Page images
PDF
EPUB

Amidst those impieties which this enraged spirit utters in other places of the poem, the author has taken care to introduce none that is not big with absurdity, and incapable of shocking a religious reader; his words, as the poet himself describes them, bearing only a semblance of worth, not substance. He is likewise with great art described as owning his adversary to be almighty Whatever perverse interpretation he puts or the justice, mercy, and other attributes of the Supreme Being, he frequently confesses his omnipotence, that being the perfection he was forced to allow him, and the only consideration which could support his pride under the shame of his defeat.

Nor must I here omit that beautiful circumstance of his bursting out in tears, upon this survey of those innumerable spirits whom he had involved in the same guilt and ruin with elf.

............... He now prepar'd To speak ; whereat their double ranks they bend From wing to wing, and half inclose him round With all his peers : attention held them mute. Thrice he essay'd, and thrice in spite of scorn Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth .............. The catalogue of evil spirits has abundance of learning in it, and a very agreeable turn of poetry, which rises in a great measure from its describing the places where they were worshipped, by those beautiful marks of rivers so frequent among the ancient poets. The author had doubtless in this place Homer's catalogue of ships, and Virgil's list of warriors in his view. The characters of Moloch and Belial prepare the reader's mind for their respective speeches and behaviour in the second and sixth book. The account of Thammuz is finely romantic, and suitable to what we read among the ancients of the worship which was paid to that idol.

[blocks in formation]

Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allura
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate
In am'rous ditties all a summer's day,
While smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea, suppos'd with blood
of Thammuz yearly wounded, the love tale
Infecteci Sion's daughters with like heat,
Whose wanton passions in the sacred porch
Ezekiel saw,

when by the vision led
His eve survey'd the dark idolatries

of alienated Judah The reader will pardon me if I insert as a note on this beautiful passage, the account given us by the late ingenious Mr. Maundrell of this ancient piece of worship, and probably the first occasion of such a superstition. “ We came to a fair large river..... “ doubtless the ancient river Adonis, so famous for “ the idolatrous rites performed here in lamentation 6 of Adonis. We had the fortune to see what may “ be supposed to be the occasion of that opinion 66 which Lucian relates concerning this river, viz. « That this stream, at certain seasons of the year, “ especially about the feast of Adonis, is of a bloody 66 colour'; which the heathens looked upon as pro6 ceeding from a kind of sympathy in the river for « the death of Adonis, who was killed by a wild boar " in the mountains, out of which this stream rises. “ Something like this we saw actually come to pass ; « for the water was stained to a surprising redness ; “ and, as we observed in travelling, had discoloured “ the sea a great way into a reddish hue, occasioned « doubtless by a sort of minium, or red earth, washed « into the river by the violence of the rain, and not 6 by any stain from Adonis's blood.”

The passage in the catalogue, explaining the manner how spirits transform themselves by contractions or enlargement of their dimensions, is introduced with great judgment, to make way for several surprising accidents in the sequel of the poem. There

follows one, at the very end of the first book, which is what the French critics call Marvellous, but at the same time probable by reason of the passage last mentioned. 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.

Thus incorporeal spirits to smallest forms
Reduc'd their shapes immense, and where at large,
Though without number, still amidst the hall
of that infernal court. But far within,
And in their own dimensions like themselves,
The great seraphic lords and chcrubim,
In close recess and secret conclave sat,
A thousand demi-gods on golden seats,

Frequent and full ....... S.... The character of Mammon, and the description of the Pandæmonium, are full of beauties.

There are several other strokes in the first book wonderfully poetical, and instances of that sublime genius so peculiar to the author. Such is the de. scription of Azazel's stature, and the infernal standard which he unfurls ; as also of that ghastly light, by which the fiends appear to one another in their place of torments.

The seat of desolation, void of light,
Save what the glimm'ring of those livid flames

Casts pale and dreadful. The shout of the whole host of fallen angels when drawn up in battle array : 1

.............. The universal host
A shout that tore hell's concave, and beyond
Frighted the reign of Chaos and old Night.

up sent

The review which the leader makes of his infer

nal army;

...................He thru' the armed files
Darts his experienc'd eye, and so on traverse
The whole battalion views, their order due,
Their visages and stature as of gods,
Their number last he sums; and now his heart
Distends with pride, and hard’ning in his strength

Glories The flash of light which appeared upon the draw. ing up of their swords;

He spake! and to confirm his words out flew
Millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thigha
Of mighty Cherubim; the sudden blaze

Far round illumin'd hell.
The sudden production of the Pandæmonium ;

Anon out of the earth a fabric huge
Rose like an exhalation, with the sound

Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet.
The artificial illuminations made in it;

From the arched roof
Pendant by subtle magic, many a row
of starıy lamps and blazing crescents, fed
With Naphtha and Asphaltus, yielded light
As from a sky

There are also several noble similies and allusions in the first book of Paradise Lost: and I must here observe, that when Milton alludes either to things or persons, he never quits his simile until it rises to some very great idea, which is often foreign to the occasion that gave birth to it. The resemblance does not, perhaps, last above a line or two, but the poet runs on with the hint until he has raised out of it some glorious image or sentiment, proper to inflame the mind of the reader, and to give it that sublime kind of entertainment, which is suitable to the nature of an heroic poeni. Those who are acquainted with Homer and Virgil's way of writing, cannot bụt be pleased with this kind of structure in

Milton's similitudes. I am the more particular on this head, because ignorant readers, who have formed their taste upon the quaint similies and little turns of wit which are so much in vogue among modern poets, cannot relish these beauties which are of a much higher nature, and are therefore apt to censure Milton's comparisons in which they do not see any surprising points of likeness. Monsieur Perrault was a man of this vitiated relish, and for that very reason has endeavoured to turn into ridicule several of Homer's similitudes, which he calls Comparisons longue Queue, “.long-tailed comparisons.” I shall conclude this paper on the first book of Milton with the answer which Monsieur Boileau makes to Perrault on this occasion; “ Comparisons," says he, 6 in odes and epic poems, are not introduced only to « illustrate and embellish the discourse, but to amuse « and relax the mind of the reader, by frequently « disengaging him from too painful an attention to “ the principal subject, and by leading him into « other agreeable images. Homer,” says he, “ celled in this particular, whose comparisons abound « with such images of nature as are proper to relieve “ and diversify his subjects. He continually instructs 66 the reader, and makes him take notice, even in « objects which are every day before our eyes, of « such circumstances as we should not otherwise " have observed.” To this he adds, as a maxim universally acknowledged, “ that it is not necessary in " poetry for the points of the comparison to corres" pond with one another exactly, but that a general 6 resemblance is sufficient, and that too much nicety « in this particular savours of the rhetorician and " epigrammatist.”

In short, 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 so many short fables, and

ex

« PreviousContinue »