Pagina-afbeeldingen
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defcriptive parts of this poem, which I have not touched upon, it being my intention to point out thofe only, which appear to me the most exquifite, or thofe which are not so obvious to ordinary readers. Every one that has read the critics who have written upon the Odyffey, the Iliad, and the Æneid, knows very well, that though they agree in the opinions of the great beauties in thofe poems, they have neverthelefs each of them difcovered feveral mafter-strokes, which have efcaped the obfervation of the reft. In the fame manner, I question not but any writer, who fhall treat of this fubject after me, may find feveral beauties in Milton, which I have not taken notice of. I muft likewife obferve, that as the greateft mafters of critical learning differ among one another, as to fome particular points in an epic poem, I have not bound myself fcrupulously to the rules which any one of them has laid down upon that art, but have taken the liberty fometimes to join with one, and fometimes with another, and fometimes to differ from all of them, when I have thought that the reason of the thing was on my fide.

We may confider the beauties of the fourth bock under three heads. In the first are those pictures of ftill life, which we meet with in the defcription of Eden, Paradife, 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 defcription of Paradise, the poet has obferved Ariftotle's rule of lavishing all the ornaments of diction on the weak unactive parts of the fable, which are not fupported by the beauty of fentiments and characters. Accordingly the reader may obferve, that the expreflions are more florid and elaborate in these defcriptions, than in most other parts of the poem. I muft further add, that though the drawings of gardens, rivers, rainbows, and the like dead pieces of nature are justly cenfured in an heroic poem, when they run out into an unnecessary length; the defcription of Paradife would have been faulty, had not the poet been very particular in it, not only as it is the fcene of the principal action, but as it is requifite 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 fhort sketch which we have of it in holy writ. Milton's exuberance of imagination has poured forth fuch a redundancy of ornaments on this feat of happiness and innocence, that it would be endless to point out each particular.

I must not quit this head, without further obferving, that there is fcarce a speech of Adam or Eve in the whole poem, wherein the fentiments and allufions are not taken from this their delightful habitation. The reader, during their whole courfe of action, always finds himself in the walks of Paradife. In fhort, as the critics have remarked, that in thofe poems wherein fhepherds are actors, the thoughts ought always to take a tin&ture from the woods, fields, and rivers, fo we may cbferve, that our first parents feldom lofe fight of their happy ftation in any thing they speak or do; and if the reader will five me leave to ufe the expreffion, that their boughts are always Paradifiacal,

We are in the next place to confider the machincs of the fourth book. Satan being now within profpect of Eden, and looking round upon the glories of the creation, is filled with fentiments different from thofe which he discovered whilft he was in hell. The place infpires him with thoughts more adapted to it: he reflects upon the happy condition from whence he fell, and breaks forth into a fpeech that is foftened with feveral tranfient touches of remorfe and felfaccufation; but at length he confirms himself in impenitence, and in his defign of drawing man into his own ftate of guilt and mifery. This conflict of paffions is raised with a great deal of art, as the opening of his fpeech to the fun is very bold and noble.

"O thou that with furpaffing glory crown'd, "Look'ft from thy fole dominion like the God "Of this new world; at whofe fight all the stars "Hide their diminish'd heads; to thee I call, "But with no friendly voice; and add thy name "O fun! to tell thee how I hate thy beams, "That bring to my remembrance from what ftate

"I fell, how glorious once above thy fphere!".

This fpeech is, I think, the finest that is afcribed to Satan in the whole poem. The evil

fpirit afterwards proceeds to make his discoveries what manner they may be beft attacked. His concerning our first parents, and to learn after bounding over the walls of Paradife; his fitting in the mape of a cormorant upon the tree of life, which food in the center of it, and over. topped all the other trees of the garden; his alighting among the herd of animals, which are fo beautifully reprefented as playing about Adam and Eve, together with his transforming himself verfation; are circumftances that give an agree into different shapes, in order to hear their conable furprife to the reader and are devifed with great art, to connect that series of adventures in which the poet has engaged this artificer of

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The thought of Satan's transformation into a cormorant, and placing himself on the tree of life, feems raised upon that paffage in the Iliad, where two deities are described, as perching on the top of an oak in the shape of vultures. the form of a toad, in order to produce vai His planting himself at the ear of Eve under dreams and imaginations, is a circumstance of the fame nature; as his starting up in his own form is wonderfully fine, both in the literal defcription, and in the moral which is concealed under it. His anfwer upon his being discovered, and demanded to give an account of himself, is conformable to the pride and intrepidity of his

character.

"Know ye not them, faid Satan, fill'd with fcorn,

"Know ye not me? ye knew me once no mate "For you, there fitting where you durft not

fear; "Not to know me argues yourselves unknown, "The lowest of your throng"

Zephon's rebuke, with the influence it had on Satan, is exquifitely graceful and moral. Satan is afterwards led away to Gabriel, the chief of the guardian angels, who kept watch in Paradife. His difdainful behaviour on thisoccafion

occafion is fo remarkable a beauty that the most ordinary reader cannot but take notice of it. Gabriel's difcovering his approach at a distance, is drawn with great ftrength and liveliness of imagination.

"O friends, I hear the tread of nimble feet,
"Hafting this way, and now by glimpfe difcern
"Ithuriel and Zephon through the fhade,

And with them comes a third of regal port,
But faded fplendor wan; who by his gait
And fierce demeanor feems the prince of hell:
Not likely to part hence without conteft;
Stand firm, for in his look defiance low'rs."

The conference between Gabriel and Satan abounds with fentiments proper for the occafion, and suitable to the perfons of the two fpeakers. Satan cloathing himfelf with terror when he prepares for the combat is truly fublime, and at leaft equal to Homer's defcription of difcord celebrated by Longinus, or to that of the fame in Virgil, who are both reprefented with their feet ftanding upon the earth, and their hands reaching above the clouds.

"While thus he fpake, th' angelic fquadron bright

"Turn'd fiery red, sharp'ning in mooned horns "Their phalanx, and began to hem him round "With ported fpears, &c.

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-On th' other fide Satan alarm'd, "Collecting all his might dilated food "Like Teneriff, or Atlas, unremov'd: "His ftature reach'd the fky, and on his creft "Sat horror plum'd;”.

I must here take notice, that Milton is every where full of hints and sometimes literal tranflations, taken from the greatest of the Greek and Latin poets. But this I may referve for a dif courfe by itself, because I would not break the thread of thefe fpeculations, that are defigned for English readers, with fuch reflexions as would be of no ufe but to the learned.

I must however observe in this place, that the breaking off the combat between Gabriel and Satan, by the hanging out of the golden fcales in heaven, is a refinement upon Homer's thought, who tells us, that before the battle between Hector and Achilles, Jupiter weighed the event of it in a pair of scales. The reader may fee the whole paffage in the 22d Iliad.

Virgil, before the laft decifive combat, defcribes Jupiter in the fame manner, as weighing the fates of Turnus and Æneas. Milton, though he fetched this beautiful circumftance from the Iliad and Æneid, does not only infert it as a poetical embellishment, like the authors abovementioned; but makes an artful ufe of it for the proper carrying on his fable, and for the breaking off the combat between the two warriors, who were upon the point of engaging. To this we may further add, that Milton is the more justified in this paffage, as we find the fame noble allegory in holy writ, where a wickprince, fome few hours before he was affaulted and flain, is faid to have been "weighed in the "fcales, and to have been found wanting.”

I must here take notice, under the head of the machines, that Uriel's gliding down to the earth upon a fun-beam, with the poet's device to make him defcend, as well as his return to

the fun as in his coming from it, is a prettiness that might have been admired in a little fanciful poet, but feems below the genius of Milton. The defcription of the hoft of armed angels walking their nightly round in Paradife, is of another spirit.

"So faying, on he led his radiant files, "Dazzling the moon ;"

as that account of the hymns which our first parents ufed to hear them fing in these their midnight walks, is altogether divine, and inexpreffibly amufing to the imagination.

We are, in the laft place, to confider the parts which Adam and Eve act in the fourth book. The defcription of them, as they first appeared to Satan, is exquifitely drawn, and fufficient to make the fallen angel gaze upon them with all that aftonishment, and those emotions of envy, in which he is reprefented. "Two of far nobler shape erect and tall, "God-like erect! with native honour clad "In naked majefty, feem'd lords of all; "And worthy feem'd: for in their looks divine "The image of their glorious Maker fhone, "Truth, wifdom, fanctitude fevere and pure; "Severe, but in true filial freedom plac'd :

For contemplation he and valour form'd, "For foftnefs the and sweet attractive grace; "He for God only, the for God in him. "His fair large front, and eye fublime, declar'd "Abfolute rule: and Hyacinthin locks "Round from his parted forelock manly hung "Cluft'ring, but not beneath his fhoulders broad.

"She, as a veil, down to a flender waist "Her unadorned golden treffes wore "Dif-fheveld, but in wanton ringlets wav'd. "So pafs' they naked on, nor fhun'd the fight "Of God or angel, for they thought no ill: "So hand in hand they pafs'd, the lovelieft pair "That ever fince in love's embraces met."

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"So far the happier lot, enjoying thes "Pre-eminent by fo much odds, which thou "Like confort to thyfelf can'ft no where find, &c. The remaining part of Eve's fpeech, in which the gives an account of herfelf upon her firft creation, and the manner in which he was brought to Adam, is, I think, as beautiful a paffage as any in Milton, or perhaps in any other poet whatfoever. These paffages are all worked off with fo much art, that they are capable of pleafing the most delicate reader, without offending the most severe.

"This day I oft remember, when from fleep, &c."

A poet of lefs judgment and invention than this great author, would have found it very difficult to have filled these tender parts of the poem with fentiments proper for a state of innocence; to have defcribed the warmth of love, and the profeffions of it, without artifice or hyperbole ; to have made the man fpeak the most endearing things, without defcending from his natural dignity, and the woman receiving them without departing from the modefty of her character; in a word, to adjust the prerogative of wisdom and beauty, and make each appear to the other in its proper force and lovelinefs. This mutual fubordination of the two fexes is wonderfully kept up in the whole poem, as particularly in the fpeech of Eve I have before mentioned, and upon the conclufion of it in following

lines.

"So fpake our general mother, and with eyes

Of conjugal attraction unreprov'd, "And meek furrender, half embracing lean'd "On our first father: half her fwelling breast

"Naked met his under the flowing gold
"Of her loose treffes hid; he in delight
"Both of her beauty and fubmiffive charms
"Smil'd with fuperior love."

The poet adds, that the devil turned away with envy at the fight of fo much happiness.

We have another view of our first parents in their evening difcourfes, which is full of pleafing images and fentiments fuitable to their condon and characters. The fpeech of Eve, in particular, is dreffed up in fuch a foft and natu

ral turn of words and fentiments, as cannot be fufficiently admired.

I fhall clofe ny reflexions upon this book, with obferving the masterly tranfition which the poet makes to their evening worship in the following lines.

"Thus at their fhady lodge arriv'd, both stood, "Both turn'd, and under open sky, ador'd "The God that made both sky, air, earth, and heav'n,

"Which they beheld, the moon's refplendent globe,

"And ftarry pole: thou alfo mad'ft the night, "Maker omnipotent, and thou the day, &c."

tated the ancients in beginning a speech without Most of the modern heroic poets have imibut as it is eafy to imitate the ancients in the premifing, that the perfon faid thus or thus; omiffion of two or three words, it requires judgment to do it in fuch a manner as they fhall not be miffed, and that the fpeech may begin naturally without them. There is a fine inftance of this kind out of Homer, in the twenty-third chapter of Longinus.

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