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His sentiments are every way answerable to his character, and suitable to a created being of the most exalted and most depraved nature. Such is that in which he takes possession of his place of torments—
“ Hail, horrors ! hail
A mind not to be changed by place or time.”
“Here at least
Better to reign in hell than serve in heav'n.” Amidst those impieties which this enraged spirit utters in other places of the poem, the author has taken care to introduce none that is not big with absurdity, and incapable of shocking a religious reader; his words, as the poet himself describes them, bearing only a semblance of worth, not substance. He is likewise with great art described as owning his Adversary to be Almighty. Whatever perverse interpretation he puts on the justice, mercy, and other attributes of the supreme being, he frequently confesses his Omnipotence, that being the perfection he was forced to allow him, and the only consideration which could support his pride under the shame of his defeat.
Nor must I here omit that beautiful circumstance of his bursting out in tears, upon his survey of those innumerable spirits whom he had involved in the same guilt and ruin with himself
“ He now prepared
The catalogue of evil spirits has abundance of learning in it, and a very agreeable turn of poetry, which rises in a great measure from its describing the places where they were worshipped, by those beautiful marks of rivers so frequent among the ancient poets. The characters of Moloch and Belial prepare the reader's mind for their respective speeches and behaviour in the second and sixth book. The account of Thammuz is finely romantic, and suitable to what we read among the ancients of the worship which was paid to that idol
“Thammuz came next behind,
The passage in the catalogue, explaining the manner how spirits transform themselves by contractions or enlargement of their dimensions, is introduced with great judgment, to make way for several surprising accidents in the sequel of the poem. There follows one, at the very end of the first book, which is what the French critics call marvellous, but at the same time probable by reason of the passage last mentioned. As soon as the infernal palace is finished, we are told the multitude and rabble of spirits immediately shrunk themselves into a small compass, that there might be room for such a numberless assembly in this capacious hall. But it is the poet's refinement upon this thought which I most admire, and which is indeed very noble in itself. For he tells us, that notwithstanding the vulgar, among the fallen spirits,
contracted their forms, those of the first rank and dignity still preserved their natural dimensions.
“ Thus incorporeal spirits to smallest forms
Reduced their shapes immense, and were at large,
The character of Mammon, and the description of Pandemonium, are full of beauties.
There are several other strokes in the first book wonderf lly poetical, and instances of that sublime genius so peculiar to the author. Such is the description of Azazel's stature, and of the infernal standard, which he unfurls ; as also of that ghastly light, by which the fiends appear to one another in their place of torments
“The seat of desolation, void of light,
The shout of the whole host of fallen angels when drawn up in battle array
" The universal host up sent
The review, which the leader makes of his infernal army
“He thro' the armed files
The flash of light which appeared upon the drawing of their swords
He spake: and to confirm his words out flew
The sudden production of the Pandæmonium
6 Anon out of the earth a fabric huge
The artificial illuminations made in it
“ From the arched roof
As from a sky.” There are also several noble similes and allusions in the first book of Paradise Lost. And here I must observe, that when Milton alludes either to things or persons, he never quits his simile till it rises to some very great idea, which is often foreign to the occasion that gave birth to it. The resemblance does not, perhaps, last above a line or two, but the poet runs on with the hint till he has raised out of it some glorious image or sentiment, proper to inflame the mind of the reader, and to give it that sublime kind of entertainment, which is suitable to the nature of an heroic poem.
If the reader considers the comparisons in the first book of Milton, of the sun in an eclipse, of the sleeping leviathan, of the bees swarming about their hive, of the fairy dance, in the view wherein I have here placed them, he will easily discover the great beauties that are in each of those passages.
CRITICISM ON “PARADISE LOST."
HORACE advises a poet to consider thoroughly the nature and force of his genius. Milton seems to have known perfectly well wherein his strength lay, and has therefore chosen a subject entirely conformable to those talents of which he was master. As his genius was wonderfully turned to the sublime, his subject is the noblest that could have entered into the thoughts of man. Everything that is truly great and astonishing, has a place in it. The whole system of the intellectual world; the chaos, and the creation; heaven, earth, and hell ; enter into the constitution of his poem.
Having in the first and second books represented the infernal world, with all its horrors, the thread of his fable naturally leads him into the opposite regions of bliss and glory.
If Milton's majesty forsakes him anywhere, it is in those parts of his poem, where the Divine Persons are introduced as speakers. One may, I think, observe that the author proceeds with a kind of fear and trembling, whilst he describes the sentiments of the Almighty. He dares not give his imagination its full play, but chooses to confine himself to such thoughts as are drawn from the books of the most orthodox divines, and to such expressions as may be met with in Scripture. The beauties, therefore, which we are to look for in these speeches, are not of a poetical nature, nor so proper to fill the mind with sentiments of grandeur, as with thoughts of devotion. The passions which they are designed to raise, are n Divine love and religious fear. The particular beauty of the speeches in the third book, consists in that shortness and perspicuity of style, in which the poet has couched the greatest mysteries of Christianity, and drawn together, in a regular scheme, the whole dispensation of Providence with respect to