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“Built like a temple, where pilasters round
The roof was fretted gold.” Almost every word is suggestive of the Pantheon, which was a temple, of a round shape, and encircled with two rows of pilasters. Doric pillars are by Milton substituted for Corinthian as being more chaste and better suited for a hall of council. The architrave, the cornice, the frieze, the statuary, here called bossy sculptures, are all prominent objects in the earthly temple of the gods as in their Plutonian Capitol. As the roof of Pandemonium is of fretted gold, so that of the Pantheon was formerly covered with plates of gilded bronze, until the latter were carried away by spoilers to Constantinople.
Upon a nearer approach and entrance to this infernal structure, the likeness to its earthly copy is discovered in a still greater number of particulars.
“ The ascending pile
As from a sky.” The extraordinary air of majesty of the exterior impresses all who behold the Pantheon. The doors in both archetype and copy were of bronze. The earthly structure, being by far the largest of ancient times, has its ample spaces within ; though these are narrow in comparison with that spacious hall, “like a covered field,” constructed by Mulciber. The wonderful pavement and the vaulted, roof lined with silver likewise used to engage the attention of visitors to the Pantheon, but the circular opening of twenty-six feet in diameter in the centre of the roof, lighting the interior with magical effect directly from the sky, is the most astonishing of all. There was no bright sky in that world of nether darkness, and the want of light from this source was supplied by the circular rows of burning cressets.
Since every one of the dozen or more features mentioned in describing Pandemonium coincides with a similar prominent feature in the Pantheon, it seems surprising that none of Milton's admirers who have seen the Pantheon appear to have recognized the likeness of the two structures. Besides, it was to be anticipated that a structure erected by the devils in Hell, and one erected by men under their influence on Earth, would resemble each other. The propriety of the poet's course is manifest, and well supported by analogy. As the temple on Mount Moriah, dedicated to the only true God, was built under Divine instruction according to the pattern of things in Heaven, would not the temple devoted to all the demons be built by men under their inspiration after the pattern of things in Hell? It is the more essential to observe such a fact because it helps to establish a very important principle in the interpretation of the poem, viz., that Milton usually, if not always, has a substantial basis for his imagination to act upon. He describes so conficlently because he describes what he has seen. (See the picture of the Pantheon on page 58.)
[From a Critique in the Quarterly Review, reprinted in Littell's
Living Age, March 10, 1877, entitled A French Critic (EDMOND SCHERER) on Milton.]
Milton has always the strong, sure touch of the master. His power both of diction and of rhythm is unsurpassable, and it is characterized by being always present, pot depending on an access of emotion, not intermittent, but, like the grace of Raphael, working in its possessor like a constant gift of nature. Milton's style has the same propriety and soundness in presenting plain matters as in the comparatively smooth task for a poet of presenting grand ones. His rhythm is as admirable where, as in the line,
“And Tiresias and Phineus prophets old,' it is unusual, as in such lines as,
“With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms,' where it is simplest. And what high praise this is, we may best appreciate by considering the ever-recurring failure, both in rhythm and in diction, which we find in the so-called Miltonic verse of Thomson, Cowper, Wordsworth. What leagues of lumbering movement! What desperate endeavors, as in Wordsworth's
“And at the Hoop alighted, famous inn,' to render a platitude endurable by making it pompous! Shakespeare himself, divine as are his gifts, has not, of the marks of the master, this one — perfect sureness of style. Alone of English poets, alone in English art, Milton has it ; he is our great artist in style, our one first-rate master in the grand style. He is as truly a master in this style as the great Greeks are, or Virgil, or Dante. The number of such masters is so limited that a man acquires a world-rank in poetry and art, instead of a mere local rank, by being counted to them. But Milton's importance to us Englishmen, by virtue of this distinction of his, is incalculable. The charm of a master's unfailing touch in diction and in rhythm, no one, after all, can feel so profoundly as his own countrymen. Invention, plan, wit, pathos, thought, — all of them are in great measure capable of being detached from the original work itself, and of being exported for admiration abroad. Diction and rhythm are not. ....
For the English artist in any branch, if he is a true artist, the study of Milton may well have an indescribable attraction. It gives him lessons which nowhere else from an Englishman's work can be obtain, and feeds a sense which English literature, in general, seems too much bent on disappointing and baffling. And this sense is yet so deep-seated in human nature — this sense of style — that probably not for artists alone, but for all intelligent Englishmen who read him, its gratification by Milton's poetry is a large, though often not fully recognized part of his charm, and a very wholesome and fruitful one.
[From De Quincey's Milton vs. Southey and Landor.] ANGELIC was the ear of Milton. Many are his prima facie anomalous lines. Many are the suspicious lines which I have seen many a critic poring into with eyes made up for mischief, yet with a misgiving that all was not quite safe, very much like an old raven looking down on a marrow-bone. In fact, such is the metrical skill of the man, and such the perfection of his metrical sensibility, that, on any attempt to take liberties with a passage of his, you feel as when coming in a forest upon what seems a dead lion ; perhaps he may
not be dead, but only sleeping ! nay, perhaps he may not be sleeping, but only shamming! You have a jealousy, as to Milton, even in the most flagrant case of almost palpable error, that, after all, there may be a plot in it !
[From Lowell's Among My Books, Vol. II.] THE strain heard in the “ Nativity Ode,” in “The Solemn Music,” and in “ Lycidas,” is of a higher mood, as regards metrical construction, than anything that had thrilled the English ear before ; giving no uncertain augury of him who was to show what sonorous metal lay silent till he touched the keys in the epical organ-pipes of our various language that have never since felt the strain of such prevailing breath.