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He has represented all the abstruse doctrines of predestination, free-will, and grace, as also the great points of incarnation and redemption (which naturally grow up in a poem that treats of the fall of man), with great energy of expression, and in a clearer and stronger light than I ever met with in any other writer. As these points are dry in themselves to the generality of readers, the concise and clear manner in which he has treated them is very much to be admired, as is likewise that particular art which he has made use of in the interspersing of all those graces of poetry, which the subject was capable of receiving.
The survey of the whole creation, and of everything that is transacted in it, is a prospect worthy of Omniscience. The particular objects on which he is described to have cast his eye, are represented in the most beautiful and lively manner
“Now had th' Almighty Father from above
Thus to His only Son foreseeing spake."
imaged in the beginning of the speech which immediately follows. The effects of this speech in the blessed spirits, and in the Divine Person to whom it was addressed, cannot but fill the mind of the reader with a secret pleasure and complacency
“ Thus while God spake, ambrosial fragrance fill'd
I need not point out the beauty of that circumstance, wherein the whole host of angels are represented as standing mute; nor show how proper the occasion was to produce such a silence in heaven. The close of this Divine colloquy, with the hymn of angels that follows upon it, are so wonderfully beautiful and poetical, that I should not forbear inserting the whole passage, if the bounds of my paper would give me leave
“No sooner had th' Almighty ceas'd, but all
Satan's walk upon the outside of the universe, which, at a distance, appeared to him of a globular form, but, upon his nearer approach, looked like an unbounded plain, is natural and noble: as his roaming upon the frontiers of the creation, between that mass of matter, which was wrought into a world, and that shapeless, unformed heap of materials which still lay in chaos and confusion, strikes the imagination with something astonishingly great and wild. I have before spoken of the Limbo of Vanity, which the poet places upon this
outermost surface of the universe, and shall here explain myself more at large on that, and other parts of the poem, which are of the same shadowy nature.
Satan, after having long wandered upon the surface, or outmost wall of the universe, discovers at last a wide gap in it, which led into the creation, and is described as the opening through which the angels pass to and fro into the lower world, upon their errands to mankind. His sitting upon the brink of this passage, and taking a survey of the whole face of nature, that appeared to him new and fresh in all its beauties, with the simile illustrating this circumstance, fills the mind of the reader with as surprising and glorious an idea as any that arises in the whole poem. He looks down into that vast hollow of the universe with the eye, or, as Milton calls it in his first book, with the ken of an angel. He surveys all the wonders in this immense amphitheatre that lie between both the poles of heaven, and takes in at one view the whole round of the creation.
His flight between the several worlds that shone on every side of him, with the particular description of the sun, are set forth in all the wantonness of a luxuriant imagination. His shape, speech and behaviour upon his transforming himself into an angel of light, are touched with exquisite beauty. The poet's thought of directing Satan to the sun, which in the vulgar opinion of mankind is the most conspicuous part of the creation, and the placing in it an angel, is a circumstance very finely contrived, and the more adjusted to a poetical probability, as it was a received doctrine among the most famous philosophers, that every orb had its intelligence; and as an apostle in Sacred Writ is said to have seen such an angel in the sun. In the answer which this angel returns to the disguised evil spirit, there is such a becoming majesty as is altogether suitable to a superior being. The part of it in which he represents himself as present at the creation, is very noble in itself, and not only proper where it is introduced,
but requisite to prepare the reader for what follows in the seventh book
“I saw when at His word the formless mass,
Light shone,” &c. In the following part of the speech he points out the earth with such circumstances, that the reader can scarce forbear fancying himself employed on the same distant view of it,
“Look downward on the globe whose hither side
His day,” &c. I must not conclude my reflections upon this third book of Paradise Lost, without taking notice of that celebrated complaint of Milton with which it opens, and which certainly deserves all the praises that have been given it; though, as I have before hinted, it may rather be looked upon as an excrescence, than as an essential part of the poem. The same observation might be applied to that beautiful digression upon hypocrisy, in the same book.
CRITICISM ON “PARADISE LOST.”
We may consider the beauties of the fourth book under three heads. In the first are those pictures of still-life, which we meet with in the description of Eden, Paradise, Adam's bower, &c. In the next are the machines, which comprehend the speeches and behaviour of the good and bad angels. In the last is the conduct of Adam and Eve, who are the principal actors in the poem.
In the description of Paradise, the poet has observed Aristotle's rule of lavishing all the ornaments of diction or the weak, unactive parts of the fable, which are not supported by the beauty of sentiments and characters. Accordingly the reader may observe, that the expressions are more florid and elaborate in these descriptions, than in most other parts of the poem. I must further add that—though the drawings of gardens, rivers, rainbows, and the like dead pieces of nature, are justly censured in an heroic poem, when they run out into an unnecessary length-the description of Paradise would have been faulty, had not the poet been very particular in it, not only as it is the scene of the principal action, but as it is requisite to give us an idea of that happiness from which our first parents fell. The plan of it is wonderfully beautiful, and formed upon the short sketch which we have of it in Holy Writ. Milton's exuberance of imagination has poured forth such a redundancy of ornaments on this seat of happiness and innocence, that it would be endless to point out each particular.
I must not quit this head, without further observing, that there is scarce a speech of Adam or Eve in the whole poem, wherein the sentiments and allusions are not taken from this their delightful habitation. The reader, during their whole course of action, always finds himself in the walks of Paradise. In short, as the critics have remarked, that in those poems, wherein shepherds are actors, the thoughts ought always to take a tincture from the woods, fields, and rivers, so we may observe, that our first parents seldom lose sight of their happy station in anything they speak or do; and, if the reader will give me leave to use the expression, that their thoughts are always Paradisiacal.
We are in the next place to consider the machines of the fourth book. Satan being now within prospect of Eden, and looking round upon the glories of the creation, is filled with sentiments different from those which he discovered whilst he