« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
but they are not flats, in Dryden's sense of the word. Dryden was a man of vigorous talent, but he was an artist in poetry : if active and powerful talent is genius, then he had genius; otherwise not : a clear perception and vigorous expression is not genius. Dryden had not a creative mind; Milton was all creation : we want new ideas, not old ones better dressed. Dryden thought that what was not worked up into a pointed iambic couplet was flat : he valued not the ore; he deemed that the whole merit lay in the use of the tool, and the skill of its application. Milton said, “I am content to draw the pure golden ore from the mine, and I will not weaken it by over-polish.”
The merit of Milton was, that he used his gigantic imagination to bring into play his immense knowledge. Heaven, Hell, Chaos, and the Earth, are stupendous subjects of contemplation : three of them we can conceive only by the strength of imagination ; the fourth is partly exposed to our senses, but can be only dimly and partially viewed except through the same power. Who then shall dare to say, that the genius most fitted to delineate and illustrate these shadowy and evanescent wonders, and who has executed this work in a manner exceeding all human hope, has not performed the most instructive, as well as the most delightful of tasks? and who shall dare to deny that such a production ought to be made the universal study of the nation which brought it forth ?
Before such a performance all technical beauties sink to nothing. The question is, are the ideas mighty, and just, and authorised ; and are they adequately expressed ? If this is admitted, then ought not every one to read this poem next to the Bible ? So thought Bishop Newton. But Johnson has the effrontery to assert, that though it may be read as a duty, it can give no pleasure : for this, Newton seems to have pronounced by anticipation the stigma due to him. Is any intellectual delight equal to that which a high and sensitive mind derives from the perusal of innumerable passages in every book of this inimitable work of poetical fiction ?—The very story never relaxes : it is thick-wove with incident, as well as sentiment, and argumentative grandeur : and how it closes, when the archangel waves the 'Aaming brand over the eastern gate of Paradise; and, on looking back, Adam and Eve saw the dreadful faces' and 'fiery arms' that “throng'd' round it !-In what other poem is any passage so heart-rending and so terrible as this?
THE 'Paradise Regained' bears the same character, compared with the 'Paradise Lost,' as the New Testament bears, compared with the Old: it is more subdued, more didactic, more simple and ornamented, more practical, and less imaginative. The holy poet seems to have been awed by his subject, and to have given less of his own, either of thought, matter, or language: he appears rather the oracle or channel through which the voice of the Divinity speaks. There is less of human learning, but more than human wisdom;-less of that visionariness of dimly-embodied half-spiritual forms; and none of that gorgeous display of sublime creation, which the pictures everywhere abounding in Paradise Lost'exbibit. All in the * Paradise Regained' wears a sober, serene majesty, like the mellow light of the moon in a calm autumnal evening.
It is true that the essence of poetry is not merely imagination or invention, but invention of a particular quality; and this belongs to the ‘Paradise Lost' more than to the ‘Paradise Regained :' as, for instance, to Satan's escape from hell, and his first sight of the newly-created globe of earth, and Adam and Eve placed in the enjoyment of it, than to the description of Christ's entry into the wilderness, and Satan in disguise first accosting him: but though the latter description is less grandly imaginative, it is still rich with invention, and invention which is truly poetical : still it is a representation of actual existences, though not a copy of them.
Milton is here pre-eminent in designing character and sentiment: his dialogue is supported with miraculous power and force; and its strength and sublimity shine out the more from the extreme plainness of the language: the task was perilous to find adequate arguments for the contest between the Divine Humanity and a devil. The reader who is not deeply moved, and deeply instructed by it, must be one of brutish and hopeless stupidity. I have said before, that I deemed it an unquestionable duty of every one who understands the English language to study Milton next to the Holy Writings: this remark more especially applies to the description of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. The ‘Paradise Lost' is moral and didactic, but less so than the ‘Paradise Regained.'
Satan tempts Christ first by the offer of sensual pleasures; then of riches; then of power; then of glory; and, last, of intellectual pleasures : but Warburton objects to these temptations conquered, as the means of Paradise Regained;' and asserts, that the poet ought to have dwelt on Christ's death and resurrection as the price paid for this redemption. He says :
“Whether Milton supposed the redemption of mankind, as he here represents it, was procured by Christ's triumph over the devil in the wilderness ; or whether he thought that the scene of the desert, opposed to that of Paradise ; and the action of a temptation withstood, to a temptation fallen under, made Paradise Regained' a more regular sequel to ‘Paradise Lost;' or, if neither this nor that, whether it was his being tired out with the labour of composing 'Paradise Lost,' which made him averse to another work of length and then he would never be at a loss for fanciful reasons to determine him in the choice of his plan), is very uncertain. All that we can be sure of is, that the plan is a very unhappy one, and defective even in that narrow view of a sequel ; for it affords the poet no opportunity of driving the devil back again to hell from his new conquests in the air. In the mean time, nothing was easier than to have invented a good one, which should end with the resurrection; and to comprise these four books, somewhat contracted, in an episode; for which only the subject of them is fit.”
Warburton was a man of great subtlety, force, and originality; but totally deficient in poetical taste. To have contracted the matter of these four books, would indeed have been a loss and a destruction. If the poem had been extended to the length of the ‘Paradise Lost,' it might indeed have contained that of which Warburton charges the omission as a great defect: but as the poem now stands, it is a perfect whole in itself; and it is not improbable, that the poet found age and sickness too fast pressing upon him to make it longer.
It seems to me, that, in my preliminary remarks upon one of Milton's chief poems, I cannot do better than impress on the reader the peculiarity of the bard's genius, and endeavour to imbue him with a Miltonic taste; which is so distinct from that of all other poetry. That this is no fancy of my own, I can establish on the authority of Milton himself, and of the comments of two distinguished annotators.
I refer to the passage beginning v. 285 of b. iv. of 'Paradise Regained, which contains Christ's answer to Satan's panegyric of human learning, beginning v, 236, describing Athens as the seat of all intellectual glory. Our Saviour answers, v. 309:
Alas! what can they teach, and not mislead,
The poet goes on at v. 343:
Remove their swelling epithets, thick laid
Thyer observes here, that “this answer of our Saviour is as much to be admired for solid reasoning, and the many sublime truths contained in it, as the preceding speech of Satan is for that fine vein of poetry which runs through it: and one may observe in general, that Milton has quite, throughout this work, thrown the ornaments of poetry on the side of error: whether it was that he thought great truths best expressed in a grave, unaffected style; or intended to suggest this fine moral to the reader;that simple naked truth will always be an over-match for falsehood, though recommended by the gayest rhetoric, and adorned with the most bewitching colours.”
As to the inferiority of Grecian literature to the songs of Sion, Newton observes, that Milton was of this opinion, not only in the decline of life, but likewise in his earlier days, as appears from the Preface to his second book of · The Reason of Church Government:'_“Or if occasion shall lead to imitate those magnific Odes and Hymns wherein Pindarus and Callimachus are in most things worthy, some others in their frame judicious, in their matter most and end faulty. But those frequent songs throughout the law and prophets beyond all these, not in their divine argument alone, but in the very critical art of composition, may be easily made appear over all the kinds of lyric poesy to be incomparable.”
On this note Warton makes the following comment :-“But Milton now appears to have imbibed so strong a tincture of fanaticism, as to decry all human compositions and profane subjects. In the context he speaks with absolute contempt, even in a critical view; and a general disapprobation of the Greek odes and hymns. (Read ver. 343 to ver. 348.) Undoubtedly these were Milton's own sentiments, though delivered in an assumed character. Even in his own person he had long before given the substance of the context, as cited by Dr. Newton : it must, however, be observed that Christ is here answering Satan's speech, and counteracting his exquisite panegyric on the philosophers, poets, and orators of Athens : yet at the same time, I can conceive that Satan's speech, which here he means to confute, and which no man was more able to write than himself, came from the heart.* The writers of dialogue in feigned characters have great advantage.”
The chief purpose for which I have introduced this criticism here is this,—that the reader may not look for what are thought the common ornaments or spells of poetry: he must look for stern truths; for sublime sentiments; for naked grandeur of imagery; for an absence of all the rhetorical flourishes of literary composition; for the dictates of a lofty and divine virtue ; for a bold and gigantic dispersion of the veil from the delusions of human vanity; for the blaze of an Evil Spirit eclipsed by the splendour of a Good and Divine Spirit, illumined by the lamp of Heaven.
But though a great part of the poem is intellectual and argumentative, another large portion is full of grand or beautiful imagery: the description of the wilderness at the opening abounds with sublime scenery: the picture of the storm at the close of the last book, with the bright morning which succeeded, may vie with any of the noblest passages in the ‘Paradise Lost; perhaps in expression, while it loses nothing of grandeur, it is more polished than any other to be found.
Milton intended this poem as the brief or didactic epic, of which he considered the book of Job to be a model, such as he notices in the second book of his ‘Reason of Church Government. “Milton," says Hayley, “had already executed one extensive divine poem, peculiarly distinguished by richness and sublimity of description : in framing a second he naturally wished to vary its effect; to make it
* Surely there is here something of inconsistency in Warton.
rich in moral sentiment, and sublime in its mode of unfolding the highest wisdom that man can learn : for this purpose it was necessary to keep all the ornamental parts of the poem in due subordination to the perceptive. This delicate and difficult point is accomplished with such felicity; they are blended together with such exquisite harmony and mutual aid ; that, instead of arraigning the plan, we might rather doubt if any possible change could improve it. Assuredly, there is no poem of an epic form, where the sublimest moral is so forcibly and abundantly united to poetical delight: the splendour of the poem does not blaze indeed so intensely as in his larger production; here he resembles the Apollo of Ovid; softening his glory in speaking to his Son; and avoiding to dazzle the fancy, that he may descend into the heart.”
In another place, Hayley, having spoken of the "uncommon energy and felicity of composition in Milton's two poems, however different in design, dimension, and effect,” adds,—" to censure the ‘Paradise Regained,' because it does not more resemble the ‘Paradise Lost,' is hardly less absurd, than it would be to condemn the moon for not being a sun; instead of admiring the two different luminaries, and feeling that both the greater and the less are equally the work of the same divine and inimitable Power."
" Yet this is the poem,” says Dunster, “from which the ardent admirers of Milton's other works turn, as from a cold, uninteresting composition, the produce of his dotage, of a palsied hand no longer able to hold the pencil of poetry.”
The origin of this poem is attributed to the suggestion of Ellwood, the quaker. Milton had lent this friend, in 1665, his 'Paradise Lost,' then completed in manuscript, at Chalfont, St. Giles'; desiring him to peruse it at his leisure, and give his judgment of it;—"which I modestly but freely told him," says Ellwood, in his Life of Himself; "and after some farther discourse of it, I pleasantly said to him, “Thou hast said much of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found?' He made me no answer, but sat some time in a muse; then broke off that discourse, and fell upon another subject.” When Ellwood afterwards waited on him in London, Milton showed him his 'Paradise Regained ;' and, in a pleasant tone, said to him,—“This is owing to you; for you put it into my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont; which before I had not thought of.” Milton, in the opening of this poem, speaking of his Muse, as prompted
To tell of deeds
Above heroick, considers the subject of it, as well as of Paradise Lost,' to be of much greater dignity and difficulty than the argument of Homer and Virgil. But the difference here is, as Richardson observes, that he confines himself “ to nature's bounds;" not as in the ‘Paradise Lost,' where he soars “above the visible diurnal sphere :" and so far 'Paradise Regained' is less poetical because it is less imaginative,
«Paradise Regained' has not met with the approbation it deserves," says Jortin: “it has not the harmony of numbers, the sublimity of thought, and the beauties of diction, which are in ‘Paradise Lost:' it is composed in a lower and less striking style ;-a style suited to the subject. Artful sophistry, false reasoning, set off in the most specious manner, and refuted by the Son of God with strong unaffected eloquence, is the peculiar excellence of this poem. Satan there defends a bad cause with great skill and subtlety, as one thoroughly versed in that craft
qui facere assuerat
Candida de nigris, et de candentibus atra. · His character is well drawn."