Imágenes de páginas

he is meditating on the commencement of his great office of Saviour of mankind. Pursu. ing his meditations, he narrates, in a soliloquy, what divine and philanthropic impulses he had felt from his early youth, and how his mother Mary, on perceiving these dispositions in him, had acquainted him with the circumstances of his birth, and informed him that be was no less a person than the Son of God; to which he adds what his own inquiries and reflections had supplied in confirmation of this great truth, and particularly dwells on the recent attestation of it at the river Jordan. Our Lord passes forty days, fasting, in the wilderness; where the wild beasts become mild and harmless in his presence. Satan now appears under the form of an old peasant; and enters into discourse with our Lord, won. dering what could have brought him alone into so dangerous a place, and at the same time professing to recognise him for the person lately acknowledged by John, at the river Jordan, to be the Son of God. Jesus briefly replies. Satan rejoins with a description of the difficulty of supporting life in the wilderness; and entreats Jesus, if he be really the Son of God, to manifest his divine power, by changing some of the stones into bread. Jesus reproves him, and at the same time tells him that he knows who he is. Satan instantly avows himself, and offers an artful apology for hisnself and his conduct. Our blessed Lord severely reprimands him, and refutes every part of his justification. Satan, with much semblance of humility, still endeavours to justify himself; and professing his admiration of Jesus and his regard for virtue, requests to be permitted at a future time to hear more of his conversation; but is answered, that this must be as he shall find permission from above. Satan then disappears, and the book closes with a short description of night coming on in the desert.

I, who erewhile the happy garden sung
By one man's disobedience lost, now sing
Recover'd Paradise o to all mankind,
By one man's firm obedience fully tried
Through all temptation, and the tempter foil'd
In all his wiles, defeated and repulsed,
And Eden raised in the waste wilderness.


I, who erewhile. The proposition of the subject is clear and dignified, and is beautifully wound up in the concluding line :

And Eden raised in the waste wilderness.-DUNSTER.
This is plainly an illusion to the “Ille ego qui quondam," &c., attributed to Virgil.
Thus also Spenser :-

Lo, I the man, whose muse whilom did mask,
As time her taught, in lowly shepherd's weeds,
And now enforced, a far unfitter task,
For trumpets stern to change mine oaten reeds, &c.-Newton.

b By one man's disobedience lost. “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Rom. v. 19.-Newton.

c Recover'd Paradise. It may seem a little odd, that Milton should impute the recovery of Paradise to this short scene of our Saviour's life upon earth, and not rather extend it to his agony, crucifixion, &c.; but the reason no doubt was, that Paradise, regained by our Saviour's resisting the temptations of Satan, might be a better contrast to Paradise, lost by our first parents too easily yielding to the same seducing Spirit. Besides, he might, very probably, and indeed very reasonably, be apprehensive, that a subject, so extensive as well as sublime, might be too great a burden for his declining constitution, and a task too long for the short term of years he could then hope for. Even in his “Paradise Lost," he expresses his fears, lest he had begun too late, and lest“ an age too late, or cold climate, or years, should have damped his intended wing;" and surely he had much greater cause to dread the same now, and to be very cautious of launching out too far.-THYER.

d And Eden raised in the waste wilderness. There is, I think, a particular beauty in this line, when one considers the fine allusion in it to the curse brought upon the paradisiacal earth by the fall of Adam : “Cursed is the ground for thy sake: thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.”—THYER.

See Isaiah, li. 3.



Thou Spirit, who ledst this glorious eremite
Into the desert,' his victorious field,
Against the spiritual foe, and brought'st him thence
By proof the undoubted Son of God, inspire,
As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute ; h
And bear, through highth or depth of Nature's bounds,
With prosperous wing full summ’d, to tell of deeds
Above heroick, though in secret done,
And unrecorded left through many an age;
Worthy to have not remain'd so long unsung.

Now had the great proclaimer, with a voice
More awful than the sound of trumpet, cried

Thou spirit. This invocation is so supremely beautiful, that it is hardly possible to give the preference even to that in the opening of the “Paradise Lost." This has the merit of more conciseness. Diffuseness may be considered as lessening the dignity of invocations on such subjects.--DUNSTER,

I Into the desert. It is said, Matt. iv. 1,—"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the winderness to be tempted of the devil.” And from the Greek original épnuos, the desert, and ipnuírns, an inbabitant of the desert, is rightly formed the word eremite ; which was used before by Milton in his “Paradise Lost," b. iii. 474: and by Fairfax, in his translation of Tasso, c. xi. st. 4: and in Italian, as well as Latin, there is eremita, which the French, and we after them, contract into hermite, hermit.-NEWTON.

& Inspire, As thou art wont. See the very fine opening of the ninth book of the “Paradise Lost," and also his invocation of Urania, at the beginning of the seventh book : and in the introduction to the second book of the “Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy,” whero he promises to undertake something, he yet knows not what, that may be of use and honour to his country, he adds: “ This is not to be obtained but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify whom he pleases." Here then we see that Milton's invocations of the Divine Spirit were not merely erordia pro forma. Indeed his prose works are not without their invocations. Comparo also Tasso, "Il Mondo Creato," Giorn. Prim.

e langue
Se non m'inspiri tu, la voco, e 'l suono.-Dunster.
h My prompted song,

else mute. Milton's third wife, who survived him many years, related of him, that he used to compose his poetry chiefly in winter; and on his waking in a morning, would make her write down sometimes twenty or thirty verses. Being asked, whether he did not often read Homer and Virgil, she understood it as an imputation upon him for stealing from those authors, and answered with eagerness, “He stole from nobody but the Muse who inspired him:" and, being asked by a lady present who the Muse was, replied “It was God's grace, and the Holy Spirit, that visited him nightly.”—Newton's Life of Milton. Mr. Richardson also says, that “Milton would sometimes lie awake whole nights, but not a verse could he make; and on a sudden his poetical fancy would rush upon him with an impetus or æstrum.”—Johnson's Life of Milton. "Else mute" might have been suggested by a passage of Horace's most beautiful ode to the Muse, iv. iii.

O testudinis aurea

Dulcem quæ strepitum, Pieri, temperas,
O mutis quoque piscibus

Donatura cygni, si libeat, sonum! or from Quinctilian :"Ipsam igitur orandi majestatem, qua nihil Dii immortales melius homini dederunt, et qua remota muta sunt omnia, et luce præsenti et memoria posteritatis carent, toto animo petamus," l. xii. 11.--DUNSTER.

i With a voice

More awful than the sound of trumpet. “Lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions,” Isaiah Iviii. 1: and see Heb. xii. 18, 19.-DUNSTER.




Repentance, and Heaven's kingdom nigh at hand
To all baptized : to his great baptism flock'd
With awe the regions round, and with them came
From Nazareth the son of Joseph deem'd
To the flood of Jordan ; came, as then obscure,
Unmark’d, unknown; but him the Baptist soon
Descried, divinely warn'd, j and witness bore
As to his worthier, and would have resign'd
To him his heavenly office; nor was long
His witness unconfirm’d: on him baptized
Heaven open’d, and in likeness of a dove
The Spirit descended, while the Father's voice
From heaven pronounced him his beloved Son.
That heard, the adversary, who, roving still
About the world, at that assembly famed
Would not be last; and, with the voice divine
Nigh thunder-struck, the exalted man, to whom
Such high attest was given,' awhile survey'd
With wonder; then, with envy fraught and rage,
Flies to his place, nor rests, but in mid aic
To council summons all his mighty peers,
Within thick clouds and dark tenfold involved,"
A gloomy consistory;" and them amidst,
With looks aghast and sad, he thus bespake:


[ocr errors]


į But him the Baptist soon Descried, divinely warn'd. John the Baptist bad notice given him before, that he might certainly know the Messiah by the Holy Ghost descending and abiding upon him : “And I knew him not; but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost," John i. 33. But it appears from St. Matthew, that the Baptist knew him, and acknowledged him before he was baptized, and before the lloly Ghost descended upon him, Matt. iii. 14. “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" To account for which we must admit with Milton, that another divine revelation was made to him at this very time, signifying that this was the person of whom he had such notice before.-NEWTON. The Baptist John carries us with the best effect in medias res.-DUNSTER.

k Who, roving still

About the world. " And the Lord said unto Satan, Whenco comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” Job i. 7. See also 1 Pet. v. 8.-DUNSTER.

i The exalted man, to whom Such high attest was given, dc. The description how Satan is affected by this divine attestation of Jesus is admirable : his involuntary admiration is consistent with his knowledge of what is good and amiable; (see ver. 379 ;) his envy and rage are truly Satanic, and becoming his character of the enemy of all good.--DUNSTER.

m Within thick clouds and dark tenfold involved.
Milton, in making Satan's residence to be "in mid air, within thick clouds and dark,”
seems to have St. Austin in his eye; who, speaking of the region of clouds, storms,
thunder, &c., says, "ad ista caliginosa, id est, ad hunc aërem, tanquam ad carcerem,
damnatus est diabolus," &c. "Enarr. in Ps." 148, s. 9, tom. 5, p. 1677. edit. Bened.-

A gloomy consistory.
This is an imitation of Vir. Æn. iii. 677:



O ancient powers of air, and this wide world; o
(For much more willingly I mention air,
This our old conquest, than remember hell,
Our hated habitation) well ye know,
How many ages, as the years


This universe we have possess'd, and ruled,
In manner at our will, the affairs of earth,
Since Adam and his facile consort Eve
Lost Paradise, deceived by me; though since
With dread attending when that fatal wound
Shall be inflicted by the seed of Eve
Upon my head. Long the decrees of Heaven
Delay, for longest time to him is short :P



Cernimus astantes nequicquam lumine torvo
Ætros fratres, cælo capita alta ferentes,

Concilium horrendum. By the word “consistory," I suppose Milton intends to glance at the meeting of the pope and cardinals so named, or perhaps at the episcopal tribunal, to all which sorts of courts or assemblies he was an avowed enemy. The phrase concilium horrendum, Vida makes use of upon a like occasion of assembling the infernal powers, “ Christ." lib. 1.

Protinus acciri diros ad regia fratres

Limina, concilium horrendum.
And Tasso also, in the very same manner, “Gier. Lib.” c. iv. st. 2:-

Che sia commanda il popol suo raccolto
(Concilio horrendo) entro la regia soglia.—THYER.

O ancient powers of air, and this ride world. So the devil is called in Scripture “The prince of the power of the air," Eph. ii. 2; and evil spirits are termed the “rulers of the darkness of this world," Eph. vi. 12. Satan here summons a council, and opens it as he did in the “ Paradise Lost;" but hero is not that copiousness and variety which is in the other; here are not different speeches and sentiments adapted to the different characters; it is a council without a debate; Satan is the only speaker: and the author, as if conscious of this defect, has artfully endeavoured to obviate the objection, by saying that their danger

Admits no long debate,

But must with something sudden be opposed: and afterwards,

No time was then

For long indulgence to their fears or grief. The true reason is, he found it impossible to exceed or equal the speeches in his former council, and therefore has assigned the best reason he could for not making any in this. -NEWTON.

They who have been taught to think, by the cant of common critics, that this poem is unworthy of the great genius of Milton, may read the first two speeches in it; this of Satan, with which the poem judiciously opens; and that of God, at ver. 130 of this book.-Jos. WARTON.

p Long the decrees of Hearen

Delay, for longest time to him is short. This observation, that “the decrees of Ileaven are long delayed,” must bo understood as being limited to this particular instance; or to its being sometimes, not always so. Why any interval should ever occur between the decrees of the Almighty and his execution of them, a reason is immediately subjoined, which forms a peculiarly fine transition to the succeeding sentence. Time is as nothing to the Deity; long and short having, in fact, no existence to a Being with whom all duration is present: time to human beings has its stated measurement, and by this Satan has just before estimated it

How many ages, as the years of men,

This universe we have possess d. Time to guilty beings, human or spiritual, passes so quick, that the hour of punishment, however protracted, always comes too soon :




[ocr errors]

And now, too soon for

us, the circling hours
This dreaded time have compass'd, wherein we
Must bide the stroke of that long-threaten'd wound,
At least, if so we can; and, by the head
Broken, be not intended all our power
To be infringed, our freedom and our being,
In this fair empire won of earth and air :
For this ill news I bring;' the woman's Seed,
Destined to this, is late of woman born :
His birth to our just fear gave no small cause;
But his growth now to youth's full flower, displaying
All virtue, grace, and wisdom to achieve
Things highest, greatest, multiplies my fear.
Before him a great prophet, to proclaim
His coming, is sent harbinger, who all
Invites, and in the consecrated stream
Pretends to wash off sin, and fit them, so
Purified, to receive him pure;' or rather
To do bim honour as their King: all come,
And he himself among them was baptized ;
Not thence to be more pure, but to receive
The testimony of Heaven, that who he is
Thenceforth the nations may not doubt. I saw
The prophet do him reverence; on him, rising
Out of the water, Heaven above the clouds
Unfold her crystal doors;. thence on his head
A perfect dove descend, (whate'er it meant)

And now, too soon for us the circling hours
This drended time have compass'd, wherein we
Must bide the stroke of that long-threaten'd wound.-DUNSTER.

4 For this ill neros I bring, &c. In the fourth act of the “ Adamo," of Andreini, Lucifer similarly announces the incarnation to the demons.--DUNSTER.

r Purified, to receive him

pure. 1 John, iii. 3. “And every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as he is pure."--Newton.

* Heaven above the clouds

Unfold her crystal doors. It is the same idea in the “Ode on the Nativity,” st. 13:—" Ring out, ye crystal spheres :" and in the Latin ode, “ Præsul. Elien." ver. 63:

Donec nitentes ad fores

Ventum est Olympi, et regiam crystallinam, &c. Compare also “Paradise Lost," vi. 771 :

He on the wings of seraphs rode sublime

On the crystalline sky. Again, b. i. 741:

Thrown by angry Jovo

Sheer o'er the crystal battlements.
See also b. vi. 756, 860. Milton's "crystal battlements" are in the imagery of romance :
the "crystalline sphere" is from the Ptolemaic or Gothic system of astronomy, "Paradise
Lost," iii. 482: and so perhaps Spenser, “ Tears of the Muses :"-

For hence we mount aloft into the skie,
And look into the crystall firmament.--T. Wartox.

! A perfect dove descend. He had expressed it before, ver. 30, "in likeness of a dove," agreeably to St.

« AnteriorContinuar »