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in his slumbers, and thus easily inspiring his unpremeditated verse, —that all this while he was taking good care that this Muse should receive from himself continuous qualification for her office, by being fed unawares beforehand every day with carefully selected morsels from the books of a contemporary Dutchman !
But what of that array of parallelisms which Mr. Edmundson exhibits as actual demonstration, in his opinion, of Milton's indebtedness to Vondel, whether we like the conception of such indebtedness or not?
Most of the parallelisms, more than nineteen-twentieths of them, I may say at once, are disposed of at first sight by the simple consideration, already insisted on, of the hereditary character of the themes of the two poets, and the established tradition in the mind of Christendom of certain personages, incidents, and situations, as belonging to these themes by Biblical and prescriptive right. Lucifer, Beelzebub, Belial, Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael were common property; and, if a poet introduced Lucifer or Beelzebub, Gabriel or Michael, into a poem, what could he do but make them look and speak, to the best of his ability, in conformity with general expectation ? The Angelic Wars in Heaven, the rout of the Rebel Angels, their expulsion into Hell, their wingings thence upwards again through the spaces of the new starry Cosmos, the Ptolemaic constitution of this Cosmos, the infant Earth in the midst of it, and Adam and Eve on this earth in their Paradise of foliage and beauty: these also were common property; and, if any poet ventured on those subjects, he had similarly to conform to tradition and expectation in essentials, whatever variation of picturing or of wording his genius might enable him to effect in particulars. Take, for a more special example, the enumeration that would be expected in every description of Paradise of the various animals that frisked about Adam in his state of innocence, acknowledging his lordship. Vondel does the thing thus :
“ De bergleeuw kwispelde hem aan met zijnen staart,
En loech den meester toe. De tijger lêi zijn aaard
In Mr. Edmundson's translation the passage stands thus :
“ The lion gazed upon his lord and wagged
His tail. The tiger laid his savageness
Bowed low his horns, the elephant his trunk;
“These details,” Mr. Edmundson adds, "seem a little grotesque and undignified, but almost unaltered they make their appearance clothed in Miltonic apparel.” He then quotes the following passage from Paradise Lost, IV. 340, but omits the last portion of it :
“ About them frisking played
Does Mr. Edmundson actually think that Milton had to go to Vondel's rather clumsy bit of zoology for the suggestion of this passage? Was not a naming of some of the beasts that gambolled round Adam and Eve a sine qua non in any description of Paradise ; and, if there was to be a naming of the beasts, could the lion and the elephant be omitted, or could the elephant be named without mention of his trunk? If Milton could not think of sufficiently representative beasts for himself, but had to obtain help from lists in previous poets, were there not scores of such lists at his hand, in Sylvester's Du Barlas and elsewhere, much better than Vondel's ? And, if Milton is to be supposed thus always necessarily dependent on some predecessor or predecessors for even the most obvious and easy of the conceptions which his theme required, what of Vondel himself in like cases? Why should Vondel be credited with having been the first in any conception which seems to be common between him and Milton? If this question had occurred to Mr. Edmundson, and he had given it due extension, he would have saved himself a world of trouble. He would have seen that the same inquiry that has been so strenuously moved respecting Milton's originality in this or that may be moved as to Vondel's in exactly the same connexions. He would have seen that at the back of Vondel too there was a series of previous poets, all of whom had manipulated the same Biblical traditions, and so that Vondel's poems themselves were to a great extent
but constructions out of inherited materials and are full of inherited conceptions.
But, granted the hereditary character of the Biblical themes, and the tradition of certain incidents and situations as inseparable from those themes, may there not be such close and minute verbal parallelisms in the treatment of the incidents and situations as can be accounted for only by the supposition of actual borrowing by the later poet from the earlier ? By way of answer to this question, let us look at one or two of Mr. Edmundson's parallelisms that may
be pointed to as verbally the closest.
Here is the Dutch of a passage in Vondel's Lucifer in which Belial, standing with Beelzebub on the brink of Heaven, calls Beelzebub's attention to the upward flight towards them of Apollion, on that Angel's return from the mission on which he had been despatched by Lucifer for the discovery and examination of the newly-created Earth :
Hij steigert steil, van kreits in kreits, op ons gezicht.
Mr. Edmundson translates the rhyming Alexandrines into blank verse thus :
“ He riseth steep, with many a wheel, in view ;
Outstrips the wind, and leaves a track of light
Must not Milton have used this passage, Mr. Edmundson asks, in
the description in Paradise Lost, V. 266-272, of the Archangel Raphael's similar descending flight from the Empyrean to Paradise ?
“ Down thither prone in flight
A phenix, gazed by all.” Observe, however, the extreme economy and caution which Mr. Edmundson attributes to Milton. Not to attract too much attention to his pilferings by using all the good things of Vondel's passage at once or in one connexion, he has already snipped out of it, Mr. Edmundson would have us believe, the flying-fire image and the shooting-star image, and used them in other places! Had not Satan, when after his rest in the heart of Chaos he resumed his ascent through the upper Chaos in quest of the New World above it, sprung upward “like a pyramid of fire” (II. 1013); and, when Uriel, the Angel of the Sun, passed from that luminary to the Earth (IV. 555557), how had he come?
“ Gliding through the even On a sunbeam, swift as a shooting star In autumn thwarts the night.”
And this, it seems, we are to take as a demonstrated example of Milton's borrowings from Vondel! To what straits may the wit of a scholar be reduced when he spurs a hobby! Upwards, or downwards, or horizontally, through the starry spaces, must not the flight of an Angel be swift ; and to what would any imagination so naturally liken the swift flight of a radiant messenger through those spaces as to flying fire or the track of a shooting star? Could not Milton think of a flying fire or a shooting star for himself? Because of his very blindness, as we have already seen, was not the use of this one metaphor of radiance, of light in all its forms and possibilities, peculiarly frequent with him for all varieties of purposes? But, in fact, had he not had a shooting star of his own in his possession, and a much finer one than Vondel's, from a date long before that of his blindness, and long before that of Vondel's invention of any article of the kind for his Lucifer? Mr. Edmundson, it seems, forgot those lines in Comus, spoken by the Attendant Spirit :
“ Therefore, when any favoured of high Jove
Chances to pass through this adventurous glade,
Again, Milton's "pyramid of fire” for Satan's suddenly recommenced ascent through Chaos is not the same image at all as Vondel's "flying fire” in the quoted passage, but much grander and more distinct. Further still, has not Mr. Edmundson taken liberties with Vondel's original by importing Miltonisms into his translation of it which have the effect of intensifying the supposed parallelism? Is "with many a wheel” an exact translation of the Dutch “. van kreits in kreits”? is it not rather a substitution derived from Milton's own line, " Throws his steep flight in many an aery wheel,” in the description, P. L. III. 741-2, of Satan's spiral motion from the Sun downwards before he alights on the Earth at Mount Niphates? The substitution is all the more illegitimate inasmuch as Mr. Edmundson proceeds to take advantage of it by quoting this very line of Milton as a copy of the line in Vondel which he has doctored, unwittingly doubtless, into the necessary degree of similarity. Again, where in Vondel's Dutch is the precise phrase "Winnow the clouds”? The word in the Dutch is not winnow but break , and, though Mr. Edmundson conscientiously mentions this fact in a footnote, it was hardly fair to leave Milton's own word winnow, with all its Miltonic associations, doing duty for quite a different word in a bit of translated text adduced for the particular purpose which Mr. Edmundson had in view.
For another example, take Mr. Edmundson's translation of two fragments of Apollion's description in Vondel's drama of the appearance of Adam and Eve in Paradise :
“ Both man and wife are shaped with equal grace,
Perfect from head to foot. Adam of right
There shines no seraph bright in heavenly courts