« PreviousContinue »
So many grateful altars I would rear
The angel afterwards leads Adam to the highest mount of Paradise, and lays before him a whole hemisphere, as a proper stage for those visions which were to be represented on it. I have before observed how the plan of Milton's poem is in many particulars greater than that of the Iliad or Æneid. Virgil's hero, in the last of these poems, is entertained with a sight of all those who are to descend from him; but though that episode is justly admired as one of the noblest designs in the whole Æneid, every one must allow that this of Milton is of a much higher nature. Adam's vision is not confined to any particular tribe of mankind, but extends to the whole species. In this great
view which Adam takes of all his sons and daughters, the first objects he is presented with exhibit to him the story of Cain and Abel, which is drawn together with much closeness and propriety of expression. That curiosity and natural horror which arises in Adam at the sight of the first dying man, is touched with great beauty.
The second vision sets before him the image of death in a great variety of appearances. The angel, to give him a general idea
of those effects which his guilt had brought upon his posterity, places before him a large hospital, or lazar-house, fill’d with persons lying under all kinds of mortal diseases. How finely has the poet told us that the sick persons languished under lingering and incurable distempers, by an apt and judicious use of such imaginary beings as those I mentioned in my last paper. .
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans, Despair
With vows as their chief good and final hope.
Sight so deform what heart of rock could long
His best of man, and gave him up in tears. The discourse between the angel and Adam which follows, abounds with noble morals.
As there is nothing more delightful in poetry than a contrast and opposition of incidents, the author, after his melancholy prospect of death and sickness, raises up a scene of mirth, love, and jollity. The secret pleasure that steals into Adam's heart as he is intent upon this vision, is imagined with great delicacy. I must not omit the description of the loose female troop, who seduced the sons of God, as they are called in scripture.
For that fair female troop thou saw'st that seem'd
Shall yield up all their virtuo, all their fame,
The next vision is of a quite contrary nature, and filled with the horrors of war. Adam at the sight of it melts into tears, and breaks out in that passionate speech,
- what are these
Milton, to keep up an agreeable variety in his visions, after having raised in the mind of his reader the several ideas of terror which are conformable to the description of war: passes on to those softer images of triumphs and festivals, in that vision of lewdness and luxury which ushers in the flood.
As it is visible that the poet had his eye upon Ovid's account of the universal deluge, the reader may observe with how much judgment he has avoided everything that is redundant or puerile in the Latin poet. We do not here see the wolf swimming among the sheep, nor any of those wanton imaginations which Seneca found fault with, as unbecoming the great catastrophe of nature. If our poet has imitated that verse in which Ovid tells us that there was nothing but sea, and that this sea had no shore to it, he has not set the thought in such a light as to incur the censure which critics have passed upon it. The latter part of that verse in Ovid is idle and superfluous, but just and beautiful in Milton.
Jamque mare et tellus nullum discrimen habebant,
In Milton the former part of the description does not forestall the latter. How much more great and solemn on this occasion is that which follows in our English poet,
-And in their palaces
than that in Ovid, where we are told that the sea-calves lay in those places where the goats were used to browze? The reader may find several other parallel passages in the Latin and English description of the deluge, wherein our poet has visibly the advantage. The sky's being over-charged with clouds, the descending of the rains, the rising of the seas, and the appearance of the rainbow, are such descriptions as every one must take notice of. The circumstance relating to Paradise is so finely imagined and suitable to the opinions of many learned authors, that I cannot forbear giving it a place in this paper.
-Then shall this mount
The transition which the poet makes from the vision of the deluge, to the concern it occasioned in Adam, is exquisitely graceful, and copied after Virgil, though the first thought it in. troduces is rather in the spirit of Ovid.
How did'st thou grieve then, Adam, to behold
Depopulation; thee another flood
I have been the more particular in my quotations out of the eleventh book of Paradise Lost, because it is not generally reckoned among the most shining books of this poem; for which reason the reader might be apt to overlook those many passages in it which deserve our admiration. The eleventh and twelfth are, indeed, built upon that single circumstance of the removal of our first parents from Paradise; but though this is not in itself so great a subject as that in most of the foregoing books, it is extended and diversified with so many surprising incidents and pleasing episodes, that these two last books can by no means be looked upon as unequal parts of this divine poem. I must further add, that had not Milton represented our first parents as driven out of Paradise, his Fall of Man would not have been compleat, and consequently his action would have been imperfect.
No. 369. SATURDAY, MAY 3.
Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures,
Hor. Ars Poet. 279.
Milton, after having represented in vision the history of mankind to the first great period of nature, dispatches the remaining part of it in .narration. He has devised a very hand