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CHAPTER XXII

CRITICISM ON "PARADISE LOST."

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 a 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

To let his sojourners depart, and oft

Humbles his stubborn heart; but still as ice

More harden'd after thaw, till in his rage

Pursuing whom he late dismiss'd, the sea

Swallows him with his host, but them lets pass

As on dry land between two crystal walls,

Aw'd by the rod of Moses so to stand

Divided."

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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
Darkness defends between till morning watch;
Then through the fiery pillar and the cloud
God looking forth, will trouble all his host,
And craze their chariot wheels: when by command
Moses once more his potent rod extends
Over the sea: the sea his rod obeys:
On their embattled ranks the wares 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 nature in that happiness and perfection from which it had fallen, the poet confines himself to the line of Abraham, from whence the Messiah was to descend. The angel is described as seeing the patriarch actually travelling towards the Land of Promise, which gives a particular liveliness to this part of the narration:—

"I see him, but thou canst not, with what faith
He leaves his gods, his friends, his native soil,
Ur of Chaktea, passing now the ford
To Haran, after him a cumbrous train
Of herds and flocks, and numerous servitude;
Not wand'ring poor, but trusting all his wealth
With God, who call'd him, in a land unknown.
Canaan he now attains, I see his tents
Pitch'd about Sechem, and the neighbouring plain
Of Moreh, there by promise he receives
Gifts to his progeny of all that land,
From Hamath northward to the desert south.
(Things by their names I call, though yet unnamed.)"

The poet has very finely represented the joy and gladness of heart which rises in Adam upon his discovery of the Messiah. As he sees His day at a distance through types and shadows, he rejoices in it: but when he finds the redemption of man completed, and Paradise again renewed, he breaks forth in rapture and transport—

"0 goodness infinite, goodness immense I
That all this good of evil shall produce," 4c.

I have hinted that a heroic poem, according to the opinion of the best critics, ought to end happily, and leave the mind of the reader, after having conducted it through many doubts and fears, sorrows and disquietudes, in a state of tranquillity and satisfaction. Milton's fable, which had so many other qualifications to recommend it, was deficient in this particular. It is here, therefore, that the poet has shown a most exquisite judgment as well as the finest invention, by finding out a method to supply this natural defect in his subject. Accordingly he leaves the adversary of mankind, in the last view which he gives us of him, under the lowest state of mortification and disappointment. We see him chewing ashes, grovelling in the dust, and laden with supernumerary pains and torments. On the contrary, our two first parents are comforted by dreams and visions, cheered with promises of salvation, and, in a manner, raised to a greater happiness than that which they had forfeited: in short, Satan is represented miserable in the height of his triumphs, and Adam triumphant in the height of misery.

Milton's poem ends very nobly. The last speeches of Adam and the archangel are full of moral and instructive sentiments. The sleep that fell upon Eve, and the effects it had in quieting the disorders of her mind, produces the same kind of consolation in the reader, who cannot peruse the last beautiful speech which is ascribed to the mother of mankind, without a secret pleasure and satisfaction—

"Whence thou return'Bt, and whither went'st, I know,
For God is also in sleep, and dreams advise,
Which He hath sent propitious, some great good
Presaging, since with sorrow and heart's distress
Wearied I fell asleep: but now lead on;
In me is no delay: with thee to go,
Is to stay here; without thee here to stay,

Is to go hence unwilling: thou to me:

Art all things under heav'n, all places thou,:

Who for my wilful crime art banish'd hence.'

This farther consolation yet secure
I carry hence; though all by me is lost,
Such favour, I unworthy, am vouchsafed,
By me the promised seed shall all restore."

The following lines, 'which conclude the poem, rise in a most glorious blaze of poetical images and expressions :—'

"So spake our mother Eve, and Adam heard
Well pleas'd, but answer'd not; for now too nigh
Th' archangel stood, and from the other hill
To their fix'd station, all in bright array
The cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as evening mist,
Ris'n from a river, o'er the marish grides,
And gathers ground fast at the lab'rer's heel
Homeward returning. High in front advanc'd,
The brandish'd sword of God before them blaz'd
Fierce as a comet."

The author helped his invention in the following passage, by reflecting on the behaviour of the angel, who, in Holy Writ, has the conduct of Lot and his family. The circumstances drawn from that relation are very gracefully made use of on this occasion—

"In either hand the hast'ning angel caught
Our ling'ring parents, and to th' eastern gate i

Led them direct; and down the cliff as fast
To the subjected plain; then disappear'd.
They looking back," Ac.

The scene which our first parents are surprised with, upon their looking back on Paradise, wonderfully strikes the reader's imagination, as nothing can be more natural than the tears they shed on that occasion—

"They looking back, all th' eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Wav'd over by that flaming brand, the gate
"With dreadful faces throng'd and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropp'd, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide."

If I might presume to offer at the smallest alteration in this divine work, I should think the poem would end better with the passage here quoted, than with the two verses which follow :—

"They hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way."

These two verses, though they have their beauty, fall very much below the foregoing passage, and renew in the mind of the reader that anguish which was pretty well laid by that consideration—

"The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide."

Our author in his first edition had divided his poem into ten books, but afterwards broke the seventh and the eleventh each of them into two different books, by the help of some small additions. This second division was made with great judgment, as any one may see who will be at the pains of examining it.

Those who have read Bossu, and many of the critics who have written since his time, will not pardon me if I do not find out the particular moral which is inculcated in Paradise Lost. Though I can by no means think, with the lastmentioned French author, that an epic writer first of all pitches upon a certain moral, as the ground-work and foundation of his poem, and afterwards finds out a story to it: I

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