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The shout of the whole host of fallen angels when drawn
up in battle array :
-The universal host up sent
A shout that tore hell's concave, and beyond
Frighted the reign of Chaos and old night.
The review which the leader makes of his infernal army:
-He through the armed files
Darts his experienced eye, and soon traverse
Their visages and stature as of gods;
Their number last he sums, and now his heart
Distends with pride, and hardening in his strength
The flash of light which appeared upon the drawing of their swords :
He spake and to confirm his words out flew
Far round illumined hell
The sudden production of the Pandæmonium:
Anon out of the earth a fabric huge
The artificial illuminations made in it:
-From the arched roof,
Pendent by subtle magic, many a row
There are also several noble similes and allusions in the first book of Paradise Lost. And here I must observe, that when Milton alludes either to things or persons, he never quits his simile till it rises to some very great idea, which is often foreign to the occasion that gave birth to it. The resemblance does not, perhaps, last above a line or two, but the poet runs on with the hint, till he has raised out of it some glorious image or sentiment, proper to inflame the mind of the reader, and to give it that sublime kind of entertainment, which is suitable to the nature of an heroic poem. Those who are acquainted with Homer's and Virgil's way of writing, cannot but be pleased with this kind of structure in Milton's similitudes. I am the more particular
on this head, because ignorant readers, who have formed their taste upon the quaint similes, and little turns of wit, which are so much in vogue among modern poets, cannot relish these beauties which are of a much higher nature, and are therefore apt to censure Milton's comparisons, in which they do not see any surprising points of likeness. Monsieur Perrault was a man of this vitiated relish, and for that very reason has endeavoured to turn into ridicule several of Homer's similitudes, which he calls Comparaisons à longue queue, "Long-tailed comparisons." I shall conclude this
paper on the first book of Milton with the answer which Monsieur Boileau makes to Perrault on this occasion: "Comparisons (says he) in odes, and epic poems, are not introduced only to illustrate and embellish the discourse, but to amuse and relax the mind of the reader, by frequently disengaging him from too painful an attention to the principal subject, and by leading him into other agreeable images. Homer (says he) excelled in this particular, whose comparisons abound with such images of nature as are proper to relieve and diversify his subjects. He continually instructs the reader, and makes him take notice, even in objects which are every day before our eyes, of such circumstances as we should not otherwise have observed." To this he adds, as a maxim universally acknowledged, "that it is not necessary in poetry for the points of the comparison to correspond with one another exactly, but that a general resemblance is sufficient, and that too much nicety in this particular savours of the rhetorician and epigrammatist."
In short, if we look into the conduct of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, as the great fable is the soul of each poem, so to give their works an agreeable variety, their episodes are so many short fables, and their similes so many short episodes; to which you may add, if you please, that their metaphors are so many short similes. If the reader considers the comparisons in the first book of Milton, of the sun in an eclipse, of the sleeping leviathan, of the bees swarming about the hive, of the fairy dance, in the view wherein I have placed them, he will easily discover the great beauties that are in each of those passages.
No. 309. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23.
Di, quibus imperium est animarum, umbræque silentes,
I HAVE before observed in general, that the persons whom Milton introduces into his poem always discover such sentiments and behaviour, as are in a peculiar manner conformable to their respective characters. Every circumstance in their speeches and actions is with great justness and delicacy adapted to the persons who speak and act. As the poet very much excels in this consistency of his characters, I shall beg leave to consider several passages of the second book in this light. That superior greatness, and mock-majesty, which is ascribed to the prince of the fallen angels, is admirably preserved in the beginning of this book. His opening and closing the debate; his taking on himself that great enterprise at the thought of which the whole infernal assembly trembled; his encountering the hideous phantom who guarded the gates of hell, and appeared to him in all his terrors; are instances of that proud and daring mind which could not brook submission even to omnipotence.
Satan was now at hand, and from his seat
The monster moving, onward came as fast
The same boldness and intrepidity of behaviour discovers itself in the several adventures which he meets with during his passage through the regions of unformed matter, and particularly in his address to those tremendous powers who are described as presiding over it.
The part of Moloch is likewise in all its circumstances full of that fire and fury which distinguish this spirit from the rest of the fallen angels. He is described in the first book as besmeared with the blood of human sacrifices, and delighted with the tears of parents and the cries of children. In the second book he is marked out as the fiercest spirit that fought in heaven; and if we consider the figure which he makes in the sixth book, where the battle of the angels
is described, we find it every way answerable to the same furious enraged character.
-Where the might of Gabriel fought,
And with fierce ensigns pierced the deep array
It may be worth while to observe, that Milton has represented this violent impetuous spirit, who is hurried on by such precipitate passions, as the first that rises in that assembly, to give his opinion upon their present posture of affairs. Accordingly he declares himself abruptly for war, and appears incensed at his companions, for losing so much time as even to deliberate upon it. All his sentiments are rash, audacious, and desperate. Such is that of arming themselves with tortures, and turning their punishments upon him who inflicted them.
-No, let us rather choose,
Armed with hell-flames and fury, all at once
O'er heaven's high towers to force resistless way,
Against the torturer; when to meet the noise
Of his Almighty engine he shall hear
Infernal thunder, and for lightning see
Black fire and horror shot with equal rage
Among his angels; and his throne itself
Mixt with Tartarean sulphur, and strange fire,
His preferring annihilation to shame or misery is also highly suitable to his character; as the comfort he draws from their disturbing the peace of heaven, that if it be not victory, it is revenge, is a sentiment truly diabolical, and becoming the bitterness of this implacable spirit.
Belial is described in the first book as the idol of the lewd and luxurious. He is in the second book, pursuant to that description, characterized as timorous and slothful, and if we look into the sixth book, we find him celebrated in the battle of angels for nothing but that scoffing speech which he makes to Satan, on their supposed advantage over the enemy. As his appearance is uniform, and of a piece in these three several views, we find his sentiments in the infernal assem
bly every way conformable to his character.
Such are his
apprehensions of a second battle, his horrors of annihilation, his preferring to be miserable rather than "not to be." I need not observe, that the contrast of thought in this speech, and that which precedes it, gives an agreeable variety to the debate.
Mammon's character is so fully drawn in the first book, that the poet adds nothing to it in the second. We were before told, that he was the first who taught mankind to ransack the earth for gold and silver, and that he was the architect of Pandæmonium, or the infernal palace, where the evil spirits were to meet in council. His speech in this book is everywhere suitable to so depraved a character. How proper is that reflection, of their being unable to taste the happiness of heaven were they actually there, in the mouth of one, who while he was in heaven is said to have had his mind dazzled with the outward pomps and glories of the place, and to have been more intent on the riches of the pavement than on the beatific vision. I shall also leave the reader to judge how agreeable the following sentiments are to the same character.
-This deep world
Of darkness do we dread? how oft amidst
Thick cloud and dark doth heaven's all-ruling sire
And with the majesty of darkness round
Covers his throne, from whence deep thunders roar
As he our darkness, cannot we his light
Imitate when we please? This desert soil
Beelzebub, who is reckoned the second in dignity that fell, and is in the first book the second that awakens out of the trance, and confers with Satan upon the situation of their affairs, maintains his rank in the book now before us. is a wonderful majesty described in his rising up to speak. He acts as a kind of moderator between the two opposite parties, and proposes a third undertaking, which the whole assembly gives in to. The motion he makes of detaching one of their body in search of a new world is grounded upon a