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As when the potent rod
Like night, and darken'd all the land of Nile.” What would you more? At a signal given by the uplifted spear of their Great Sultan's waving to and fro to direct their course, in even balance they light on the firm brimstone, and fill all plain. That night of locusts darkening all the land of Nile in Egypt's evil day was God-sent;--so is this night of locusts darkening the clime of Hell. And forthwith from every squadron and each band—of Locusts—the Heads and Leaders thither haste where stands their Great Commander ! “Godlike shapes and forms excelling human!” “Princely Dignities” and “ Powers that erst in Heaven sat on thrones."
SEWARD. I hope, sir, you feel the poetical grandeur of Milton's picture of the old Mythology here—a strain of one hundred and forty lines, which has been found fault with by some critics as a digression or episode-out of place!
Out of place! Gloriously in place. The Poet thereby aggrandises Satan and his Angels all. Of them in heaven there is no memorial - blotted out and razed, by their rebellion, from the Book of life. Our imagination is moved by this splendid vision of gay religions full of pomp and gold, when “Devils were adored for Deities; " and all over the earth prevailed the worship of those very fallen angels, by the posterity of the two human beings whose Fall is yet to happen! What says Thomas Campbell? “The subject of Paradise Lost was the origin of evil-an era in existence—an event more than all others dividing past from future time,-an isthmus in the ocean of eternity. The theme was in its nature connected with everything important in the circumstances of human history; and amidst those circumstances Milton saw that the fables of Paganism were too important and poetical to be omitted. As a Christian, he was entitled wholly to neglect them; but as a Poet, he chose to treat them, not as dreams of the human mind, but as the delusions of infernal existences. Thus anticipating a beautiful propriety for all classical allusions; thus connecting and reconciling the coexistence of Fable and of Truth ; and thus identifying the fallen angels with the deities of gay religions full of pomp and gold, he yoked the heathen mythology in triumph to his subject, and clothed himself in the spoils of superstition.”
And again, “ The Powers of Milton's Hell are Godlike shapes and forms; their appearance dwarfs every other poetical conception. When we turn our dilated eyes from contemplating them, it is not their external attributes alone which expand the imagination, but their souls which are as colossal as their stature-iheir thoughts that wander through eternity—the mind that burns amidst the ruins of their divine natures, and their genius that feels with the ardour, and debates with the eloquence of Heaven."
And I say, again and again, that in Satan we see Intellect of the highest order, next to divine -- Invincibility of Will—the consciousness of that invincible will, and of all its resources—Ambition, which nothing less than the throne of God seems as if it could satisfy—the Imperial Consciousness of Command-the complacent accepting of the dominion in Hell—the scorn of Pain—the infinite capacity of Pain—the infinite active energy which forthwith produces new warfare with Heaven--the power of infusing hope and hate into others--magnificent eloquence-glorying in the conduct and prowess of the past war-heroic trust in the unbroken zeal of and trust of his Followers-
“ Then straight commands that at the warlike sound
Of trumpets loud and clarions be upreared
A shout that tore hell's concave, and beyond,
Ten thousand banners rise into the air,
The whole battalion views-their order dueAdvanced in view, they stand ; a horrid front Their visages and stature as of godsOf dreadful length, and dazzling arms, in Their number last he sums. And now his guise
heart Of warriors old with order'd spear and shield; Distends with pride, and hardening in his Awaiting what command their mighty chief strength Had to impose. He through the armed files Glories." Darts his experienced eye, and soon traverse
NORTH. “He, above the rest For ever now to have their lot in pain : In shape and gesture proudly eminent, Millions of spirits for his fault amerced Stood like a tower; his form had yet not lost Of heaven, and from eternal splendours flung All her original brightness, nor appear'd For his revolt ; yet faithful how they stood, Less than archangel ruin'd, and the excess Their glory wither'd : as when Heaven's fire Of glory obscured : as when the sun, new Hath scathed the forest oaks, or mountain risen,
pines, Looks through the horizontal misty air With singed top their stately growth, though Shorn of his beams; or, from behind the bare, moon,
Stands on the blasted heath. He now prepared In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds To speak: whereat their doubled ranks they On half the nations, and with fear of change bend Perplexes monarchs. Darken’d so, yet shone From wing to wing, and half enclose him Above them all the Archangel : but his face round Deep scars of thunder had intrench'd; and care with all his peers: attention held them mute. Sat on his faded cheek, but under brows Thrice he essay'd, and thrice, in spite of Of dauntless courage, and considerate pride Waiting revenge: cruel his eye, but cast Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth : at Signs of remorse and passion, to behold
last The fellows of his crime, the followers rather Words, interwove with sighs, found out their (Far other once beheld in bliss) condemn'd way."
SEWARD. The Address! The Address!
NORTH. “O myriads of immortal spirits! O powers For me,-be witness all the host of heaven, Matchless, but with the Almighty! and that If counsels different, or dangers shunn'd strife
By me, have lost our hopes ! But he who Was not inglorious, though the event was reigns dire,
Monarch in heaven, till then as one secure As this place testifies, and this dire change Sat on his throne, upheld by old repute, Hateful to utter : but what power of mind, Consent, or custom; and his regal state Foreseeing, or presaging, from the depth Put forth at full, but still his strength conof knowledge, past or present, could have ceal'd, fear'd
Which tempted our attempt, and wrought our How such united force of gods,-how such fall. As stood like these, could ever know repulse? Henceforth his might we know, and know For who can yet believe, though after loss, our own ; That all these puissant legions, whose exile So as not either to provoke, or dread Hath emptied heaven, shall fail to reascend, New war provoked. Our better part remains Self-raised, and repossess their native seat ? To work in close design, by fraud or guile,
What force effected not ; that he no less Thither, if but to pry, shall be perhaps
Long under darkness cover. But these thoughts There went a fame in heaven, that He erelong Full counsel must mature : peace is despair’d; Intended to create, and therein plant
For who can think submission ? War then, A generation, whom his choice regard Should favour equal to the sons of Heaven: Open or understood, must be resolved."
SEWARD Go on-go on.
NORTH. “ He spake; and, to confirm his words, out Against the Highest; and fierce, with grasped flew
arms, Millions of flaming swords, drawn from the Clash'd on their sounding shields the din of thighs
war, Of mighty cherubim; the sudden blaze Hurling defiance toward the vault of Far round illumined hell: highly they raged heaven."
BULLER The Colonel asks where they got them ?
NORTH. This is the law, and privilege, and glory of Poetry, that it hides the mechanism while it displays the power. It hides the mechanism by which the angels who in defeat in Heaven dropped their weapons, have in Hell each his own sword in sheath. You must read with Faith-in all poetry. The Poet says that such or such a thing happened. You must believe that it did, although you cannot tell how. Perhaps he could not tell you how. He knows that it did. The Muse has told him, or some spirit. You do not know, and had better not ask him how he knows.
SEWARD. Raphael conveyed to Adam and Eve the war of the Angels. Milton conveys the war of the Angels to us. Raphael conversed with Adam in a language which they understood. Milton reports their conversation to us in a language which we understand. Whilst we read we identify ourselves with Adam and Eve. We lend to each our intelligence of the things related and discoursed; and as long as the power of the Song is upon us, herein no mistrust creeps in. Coldly, afterwards, we may inquire, How could they understand? But then coldly we may answer, the Poet does not mean that these were literally the words used, but that this was the substance and effect of the words used. This was the meaning in one way or in another conveyed.
TALBOYS. The belief that these were the words, belongs to the fervour of the hearing; but the same fervour of the hearing gives the simultaneous and universal belief that the words were understood.
Keep the hour of Hearing and the “ torturing hour” of Criticism separate, each in its own integrity.
Milton, a little humorous, meets, plays with, and bafles, or provides for the Criticism. The hardest part, the Cannon and Gunpowder, are described by Satan to the Angels.
Milton, in different places, gives hints of previous angelical visits and communications. Eve, relating her dream, says
“ One shaped and winged like one of those from Heaven.” How do we know what they had heard, or Paradise seen, of angelic weapons ? Armed angels guard Paradise.
Grant that the War had passed as Milton has described it, and that Raphael comes commissioned to make it known, do we for an instant doubt that He has power to make it known? Or, if the War had passed quite
otherwise, viz. spiritually, mentally, morally, or in ways to us in themselves incomprehensible, but that Raphael will virtually declare it by shadows of human war, he must then use human war, and he could, and he did, make it intelligible.
NORTH. It looks like ignotum per ignotius. It is a little circuitous and cumbrous to suppose the ignotius first made clear. It is better to ignore the bill. Milton gives us the example. He will not say, and Raphael will not, how far he speaks reality-how far symbols ! It is better to throw ourselves upon the amplitude unknown to us of the angelical and then-human faculties of language.
NORTH. His sanctity of purpose, his sincerity, assures us that it will save Milton from falling into any impiety in giving utterance to the Evil Ones. Should any such sentiment affect us, we are not only entitled, but bound, to believe that the fault lies in ourselves-in our own weakness to lie under the thraldom of association with mere words which have their character solely from the spirit with which they breathe or burn. And all the Two Great Books will bear the severest examination on this point.
SEWARD. Startling as in many places the speeches necessarily are, as each speaker ceases we are made to feel that it is a speech of the Wicked. We never for a moment suspect, or fear, or believe, or imagine, that Milton has been dallying, in pride of his own genius, with evil thoughts, or sentiments, or suggestions; or, while so dallying, enjoying too the imagined perplexity, astonishment, or horror of his own fellow-creatures who may read.
Much less do we ever, for a moment, feel that he awakens and starts doubts for the sceptic to muse over, or embrace.
SEWARD. Or that he himself is a sceptic, embodying difficulties for the reason to conflict with in vain ; so that they may remain for ever to deaden the life of faith.
TALBOYS. Neither does any profound and enduring melancholy hang over our hearts on account of those Evil Ones. Pity and terror is theirs—their doom is tragic; but only because in our human hearts such emotions must always accompany great sufferings,-even of sin. But we are never for a while seduced in our souls to question the righteousness and the justice of such decrees. Free Will has been abused, and that is a great mystery. But our faculties of thought and reason justify the Divine judgment; and in all they say we believe the teacher asserting Eternal Providence-nor, till we obscure our ideas of Right and Justice and Truth, can we doubt that such delinquency and such anguish are connate and included in a Holy Fiat.
NORTH. Yet many critics have confined themselves too much to the Two First Books for the character of Satan—the Enemy, and thus have not given the whole character in its entirety. But this is unjust to the divine Poet, and it is unjust to his readers, who may be thus greatly misled, and miss, or be defrauded of the moral and the theology which he the devout desired to leave engraven on the human soul. We are taught by him the Goodness and Bliss of an angelical Being Unfallen, and the wickedness and misery of an angelical Fallen. At first “not less" than archangel ruined ; but afterwards less than that first. Therefore from his first appearance to his last must the Enemy of God and of Man be in our imagination as in Milton's. And thus, you see, not merely that we may understand the
Poem as a great work of art, but the doctrine as a great doctrine necessary to salvation. But both are done at once by right—that is, by full comprehensive view of Him—that is, by elucidatory criticism, drawing Him at full length-in all conditions and vocations.
Satan's degradation is early begun. From the first there is a contradiction between his words and himself
“ Vaunting aloud, but rack'd with deep despair.” And again, when he cheers his troops
“ His high word that bore
Semblance of worth, not substance.” Showing, on Milton's part, whilst he most exalts him, at least a willingness to let him down an intimation of hollowness.
He flatters the Monster at Hell's gate. He changes bis shape, and lies through thick and thin to the angel Uriel. Leaping into Paradise, he is compared to a thief and a wolf. The will of the poet is shown towards a subject by the similes. Homer thus always exalts Achilles. Milton vilifies and vilipends the Devil. He exalted him lately. What an insulting line
“ The tempter, ere the accuser of mankind." Base to turn against his own tempted. Moreover, Milton disparages him for avenging his loss in Heaven, on innocent man! He nowhere diminishes that representation of his agony! The First and Second Books are full of confessions how it is within him Hell. How conscience wakes despair, that slumbered ! And put all the acknowledgments together that are in the soliloquy! The confession of suffering—of lying-the infatuation of Evil" the first to practise falsehood under saintly show "_" artificer of fraud !" Already there is nothing enviable—there is glory deeply overshadowed.
“ Back to the thicket slank
TALBOYS. He sits a cormorant on the tree of life. That is a particularly disparaging shape. A scarth-not an eagle—not a swan-not a bird of Paradise. He watches about Adam and Eve in divers animal shapes, in which there is a certain humiliation.
He squats as a toad at Eve's ear, poisoning her innocent sleep. Vile squatter! All God's creatures are good-a toad, as a toad, not to be despised. Fair fiction has in one imprisoned a Princess.