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INVENTION has been justly called the "very soul of poetry." That noble faculty first prompted man to become a poet, and inspired him with sentiments and language above the standard of ordinary life. It supplies in a great measure the deficiency of human knowledge, and contributes largely to our intellectual pleasures, by opening, as it were, a new creation, in which the imagination may expatiate and regale itself. When united with a sound judgment, and fed by those inexhaustible stores of solid information which are accessible only to the favourite sons of science, its productions are among the richest treasures of literature. Of this we have a memorable proof in the works of our immortal author, who, with an unparalleled felicity of invention and dignity of thought, has provided for his countrymen such fare as our superiors in the scale of created intelligence might not disdain to taste, and thereby raised to himself a monument more durable than brass.
The Paradise Lost of Milton is, perhaps, the finest performance that ever dropped from the pen of unassisted mortal man; and in the splendour of its fame his other admirable works have been eclipsed, and their beauties neglected. It will not, however, be too much to say that such a Poet could never write but in the true spirit of his art; especially on a subject so intimately connected with that grand effort of his genius as the Poem which is here reprinted. He would feel himself quite at home, for it is indeed the after-birth of that immense conception. His dramatis persone are chiefly those whose ancient exploits he had formerly recorded in celestial verse. He celebrates the same DIVINE HERO-encounters his old adversary. They would call forth all the energies of his mind on the principle of association of ideas; and indeed it is a striking proof how deeply he was enamoured with his subject, that after he had escaped with immortal honour from his first "adventurous flight," he should again try the strength of his plume, and voluntarily incur the difficulties inevitable in constructing a Poem of such classical beauty. He thus proposes his theme:
of the dignity of his person. Astonished and appalled at the attestations given to him, and appre hensive that his own empire was on the eve of annihilation, he hastens to summon a council of his peers, to devise means of preventing the dreaded catastrophe. His speech at the opening of the conclave is a compound of hellish malice, envy, and trepidation; and finely supports the character which the Poet had assigned to him in the Paradise Lost. His infernal auditors, dismayed at the prospect of approaching ruin, eagerly accept his proposal to try the same wiles on the second Adam which had so awfully succeeded with the
Unanimous they all commit the care
And management of this main enterprise To him their great dictator, whose attempt At first against mankind so well had thriv'd
* In another respect it deserves high commendation. The fiend is involved in doubt and ignorance (two most fruitful sources of misery;) not invested with that kind of omniscience which ignorant persons are apt to ascribe to him.
In Adam's overthrow, and led their march From hell's deep-vaulted den to dwell in light, Regents, and potentates, and kings, yea gods Of many a pleasant realm and province wide.
Having received his commission, he is prompt to fulfil it. He repairs to the coast of Jordan in search of the Redeemer. Meanwhile the Eternal Father, who sits on the throne of universal empire, superintending the vast concerns of his providence, and eyeing every event, informs the inhabitants of heaven of the machinations of Satan, and predicts his final confusion and overthrow.
The most important part of the action now draws on.-Intent on the great work of human redemption, and musing how he may best enter upon his public ministry, the Hope of Israel is led into the desert, as, by its deep solitudes, according with the holy meditations of his mind. It would be difficult to find in the whole compass of poetry a more beautiful composition than the soliloquy which is here put into his mouth: it contains sentiments worthy of an incarnate God, and, with the exception of a line or two, exactly suits the character of the adorable Jesus as delineated in the sacred pages. With inimitable simplicity he takes a review of the thoughts and actions of his childhood, all marking him out as more than man. Imagination cannot conceive of higher thoughts and more glorious designs than those which filled the bosom of the infant Saviour. He considers himself as born to promote all truth, to subdue and quell brute violence and tyranny over all the earth, till equity and justice were freed from re straint, and restored in their purity to the world ;to instruct and guide the meek,
By winning words to conquer willing hearts And make persuasion do the work of fear ;
to reclaim erring souls;-and to execute the most signal vengeance upon the incorrigible enemies of truth and righteousness.
In this delightful retrospect, and in reflecting on the late extraordinary apparition at his baptism, and the awful train of labours and sufferings which awaits him, he beguiles forty days and nights in the horrid shades of the pathless desert. The wild beasts know their Creator, and pay him homage.
They at his sight grew mild,
At length he hungers. Here is an opportunity for the adversary to inject his temptations by inducing a distrust in the providence of God, and he embraces it. By a happy device of the Poet, he is introduced in the garb of a peasant, who, from such simple subjects as might be supposed to interest a poor inhabitant of the confines of a desert, is artfully made to turn his conversation on the baptism of John; to recognise Jesus as the person to whom the magnificent ascription of Godhead
The second book introduces some of the disciples of Jesus, (afterwards his Apostles) who on the testimony of the Baptist, and the voice from heaven, had received him as the true Messiah. In the midst of their rejoicings that he who should redeem Israel had appeared, his sudden retirement into the wilderness gives a blow to their hopes, and rouses the maternal anxiety of his mother. soliloquy of equal tenderness and beauty is put into the mouth of the latter. The prominent features of Mary's character appear to have been meekness, patience, and a thoughtful, ruminating turn of mind. They are all admirably copied and supported in this exquisite composition, which breathes heroic fortitude, implicit acquiescence in the will of Heaven, and a disposition calmly to wait the issue of those stupendous events which were yet in embryo, but which, with unruffled confidence in the divine veracity, she expected to see accomplished.
Meanwhile the adversary returns,
Up to the middle region of thick air;
which the Poet, with excellent propriety, has made the seat of his empire, to give his dolorous report, to prepare his desperate coadjutors for the worst, and demand succours. The speech of Belial, and Satan's answer, transport us in imagination back to old Pandemonium: not because they are servile copies, but as marked and highly finished originals as the effusions of the same personages in that memorable assembly. The former advises that objects calculated to raise sensual desires in the mind of the Redeemer should be set before him; but Satan, who by proof had learned that he was not to be taken with such a bait, proposes to try him with manlier objects, such as carry a show of worth, of honour, of glory, and popular applause, rocks whereon the greatest men have often been wrecked; or with such as seem to satisfy the lawful desires of nature. And as he now hungers in a place where no sustenance is to be found, he determines to improve an opportunity carved out exactly to his wishes. He selects a band of wily spirits, and after instructing each to play his part, if there should be any need of their services, he takes his flight back to the desert. There he finds
• See Eph. ii. 2.
the Redeemer consoling himself under the cravings of bodily appetite with a cheerful trust in the providence of God. At the approach of night he lays him down under the covert of some thickwoven trees. He sleeps-and dreams of the sweet refreshments which the exhausted state of his body requires. He imagines himself to be by the brook Cherith, and sees the ravens morning and evening bringing Elijah his food. He is then transported into the desert, and sees the Prophet, how he slept under a juniper tree, then how he awaked, and was bidden by the angel to arise and eat. Now he partakes with the Prophet, and anon is a guest with Daniel at his pulse. But morning advances he rises from his grassy couch, and finds all but a dream. This is one of the most beautiful and truly poetical incidents in the whole Poem, and charmingly accommodates itself to the character of the Redeemer, making
His very dreams devout.
He now ascends a hill from whose top he might have a prospect of the surrounding country. A grove in a bottom strikes his attention. He bends his way thither, determined to rest himself there at noon, when suddenly Satan appears before him, not as formerly, in a rustic habit, but attired as a citizen or courtier. He proffers to the Lord of Nature her choicest esculents, only requesting of nim that he would deign to sit and eat.
He spake no dream; for as his words had end,
And at a stately side-board, by the wine,
of such a living oracle, and urges the inutility and inglorious nature of a retired life.-He proposes the examples of Alexander, Cyrus, Scipio, and Pompey, who at his age had obtained their most celebrated victories, performed prodigies of valour, and made the world ring with their achievements. And as an argument of greater weight than all, he quotes the predictions of the Prophets, who had foretold the glory of his reign, and the universality of his empire. To this reasoning the Saviour objects that worldly pomp is a mere shadow; that his way to exaltation was to be througn hardship, affliction, and suffering; and reminds the Tempter that his advancement would tend to his own everlasting confusion.-This calls up in the mina of Satan feelings of despair.
I would be at the worst; worst is my port, My harbour and my ultimate repose.
His acute sense of his own irretrievable misery does not however divert him from his purpose of ruining the Saviour, and in him the whole human race. He takes him up into a high mountain, from whence he shows him the splendours of the four famous monarchies, particularly of the Roman, now establishing itself on the ruins of the other three; the sight of which he pretends will remedy the defect of his inexperience, inspire him with a love of military glory, and instruct him in all regal mysteries, so as to enable him to fill the throne of David, and wield his sceptre with honour. He offers to procure him the friendship of the Parthian monarch, to fortify him against the enormous power of Rome, and facilitate the return of the ten tribes from their long captivity; or even to supplant and oust the old and lascivious Roman emperor. But, as the price of these transcendant favours, he de mands that the Saviour shall fall down and do him homage, acknowledging that he held them of him as his superior lord. These impudent conditions rejected with disdain and abhorrence, he points to Athens, the seat of the Muses, and the very headquarters of philosophy; pronounces a splendid eulogium on Heathen learning, and argues the necessity of it to him as the Messiah in his intercourse with the Gentile nations. The Saviour in answer asserts the superiority of the Hebrew scriptures to all the boasted productions of Greece; and exposes the capital defects of the Heathen Philosophy and Morality. Finding him superior to all the allurements of wealth, learning, and pleasure, the Tempter has but one resource left.-He transports him back to the wilderness, where hungry and cold he lays him down to sleep. A dreadful storm ensues;-and intending to distract the mind of the Redeemer, and drive him to despair, the Adversary haunts his slumbers with fearful apparitions, to increase the effect of the awful concussion of the elements. But morning brings a calm, and with it the wonted presence of the Tempter. He takes the Redeemer, places him on a pinnacle of the temple, and finishes the black catalogue of his wiles by urging him presumptuously to appeal to an extraordinary Providence for the truth of his Sonship, by casting himself
Of gentlest gale Arabian odours fann'd
B. II. line 337-367.
His services rejected as obtrusive, and unnecessary to him who is the Proprietor of the world and the fulness thereof,
Both table and provision vanish'd quite
Finding the Saviour invincible here, he argues the impossibility of executing his high designs on the score of his poverty; and by a display of the influence of wealth and fortune over the giddy multitude, tempts him to the love of riches and regal glory. Repulsed again, he shifts his ground; -he pours in his flattery, expresses his admiration of the wisdom of the Redeemer, details the advan. tages that would accrue to the world if possessed