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OF Man's first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
1. Of Man's first disobedience, &c.] Milton has proposed the subject of his poem in the following verses. These lines are perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned as any of the whole poem, in which particular the author has conformed himself to the example of Homer and the precept of Horace. His invocation to a work, which turns in a great measure upon the creation of the world, is very properly made to the Muse who inspired Moses in those books from whence our author drew his subject, and to the Holy Spirit who is therein represented as operating after a particular manner in the first production of nature. This whole exordium rises very happily into noble language and sentiment, as I think the transition to the fable is exquisitely beautiful and natural. Addison.
Besides the plainness and simplicity of these lines, there is a farther beauty in the variety of the numbers, which of themselves
charm every reader without any sublimity of thought or pomp of expression: and this variety of the numbers consists chiefly in the pause being so artfully varied, that it falls upon a different syllable in almost every line, as it may easily be perceived by distinguishing the verses thus:
Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, | whose mor. tal taste
Brought death into the world, | and
all our woe,
With loss of Eden, | till one greater
Mr. Pope, in a letter to Mr. Walsh containing some critical observations on English versification, remarks, that in any smooth English verse of ten syllables, there is naturally a pause at the fourth, fifth, or sixth syllable, and upon the judicious change and management of these depends the variety of versifica
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
Upon the sixth,
His stature reach'd the sky, and on
tion. But Milton varies the
Upon the seventh,
Majestic though in ruin: | sage he stood II. 305.
Birds on the branches warbling; | all things smil'd VIII. 265. Upon the eighth,
Hung on his shoulders like the
With loss of Eden, till one greater
of the ancients, of which it
Of bell resounded.
Sometimes he intermixes the Trochee or foot of one long and one short syllable -u, as in ver. 49.
Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to
Sometimes the Spondee or foot of two long syllables as in
Hẽ call'd so loud, that all the hōl- versification, the adapting of the very sounds, as well as words, to the subject matter, the style of sound, as Mr. Pope calls it: and
in this Milton is excellent as in all the rest, and we shall give several instances of it in the course of these remarks. So that he has abundantly exemplified in his own practice the rules laid down by himself in his preface, his versification having all the requisites of true musical delight, which, as he says, consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another.
Dove-like sätst brooding on the vast abyss. Sometimes the Pyrrichius or foot of two short syllables o u, as in
Serv'd only to discover sights of
Sometimes the Dactyle or foot of one long and two short syllables - uu, as in ver. 45.
Hurl'd headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky.
Sometimes the Anapæst or foot of two short and one long syllable u u-, as in ver. 87.
Myriads though bright! If he whom mutual league
Sometimes the Tribrachus or foot of three short syllables o ou, as in ver. 709.
To many a row of pipes the soundboard breathes.
And sometimes there is variety of these measures in the same verse, and seldom or never the same measures in two verses to
gether. And these changes are not only rung for the sake of the greater variety, but are so contrived as to make the sound more expressive of the sense. And this is another great art of
1.] Bishop Newton, although perfectly well-read in the Latin poets, appears to have paid but little attention to the very
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
wide difference which there is between the quantity of Latin verse, and the accent, or ictus, on which the rythm of English verse entirely depends. Hence, reading with a classical eye, but laying aside his English ear, he thus marks Ūmnipotent. But, according to the invariable pronunciation of our language, the ictus falls so strong on the second syllable of Ŏmnipotent, that the first is comparatively short; and the verse, scanned accordingly, becomes a pure English Iambic.
Who durst | defy | th' Omnipotent |
Neither does he seem to have at all considered how much Milton availed himself both of elisions and contractions. Otherwise he would scarcely have cited the three following verses, as exhibiting the one a Dactyl, the other an Anapæst, the third a Tribrachus; for, in fact, the first and third are pure Iambics; and the second has no irregularity, except in the first foot, in which place much license is often taken, and the Trochee, particularly, is often introduced with the best effect.
Hurl'd head long flă | mỸng frōm |
Dunster. The following verses may perhaps be admitted to contain in
stances of those feet which Bp.
Stream, and perpet | ŭal draw | their
The general principles of English rythm may be found sufficiently laid down by Dr. Blair in his Lectures, vol. iii. lect. 38. Those who would examine more exactly into the merits and the faults of Milton's versification, should consult Johnson's remarks upon it in the Rambler, Nos. 86, 88, 90, 92, 94. But the subject was ill-suited to Johnson's genius; and although many of his remarks are good, many also appear fastidious or incorrect. Mr. Todd, in his notes and further remarks upon the Essay in the Rambler, has more correctly appreciated the beauties of Milton's
1. Of Man's first disobedience,]
Maviy aside. Iliad.
Ανδρα μοι εννεπε. Οdyss. Arma virumque cano. Eneid. In all these instances, as in Milton, the subject of the poem is the very first thing offered to us, and precedes the verb with which it is connected. It must be confessed, that Horace did not regard this, when he translated the first line of the Odyssey, Dic mihi, musa, virum, &c. De Art. Poet. 141. And Lucian, if I remember right, makes a jest of this observation, where he introduces the shade of Homer as
Sing, heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
expressly declaring that he had no other reason for making the word μηνιν the first in his poem, but that it was the first which came into his head. However the uniform practice of Homer, Virgil, and Milton in this particular, seems to prove that it was not accidental, but a thing really designed by them.
4. With loss of Eden,] But Eden was not lost, and the last that we read of our first parents is that they were still in Eden,
Through Eden took their solitary
With loss of Eden therefore means no more than with loss of Paradise, which was planted in Eden, which word Eden signifies delight or pleasure, and the country is supposed to be the same that was afterwards called Mesopotamia; particularly by our author in iv. 210, &c. Here the whole is put for a part, as sometimes a part for the whole, by a figure called Synecdoche.
4.till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,] As it is a greater Man, so it is a happier Paradise which our Saviour promised to the penitent thief, Luke xxiii. 43. This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise. But Milton had a notion that after the conflagration and the general judgment, the whole earth would be made a Paradise, xii. 463.
Than this of Eden, and far happier days.
6.that on the secret top of Oreb, or of Sinai,] Dr. Bentley says that Milton dictated sacred top: his reasons are such as follow: the ground of Horeb is said to be holy, Exod. iii 5. and Horeb is called the mountain of God, 1 Kings xix. 8. But it may be answered, that though that place of Horeb, on which Moses stood, was holy, it does not follow that the top of the mountain was then holy too: and by the mountain of God (Dr. Bentley knows) may be meant only, in the Jewish style, a very great mountain besides, let the mountain be never so holy, yet according to the rules of good poetry, when Milton speaks of the top of the mountain, he should give us an epithet peculiar to the top only, and not to the whole mountain. Dr. Bentley says farther, that the epithet secret will not do here, because the top of this mountain is visible several leagues off. But Sinai and Horeb are the same mountain, with two several eminences, the higher of them called Sinai: and of Sinai Josephus in his Jewish Antiquit. book iii. c. 5. says that it is so high, that the top of it cannot be seen without straining the eyes. In this sense therefore (though I believe it is not Milton's sense) the top of it may be well said to be secret. In Exod. xvii. it is
for then the earth
Shall all be Paradise, far happier said that the Israelites, when encamped at the foot of Horeb,