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last-the darkest and yet most glorious-portion of his life, divided as it may be into three chief eras:-as a student, as a statesman, and a solitary.
There are few finer themes for contemplation than the hermit old age of John Milton. 'My mind," said Coleridge, "is not capable of forming a more august conception than arises from the contemplation of this great man in his latter days. Poor, sick, old, blind, slandered, persecuted, in an age in which he was as little understood by the party for whom, as by that against whom he had contended,—and among men before whom he strode so far as to dwarf himself by the distance, yet still listening to the music of his own thoughts, or, if additionally cheered, yet cheered only by the prophetic faith of two or three solitary individuals, he did nevertheless
Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bore up, and steer'd
Wordsworth, too, has told of its moral sublimity :
"One there is who builds immortal lays,
Sad thoughts; for, from above the starry sphere
And the pure spirit of celestial light
Shines through his soul, that he may see and tell
I have followed the progress of Milton's genius, dwelling on some of his neglected pieces, till but scant space is left for thought on his great poem. The gradual ascent to the highest point of his fame being accomplished, no more can now be done than to take a brief prospect from the pinnacle of this holy mount. The "Paradise Lost" was given to the world in 1667, the author being then on the verge of sixty years. `I cannot bring myself to believe for one moment that he had ever relinquished his early ambition of an English epic poem; but it is probable that the work was not begun till the restoration of the monarchy threw the Republican back into meditative solitude, and closed the anxieties of his long and embittered disputations. I shall not be so presumptuous as to enter now on any even general criticism of so elaborate a poem. The hurried comment I might at present make would be but a poor substitute for the ample criticism which should be devoted to such a theme: its sublimity, its beauty, are familiar to all.
THE PARADISE LOST.
But grievous injustice is done to the poem by reading detached portions of it; for perhaps above all other epic poems it is admirable for the composition of it—I mean its entire structure, and the order and suc-/. Sy cession of its parts. It combines in this respect the dramatic with the epic spirit; and I find myself always impressed by it as by the perusal of a tragedy, which, indeed, was the form originally contemplated by Milton. It is a poem demanding from its reader the most strenuous activity of a reader's imagination; otherwise he will find himself left immeasurably below the range of its inventions. For instance: in the wondrous imaginations of Satan's voyage,-first exploring his way on swift wings, one while sinking into the deep, and then rising to the fiery concave, still within his own vast realms of Pandemonium ;-after he has passed hell's gates, standing with awe and looking into the wild abyss before venturing to pass the dark pavilion of Chaos;-then, springing upward like a pyramid of fire and reaching the utmost orb of the regions of light, the fiend weighs his spread wings to behold afar off the empyreal heaven :
"And, fast by, hanging in a golden chain,
This pendent world, in bigness as a star
Of smallest magnitude close by the moon."
Now, in this the imagination is apt to falter and supply the thought that by "this pendent world" is meant this one little planet of ours,the earth. But Milton's imagination knew no such circumscription; and his conception was-not the earth, not even the space filled by the sun, with all its planets and their satellites, but-the vast orb of myriads of suns, the measureless space of countless solar systems; and all this was meant when the arch fiend was gazing at
"This pendent world, in bigness as a star
Of smallest magnitude close by the moon.'
Again: what a transcendent effort is that by which, in recounting the hosts of Pandemonium, the poet's imagination, grasping the whole mythology of classical antiquity, thrusts it with all its glory down into hell, and ranges the gods of Greece-Olympic Jove himself-with the inferior powers of the apostate angels! In an early lecture of this / course, when attempting to portray the faculty of imagination, I claimed for it the power of either giving dignity and beauty to life's daily and common events, or, rising higher, of beholding, as an angel might, this earth, with its dark sea, with all that is vile upon its surface, and with the nations of the dead mouldering beneath, yet a star glittering in the firmament and peopled with beings redeemed for immortality. I recur to the thought because the poetic inventions of Milton are authoritative
-to show that I was indulging in no irrational rhapsody. Behold, for instance, how he has enveloped in a radiant glory the common incident which was the groundwork of "Comus." And, in "Paradise Lost," how the angels speak as if their words came indeed from an angel's heart!--they tell of things as if seen with an angel's vision. When Raphael, the sociable spirit, rises from his conference with Adam, it is because to his eye
"The parting sun,
Beyond the earth's green cape and verdant isles
Hesperian, sets,-my signal to depart."
And when he cautions our first parents to be lowly wise, observe how he speaks of the earth as if he had beheld it looking from some other sphere, when he bids Adam not to seek to know
"Whether the sun, predominant in heaven,
Or she from west her silent course advance
And bears thee soft with the smooth air along.”
But no product of the Miltonic imagination needs deeper study than the character of Satan, the chief fiend, wrapt in the twilight of original brightness in dim eclipse, a lurid glory giving him a grandeur such as poetry had never created before; for it was the image of no less than "archangel ruined," whose "face deep scars of thunder had intrenched." It was an embodiment of poetic sublimity—a might of endurance, of boldness, and of pride-which awes the imagination, and, at times, wildly stirs, not a sympathy, but some sort of feeling for the ruined angelic splendour. How can we repress some such emotion at that passage where, standing on the beach of the inflamed sea, and rising to his full height with monarchal pride, Satan summons the entranced legions ?—a passage demonstrating, too, the wondrous opulence of Milton's imagination, pouring out one illustration after another as they rise up in his mind with the recollection of his Italian travels and of his classical and Biblical learning, a profusion of thick-sown similitudes, the leaf-strewn brooks of Vallombrosa, the scattered sedge of the Red Sea vexed by the stormy Orion and the floating carcasses of Pharaoh's horsemen :
"On the beach
Of that inflaméd sea he stood, and call'd
High overarch'd embower; or scatter'd sedge
Hath vex'd the Red Sea coast, whose waves o'erthrew
While with perfidious hatred they pursued
This burst of what may be called the material sublime-arising from the grandeur of space and sound, things of sense-is followed soon by a burst of the moral sublime; for, when the myriads of immortal spirits thronged around their chief, and the peerage of Pandemonium stood mute in expectation of Satan's voice,
"Thrice he assay'd, and thrice, in spite of scorn,
Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth."
It is an observation of Coleridge's that it is very remarkable that in no part of his writings does Milton take any notice of the great painters of Italy, nor, indeed, of painting as an art; while every other page breathes his love and taste for music; and that, in the "Paradise Lost," Adam bending over the sleeping Eve was the only proper picture he remembered. This criticism was made in forgetfulness of one of the most picturesque passages in that or any poem,-Adam hearing the first report of Eve's transgression. It will be remembered that
"Adam the while,
Waiting desirous her return, had wove
Yet oft his heart, divine of something ill,
Misgave him; he the faltering measure felt,
And forth to meet her went, the way she took
That morn when first they parted."
The tragic tale of the unresisted temptation is soon told :-
"Adam, soon as he heard
The fatal trespass done by Eve, amazed,
From his slack hand the garland wreath'd for Eve
Speechless he stood, and pale."
It should not be overlooked how far the subject of our English epic transcends that of all others. In comparison, how does the Trojan war, the wanderings of Ulysses, of Æneas, or the argument of either of the great Christian epics of modern Italy, dwindle by the side! The "Paradise Lost "is the story of the deepest tragedy this earth has ever known, -the tragedy which has caused all other tragedies. While there have been flashing over it the sullen fires from the dark abodes of the rebel angels and from the presence of Satan, there is shed on the catastrophe a soft, pathetic light, giving to the poem that sweet and gentle ending which, familiar though it be, rather would I pass by, as I am doing, a thousand other things than it. The angry contentions of this unhappy pair had passed away; love, which had fled with their innocence, came back with their submissive repentance. God in his mercy sent an angel to speak hope to the crushed spirit of Adam. He sent a happy dream to give hope to the heart of Eve. The two whom sympathy of happiness had united were now one in the sympathy of sorrow. Mercifully they were led forth at the eastern gate; so that when hand in hand they wandered solitary, no longer blessed with the visible presence of God or his angels, their tear-dimmed eyes might turn to the Orient, where the far-off light of the promised redemption was rising on their darkened hearts :—when, the cherubim descending to their station, and the brandished sword of God blazing fierce as a comet,—
"In either hand the hastening angel caught
Some natural tears they dropp'd, but wiped them soon.
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
Of Milton's later poem-the "Paradise Regained”—I have space but for one remark. It has never attained its just fame, because it is for ever forced into irrational comparison with the "Paradise Lost." It is essentially different in its whole character, for the simplest of all