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To mortal combat, or career with lance y)
To mortal combat, or career with lance. Milton has carefully distinguished the two different methods of combat in the champ clos.-CALLANDER.
2 As Bees. An imitation of Homer, who compares the Grecians crowding to a swarm of bees, Il. ii. 87. There are such similes also in Virg., Æn. i. 430, vi. 707. But Milton carries the similitude farther than either of his great masters; and mentions the bees "conferring their state affairs,” as he is going to give an account of the consultations of the devils.—NEWTON.
If we look into the conduct of Homer, Virgil, and Milton; as the great fable is the soul of each poem, so, to give their works an agreeable variety, their episodes are as so many short fables, and their similes so many short episodes; to which you may add, if you please, that their metaphors are so many short similes. If the reader considers the comparisons in the first book of Milton,—of the sun in an eclipse, of the sleeping leviathan, -of the bees swarming about their hive, —of the fairy dance,-in the view wherein I have here placed them, he will easily discover the great beauties that are in each of those passages.—ADDISON.
* They among fresh dews and flowers. It is not necessary to enlarge upon the poetry of this beautiful passage.
b Now less than smallest dwarfs. As soon as the infernal palace is finished, we are told, the multitude and rabble of spirits immediately shrunk themselves into a small compass, that there might be room for such a numberless assembly in this capacious hall : but it is the poet's refinement upon this thought which I most admire, and which is indeed very noble in itself; for he tells us, that notwithstanding the vulgar, among the fallen spirits, contracted their forms, those of the first rank and dignity still preserved their natural dimensions.--ADDISON.
c Whose midnight revels. Olaus Magnus, treating of the night-dances the fairies and ghosts, relates that travellers in the night, and such as watch the flocks and herds, are wont to be compassed about with many strange apparitions of this kind. See b. III. ch. x. Engl. ed. fol. 1658.--TODD.
Or dreams he sees. From Apollonius Rhodius, one of his favourite authors, Argonaut. iv. 1479.–TODD.
Sits arbitress e, and nearer to the earth f
e Sits arbitress. Witness, spectatress. So Horace, Epod. v. 49 :
0, rebus meis
f Nearer to the earth. This is said in allusion to the superstitious notion of witches and faeries having great power over the moon. Virg. Eclog. viï. 69 :
Carmina vel coelo possunt deducere lunam.-NEWTON.
& They, on their mirth and dance
Intent. One of those picturesque pastoral passages with which Milton's early poetry so abounds.
h Secret conclave sat. An evident allusion to the conclaves of the cardinals on the death of a pope.
In tracing the progress of this poem by deliberate and minute steps, our wonder and admiration increase. The inexhaustible invention continues to grow upon us; each page, each line, is pregnant with something new, picturesque, and great : the condensity of the matter is without any parallel : the imagination often contained in a single passage is more than equal to all that secondary poets have produced: the fable of the voyage through Chaos is alone a sublime poem. Milton's descriptions of materiality have always touches of the spiritual, the lofty, and the empyreal.
Milton has too much condensation to be fluent: a line or two often conveys a world of images and ideas : he expatiates over all time, all space, all possibilities : he unites earth with heaven, with hell, with all intermediate existences, animate and inanimate ; and his illustrations are drawn from all learning, historical, natural, and speculative. In him, almost always, “more is meant than meets the ear. An image, an epithet, conveys a rich picture.
What is the subject of observation may be told without genius ; but the wonder and the greatness lie in invention, if the invention be noble, and according to the principles of possibility.
Who could have conceived,--or, if conceived, who could have expressed,—the voyage of Satan through Chaos, but Milton? Who could have invented so many distinct and grand obstacles in his way? and all picturesque, all poetical, and all the topics of intellectual meditation and reflection, or of spiritual sentiment ?
All the faculties of the mind are exercised, stretched, and elevated at once by every page of " Paradise Lost.”
Invention is the first and most indispensable essential of true poetry; but'not the only one : the invention must have certain high, moral, sound, wise qualities ; and, in addition to these, such as are picturesque or spiritual. It is easy to invent what is improbable or unnatural. Nothing will do which cannot command our belief.
Inventions either of character, imagery, or sentiment, taken separately in small fragments, may still have force and merit: but when they form an integral and appropriate part of a long whole, how infinitely their power, depth, and bearings, are increased !
In poetry, we must consider both the original conceptions and the illustrations : each derives interest and strength from the other : a mere copy of an image drawn from nature may have some beauty ; but the invention and the essential poetry lie in their complex use, when applied as an embodiment to something intellectual. Imagery is almost always so used by Milton; and so it was used by Homer and Virgil. This gives a new light to the mind of the reader, and creates combinations which perhaps did not before exist : the poet thus spiritualises matter, and materialises spirit. When what is presented is merely such scenery of nature as the painter can give by lines and colours, it falls far short of the poet's power and charm. Poetry, purely descriptive, is not of the first order.
There are lines in the “Paradise Lost," which would seem to be mere abstract opinions ; but they are not so; inset as they are into the course of a sublime, dense-wove narrative, they derive colour and character from the position which they occupy. So placed, their plainness is their strength and their spell : ornamented language would have weakened them. Of all styles, the uniformly florid is the most fatiguing.
That Milton could bring so much learning, as well as so much imaginative invention, to bear on every part of his infinitely-extended, yet thick-compacted fable, is truly miraculous. Were the learning superficial and loosely applied, the
wonder would not be great, or not nearly so great; but it is always profound, solid, conscientious; and in its combinations original.
Bishop Atterbury has said, in opposition to the general opinion, that the allegory of Sin and Death is one of the finest inventions of the poem. I agree with him most sincerely. The portress of the gates of hell sits there in a character, and with a tremendous figure and attributes, which no imagination less gigantic than Milton's could have drawn. Is it to be objected that Sin and Death are imaginary persons, when all the persons of the poem, except Adam and Eve, are imaginary ? Realities, in the strict sense, do not make the most essential parts of poetry.
ARGUMENT. The consultation begun, Satan debates whether another battel be to be hazarded for the
recovery of heaven: some advise it, others dissuade. A third proposal is preferred, mentioned before by Satan, to search the truth of that prophecy or tradition in heaven concerning another world, and another kind of creature, equal, or not much inferiour, to themselves, about this time to be created: their doubt who shall be sent on this difficult search: Satan their chief undertakes alone the voyage, is honoured and applauded. The council thus ended, the rest betake them several ways, and to several employments, as their inclinations lead them, to entertain the time till Satan return. He passes on his journey to hell gates; finds them shut, and who sat there to guard them; by whom at length they are opened, and discover to him the great gulf between hell and heaven; with what difficulty he passes through, directed by Chaos, the Power of that place, to the sight of this new world which he sought.
High on a throne a of royal state, which far
Powers and Dominions, Deities of heaven,
a High on a throne. See Spenser, Faery Queen, 1. iv. 8:
High above all a cloth of state was spred,
It did passe
c Showers on her kings Barbaric pearl and gold. It was the eastern ceremony, at the coronation of their kings, to powder them with gold-dust and seed-pearl. In the “Life of Timur-bec, or Tamerlane,” written by a Persian contemporary author, are the following words, as translated by Mons. Petit de la Croix, in the account there given of his coronation, b. II. c. i. -"Les princes du sang royal et les émïrs répandirent à pleines mains, with liberal hand, “sur sa tête quantité d'or et de pierreries selon la coutume.”—WARBURTON. See Virgil, Æn. ii. 504 :
Barbarico postes auro spoliisque superbi.
Immortal vigor, though oppress'd and fallen,
He ceased ; and next him Moloch, sceptred king,
up, the strongest and the fiercest spirit
My sentence is for open war : of wiles,
d None, whose portion. The sense and syntax are plain enough. There is no one, whose portion of present pain is so small, that he will be ambitious to covet more.
e By what best way. See Spenser, F. Q. VII. vi. 21.-TODD.