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To fly or follow what concern'd him most,
So spake our Saviour; but the subtle fiend,
456. Oracles are ceased. As Milton had 468. Sharply thou hast, &c. The smoothbefore adopted the ancient opinion of ness and hypocrisy of this speech of Saoracles being the operations of the fallen tan's are artful in the extreme, and canangels, so here he makes them cease at not be passed over unobserved.-J.WARthe coming of the Saviour. See "Ode on TON. the Nativity,” line 173.
"The oracles are dumb." &o.
And talk at least, though I despair to attain.
To whom our Saviour, with unalter'd brow:
He added not; and Satan, bowing low
487. Athros priest to tread, &c. See 502. The whole conclusion of this book Is. i. 12. There are two kinds of athe- abounds so much in closeness of reasonism, therretical and practical; and that ing, grandeur of sentiment, elevation of minister of religion who studies to preach style, and harmony of numbers, that it "smooth things” and “deceits," rather may well be questioned whether poetry than “right things;" (Is. xxx. 10) to say on such a subject, and especially in the what will please his congregation, rather form of dialogue, ever produced any than faithfully rebuke them for their in- thing superior to it.--DUNSTER. dividual or national sins, shows a prac- 498. Gray dissimulation : head gray tical disbelief of the commands of God. with dissiinulation.
REMARKS ON BOOK II.
It is sometimes useful to warn the reader what he is to expect in each portion of a long poem, as it is offered to him. The second book of the "Paradise Regained" begins soberly,– perbaps in a tone almost prosaic. To begin low, and rise by a gradual climax, is admitted to be one of the great arts of beautiful composition.
The anxiety and alarm felt by the disciples of Jesus, at missing him so soon, while detained in the wilderness, coming suddenly on their joy at the discovery of his advent; and the pathetic yet patient reflections of Mary at the loss of her son, though related with extreme plainness, are full of deep interest, and the most affecting natural touches: they abound in passages which excite human sympathy.
Satan, hitherto defeated in his temptations of our Saviour, now resorts again to his council of peers ; at which occurs that magnificent dialogue between the sensual Belial and him, which is at any rate as rich and poetical as the finest in “Paradise Lost;" and shows a vein of warmth, and imagery, and invention, and language, that is evidence how strongly the poet's genius was yet in its full bloom and verdure. Satan's answer to Belial is the more powerful, as coming from the prince of darkness himself: how then does the lustful fiend stand rebuked!
Now Jesus had fasted forty days, and began to suffer by hunger: Satan seizes the occasion, and resolves to take advantage of it. Our Saviour, weary and exbausted, slept under the cover of trees, and dreamed of food supplied by an angel, who invited him to eat. He waked with the moreing, and found that all was but a dream :
Fasting he went to sleep, and fasting waked. He walked to the top of a hill, to see if there was any human babitation within reach; and there a rich but solitary landscape displayed itself before him, raised magically by Satan and his imps, for the purposes of the delusion which was to follow.
While gazing upon this magnificent prospect, Satan again accosts him, and endeavours to alarm his faith at being left thus destitute :
As his words had end,
A dinner spread, &c.
I can at will, doubt not, as soon as thou,
And count thy specious gifts no gifts, but guiles.
With sound of harpies' wings and talons heard.
The tempter was not yet to be foiled: he now makes an offer of riches, and descants upon their advantages for the purposes of that dominion which he assumes that our Saviour was sent to obtain.
Jesus answers, that wealth without virtue, valour, and wisdom, is in. potent; and that the highest deeds have been performed in the lowest poverty: he then expounds what are the duties and what are the cares of a king; and how much more desirable it is to surrender a sceptre than to gain one.
Were there in this book nothing but the spiritual and intellectual part, the thoughts and the sentiments, I, for one, should not think the less of it; but it is not so: there are duly intermixed that material, those picturesque descriptions, those striking incidents of fact, which the common critics and the generality of readers more especially deem to be poetry.
The whole story (and it is a beautiful story) is in part practical, though operated on by innmaterial beings, whose delusive powers over our earthly conduct and fate are consistent with our belief. The temptations are such as a mere human being could not have resisted; and to have resisted them is a true test of Christ's divinity.
But the arguments by which they were resisted, contain the most profound doctrines of religion and morals, such as for ever apply to human life, extend and purify the understanding, and elevate the heart. We should have been glad to have learned the grand results at which the mighty mind of Milton had arrived, even if they had been expressed in prose; but how much more, when arranged in all the glowing eloquence of poetry! when interwoven in a sublime story, and deriving practical application from their embodiments and their progressive influences !
The reply to the allurements of female beauty, and still more to the impotent splendour of' wealth, unaccompanied by virtue and talent, is an outburst of imaginative strength and sublimity: it is wisdom irradiated by glory. Whoever does not find himself better and happier by reading and reflecting upon those grand and sentimental arguments, has neither head nor heart, but is a stagnant congeries of clayey coldness and inanimate insusceptibility.
We may be forgiven for dispensing with all poetry of which the mere result is innocent pleasure; that is, they may lay it aside to whom it is do pleasure. But this is not the case with Milton's poetry: his is the voice of instruction and wisdom, to which he who refuses to listen, is guilty of a crime. If we are so dull, that we cannot understand him without labour and pain, still we are bound to undergo that labour and pain. They who are not ashamed of their own ignorance and inapprebensiveness, are lost.
For the purpose of fixing attention, I suspect that Milton's latinized style is best calculated. He who has more acquired knowledge than native and quick taste, ought to study him as he studies Virgil and Homer: in him he will find all that is profound and eloquent in the ancient classics, amalgamated, and exalted at the same time by the aid of the sacred writings; all working together in the plastic mind of the most powerful and sublime of buman poets.
Strength, not grace, was Milton's characteristic: his grasp was that of an unsparing giant; he showed the sinews and muscles of his naked form : he put on no soft garınents of a dove-like tenderness; he neither adorned himself with jewels nor gold leaf; all was plain as nature made him.
Thus his descriptions of scenery, of the seasons, of morning and evening, were rich, but not embellished or sophisticated. In this book, the break of the dawn, the gathering of the night shades, the dark covering of the umbrageous forests, the open and sunny glades, are all painted in the sober hues of visible reality.
There is nothing enfeebling in any of Milton's visionariness. His bold and vigorous mind braces us for action; his strains beget a patient lofti. ness, prepared for temptations, difficulties, and dangers.
It is in vain for authors to attempt to effectuate this tone by practising the artifices of composition: it is produced solely by the poet's belief in what he writes; by his being under the impulse of the ideal presence of what he represents. He does not conjure up factitious images, factitious feelings, and factitious language. Where the soul is wanting, the dress or form will be of no avail.
Milton's purpose was to represent the embodiment and refraction of what he believed to be truth. What was visible to himself, but not palpable to common eyes, except by the Muse’s aid, he wanted to make palpable and distinct to others. The immaterial world is covered with a mist, or a veil, to all but the gifted; unless they become a mirror for duller sights.
SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.