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way a signal given by another,—to finish in an unexpected and independent style the torso of another artist,—to deliver, by a masterly stroke, the Minerva struggling in the brain of another god,—to light a torch fairly and openly at the sun, —to change a mass of dead fuel into quick flame,—to snatch in the keen and desperate meUe an axe from the next yeoman, and deal blows therewith,—to draw from other wells with a golden pitcher which shall hallow and beautify whatever it brings up;—if this be a thief, then let us call Milton one, nay, the prince—the god—the Mercury of thieves. And nowhere do we find this divine theft more conspicuous than in the 7th book, where he fills up the colossal skeleton of the Scripture history of the creation as only a man of kindred genius and power to Moses could have done.
Of the Beautiful, we find little in the Paradise Lost till we reach the 4th book. But there the author of Lycidas and Comus exerts all his powers to lavish a tropical wealth of loveliness on our First Parents and their happy dwelling. Paradise is no nook of beauty: it is a large place, with mountains, and forests, and rivers, as well as flowers, and streams, and vales in it. But the bower in the midst is its centre, and sheds a softness and rosy lustre over the whole. Our First Parents, too, are more distinguished by their symmetry and beauty, than by their majesty and power. Beautiful beyond desire; simple beyond disguise; graceful without consciousness; naked without shame; innocent, but not insipid; dignified, but not proud;—they are, at the same time, frail as tenderest plants, and must, like them, be constantly guarded; you from the first tremble for them, and objects or beings for whom you tremble cannot be sublime. Nor do we think that either Uriel or Raphael, as persons, overpass the limit of the Beautiful—although nothing can be grander than the position of the former, in the Sun—or more magnificent than the discourse of the other.
The Pathos of the Poem is chiefly found in some of Satan's softer soliloquies and in the lamentations of the hapless pair after their fall. It is calmer and less subtle than the pathos of Shakspere, and we are not sure if any one scene equals that of Hector and Andromache in Homer; but it is extremely eloquent and mellifluous. The reconciliation between Adam and Eve is generally thought a copy of that between Milton and his first wife.
The Didactic exists as an under-current through the greater part of the poem, but is found especially in the 3d and in the 8th books. Milton, sooth to say, is not a very good didactic poet. He is better at creating gigantic or graceful figures, than at expounding abstract truths. Had he given us a system of Theology in verse—an Essay on God—it had been altogether illegible.
The Picturesque is very abundant. How strikingly it is displayed in the description of Beelzebub "rising like a pillar of state;" in that of Raphael descending in his "downy gold" and " feathered mail;" in that of the Serpent with his
"Circular base of rising folds, that tower'd, Fold above fold, a surging maze;"
in that of the lion at his creation, "pawing to free his hinder parts;" and in the gallery of pictures shewn to Adam by Michael from the highest hill in Paradise! Milton has been charged with being rather a musical than a picturesque Poet—but the passages we have alluded to, and many more, confute the charge. Indeed, his blindness was certain to increase the outstanding distinctness and clearness of his imagery, as well as his sense of harmonious sound.
The Grotesque he has too frequently interwoven with the Grand. Under this head we rank the Limbo of vanity—the speeches of the fallen angels on the second day of the war in Heaven—perhaps also the transformation of Satan and his crew into Serpents—and certainly the " Sin and Death." Yet, although too Dantesque or even Ariosto-like in its taste, the Allegory of Sin and Death abounds in most powerful poetry. It is a very rape of genius, but the progeny is glorious. For eloquence, interest, terrific suspense, there is nothing in the whole poem finer than the interview between Satan and his ghastly Son. This Allegory, however, must bear the blame of by far the coarsest and worst lines in the poem. They are these, put in the mouth of God, as he sees Sin and Death advancing upon the Earth:—
"I call'd and drew them thither,
We think that to the same category of grotesqueness must belong the scene between Satan and the Anarchs of Chaos, although here, too, the apparent absurdity is redeemed by the splendour of the poetry. Who but Milton could have written these words?—
"Chaos and his dark pavilion spread
We name, finally, the Prosaic, as constituting no small portion of his poem. To this we have alluded a little before. It is found not at all in the first and second books; we meet with it first in the third; in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh, it is almost entirely awanting; while the eighth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth abound with it—indeed it becomes much more frequent and more leaden after the Fall, when the purpose of the Poet seems nearly accomplished, and the flush of his original fervour has faded away. These are the leading constituents of his great poem. But there are, besides, certain passages, having a personal reference, and a very profound interest;—for example, his address to Light, at the opening of the third book, is one of the divinest instincts in Poetry. How appropriate the position it occupies! Milton had filled his imagination with Hell and Chaos—he had almost identified himself with the dread Pilgrim who had made his way out of Hell's midnight into the regions of Day—and hence at the sight of the first sunbeam he cannot but utter a cry of welcome as fervid and loud as if He had newly escaped from the outer darkness. So far from being, as it has been called, a splendid excrescence, the passage springs up naturally in its place, and testifies to the thorough reality of the Poet's inspiration. Of its sublimity and yearning pathos, it is superfluous to speak.
Paradise Regained, could it have possibly been introduced into the Paradise Lost as an Episodical Vision, would have been thought not inferior in power to any other part of the poem, except the first two books; and in exquisite simplicity and gentle dignity, equal to anything in it all. But the title suggested a large plan, which the poem did not realise. Its name was ambitious, itself was short and unpretending, and it seemed to come to an abrupt and unartistic close. It avoided the grand subjects of Christ's Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Advent, any or all of which the title was broad enough to have included. It should have been called Christ's Temptation, a Poem. It was not, in short, a proper pendant to the Paradise Lost. The one was the huge Orion or Great Bear, covering a half of the heavens; the other, the small tear-twinkling Pleiades. Hence it was a disappointment at first, and has never since received its due meed of praise. And yet, if comparatively a fragment, what a true, shapely, beautiful, fragment it is! Its power so quiet, its elegance so unconscious, its costume of language so Grecian, its general tone so scripturally simple, while its occasional speeches and descriptions are so gorgeous, and so faultless! The views from the Mountain, the storm in the Wilderness, the dreams of Christ when he was an hungered, so exquisitely true to his waking character—
"Him thought, he by the brook of Cherith stood,
are in the Poet's very highest style, and one or two of them, indeed, have a gloss of perfection about them, as well as an ease and freedom of touch rarely to be found in his large poem. In the Paradise Lost, he is a giant tossing mountains to heaven with far seen struggle, and in evident trial of strength. In the Paradise Regained, he is a giant gently putting his foot on a rock, and leaving a mark inimitable, indelible, visible to all after time.
His Samson Agonistes, too, accomplishes great effects by a very small apparent expenditure of means. Even as the Hero has his limbs fettered, has Milton cramped himself with the Aristotelian unities. Samson, however, says—
"My heels are fettered, but my fist is free."
And so Milton's genius asserts itself in spite of the unities. If shaven of his giant locks, they have yet, like the Danite's, begun to grow. There is no luxuriance in this poem; it is throughout severe, sculptural, and stands up before you like a statue, bloodless and blind. A deep gloom hangs over its story, and the peevishness of its Hero is only compensated by his power. Samson is Milton in a hard Hebrew form. The fair vesture of youth and hope is for ever gone from his limbs, the hair of his head is shorn, he is clad in "filthy garments," forsaken, blind, carelessly diffused; but his courage, pride, patriotism, and devotion, are still extant, and ready to reassert themselves once more to avenge the loss of his two eyes. His hand has few flowers in it, it strains rather at the pillars, and uses them as the instruments of its terrible concentrated force. His spirit is that of Abimelech, when he cried to his armour-bearer, "Say not a woman slew me." Samson must die, with a city of enemies dragged down to death above him, and give to suicide for once a patriotic dignity and a sacramental consecration. The scenes with Delilah and Harapah are amazingly spirited and dramatic, although coarser in style than Milton's wont. The choruses rise sometimes to Grecian grandeur of lyric thought, and sink more frequently into Grecian intricacy of measure. Altogether, you believe with trembling in the power of this poem. It is no Hymettus humming with bees, and blushing with flowers; it is a Sinai, bared in the wrath of Heaven, hanging over your head, and threatening to crush wonder out of you rather than to awaken warm and willing admiration.