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O Prince! O Chief of many-throned powers,
Too well I see and rue the dire event,
Hath lost us Heav'n, and all this mighty host
His ministers of vengeance and pursuit
Back to the gates of Heav'n: the sulph'rous hail
Of Heav'n receiv'd us falling; and the thunder,
To bellow through the vast and boundless deep.
There are several other very sublime images on the same subject, in the first book; as also in the second, ii. 165, &c.
What when we fled amain, pursu'd and struck
In short, the Poet never mentions any thing of this battle, but in such images of greatness and terror as are suitable to the subject. Among several others, I cannot forbear quoting that passage where the Power, who is described as presiding over the Chaos, speaks in the second book, ii. 988, &c.
Thus Satan; and him thus the Anarch old,
Made head against Heav'n's King, though overthrown.
I saw and heard; for such a num'rous host
Fled not in silence through the frighted deep
With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout,
Confusion worse confounded; and Heav'n gates
Pour'd out by millions her victorious bands
It required great pregnancy of invention, and strength of imagination, to fill this battle with such circumstances as should raise and astonish the mind of the reader; and at the same time an exactness of judgment to avoid every thing that might appear light and tri
vial. Those who look into Homer, are surprized to find his battles still rising one above another, and improving in horror, to the conclusion of the Iliad. Milton's fight of Angels is wrought up with the same beauty. It is ushered in with such signs of wrath as are suitable to Omnipotence incensed. The first engagement is carried on, under a cope of fire, occasioned by the flights of innumerable burning darts and arrows which are discharged from either host. The second onset is still more terrible, as it is filled with those artificial thunders which seem to make the victory doubtful, and produce a kind of consternation, even in the good Angels. This is followed by the tearing up of mountains and promontories, till, in the last place, the Messiah comes forth in the fulness of majesty and terror. The pomp of his appearance, amidst the roarings of his thunders, the flashes of his lightnings, and the noise of his chariotwheels, is described with the utmost flights of human imagination.
113. And thus his own undaunted heart explores:] Such soliloquies are not uncommon in the poets at the beginning, and even in the midst of battles. Thus Hector (Iliad. xxii. 98.) explores his own magnanimous heart before he engages with Achilles,
Οχθησας δ' αξα ειπε προ ὃν μεγαλετορα θυμον.
He stood and question'd thus his mighty mind."
A soliloquy upon such an occasion, is only making the person think aloud. And as it is observed by a very good judge in these matters, this use of soliloquies by the epic poets, who might so much more easily than the dramatic, describe the workings of the mind in narrative, seems to be much in favour of the latter; in their use of them, however, the modern critics agree (as I think they generally do agree) in condemning them as unnatural, though not only frequent, but generally the most beautiful parts in the best plays, ancient and modern; and I believe very few, if any, have been wrote without them. Newton.
137. Who out of smallest things] For Milton did not favour the opinion, That the creation was out of nothing, "Could have rais'd incessant armies." Mat. xxvi. 53. "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of Angels ?" Newton.
No equal,] The Poet seems almost to have forgotten how
Satan was foiled by Abdiel, in the beginning of the action: but I suppose the Poet did not consider Abdiel as equal to Satan, though he gained that accidental advantage over him. Satan, no doubt, would have proved an overmatch for Abdiel, only for the general engagement which ensued, and broke off the combat between them. Newton.
321. from the armoury of God,] Milton, notwithstanding the sublime genius he was master of, has in this book drawn to his assistance all the helps he could meet with among the ancient poets. The sword of Michael, which makes so great a havock among the bad Angels, was given him, we are told, out of "the armoury of God."
Was giv'n him temper'd so, that neither keen
This passage is a copy of that in Virgil, wherein the poet tells us that the sword of Eneas, which was given him by a deity, broke into pieces the sword of Turnus, which came from a mortal forge. As the moral in this place is divine, so by the way we may observe, that the bestowing on a man who is favoured by Heaven such an allegorical weapon, is very conformable to the old eastern way of thinking. Not only Homer has made use of it, but we find the Jewish hero, in the book of Maccabees (2 Maccab. xv. 15, 16.) who had fought the battles of the chosen people with so much glory and success, receiving in his dream a sword from the hand of the prophet Jeremiah. Addison.
Tasso likewise mentions the armoury of God, Cant. 7. St. 80. But this account of Michael's sword seems to be copied from Arthegal's, in Spenser's Faery Queen, B. 5. Cant. 1. St. 10.
For of most perfect metal it was made,—
For there no substance was so firm and hard
Ne any armour could his dint outward,
But wheresoever it did light it thoroughly shar❜d.
And this word SHAR'D, is used in the same manner by Milton.
568. So scoffing in ambiguous words, &c.] We cannot pretend entirely to justify this punning scene: but we should consider that there is very little of this kind of wit anywhere in the Poem but in this place, and in this we may suppose Milton to have sacrificed to the taste of his times, when puns were better relished than they are at present in the learned world: and I know not whether we are not grown too delicate and fastidious in this particular. It is certain the antients practised them more, both in their conversation, and in their writings; and Aristotle recommends them in his book of Rhetoric; and likewise Cicero, in his Treatise of Oratory: and if we should condemn them absolutely, we must condemn half of the good sayings of the greatest wits of Greece and Rome. They are less proper indeed in serious works, and not at all becoming the majesty of an epic poem; but our Author seems to have been betrayed into this excess, in a great measure, by his love and admiration of Homer. For this account of the Angels jesting and insulting one another, is not unlike some passages in the 16th book of the Iliad. Eneas throws a spear at Meriones; and he, artfully avoiding it, Eneas jests upon his dancing; the Cretans (the countrymen of Meriones) being famous dancers. A little afterwards, in the same book, Patroclus kills Hector's charioteer, who falls headlong from the chariot; upon which Patroclus insults him for several lines together upon his skill in diving, and says, that if he was at sea he might catch excellent oisters. Milton's jests cannot be lower, and more trivial than these; but if he is like Homer in his faults, let it be remembered that he is like him in his beauties too. And Mr. Thyer farther observes, that Milton is the less to be blamed for this punning scene, when one considers the characters of the speakers; such kind of insulting wit being most peculiar to proud contemptuous spirits. Newton.
797. In universal ruin last ;] So it is in Milton's two first editions; and if he wrote last, it must be understood the same as at last but I was thinking whether it would not be better to read, "In universal ruin lost," when I found it so in Dr. Bentley's edition; but without any note upon it, or any thing to distinguish the alteration; as if it had been so printed in all the former editions.
Bellerophon, &c.] Bellerophon was a beautiful and valiant youth, son of Glaucus; who refusing the amorous applications of Antea, wife of Præteus, king of Argos, was by her false suggestions (like those of Joseph's mistress to her husband) sent into Lycia, with letters desiring his destruction; where he was put on several enterprizes full of hazard; in which however he came off conqueror: but attempting vaingloriously to mount up to Heaven, on the winged horse Pegasus, he fell, and wandered in the Aleian plains till he died. Hume and Richardson. | His story is related at large in the sixth book of Homer's Iliad ; it is to the latter part of it that Milton chiefly alludes, ver. 200. &c. Αλλ' ότε δη κακεινῶ απηχθείο πασι θεοισιν, Ητοι ὁ καππεδίον το Αληιον οιΘ- αλάτο, Ον θυμον καλέδων, παλον ανθρωπων αλεείνων.
But when at last, distracted in his mind,
A long, forlorn, uncomfortable way.
It is thus translated by Cicero, in his third book of Tusculan Disputations.
Qui mifer in campis morens errabat Aleis,
Ipfe fuum cor edens, hominum veftigia vitans.
The plain truth of the story seems to be, that in his latter days he grew mad with his poetry; which Milton begs may never be his own case, "lest from this flying steed," &c. He says this to distinguish his from the common Pegasus; "above the flight of whose wing he soared," as he speaks, ver. 4. Newton.
243. Let there be light, said God; and forthwith light, &c.] Gen. i. 3. "And God said let there be light; and there was light." This is the passage that Longinus particularly admires; and no doubt its sublimity is greatly owing to its conciseness; but our Poet enlarges upon it, endeavouring to give some account how light was created the first day, when the sun was not formed till the fourth day. He says that it was spher'd in a radiant cloud," and so journeyed round the earth" in a cloudy tabernacle ;" and herein he is justified by the authority of some commentators; though