Page images
PDF
EPUB

the Paradise Lost. In the sixth book, the
apostate Angels are certainly driven into the
deep by the sole might of the Messiah: but
although the
army of the faithful, which had
before been engaged in the combat “silent
stood,-Eyewitnesses of his Almighty acts,"
and advanced to meet him on his returning
from the victory, it is not asserted that his
immediate ministers, the " ten thousand thou-
sand saints" who attended him from the throne
of God, did not pursue the enemy in their
fall, and "hang on their broken rear:" the
contrary, indeed, seems to be implied when it
is said that "Eternal wrath burnt after them
to the bottomless pit." When Satan, there-
fore, in the first book observes, "But see the

The great Bent'ey, when he undertook the editing of Milton, was far advanced in age, and soon after this work, which formed his last publication, his faculties discovered very evident decline. In many of his former works he has displayed a vigour and sagacity of mind, an extent and accuracy of erudition which are truly wonderful, and which, perhaps, have never been exceeded. But his edition of Milton, though it exhibits many characters of the great critic, must be pronounced to be one egregious failure. To the critical sagacity of Bentley may be ap plied what Virgil says of the sword of Metiscus.

[merged small][ocr errors]

angry

victor hath rengeance and pu

heaven;" and whe

clares that he saw

by millions her vic

Do contradiction is But admitting irreconcileable wi

by Raphael, the d

we considered th

ying circumstan
an accurate repo
pected from a p
whom the uproa
which "incumb

made him sensi

must have been object of regard overwhelming as rebels at this tr when they wer

sand thunders, "shot through

senses were SO

nine days in a

"the fiery surg

from the

prec

throw, howeve thunders of th

LIFE OF MILTON,

475 angry victor hath recall'd-His ministers of vengeance and pursuit,-Back to the gates of heaven;" and when Chaos, in the second, declares that he saw as, "Heaven-Pour'd out the one by millions her victorious bands-Pursuing," contradiction is necessarily intimated.

diutu

in

SA

But admitting that these accounts were irreconcileable with the fact, as it is related by Raphael, the difficulty would vanish when we considered the persons by whom the varying circumstances are mentioned. Could an accurate report of such an event be expected from a personification of Chaos, to whom the uproar and the tumult of a rout which incumbered him with ruin," and made him sensible of "tenfold confusion," must have been the leading, if not the sole object of regard? or from beings under the overwhelming astonishment, attributed to the rebels at this tremendous crisis of their fate, when they were "transfix'd with ten thousand thunders," when their "hearts” were "shot through with plagues," and when their senses were so confounded that they lay for nine days in a state of complete oblivion on "the fiery surge which received them falling from the precipice of heaven?" Their overthrow, however, is uniformly ascribed to the thunders of their adversary, with the power

In the sixth bos

tally dirent

of the

[ocr errors]

Mm fronte

the enem broken rea

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of whose" dire arms" they were till then unacquainted; and whose "red right hand” had been exerted " to plague them." The coherency, therefore, of the fable in this wonderful poem must be allowed to be perfect; and, as a cause of surprise, with reference to the particular situation of the author, to be exceeded only by an equal consistency discoverable in the Iliad,-if, in truth, that mighty intellectual effort be as certainly the work of a blind, as it was of one man." Much has been said on the unequal flow of Milton's genius; and by some it has been represented as under the influence of particular seasons, while by others it has been regarded as the effect of immediate and positive inspiration. Philips declares that his uncle's poetic faculty was vivid only in the winter, and Toland assigns the spring as the season of its peculiar activity; while Richard

e

• This is spoken with reference to some extravagances, though not perhaps absolute novelties of opinion, which have lately been supported by a few German scholars. These learned men, who are endued with microscopic vision, "To inspect a mite, not comprehend the heaven;" would wish us to believe that the Iliad was composed at different periods by different rhapsodists, and was not originally committed to writing. By any person capable of comprehending the full force of the internal evidence suggested by the Iliad, these fancies must be immediately re jected as utterly unworthy of attention.

[blocks in formation]

of interruption in ut mora, nulla quie tineat, quoad per rum meorum qua On this pass to admit the une nation, insults of weaker credulity

liberty to do:Milton with hol

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

son, with a proper respect to the ardent character of the author's mind,' expresses a doubt whether such a work could be suffered for any considerable period to stand absolutely still.

Philips, to whom his relation was accustomed to show the poem in its progress, informs us that, in consequence of not having seen any verses for some time on the advance of summer, he requested to know the cause of what appeared to him to be extraordinary, and that he received in reply from the poet, that "his vein never flowed happily, but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal; and that what he attempted at other times was never to his satisfaction, though he courted his fancy ever so much.” In opposition to

In one of his letters to his friend Deodati, Milton says that when he was engaged in any study, he was urged to prosecute it with his full vigour and application, and was impatient of interruption in his pursuit. "Meum sic est ingenium, nulla ut mora, nulla quies, nulla ferme illius rei cura aut cogitatio distineat, quoad pervadam quo feror, et grandem aliquam studiorum meorum quasi periodum conficiam."

On this passage from Philips, Dr. Johnson, forced as he is to admit the unequal and uncertain flow of the human imagination, insults over the weak fancies of Milton, and the still weaker credulity of his biographers. This, Dr. Johnson was at liberty to do:-but he goes rather too far when he charges Milton with holding an opinion, respecting the general decay

this, and in support of his own opinion, Toland adduces the information, given to him by a friend of Milton's, and the testimony of the bard himself, who, in his beautiful elegy on the arrival of spring, speaks of this delightful season as renovating and invigorating his genius. While the former part of this evidence cannot be poised against that of the author's confidential pupil and nephew, the latter must be considered as too weak and uncertain to be intitled to any great regard.

When he celebrates the inspiration of spring, Milton seems to be only following the example of his poetic predecessors, and to be writing with the taste of a classic ra-ther than from his experience as a man. This season, when nature starts from her slumber and appears to exult in a species of new life, has always supplied the Muse with a favourite topic of description and panegyric. Even in our northern climate, this prime of the year has sufficient charms to allure the susceptible imagination of the poet; but under the glowing skies of Greece

and old age of Nature, which Milton has himself expressly contradicted. See Milton's Latin verses with the title of "Naturam non pati senium."

and Italy it is striking and fa sessed of irresi therefore surp

page displayed

gery, and find from the vege

the intellectual

By man,

lute state of 1

in such a sta

bably, be ver genial virtue, the woods and

would excite stincts and f

On artificial

he is, from na
we do not be
than as the
health, can b
sequence.

not sensible

and it is in into contact medium th The compl intellect o

and the val

« PreviousContinue »