Page images
PDF
EPUB

gination carries no standard of greatness which it can apply, and find them scant measure.

NORTH But if they fill by their magnitude your outward and inward eyesightstretch it—how are you prepared to set bounds to their enterprise, or its results? You have tbat sort of calling which suffices for carrying you on without distrust.

TALBOYS. Compare our actual disposition towards the rebellious angels in Books V. and VI., where they have it not, as here, all their own ways !

NORTH.

An artistical reason, Talboys, is, that we thus begin with a character of Poetry from which the other kinds rise well : the mournful and terrible, the bitter and sad, the morally and physically disturbed and painful. I suppose, mon bon ami, that the fires of Hell reflect something in our own souls; wrath and smouldering hate and raging desire-inward, eating, unappeased. The load upon the eyelids of imagination laid by that darkness visible has the power of a moral element. So has that sullen, grim, shrouded glare of the lurid flames, and the stifling and the scorching. No doubt that we shall rejoice, as the Poet will, to escape. The rest is relief. It is like the daily natural apparition of the Universe. Day rises out of night-beauty out of horror.

TALBOYS.

Moreover, it is by far the strongest demand made by the Poet upon our capacity of sympathy, and of conceiving; and it is well to have it over—as it was well to take us fresh.

NORTII.

The disadvantage is that a great many readers get no farther.

TALBOYS.

NORTH.

They like hell too well.

But plainly, Talboys, the order of art is that the dark disturbance raised in your spirit be brightened and quieted, not the reverse. See the whole system of the composition. First, Hell or Heaven intermixed-then Earth, which is proportionate—a balance of tones, harmony. Heaven in its glory, Paradise in its heavenly beauty, lie between Hell on the one side, and on the other the now unstained Earth.

TALBOYS.

The rebel spirits are first presented to us, sir, beaten. That is quite an intelligible state-our understanding accepts it at once; and we have here no occasion of asking, Can they, by possibility, succeed? We remain undisquieted by any intellectual scruples that might have been raised on that account.

NORTH. But there is a little more in this matter. That first warfare was one in which they were utterly to fail, as they must fail in contest of strength with Omnipotence. This is a war in which they will be permitted, after a manner, to succeed. One may ask, in Books V. and VI., how far the war of the angels is, for itself, better told, after you know that it has failed, or worse? In the First and Second Books, however, this is clear, that no conviction of utter insanity obtrudes itself to diminish your admiration of intellectual power, and of immeasurably sublime nature, in the angels. And yet, if any repent. ance lay open to them, there is insanity here too. They partially succeed against us; for themselves they end in utter failure. But that is beyond our beam of light and our horizon.

The pervading, unspeakable sorrow of the First Book is the-privation.

A third part of the Celestials have lost their goodness, their glory, their bliss, the love of the Creator and heaven. In the stead of all these, they have now the prize of their unhappy attempt-Hell. The First Book lavishes poetical power in

VOL. LXXII.-NO. CCCCXLIII.

TALBOYS.

NORTH.

2 C

making Hell sensibly present-visibly-tangibly. This was poetically required. The scene is new and strange to the imagination. And we would not with sufficient activity create it for ourselves. The poet industriously creates it for us. The overwhelming presence of the scene was indispensable ; for to us who know the Fallen Angels, first under their loss, in their place of punishment-their positive suffering-grounds the terrible pathos. Fire and gloom! These are the two colours on the pallet of the stern painter, and he spares them not. Fire! The incessant scorching of the angelical flesh, which heretofore bathed in perpetual delight ! Liquid fire, and solid fire! That is to Hell's “ dread emperor” the composition, which immediately reveals itself, of his new kingdom. Dull fire, or flames! And let it not for a moment seem to any criticism wilfully refined, and inventively sceptical—such as that which inconsiderately disdains to the Greek stage the penal and Lernæan wound of the hero Philoctetes—a humiliation of Poetry—that she insists with deliberate pains on corporeal sufferance. The nature of Poetry claims that the outward be emphatically spoken, if imagination lives and breathes by the bodily senses; and the fires of Hell are terrible to the imagination. Besides, what else is Poetry but the intuitive interpretess from or into symbols? These fires have another significance, and a worth of terror far other than that they derive from the bare fact of the physical pain. They have symbolic power. They, and the thunder that so long and so loud peals through the Poem, are the appalling exponents of God's awakened, afflicting, or annihilating wrath. And so, spontaneous, unsophisticated imagination knows and feels them. And so, sublime Power, justly exerted, forces its proper acknowledgment, and justifies itself. The gloom that loads the angelical eyes, used to the resplendency and ineffable beauty of heaven, and to the dazzling and blinding rays of the Divine presence, speaks obviously and immediately to the spirit.

TALBOYS. It does.

NORTH. An indissoluble bond ties in our thoughts light with life, bliss, truth, honour, and sanctity. Its opposite, darkness, with death, sorrow, intellectual and moral destitution. The persons of the good angels are luminous, radiant all over with visual glory. Those of the revolted have, during the Fall, undergone change. Their “glory,” says Beelzebub, is “extinct." The luminous property has not passed wholly away, but it suffers extreme diminution.

“ His form had not yet lost

All her original brightness." We hear by-and-by of the Archangel in the Second Book, having received from Chaos instruction for continuing his journey towards this newly-created world ; he,

“ With fresh alacrity, and force renewed,

Springs upward, like a pyramid of fire,

Into the wild expanse." Even his “ dimmed lustre" " strikes fiery off” against the pitchy darkness of the chaotic abyss. When Satan sees Beelzebub lying beside him on the Lake, he scarcely knows him from the transformation ; and his first words mourn his personal obscuration.

“ If thou beest He ! But, oh! how fallen ! how changed

From Him who, in the happy realms of light,
Clothed with transcendent brightness, didst outshine

Myriads though bright !” In “ the happy Realms of Light !" Just so, cleaving to the light, when he has flown to the burning land, and more deliberately agnising his new habitation, takes possession of his empire, and mourns the change.

“ This mournful gloom For that celestial light."

TALBOYS.

66

A well-known scene in the Fourth Book, sir, brings out properly, and beautifully draws out, the hidden soul of the symbol.

“ So saying, on he led his radiant files,

Dazzling the moon.The radiant files dazzle the terrestrial moon! by their natural self-splendour, not merely by reflecting back from their arms her own lustre !

NORTH. Should any one unluckily ask you, Who, in the Paradise Lost, bears the part of Achilles in the Iliad ? or the part most resembling that part? you will doubtless be tempted to say-Satan. The interest created in Satan in Books I. and II, has led English readers to think him the Hero. And an Italian critic

says, I define the hero of a Poem, that personage to whom the Poet has attributed the most active part in bringing the undertaking proposed to its accomplishment.” And he concludes by deciding the question, Who is the Hero of Paradise Lost ? in favour of Satan, the undertaking being the Fall of Man.

TALBOYS. Then, I suppose that, in the tragedy of Othello, the hero is Iago. Satan and Iago both bring to pass by persuasion.

NORTH. Why, Satan is the great heroic and poetical creation of a person in the Poem. And for this, no doubt—that he is the agent upon whom chiefly the action rests. His action is principal and continuous. But there the parallel ends. The heart of the Poet is with Achilles-not with Satan. The heart of the right hearer is with Achilles—not with Satan.

TALBOYS. I like that, sir.

Two persons are, in the Paradise Lost, who have no parallel in the Iliad. One is on earth-Adam. One in heaven—the Son.

NORTH.

BULLER.

And yet, in a certain sense, both have an analogy of their Epic personage in Achilles. For the human head, upon which the pathetic soul of desire in the bosom of the hearer hangs, is there Achilles, here Adam. And the armed warrior, upon whose right hand Victory sits eagle-winged, is there Achilles, here the Messiah.

SEWARD.

Upon another hand, it may seem fitter to say, that the matter of the subject removes the Paradise Lost from all comparison with merely human

Epics.

NORTH. Adam is no single man. He is mankind.

SEWARD. Then it is true that, notwithstanding the immense importance of the human destinies at stake, and although, in one respect, Adam and Eve are thus the principal personages in the Action-indeed, the only personages of the proper action, and the highest beings out of humanity are, in an Epic sense, if one may dare so to speak, subordinateyet another way of looking, in a manner subverts this view. For the Persons and the Conflict, out of humanity, are so transcendent in themselves, that you might speciously say, that the bosom of Man is merely a field, upon which the Lord of Good and the Lord of Evil contend for victory.

SEWARD. Still I think that that is but a momentary view taken by a sublime Theology. The sympathy of the heart, and the intense reality of representation, rest upon the human personages.

BULLER.
It can't be doubted such was Milton's view.

NORTH.

[ocr errors]

SEWARD.

All the beings out of humanity belong more to the Imagination; and a shadowy veil foats, however thin, between us and them, vividly and energetically as they are presented. Our own kind belongs to us, and we to our own kind. Adam and Eve are the centre of the prime interest in these.

Adam then is the hero ; Eve is the heroine-the only two human persons. This you may learn from Homer—the Iliad. There you learn that proper supporters of an Epic Action are the human actors—men and women-ourselves ; that the superhuman agents-even to the highest-even to those whom we name with awe-whom, through awe, we rather abstain from naming-are in the uncontrolled poetical moulding of the Epic Bard, the machinery of his human action. Man is the centre, the subject. With good reason ; since the Poet is a man, and his hearers are men. Everything, without exception, glorifies man. If we would make an exception in the Paradise Lost, in consideration of the great extent occupied by the preternatural persons in the relation, as well as in favour of their extraordinary dignity, and choose to carry a notion acquired amongst human transactions into affairs infinitely raised above humanity, we must look for the superhuman Hero of the Paradise Lost, I think, not in the warring and vanquished Satan, but where the warfare deforms the celestial fields, in the sublime Vanquisher of Satan. On that field Satan is indeed thrice vanquished; but I speak of the third and last victory, which empties distressed heaven of sin and all molestation.

Yes, my friend, of all the persons which Milton, in winnowing with irrepressible pinion the air of all the worlds, has dared to present, his love and awful admiration chiefly beam forth in delineating the Gracious Power who steps in as Mediator and Intercessor between the offended Father of all Being, and his offending human children. In bringing into personal presence, as it were, and in supplying with human words the highest of all Persons, the Almighty King, which Milton has many times done in the Poem, his genius might seem to be tamed with reverential fear, with a surmise of excessive daring ; not so when lie clothes the brow or the lips of the Messiah, now with mercy, now with terror. The few lines in Book III., which describe the appearance of the Filial Godhead, after his offer of Himself to be the propitiation for Man who will fall, are unspeakingly beautiful. They possess the new or the rare sublimity of tenderness. The same august Being, on the second day of the angelical warfare, taking the field against the Rebels of Heaven, in the Sixth Book of the Poem—the Militant Messiah -has brought out powers of utterance from our English Epic Harp, which may -bring to mind the verses of Cowper :

“ The strings are swept with such a power, so loud,

The storm of music shakes the astonish'd crowd."

NORTH.

BULLER.

There is a question which I feel as painful, and which cannot be avoided. After all, who has vanquished ? Personally, Satan is vanquished. Follow to the close the views of the immense poem, which comprehend all worlds-all space—all time-eternity—and we answer, with regard to the Archfiend at the conclusion

“ Hell, her numbers full,

Henceforth shall be for ever shut !" There lies the prostrate antagonist of Heaven, indungeoned in fierce fires, for evermore. He is personally vanquished. But along with Him, Hell“ bas her numbers full.” And there are Angels and Men; and by all theological report, and by Milton's own intimations, I think-by far the greater part of mankind. Looking at the Poem, then, as the history of a Conflict-what is the result? First, God creates man to supply the vacant room of the Angels : but they do not supply his room. Upon the contrary, much rather, it seems, do they fill Hell! Secondly, The first created have immediately fallen; and

as far as the Creation alone goes, the Counsels of God have failed. But there is a reserve. It is in the infinite Love of the Redeemer. Man is redeemed, and Satan thus at the second stroke, if not at the first, is quelled. No! for the Infinite sacrifice does but partially succeed-I fear, in small part 1 Therefore, twice, and the second time ultimately, the Counsels of the Infinite Wisdom, of Infinite Love, and the acting of Omnipotence, fail.

SEWARD.
And the God of Evil has carried his point with cost enough to himself.

BULLER. If I were simply challenged to criticise, as a theologian, the Theology of Milton, I do not know, whether, ignorant as I am, I should not think myself bound to hold my tongue. But the Poem challenges criticism as a Poem, and I feel in myself that here is a gap in my satisfaction in the Poem. That which is undertaken, promised, vaunted even by the highest speaker and agent, does not appear to a common human understanding as performed.

SEWARD. I cannot help fearing that this flaw-may I call it? like one broken link of the mightiest chain, invalidates the whole work, as a whole; disables us from giving it the acceptance we desire, and in which, merely as critics of Poetry, we should rest happily.

NORTH. The question is not a slight one with us, as wonderers, whether we may gaze with pure, entire wonder, or must wonder at this and at that, and not at the whole.

BULLER. This view may even beget a suspicion as to the poetical sincerity of Milton's mind in the Poem. Is there here, one may be driven to ask, a theological sophism? Has Milton by some untenable syllogism reasoned himself into a belief, which the human soul, illuminated by Love into Truth, cannot receive? A narrow tenet? A tenet narrowing at once God's grace and man's reason?

SEWARD. If we have the persuasion that he has done so, then strikes me as probable, that, since once for all, we are compelled to carry on, strangely, the consideration of Theology and Poetry side by side, we must herein find our poetical sense and capacity constrained and oppressed. For is not Poetry the life of our souls, flowing pure, free, and full ? And can there be a wrong in Truth and Love that will not be felt as a wound to this life?

BULLER. A syllogism standing in the place of an Inspiration might, in a sense, be called a defect in poetical sincerity. It is much worse, if we can, for a moment, imagine that Milton has, with splendour of poetry, knowingly hidden the defects of an argument, which, while it convinced him, he might suspect did not equally convince all others.

NORTH. I feel that the deepest soul of Milton breathed in the purpose of the Poem, which is, I understand, to establish man's holiness, as only by possibility subsisting in its consent with God's holiness. Whatever thought, issuing truly from the spiritual consciousness which led Milton to his purpose, vindicates, in so issuing, its fitness for poetry-vindicates its tendency to enlarge, exalt, rectify, nourish all our best powers.

BULLER. But merely the fact that a thesis found in the schools, recogitated by him, and not sent up by the oracular soul, seemed to justify and correspond to his consciousness, and recommend itself to Milton the Inquirer, would by no means vindicate the Thesis as poetical.

TALBOYS.
You very properly, sir, asked me somewhat sternly-

NORTH.
Mildly.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »