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-Each bird and beast behold
I nam'd them as they pass’dAdam, in the next place, describes a conference which he held with his Maker upon the subject of solitude. The poet here represents the Supreme Being as 'making an essay of his own work, and putting to the trial that reasoning faculty with which he had endued his creature. Adam urges, in this divine colloquy, the impossibility of his being happy, though he was the inhabitant of Paradise, and lord of the whole creation, without the conversation and society of sone rational creature, who should partake those blessings with him. This dialogue, which is supported chiefly by the beauty of the thoughts, without other poetical ornaments, is as fine a part as any in the whole poem : the more the reader ex, amines the justness and delicacy of its sentiments, the more he will find himself pleased with it. The poet has wonderfully preserved the character of majesty and condescension in the Creator, and at the same time that of humility and adoration in the creature, as particularly in the following lines :
Thus' I presumptuous; and the vision bright,
I with leave of speech implor’d
My Maker, be propitious while I speak, &c. Adam then proceeds to give an account of his second sleep, and of the dream in which he beheld the formation of Eve. The new passion that was awakened in him at the sight of her is touched very finely.
Under his forming hands a creature grew,
And in her looks, which from that time infus'd
Adam's distress upon losing sight of this beautiful phantom, with his exclamations of joy and gratitude at the discovery of a real creature, who resembled the apparition which had been presented to him in his dream, the approaches he makes to her, and his manner of courtship, are all laid together in a most exquisite propriety of sentiments. Though this part of the
poem is worked
with great warmth and spirit, the love which is described in itis every way suitable to a state of innocence. If the reader compares the description which Adam here gives of his leading Eve to the nuptial bower, with that which Mr. Dryden has made on the same occasion in a scene of his Fall of Man, he will be sensible of the great care which Milton took to avoid all thoughts on so delicate a subject, that might be offensive to religion or good manners. The sentiments are chaste, but not cold, and convey to the mind ideas of the most transporting passion, and of the greatest purity. What a noble mixture of rapture and innocence has the author joined together, in the reflection which Adam makes on the pleasures of love, compared to those of sense !
Thus bave I told thee all my state, and brought
Or nature fail'd in me, and left some part
-When I approach
These sentiments of love, in our first parent, gave the angel such an insight into human nature, that he seems apprehensive of the evils which might befal the species in general, as well as Adam in particular, from the excess of this passion. He there fore fortifies him against it by timely admonitions, which very artfully prepare the mind of the reader for the occurrences of the next book, where the weakness of which Adam here gives such distant discoveries, brings about that fatal event which is the subject of the poem. His discourse, which follows the gentle rebuke he received from the angel, shews that his love, however violent it might appear, was still founded on reason, and consequently not improper for Paradise.
Neither her outside form so fair, nor ought
And sweet compliance, which declare unfeign'd
Adam's speech, at parting with the angel, has in it a deference and gratitude agreeable to an inferior nature, and at the same time a certain dignity and greatness suitable to the father of mankind in his state of innocence.
No. 351. SATURDAY, APRIL 12.
In te omnis domus inclinata recumbit.
If we look into the three great heroic poems which have appeared in the world, we may observe that they are built upon very slight foundations. Homer lived near 300 years after the Trojan war; and, as the writing of history was not then in use among the Greeks, we may very well suppose, that the tradition of Achilles and Ulysses had brought down bat very
few particulars to his knowledge, though there is no question but he has wrought into his two poems, such of their remarkable adventures as were still talked of among his contemporaries.
The story of Æneas, on which Virgil founded his poem, was likewise very bare of circumstances, and by that means afforded him an opportunity of embellishing it with fiction, and giving a full range to his own invention. We find, however, that he has interwoven, in the course of his fable, the principal particulars, which were generally believed among the Romans, of Æneas's voyage and settlement in Italy.
The reader may find an abridgement of the whole story, as collected out of the ancient historians, and as it was received among the Romans, in Dionysius Halicarnasseus.
Since none of the critics have considered Virgil's fable with relation to this history of Æneas, it may not, perhaps, be amiss to examine it in this light, so far as it regards my present purpose.
Whoever looks into the abridgment above-mentioned, will find that the character of Æneas is filled with piety to the gods, and a superstitious observation of prodigies, oracles, and predictions. Virgil has not only preserved this character in the person of Æneas, but has given a place in his poem to those particular prophecies which he found recorded of him in history and tradition. The poet took the matters of fact as they came down to hiin, and circumstanced them after his own manner, to make them appear the more natural, agrecable, or surprising. I believe very many readers have been shocked at that ludicrous prophecy, which one of the harpies pronounces to the Trojans in the third book, namely, that before they had built their intended city, they should be reduced by hunger to eat their very tables. But, when they hear this was one of the circumstances that had been transmitted to the Romans in the history of Æneas, they would think the poet did very well in taking notice of it. The historian above-mentioned acquaints us, a prophetess had foretold Æneas, that he should take his voyage westward, till his companions should eat their tables; and that accordingly, upon his landing in Italy, as they were eating their flesh upon cakes of bread, for want of other conveniencies, they afterwards fed on the cakes themselves; upon which one of the company said merrily, “We are eating our tables.” They immediately took the hint, says the historian, and concluded the prophecy to be fulfilled. As Virgil did not think it proper to omit so material a particular in the history of Æneas, it may be worth while to consider with how much judgment he has qualified it, and taken off every thing that might have appeared improper for a passage in an heroic poem.