« PreviousContinue »
ties of his own; and he may as justly boast of the novelty of his poem, as any of the ancient poets bestow that recommendation upon their works; as Lucretius i. 925; and Virg. Georg. iii, 3.
17. And chiefly Thou, O Sp'irit, &c.] Invoking the Muse is commonly a matter of mere form ; but the Holy Ghost here invoked is too solemn a name to be used insignificantly : and besides, our author, in the beginning of Paradise Regained, scruples not to say to the same divine person,
This address therefore is no mere formality. Yet some may think that he incurs a worse charge of enthusiasm, or even profaneness, in vouching inspiration for his performance : but the Scripiures represent inspiration as of a much larger extent than is commonly apprehended, teaching that
every good gift, in naturals as well as in morals, descendetb from the great Farber of ligbts. And an extraordinary skill ever in mechanical arts is there ascribed to the illumination of the Holy Ghost. Exod. xxxv. 31.
His widow was wont to say that he did really look upon himself as inspired, and his works are not without a spirit of enthusiasm. In the beginning of his ad book of Ibe Reason of Church Government, speaking of his design of writing a poem in the English language, he says, not to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory and her Siren daughters, but by devout prayer to that eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and and sends out his Seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases.' p. 61.
19. Instruet me, for Tbou know'st;] Theocrit. Idyl. xxii: 116.
21. Dove-like satst broodirg] Alluding to Gen. i. 2. the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters; for the word that we translate moved signifies properly brooded, as a bird doth upon her eggs, and he says like a dove rather than any olher bird, because the descent of the Holy Ghost is compared to a dove in Scrip ure, Luke iii. 22. As Milton studied the Scriptures in the original languages, his images and
4 It was
expressions are oftener copied from them, than from our transiation.
26. And justify the ways of God to Men.] A verse, which Pope has thought fit to borrow with some little variation, in the beginning of his Essay on Man,
But vindicate the ways of God to Man.
Nor the dcep tract of Hell,-]The poets attribute a kind of omniscience to the Muse, and very rightly, as it enables them to speak of things which could not otherwise be supposed to come to their knowledge. Thus Homer, Iliad. ii. 485; and Virg. Æn. viii. 645.
Milton's Muse, being the Holy Spirit, must of course be omniscient. And the mention of Heaven and Hell is very proper in this place, as the scene of so gieat a part of the poem is laid sometimes in Hell, and sometimes in Heaven.
32. For one restraint,] The tree of knowledge forbidden. 33. Who first seduc'd them to that foul revolt?
Tb' infernal Serpent ;] An imitation of Homer, Iliad. i. &. where the question is asked, and the answer returned much in the same manner. 38. - by wbose aid aspiring
Io set bimself in glory, above bis peers,] Here Dr. Bentley objects, that Satan's crime was not his aiming above his peers: he was in place bigh above them before. But though this be true, yet Milton may be right here ; for the force of the words seems, not that Satan aspired to set bimself above bis peers, but that he aspired to set himself in glory, &c. that is, in divine glory, in such glory as God and his Son were set in. Here was his crime ; and this is what God charges him with in v. 725; vi. 88; vii. 140.
From these passages it appears that there is no occasion for Dr. Bentley's alteration, which is this,
-aspiring To place and glory, above the Son of God. Pearce. Besides the other methods which Milton has employed to diversify and improve his numbers, he takes the same liberties as Shakespear and others of our old poets, and in imita. won of the Greeks and Latins often cuts off the vowel at the
Iliad. i. 591.
end of a word, when the next word begins with a vowel ; though he does not like the Greeks wholly drop the vowel, but still retains it in writing like the Latins. nother liberiy, that he takes likewise, for the greater improvement and vari. ety of his versification, is pronourcing the same word sometimes as two syllables, and sometimes as only one syllable or two short ones. We have frequent instances in spirit, ruin, rict, rea.on, bigbest, and several other words. But then these excellencies in Milton's ver:e are attended with this inconvenience, that his numbers seem einbarrassed to such readers as know not, or know not readily, where such elision or abbreviation of vowels is to take place; and therefore for their sake we have taken care throughout this edition to mark such vowels as are to be cut it, and such as are to be contracted and abbreviated thus.'
45. Hurld beadlong flaming from tb'ethereal sky,] Homi Hurl'd headlog downward from th'ethereal height. Pope.
46. With bidecus ruin a: d combustion,] Ruin is derived from ruo, and includes the idea of falling with violence and precipitation, and cuml ustion is more thar flaming in the foregoing verse, it is burning in a dre..diul manner. So that he was not only huri'd headlong flaming, but he was buil'd headlong faming with blaelus riin ard comtusriun ; and what occasion is there then for reading with Dr. Bentley confusion instead of combustion ?
48. In adamantine chains] Æschylus Prometh, 6.
50. Nine times, &c.] 'l he nine days astonishment in which the Ange.s lay intranced aiter their dreadful overthrow and fall from Heaven before they could recover either the use of thought or speech, is a noble circumstance, and very finely imagined. The division of Hels into seas of fire, and into firm ground impregnant with the same furious element, with that particular circumstance of the exclusion of bope from those internal regions, are instances of the same great and fruittul invention. Addison.
63. darkness wisible] Milton seems to have used these words to signify gloom: Absolute darkness is stri&ily speaking invisible; but where there is a gloom only, there is so much light remaining as serves to shew that there are objects,
and yet that those objets cannot be distinctly scen. Pearce.
Seneca has a like expression, speaking of the Grotta of Poufilypo, Senec. Epist. lvii. And Antonio de Solis, in his excellent History of Mexico, bath ventured on the same thought, when speaking of the place wherein Montezuma was wont to consult his Deities; “'Twas a large dark subterraneous vault, says he, where some dismal tapers afforded just light enough to see the obscurity.” Voltaire's Essay on Epic Poetry,
44. Euripides too expresses himself in the same poetical manner. Bac. 510. Spenser also, Faery Queen, B. 1. Cant, 1. St. 14.
A little glooming light, much like a shade.
Or after all, the author might perhaps take the hint from himself in his Il Penseroso,
Where glowing embers through the room
74. As from the centre tbrice to tb' utmost pole.] Thrice as far as it is from the centre of the earth (which is the centre of the world according to Milton's system, ix. 103. and x. 671.) to the pole of the world; for it is the pole of the universe, far beyond the pole of the earth, which is here called the utmost pole. It is observable that Homer makes the seas of Hell as far beneath the deepest pit of earth, as the Heaven is above the earth ; Virgil makes it twice as far; and Milton tbrice as far.
Milton's whole description of hell as much exceeds theirs, as in this single circumstance of the depth of it.
81. Beelzebub.] The lord of Aies, an idol worshipped at Ecron, a city of the Philistines, 2 Kings i. 2. He is called prince of the Devils, Mat. xii. 24. therefore deservedly here made second to Satan himself. H:40e.
82. And thence in Heav'n call’d Satan,] For the word Satan in Hebrew signifies an enemy: he is the enemy by way of eminence, the chief enemy of God and Man.
84. If thox heest be; &c.] The thoughts in the first speech and description of Satan, who is one of the principal actors in this poem, are wonderfully proper to give us a full idea of him. His pride, envy, and revenge, obstina y, despair and impenitence, are all of thein very artfully interwoven.
In short, his first speech is a complication of all those passions, which discover themselves separately in several other of his speeches in the poem. Addison.
The change and confusion of these enemies of God is most artfully expressed in the abruptress of the beginning of this speech : If thou art he, that Beëlzebub- He stops, and falls into a bitter reflection on their present condition, compared with that in which they lately were. He attempts again to open his mind; cannot proceed on what he intends to say, but returns to those sad thoughts ; still doubting whether it is really his associate in the revolt, as now in misery and ruin; by that time he had expatiated on this (his heart was oppressed with it) he is assured to whom he speaks, and goes on to declare his proud unrelenting mind. Richardson.
84.-- But O bow fali’n! bow chang’d
From him,] He imitates Isaiah and Virgil at the same time. Isa. xiv. 12.
How art theu fall’n, &c. and Virgil's Æn. ii. 274.
86. Cloib'd with transcendent brightness didst outshine
Myriads though bright!) Imitated from Homer, Odyss. vi. 110. where Diana excels all her nymphs in beauty, though all of them be beautiful. Bentley.
93. He with his thunder :] Satan disdains to utter the name of God, though he cannot but acknowledge his sua periority. So again ver. 257.
94.-ayet not for those,
change, &c.] Milton in this and other passages, where he is describing the fierce and unrelenting spirit of Satan, seems very plainly to have copied after the picture that Æschylus gives of Prometheus speaking of Jupiter, Prom. Vinct. 991.
98. And bigh aisdain] This is a favourite expression of Spenser. Thus in the Faery Queen, B. i. Cant. i. St. 19.
His gall did grate for grief and bigb disdain.
This is the alto sdegno of the Italians, from whom no doubt he had it.
Tbyer. 105 -What though the field be lost? All is not lost; &c.] This passage is an excellent in.