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at large through the compass of the whole Universe, and through all Heaven beyond it, and could survey all periods of time from before the creation to the consummation of all things. This theory, no doubt, was a great solace to him in his affliction, but it shows in him a greater strength of spirit, that made him capable of such a solace. And it would almost seem to me to be peculiar to him, had not experience by others taught me that there is that power in the human mind, supported with innocence and conscia virtus, that can make it shake off all outward uneasiness and involve itself secure and pleased in its own integrity and entertainment." It is refreshing to be able to quote from the great scholar and critic words showing so deep an appreciation of the real significance
of the poem which, as an editor, he mangled. Whatever Paradise Lost is, it is, as Bentley here points out, a monument of almost unexampled personal magnanimity.
It is not improbable that Milton's blindness, which we are apt to think of as a disqualification for poetry, as for other things, may, in the case of Paradise Lost, have been a positive qualification.
One can imagine many effects of blindness on the mind of a poet. Milton himself, as if with a presentiment of what was one day to be his own fate, had more than once, in his earlier poems, touched on this very theme. One remembers also those lines in Paradise Lost itself (111. 33-36) where he tells us of the secret pleasure he had in associating himself with his famous blind predecessors of the ancient world :
Those other two, equalled with me in fate
And Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old.” As to those old poets and prophets blindness had given “ the profounder insight,” might it not be so also in his case? For this at least he prays :
“So much the rather thou, Celestial Light,
But not only in this semi-mystic sense, so dear to Milton and so natural to his mode of thought, might it be contended that in his great poem his blindness was even a qualification. Noi yet need it be meant merely, in a more prosaic consideration, that his blindness, by shutting in his mind from external objects, concentrated it on his daring theme and left him at more liberty to pursue it. Nor, again, need we have in view only that influence which would be exerted over his poetry, and especially over the structure and music of his verse, by the fact that his blindness prevented him from composing on paper, and compelled him to compose mentally. These and other influences of blindness may have all had effects. But the influence of which we now speak is something more peculiar and specific.
The one sensation, as we may fancy, ever directly present to a blind man, who had once enjoyed sight, would be that of infinitely extended surrounding darkness or blackness. In Milton's case, we learn from himself, it was not quite so in the first years of his blindness, though it may have gradually become so afterwards. Writing in Latin, on the 28th of September 1654, to his Greek friend Philaras, in answer to a letter which Philaras had sent him, giving him hope that his blindness might not be incurable, and requesting a statement of the symptoms of his case, which Philaras might submit to the celebrated surgeon and oculist, Thevenot of Paris, Milton gives various particulars as to the manner in which his blindness had come on, and his sensations after it had become total. It had been gradually coming on for ten years ; the left eye had failed first; then the right, the vision of which had begun to be sensibly affected three years before the time of his then writing. Before this eye had quite failed, i.e. before his blindness could be called total, there had seemed to come from his shut eyes, on his lying down at night, copious bursts or suffusions of glittering light; but, as from day to day his vision faded towards extinction, these flashes of light had been exchanged for similar bursts of fainter colours, shot as with audible force from the eyes. “Now, however,” he adds, “as if lucency were extinct, it is a mere blackness, or a blackness dashed, and, as it were, inwoven with an ashy colour, that is wont to pour itself forth ; yet the darkness which is perpetually before me, by night as well as by day, seems always nearer to a whitish than to a blackish, and such that, when the eye rolls itself, there is admitted, as through a small chink, a certain little trifle of light.” As this was written when Milton had been blind not more than somewhere about two years at the utmost, may we not suppose that the process of darkening which he describes had continued, and that, by the time he had begun his Paradise Lost, even that little chink of which he speaks had been barred, so that the medium in which he found himself, night and day, had then less of the whitish or ash-grey in it, and more of the hue of absolute black? Such a supposition would accord with his own words in the poem (III. 41-49) :
“Not to me returns
And, more decidedly, we seem to see the same suggested in the words of Samson respecting his blindness (Sams. Agon. 80, 81) :
“O, dark, dark, dark ! amid the blaze of noon
Now, whether the medium in which a man moved who had lost his sight were such a total opaque of infinitely extended blackness, or only a paler surrounding darkness of ashy gloom, in what would his imaginations of things physical consist? Would they not consist in carving this medium into zones, divisions, and shapes, in painting phantasmagories upon it or in it, in summoning up within it or projecting into it combinations of such recollections of the once visible world as remained strongest and dearest in the memory ? But are there not certain classes of images, certain kinds of visual recollection, that would be easier in such a state of blindness than others? While the recollections of minute and indifferent objects became dimmer and dimmer,—while it might be difficult for a man long blind to recall with exactness the appearance, for example, of such a flower as the violet, or the aspect of a lichen-veined seat at the root of a tree,---might not there be a compensation in the superior vividness with which certain other sensations of sight, and in particular all luminous effects, all contrasts of light and darkness, were remembered ? If a blind man, that had once enjoyed sight, retained a more vivid recollection of some objects than of others, and a keener faculty in calling up their images, might they not be such objects as a lamp, the mouth of a furnace, the sun, the moon, a ball of red-hot iron, the ground covered with snow, the nocturnal sky studded with stars ? Might not one that had become blind even excel a person not so afflicted in all that kind of physical description which consists in contrasts of light and darkness, blaze and blackness, or can be effected poetically through the metaphor of luminousness?
Apply this to Paradise Lost. In the first place, the very physical scheme and conception of the poem as a whole seems a kind of revenge against blindness. It is a compulsion of the very conditions of blindness to aid in the formation of a visual phantasmagory of transcendent vastness and yet perfect exactness. That roof of a boundless Empyrean above all, beaming with indwelling light ; that Chaos underneath this, of immeasurable opaque blackness; hung into this blackness by a touch from the Empyrean, our created Universe, conceived as a sphere of soft blue ether brilliant with luminaries; separated thence by an intervening belt of Chaos, and marked as a kind of antarctic zone of universal space, a lurid or dull-red Hell : in all this what else have we than the poet making districts in the infinitude of darkness in which he himself moved, and, while suffering some of the districts to remain in their native opaque, rescuing others into various contrasts of light? But not only in the total conception or diagram of the poem may this influence of blindness be traced. In the filling-up, in the imagination of what goes on within any one of the districts into which space is so marked out, or by way of the intercourse of the districts with each other, we may trace the same influence. Much of the action and incident consists of the congregation of angelic beings in bands beyond our universe, or in their motions singly towards our universe, descrying it from afar, or in their wingings to and fro within our universe from luminary to luminary. Now, in all those portions of the poem, the mere contrast of darkness with light, the mere imagery of lucency, of light in masses, streaks, gleams, particles, or discs, goes very far. When Satan, already halfway through Chaos in his quest of the New Universe, ceases his temporary halt at the pavilion of Night, and, having received direction there, rises with fresh alacrity for his further ascent, how is the recommencement of his motion indicated ? He (11. 1013-14)
“Springs upward like a pyramid of fire
Into the wild expanse.
And, when, having attained to the New Universe and found the opening into it, he flings himself down and alights first on the Sun, how is his alighting on the body of the Sun described (111. 588-590) ?
“There lands the Fiend, a spot like which perhaps
Through his glazed optic tube yet never saw.” But, even if we follow Milton into the passages of purely terrestrial description in his Paradise Lost, his descriptions of Eden and what went on there, we shall trace, if I do not mistake, some subtle action of the saine influence from his blindness. These portions of the poem amount to about a fifth or sixth of the whole, and they are surpassingly beautiful. The poet revels there in a wealth of verdure and luxuriant detail, reminding us of the rich pastoral poems of his youth, when he delighted in landscape and vegetation. Take, as a minute specimen, the description of the nuptial bower of Eve (Iv. 692-703) :
“The roof Of thickest covert was inwoven shade, Laurel and myrtle, and what higher grew Of firm and fragrant leaf; on either side Acanthus, and each odorous bushy shrub Fenced up the verdant wall; each beauteous flower, Iris all hues, roses, and jessamine, Reared high their flourished heads between, and wrought Mosaic; underfoot the violet, Crocus, and hyacinth, with rich inlay Broidered the ground, more colo
red than with stone Of costliest emblem."