« السابقةمتابعة »
REMARKS ON BOOK IV.
DUNSTER observes, that great poems have generally fallen off, and grown languid, at the close; but that this is not the case with the “ Para. dise Regained.” The greater part of this fourth book is still dialogue and argument; first in favour of the military power and splendid trophies of Rome; then of the intellectual eminence and spiritual charms of Athens; but it is accompanied by more of action; as the storm in the wilderness raised by Satan, which is one of the grandest descriptions in all poetry; and the carrying off our Saviour by force to the temple of Jerusalem, and placing him on the top of a pinnacle. This is the last trial, and here Satan gives himself up as completely overcome.
The dialogues are always supported with surprising knowledge and power on both sides, though of course with an overcoming superiority on the part of Christ. The reasonings or the pleadings on the part of Satan are often so plausible, that the reader is kept on the anxious stretch how they are to be answered ; and feels an electric glow at the unexpected force with which the ready answer is supplied. This never allows these argumentative parts to languish, but keeps the mind in full exercise and constant emotion. It is true, that the learning is so immense, that few can, in the perusal, follow the allusions; but the epithets are so pictu. resque or striking, that they rouse the mind with a general and strong, though indefinable activity and pleasure: we feel a master-spirit instructing and overawing us, and we believe: we do not take it as the flourish of rhetoric, but acknowledge its sincerity and predominance of thought. A divine intelligence is enlightening us, on the grandeur of creation, on the mysteries of our being, and on the purposes, vanities, and delusions of this terrestrial world.
Perhaps it may be urged, that this may be useful doctrine, but not poetry. Poetry must represent truths through the medium of imagination. Are not Rome and Athens so delineated by Milton, that we b both lively imagery and accurate comments? We are taught to view them in their proper and undisguised characters.
Speaking of the wise men of Athens, and their different sects, the heathen philosophers, Milton says,
who therefore seeks in these
As children gathering pebbles on the shore. The praise of such a passage as this would be like an attempt to gild the sunbeam.
When Satan was thus silenced, in his attempt to seduce our Saviour bv the splendours of Athenian literature, there follows, at verse 368, an out. burst of tremendous force, beginning,
Since neither wealth nor honour, arms nor arts, and continuing for twenty-five lines.
Satan, in a rage at his defeat, thus resorts to threats :
So saying, he took, (for still he knew his power
Feigning to disappear. Darkness now rose, &c. Then follows the frightful storm, when “either tropic began thunder, and both ends of heaven;" and the “winds rush'd abroad from the four hinges of the world.” This is followed by a bright morning, which, Joseph Warton says, “exhibits some of the finest lines which Milton has written in all his poems." Yet perhaps the storm is still finer: the contrast between the two is enchanting and most glorious. This intermixture of the intellectual, the speculative, and the descriptive, makes the perfect charm, that renders poetry divine.
Man is nothing but as his mind operates upon matter; and matter is nothing but as it is associated in its effects upon mind. Mere description is but imperfect poetry : but the spell is not confined to what is said and thought; much depends upon the character whence word assigned by Milton to Satan belongs to his proper character: thus his oudet of ungovernable anger at being confuted, and his consequent threats and evil prophecies, succeed to his winning and profuse flatteries. The sudden turn is conceived and expressed with that power of imagination and sagacity which fills us with admiration. Satan seems to say in a taunt ;-_“You refuse all my splendid offers; but I dare to hope that you can so little finally resist them, that I will now impose upon yo
ow impose upon you the condition of falling down to worship me, or I will leave you to your fate.” Thus the arch-fiend in his passion defeated himself at once: he now has recourse to bodily violence; and there also is finally foiled, and is obliged to leave the field, and give up the attempt, conquered and abased.
Thus the poet rises to the last: then break forth the hymns and songs of angels and archangels, to celebrate the victory of our Saviour; and thus the poem concludes. I do not think that it would have been advisable to carry this subject farther: it is a perfect whole in itself. Our Saviour's death and resurrection might have formed the subject of another poem.
It always seems to me injudicious to attempt to weigh the comparative excellence of two compositions of a different nature. Certainly, the “ Paradise Regained" does not allow scope for so much inventive imagination as the “ Paradise Lost." Adam and Eve were human beings, and of them the holiest poet may create a thousand visions; but of Christ his contemplations are more controlled by awe.
As one of the most marked qualities of this poem is its extraordinary plainness of style, which many have deemed to be too prosaic: it is the more necessary to set this subject in its true light. This plainness is the result of the loftiness of the theme, and of the thoughts and images of which it consists: these support themselves, and require not to be elevated by language: the simplest words do best, provided they are not vulgar. Perhaps no one else would have undertaken so grand a topic; and if any one had, he would have failed: he would have failed by false effort, and extravagant bigness of phrase.
Still it is probable, that one of the causes why this poem has not been as popular as it ought, is this very plainness. The world cannot be brought to think that there is poetry where there is not gaudy language: and I am afraid that almost all secondary poets think the same not misled merely by a desire to conform to the bad models which they observe to be the common taste.
Whoever is endowed with a particular power, will follow that power; he will not be restrained by attempting what he cannot do, and neglectIng what he can : but this is only true of power which is quite original and decided; it is not true of any faculties which are feeble or imitative: even in the first case, the proposition is not without exceptions; there may be a meek and timid heart, with a great genius.
Bad critics, the advocates and defenders of that bad judgment in lite. rature which the multitude are so apt to indulge, do sometimes nip genius in the bud, and warm nauseous and hurtful fruit into birth and matu. rity: it is of essential service therefore to give to excellence its due praise, and to endeavour to impress the people with those extraordinary merits to which they have been hitherto blind.
The mass of mankind cannot easily be brought to believe that one man has been born with gifts so pre-eminent over others: they suspect therefore the worth of that superiority which is claimed for him. Dryden and Pope did not follow a different track from Milton in obedience to the public taste, but in obedience to the nature of their own inborn faculties: neither in fable, thought, nor style, could they have ever followed Milton.
Of almost all poets but Milton, it may be said, as he himself says of the Athenians,
Remove their swelling epithets, thick laid
Thin sown with aught of profit or delight, will be found bare and fruitless; at least, it will seem so, when we compare it with the celestial feast of the mighty author of “Paradise Lost" and “Paradise Regained." With him we rise to the stern simplicity of inspired wisdom: he leaves us in no state of factitious heat, to fall again, like Icarus, after baving mounted on false wings : we find breathed into us a calm fortitude; we expect sorrows, and wrongs, and dangers, and are prepared for them; we covet no inebriate visions, and thus expose ourselves to no blights on a diseased susceptibility. The elevation is sublime; yet by its sublimity gives us mastery to grapple with earth.
SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.
THE ARGUME N T. GATAN, persisting in the temptation of our Lord, shows him Inperial
in its greatest pomp and splendour, as a power which he probably would prefer before that of the Parthians; and tells him that be might with the greatest ease expel Tiberius, restore the Romans to their liberty, and make himself master not only of the Roman empire, but, by so doing, of the whole world, and inclusively of the throne of David. Our Lord, in reply, expresses his contempt of grandeur and worldly power; notices the luxury, vanity, and profligacy of the Romans, declaring how little they merited to be restored to that liberty which they had lost by their misconduct; and brietly refers to the greatness of his own future kingdom. Satan, now desperate, to enhance the value of his proffered gifts, professes that the only terms, on which he will bestow them, are our Saviour's falling down and worshipping him. Our Lord expresses a firm but temperate indignation at such a proposition, and rebukes the tempter by the title of " Satan for ever damn'd." Satan, abashed, attempts to justify himself: he then assumes a new ground of temptation; and, proposing to Jesus the intellectual gratifications of wisdom and knowledge, points out to him the celebrated seat of ancient learning, Athens, its schools, and other various resorts of learned teachers and their disciples; accompanying the view with a highly finished panegyric on the Grecian musicians, poets, orators, and philosophers of the different sects. Jesus replies, by showing the vanity and insufficiency of the boasted heathen philosophy; and prefers to the music, poetry, eloquence, and didactic policy of the Greeks, those of the inspired Hebrew writers. Satan, irritated at the failure of all his attempts, upbraids the indiscretion of our Saviour in rejecting his offers; and, having, in ridicule of his expected kingdom, foretold tho sufferings that our Lord was to undergo, carries him back into the wilderness, and leaves him there. Night comes on : Satan raises a tremendous storm, and attempts further to alarm Jesus with frightful dreams, and terrific threatening spectres : which however have no effect upon him. A calm, bright, beautiful morning succeeds to the horrors of the night. Satan again presents himself to our blessed Lord; and, from noticing the storm of the preceding night as pointed chiefly at him, takes occasion once more to insult him with an account of the sufferings which he was certainly to undergo. This only draws from our Lord a brief rebuke. Satan, now at the highth of his desperation, con
hat he had frequently watched Jesus from his birth, purposely to discover if he was the true Messiah; and, collecting from wbat passed at the river Jordan that he most probably was so, he had from that time more assiduously followed him, in hopes of gaining some advantage over him, which would most effectually prove that he was not really that Divine Person destined to be his “fatal enemy." In this be acknowledges that he has hitherto completely failed; but still determines to make one more trial of him. Accordingly, he conveys him to the temple at Jerusalem ; and, placing him on a pointed eminence, requires him to prove his divinity either by standing there, or casting himself down with safety. Our Lord reproves the tempter, and at the same time manifests his own divinity by standing on this dangerous point. Satan, amazed and terrified, instantly falls; and repairs to his infernal compeers, to relate the bad success of his enterprise. Angels, in the mean time, convey our blessed Lord to a beautiful valley; and, while they minister to him a repast of celestial food, celebrate his victory in a triumphant hymn.
PERPLEX'd and troubled at his bad success The tempter stood, nor had what to reply, Discover'd in his fraud, thrown from his hope So oft, and the persuasive rhetorick That sleek'd his tongue, and won so much on Eve, So little here, nay, lost: but Eve was Eve; This far his over-match, who, self-deceived And rash, beforehand had no better weigh'd The strength he was to cope with, or his own: But as a man, who had been matchless held In cunning, over-reach'd where least he thought, To salve his credit, and for very spite, Still will be tempting him who foils him still, And never cease, though to his shame the more; Or as a swarm of flies in vintage time, About the wine-press where sweet must is pour'd, Beat off, returns as oft with humming sound; Or surging waves against a solid rock, Though all to shivers dash'd, the assault renew, (Vain battery!) and in froth or bubbles end; So Satan, whom repulse upon repulse Met ever, and to shameful silence brought, Yet gives not o'er, though desperate of success, And his vain importunity pursues. He brought our Saviour to the western side Of that high mountain, whence he might behold Another plain, long, but in breadth not wide, Wash'd by the southern sea; and, on the north, To equal length back'd with a ridge of hills, That screen'd the fruits of the earth, and seats of men, 80 From cold Septentrion blasts; thence in the midst Divided by a river, of whose banks On each side an imperial city stood, With towers and temples proudly elevate On seven small hills, with palaces adorn'd, Porches, and theatres, baths, aqueducts, Statues, and trophies, and triumphal arcs, Gardens, and groves, presented to his eyes, Above the highth of mountains interposed : (By what strange parallax, or optick'skill Of vision, multiplied through air, or glass
10. But as a man. Our author here fol- | periods of the Republic and under the Hws the example of Horner, and presents emperors, were such as we can scarcely us with a string of similes together. The conceive. Clodius, the antagonist of Milo, first has too much sameness with the lived in a house that cost about half & Aubject that it would illustrate, and gives million of dollars, our money. Cicero in us no new ideas. The second is low, but one that cost $200,000. Cæsar, at his first is at the same time very natural. The triumph, feasted the people at 22,000 tathird is free from the defects of the other bles, and made presents of money, about two, and rises up to Milton's usual din ten dollars each, to 320,000; and 3000 nity and majesty.
golden crowns were borne before his tri27. Another plain: Italy.
umphal car. Pompey exhibited, at the 35. Pulaces, &c. The extravagance and public games, 500 lions and 18 eleluxury of the Romans, in the latter | phants, &c.