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or convex shell, of the New Universe. As he had approached it, what seemed at first but as a star had taken the dimensions of a globe ; and, when he had alighted, and begun to walk on it, this globe had become, as it seemed, a boundless continent of firm land, exposed, dark and starless, to the stormy Chaos blustering round like an inclement sky. Only on the upper convex of the shell, in its angles towards the zenith, some reflection of light was gained from the wall of Heaven. Apparently it was on this upper convex of the outside of the new World, and not at its nadir or the point nearest Hell, that Satan first alighted and walked (compare II. 1034-1053, III. 418—430, X. 312—349). At all events, he had to reach the zenith before he could begin the real business of his errand. For only at this point was there an opening into the interior of the Uni
All the outer shell, save at that point, was hard, compact ; not even transpicuous to the light within, as the spherical glass round a lamp is; but totally opaque, or only glistering faintly on its upper side with the reflected light of Heaven. Accordingly,-after wandering on this dark outside of the Universe long enough to allow Milton that extraordinary digression (III. 440—497) in which he finds one of the most magnificently grotesque uses for the outside of the Universe that it could have occurred to any poet to conceive,-the Fiend is attracted in the right direction to the opening at the zenith. What attracts him thither is a gleam of light from the mysterious structure or staircase (III. 501 et seq.) which there serves the Angels in their descents from Heaven's gate into the Human Universe, and again in their ascents from the Universe to Heaven's gate. Sometimes these stairs are drawn up to Heaven and invisible; but at the moment when Satan reached the spot they were let down, so that, standing on the lower stair, and gazing down through the opening right underneath, he could suddenly behold the whole interior of the Starry Universe at once. He can behold it in all directions: both in the direction of latitude, or depth from the pole where he stands to the opposite pole or nadir ; and also longitudinally,
“ from eastern point Of Libra to the fleecy star that bears Andromeda far off Atlantic seas
Beyond the horizon.” At this point, and before following the Fiend in his flight down into the interior of our Astronomical Universe, it is necessary to
describe the system or constitution of that interior as it is conceived by Milton and assumed throughout the poem. Let us attend, therefore, more particularly now to that small central circle of our last diagram, hanging drop-like from the Empyrean, which we have as yet described no farther than by saying that, small as it is, it represents our vast Starry Universe in Milton's total scheme of Infinitude. Although a great part of the action of the poem takes place in the Empyrean, in Chaos, and in Hell, much of it also takes place within the bounds of this Starry Universe of ours; so that, if there is any peculiarity in Milton's conception of the interior arrangements of this Universe, that peculiarity must be understood before many parts of the poem are intelligible. Such a peculiarity there is; and a distinct exposition of it is desirable in an Introduction to the Poem.
Milton's Astronomy, or at least the astronomical system which he thought proper to employ in his Paradise Lost, is not our present Copernican system ; which, in his time, was not generally or popularly accepted. It is the older astronomical system, now usually called “the Ptolemaic,” because it had been set forth in its main features, in the second century of our era, by the astronomer Ptolemy of Alexandria.
According to this “ Ptolemaic system,” the Earth was the fixed centre of the Mundane Universe, and the apparent motions of the other celestial bodies were caused by the real revolutions of successive Heavens or Spheres of Space enclosing the central Earth at different distances. First, and nearest to the Earth, were the Spheres or Orbs of the seven Planets then known, in this order : the Moon (treated as a planet), Mercury, Venus, the Sun (treated as a planet : the "glorious planet Sol," Shakespeare calls him, Troil, and Cress., Act I. Scene 3), Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Beyond these, as an Eighth Sphere or Orb, was the Firmament or Heaven of all the fixed stars. These eight Spheres or Heavens had sufficed till Aristotle's time, and beyond it, for all the purposes of astronomical explanation. The outermost or eighth Sphere was supposed to wheel diurnally, or in twenty-four hours, from East to West, carrying in it all the fixed stars, and carrying with it also all the seven interior Heavens or Spheres; which Spheres, however, had also separate and slower motions of their own, giving rise to those apparent motions of the Moon (months), Mercury, Venus, the Sun (years), Mars, Jupiter, and
Saturn, which could not be accounted for by the revolution of the Starry Sphere alone. But, later observations having discovered irregularities in the phenomena of the heavens which the supposed motions of even the Eight Spheres could not account for, two extra Spheres had been added. To account for the slow change called “the precession of the equinoxes,” the discovery of which was prepared by Hipparchus in the second century B.C., it had been necessary to imagine a Ninth Sphere, called “the Crystalline Sphere,” beyond that of the Fixed Stars; and, finally, for farther reasons, it had been necessary to suppose all enclosed in a Tenth Sphere, called “the Primum Mobile,” or “first moved." These two outermost Spheres, or at least the Tenth Sphere, had been added in the Middle Ages ; and, indeed, the Ptolemaic system, so completed up to the final number of Ten Spheres, may be called rather the “Alphonsine system,” as having been adopted and taught by the famous king and astronomer, Alphonso X. of Castile (1203—1284). The following extract, which we translate from a Latin manual or Catechism of Astronomy by Michael Moestlinus, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Heidelberg, and preceptor of Kepler (Epitome Astronomie, etc., 1582, pp. 34, 35), will give an idea of the form in which the system was popularly taught in schools and universities all over Europe till it was superseded by that of Copernicus :-“Quest. How many are the Orbs, or celestial Spheres,
and what is their order?" Ans. “There are various opinions “concerning the number and order of the celestial Spheres; but, “ following for the present, for the sake of learners, the doctrine of “the Alphonsines, we reckon ten, in this order :-The ist is the
Sphere of the Moon, which has the lowest place in the Æther; “the 2d that of Mercury; the 3d that of Venus ; the 4th that of “the Sun; the 5th that of Mars; the 6th that of Jupiter; the 7th " that of Saturn. And these are the Spheres of the Seven Planets,
or wandering stars, each of which has only one star, viz. its own “ planet, inserted in it. To these an 8th succeeds, which, from its “order, is called 'the Eighth Sphere,' but also 'the Firmament,' on “account of its containing, and as it were fortifying or walling round, “all the other Spheres; for it was believed by the ancients to be " the last and supreme Sphere. It is also called the Sphere of the “ Fixed Stars, because in it are all the rest of the stars, whatever “their number, after the planets are excepted. There is moreover
a gth Sphere, and finally there is a roth; which last is the Primum Mobile, or Last Heaven. These two Spheres are destitute of
stars.” It needs only be added that the Spheres were not necessarily supposed to be actual spheres of solid matter. It was enough if they were conceived as spheres of invisible or transpicuous space. Perhaps only the outermost Sphere, or Primum Mobile, enclosing the whole Universe from absolute Infinity or Nothingness, had to be thought of as in any sense a material or impenetrable shell.
The utter strangeness of this Ptolemaic system of the Cosmos to our present habits of thought causes us to forget how long it lasted. Although it was in 1543 that Copernicus propounded the other system, and although the views of Copernicus struggled gradually into the belief of subsequent astronomers, and had further demonstration given them by Galileo (between 1610 and 1616), the Ptolemaic or Alphonsine system, with its ten Spheres enclosing the stationary Earth at different distances, and wheeling round it in a complex combination of their separate motions, retained its prevalence in the popular mind of Europe, and even in the scientific world, till the end of the seventeenth century. Hence all the literature of England, and of other countries, down to that date, is latently cast in the imaginative mould of that system, and is full of its phraseology and of suggestions from it. There has never yet been a sufficient study of the influence of the Pre-Copernican Cosmology upon the thinkings and imaginations of mankind everywhere on all subjects whatsoever till about two hundred years ago. From the whole series of the English poets, from Chaucer to the Elizabethans and beyond, as I have ventured to say elsewhere, or indeed from the series of the poets of any one of the European nations, there might be culled an extraordinary collection of passages assuming the mundane constitution of the successive spheres, with the Primum Mobile as the last or outermost of them, and the Empyrean over and above, and requiring the recollection of that cosmological system for their due enjoyment and interpretation. When Shakespeare speaks of the “stars starting from their spheres,” he means from the Ptolemaic spheres ; and the word “sphere” in our old poetry has generally this meaning. Indeed, there are traces of Pre-Copernicanism in our current speech yet, as when we say, “This is not my sphere,” or “You are out of your sphere." A full examination of our old literature in the light of the principle here suggested, -i.e. with the recollection that it was according to
the Ptolemaic conception of the Universe, and not according to the Copernican, that our old poets thought of things and expressed their thoughts,-would lead, I repeat, to very curious and very interesting results. We are concerned at present, however, with Milton only.
In Milton's case we are presented with the interesting pheno menon of a mind apparently uncertain to the last which of the two systems, the Ptolemaic or the Copernican, was the true one, or perhaps beginning to be persuaded of the higher probability of the Copernican, but yet retaining the Ptolemaic for poetical purposes. For Milton's life (1608-1674) coincides with the period of the struggle between the two systems. In his boyhood and youth he had, doubtless, inherited the general or Ptolemaic belief, that in which Shakespeare had died. Here, for example, is what everybody was reading during Milton's youth in that favourite book, Sylvester's Du Bartas :
“ As the ague-sick upon his shivering pallet
Delays his health oft to delight his palate,
Du Bartas had been a French Protestant, and his English translator, Sylvester, was a Puritan. It was not, therefore, only to the Roman Inquisition, or to Roman Catholics, that Galileo must have seemed a “brain-sick” and “a preposterous wit” when he advocated the Copernican theory. In 1638 Milton had himself conversed with Galileo, then old and blind, near Florence. “There it was," he wrote in 1644 (Areopag.), " that I found and visited the famous “ Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition, for thinking in
Astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licencers “thought.” And yet, despite this passage, and other passages showing how strongly the character and history of Galileo had fascinated him,