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N° 369. SATURDAY, MAY 3, 1712.
Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures,
Hor. Ars Poet, 180,
Milton, after having represented in vision the history of mankind to the first great period of nature, dispatches the remaining part of it in narration. He has devised a very handsome reason for the an. gel's proceeding with Adam after this manner; though doubtless the true reason was the difficulty which the poet would have found to have shadowed ont so mixed and complicated a story in visible oba jects. I could wish, however, that the author had done it, whatever pains it might have cost him. To give my opinion freely, I think that the exhibiting part of the history of mankind in vision, and part in narrative, is as if an history-painter should put in colours one half of his subject, and write down the remaining part of it. If Milton's poem flags any where, it is in this narration, where in some places the author has been so attentive to his divinity that he has neglected his poetry. The narration, how. ever, rises very happily on several occasions, where the subject is capable of poetical ornaments, as particularly in the confusion which he describes among the builders of Babel, and in his short sketch of the plagues of Egypt. The storm of hail and fire, with the darkness that overspread the land for three days, are described with great strength. · The beautiful sassage which follows is raised upon noble hints in Scripture :
Thus with ten wounds
Divided The river-dragon is an allusion to the crocodile, which inhabits the Nile, from whence Egypt derives her plenty. This allusion is taken from that sublime passage in Ezekiel : “ Thus saith the Lord God, Be. hold I am against thee, Pharaoh king of 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 descrip. tion, which is copied almost word for word out of the history of Moses :
• All night he will pursue, but his approach
And overwhelm their warAs the principal design of this episode was to give Adam an idea of the holy person who was to reinstate human nature in that happiness and perfection from which it had fallen, the poet contines himself to the Jine of Abraham, from whence the Messiah was to descend. The angel is described as seeing the pa. triarch actually travelling towards the land of pro• mise, which gives a particular liveliness to this part of the narration :
I see him, but thou canst not, with what faith He leaves his gods, his friends, his native soil, Ur of Chaldea, passing now the ford To Haran; after him a cumbrous train Of herds, and flocks, and num'rous servitude; Not wand'ring poor, but trusting all his wealth With God, who call'd him in a land unknown. Canaan he now attains; I see his tents Pitch'd about Sechem, and the neighbouring plain Of Moreh; there by promise he receives Gift to his progeny of all that land; From Hamath northward to the desert south; (Things by their names I call, though yet unnam’d.)' 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 terre,' The poet has very finely represented the joy and gladness of heart which arises in Adam upon his discovery of the Messiah. As he sees his day at a dis. tance through types and shadows, he rejoices in it; but when he finds the redemption of man com. pleted, and Paradise again renewed, he breaks forth in rapture and transport:
O goodness infinite, goodness immense!
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 finding out a method
to supply this natural defect in his subject. Ac curding y he leaves the adversary of mankind, in the Last view which he gives of him, unuer the lowest state of mortification and disappointment. him chewing ashes, groveling 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 salva. tion, 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 mi. sery.
Milton's poem ends very nobly. The last speeches of Adam and the archangel are full of moral and in. structive 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;
By me the promis'd seed shall all restore.' The following lines, which conclude the poem, rise in a most glorious blaze of poetical images and expressions.
Heliodorus in the 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
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 occa. sion :
• In either hand the hast’ning angel caught Our ling'ring parents, and to th' eastern gate Led them direct; and down the cliff as fast To the subjected plain ; then disappear'd, They looking back,' &c. The scene which our first parents are surprised with, upon their looking back on Paradise, wonder. fully strikes the reader's imagination, as nothing can be more natural than the tears they shed on that ocasion:
• They looking ha k, all th'eastern side beheld