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Sleep as a person, and ascribes a short part to him in his Iliad; but we must consider, that though we now regard such a person as entirely shadowy and unsubstantial, the heathens made statues of him, placed him in their temples, and looked upon him as a real deity. When Homer makes use of other such allegorical persons, it is only in short expressions, which convey an ordinary thought to the mind in the most pleasing manner, and may rather be looked upon as poetical phrases than allegorical descriptions. Instead of telling us that men naturally fly when they are terrified, he introduces the persons of Flight and Fear, who, he tells us, are inseparable companions. Instead of saying that the time was come when Apollo ought to have received his recompence, he tells us that the Hours brought him his reward. Instead of describing the effects which Minerva's Ægis produced in battle, he tells us that the brims of it were encompassed by Terror, Rout, Discord, Fury, Pursuit, Massacre, and Death. In the same figure of speaking, he represents Victory as following Diomedes; Discord as the mother of funerals and mourning; Venus as dressed by the Graces; Bellona as wearing terror and consternation like a garment. I might give several other instances out of Homer, as well as a great many out of Virgil. Milton has likewise very often made use of the same way of speaking, as where he tells us, that Victory sat on the right hand of the Messiah when he marched forth against the rebel angels; that at the rising of the sun the Hours unbarred the gates of Light; that Discord was the daughter of Sin. Of the same nature are those expressions, where describing the singing of the nightingale, he adds, "Silence was pleased;" and upon the Messiah's bidding peace to the Chaos, "Confusion heard his voice." I might add innumerable instances of our poet's writing in this beautiful figure. It is plain that these I have mentioned, in which persons of an imaginary nature are introduced, are such short allegories as are not designed to be taken in the literal sense, but only to convey particular circumstances to the reader after an unusual and entertaining manner. when such persons are introduced as principal actors, and engaged in a series of adventures, they take too much upon them, and are by no means proper for an heroic poem, which ought to appear credible in its principal parts. I cannot forbear, therefore, thinking that Sin and Death are as impro
per agents in a work of this nature, as Strength and Necessity in one of the tragedies of Eschylus, who represented those two persons nailing down Prometheus to a rock, for which he has been justly censured by the greatest critics. I do not know any imaginary person made use of in a more sublime manner of thinking than that in one of the prophets, who, describing God as descending from heaven, and visiting the sins of mankind, adds that dreadful circumstance, "Before him went the Pestilence." It is certain this imaginary person might have been described in all her purple spots. The Fever might have marched before her, Pain might have stood on her right hand, Phrensy on her left, and Death in her rear. She might have been introduced as gliding down from the tail of a comet, or darting upon the earth in a flash of lightning: she might have tainted the atmosphere with her breath; the very glaring of her eyes might have scattered infection. But I believe every reader will think, that in such sublime writings the mentioning of her, as it is done in Scripture, has something in it more just, as well as great, than all that the most fanciful poet could have bestowed upon her in the richness of his imagination.
No. 363. SATURDAY, APRIL 26.
Luctus, ubique pavor, et plurima mortis imago. VIRG.
MILTON has shown a wonderful art in describing that variety of passions which arose in our first parents upon the breach of the commandment that had been given them. We see them gradually passing from the triumph of their guilt through remorse, shame, despair, contrition, prayer, and hope, to a perfect and complete repentance. At the end of the tenth book they are represented as prostrating themselves upon the ground, and watering the earth with their tears: to which the poet joins this beautiful circumstance, that they offered up their penitential prayers on the very place where their Judge appeared to them when he pronounced their sentence.
-They forthwith to the place
Repairing where he judged them, prostrate fell
Humbly their faults, and pardon begged, with tears
There is a beauty of the same kind in a tragedy of Sophocles, where Oedipus, after having put out his own eyes, instead of breaking his neck from the palace battlements, (which furnishes so elegant an entertainment for our English audience,) desires that he may be conducted to Mount Citharon, in order to end his life in that very place where he was exposed in his infancy, and where he should then have died, had the will of his parents been executed.
As the author never fails to give a poetical turn to his sentiments, he describes in the beginning of this book the acceptance which these their prayers met with, in a short allegory formed upon that beautiful passage in holy writ; "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which was before the throne: and the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints ascended up before God."
-To heaven their prayers
Flew up, nor missed the way by envious winds
We have the same thought expressed a second time in the intercession of the Messiah, which is conceived in very emphatic sentiments and expressions.
Among the poetical parts of Scripture which Milton has so finely wrought into this part of his narration, I must not omit that wherein Ezekiel, speaking of the angels who appeared to him in a vision, adds, that “ every one had four faces, and that their whole bodies, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, were full of eyes round about."
-The cohort bright
Of watchful cherubim; four faces each
Had, like a double Janus, all their shape
The assembling of all the angels of heaven to hear the solemn decree passed upon man, is represented in very lively
ideas. The Almighty is here described as remembering mercy in the midst of judgment, and commanding Michael to deliver his message in the mildest terms, lest the spirit of man, which was already broken with the sense of his guilt and misery, should fail before him.
-Yet lest they faint
At the sad sentence rigorously urged,
(For I behold them softened, and with tears
The conference of Adam and Eve is full of moving sentiments. Upon their going abroad after the melancholy night which they had passed together, they discover the lion and the eagle pursuing each of them their prey towards the eastern gates of Paradise. There is a double beauty in this incident, not only as it presents great and just omens, which are always agreeable in poetry, but as it expresses that enmity which was now produced in the animal creation. The poet, to show the like changes in nature, as well as to grace his fable with a noble prodigy, represents the sun in an eclipse. This particular incident has likewise a fine effect upon the imagination of the reader, in regard to what follows; for at the same time that the sun is under an eclipse, a bright cloud descends in the western quarter of the heavens, filled with a host of angels, and more luminous than the sun itself. The whole theatre of nature is darkened, that this glorious machine may appear in all its lustre and magnificence.
-Why in the east
Darkness ere day's mid course, and morning light
More orient in that western cloud that draws
O'er the blue firmament a radiant white,
And slow descends, with something heavenly fraught?
Down from a sky of jasper lighted now
In Paradise, and on a hill made halt;
A glorious apparition
I need not observe how properly this author, who always suits his parts to the actors he introduces, has employed Michael in the expulsion of our first parents out of Paradise. The archangel on this occasion neither appears in his proper shape, nor in that familiar manner with which Raphael the sociable spirit entertained the father of mankind before the fall. His person, his port, and behaviour, are suitable to a
spirit of the highest rank, and exquisitely described in the following passage.
-The archangel soon drew nigh,
Not in his shape celestial, but as man
Eve's complaint upon hearing that she was to be removed from the garden of Paradise is wonderfully beautiful: the sentiments are not only proper to the subject, but have something in them particularly soft and womanish.
Must I then leave thee, Paradise? thus leave
At ev❜n, which I bred up with tender hand
From the first opening bud, and gave you names;
With what to sight or smell was sweet: from thee
And wild? how shall we breathe in other air
Adam's speech abounds with thoughts which are equally moving, and of a more masculine and elevated turn. Nothing can be conceived more sublime and poetical than the following passage in it.
This most afflicts me, that departing hence
His blessed countenance. Here I could frequent,
On this mount he appeared, under this tree