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than the rest. Milton has proposed the subject of his
the following verses.
Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
These lines are perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned, as any of the whole poem, in which particular the author has conformed himself to the example of Homer, and the precept of Horace.
His invocation to a work which turns in a great measure upon the creation of the world, is very properly made to the muse who inspired Moses in those books from whence our author drew his subject, and to the holy spirit who is therein represented as operating after a particular manner in the first production of nature. This whole exordium rises very happily into noble language and sentiment, as I think the transition to the fable is exquisitely beautiful and natural.
The nine-days astonishment, in which the angels lay entranced after their dreadful overthrow," and fall from heaven, before they could recover either the use of thought or speech, is a noble circumstance, and very finely imagined. The division of hell into seas of fire, and into firm ground impregnated with the same furious element, with that particular circumstance of the exclusion
From whence. From, is included in whence, and is, therefore, redundant; but is, sometimes, as here, inserted on account of the rhythm, those -books-whence, that is, three long syllables coming together would have dragged heavily, if the short syllable from had not intervened. It may seem that he might, in this place, with equal convenience, have said, "from which;" but he had just before said work, which—and therefore said, from whence to avoid the monotony.-H.
of Hope from those infernal regions, are instances of the same great and fruitful invention.
The thoughts in the first speech and description of Satan, who is one of the principal actors in this poem, are wonderfully proper to give us a full idea of him. His pride, envy, and revenge, obstinacy, despair, and impenitence, are all of them very artfully interwoven. In short, his first speech is a complication of all those passions which discover themselves separately in several other of his speeches in the poem. The whole part of this great enemy of mankind is filled with such incidents as are very apt to raise and terrify the reader's imagination. Of this nature, in the book now before us, is his being the first that awakens out of the general trance, with his posture on the burning lake, his rising from it, and the description of his shield and spear.
Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate,
Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
Driv'n backward slope their pointing spires, and roll'd
In billows, leave i' th' midst a horrid vale.
Then with expanded wings he steers his flight
-His pond'rous shield,
Ethereal temper, massy, large and round,
To which we may add his call to the fallen angels, that lay plunged and stupified in the sea of fire.
He call'd so loud, that all the hollow deep
But there is no single passage in the whole poem worked up to a greater sublimity, than that wherein his person is described in those celebrated lines:
-He, above the rest,
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
His sentiments are every way answerable to his character, and suitable to a created being of the most exalted and depraved nature. Such is that in which he takes possession of his place of
-Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world! and thou profoundest hell
Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Amidst those impieties which this enraged spirit utters in other places of the poem, the author has taken care to introduce none that is not big with absurdity, and incapable of shocking a religious reader; his words, as the poet describes them, bearing only a "semblance of worth, not substance." He is likewise with great art described as owning his adversary to be almighty. Whatever perverse interpretation he puts on the justice, mercy,
and other attributes of the Supreme Being, he frequently confesses his omnipotence, that being the perfection he was forced to allow him, and the only consideration which could support his pride under the shame of his defeat.
Nor must I here omit that beautiful circumstance of his bursting out in tears, upon his survey of those innumerable spirits whom he had involved in the same guilt and ruin with himself.
He now prepar'd
To speak; whereat their doubled ranks they bend
The catalogue of evil spirits has abundance of learning in it, and a very agreeable turn of poetry, which rises in a great measure from its describing the places where they were worshipped, by those beautiful marks of rivers, so frequent among the ancient poets. The author had doubtless in this place Homer's catalogue of ships, and Virgil's list of warriors in his view. The characters of Moloch lial prepare the reader's mind for their respective speeches and behaviour in the second and sixth book. The account of Thammuz is finely romantic, and suitable to what we read among the ancients of the worship which was paid to that idol.
-Thammuz came next behind,
His eyes survey'd the dark idolatries
The reader will pardon me if I insert as a note on this beau tiful passage, the account given us by the late ingenious Mr. Maundrell of this ancient piece of worship, and probably the first occasion of such a superstition. "We came to a fair large river, doubtless the ancient river Adonis, so famous for the idolatrous rites performed here in lamentation of Adonis. We had the fortune to see what may be supposed to be the occasion of that opinion which Lucian relates concerning this river, viz. that this stream, at certain seasons of the year, especially about the feast of Adonis, is of a bloody colour; which the heathens looked upon as proceeding from a kind of sympathy in the river for the death of Adonis, who was killed by a wild boar in the mountains, out of which this stream rises. Something like this we saw actually come to pass; for the water was stained to a surprising redness; and, as we observed in travelling, had discoloured the sea a great way into a reddish hue, occasioned doubtless by a sort of minium, or red earth, washed into the river by the violence of the rain, and not by any stain from Adonis's blood."
The passage in the catalogue, explaining the manner how spirits transform themselves by contraction, or enlargement of their dimensions, is introduced with great judgment, to make way for several surprising accidents in the sequel of the poem. There follows one, at the very end of the first book, which is what the French critics call marvellous, but at the same time probable, by reason of the passage last mentioned. As soon as the infernal palace is finished, we are told the multitude and rabble of spirits immediately shrunk themselves into a small compass, that there might be room for such a numberless assembly in this capacious
This quotation from Milton and the paragraph immediately following it, were not in the first publication of this paper in folio.-G.