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that in reading Paradise Lost we read a book of universal knowledge.
But original deficience cannot be supplied, The want of human interest is always felt. Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harrassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for companions.
Another inconvenience of Milton's design is, that it requires the description of what cannot be described, the agency of spirits. He saw that immateriality supplied no images, and that he could not show angels acting but by instruments of action ; he therefore invested them with form and matter. This, being necessary, was therefore defensible; and he should have secured the consistency of his system, by keeping immateriality out of fight, and enticing his reader to drop it from his thoughts. But he has unhappily perplexed his poetry with his philosophy. His infernal
and celestial powers are sometimes pure fpirit, and sometimes animated body. When Satan walks with his lance upon the burning marle, he has a body; when, in his paffage between hell and the new world, he is in danger of sinking in the vacuity, and is supported by a gult of rising vapours, he has a body; when , he animates the toad, he seems to be mere spirit, that can penetrate matter at pleasure ; when he starts up in his own shape, he has at least a determined form; and when he iş brought before Gabriel, he has a spear and a field, which he had the power of hiding in the toad, though the arms of the contending angels are evidently material.
The vulgar inhabitants of Pandæmonium, being incorporeal Spirits, are at large, though without number, in a limited space; yet in the battle, when they were oveșwhelmed by mountains, their armour hurt them, crushed in upon their fubftance, now grown grofs by finning. This likewise happened to the uncorrupted angels, who were overthrown the fooner for their arms, for unarmed they might easily as Spirits have evaded by contraction or remove. Even as spirits they are hardly spi
ritual ; for contraction and remove are images of matter ; but if they could have escaped without their armour, they might have escaped from it, and left only the empty cover to be battered. Uriel, when he rides on a sun-beam, is material; Satan is material when he is afraid of the prowess of Adam,
The confusion of spirit and matter which pervades the whole narration of the war of heaven fills it with incongruity; and the book, in which it is related, is, I believe, the favourite of children, and gradually neglected as knowledge is increased.
After the operation of immaterial agents, which cannot be explained, may be consi, dered that of allegorical persons, which have no real existence. To exalt causes into agents, to invest abstract ideas with form, and animate them with activity, has always been the right of poetry. But such airy beings are, for the most part, suffered only to do their natural office, and retire. Thus Fame tells a tale, and Vidory hovers over a general, or perches on a standard ; bụt Fame and Victory can do no more. To give them any
real employment, or ascribe to them any material agency, is to make them allegorical no longer, but to shock the mind by ascribing effects to non-entity. In the Prometheus of Æschylus, we see Violence and Strength, and in the Alcestis of Euripides, we see Death, brought upon the stage, all as active persons of the drama; but no precedents can justify absurdity:
Milton's allegory of Sin and Death is undoubtedly faulty. Sin is indeed the mother of Death, and may be allowed to be the portress of hell; but when they stop the journey of Satan, a journey described as real, and when Death offers him battle, the allegory is broken. That Sin and Death should have shewn the way to hell, might have been allowed; but they cannot facilitate the passage by building a bridge, because the difficulty of Satan's passage is described as real and sensible, and the bridge ought to be only figurative. The hell afligned to the rebellious spirits is described as not less local than the residence of man.
It is placed in some distant part of space, separated from the regions of harmony and order by a chaotick waste and an unoc
cupied vacuity ; but Sin and Death worked up a mole of aggravated soil, cemented with asphaltus ; a work too bulky for ideal architects,
This unskilful allegory appears to me one of the greatest faults of the poem; and to this there was no temptation, but the author's opinion of its beauty,
To the conduct of the narrative some obe jections may be made. Satan is with great ex, pectation brought before Gabriel in Paradise, and is suffered to go away unmolested, The creation of man is represented as the consequence of the vacuity left in heaven by the expulsion of the rebels ; yet Satan mentions it as a report rife in heaven before his departure,
To find sentiments for the state of innocence, was very difficult ; and something of anticipation perhaps is now and then disco, vered. Adam's discourse of dreams seems not to be the speculation of a new-created being, I know not whether his answer to the angel's reproof for curiosity does not want something of propriety : it is the speech of a