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When Charlemain with all his
* By Fontarabia. Borrowed from Dante. See Cary's Dante.
1 He, abore the rest. The greatest masters in painting had not such sublime ideas as Milton; and, among all their devils, have drawn no portrait comparable to this; as everybody must allow who has seen the pictures or the prints of “ Michael and the Devil,” by Raphael; or of the same by Guido; and of the "Last Judgment,” by Michael Angelo.-NEWTON.
And in what does this poetical picture consist? In images of a tower; an archangel; the sun rising through mists, or in an eclipse; the ruin of monarchs; and the revolutions of kingdoms. The mind is hurried out of itself, by a crowd of great and confused images, which affect because they are crowded and confused: for, separate them, and you lose much of the greatness; and join them, and you infallibly lose the clearness.-BURKE.
I can find neither confusion nor obscurity in this passage. The firmness of the devil's station or posture is here compared to that of a tower, and his faded or diminished splendour to that of the sun seen through a morning haze, or from behind the moon during an eclipse; all which is perfectly clear; the objects of comparison being at once grand and illustrative; and the description of them, as far as they are described, distinct, correct, and circumstantial. The properties of solidity and firmness only, in the tower, being the objects of comparison, to have described its form or magnitude would have been silly and impertinent; but the diminution of brightness is an occasional effect; and when an occasional effect is made the object of poetical comparison or description, it is always necessary to state its causes and circumstances, – which the poot has here done with equal conciseness, precision, perspicuity, and energy; and it is to this that its sublimity is, in a great degree, owing.-R. P. KNIGHT.
m 48 tchen the sun neid-risen. Few poetical images can be finer than this, or more beautifully expressed. The precision with which the image is delineated is incomparable.
n Millions of spirits for his fault amerced. I must not here omit that beautiful cireumstance of Satan's bursting into tears upon his survey of those innumerable spirits whom he had involved in the same guilt and ruin with himself.
Of heaven, and from eternal splendours flung
O myriads of immortal spirits! O powers
Of knowledge past or present, could have fear’d, There is no single passage in the whole poem worked up to a greater sublimity than that wherein his person is described, ver. 589, &c. His sentiments are every way answerable to his character, and suitable to a created being of the most exalted and most depraved nature. Such is that in which he takes possession of the place of torments, ver. 250, &c., and afterwards, ver. 258, &c.
The catalogue of evil spirits has abundance of learning in it, and a very agreeable turn of poetry; which rises in a great measure from its describing the places where they were worshipped, by those beautiful marks of rivers so frequent among the ancient poets. The author had doubtless in this place Homer's catalogue of ships, and Virgil's list of warriors, in his view. The characters of Moloch and Belial prepare the reader's mind for their respective speeches and behaviour in the second and sixth books. The account of Thammuz is finely romantic, and suitable to what we read among the ancients of the worship which was paid to that idol.
The description of Azazel's stature, and the infernal standard which he unfurls, as also of that ghastly light by which the fiends appear to one another in their places of torments, are wonderfully poetical. Such are the shout of the whole host of fallen angels when drawn up in battle array; the review which the leader makes of his infernal army; the flash of light which appeared upon the drawing of their swords; the sudden production of the Pandæmonium; the artificial illumination made in it. ADDISON.
o As schen heaven': fire
Hath scathed. This is a very beautiful and close simile: it represents the majestic stature and withered glory of the angels; and the last with great propriety, since their lustre was impaired by thunder, as well as that of the trees in the simile: and besides, the blasted heath gives us some idea of that singed, burning soil on which the angels were standing. Homer and Virgil frequently use comparisons from trees, to express the staturo or falling of a hero; but none of them are applied with such variety and propriety of circumstances as this of Milton. See “An Essay upon Milton's Imitation of the Ancients," p. 24.-Newton.
p Thrice he assay'd, and thrice, in spite of scorn,
Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth. He bad Ovid in his thought, Met. xi. 419:
Ter conata loqui, ter fletibus ora rigavit.-BEXTLEY. The turn of the words bears a near resemblance to Spenser, Faer. Qu. I. II. 41:
Thrice he assaid it from his foote to draw,
And thrice in vain to draw it did assay.
Thryse he began to tell his doleful tale,
And thryse the sighs did swallow up his voyce.-BOWLE.
How such united force of gods, how such
At length from us may find, Who overcomes
Space may produce new worlds, whereof so rife
He spake; and, to confirm his words, outflew
9 IIath emptied heaven. It is conceived that a third part of the angels fell with Satan, according to Rev. xii. 4.-NEWTON.
r There went a fame in heaven. There is something wonderfully beautiful, and very apt to affect the reader's imagination, in this ancient prophecy or report in heaven concerning the creation of man. Nothing could show more the dignity of the species than this tradition, which ran of them before their existence: they are represented to have been the talk of heaven before they were created. Virgil, in compliment to the Roman commonwealth, makes the heroes of it appear in their state of pre-existence; but Milton does a far greater honour to mankind in general, as he gives us a glimpse of them even before they are in being.-Addison.
$ The sudden blaze
Far round illumined hell. Another true Miltonic picture.
Against the Highest, and fierce with grasped arms
There stood a hill not far, whose grisly top
t Mammon led them on. This name is Syriac, and signifies riches. “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon," Matt. vi. 24. Mammon is by some supposed to be the God of riches, and is accordingly personified by Milton, and had been before by Spenser; whose description of Mammon and his cave, Milton seems to have had his eye upon in several places.-Newton.
u And hands innumerable scarce perform. There were 360,000 men employed for near twenty years upon one of the Pyramids, according to Diodorus Siculus, lib. i., and Pliny, lib. xxxvi. 12.—Newtox.
v As in an organ. This simile is as exact as it is new: and we may observe, that Milton frequently
To many a row of pipes the sound-board breathes.
To have built in heaven high towers; nor did he 'scape fetches his images from music, more than any other English poet; as he was very fond of it, and was himself a performer upon the organ and other instruments.--NEWTON.
w Rose, like an exhalation. Peck supposes that this hint is taken from some of the moving scenes and machines invented by Inigo Jones, for Charles the First's masques.
x And how he fell From hearen, dc. Alluding to Homer, II. i. 590, &c. It is worth observing how Milton lengthens out the time of Vulcan's fall. Ho not only says with Homer, that it was all day long; but we are led through the parts of the day, from morn to noon, from noon to evening, and this a summer's day. See also Odyss. vii. 288.-Newton.