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Lucifer call a Council or Assembly of his demons for the purpose
of deliberation, had also had occasion to describe the place of the infernal congress; and he had described it thus :
Daar, recht in 't middelpunt des aardrijks, even wijd
In Mr. Edmundson's English the lines are given as follows :
“Where right in centre of the Earth it lies,
As far from Southern as from Northern pole,
When Mr. Edmundson says that these lines had not failed to “arrest Milton's attention and stimulate his imagination,” he speaks very gently in appearance, but can mean, as we have seen, nothing less, as far as Paradise Lost is concerned, than that Milton, having had the lines read to him from Vondel's Joannes Boetgezant some time in 1662 or 1663, called for the manuscript of the already written First Book of his Paradise Lost, and mended the text there, by Vondel's help, so that we now read at lines 73, 74, that stupendous definition of the contour of Hell in its measured relations to the whole of Physical Infinitude :
“ As far removed from God and light of Heaven
As from the centre thrice to the utmost pole.” Now, not to dwell on such a trifle as that Mr. Edmundson by using in his translation the word pole, which does not occur in the Dutch, again imports a particle from Milton's text into those very lines of Vondel by which he is supposed to have been stimulated, what a failure of imaginative grasp, what a missing of all that is essentially Miltonic in the construction of Milton's epic, to confound for one moment Milton's Hell, declared from the first to be extra-mundane and all but illimitably down in the depths of Chaos, with that pigmy Hell at the centre of the Earth itself which suffices for Vondel in the quoted passage! And where is the discernible analogy between that bisection of the axis of the Earth by Vondel's Hell which is all that the passage requires and that trisection in Milton of the huger interval which separates his Empyrean from his wholly extra-mundane Hell? To think that Milton had not this physical configuration of his Infinitude already settled and perfect in his mind when he began
his epic, to think that it was a recast or afterthought on any suggestion from Vondel, is utterly absurd; and it is nearly as absurd to think that Vondel's passage induced him to go back to modify any particular even in the expression of his previously conceived sketch. The absurdity extends itself, however, into Mr. Edmundson's manipulation of the fancied resemblance to Vondel in Milton's other passage, where Satan beholds the newly created World pendent from the Empyrean like a small star on the moon's edge. To get at any resemblance at all here, Mr. Edmundson has, in the first place, to resort again to his strange fancy that it was Milton's habit, when he used a passage from Vondel, to keep back some suggestion from it for future service in a fitter context. Thus the same Vondelian passage that had suggested to him the measurement " from the centre thrice to the utmost pole” in lines 73, 74, of Book I., had contained, in the words "hanging in chains," an image for which he had no need in connexion with that measurement. But was he to lose the thing altogether? No! He recollected this image in the Joannes Boetgezant, and brought it in afterwards in a different connexion at lines 1046-1053 of Book II., cleverly blending it there with the “drop of morning-dew" simile in Vondel's Bespiegelingen! Hence, when the New World is seen in those lines pendent from the Empyrean, it is seen pendent as if " hanging in a golden chain.” One might have supposed that Milton could have imagined this mode of pendency for himself, and even that the “golden chain " he had in view was that mystic structure of shining stairs up from the zenith of the Cosmos to the very gate of Heaven which he soon afterwards offers as the optical equivalent for the same purpose. But Mr. Edmundson knows better. Milton fetched the “chains” he now needed from Vondel's Joannes Boetgezant, only burnishing them up and making them "golden.” Yes! but what did he do with the “drop of morning-dew" from Vondel's Bespiegelingen? There is nothing about a dewdrop in Milton's lines; the smallness of the pendent Universe there in comparison with the Empyrean from which it depends being represented by no such image, but by that of a minute star close underneath the moon's orb. Well, but had not Vondel spoken of the whole Universe as being in God's sight no more than "a drop of morning-dew”; and, though there was no notion of pendency from anything in the place where Vondel had thus thought of the dewdrop, must not Milton have had the Vondelian conception
of the dewdrop as an image of smallness,--a conception so vastly original, so unlike anything that had occurred to the wit of man before !—latently in his mind when he dictated his passage about the pendency of Man's small Universe from the greater Empyrean? Or, if Milton himself did not show that it was in his mind, had not one of his commentators been more candid ? Had not the present editor, for example, interpreting Milton's meaning, spoken of the whole Mundane Universe, in Milton's imagination of it, as "hung droplike” from the Empyrean into Chaos ? So Mr. Edmundson points out, quoting the very words. His implication respecting Milton, so far as I can make it out, is that qui facit per alium facit per se.
Having given some specimens of Mr. Edmundson's collection of parallelisms, I may add that I have not met in all the rest of the collection a single parallelism that could convince me of a direct use by Milton in his Paradise Lost of any passage in Vondel. My opinion, indeed, after considering all the parallelisms produced by Mr. Edmundson, is that it would be quite possible to maintain the extreme position that Paradise Lost would have been exactly the same as it is if Vondel's poems had never been written, or if Vondel himself had never existed. That position, however, might be too
1 This appears to have been, on the whole, the opinion of Vondel's latest and ablest editor, M. Van Lennep, naturally prepossessed though we may imagine him to have been in Vondel's favour, and so disposed to make the most of the coincidences between Milton's Paradise Lost and Vondel's Lucifer. In his “ Kritisch Overzicht van Lucifer,” appended to the text of the drama in one of the volumes of the collective edition of Vondel's works (1861), he discusses the question that had been moved among his countrymen as to Milton's possible obligations to Vondel ; and, after acknowledging some of the more notable coincidences that had been pointed out, he pronounces judgment thus :-“And yet ... I do not “ regard it as proved that Milton was acquainted with Vondel or his tragedy. “ It is a very common phenomenon that men of intellect fix their thoughts about “ the same time on the same subject ; and, in a period when theological questions “ were the order of the day, two persons may very well have conceived the design “ of celebrating the Fall of the Angels, without the work of the one having “ offered any suggestion of the subject to the other. When in such a case two “ men of genius treat similar material, it cannot but be that their poems will “ exhibit points of agreement: the more so when both have drawn from a “ common source,-the Bible. Still, after all, the form and method of treatment
adopted by the two poets were so different that the paths they pursued were “ necessarily divergent.” For this translated passage from M. Van Lennep's Dutch I have to thank Mr. Hugh A. Webster, the Librarian of Edinburgh University.
extreme. Mr. Gosse thinks that Vondel's Lucifer was known to Milton; and Mr. Gosse's opinion on such a subject, taken along with the already explained historical probabilities of the case, ought to count for something. Let the vote, then, be that Milton did somehow contrive, amid the difficulties of his blindness, to superimpose upon all the mass of his previous readings from his youth onwards some new readings in the Lucifer, and in other poems, of his celebrated Dutch contemporary. That is all that is needed; and it is a very different speculation from Mr. Edmundson's. The matter of a man's readings, in any day or week of his life, does not remain distinct from his mind as already constituted, or only as a something additional that his mind can thenceforth work upon; it is necessarily, like all his other new experiences, transmuted, there and then, into the very substance of his mind, modifying the very structure of his thinking faculty for all its future operations of reasoning, imagining, or whatever else. In this sense only,—that, when any mind is stirred, all its contents are stirred, -is there any worth whatever, I believe, in any theory of Milton's indebtedness to any particular author; and all speculations as to Milton's indebtedness to particular authors in any other and less honourable sense have in them, I believe, whether they know it or not, the transmitted taint of the wretched Lauder's, and are doomed inevitably to the fate that attended their prototype.