Page images
PDF
EPUB

raised upon that passage in the Iliad, where two deities are described, as perching on the top of an oak in the shape of vultures.

His planting himself at the ear of Eve under the form of a toad, in order to produce vain dreams and imaginations, is a circumstance of the same nature; as his starting up in his own form is wonderfully fine, both in the literal description, and in the moral which is concealed under it. His answer upon his being demanded to give an account of himself, is conformable to the pride and intrepidity of his character.

“Know ye not then, said Satan, fill'd with scorn,
“ Know ye not me? ye knew me once no mate
“ For

you, there sitting where you durst not soar,
"Not to know me argues yourselves unknown,

« The lowest of your throng.". Zephon's rebuke, with the influence it had on Satan, is exquisitely graceful and moral. Satan is afterwards led away to Gabriel, the chief of the guardian angels, who kept watch in Paradise. His disdainful behaviour on this occasion is so remarkable a beauty that the most ordinary reader cannot but take notice of it. Gabriel's discovering his approach at a distance, is drawn with great strength and liveliness of imagination.

“ O friends, I hear the tread of nimble feet, “Hasting this way, and now by glimpse discern "Ithuriel and Zephon through the shade, * And with them comes a third of regal port, “ But faded splendor wan; who by his gait " And fierce demeanor seems the prince of hell: “ Not likely to part hence without contest : "Stand firm, for in his look defiance low'rs." The conference between Gabriel and Satan abounds with sentiments proper for the occasion, and suitable to the persons of the two speakers. Satan clothing himself with terror when he prepares for the combat is truly sublime, and at least equal

[ocr errors]

to Homer's description of Discord celebrated by Longinus, or to that of Fame in Virgil, who are both represented with their feet standing upon the earth, and their heads reaching above the clouds.

“ While thus he spake, th' angelic squadron bright
" Turn’d fiery red, sharp'ning in mooned horns
“ Their phalanx, and began to hem him round
" With po ted spears, &c.

..................On th’ other side Satan alarm’d,
“ Collecting all his might dilated stood
“ Like Teneriff, or Atlas, unremov'd:
“ His stature reach'd the sky, and on his crest

“ Sat horror plum'd;........ I must here take notice, that Milton is every where full of hints, and sometimes literal translations, taken from the greatest of the Greek and Latin poets. But this I may reserve for a discourse by itself, because I would not break the thread of these speculations, that are designed for English readers, with such reflections as would be of no use 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 scales 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 see the whole passage in the twentysecond Iliad.

Virgil, before the last decisive combat, describes Jupiter in the same manner, as weighing the fates of Turnus and Æneas. Milton, though he fetched this beautiful circumstance from the Iliad and Aneid, does not only insert it as a poetical embellishment, like the authors above-mentioned, but makes an artful use of it for the proper carrying on of 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 passage, as we ind the same noble

F f

VOL. IV.

allegory in holy writ, where a wicked prince, some few hours before he was assaulted and slain, is said to have been “ weighed in the scales, and was found “ wanting.”

I must here take notice, under, the head of the machines, that Uriel's gliding down to the earth upon a sun-beam, with the poet's device to make lim descend, as well in his return to the sun as in his coming from it, is a prettiness that might have been admired in a little fanciful poet, but seems below the genius of Milton. The description of the host of armed angels walking their nightly round in Paradise, is of another spirit.

" So saying, on he leg his radiant files,

“ Dazzling the moon;" as that account of the hymns which our first parents used to hear them sing in these their midnight walks, is altogether divine, and inexpressibly amusing to the imagination.

We are; in the last place, to consider the parts which Adam and Eve act in the fourth book. The description of them, as they first appeared to Satan, is exquisitely drawn, and sufficient to make the fallen angel gaze upon them with all that astonishment, and those emotions of envy, in which he is represented.

* Two of far nobler shape erect and tall, “God-like erect! with native honour clad “ In naked majesty, seem'd lords of all; "And worthy seem'd: for in their looks divine " The image of their glorious Maker shone,

Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure; " Severe, but in true filial freedomn plac'd: “ For contemplarion he and valour forni'd, "For softness she and sweet attractive grace; " He for God orily, she for God in him. “ His fair large front, and eye sublime, declar'd “ Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks « Round from his parted forelock manly hung " Clust'ring, but not beneath his shoulders broad.

" She, as a veil, down to a slender waist
" Her unadorned golden tresses wore
" Dissheveld, but in wanton ringlets wav'd.
"So pass'd they naked on, nor shunn’d the sight
“Of God or angel, for they thought no ill:
“So hand in hand they pass'd, the loveliest pair

" That ever since in love's embraces met.” There is a fine spirit of poetry in the lines which follow, wherein they are described as sitting on a bed of flowers by the side of a fountain, amidst a mixed assembly of animals.

The speeches of these two first lovers flow equally from passion and sincerity. The professions they make to one another are full of warmth ; but at the same time founded on truth. In a word, they are the gallantries of Paradise.

No ............. When Adam, first of men................

“ Sole partner and sole part of all these jogs,
« Dearer thyself than all ;............ .......
“ Bat let us ever praise him, and extol
“ His bounty, following our delightful task,
To prune those growing plants, and tend these flow'rs;
" Which were it toilsome, yet with thee were sweet.

To whom thus Eve reply'd, O thou for whom,
“ And from whom I was form’d, flesh of thy flesh,
" And without whom ain to no end, my guide
“ And head, what thou hast said is just and right,
“ For we to him indeed all praises owe,
• And daily thanks; 1 chiefly, who enjoy,
So far the happier lot, enjoying thee
“ Pre-eminent by so much odds, while thou

“ Like consort to thyself canst no where find, &c. The remaining part of Eve's speech, in which she gives an account of herself upon her first creation, and the manner in which she was brought to Adam, is, I think, as beautiful a passage as any in Milton, or perhaps in any other poet whatsoever. These passages are all worked off with so much art, that they are capable of pleasing the most delicate reader, without offending the most severe.

“ That day I oft remember, when froin siceps &c.

A poet of less judgment and invention than this great author, would have found it very difficult to have filled these tender parts of the poem with sentiments proper for a state of innocence : to have described the warmth of love, and the professions of it, without artifice or hyperbole : to have made the man speak the most endearing things, without descending from his natural dignity, and the woman receiving them without departing from the modesty of her character: in a word, to adjust the preroga. tives of wisdom and beauty, and make each appear to the other in its proper force and loveliness. This mutual subordination of the two sexes is wonderfully kept up in the whole poem, as particularly in the speech of Eve I have before mentioned, and upon the conclusion of it in the following lines.

“ So spake our general mother, and with eyes
“Of conjugal attraction unreprov'd,
“ And meek surrender, half embracing lean'd
“ On our first father : half her swelling breast
“ Naked met his under the flowing gold
"Of her loose tresses hid; he in delight
“ Both of her beauty and submissive charms

" Smil'd with superior love.”................ The poet adds, that the devil turned away vith envy at the sight of so much happiness.

We have another view of our first parents in their evening discourses, which is full of pleasing images and sentiments suitable to their condition and characters. The speech of Eve, in particular, is dressed up in such a soft and natural turn of words and sentiments, as cannot be sufficiently admired.

I shall close my reflections upon this book, with observing the masterly transition which the poet makes to their evening worship in the following lines;

“ Thus at their shady lodge arriv'd, both stood,
“ Both turn'd, and under open sky, ador'd .
“ The God that made both sky, air, earth, and hear'a

« PreviousContinue »