Page images
PDF
EPUB

"Did I request Thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? did I solicit Thee
From darkness to promote me? or here place
In this delicious garden? As my will
Concurr'd not to my being, 'twere but right
And equal to reduce me to my dust,
Desirous to resign and render back
All I receiv'd."

He immediately after recovers from his presumption, owns his doom to be just, and begs that the death which is threatened him may be inflicted on him

“Why delays
His hand to execute what His decree
Fix'd on this day? Why do I overlive ?
Why am I mock'd with death, and lengthen'd out
To deathless pain ? how gladly would I meet
Mortality my sentence, and be earth
Insensible ! how glad would lay me down,
As in my mother's lap? there should I rest
And sleep secure; His dreadful voice no more
Would thunder in my ears : no fear of worse
To me and to my offspring, would torment me
With cruel expectation."

This wbole speech is full of the like emotion, and varied with all those sentiments which we may suppose natural to a mind so broken and disturbed. I must not omit that generous concern which our first father shows in it for His posterity, and which is so proper to affect the reader

“ Hide me from the face
Of God, whom to behold was then my height
Of happiness ! yet well, if here would end
The misery : I deserv'd it, and would bear
My own deservings; but this will not serve ;
All that I eat, or drink, or shall beget,
Is propagated curse. O voice once heard
Delightfully, 'Increase and multiply;'
Now death to hear !”

In me all
Posterity stands curs'd ! Fair patrimony
That I must leave ye, sons! O were I able
To waste it all myself, and leave

you none

e!
So disinherited, how would you bless
Me, now your curse! Ah, why should all mankind,
For one man's fault, thus guiltless be condemn'd.
If guiltless ? But from me what can proceed,
But all corrupt.”

Who can afterwards behold the father of mankind extended upon the earth, uttering his midnight complaints, bewailing his existence, and wishing for death, without sympathising with him in his distress ?

“Thus Adam to himself lamented loud,

Thro' the still night; not now (as ere man fell)
Wholesome, and cool, and mild, but with black air
Accompanied, with damps and dreadful gloom :
Which to his evil conscience represented
All things with double terror. On the ground
Outstretch'd he lay; on the cold ground ! and oft
Curs’d his creation ; death as oft accus'd
Of tardy execution.”

The part of Eve in this book is no less passionate, and apt bo sway the reader in her favour. She is represented with great tenderness as approaching Adam, but is spurned from him with a spirit of upbraiding and indignation, conformable to the nature of man, whose passions had now gained the dominion over him. The following passages, wherein she is described as renewing her addresses to him, with the whole speech that follows it, have something in them exquisitely moving and pathetic :

"He added not, and from her turn'd: but Eve,
Not so repuls'd, with tears that ceas'd not flowing,
And tresses all disorder'd, at his feet
Fell humble; and embracing them, besought
His peace, and thus proceeding in her plaint.

Forsake me not thus, Adam! Witness heav'n
What love sincere, and reverence in my heart
I bear thee, and unweeting have offended,
Unhappily deceiv'd! Thy suppliant,
I beg, and clasp thy knees; bereave me not
(Whereon I live !) thy gentle looks, thy aid,
Thy counsel in this uttermost distress,
My only strength, and stay! Forlorn of thee,
Whither shall I betake me, where subsist ?
While yet we live (scarce one short hour perhaps !),
Between us two let there be peace,” &c.

Adam's reconcilement to her is worked up in the same spirit of tenderness. Eve afterwards proposes to her husband, in the blindness of her despair, that to prevent their guilt from descending upon posterity, they should resolve to live childless; or, if that could not be done, they should seek their own deaths by violent methods. As those sentiments naturally engage the reader to regard the mother of mankind with more than ordinary commiseration, they likewise contain a very fine moral.

The resolution of dying to end our miseries, does not show such a degree of magnanimity as a resolution to bear them, and submit to the dispensations of Providence. Our author has therefore, with great delicacy, represented Eve as entertaining this thought, and Adam as disapproving it.

We are, in the last place, to consider the imaginary persons, or Death and Sin, who act a large part in this book. Such beautiful extended allegories are certainly some of the finest compositions of genius : but, as I have before observed, are not agreeable to the nature of an heroic poem. This of Sin and Death is very exquisite in its kind, if not considered as a part of such a work. The truths contained in it are so clear and open, that I shall not lose time in explaining them ; but shall only observe, that a reader who knows the strength of the English tongue, will be amazed to think how the poet could find such apt words and phrases to describe the actions

of those two imaginary persons, and particularly in that part where Death is exhibited as forming a bridge over the Chaos : a work suitable to the genius of Milton.

CHAPTER XXI.

CRITICISM ON « PARADISE LOST."

Milton has shown a wonderful art in describing that variety of passions which arise in our first parents upon the breach of the commandment that had been given them. We see them gradually passing from the triumph of their guilt through remorse, shame, despair, contrition, prayer, and hope, to a perfect and complete repentance. At the end of the tenth book they are represented as prostrating themselves upon the ground, and watering the earth with their tears : to which the poet joins this beautiful circumstance, that they offered up their penitential prayers, on the very place where their Judge appeared to them when He pronounced their sentence

“They forthwith, to the place
Repairing where He judg’d them, prostrate fell
Before Him reverent, and both confess'd
Humbly their faults, and pardon begg'd, with tears
Watering the ground."

As the author never fails to give a poetical turn to his sentiments, he describes in the beginning of this book the acceptance which these their prayers met with, in a short allegory, formed upon that beautiful passage in Holy Writ: “ And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God.”

- To heav'n their prayers
Flew up, nor miss'd the way, by envious winds
Blown vagabond or frustrate : in they pass'd
Dimensionless through heavenly doors, then clad
With incense, where the golden altar fumed,
By their great Intercessor, came in sight
Before the Father's throne."

We have the same thought expressed a second time in the intercession of the Messiah, which is conceived in very emphatic sentiments and expressions.

Among the poetical parts of Scripture, which Milton has so finely wrought into this part of his narration, I must not omit that wherein Ezekiel, speaking of the angels who appeared to him in a vision, adds, that “every one had four faces," and that “their whole bodies, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, were full of eyes round about.”

« The cohort bright
Of watchful cherubim, four faces each
Had, like a double Janus, all their shape
Spangled with eyes.”

The assembling of all the angels of heaven to hear the solemn decree passed upon man, is represented in very lively ideas. The Almighty is here described as remembering mercy in the midst of judgment, and commanding Michael to deliver his message in the mildest terms, lest the spirit of man, which was already broken with the sense of his guilt and misery, should fail before him

“Yet lest they faint
At the sad sentence rigorously urg'd-
For I behold them soften'd, and with tears
Bewailing their excess-all terror hide.”

The conference of Adam and Eve is full of moving sentiments. Upon their going abroad after the melancholy night

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »