תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

the wake of such men and resembled them. From the Bible his spirit received a divine baptism-a baptism renewed and deepened day by day. His epic, accordingly, is neither military nor romantic; it is religious and theological. Such was his age, and such is this great offspring of his genius.

Satan is not, as some critics allege, the hero of “Paradise Lost." Nor is that place assigned to Adam : it is given to the Messiah. It must be confessed, however, that to have made the symmetry of the inspiration complete, the “ Paradise Regained” should have been wrought in with the “ Paradise Lost." We might have dispensed with much in the closing portions of the latter poem to have made room for such a sequel. The

Paradise Lost” presents the epic elements of conflict, suffering, and retribution; but the actor designed especially to embody the ideas of suffering and triumph, does not take an adequate part in the scenes which pass before us. We need to follow him from the first poem to the second to see him hold his due place in the great scheme of events.

Great were the difficulties to be surmounted in the treatment of such a theme. Homer and Virgil blend the natural and the supernatural; but the gods and goddesses at their disposal were so humanized already in the imagination of their contemporaries, as to be little other than men and

But it was not so with Milton. The angel forms in Scripture, indeed, are human; but they are still ethereal. They soar into the air, they pass through fire, they penetrate dungeons, and are impervious to matter. Their homes, too, like themselves, must be impalpable to sense. How, then, describe the one or the other ? As the Bible gave the poet his subject, so it gave him his manner of dealing with it. His angels take the human form—that form as we may imagine it in heaven or hell. His Heaven gives us the earth again, but the earth rising to a loftier grandeur, and clothed in a more lustrous, manifold, and mysterious beauty. His Hell brings together the dark and terrible shadows sometimes present to us in this material world—the darkness becoming still more dark, the terror still more terrific. Every vision and hint in the Scriptures on these subjects is treasured and pondered, until it becomes suggestive, expands, and suffices as an outline to be filled up by the imagination. And wonderful is the creative power which fills up those voids. Those whom Milton has led into his Paradise never forget that they have been there ; those who have ascended with him into his regions of light never cease to be conscious of the sights which have there fascinated them; and those who have stood in the midst of his “ darkness visible," and gazed on what was to be

women.

seen in that land where “the light is as darkness," have passed through experiences which have become a part of their being. It is common to speak of the sublimity of Milton as the highest attribute of his genius; but only the inspiration which stretched out the light and darkness of his upper and nether worlds, could have made us dream of the beauties of his Paradise as we now do.

Shakespeare transcends all other writers in the apparent ease with which his ideas seem to find birth and expression; and in the variety of characters which he places, as with the touch of an enchanter, upon his canvas. In what Milton does there is generally a perceptible effort. But some appearances of this nature were inseparable from a subject so lofty in its aim, and to the successful presentation of which a sustained elevation of an extraordinary description was indispensable. It is true Milton does sometimes tell you by his manner that he means to say great and eloquent things. But then he does not disappoint you the things are said. Only a mind thus self-conscious could have achieved such success in relation to such a subject. With regard to variety of character, it becomes us to inquire what the variety proper to such a history really is, and then to ask whether the writer has realized, in this respect, the thing to have been expected from him. Paradise Lost” was not a stage on which to exhibit the ways of clowns and court fools : it has to do with beings who are in earnest, and awful in their goodness or in their ruin. Any attempt to admix the grave and the gay in such a narrative would have been monstrous. It would be easy to show that nothing could be more true to nature than the distinct traits with which the poet has adorned the manhood and womanhood of our first parents; and that among the good in Heaven, and the bad in Hell, the shades of difference in character are often well presented. Abdiel is not a duplicate of Gabriel, nor is Michael of Raphael ; and wide is the space which separates between Moloch and Belial, Mammon and Beelzebub. These all have their own utterances ; and Satan, by his higher intelligence, his pride of heart and strength of will, has his place apart from and above them all. So wonderful is he, that he throws a spell over the reader through the early stages of this poem.

But it is soon broken. As the drama develops itself, the feeling of interest in his fate gives place to a feeling of aversion and execration. It may seem strange that a being so often baffled, humbled, prostrated, should persist in his course, and seem to be hopeful. But we know not the space allowed to the power of self-illusion in the case of such natures; and we know enough of moral agents, in this world, to be aware

that when “a deceived heart has turned them aside," to be doomed to feed on ashes" is not to be reclaimed. The power to say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand ?” seems to pass from them, It should be remembered, too, that Satanic agency is far from being wholly a failure. To an intelligence which moral evil has disturbea, nothing would be more natural than the persuasion, that the resistance which the Great Ruler does not at once suppress, is resistance beyond his power.

It is proper to say to the uninitiated reader that he will find some of the later portions even of this poem descend to the didactic, and become comparatively prosaic. Some things in it, also, are open, we think, to critical exception. The introduction of the Divine persons in direct dialogue before the reader, will be generally felt as an instance of this nature.

The same may be said, perhaps, of the allegorical beings, Sin and Death, though from the revival of letters poets had been fond of such representations. To know what these appearances denote, is to fail to realize them as objects of the imagination. But Satan is a reality; and nearly everything beside in this sublime drama gives us this impression. In mentioning these particulars, we merely say that the work is not—as no purely human work can be—wholly without fault. The general splendor so obscures these faint blemishes, that in thinking of Milton we hardly remember them.

Milton's blindness when the greater part of his poetry was written and published, must have been very unfavorable to strict accuracy. be traced in his historical, and even in his classical allusions, which we feel sure would not have had any place in his writings had he not been so much shut off from books, and dependent on memory. There are passages, too, in which words seem to have been misunderstood by his amanuensis, or by the printer. No one now thinks of retaining his profuse employment of capital letters or his orthography, while in regard to punctuation he must have been especially dependent upon others. In this last respect, more effort has been made than will be generally understood, in the hope of rendering this Edition such as the poet must have desired.

Errors may

PARADISE LOST.

BOOK I.

The First Book proposes, first in brief, the whole subject, man's disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise, wherein he was placed ; then touches the prime cause of his fall, the Serpent, or rather Satan in the Serpent; who, revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of angels, was, by the command of God, driven out of Heaven, with all his crew, into the great deep. Which action passed over, the Poem hastens into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his angels now falling into Hell, described here, not in the center, for Heaven and Earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet accursed, but in a place of utter darkness, fitliest called Chaos. Here Satan, with his angels, lying on the burning lake, thunderstruck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity lay by him ; they confer of their miserable fall ; Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded. They rise ; their numbers ; array of battle ; their chief leaders named, according to the idols known afterward in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech, comforts them with hope yet of regaining Heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world, and a new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy, or report in Heaven ; for, that angels were long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers to a full council. What his associates thence attempt. Pandemonium, the palace of Satan, rises, suddenly built out of the deep; the infernal peers there sit in council.

OF

F man's first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, heavenly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of Chaos: or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That, with no middle flight, intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer

9

Before all temples the upright heart and pure,

,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st: Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like, sat'st brooding on the vast abyss,
And madest it pregnant. What in me is dark,
Illumine; what is low, raise and support ;
That to the height of this great argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.

Say first—for Heaven hides nothing from thy view,
Nor the deep tract of Hell—say first, what cause
Moved our grand parents, in that happy state,
Favored of Heaven so highly, to fall off
From their Creator, and transgress His will
For one restraint, lords of the world besides?
Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?
The infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile,
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind; what time his pride
Had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host
Of rebel Angels; by whose aid, aspiring
To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equalled the Most High,
If he opposed; and, with ambitious aim,
Against the throne and monarchy of God,
Raised impious war in Heaven, and battle proud,
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition; there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.
Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded, though immortal. But his doom

[merged small][ocr errors]
« הקודםהמשך »