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of happy beings, who know not suffering even by name, whose innocence excludes not only the tumults but the thought of jealousy and shame, who, “imparadised in one another's arms,’ scarce dream of futurity, so blessed is their present being. We will not say that we envy our first parents; for we feel that there may be higher happiness than theirs, a happiness won through struggle with inward and outward foes, the happiness of power and moral victory, the happiness of disinterested sacrifices and wide-spread love, the happiness of boundless hope, and of ‘thoughts which wander through eternity.’ Still there are times, when the spirit, oppressed with pain, worn with toil, tired of tumult, sick at the sight of guilt, wounded in its love, baffled in its hope, and trembling in its faith, almost longs for the ‘wings of a dove, that it might fly away' and take refuge amidst the “shady bowers,’ the ‘vernal airs,’ the ‘roses without thorns,’ the quiet, the beauty, the loveliness, of Eden. It is the contrast of this deep peace of Paradise with the storms of life, which gives to the fourth and fifth books of this poem a charm so irresistible, that not a few would sooner relinquish the two first books with all their sublimity, than part with these. It has sometimes been said that the English language has no good pastoral poetry. We would ask, in what age or country has the pastoral reed breathed such sweet strains as are borne to us on ‘the odoriferous wings of gentle gales' from Milton's Paradise?
We should not fulfil our duty, were we not to say one word on what has been justly celebrated, the harmony of Milton's versification. His numbers have the prime charm of expressiveness. They vary with, and answer to, the depth, or tenderness, or sublimity, of his conceptions, and hold intimate alliance with the soul. Like Michael Angelo, in whose hands the marble was said to be flexible, he bends our language, which foreigners reproach with hardness, into whatever forms the subject demands. All the treasures of sweet and solemn sound are at his command. Words, harsh and discordant in the writings of less gifted men, flow through his poetry in a full stream of harmony. This power over language is not to be ascribed to Milton's musical ear. It belongs to the soul. It is a gift or exercise of genius, which has power to impress itself on whatever it touches, and finds or frames in sounds, motions, and material forms, correspondences and harmonies with its own fervid thoughts and feelings.
We close our remarks on Milton's poetry with observing, that it is characterized by seriousness. Great and various as are its merits, it does not discover all the variety of genius, which we find in Shakspeare, whose imagination revelled equally in regions of mirth, beauty, and terror, now evoking spectres, now sporting with fairies, and now “ascending the highest heaven of invention.” Milton was cast on times too solemn and eventful, was
called to take part in transactions too perilous, and had too perpetual need of the presence of high thoughts and motives, to indulge himself in light and gay creations, even had his genius been more flexible and sportive. But Milton's poetry, though habitually serious, is always healthful, and bright, and vigorous. It has no gloom. He took no pleasure in drawing dark pictures of life; for he knew by experience, that there is a power in the soul to transmute calamity into an occasion and nutriment of moral power and triumphant virtue. We find no where in his writings that whining sensibility and exaggeration of morbid feeling, which makes so much of modern poetry effeminating. If he is not gay, he not spiritbroken. His L'Allegro proves, that he understood thoroughly the bright and joyous aspects of nature; and in his Penseroso, where he was tempted to accumulate images of gloom, we learn that the saddest views which he took of creation, are such as inspire only pensive musin; or lofty contemplation
THE ARGUMENT. This First Book proposes, first, in brief, the whole subject, Man's disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise, wherein he was placed: then touches the prime cause of his fall, the Serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent; who revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of Angels, was, by the command of God, driven out of Heaven, with all his crew, into the great deep. Which action passed over, the poem hastens into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his Angels now fallen into Hell, described here, not in the centre (for Heaven and Earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet accursed) but in a place of utter darkness, fitiiest called Chaos: here Satan with his Angels lying on the burning lake, thunderstruck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity lay by him; they confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded : they rise, their numbers, array of battle, their chief leaders named, according to the idols known afterward in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech, comforts them with hope yet of regaining Heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world and new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy or report in Heaven; for that Angels were long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers to a full council, What his associates thence attempt. Pandemonium, the palace of Satan, rises, suddenly built out of the deep: the infernal peers there sit in council. OF mau's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
1. The fitness and exquisite beauty of this introduction to the poem cannot be too much admired. The classical taste and religious feelings of the author are both evidenced in it; the former by the simplicity with which the subject is stated and the invocation of the muse, and the latter by his addressing the Holy Spirit as the source of inspiration and light. Great admiration has been expressed by the different commentators on the skilful construction of the verse in these introductory lines, the pauses of which are so varied as to give a most musical effect to the whole passage.
4. It has been supposed that Milton intimated in this expression his idea of writing Paradise Regained, but it appears to have beeu suggested merely by the subject of his present contemp'ation.
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
15 Things unattempted yet, in prose or rhyme. And chiefly Thou, O Sp'rit, that dost prefer Before all temples th' upright heart and pure, Instruct me, for Thou know'st: Thou from the first Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread 20 Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss, And mad'st it pregnant. What in me is dark Illumine, what is low raise and support; That to the height of this great argument I may assert eternal Providence,
25 And justify the ways of God to Men.
Say first, for Heav'n hides nothing from thy view, Nor the deep tract of Hell ; say first what cause Moved our grand parents, in that happy state, Favour'd of Heav'n so highly, to fall off
30 From their Creator, and trangress his will For one restraint, lords of the world besides ? Who first seduced them to that foul revolt? Th'infernal Serpent: he it was whose guile, Stirr'd up with envy and revenge, deceived 35 The mother of mankind, what time his pride Had cast him out from Heav'n, with all his host Of rebel Angels; by whose aid aspiring
6. Bentley proposed the changing of this epithet into sacred, but his opinion has been successfully confuited, it having been shewn that the former word is peculiarly applicable to Oreb or Sirai, which had been so awfully obscured at the giving of the law.
8. Moses; who, we are told, Exod. iii. 1. kept the Aock of Jethro his father-in-law.
11. Siloa was a fountain flowing near the temple of Jerusalem. 15. Th' Aouian mount; the classical seat of the Muses.
16. It has been supposed tiat Milton took the idea of writing a poem on the loss of Paradise, from an Italian tragedy called 'll Paradiso Perso,' but little weight can be placed on this opinion when it is considered that both his genius and the most favourite of his studies led him continually to religious contemplation.