« AnteriorContinuar »
men, and its results. Seeking for the most exact antithesis to this in the life of the “one greater Man” by whom these results were to be retrieved, of what would the poet so readily think as of the Temptation to which He was subjected with an issue so different? Why not concentrate, poetically or representatively, the whole of Christ's achievement, in undoing the effects of the Fall and restoring Paradise, on the issue of that second Temptation which stood out in such contrast with the first ? If a single portion of Christ's history were to be taken, it must necessarily be this portion, where, more directly than in any other, Christ is brought into contact with the Evil One who had figured as the hero of the first poem, and had there borne away the victory. That same Satan, the story of whose fortunes, from his rebellion in Heaven on to his temptation of Adam and conquest thereby of Earth and the Universe of Man, forms the true thread of events in the first poem, here reappears in changed guise, after some thousands of years of his diabolic life amid those mundane elements the possession of which he had won for himself and his crew. He reappears; and, remembering all that we had read of him before, we are called upon to behold him once again in action. We are to behold him meeting Jesus, or the Second Adam, in a deliberate encounter more protracted than that with the first, and feeling himself foiled, and knowing in consequence that the prophesied era of the world's redemption has arrived, and the cessation of his own rule before a stronger force. In order that Satan, who had figured so largely in the first poem, might have his due place in the second, it was almost necessary to select the Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness as the incident to be developed in the second. Any theological objection that there might be to the seeming imputation thereby of the recovery of Paradise to one short scene in Christ's life, and that but preliminary to his main recorded ministry, might be obviated by representing the scene so that it should be typical of the ministry as a whole. It might be impressed on readers that here, at the very beginning of Christ's ministry, Satan, encountering Him, knew that he had met his match, and that all that followed in the whole ministry, to its close, was virtually certain from the date of this initial act of superiority over Satan.
Only by firmly remembering that it was as a sequel to Paradise Lost that Paradise Regained thus grew into shape in Milton's mind will the second poem be rightly understood. The commentators, indeed, as they have sought the “origin of Paradise Lost,” or hints for its origin, in all sorts of previous poems, Italian, Latin, and Dutch, on the same subject (see Introduction to the Poem), have, though less laboriously, searched for previous poems from which Milton may have taken hints for his Paradise Regained. Todd, in his preliminary observations entitled “ Origin of Paradise Regained,” refers to the following pieces as possibly in Milton's recollection while he was writing the Poem,Bale's Brefe Comedy or Enterlude concernynge the Temptacyon of our Lorde and Saver Jesus Christ by Sathan in the Desart (1538); Giles Fletcher's Christ's Victorie and Triumph (1611), a poem in four parts, the second of which, entitled “ Christ's Triumph on Earth,” describes the Temptation ; also La Humanità del Figlivolo di Dio, a poem in ten books, by Theofilo Folengo of Mantua (1533), La Vita et Passione di Christo, a poem by Antonio Cornozano (1518), and one or two other Italian poems, cited at random for their titles and not from knowledge. The only one of these references worth much is that to Giles Fletcher's religious poem. Giles Fletcher, who died 1623, and his brother Phineas Fletcher, who outlived him more than twenty-five years, were among the truest poets in the interval between Spenser and Milton, and the highest in that ideal or Spenserian faculty which Milton admired. He must have known the works of both brothers well, and not least the really fine poem of Giles Fletcher to which Todd refers. But recollection of it can have had no effect on the scheme of his own Paradise Regained. That was determined simply by the poet's own meditations on those passages of the Evangelists which narrate the Temptation in the Wilderness,—especially the eleven verses in Matt. iv. and the thirteen in Luke iv.,—with a view to construct therefrom an imagination of the whole scene, which, while it should be true to the scriptural text, should fit as a sequel to Paradise Lost. The result was the poem as we now have it,--a poem in which the brief Scriptural narrative of the Temptation is expanded into four books, and yet the additions and filling-in are consistent with the texts which have suggested them.
So distinctly is Paradise Regained a sequel to Paradise Losi that acquaintance with Paradise. Lost is all but presupposed in the reader ere he begins the shorter poem. Such acquaintance, indeed, is not absolutely necessary ; but it conduces to a more exact understanding of the total meaning of the poem, and of not a few individual passages in it. Indeed, even that diagram of Universal Space or Physical Infinitude which was before the poet's mind, as we have seen, throughout Paradise Lost (see the Introduction to that poem), is still present to his mind, though more dimly, in Paradise Regained.
The result of Satan's triumph in Paradise Lost, it is to be remembered, was that he and his crew of Fallen Angels had succeeded in adding the “ orbicular World” of Man, i.e. the whole Starry Universe or Cosmos with the Earth at its centre, to that infernal Empire of Hell to which they had been driven down on their expulsion from Heaven or the Empyrean. At the close of the real action of the great epic this is what we find Satan and Sin congratulating themselves upon (Book X. 350—409),—that Man's World has now been wrested from the Empire of Heaven above, and annexed to that of Hell beneath. An inter-communication has been established between Hell and Man's World, and it is hinted that thenceforward the Fallen Angels will not dwell so much in their main dark dominion of Hell as in the more lightsome World overhead, to which access is now easy. Distributing themselves through this World, they will rule its spheres and its elements ; but more especially will they congregate in the Air round the central Earth, so as to intermingle with human affairs continually, and exercise their diabolic functions on the successive generations of men. Originally Angels in the Empyreal Heaven, then doomed spirits in Hell, they will now be the “ Powers of the Air,” round about the Earth, and the Gods of Man's World. So they anticipate ; and, over and over again throughout the poem, we are reminded that their anticipation has been fulfilled. What is the theory throughout Paradise Lost but that the gods of all the heathen mytho. logies, worshipped by all the nations, are the Fallen Angels, who, in their new condition as Demons of Man's World and Powers of the Air, have so blinded and drugged the perceptions and imaginations of men as to be accepted as divinities?
In Paradise Regained all this is assumed. It is assumed that for some thousands of years these “ Powers of the Air,” alias Devils, alias Gods of the Polytheistic Mythologies, have been in possession of Man's World, distributed through it, some here, some there, according to their characters and faculties of mischief, but occasionally meeting in council somewhere in the element of Air or Mist. Satan is still their chief, -- the greatest in power and in ability, the leader in their councils, their governor, and the director of their common enterprises. He is no longer the same sublime spirit as in the Paradise Lost, in whom were to be discerned the majestic lineaments of the Archangel just ruined. The thousands of years he has spent since then in his self-selected function as the Devil of our Earth, -no longer flying from star to star and through the grander regions of Universal Space, but winging about constantly close to our Earth, and meddling incessantly with all that is worst in merely terrestrial affairs,-- have told upon his nature, and even upon his mien and bearing. He is a meaner, shrewder spirit, both morally and physically less impressive. But he has not yet degenerated into the mere scoffing Mephistopheles of Goethe's great poem. He retains something of his former magnanimity, or at least of his power of understanding and appealing to the higher motives of thought and action. Whatever of really great invention or wisdom remains among the diabolic host in their diffusion through Man's World and its elements is still chiefly lodged in him. He it is, accordingly, who, in his vigilance over the course of affairs on Earth, is the first to become aware of the advent of one that may possibly be that prophesied “greater Man” who is to retrieve the consequences of Adam's fall, end the diabolic influence in Man's World, and reconnect that World with Heaven. He it is who, as soon as he has made this discovery, summons the diabolic crew to consultation ; and it is on him also that the farther trial of Christ's virtue is devolved.
The greater portion of the first book of the Poem is preliminary to the real action. It describes the baptism of Christ, when about thirty years of age, and as yet obscure and unknown, by John at Bethabara on the Jordan, the recognition of him by John, the proclamation from Heaven of his Messiahship, the presence of Satan among those who hear this proclamation, and his alarm thereupon. A few days are then supposed to elapse, during which Christ remains in his lodging in Bethabara, the object now of much public regard, and with his first disciples gathering round him; after which he is led by the Spirit into the Wilderness, there to revolve his past life, and meditate on the ministry he is about to begin. It is after he has been already forty days in the Desert, and has begun to feel hunger, that the special action of the Poem opens (1. 303). It extends over three days. On the first day (the sortieth, it is to be supposed, of Christ's stay in the Wilderness), we have Satan's presentation of himself to Christ in the guise of an old peasant, their first discourse, and the commencement of the Temptation in the manner in which it is related both in Matthew and in Luke, -to wit, by the suggestion to Christ that he should prove his divinity by turning the stones around him into bread. This part of the relation occupies the remainder of Book I., which ends with a description of the coming on of night in the Desert. In Book II. the relation is resumed. About half the Book is occupied with an episodic account of the perplexity of Mary and the disciples by reason of Christ's mysterious absence, and an account also of a second council of the Evil Spirits to advise with Satan on his farther proceedings ; but the remainder of the Book brings us back to the Desert, where Satan, early in the second day, renews the temptation. This second day's temptation is the most protracted and laborious, and the account of it extends from Book II. through the whole of Book III. and over two-thirds of Book IV. It is here that Milton has allowed his imagination the largest liberty in expanding the brief hints of the scriptural texts. Both in Matthew and in Luke the acts of the Temptation are repre. sented as three. There is the Temptation of the Bread, or the appeal to Christ's hunger, which is put first by both Evangelists; there is the Temptation of the Vision of the Kingdoms of the Earth from a mountain-top, or the appeal to Christ's ambition,-- which Luke puts second in order, but Matthew last ; and there is the Temptation on the Pinnacle of the Temple, or, as it may be called, the appeal to vanity,—which Matthew puts second, but Luke last. Milton, assigning a separate day to each act of the Temptation, follows Luke's order rather than Matthew's in the last