« ПредишнаНапред »
I heard, here with him at this fountain talked.
Of grassy turf, and pile up every stone
Offer sweet-smelling gums and fruits and flowers.
The angel afterwards leads Adam to the highest mount of Paradise, and lays before him a whole hemisphere, as a proper stage for those visions which were to be represented on it. I have before observed how the plan of Milton's poem is in many particulars greater than that of the Iliad or Eneid. Virgil's hero, in the last of these poems, is entertained with a sight of all those who are to descend from him; but though that episode is justly admired as one of the noblest designs in the whole Æneid, every one must allow that this of Milton is of a much higher nature. Adam's vision is not confined to any particular tribe of mankind, but extends to the whole species.
In this great review which Adam takes of all his sons and daughters, the first objects he is presented with exhibit to him the story of Cain and Abel, which is drawn together with much closeness and propriety of expression. That curiosity and natural horror which arises in Adam at the sight of the first dying man, is touched with great beauty.
But have I now seen death? Is this the way
I must return to native dust? Oh sight
Horrid to think, how horrible to feel!
The second vision sets before him the image of death in a great variety of appearances. The angel, to give him a general idea of those effects which his guilt had brought upon his posterity, places before him a large hospital, or lazarhouse, filled with persons lying under all kinds of mortal diseases. How finely has the poet told us that the sick persons languished under lingering and incurable distempers, by an apt and judicious use of such imaginary beings as those I mentioned in my last paper.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans; Despair
Shook, but delayed to strike, though oft invoked
The passion which likewise arises in Adam on this occasion is very natural.
Sight so deform what heart of rock could long
The discourse between the angel and Adam which follows, abounds with noble morals.
As there is nothing more delightful in poetry than a contrast and opposition of incidents, the author, after his melancholy prospect of death and sickness, raises up a scene of mirth, love, and jollity. The secret pleasure that steals into Adam's heart as he is intent upon this vision, is imagined with great delicacy. I must not omit the description of the loose female troop, who seduced the sons of God, as they are called in Scripture.
For that fair female troop thou sawest that seemed
Of goddesses, so blithe, so smooth, so gay,
Yet empty of all good wherein consists
Of lustful appetence, to sing, to dance,
To dress and troul the tongue, and roll the eye.
Shall yield up all their virtue, all their fame,
Of those fair atheists
The next vision is of a quite contrary nature, and filled with the horrors of war. Adam at the sight of it melts into tears, and breaks out in that passionate speech.
-Oh what are these!
Death's ministers, not men; who thus deal death
Inhumanly to men, and multiply
Ten thousandfold the sin of him who slew
His brother: for of whom such massacre
Make they but of their brethren, men of men?
Milton, to keep up an agreeable variety in his visions, after having raised in the mind of his reader the several ideas of terror which are conformable to the description of war, passes
on to those softer images of triumphs and festivals, in that vision of lewdness and luxury which ushers in the flood.
As it is visible that the poet had his eye upon Ovid's account of the universal deluge, the reader may observe with how much judgment he has avoided everything that is redundant or puerile in the Latin poet. We do not here see the wolf swimming among the sheep, nor any of those wanton imaginations which Seneca found fault with, as unbecoming the great catastrophe of nature. If our poet has imitated that verse in which Ovid tells us that there was nothing but sea, and that this sea had no shore to it, he has not set the thought in such a light as to incur the censure which critics have passed upon it. The latter part of that verse in Ovid is idle and superfluous, but just and beautiful in Milton.
Jamque mare et tellus nullum discrimen habebant,
Nil nisi pontus erat, deerant quoque littora ponto. OVID.
-Sea covered sea,
Sea without shore
In Milton the former part of the description does not forestall the latter. How much more great and solemn on this occasion is that which follows in our English poet,
-And in their palaces
Where luxury late reigned, sea-monsters whelped
than that in Ovid, where we are told that the sea-calves lay in those places where the goats were used to browse? The reader may find several other parallel passages in the Latin and English description of the deluge, wherein our poet has visibly the advantage. The sky's being over-charged with clouds, the descending of the rains, the rising of the seas, and the appearance of the rainbow, are such descriptions as every one must take notice of. The circumstance relating to Paradise is so finely imagined and suitable to the opinions of many learned authors, that I cannot forbear giving it a place in this
-Then shall this mount
Of Paradise by might of waves be moved
The transition which the poet makes from the vision of the deluge to the concern it occasioned in Adam, is exquisitely graceful, and copied at Virgil, though the first thought it introduces is rather in the spirit of Ovid.
How didst thou grieve then, Adam, to behold
Of tears and sorrow, a flood thee also drowned,
I have been the more particular in my quotations out of the eleventh book of Paradise Lost, because it is not generally reckoned among the most shining books of this poem ; for which reason the reader might be apt to overlook those many passages in it which deserve our admiration. The eleventh and twelfth are, indeed, built upon that single circumstance of the removal of our first parents from Paradise; but though this is not in itself so great a subject as that in most of the foregoing books, it is extended and diversified with so many surprising incidents and pleasing episodes, that these two last books can by no means be looked upon as unequal parts of this divine poem. I must further add, that had not Milton represented our first parents as driven out of Paradise, his Fall of Man would not have been complete, and consequently his action would have been imperfect.
No. 369. SATURDAY, MAY 3.
Segniùs irritant animos demissa per aures,
Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus- HOR.
MILTON, after having represented in vision the history of mankind to the first great period of nature, despatches the remaining part of it in narration. He has devised a very handsome reason for the angel's proceeding with Adam after this manner; though doubtless the true reason was the difficulty which the poet would have found to have shadowed out so mixed and complicated a story in visible objects. I could wish, however, that the author had done it, whatever pains it might have cost him. To give my opinion freely, I
think that the exhibiting part of the history of mankind in vision, and part in narrative, is as if an history painter should put in colours one half of his subject, and write down the remaining part of it. If Milton's poem flags anywhere, it is in this narration, where in some places the author has been so attentive to his divinity, that he has neglected his poetry. The narration, however, rises very happily on several occasions, where the subject is capable of poetical ornaments, as particularly in the confusion which he describes among the builders of Babel, and in his short sketch of the plagues of Egypt. The storm of hail and fire, with the darkness that overspread the land for three days, are described with great strength. The beautiful passage which follows is raised upon noble hints in Scripture.
-Thus with ten wounds
The river-dragon tamed at length submits
Awed by the rod of Moses, so to stand
The river-dragon is an allusion to the Crocodile, which inhabits the Nile, from whence Egypt derives her plenty. This allusion is taken from that sublime passage in Ezekiel: "Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself." Milton has given us another very noble and poetical image in the same description, which is copied almost word for word out of the history of Moses.
All night he will pursue, but his approach
God looking forth, will trouble all his host,
And craze their chariot-wheels: when by command
Over the sea; the sea his rod obeys;
On their embattled ranks the waves return
And overwhelm their war :
As the principal design of this episode was to give Adam an idea of the holy person who was to reinstate human na