« PreviousContinue »
OF Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Ver. 1. Of Man's first disobedience,] The poet here lays before the reader the subject of the following work—the disobedience of our ancestors to the command of God the effects of that disobedience which lost them Paradise; and the hope we are allowed to entertain through the Divine Goodness, of being restored to the like blissful state.-Such are the great events our poet proposes to celebrate—the means, by which they are brought about, are to be unfolded by degrees, whilst here he offers, to the reader's imagination, only fuch ideas as are most capable to inspire him with reverence and attention. The Poem begins with the origin of evil in our world, and the disobedience of our ancestors to God, the cause of all our woe. We find Homer too, the father of Epick poetry, beginning his Iliad from the anger of Achilles, the source of all the Grecian misfortunes.
It would have been ridiculous, as Horace justly observes, had Homer begun his poem with an account of Leda's offspring; and it would have been absurd too in Milton, to have taken his exordium from the revolt of Satan and his Angels in Heaven; though hence the cause of that malice and enmity, which prompted the apostate Spirit to endeavour the ruin of mankind. As we were not, however, to be left ignorant of this great event, the poet has taken care to give us some hints of it in the beginning of this book, reserving the particular detail for that beautiful episode in the sixth; as his master Homer has done the principal events, that either went before the commencement of the quarrel between the
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
Phrygians and Grecians, or fell out during the first nine years of the war: the liad itself containing an account only of the transactions of a small part of the tenth year.
Virgil has observed the same conduct. He gives us the history of the taking of Troy, and what befel his hero, in an episode, which forms the second and third books of his poem; and in them are comprehended all the adventures of Æneas, till the time the poem takes him up near the coast of Italy, and consequently towards the end of his travels. Our poet here follows this plan. He opens his work representing Satan as already in Hell, and there contriving the scheme of Man's destruction, which he begins immediately to put in execution; neither are we told the particulars of his coming there for a great while after: so that we may justly apply to our author what Quinctilian fays of Homer on a like occasion, “in paucissimis versibus operis in- , greffu, legem proemiorum fervavit.” CALLANDER.
Ver. 4. With loss of Eden,] But Eden was not loft; and the Jast that we read of our first parents is that they were still in Eden: “ Through Eden took their folitary way." With loss of Eden therefore means no more than with loss of Paradise, which was planted in Eden; the whole being put for a part, as fometimes a part is put for the whole, by the figure Synecdoche.
NEWTON. Ver. 6.
on the secret top Of Oreb, or of Sinai,] Dr. Bentley reads “ the Sacred top." But his suppofed emendation is entirely overthrown by Dr. Pearce's masterly exposition of the genuine reading. “ Sinai and Horeb are the same mountain, with two several eminences, the higher of them called Sinai; of which Jofephus, in his Jewith antiquities, says, that it is so high, that the top of it cannot be seen without straining the eyes. In this sense therefore, though I believe it is not Milton's sense, the top of it may be well said to be fecret. The words, of Horeb, or of Sinai, imply a doubt of the poet, which name was properest to be given to that mountain, on
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
the top of which Moses received inspiration ; because Horeb and Sinai are used for one another in Scripture: but, by naming Sinai last, he seems to incline rather to that. Now it is well known from Exodus xix. 16, and other places of Scripture, that when God gave his laws to Moses on the top of Sinai, it was covered with clouds, dark clouds, and thick smoke ; it was therefore Secret at that time in a peculiar fense: And the same thing seems intended by the epithet which Milton uses upon the very fame occasion, B. xii. 227, Sinai, whose GRAY top shall tremble.”
Dr. Newton obferves, that Milton might have a further meaning in the use of the epithet secret, employing it in the same fense as the Latin secretus, set apart, or separate, like Virgil's “ secretosque pios," Æn. viji. 670. For, while Mofes talked with God on the mount in private, the people were forbidden to approach, and, even afterwards, to ascend it, upon pain of death.
It may be proper also to notice Milton's second allusion to the divine presence in the mount, Par. Loft, B. v. 598.
“ a flaming mount, whose top “ Brightness had made invihble.” Nor may I omit the forcible application of the epithet secret, in one of the earliest productions of the poet, to the altar of God, Ode Nativ. ver. 27.
“ And join thy voice unto the Angel-quire,
“ From out his secret altar &c.” TODD, Ver. 8. That Shepherd,] For Mofes“ kept the flock of Jethro his father in law," Exod. iii. 1. Newton. Ver. 11.
and Silod's brook] Siloa was a small river that flowed near the temple of Jerusalem. It is mentioned, Isaiah viii. 6. So that, in effect, Milton invokes the heavenly Muse, that inspired David and the Prophets on mount Sion, and at Jerusalem; as well as Mofes on mount Sinai. Newton.
Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
my adventurous song,] So, in Sylvester's
" that mine adventrous rime,
while it pursues
“ Avien, che ne in prosa è detta, o in rima
" In prose and rime.”
Milton probably meant a difference in the thing, by making lo + distinction
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
of that poem.
constant a difference in the spelling; and intended that we should here understand by rhime, not the jingling found of like endings, but verse in general; the word being derived from rythmus, gu@pós: Thus Spenser uses the word rhime for verse, in his “ Verses to Lord Buckhurst," placed before his Faery Queen; and in Book i. Cant. vi. st. 13,
And so our poet uses the word in his verses upon Lycidas,
" he knew “ Himself to fing, and build the lofty rhyme.” PEARCE. The “ lofty rhyme,” in Lycidas, is the “ lofty verse." And this is unquestionably the fense of the word rhyme, in this place of Paradise Lost. I cannot, however, admit bifhop Pearce's reasoning: at least in the passage of Lycidas we have no such nicety of fpelling, but rhyme appears in the editions of 1638, 1645, and 1673. Nor are the bishop's proofs of the true meaning of the word at all to the point. He rather might have alledged the following instance from Spenser's October :
“ Thou kenft not, Percie, how the rime should rage ;
“ How I could reare the Muse on stately stage, &c.” That is,“ my poetry should then mount to the highest elevations of the tragick and epick mufe.” But Fletcher more literally, in an Ode to Beaumont, on his imitations of Ovid, st. ii.
“ The wanton Ovid whofe enticing rimes.” It is wonderful that Bentley, with all his Grecian predilections, and his critical knowledge of the precife original meaning of pulmads, should have wished to substitute, in Milton, Song for rhyme. Gray, who studied and copied Milton with true penetration and taste, in his Mufick-Ode, uses rhyme in Milton's sense :
“ Meek Newton's self bends from his state sublime,