« AnteriorContinuar »
down from the immense height. The Saviour's answer confounds him. Despairing of reaping the fruit of his infernal labours, and overwhelmed with confusion, he finally leaves the Redeemer, and a bright troop of angels descends and ministers to him.
Having noticed so particularly the beauties of this admirable Poem, we proceed impartially to point out its defects. They are glaring and unpardonable in a Christian Poet, whose fable or plot is necessarily borrowed from divine revelation, which will not bear elision or distortion, much less contradiction. They are of two kinds:-a defect of action, and of sentiment. If the Author had entitled his performance "The Temptation of Christ," the action of the Poem as it stands at present would have been complete. But as he proposes to sing
Recover'd Paradise to all mankind,
we have a right to expect a celebration of all those acts of almighty love and power by which the work was accomplished. That Paradise was regained, and human redemption effected, by the single act of our Saviour's temptation in the wilderness, is in open contradiction to the Sacred Scriptures. They plainly declare that he saved us by his obedience unto death: that his temptation was initiatory to his glorious Priesthood, and but a portion of the hardness which it became him to endure, who, as the Captain of our salvation, was perfected through sufferings. It was indeed the first of a grand series of victories over our spiritual enemies, but
He triumph'd when he fell!
What a theme would the life, the discourses, the miracles of Jesus have afforded for such a pen as Milton's! But the closing scene, the tragedy of Calvary, might furnish the matter of an angel's song. The imagination of men ever since they were placed on the earth have made wide excursions in search of objects which should fully employ and satisfy their exquisite powers:-they have created delight'ul fictions, and because the plain and usual event of human life are too common and uninteresting, they have brought the gods themselves from heaven to enliven the scene, and painted in glowing colours the benevolent manners and wonderful exploits of their condescending and social divinities. But, O what a field is here! The imagination may rove in these realities, and lose itself in wonders. The sober judgment has no vagaries to reprove or condemn, for here excess is impossible. All that the mind of man could conceive is beggared and shamed by the reality. A more extended action, therefore, was necessary for doing justice to the subject, and affording full scope for the unrivalled powers of the Poet.
The Poem is also chargeable with a defect of sentiment, or deviation from a capital doctrine of inspiration.
Amicus Miltonus, sed magis amica veritas.
Poetical license does not extend to the violation of divine truth. The proper Divinity of the Eternal Son, so unequivocally revealed in the Holy Scriptures, is kept entirely out of sight. Thus the Poet has injured himself no less than in excluding the scene of the crucifixion from the action of his Poem. He has torn the sun from the firmament; and, as when that luminary retires from the world every object loses its colour and beauty, so the absence of this stupendous doctrine casts a gloom over his work, and occasions incongruities which would disgrace an author far below the rank of Milton. He has thus deprived himself of a principle equal in energy to the famous one so well known to the ancients, and hinted at in the following precept of Horace.
Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus Inciderit.
But we hasten through this part of our subject.We have no pleasure in exposing the defects of this Samson among poets; it is like uncovering the nakedness of a father.
To conclude our observations,-there is no opportunity here for the introduction of the splendid machinery which dazzles and delights us in Paradise Lost. There the Poet had
Ample room and verge enough.
He was relating events which could not possibly, in some cases, fall within the limits of human observation. He could launch out into infinite space, visit unknown regions, and converse with intelligencies, whose nature, whose habits and powers are so interesting, that the bare mention of their name opens the ear of curiosity, and prepares it for a feast of delight. The reverence and sympathy of man for those elder parts of the creation are powerfully excited by obscure hints and notices of their operations in the Holy Scriptures. He is led to consider them as his guardians, his monitors, and his future companions in the world of bliss. Paradise Lost had anticipated what of this nature would have given lustre and interest to this performance, but whatever could embellish it as far as it goes, has been employed. The display of the Poet's geographical and mythological learning is truly surprising. Indeed, when we consider the difficulties he had to encounter in supplying so dignified a Hero as the Son of the Most High God with proper sentiments, and in giving variety to a long Poem, consisting almost wholly of dialogue, we cannot hesitate to pronounce it one of the most noble productions of the human mind.
I WHO erewhile the happy garden sung,
Through all temptation, and the Tempter foil'd 5
Now had the great Proclaimer, with a voice More awful than the sound of trumpet, cried Repentance and heaven's kingdom high at hand 20 To all baptiz'd: to his great baptism flock'd With awe the regions round, and with them came From Nazareth the son of Joseph deem'd To the flood Jordan, came as then obscure, Unmark'd, unknown; but him the Baptist soon 25 Descried, divinely warn'd, and witness bore As to his worthier, and would have resign'd To him his heavenly office; nor was long His witness unconfirm'd: on him baptiz'd Heaven open'd, and in likeness of a dove The Spirit descended, while the Father's voice From heaven pronounc'd him his beloved Son. That heard the adversary, who roving still About the world, at that assembly fam'd Would not be last, and with the voice divine Nigh thunder-struck, th' exalted Man, to whom Such high attest was given, awhile survey'd With wonder; then with envy fraught and rage Flies to his place, nor rests, but in mid-air To council summons all his mighty peers, Within thick clouds and dark ten-fold involv'd, A gloomy consistory; and them amidst With looks aghast and sad he thus bespake:
All virtue, grace, and wisdom, to achieve
Ye see our danger on the utmost edge
Ere in the head of nations he appear
Their king, their leader, and supreme on earth. I, when no other durst, sole undertook
The dismal expedition to find out
And ruin Adam, and th' exploit perform'd Successfully; a calmer voyage now
"O ancient powers of air and this wide world, For much more willingly I mention air, This our old conquest, than remember hell, Our hated habitation; well ye know How many ages, as the years of men, This universe we have possess'd, and rul'd In manner at our will th' affairs of earth, Since Adam and his facile consort Eve Lost Paradise, deceiv'd by me, though since With dread attending when that fatal wound Shall be inflicted by the seed of Eve
Will waft me: and the way found prosp'rous once Induces best to hope of like success."
Upon my head: long the decrees of heaven
Delay, for longest time to him is short:
And now too soon for us the circling hours
He ended, and his words impression left Of much amazement to the infernal crew, Distracted and surpris'd with deep dismay At these sad tidings; but no time was then For long indulgence to their fears or grief: 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 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. So to the coast of Jordan he directs
120 | All righteous things: therefore above my years,
His easy steps, girded with snaky wiles,
"Gabriel, this day by proof thou shalt behold, Thou and all angels conversant on earth With man or men's affairs, how I begin fo verify that solemn message late,
On which I sent thee to the Virgin pure
Had measur'd twice six years, at our great feast 210
What might improve my knowledge or their own;
To which my spirit aspir'd: victorious deeds 215
To show him worthy of his birth divine
By words at times cast forth, inly rejoic'd,
All his vast force, and drive him back to hell,
Of angels in the fields of Bethlehem sung
To shepherds watching at their folds by night,
So spake th' eternal Father, and all heaven Admiring stood a space, then into hymns Burst forth, and in celestial measures mov'd Circling the throne and singing, while the hand Sung with the voice, and this the argument:
"Vict'ry and triumph to the Son of God Now ent'ring his great duel, not of arms, But to vanquish by wisdom hellish wiles. The Father knows the Son; therefore secure Ventures his filial virtue, though untried, Against whate'er may tempt, whate'er seduce, Allure, or terrify, or undermine. Be frustrate all ye stratagems of hell, And devilish machinations come to nought."
Known partly, and soon found of whom they spake
So they in heaven their odes and vigils tun'd:
"O what a multitude of thoughts at once
Me him, (for it was shown him so from heaven,)
And, looking round on every side, beheld
Or virtuous; I should have so lost all sense.
To all mankind: why should I? they to me
Nor tasted human food, nor hunger felt
"Sir, what ill chance hath brought thee to this
Of God. 1 saw and heard; for we sometimes, 330 Who dwell this wild, constrain'd by want come forth
To town or village nigh, (nighest is far,)
To whom the Son of God: "Who brought me hither, 335
Will bring me hence; no other guide I seek."
"By miracle he may," replied the swain; "What other way I see not; for we here Live on tough roots and stubs, to thirst inur'd More than the camel, and to drink go far, Men to much misery and hardship born; But if thou be the Son of God, cominand That out of these hard stones be made thee bread, So shalt thou save thyself, and us relieve With food, whereof we wretched seldom taste." 345
He ended, and the Son of God replied: "Think'st thou such force in bread? Is it not written
(For I discern thee other than thou seem'st)
Whom thus answer'd th' arch-fiend now undisguis'd:
I gain'd what I have gain'd, and with them dwell
To all the host of heaven; the happy place
But from him, or his angels president
"Sharply thou hast insisted on rebuke, And urg'd me hard with doings, which not will But misery hath wrested from me: where Easily canst thou find one miserable, And not enforc'd oft-times to part from truth; If it may stand him more in stead to lie, Say and unsay, feign, flatter, or abjure? But thou art plac'd above me, thou art Lord; From thee I can and must submiss endure Check or reproof, and glad to 'scape so quit. Hard are the ways of Truth, and rough to walk, Smooth on the tongue discours'd, pleasing to th' And tunable as sylvan pipe or song; What wonder then if I delight to hear
He added not; and Satan, bowing low His gray dissimulation, disappear'd,
Her dictates from thy mouth? Most men admire
END OF BOOK FIRST