Page images
PDF
EPUB

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
The associates and copartners of our loss,
Lie thus astonished on the oblivious pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy mansion, or once more,
With rallied arms, to try what may be yet
Regained in Heaven, or what more lost in Hell ? "

So Satan spake, and him Beëlzebub
Thus answered. “ Leader of those armies bright,
Which but the Omnipotent none could have foiled,
If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge
Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so oft
In worst extremes, and on the perilous edge?
Of battle when it raged, in all assaults
Their surest signal, they will soon resume
New courage and revive, though now they lie
Grovelling and prostrate on yon lake of fire,
As we erewhil astounded and amazed :
No wonder, fallen such a pernicious height.”

He scarce had ceased when the superior fiend
Was moving toward the shore; his ponderous shield,
Ethereal temper, massy, large, and round,
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb
Through optic glass? the Tuscan artist views
At evening from the top of Fesolé,

1 From the Latin acies, which signifies both the edge of a weapon and an army drawn up in battle array. Or we may, with Newton, compare 2 Henry IV. act i.

“ You knew, he walked o'er perils, on an edge

More likely to fall in than to get o'er."
And 1 Henry IV. act i.-

“ I'll read you matter, deep and dangerous ;
As full of peril and adventurous spirit,
As to o'erwalk a current, roaring loud,
On the unstedfast footing of a spear.

Hot. If he fall in, good night, or sink or swim." 2 The shield of Satan was large as the moon seen through a tele. scope, an instrument first applied to celestial observations by Galileo, a native of Tuscany, whom he means here by “the Tuscan artist," and afterwards mentions by name in v. 262; a testimony of his honour for so great a man, whom he had known and visited in Italy, as himself informs us in his “ Areopagitica."—Newton.

Or in Valdarno,' to descry new lands,
Rivers, or mountains in her spotty globe.
His spear, to equal which the tallest pine
Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the mast?
Of some great ammiral,” were but a wand,
He walked with to support uneasy steps
Over the burning marl, not like those steps
On Heaven's azure, and the torrid clime
Smote on him sore besides, vaulted with fire;
Nathless he so endured, till on the beach
Of that inflaméd sea he stood, and called
His legions, angel forms, who lay entranced
Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks
In Vallombrosa,where the Etrurian shades
High over-arched imbower; or scattered sedge
Afloat, when with fierce winds Orion5 armed
Hath vexed the Red Sea coast, whose waves o'erthrew
Busiris6 and his Memphian chivalry,?
1 i. e. the valley of the Arno, in Tuscany.
2 “These sons of Mavors bore (instead of spears),
Two knotty masts which none but they could lift."

Fairfax's Tasso, vi. 40. 3 According to its German extraction, amiral, or amirael, says Hume; from the Italian ammiraglio, says Richardson, more probably. Our author made choice of this, as thinking it of a better sound than admiral : and in Latin he writes, ammiralatus curia, the court of admiralty.

4 A valley of Tuscany, remarkable for its cool and delightful shades.

5 Orion is a constellation represented in the figure of an armed man, and supposed to be attended with stormy weather, assurgens fluctu nimbosus Orion, Virg. Æn. i. 539. And the Red Sea abounds so much with sedge, that in the Hebrew Scripture it is called the Sedgy Sea. And he says “ hath vexed the Red Sea coast” particularly, because the wind usually drives the sedge in great quantities towards the shore.-Newton.

6 There is no historical authority for making Pharaoh Busiris ; but Milton was at liberty to borrow a common tradition respecting that king, and adapt it to his verse.

7 Chivalry (from the French chevalerie) signifies not only knighthood, but those who use horses in fight, both such as ride on horses and such as ride in chariots drawn by them. In the sense of riding and fighting on horseback this word chivalry is used in verse 765, and in many places of Fairfax's Tasso, as in Cant. 5, st. 9. Cant. 8. st. 67. Cant. 20. st. 61. In the sense of riding and fighting in chariots drawn by horses, Milton uses the word chivalry in Parad. Reg. üi. ver. 343. compared with ver. 328.—Pearce.

While with perfidious hatred they pursued
The sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
From the safe shore their floating carcasses
And broken chariot wheels : so thick bestrown,
Abject and lost, lay these, covering the flood,
Under amazement of their hideous change.
He called so loud, that all the hollow deep
Of Hell resounded. “Princes, potentates,
Warriors, the flower of Heaven, once yours, now lost,
If such astonishment as this can seize
Eternal spirits; or have ye chosen this place
After the toil of battle to repose
Your wearied virtue, for the ease ye find
To slumber here, as in the vales of Heaven?
Or in this abject posture have ye sworn
To adore the Conqueror ? who now beholds
Cherub and seraph rolling in the flood
With scattered arms and ensigns, till anon
His swift pursuers from Heaven gates discern
The advantage, and descending tread us down
Thus drooping, or with linked thunderbolts
Transfix us to the bottom of this gulf.
Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen!”

They heard, and were abashed, and up they sprung
Upon the wing, as when men, wont to watch
On duty, sleeping found by whom they dread,
Rouse and bestir themselves ere well awake.
Nor did they not perceive the evil plight
In which they were, or the fierce pains not feel ;
Yet to their general's voice they soon obeyed
Innumerable. As when the potent rod
Of Amram's son, in Egypt's evil day,
Waved round the coast, up called a pitchy cloud
Of locusts, warping on the eastern wind,
That o'er the realm of impious Pharaoh hung
Like night, and darkened all the land of Nile :
So numberless were those bad angels seen
Hovering on wing under the cope of Hell
'Twixt upper, nether, and surrounding fires;

| Because Pharaoh, after leave given to the Israelites to depart, fol. lowed after them like fugitives.-Hume.

2 See Exod. x. 13, sqq.
* Working themselves forward : a sea phrase.

Till, at a signal given, the uplifted spear
Of their great sultan waving to direct
Their course, in even balance down they light
On the firm brimstone, and fill all the plain;
A multitude, like which the populous north?
Poured never from her frozen loins, to pass
Rhene or the Danaw, when her barbarous sons
Came like a deluge on the south, and spread
Beneath Gibraltar to the Lybian sands.
Forthwith from every squadron and each band
The heads and leaders thither haste where stood
Their great commander; godlike shapes and forms
Excelling human, princely dignities,
And powers that erst in Heaven sat on thrones;
Though of their names in heavenly records now
Be no memorial, blotted out and rased
By their rebellion from the books of life
Nor had they yet among the sons of Eve
Got them new names, till wandering o'er the earth,
Through God's high sufferance, for the trial of man,
By falsities and lies the greatest part

1 This comparison does not fall below the rest, as some have imagined. They were thick as the leaves, and numberless as the locusts, but such a multitude the north never poured forth; and we may observe that the subject of this comparison rises very much above the others, leaves and locusts. The populous north, as the northern parts of the world are observed to be more fruitful of people than the hotter countries : Sir William Temple calls it "the northern hive." “ Poured never," a very proper word to express the inundations of these northern nations. · From her frozen loins;" it is the Scripture expression of children and descendants “coming out of the loins," as Gen. xxxv. 11, “Kings shall come out of thy loins;” and these are called frozen loins only on account of the coldness of the climate. “To pass Rhene or the Danaw." He might have said, consistently with his verse, The Rhine or Danube, but he chose the more uncommon names, Rhene, of the Latin, and Danaw, of the German, both which words are used too in Spenser. “When her barbarous sons, &c. They were truly barbarous ; for besides exercising several cruel. ties, they destroyed all the monuments of learning and politeness wherever they came. “ Came like a deluge.” Spenser, describing the same people, has the same simile. Faërie Queen, B. ii. cant. 10. st. 15.

And overflowed all countries far away,

Like Noye's great flood, with their importune sway." They were the Goths, and Huns, and Vandals, who overran all the southern provinces of Europe.-Newton.

[ocr errors]

Of mankind they corrupted to forsake
God their Creator, and the invisible
Glory of him that made them to transform
Oft to the image of a brute, adorned
With gay religions full of pomp and gold,
And devils to adore for deities;
Then were they known to men by various names,
And various idols through the heathen world.

Say, Muse, their names then known, who first, who last,
Roused from the slumber, on that fiery couch,
At their great emperor's call, as next in worth
Came singly where he stood on the bare strand,
While the promiscuous crowd stood yet aloof.
The chief were those who from the pit of Hell,
Roaming to seek their prey on earth, durst fix
Their seats long after next the seat of God,
Their altars by his altar, God's adored
Among the nations round, and durst abide
Jehovah thundering out of Sion, throned
Between the cherubim ;' yea, often placed
Within his sanctuary itself their shrines, a
Abominations; and with cursed things
His holy rites and solemn feasts profaned,
And with their darkness durst affront his light.
First Moloch, horrid king besmeared with blood

1 The ark of the covenant was placed between the golden cherubim. Compare 2 Kings xix. 15, “O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubim."

2 See 2 Kings xxi. 4; Jer. vii. 30; Ezek. vii. 20, viii. 5, sq.

3 The name Moloch signifies king, and he is called “horrid” king, because of the human sacrifices which were made to him This idol is supposed by some to be the same as Saturn, to whom the heathens (especially the Carthaginians, See Porphyr. de Abstin. ii. 27.) sacri. ficed their children, and by others to be the sun. When it is said in Scripture that the children “passed through the fire to Moloch,” we must not understand that they always actually burnt their children in honour of this idol, but sometimes made them only leap over the flames, or pass nimbly between two fires, to purify them by that lustration, and consecrate them to this false deity. He was the god of the Ammonites, and is called “the abomination of the children of Ammon," 1 Kings xi. 7, and was worshipped in Rabba, their capital city, which David conquered. This Rabba being called the “city of waters," 2 Sam. xi. 27, it is here said, “Rabba and her watery plain;" and, likewise, “ in Argob and in Basan,” neighbouring countries to Rabba, and subject to the Ammonites, as far as “ to the stream of utmost Arnon," which river was the boundary of their country on the south.--Newton.

« PreviousContinue »