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Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, my river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.' Milton has given us another very noble and poetical image in the same description, which is copied almost word for word out of the history of Moses.
All night he will pursue, but his approach
And craze their chariot-wheels: when by command
As the principlal design of this episode was to give Adam an idea of the holy person, who was to re-instate human nature in that happiness and perfection from which it had fallen, the poet confines himself to the line of Abraham, from whence the Messiah was to descend. The angel is described as seeing the Patriarch actually travelling towards the Land of Promise, which gives a particular liveliness to this part of the narration.
I see him, but thou canst not, with what faith
As Virgil's vision in the sixth Æneid probably gave Milton the hint of this whole episode, the last line is a translation of that verse where Anchises mentions the names of places, which they were to bear hereafter.
Hæc tum nomina erunt, nunc sunt sine nomine terræ.
The poet has very finely represented the joy and gladness of heart which rises in Adam upon his discovery of the Messiah. As he sees his day at a distance through types and shadows, he rejoices in it; but when he finds the redemption of man compleated, and Paradise again renewed, he breaks forth in rapture and transport,
O Goodness infinite, Goodness immense!
I have hinted in my sixth paper on Milton, that an heroic poem, according to the opinion of the best critics, ought to end happily, and leave the mind of the reader, after having conducted it through many doubts and fears, sorrows and disquietudes, in a state of tranquillity and satisfaction. Milton's fable, which had so many other qualifications to recommend it, was deficient in this particular. It is here, therefore, that the poet has shown a most exquisite judgment, as well as the finest invention, by find. ing out a method to supply this natural defect in his subject. Accordingly he leaves the adversary of mankind, in the last view which he gives us of him, under the lowest state of mortification and disappointment. We see him chewing ashes, grovelling in the dust, and loaden with supernumerary pains and torments. On the contrary, our two first parents are comforted by dreams and visions, cheered with promises of salvation, and, in a manner, raised to a greater happiness than that which they had forfeited: in short, Satan is represented miserable in the height of his triumphs, and Adam triumphant in the height of misery.
Milton's poem ends very nobly. The last speeches of Adam and the archangel are full of moral and instructive sentiments. The sleep that fell upon Eve, and the effects it had in quieting the disorders of her mind, produces the same kind of consolation in the reader, who cannot peruse the last beautiful speech which is ascribed to the mother of mankind, without a secret pleasure and satisfaction.
• Whence thou return'st, and whither went'st, I know;
For God is also in sleep; and dreams advise,
The following lines, which conclude the poem, rise in a most glorious blaze of poetical images and expressions.
Heliodorus in his Æthiopics acquaints us, that the motion of the gods differs from that of mortals, as the former do not stir their feet, nor proceed step by step, but slide over the surface of the earth by an uniform swimming of the whole body. The reader may observe with how poetical a description Milton has attributed the same kind of motion to the angels who were to take possession of Paradise.
So spake our mother Eve, and Adam heard
And gathers ground fast at the lab'rer's heel
The author helped his invention in the following passage, by reflecting on the behaviour of the angel, who, in holy writ, has the conduct of Lot and his family. The circumstances drawn from that relation are very gracefully made use of on this occasion.
In either hand the hast'ning angel caught,
The scene which our first parents are surprised with upon their looking back on Paradise, wonderfully strikes the reader's imagination, as nothing can be more natural than the tears they shed on that occasion.
They looking back, all th'eastern side beheld
If I might presume to offer at the smallest alteration in this divine work, I should think the poem would end better with the passage here quoted, than with the two verses which follow.
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,
These two verses, though they have their beauty, fall very much below the foregoing passage, and renew in the mind of the reader that anguish which was pretty well laid by that consideration,
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide. The number of books in Paradise Lost is equal to those of the Æneid. Our author in his first edition had divided his poem into ten books, but afterwards broke the seventh and the eleventh each of them into two different books, by the help of some small additions. This second division was made with great judgment, as any one may see who will be at the pains of examining it. It was not done for the sake of such a chimerical beauty as that of resembling Virgil in this particular, but for the more just and regular disposition of this great work.
Those who have read Bossu, and many of the critics who have written since his time, will not pardon me if I do not find out the particular moral which is inculcated in Paradise Lost. Though I can by no means think, with the last-mentioned French author, that an epic writer first of all pitches upon a certain moral, as the ground-work and foundation of his poem, and afterwards finds out a story to it: I am, however, of opinion, that no just heroic poem ever was, or can be made, from whence one great moral may not be deduced. That which reigns in Milton is the most universal and most useful that can be imagined; it is in short this, that obedience to the will of God makes men happy, and that disobedience makes them miserable.' This is visibly the moral of the principal fable which turns upon Adam and Eve, who continued in Paradise while they kept the command that was given them, and were driven out of it as soon as they had transgressed. This is likewise the moral of the principal episode, which shews ús how an innumerable multitude of angels fell from their state of bliss, and were cast into hell, upon their disobedience. Besides this great moral, which
may be looked upon as the soul of the fable, there are an infinity of under morals which are to be drawn from the several parts of the poem, and which makes this