through Chaos is sublime, the end which he seeks is mean, and begins to mar that dignity of despair which forsook him not, even when prostrate on the burning lake. He is now the Tempter in embryo, but ere he becomes the Tempter in act, his better nature must re-assert itself in the form of remorse upon the top of Niphates Mount. There the sight of the Sun, once his footstool, sends a flood of agony over his soul, and even one small whisper of hope, through penitence, crosses his mind, but no! it is too late:—the earth, his prey, is in sight, he must fulfil his destiny, and, as he wheels down from Niphates to Eden, you feel that a lower deep has opened on his lowest—that he has become irretrievably the Tempter and the Devil. Evil is now his Good. His damnation has darkened into a deeper hue, a hue indeed so deep that it can only be increased by success, and that success begins speedily to be his. Often afterwards does he seek to rally against his down-bearing doom,—once at the sight of the blissful pair in Eden; again, more proudly and characteristically, when he starts up in his own shape of defiance from the ear of Eve; and again, on the very verge of the Fall of Man. But it is vain; the current sweeps him on to a mean triumph, and to that mighty degradation which follows it, and comes to a climax (so far as the Paradise Lost is concerned) in the "dismal universal hiss" he meets when he returns to the throne of Hell.
In Paradise Regained we see the Pilgrimage still going on. The Fiend has indeed been permitted to evade Hell and to become the "Prince of the Power of the Air." But long ages of successful wickedness have deepened his misery and his meanness. Hence he does not boldly confront Jesus, but keeps nibbling at his heels, and you see him sunk from the Lost Archangel
"Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms" into a crafty and a baffled juggler. Once, indeed, he seeks to re-assert his former character, in that remarkable speech beginning,
"' Tis true I am that Spirit unfortunate,"
which De Quincey somewhere commemorates as one of the most eloquent specimens of rhetoric in literature. But his general conduct serves to prove that Sin, though it gives at first a dreadful glory to a great nature, ultimately degrades it, and becomes not only a bad but a low and ludicrous thing. Indeed, his fall from the pinnacle of the Temple seems designed to caricature his fall from the battlements of Heaven, and to intimate the Poet's view, that he could fall no farther, and that it is not worth while recording or imagining his future career. We quote, from an able writer, some remarks on Satan which are less known than they deserve. "The ruined angel's appearance is a new and tremendous vision under the Sun. Dilated in its dimensions into something more fine and subtle than any known materialism, and coloured with hues and shades softer than blood ever blushed or twilight gave, it is yet condensed and solid with adamantine texture and strength, 'like Teneriffe or Atlas unremoved,' the grand pillar of his own empire. The outlines of the form, with all their vagueness, have nothing shadowy, but are compact and massy with indwelling energy. The face and form attract outwards upon and around them, in vivid display, all the inner feelings and purposes, and the hardened and sublime character of the wicked principality. Courage, hatred, remorse, and despair, have a strange effluence of dark and tumultuous glory from the 'unblest feet' up to the 'fulgent head;' the lustre of holiness has forever gone, and with it the smiles of joy; still he is of regal port and faded splendour wan. His immortal nature and original rank have an expression which glows and glimmers through the darkness of guilt and misery; thrust down from heaven to the lowest deep for wickedness, his greatness has yet a stature which reaches the sky. Milton exhausts all the titles of rank and royalty in exalting his Hero. He is the 'Archangel,' the 'Superiour Fiend,' the 'General,' the 'Mighty Paramount,' 'Hell's King,' the 'Emperor,' the 'Sultan.' His superiority is cheerfully admitted by the very Spirits who had resisted the claims of the Supreme. He is precipitated in common ruin with his followers in the fiery gulph, yet there for nine days he lies apart in misery, as if none might share his pillow, throb in the fellowship of his anguish, or repeat his groans. Beelzebub, the next in rank, is nearest to him, yet the same distance honours the couch of his chief, as ever honoured the glorious throne. Satan is the first to awake, as the light strikes on the mountain ere it reaches the plain.—That face which rises highest in defiance, and lowers most darkly in hatred of God, and quivers in most intense pain under the shadow of deepest despair, MUST be the infernal idol!"
We mentioned simplicity as the third grand characteristic of Milton's genius. His is not, however, in general, a bare, but a rich simplicity; not the nakedness of desolation and poverty, but the sublime nakedness of unfallen Adam. In his earlier poems we find something which resembles exuberance of fancy—a play of imagery—a fine, light, aerial movement, as of a young cherub, with flushed cheek, restless eye, and fluttering pinions. But as his genius advances, this is gradually lost, and he grows and calms into a "Giant Angel," wearing a beauty grave and terrible as his strength—his vast wings, like sunny clouds, slowly passing through the noon; resting, when he rests, like a Pyramid, and moving, when he moves, like a Planet. Some have talked of the baldness of his later style, but these persons might as soon speak of dressing the Sphynx, as of improving on that austere and bold simplicity. His genius, as a whole, including its juvenile and elderly efforts, may be described in Moore's words on Lebanon :—
"Whose head in wintry grandeur towers,
While the young will continue to prefer Comus, the more matured will prefer the statelier and sterner heights of Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes.
Subordinate to those main elements, we find many others, from which we select one or two. His dramatic power has been greatly underrated. It seems to us only inferior to Shakspere's. He has divided the general angel or fiend element into a variety of finely individualised forms, and he has adapted the language to the character of each. He has done this in spite of the somewhat unwieldy nature of his style. Byron has often been accused of masking himself under all his ideal characters—so that Childe Harold is Byron musing; Lara, Byron murdering; Manfred, Byron writhing in remorse; Cain, Byron speculating; and Don Juan, Byron pursuing love adventures. But no such charge can be brought against Milton. He can be identified neither with Michael nor with Satan; neither with Raphael nor Belial; neither with Gabriel nor Moloch. Nor can any of these be confounded with one another. Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Abdiel, Uriel, are all holy, happy, powerful, and brave; but how different !—Michael is the strong Angel; Raphael, the eloquent; Gabriel, the wise; Abdiel, the faithful; and Uriel, the watchful. Satan, Moloch, Belial, Mammon, Beelzebub, are all fallen, eloquent, bold, all in torment, hate, and hell; but distinct as are columns of different architectures. Satan is the Infernal Egotist: the pronoun "I " begins every sentence of peculiar pride, and the favourite exclamation of his anguish is "Ah me!" Moloch is rash and desperate, and his fury vents itself in rugged laconics, in gasps and howls of hatred. Belial is the subtle, far revolving fiend, and his eloquence is fluent and sweet—a stream of sugared poison. Mammon is the downlooking Demon, and his words, like his thoughts, seek the centre. Beelzebub's speeches, like his character, are calm, measured—his talk is just thinking made audible, and has, withal, a cast of grave, terrific irony, which he fears not to apply to his fellow-fiends, when he says—
"Thrones, and imperial powers, offspring of Heaven,
"Advise, if this be worth
We counsel the man who would be an orator, to read, not Demosthenes, Fox, Burke, Grattan, and Webster, but to give his days and his nights to the speeches of the Halls of Pandemonium. Milton, it is believed by many, began the