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" what resounds
By Fontarabbia.” 1 Milton, said Coleridge, is "not so much a picturesque as a musical poet." It is true that with all the density and lucidity, the clear cut definition of his style—a style which respects the value of words, which employs no unnecessary words, a style of magnificent economy_Milton is often content to suggest rather than describe, to lean upon the activity of his reader's imagination. Unlike Spenser, whose tapestries might be reproduced upon canvas, he paints in phrases invaluable to the mind, useless to the painter
“ On th' other side Satan alarm'd
Sat Horror plum’d.” It is true also that, as Lowell said, he is “ a harmonist rather than a melodist,” and in proportion to our susceptibility to verse less highly charged with sentiment, to the purer and more formal music, will be our pleasure in Milton. Some, indeed, miss in him the lyrical cry, the gush of liquid melody, the Elizabethan wild-wood music, the trilling forest notes, the cadences that flutter through the songs of Shakespeare, like a bird through the summer leaves. They miss the vox humana, the mysterious, small, subtle, passionate cry of the violin, for which the solemn recitative, the sonorous metal blowing martial sounds will not entirely compensate. But the beautiful has many forms. Handel is great, but not greater than Bach. A careful student will learn from Milton how variety of cadence may be introduced into the single line by the inversion of stress-making, as it is called, a ripple on the larger wave of the period—which may occur in
For one restraint, lórds of the world beside "-
he will learn so to vary the measure, that in no period shall the same pause recur, he will learn to value the music of the paragraph—it is one of Milton's secrets-above that of the single line, he will learn so to connect the periods that the arch of each,
like that of a wave, determined by its own weight and momentum, varied in respect of the stresses and pauses of which it is composed, shall mount and curve and fall, in ocean-like unending change, he will learn the art of selecting his words for the vowel or consonantal values required in the position they occupy, so that the rhythm, the vocal melody of one paragraph is succeeded by another of a wholly different character. He will come to know that the structure of this verse is comparable in its complexity to a sonata of Beethoven.
Poetry is the sum of two values, the intellectual and the musical, but somehow the effect is greater than their sum. The words of a poem belong to a double order, the order of thought and the order of sound; in so far as the requirements of the one order are sacrificed to those of the other the poet has failed. The task he undertakes is simpler or more difficult in proportion to the mass and complexity of his conceptions, the intricacy and variety of his measure. Milton's triumph consists in the undisturbed precision of his thought throughout, and despite the complex demands of the rhythm. Each word, like a stone in a cathedral arch, has its place and duty, each seems chosen as if for no purpose than to advance his meaning, to bear its portion of the weight of a vast structure, yet each, viewed from the other side, seems chosen only to play its part in the musical scheme. The pattern of the thought brooks no interference from that of the rhythm, nor that of the rhythm from the pattern of the thought. Qui perd ses mots, perd son air."
“ Anon out of the earth a fabric huge
Rose like an exhalation, with the sound
Equall'd in all their glories, to enshrine
In wealth and luxury.” 1 It is related by Thomas Ellwood, Milton's young Quaker friend, that, when returning to the poet the MS. of Paradise Lost, he remarked, “ Thou hast said much here of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found ? He made me no answer, but sat some time in a muse, then broke off that discourse and fell upon another subject.” Some time later the poet handed the MS. of Paradise Regained to Ellwood, with the remark, “ This is owing to you.” Few readers have contended that the latter epic equals the earlier in interest. We are told by Phillips that it "was generally censured to be much inferior to the other," but that the author himself” could not hear with patience any such thing when related to him." Paradise Regained, however, has had its defenders. Wordsworth thought it “the most perfect in execution of anything written by Milton," and Coleridge asserted that“ in its kind it is the most perfect poem extant, though its kind may be inferior in interest—being in its essence didactic." What should one feel? Should we think of Paradise Regained as "the ebbing of a mighty tide," of the poet as weary, broken with age, the riches of his mind already expended? Was Milton here, as Landor said, “caught sleeping after his exertions in Paradise Lost"? We shall, perhaps, be nearer the truth, if we think of the poet as anxious to avoid competition with himself, anxious to avoid the mere continuation of a work already accomplished. In his latter epic he attempted something wholly different from his undertaking in the earlier. One observes that no great action is narrated, indeed nothing of any important kind can be said to take place. There are only two persons, Christ and Satan, and the poem simply consists of a conversation or debate between them, or as Pattison expressed it, “The speakers are no more than the abstract principles of good and evil, two voices who hold a rhetorical disputation through four books and two thousand lines.” Paradise Regained, too, is composed on severer lines than Paradise Lost, it is almost destitute of the decoration which the poet so lavishly expended upon his previous subject. Some of the finest poetry in the earlier epic appears in the similes, in which, it is clear, he took a particular pleasure, yet for the first three books of Paradise Regained Milton refrained, as Pattison notices, from indulgence in a single simile. The metre, again, is plainer, there is less of the sonorous splendour, the organ music. And we have nothing to compensate for the absence of such descriptions as those of Pandemonium and of Paradise. Yet after all it is only the question whether we have here “ an eagle in the nest or on the wing." Is it not probable that the author felt he had done enough for poetry, and perhaps too little for spiritual religion in his great poem, and desired to make good the omission? Is it not possible that though it represented his powers as a poet, he felt it barely satisfactory in itself as theology? The victory of God over evil in the persons of the revolting angels had been a physical rather than a moral victory, Satan, though defeated, had not been altogether unsuccessful, vanquished but not put to shame. In Paradise Regained Milton attempted to readjust the balance. He selects not the Crucifixion as his theme, but the Temptation. The Son of God is tempted as Adam was tempted, but the Tempter fails, a spiritual victory is won, and we are thus assured of the final triumph of good over evil in the great design of God.
1 Paradise Lost, Bk. i., 710-722.
Occasionally in Paradise Regained memories of the earlier epic are awakened, as in the description of the banquet in the second book
" in order stood
Lancelot, or Pelleas, or Pellenore.1 but until we reach the fourth book this is almost the only passage in which the earlier Milton reappears. For most readers the chief attraction of the poem is the lines where the poet, touched by his old passion, describes Rome and Athens, their architecture, arts, and literature in the undying and famous phrases: Rome,
1 Paradise Regained, Bk. ii. 351-361.
“With towers and temples proudly elevate
On seven small hills, with palaces adorned;"
The Satan of this poem is a far different figure from the magnificent apostate angel of the first epic, who thwarted the design of the Most High, and chose to rule in Hell rather than serve in Heaven, who claimed the empire of negation-“Evil, be thou my Good.” He now appears as an aged man in rural weeds," such as might seek stray fagots for his fire upon some winter's day. Yet no words spoken by the rebel Archangel in his pride are more thrilling than those which he now utters, when his disguise is penetrated by Christ, and he is known for what he is—
'Tis true, I am that Spirit unfortunate.”
Satan, now the subtle disputant, sets forth this world's glories, the work of men's hands, the Pagan victories in art, the triumphs of civilisation, the sky-searching philosophies against the simple virtues, the quiet obedience of the Christian life. The eternal antithesis emerges between the intellectual and the religious outlook. To the wisdom of this world—how often it has been said-Christianity seems to oppose but foolishness, to its wealth but poverty, to its culture but childish ignorance. In the debate between Christ and Satan Milton desires us to feel the majesty of the spiritual things. It is not indeed clear that he adopts the extreme Christian view that self-sacrifice and self-renunciation are of the essence of religion, that he would have placed in stern opposition the ideals of the Christian and the Pagan world. He may have thought it possible to add to the virtues found in the best men of pre-Christian times the virtues of the Christian saint. Paradise Regained makes no attempt to depress the intellectual while it exalts the moral