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being written by whatever hand came next, might pos. sibly want correction as to the orthography and pointing,having, as the summer came on, not been showed any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his verse never happily flowed but from the Autumnal Equinoctial to the Vernal [i.e. from the end of September to the end of March], and that whatever he attempted [at other times] was never to his satisfaction, though he exerted his fancy never so much ; so that, in all the years he was about this poem, he may be said to have spent but half his time therein." The reader ought to correct by this extract, taken in connection with information already given as to Milton's domestic circum. stances, the impressions he may have received from flummery pictures representing the blind poet in a rapt attitude dictating Paradise Lost to his attentive and revering daughters. His eldest daughter, Anne, could not write ; and, though the other two could write, and may occasionally, when the poem was in progress, have acted as his amanuenses, their ages exclude the idea of their having been his chief assistants in this capacity,—while we also know that the poor motherless girls had grown up in circumstances to make them regard the services they were required to perform for their father as less a duty than a trouble. On the whole Phillips's words suggest what is probably the right notion,--that Milton dictated his poem in small portions at a time, chiefly within doors, and more in winter than in summer, to any one that chanced to be about him. Sometimes it may have been one of his daughters; sometimes, latterly, when the poem was nearly complete, it may have been his third wife ; frequently it may have been one of the friends or youths who statedly read to him. From Phillips's statement it is also clear that he assisted Milton in revising the gathered scraps of MS. from time to time. Finally, when all was completed, a clean copy, or clean copies, must have been made by some practised scribe. One such clean copy was that sent to the licenser, a portion of which, as has been mentioned, still exists. The hand in that manuscript has not been identified.
III. SCHEME AND MEANING OF THE POEM.
Paradise Lost is an Epic. But it is not, like the Iliad or
the Æneid, a national Epic; nor is it an epic after any other of the known types. It is an epic of the whole human species, an epic of our entire planet, or indeed of the entire astronomical universe. The title of the poem, though perhaps the best that could have been chosen, hardly indicates beforehand the full nature or extent of the theme ; nor are the opening lines, by themselves, sufficiently descriptive of what is to follow. According to them, the song is to be
“Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
With loss of Eden." This is a true enough description, because the whole story bears on this point. But it is the vast comprehension of the story, both in space and in time, as leading to this point, that makes it unique among epics, and entitles Milton to speak of it as involving
' Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.” It is, in short, a poetical representation, on the authority of hints from the book of Genesis, of the historical con nection between Human Time and Aboriginal or Eternal Infinity, or between our created world and the immeasurable and inconceivable Universe of Pre-human Existence) So far as our World is concerned, the poem starts from that moment when our newly-created Earth, with all the newlycreated starry depths about it, had as yet but two human beings upon it ; and these consequently are, on this side of the presupposed Infinite Eternity, the main persons of the epic. But we are carried back into this presupposed Infinite Eternity, and the grand purpose of the poem is to connect, by a stupendous imagination, certain events or courses of the inconceivable history that had been unfolding itself there with the first fortunes of that new azure World which is familiar to us, and more particularly with the first fortunes of that favoured ball at the centre whereon those two human creatures walked. Now, the person of the epic through the narration of whose acts this connection is established is Satan. He, as all critics have perceived, and in a wider sense than most of them have perceived, is the real hero of
He and his actions are the link between that new World of Man the infancy of which we behold in the
poem and that boundless antecedent Universe of Pre-human Existence which the poem assumes. For he was a native of that Pre-human Universe, one of its greatest and most conspicuous natives; and what we follow in the poem, when its story is taken chronologically, is the life of this great being, from the time of his yet unimpaired primacy or archangelship among the Celestials, on to that time when, in pursuit of a scheme of revenge, he Alings himself into the new experimental World, tries the strength of the new race at its fountain-head, and, by success in his attempt, vitiates Man's portion of space to his own nature, and wins possession of it for a season. > The attention of the reader is particularly requested to the following remarks and diagrams. The diagrams are not mere illustrations of what Milton may have conceived in his scheme of his poem. They are what he did conceive and most tenaciously keep before his mind from first to last; and, unless they are thoroughly grasped, the poem will not be understood as a whole, and many portions of it will be misinterpreted.
Aboriginally, or in primeval Eternity, before the creation of our Earth or the Starry Universe to which it belongs, universal
space is to be considered, according to the requisites of the poem, not as containing stars or starry systems at all, but as, so to say, a sphere of infinite radius, divided equatorially into two hemispheres, thus :
The upper of these two hemispheres of Primeval Infinity is HEAVEN, or THE EMPYREAN,–
-a boundless, unimaginable region of Light, Freedom, Happiness, and Glory, in the midst whereof Deity, though omnipresent, has His immediate and visible dwelling, and where He is surrounded by a vast population of beings, called “the Angels,” or “Sons of God," who draw near to His throne in worship, derive thence their nurture and their delight, and yet live dispersed through all the ranges and recesses of the region, leading severally their mighty lives and performing the behests of Deity, but organised into companies, orders, and hierarchies. Milton is careful to explain that all that he says of Heaven is said symbolically, and in order to make conceivable by the human imagination what in its own nature is inconceivable ; but, this explained, he is bold enough in his use of terrestrial analogies. Round the immediate throne of Deity, indeed, there is kept a blazing mist of vagueness, which words are hardly permitted to pierce, though the Angels are represented as from time to time assembling within it, beholding the Divine Presence and hearing the Divine Voice. But Heaven at large, or portions of it, are figured as tracts of a celestial Earth, with plain, hill, and valley, wherein the myriads of the Sons of God expatiate, in their two orders of Seraphim and Cherubim, and in their descending ranks as Archangels or Chiefs, Princes of various degrees, and individual Powers and Intelligences. Certain differences, however, are implied as distinguishing these Celestials from the subsequent race of Mankind. As they are of infinitely greater prowess, immortal, and of more purely spiritual nature, so their ways even of physical existence and action transcend all that is within human experience. Their forms are dilatable or contractible at pleasure ; they move with incredible swiftness; and, as they are not subject to any law of gravitation, their motion, though ordinarily represented as horizontal over the heavenly ground, may as well be vertical or in any other direction, and their aggregations need not, like those of men, be in squares, oblongs, or other plane figures, but may be in cubes, or other rectangular or oblique solids, or in spherical masses. These and various other particulars are to be kept in mind concerning Heaven and its pristine inhabitants. -As respects the other half or hemisphere of the Primeval Infinity, though it too is inconceivable in its nature, and has to be described by words which are at best symbolical, less needs be said. For it is Chaos, or the Uninhabited,
,-a huge, limitless ocean, abyss, or quagmire, cf universal darkness and lifelessness, wherein are jumbled in blustering confusion the elements of all matter, or rather the crude embryons of all the elements, ere as yeu they are distinguishable. There is no light there, nor properly Earth, Water, Air, or Fire, but only a vast pulp or welter of unformed matter, in which all these lie tempestuously intermixed. Though the presence of Deity is there potentially too, it is still, as it were, actually retracted thence, as from a realm unorganised and left to Night and Anarchy ; nor do any of the Angels wing down into its repulsive obscurities. The crystal floor or wall of Heaven divides them from it ; underneath which, and unvisited of light, save what may glimmer through upon its nearer strata, it howls and rages and stagnates eternally.
Such is and has been the constitution of the Universal Infinitude from ages immemorial in the Angelic reckoning. But lo! at last a day in the annals of Heaven when the grand monotony of existence hitherto is disturbed and broken. On a day,—“such day as Heaven's great year brings forth" (v. 582, 583),—all the Empyreal host of Angels, called by especial summons from all the ends of Heaven, assemble innumerably before the throne of the Almighty; beside whom, imbosomed in bliss, sat the Divine Son. They had come to hear this divine decree :
“ Hear, all ye Angels, Progeny of Light,
Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers,
All knees in Heaven, and shall confess him Lord.” With joy and obedience is this decree received throughout the hierarchies, save in one quarter. One of the first of the Archangels in Heaven, if not the very first,—the coequal of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, if not their superior,-is the Archangel known afterwards (for his first name in Heaven is lost) as Satan or Lucifer. In him the effect of the decree is rage, envy, pride, the resolution to rebel. He conspires