« AnteriorContinuar »
and tear the bowels of her who gave them birth. These are the terrors of an evil conscience, and the proper fruits of Sin, which naturally rise from the apprehensions of Death. This last beautiful moral is, I think, clearly intimated in the speech of Sin, where complaining of this her dreadful issue, she adds,
Before mine eyes in opposition sits
Grim Death, my son and foe, who sets them on,
I need not mention to the reader the beautiful circumstance in the last part of this quotation. He will likewise observe how naturally the three persons concerned in this allegory are tempted by one common interest to enter into a confederacy together, and how properly Sin is made the portress of hell, and the only being that can open the gates
to that world of tortures.
The descriptive part of this allegory is likewise very strong, and full of sublime ideas. The figure of Death, the regal crown upon his head, his menace of Satan, his advancing to the combat, the outcry at his birth, are circumstances too noble to be passed over in silence, and extremely suitable to this King of Terrors. I need not mention the justness of thought which is observed in the generation of these several symbolical persons, that Sin was produced upon the first revolt of Satan, that Death appeared soon after he was cast into hell, and that the terrors of conscience were conceived at the gate of this place of torments. The description of the gates is very poetical, as the opening of them is full of Milton's spirit.
-On a sudden open fly,
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound,
Excelled her power; the gates wide open stood,
In Satan's voyage through the Chaos, there are several imaginary persons described, as residing in that immense
waste of matter. This may perhaps be conformable to the taste of those critics who are pleased with nothing in a poet which has not life and manners ascribed to it; but for my own part I am pleased most with those passages in this description which carry in them a greater measure of probability, and are such as might possibly have happened. Of this kind is his first mounting in the smoke that rises from the infernal pit, his falling into a cloud of nitre, and the like combustible materials, that by their explosion still hurried him forward in his voyage; his springing upward like a pyramid of fire, with his laborious passage through that confusion of elements, which the poet calls
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave.
The glimmering light which shot into the Chaos from the utmost verge of the creation, with the distant discovery of the earth that hung close by the moon,' are wonderfully beautiful and poetical.
No. 315. SATURDAY, MARCH 1.
Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus
HORACE advises a poet to consider thoroughly the nature and force of his genius. Milton seems to have known perfectly well wherein his strength lay, and has therefore chosen a subject entirely conformable to those talents of which he was master. As his genius was wonderfully turned to the sublime, his subject is the noblest that could have entered into the thoughts of man. Everything that is truly great and astonishing has a place in it. The whole system of the intellectual world; the Chaos, and the creation; heaven, earth, and hell; enter into the constitution of his poem.
Having in the first and second book represented the infernal world with all its horrors, the thread of his fable naturally leads him into the opposite regions of bliss and glory.
If Milton's majesty forsakes him anywhere, it is in those
By the moon.] Mr. Addison mistakes the sense of this passage.—See Dr. Newton's note on the place.
parts of his poem, where the Divine persons are introduced as speakers. One may, I think, observe that the author proceeds with a kind of fear and trembling, whilst he describes the sentiments of the Almighty. He dares not give his imagination its full play, but chooses to confine himself to such thoughts as are drawn from the books of the most orthodox divines, and to such expressions as may be met with in Scripture. The beauties, therefore, which we are to look for in these speeches, are not of a poetical nature, nor so proper to fill the mind with sentiments of grandeur, as with thoughts of devotion. The passions which they are designed to raise, are a divine love and religious fear. The particular beauty of the speeches in the third book consists in that shortness and perspicuity of style, in which the poet has couched the greatest mysteries of Christianity, and drawn together, in a regular scheme, the whole dispensation of Providence, with respect to man. He has represented all the abstruse doctrines of predestination, free-will, and grace, as also the great points of the incarnation and redemption, (which naturally grow up in a poem that treats of the fall of man,) with great energy of expression, and in a clearer and stronger light than ever I met with in any other writer. As these points are dry in themselves to the generality of readers, the concise and clear manner in which he has treated them is very much to be admired, as is likewise that particular art which he has made use of, in the interspersing of all those graces of poetry, which the subject was capable of receiving.
The survey of the whole creation, and of everything that is transacted in it, is a prospect worthy of omniscience; and as much above that, in which1 Virgil has drawn his Jupiter, as the Christian idea of the Supreme Being is more rational and sublime than that of the heathens. The particular objects on which he is described to have cast his eye, are represented in the most beautiful and lively manner.
Now had the Almighty Father from above,
From the pure empyrean where he sits
High throned above all height, bent down his eye,
About him all the sanctities of heaven
Stood thick as stars, and from his sight received
1 In which.] In what? prospect, or survey? but how could Jupiter bu drawn in either? The expression is, plainly inaccurate.
Beatitude past utterance: on his right
His only Son; on earth he first beheld
To stoop with wearied wings and willing feet
Him God beholding from his prospect high,
Satan's approach to the confines of the creation, is finely imaged in the beginning of the speech which immediately fol lows. The effects of this speech in the blessed spirits, and in the Divine person to whom it was addressed, cannot but fill the mind of the reader with a secret pleasure and complacency.
Thus while God spake, ambrosial fragrance filled
All heaven, and in the blessed spirits elect
Sense of new joy ineffable diffused!
Beyond compare the Son of God was seen
Love without end and without measure grace.
I need not point cat the beauty of that circumstance, wherein the whole host of angels are represented as standing mute; nor show how proper the occasion was to produce such a silence in heaven. The close of this divine colloquy, with the hymn of angels that follows upon it, are so wonderfully beautiful and poetical, that I should not forbear inserting the whole passage, if the bounds of my paper would give me leave.
No sooner had the Almighty ceased, but all
The eternal regions; &c.
Satan's walk upon the outside of the universe, which, at a
distance, appeared to him of a globular form, but, upon his nearer approach, looked like an unbounded plain, is natural and noble. As his roaming upon the frontiers of the crea tion, between that mass of matter which was wrought into a world, and that shapeless, unformed heap of materials, which still lay in chaos and confusion, strikes the imagination with something astonishingly great and wild. I have before spoken of the Limbo of Vanity, which the poet places upon this uttermost surface of the universe, and shall here explain myself more at large on that and other parts of the poem, which are of the same shadowy nature.
Aristotle observes, that the fable in an epic poem should abound in circumstances that are both credible and astonishing; or, as the French critics choose to phrase it, the fable should be filled with the probable and the marvellous. This rule is as fine and just as any in Aristotle's whole Art of Poetry.
If the fable is only probable, it differs nothing from a true history; if it is only marvellous, it is no better than a romance. The great secret, therefore, of heroic poetry, is to relate such circumstances, as may produce in the reader at the same time both belief and astonishment. This is brought to pass in a well-chosen fable, by the account of such things as have really happened, or at least of such things as bave happened according to the received opinions of mankind. Milton's fable is a master-piece of this nature; as the war in heaven, the condition of the fallen angels, the state of innocence, the temptation of the serpent, and the fall of man, though they are very astonishing in themselves, are not only credible, but actual points of faith.
The next method of reconciling miracles with credibility, is by a happy invention of the poet; as in particular, when he introduces agents of a superior nature, who are capable of effecting what is wonderful, and what is not to be met with in the ordinary course of things. Ulysses's ship being turned into a rock, and Æneas's fleet into a shoal of waternymphs, though they are very surprising accidents, are nevertheless probable, when we are told that they were the gods who thus transformed them. It is this kind of machinery which fills the poems both of Homer and Virgil with such circumstances as are wonderful, but not impossible, and so frequently produce in the reader the most pleasing passion