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No. 303. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16.
-volet hæc sub luce videri,
Judicis argutum quæ non formidat acumen.
I HAVE seen in the works of a modern philosopher, a map of the spots in the sun. My last paper, of the faults and blemishes in Milton's Paradise Lost, may be considered as a piece of the same nature. To pursue the allusion: as it is observed, that among the bright parts of the luminous body above-mentioned, there are some which glow more intensely, and dart a stronger light than others; so, notwithstanding I have already shown Milton's poem to be very beautiful in general, I shall now proceed to take notice of such beauties as appear to be more exquisite than the rest. Milton has proposed the subject of his poem in the following verses.
Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, heavenly muse—
These lines are perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned, as any of the whole poem, in which particular the author has conformed himself to the example of Homer and the precept of Horace.
His invocation to a work which turns in a great measure upon the creation of the world, is very properly made to the muse who inspired Moses in those books from whence1 our author drew his subject, and to the holy spirit who is therein represented as operating after a particular manner in the first production of nature. This whole exordium rises very happily into noble language and sentiment, as I think the transition to the fable is exquisitely beautiful and natural.
The nine days' astonishment, in which the angels lay en
1 From whence.] From is included in whence, and is, therefore, redundant; but is sometimes, as here, inserted on account of the rhythm, those-books,-whence, that is, three long syllables coming together, would have dragged heavily, if the short syllable from had not intervened. It may seem that he might, in this place, with equal convenience, have said, "from which;" but he had just before said-work which-and therefore said, from whence,-to avoid the monotony.
tranced after their dreadful overthrow, and fall from heaven, before they could recover either the use of thought or speech, is a noble circumstance, and very finely imagined. The division of hell into seas of fire, and into firm ground impregnated with the same furious element, with that particular circumstance of the exclusion of Hope from those infernal regions, are instances of the same great and fruitful in
The thoughts in the first speech and description of Satan, who is one of the principal actors in this poem, are wonderfully proper to give us a full idea of him. His pride, envy, and revenge, obstinacy, despair, and impenitence, are all of them very artfully interwoven. In short, his first speech is a complication of all those passions which discover themselves separately in several other of his speeches in the poem. The whole part of this great enemy of mankind is filled with such incidents as are very apt to raise and terrify the reader's imagination. Of this nature, in the book now before us, is his being the first that awakens out of the general trance, with his posture on the burning lake, his rising from it, and the description of his shield and spear.
Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate,
With head up-lift above the wave, and eyes
Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
His mighty stature; on each hand the flames
Driven backward slope their pointing spires, and rolled
In billows, leave i' the midst a horrid vale.
Then with expanded wings he steers his flight
Aloft, incumbent on the dusky air,
That felt unusual weight
-His ponderous shield,
Ethereal temper, massy, large, and round,
1 Vid. Hesiod.
He walked with to support uneasy steps
Over the burning marl
To which we may add his call to the fallen angels, that lay plunged and stupified in the sea of fire.
He called so loud, that all the hollow deep
Of hell resounded
But there is no single passage in the whole poem worked up to a greater sublimity, than that wherein his person is described in those celebrated lines:
-He, above the rest,
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
His sentiments are every way answerable to his character, and suitable to a created being of the most exalted and depraved nature. Such is that in which he takes possession of his place of torments.
-Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world! and thou profoundest hell,
-Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Amidst those impieties which this enraged spirit utters in other places of the poem, the author has taken care to introduce none that is not big with absurdity, and incapable of shocking a religious reader; his words, as the poet describes them, bearing only a "semblance of worth, not substance." He is likewise with great art described as owning his adversary to be almighty. Whatever perverse interpretation he puts on the justice, mercy, and other attributes of the Supreme Being, he frequently confesses his omnipotence, that being the perfection he was forced to allow him, and the only consideration which could support his pride under the shame of his defeat.
Nor must I here omit that beautiful circumstance of his bursting out in tears, upon his survey of those innumerable
spirits whom he had involved in the same guilt and ruin with himself.
-He now prepared
To speak whereat their doubled ranks they bend
The catalogue of evil spirits has abundance of learning in it, and a very agreeable turn of poetry, which rises in a great measure from its describing the places where they were worshipped, by those beautiful marks of rivers, so frequent among the ancient poets. The author had doubtless in this place Homer's catalogue of ships and Virgil's list of warriors in his view. The characters of Moloch and Belial prepare the reader's mind for their respective speeches and behaviour in the second and sixth book. The account of Thammuz is finely romantic, and suitable to what we read among the ancients of the worship which was paid to that idol.
---Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured
The reader will pardon me if I insert as a note on this beautiful passage, the account given us by the late ingenious Mr. Maundrell of this ancient piece of worship, and probably the first occasion of such a superstition. "We came to a fair large river-doubtless the ancient river Adonis, so famous for the idolatrous rites performed here in lamentation of Adonis. We had the fortune to see what may be supposed to be the occasion of that opinion which Lucian relates concerning this river, viz. that this stream, at certain seasons of the year, especially about the feast of Adonis, is of a bloody colour; which the heathens looked upon as proceeding from a kind of sympathy in the river for the death of Adonis, who was killed by a wild boar in the mountains, out
of which this stream rises. Something like this we saw actually come to pass; for the water was stained to a surprising redness; and, as we observed in travelling, had discoloured the sea a great way into a reddish hue, occasioned doubtless by a sort of minium, or red earth, washed into the river by the violence of the rain, and not by any stain from Adonis's blood."
The passage in the catalogue, explaining the manner how spirits transform themselves by contraction, or enlargement of their dimensions, is introduced with great judgment, to make way for several surprising accidents in the sequel of the poem. There follows one, at the very end of the first book, which is what the French critics call marvellous, but at the same time. probable, by reason of the passage last mentioned. As soon as the infernal palace is finished, we are told the multitude and rabble of spirits immediately shrunk themselves into a small compass, that there might be room for such a numberless assembly in this capacious hall. But it is the poet's refinement upon this thought which I most admire, and which is, indeed, very noble in itself. For he tells us, that, notwithstanding the vulgar, among the fallen spirits, contracted their forms, those of the first rank and dignity still preserved their natural dimensions.
Thus incorporeal spirits to smallest forms
Reduced their shapes immense, and were at large,
And in their own dimensions like themselves,
The character of Mammon, and the description of the Pandemonium, are full of beauties.
There are several other strokes in the first book wonderfully poetical, and instances of that sublime genius so peculiar to the author. Such is the description of Azazel's stature, and of the infernal standard which he unfurls; as also of that ghastly light, by which the fiends appear to one another in their place of torments.
The seat of desolation, void of light,
Save what the glimmering of those livid flames