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Most of the modern heroic poets have imitated the ancients, in beginning a speech without premising that the person said thus or thus; but as it is easy to imitate the ancients in the omission of two or three words, it requires judgment to do it in such a manner as they shall not be missed, and that the speech may begin naturally without them. There is a fine instance of this kind out of Homer, in the twenty-third chapter of Longinus.
No. 327. SATURDAY, MARCH 15.
-Major rerum mihi nascitur ordo.
Virg. Æn. vii. 43.
We were told in the foregoing book, how the evil spirit prao. tised upon Eve as she lay asleep, in order to inspire her with thoughts of vanity, pride, and ambition. The author, who shews a wonderful art throughout his whole poem, in preparing the reader for the several occurrences that arise in it, founds upon the above-mentioned circumstance the first part of the fifth book. Adam, upon his awaking, finds Eve still asleep, with an unusua! discomposure in her looks. The posture in which he regards her, is described with a tenderness not to be expressed, as the wbisper with which he awakens her, is the softest that ever was conveyed to a lover's ear.
His wonder was to find unwaken's Eve
shot forth peculiar graces ; then with voice
O sole in whom my thoughts find all repose,
I cannot but take notice that Milton, in the conference between Adam and Eve, bad his eye very frequently upon the book of Canticles, in which there is a noble spirit of Eastern poetry, and very often not unlike what we meet with in Homer, who is generally placed near the age of Solomon. I think there is no question but the poet in the preceding speech remembered those two passages which are spoken on the like occasion, and filled with the same pleasing images of nature.
“My beloved spake, and said unto me, rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away; for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone: the flowers appear on the earth ; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field : let us get up early to the vineyards, let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth."
His preferring the garden of Eden to that
- Where the sapient king
shews that the poet had this delightful scene in his mind.
Eve's dream is full of those high conceits engendering pride,' which, we are told, the devil endeavoured to instil into her. Of this kind is that part of it where she fancies herself awakened by Adam in the following beautiful lines.
Why sleep'st thou Eve? now is the pleasant time,
An injudicious poet would have made Adam talk through the whole work in such sentiments as these : but flattery and false hood are not the courtship of Milton's Adam, and could not be heard by Eve in her state of innocence, excepting only in a dream produced on purpose to taint her imagination. Other vain sentiments of the same kind in this relation of her dream, will be obvious to every reader. Though the catastrophe of the poem is finely presaged on this occasion, the particulars of it are so artfully shadowed, that they do not anticipate the story which follows in the ninth book. I shall only add, that though the vision of itself is founded upon truth, the circumstances of it are full of that wildness and inconsistency which are natural to a dream. Adam, conformable to his superior character for wisdom, instructs and comforts Eve upon this occasion.
So cheer'd he his fair spouse, and she was cheer'd,
Two other precious drops, that ready stood,
The morning hymn is written in imitation of one of those psalms where, in the overflowings of gratitude and praise, the psalmist calls not only upon the angels, but upon the most conspicuous parts of the inanimate creation, to join with him in extolling their common Maker. Invocations of this nature fill the mind with glorious ideas of God's works, and awaken that divine enthusiasm, which is so natural to devotion. But if this calling upon the dead parts of nature is at all times a proper kind of worship, it was in a particular manner suitable to our first parents, who had the creation fresh upon their minds, and had not seen the various dispensations of Providence, nor consequently could be acquainted with those many topics of praise which might afford matter to the devotions of their posterity. I need not remark the beautiful spirit of poetry which runs through this whole hymn, nor the holiness of that resolution with which it concludes.
Having already mentioned those speeches which are assigned to the persons in this poem, I proceed to the description which the poet gives of Raphael. His departure from before the throne, and his flight through the choirs of angels, is finely imaged. As Milton every where fills his poem with circumstances that are marvellous and astonishing, he describes the gate of heaven as framed after such a manner, that it opened of itself upon the approach of the angel who was to pass through it.
-"Till at the gato
The poet here seems to have regarded two or three passages in the 18th Iliad, as that in particular, where, speaking of Vulcan, Homer says, that he had made twenty tripodes, running on golden wheels; which, upon occasion, might go of themselves to the assembly of the gods, and, when there was no more use for them, return again after the same manner. Scaliger has rallied Homer very severely upon this point, as M. Dacier has endeavoured to defend it. I will not pretend to determine, whether in this particular of Homer, the marvellous does not lose sight of the probable. As the miraculous workmanship of Milton's gates is not so extraordinary as this of the tripodes, so I am persuaded he would not have mentioned it, had not he been supported in it by a passage in the scripture, which speaks of wheels in heaven that had life in them, and moved of themselves, or stood still, in conformity with the cherubims, whom they accompanied.
There is no question but Milton had this circumstance in his thoughts, because in the following book he describes the chariot of the Messiah with living wheels, according to the plan in Eze. kiel's vision.
- Forth rush'd with whirlwind sound
I question not but Bossu, and the two Daciers, who are for vindicating every thing that is censured in Homer, by something parallel in holy writ, would have been very well pleased had they thought of confronting Vulcan's tripodes with Ezekiel's wheels.
Raphael's descent to the earth, with the figure of his person, is represented in very lively colours.' Several of the French,
, Italian, and English poets, have given a loose to their imaginations in the description of angels; but I do not remember to have met with any so finely drawn, and so conformable to the notions
1 Tasso's Jerusalem, c. i. st. 13, 14, 15, and c. ix. st. 60, 61, 62.-C.