« AnteriorContinuar »
proffers to accomplish for our Lord, whom he incites to accept the offer, not only from a principle of ambition, but as the best means of securing to himself his promised inheritance, the throne of David.' Our Lord, in reply, scarcely notices the arguments which Satan had been urging to him ; and only takes occasion, from the description which had been given of the splendour and magnificence of Rome, to arraign the superlatively extravagant luxury of the Romans*, and briefly to sum up those vices and misconducts then rapidly advancing to their height, which soon brought on the decline, and in the end effectuated the fall, of the Roman power. The next object which our author had in view, in his proposed display of heathen excellence, was a scene of a different, but no less intoxicating kind; Athens, in all its pride of literature and philosophy; but he seems to have been well aware that an immediate transition, from the view of Rome to that of Athens, must have diminished the effect of each. The intermediate space he has finely occupied. Our Lord, unmoved by the splendid scene displayed to captivate him, and having only been led by it to notice the vices and corruptions of the heathen world, in the conclusion of his speech marks the vanity of all earthly power, by referring to his own future kingdom, as that which by supernatural means should destroy "all monarchies besides throughout the world."
The fiend hereupon, urged by the violence of his desperation to an indiscretion which he had not before showed, endeavours to enhance the value of his offers, by declaring that the only terms, on which he would bestow them, were those of our Lord's falling down and worshipping him. To this our Saviour answers in a speech of marked abhorrence blended with contempt. This draws from Satan a reply of as much art, and as finely written, as any in the poem ; in which he endeavours, by an artfal justification of himself, to repair the indiscretion of his blasphemous proposal, and to soften the effect of it on our blessed Lord, so far at least as to be enabled to resume the process of his enterprise. The transition, ver. 212, to his new ground of temptation is peculiary happy : having given up all prospect of working upon our Lord by the incitements of ambition, he now compliments him on his predilection for wisdom, and his early display of superior knowledge, and recommends it to him, for the purpose of accomplishing his professed design of reforming and converting mankind, to cultivate the literature and philosophy, for which the most polished part of the heathen world, and Greece in particular, was so eminent. This leads to his view of Athens; which is given, with singular effect, after the preceding dialogue; where the blasphemous rage of the tempter, and the art with which he endeavours to recover it, serve, by the variety of the subject and the interesting nature of the circumstance, materially to relieve the preceding and ensuing descriptions. The tempter, resuming his usual plausibility of language, now becomes the hierophant of the scene, which he describes, as he shows it, with so much accuracy, that we discern every object distinctly before us. The general view of Athens, with its most celebrated buildings and places of learned resort, is beautiful and original ; and the description of its musicians, poets, orators, and philosophers is given with the hand of a master, and with all the fond affection of an enthusiast in Greek literature. Our Lord's reply is no less admirable ; particularly where he displays the fallacy of the heathen philosophy, and points out the errors of its most admired sects with the greatest acuteness of argument, and at the same time in a noble strain of poetry. His contrasting the poetry and policy of the Hebrews with those of the Greeks, on the ground of what had been advanced by some learned men in this respect, is highly consistent with the argument of this poem; and is so far from originating in that fanaticism, with which some of his ablest commentators have chosen to brand our author ; that it serves duly to counterbalance his preceding éloge on heathen literature. The next speech of the tempter, ver. 368, is one of those masterpieces of plain composition, for which Milton is so eminent : the sufferings of our blessed Lord are therein foretold with an energetic brevity, that on such subjects, has an effect superior to the most flowery and decorated language. The dialogue here ceases for a short time. The poet, in his own person, now describes, ver. 394, &c., our Lord's being conveyed by Satan back to the wilderness, the storm which the tempter there raises, the tremendous night which our Lord passes and the beautiful morning by which it is succeeded. How exquisitely sublime and beautiful is all this!-Yet this is the poem, from which the ardent admirers of Milton's other works turn, as from a cold, uninteresting composition, the produce of his dotage, of a palsied hand, no longer able to hold the pencil of poetry! The dialogue which ensues,
* Possibly not without a glance of the poet at the manners of our court at that time.
is worthy of this book, and carries on the subject in the best manner to its concluding temptation. The last speech of Satan is particularly deserving our notice. The fiend, now “swoln with rage” at the repeated failure of his attacks, breaks out into a language of gross insult ; professing to doubt whether our Lord, whom he had before frequently addressed as the Son of God, is in any way entitled to that appellation. From this wantonly blasphemous obloquy he still recovers himself, and offers, with his usual art, a qualification of what he had last said, and a justification of his persisting in farther attempts on the Divine person, by whom he had been so constantly foiled.
These are the masterly discriminating touches, with which the poet has admirably drawn the character of the tempter : the general colouring is that of plausible hypocrisy, through which, when elicited by the sudden irritation of defeat, his diabolical malignity frequently flashes out, and displays itself with singular effect. We now come to the catastrophe of the poem. The tempter conveys our blessed Lord to the temple at Jerusalem, where the description of the holy city and of the temple is pleasingly drawn. Satan has now little to say; he brings the question to a decisive point, in which any persuasion of rhetorical language on his part can be of no avail ; he therefore speaks in his own undisguised person and character, and his language accordingly is that of scornful insult. The result of the trial is given with the utmost brevity; and its consequences are admirably painted. The despair and fall Satan, with its successive illustrations, ver. 562 to ver. 580, have all the boldness of Salvator Rosa ; while the angels supporting our Lord “as on a floating couch, through the blithe air,” is a sweetly pleasing and highly finished picture from the pencil of Guido. The refreshment ministered to our Lord by the angels is an intended and striking contrast to the luxurious banquet with which he had been tempted in the preceding part of the poem. The angelic hymn, which concludes the book, is at once poetical and scriptural: we may justly apply to it, and to this whole poem, an observation, which Fuller, in his “Worthies of Essex,” first applied to Quarles ; and which the ingenious Mr. Headley, in the “Biographical Sketches” prefixed to his “Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry,” has transferred to the only poet to whom it is truly appropriate :-“To mix the waters of Jordan and Helicon in the same cup, was reserved for the hand of Milton; and for him, and him only, to find the bays of Mount Olivet equally verdant with those of Parnassus.” It may farther be observed, that Milton is himself an eminent instance of one of his own observations in his "Tractate of Education ;” having practically demonstrated, what he invites the juvenile student in poetry theoretically to learn :"what religious, what glorious, and magnificent use might be made of poetry.”— DUNSTER.
REMARKS ON MILTON'S VERSIFICATION.
DR. JOHNSON has written several pages on Milton's versification, which have been reprinted by Todd as an essay : the whole is written in Johnson's best manner; but I venture, however presumptuous it may appear, to assert that it is based on a theory wholly wrong. Johnson assumes, as many others have done, that the true heroic verse is the iambic; such as Dryden, Pope, and, I may add, Darwin, have brought to perfection; and that all variations from the iambic foot are irregularities, which may be pardonable for variety, but are still departures from the rule. Upon this ground, Milton is perpetually offending; and that which is among his primary beauties of metre is turned into a fault.
Let me be forgiven for my boldness in suggesting and exemplifying another theory of the great poet's versification, which I am convinced will be found a clew to the pronunciation of every part of his blank verse, and especially in “Paradise Lost."
I believe that Milton's principle was to introduce into his lines every variety of metrical foot which is to be found in the Latin poetry, especially in the lyrics of Horace; such as not merely iambic, but spondee, dactyl, trochee, anapest, &c.; and that whoever reads his lines as if they were prose, and accents them as the sense would dictate, will find that they fall into one, or rather several of these feet; often ending like the Latin, with a half-foot: wherever they do not, I doubt not that it arises from a different mode of accenting some word from that which was the usage in Milton's time. If there is any attempt to read Milton's verses as iambics, with a mere occasional variation of the trochee and the spondee, they will often sound very lame, instead of being, as they really are, magnificently harmonious.
If Johnson's rules are adopted, some of Milton's most tuneful lines become inharmonious; and, in the same degree, one of Cowley's, exquisite if properly scanned, but which Johnson exhibits as very faulty,
And the soft wings of peace cover him round ;this, taken to be an iambic, is full of false quantities ; but I assume the proper mode of scanning it to be this :
And thě | soft wings / of pēace | cover him | round : viz., first, a trochee; then a spondee; third, an iambic; fourth, a dactyl; fifth, a demi-foot. Thus Milton,
Partaken, and uncropt falls to the ground. should be scanned thus :
| Parta | kên, ănd | ũneröpt | falls tỏ thế | gröund, first, an iambic; second, an iambic; third, a spondee; fourth, a dactyl; fifth, a demi-foot.
Take the following:
Of sense, whereby they hear, see, smell, touch, taste, which I accent thus :
Of sēnse, / whēreby | thěy hēar, / sēe, smēli, / touch, tāste. first, an iambic; second, a spondee; third, an iambic; fourth, a spondee ; fifth, a spondee.
The following lines, cited by Johnson, I scan thus :
1. Wisdom to folly, as nõurishment to wind.
Wisdom to 1 follý, ás | nourish mēnt to | wind. 2. No ungrateful food, and food alike those pure.
Nð ångrāte|fůl food, I and food | ălike those pūre. 3. For we have also our evening and our morn.
For wē | hāve also | oŭr ēveļning and oůr mörn. 4. Inhospitably, and kills their infant males.
Inhõsspitalbiy, and kills | their In fănt māles.
And viltăl vīrståe înfūsed, | and viltăl wärmth.
God māde | thēe of choice | hys own, / and of his own.
Abõlminālble, înūt|těrālblē, and worse. 8. Impenetrable, impaled with circling fire.
Impēlnětrā/ble, Im/pāled with circling | fire. 9. To none communicable in earth or heaven.
Tð nõne | commülnīcālblě în earth | or heaven, 10. In curls on either cheek play'd : wings he wore.
In curls / on ēi/thěr chēek | plāy'd : wings | hě wore. 11. Lies through the perplex'd paths of this drear wood.
Lies through | thě pěrplēx'd | pāths of this drēar | wood. 12. On him, who had stole Jove's authentick fire.
On him | whð hād | stole Jõve's | aŭthēn tụck fire.
Unfvēr|sāl rēlproach, făr / worse tě | bear.
With thēm | from bliss | tỏ thě | bottomlėss | dēep.
Prēsènt ? | thūs tĎ his sõn / aūdyblý / spāke. 16. Thy lingering, or with one stroke of this dart.
Thỹ lin | gěryng, or / wịth one stroke of this dārt. 17. To do aught good never will be our task.
Tě do | aūght good | něvěr will / bē Õur | tāsk. 18. Created hugest, that swim the ocean stream.
Crbated hugest | thắt swim | thế ô | ceăn streăm. 19. Came singly where he stood on the bare strand.
Cãme Singllo whöre | hè stöod | ôn thể bāre | stränd.
20. Light from above, from the fountain of light.
Light from above, / from thě | fountăin of light. 21. Things not reveal'd, which the invisible king.
Things not | rěveāl’d, / which thě | Invýsi/blè king. 22. With their bright luminaries, that set and rose.
With their | bright lūsminālriểs thăt sēt | ånd rose. Dr. Johnson, assuming the iambic to be the true heroic measure of English poetry, says that Milton has seldom two pure lines together. So far from it, he has a long succession of lines in every book of unbroken harmony, if we allow the variety of feet which he undoubtedly adopted as a system. The critic's false principle of our verse continually leads him to blame as faulty what in truth is harmonious : thus, having said that the elision of one vowel before another beginning the next word is contrary to the genius of our language, he is often driven to make this elision by his false rule; as in this line,
Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind. Here he cuts off the last syllable of "folly" before " as :" but the verse properly scanned, does not require it to be cut off :
wisdom | to föl|lý ăn nỗu|rishmẽnt | to wind. All that Johnson says, as to the principle to be adopted on varying the pauses in parts of a verse, or of two or more verses taken together, seems to be whimsical and unfounded; but if true, would go to render faulty what is the real spell of Milton's sonorous variety of harmony. He asserts that there can be no metrical harmony in a succession of less than three syllables, and that every pause ought in itself to have metrical harmony; and therefore that the pause on a monosyllable at the commencement of a line is bad. This would condemn some of Milton's most musical lines. The truth is, that Milton's paragraphs contain a succession of varied pauses “ linked together" with the most perfect skill; and in not one of the places, where they are censured by the critic, are they any other than beautiful or grand. In almost every case, the sense demands that we should lay the accent where the metre demands it, unless we insist upon pure iambics.
That I may not be considered unjust to Johnson, I cite a specimen of his remarks in his own words : “When a single syllable is cut off from the rest, it must either be united to the line with which the sense connects it, or sounded alone : if it be united to the other line, it corrupts its harmony; if disjoined, it must stand alone, and with regard to music, be superfluous; for there is no harmony in a single sound, because it has no proportion to another:"
Hypocrites austerely talk,
Pure; and commands to some, leaves free to all. Here the emphatic word "pure " * derives double force from its position. The other passages next cited by Johnson are pre-eminently beautiful. I am utterly astonished at Johnson's want of ear and of taste on this occasion.
Todd very justly says, that “the fineness of Milton's pauses, and flow of his verses into each other, eminently appears in the very entrance of his 'Paradise
* Todd has cited an excellent observation, contrary to this, from T. Sheridan's “Lectures on the Art of Reading,” vol. ii. p. 258.