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ADDISON observes, that this eleventh book of 'Paradise Lost' is not generally reckoned among the most shining books of the poem. How is it possible that every book where the splendour is so excessive, should blaze equally? Probably there is less invention in this book; but the descriptive parts are not less powerful, nor less important, instructive, and awful in their topics. The Deluge was a trial of strength with the Ancients, since it forms so important a feature in Ovid's poems. So far as there is invention in this book, it lies in the selection of circumstances, in picturesque epithets, and in moral, political, and religious reflections : its intellectual compass is vast and stupendous. Such a view opened upon Adam of the fate of his posterity, could only be conceived and comprehended by the splendid force of the poetical eye of Milton. Wonderful as is the liveliness and truth of shape and tint of each part, still the greater wonder is in the united brilliance of the whole.
It is truly said, that Milton everywhere follows the great ancients, and improves upon them : he despises all the petty gildings and artifices, which are so much boasted in modern poetry. His object is, to convey images and ideas—not words; and the plainer the words, so that they do not disgrace the thought, the better ! He would never sacrifice the force of the language to the metre. The mark of this is, that when he had occasion to use the terms of the Scripture, he would not derange them for the sake of the rhythm.
On that which pleases us individually, without consulting the feelings and opinions of others, we cannot rely: but when what delights us has made the same impression on gifted persons of all ages, and under all different circumstances, then we may be sure that its charms are intrinsic, and such as it is important to bring out, and render more impressive. Thus Milton is full of imagery, which makes the spell of Homer and Virgil.
There are those who think that poetry is not of the essence of intellectual cultivation : they think so because they have no idea of the nature of true poetry; without which there can be no due conception of the wonders and charms of the creation.
Smooth verses are indeed but childish amusements to the ear, which would be better fed by common and unpolished sounds conveying useful knowledge through the sense to the mind.
ARGUMENT. THE Son of God presents to his Father the prayers of our first parents now repenting, and
intercedes for them: God accepts them, but declares they must no longer abide in Paradise; sends Michael with a band of cherubim to dispossess them; but first to reveal to Adam future things : Michael's coming down. Adam shows to Eve certain ominous signs; he discerns Michael's approach ; goes out to meet him; the angel denounces their departure; Eve's lamentation. Adam pleads, but submits: the angel leads him up to a high hill; sets before him in vision what shall happen till the flood.
Thus they, in lowliest plight, repentant stood,
Regenerate grow instead ; that sighs now breathed a
See, Father, what first-fruits on earth are sprung
which in this golden censer, mix’d
• Sighs now breathed. See Rom. viii. 26 :—“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”—HUME.
6 Yet their port. The poet could not have thought of a more apt similitude to illustrate his subject, (than that of Deucalion and Pyrrha,) and he has plainly fetched it from Ovid, Met. i. 318, &c. Milton has been often censured for his frequent allusions to the heathen mythology, and for mixing fables with sacred truths : but it may be observed in favour of him, that what he borrows from the heathen mythology, he commonly applies only by way of similitude; and a similitude from thence may illustrate his subject as well as from any thing else.—NEWTON.
Ovid, who was a favourite with Milton, might be so, among other reasons, from so many of his subjects being in a certain degree founded on Scripture, or at least having a palpable relation thereto; as the creation, deluge, foreshowing of the destruction of the world by fire, &c.—DUNSTER.
c With incense. See Psalm cxli. 2:—“Let my prayer be set before thee as incense.”—Todd.
Number'd, though sad ; till death, his doom, (which I
To whom the Father, without cloud, serene :
He ended, and the Son gave signal high
O sons, like one of us man is become
This whole speech is founded upon Gen. iii. 22—24.–NEWTON.
His knowledge of good lost, and evil got ;
He ceased ; and the archangelic power prepared
e Four faces each. Ezekiel says that “every one had four faces,” x. 14; see also x. 12 :-"And their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, were full of eyes round about.”—NEWTON.