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That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed, In the beginning how the heav'ns and earth
could find no water; from whence Dr. Bentley concludes, that Horeb had no clouds or mists about its top; and that therefore secret top cannot be here meant as implying that high mountains against rainy weather have their heads surrounded with mists. I never thought that any reader of Milton would have understood secret top in this sense. The words of Horeb or of Sinai imply a doubt of the poet, which name was properest to be given to that mountain, on the top of which Moses received his inspiration; because Horeb and Sinai are used for one another in Scripture, as may be seen by comparing Exod. iii. 1. with Acts vii. 30. but by naming Sinai last, he seems to incline rather to that. Now it is well known from Exod. xix. 16. Ecclus. xlv. 5. and other places of Scripture, that when God gave his laws to Moses on the top of Sinai, it was covered with clouds, dark clouds, and thick smoke; it was therefore secret at that time in a peculiar sense : and the same thing seems intended by the epithet which our poet uses upon the very same occasion in xii. 227.
whereas secret, in the sense which I have given it, is the most peculiar one that can be; and therefore (to use Dr. Bentley's words) if, as the best poets have adjudged, a proper epithet is to be preferred to a general one, I have such an esteem for our poet, that which of the two words is the better, that I say (viz. secret) was dictated by Milton. Pearce.
We have given this excellent note at length, as we have met with several persons who have approved of Dr. Bentley's emendation. It may be too that the poet had a farther meaning in the use of this epithet in this place; for being accustomed to make use of words in the signification that they bear in the learned languages, he may very well be supposed to use the word secret in the same sense as the Latin secretus, set apart or separate, like the secretosque pios in Virgil, Æn. viii. 670. and it appears from Scripture, that while Moses was with God in the mount, the people were not to come near it or touch it, till after a signal given, and then they were only to approach, and not to ascend it, nor pass the bounds set for them upon pain of death, Exod. xix. So that upon all accounts secret is the most proper epithet, that could have been chosen.
8. That shepherd, who first &c.] For Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law. Exod. iii. 1.
9. In the beginning how the
Rose out of chaos: or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flow'd
That with no middle flight intends to soar
mentioned, and always spelt without an h; whereas in all the editions, till Dr. Bentley's ap peared, rhime in this place of the poem was spelt with an h. Milton probably meant a difference in the thing, by making so constant a difference in the spelling; and intended that we should here understand by rhime, not the jingling sound of like endings, but verse in general; the word being derived from rythmus, pueues. Ariosto had said
Cosa non detta in prosa mai, ne in rima,
which is word for word the same with what Milton says here.
So in Lycidas v. 11.
He knew Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhime.
The sense of the word rhyme in both places in unquestionably "verse."
It is wonderful that Bentley, with all his Grecian predilections, and his critical knowledge of the precise original meaning of jutes, should have wished to substitute, in this passage of the Paradise Lost, song for rhime.
And chiefly Thou, O Spi'rit, that dost prefer Before all temples th' upright heart and pure,
Gray, who studied and copied Milton with true penetration and taste, in his music-ode uses rhyme in Milton's sense.
Meek Newton's self bends from his state sublime
And nods his hoary head, and listens to the rhime.
Milton probably thought it would sound too low and familiar to the ear to say in prose or verse, and therefore chose rather to say in prose or rhime. When he says in prose or verse, he adds an epithet to take off from the commonness of the expression, as in v. 150.
such prompt eloquence Flow'd from their lips, in prose or
It is said that Milton took the first hint of this poem from an Italian tragedy called Il Paradiso perso; and it is pretended that he has borrowed largely from Masenius, a German Jesuit, and other modern authors; but it is all a pretence; he made use
all authors, such was his learning; but such is his genius, he is no copyer; his poem is plainly an original, if ever there was one. His subject indeed of the fall of Man, together with the principal episodes, may be said to be as old as Scripture, but his manner of handling them is entirely new, with new illustrations and new beauties of his own; and he may as justly boast of the novelty of his poem, as
any of the ancient poets bestow that recommendation upon their works; as Lucretius, i. 925.
Avia Pieridum peragro loca, nullius
Trita solo: &c.
and Virgil, Georg. iii. 3.
Cætera quæ vacuas tenuissent car-
Omnia jam vulgata.-
Juvat ire jugis, qua nulla priorum. Castaliam molli divertitur orbita clivo.
17. And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, &c.] Invoking the Muse is commonly a matter of mere form, wherein the poets neither mean, nor desire to be thought to mean, any thing seriously. voked is too solemn a name to But the Holy Ghost here inbe used insignificantly: and besides, our author, in the beginning of his next work, Paradise Regained, scruples not to say to the same divine person,
As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute.
This address therefore is no mere formality. Yet some may think that he incurs a worse charge of enthusiasm, or even profaneness, in vouching inspiration for his performance: but the Scriptures represent inspiration as of a much larger extent than is commonly apprehended, teaching that every good gift, in naturals as well as in morals, de
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
scendeth from the great Father of lights, Jam. i. 17. And an extraordinary skill even in mechanical arts is there ascribed to the illumination of the Holy Ghost. It is said of Bezaleël who was to make the furniture of the tabernacle, that the Lord had filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, and to devise curious works, &c. Exod. xxxv. 31. Heylin.
It may be observed too in justification of our author, that other sacred poems are not without the like invocations, and particularly Spenser's Hymns of heavenly love and heavenly beauty, as well as some modern Latin poems. But I conceive that Milton intended something more; for I have been informed by those, who had opportunities of conversing with his widow, that she was wont to say that he did really look upon himself as inspired, and I think his works are not without a spirit of enthusiasm. In the beginning of his 2d book of The Reason of Church Government, speaking of his design of writing a poem
19. Instruct me, for Thou know'st ;] Theocrit. Idyll. xxii. 116.
Ειπε θεα, συ γαρ οισία.
21. Dove-like satst brooding] Alluding to Gen. i. 2. the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters; for the word that we translate moved signifies properly brooded, as a bird doth upon her eggs; and he says like a dove rather than any other bird, because the descent of the Holy Ghost is compared to a dove in Scripture, Luke iii. 22. As Milton studied the Scriptures in the original languages, his images and expressions are oftener copied from them, than from our translation.
26. And justify the ways of
Say first, for heav'n hides nothing from thy view,
God to men.] A verse, which Mr. Pope has thought fit to borrow with some little variation, in the beginning of his Essay on Man,
But vindicate the ways of God to
It is not easy to conceive any good reason for Mr. Pope's preferring the word vindicate, but Milton makes use of the word justify, as it is the Scripture word, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, Rom. iii. 4. And the ways of God to men are justified in the many argumentative discourses throughout the poem, and particularly in the conferences between God the Father and the Son.
27. Say first, for heav'n hides nothing from thy view, Nor the deep tract of hell,] The poets attribute a kind of omniscience to the Muse, and very rightly, as it enables them to speak of things which could not otherwise be supposed to come to