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We have seen above* what was the origin of this poem. It may therefore have been composed in the summer and autumn while Milton was at Chalfont St. Giles; but as it contains little more than two thousand lines, and as the poet, according to the testimony of his widow, would pour forth twenty or thirty verses at a time, and so could easily have composed it in the space of three months, we need not depart from the theory of his vein flowing most freely between the autumnal and the vernal equinox, and may suppose it to have been composed during that period, either in Buckinghamshire or after his return to London.
Nothing would seem to be clearer than that he never thought of the subject till it was started by Elwood. All idea therefore of his having sought for materials in any not very accessible source--especially if he composed it in the country—would seem to be excluded; yet Mr. Todd, with that unhappy propensity which he had for making the great poet a kind of centoist, observing that Bale had published in 1538, “A Brefe Comedy or Enterlude concernynge the Temtacyon of our Lorde and Saver Jesus Christ by Sathan in the Desart,” adds, that “Milton might have noticed this ancient drama." Elsewhere he says, "perhaps the Italian Muse might afford a hint,” and he mentions an Italian poem named La Humanità del Figlivolo di Dio, in ten books, by Theofilo Folengo, printed at Venice in 1533, of which the fourth book treats of the Temptation, and from which he would seem to intimate Milton may
See p. 64.
have derived the idea of making the angels spread a banquet for our Lord after his trials. He hints then at other obscure Italian poems, and at Ross's Latin Christiados, as sources from which Milton
have derived some of his ideas. We certainly will not venture to assert that Milton might not one time or other have met with Bale's comedy, and read it; but the resemblances which Mr. Todd traces are very few indeed, and such as would only affect a critic of his calibre.
To Milton's logical mind, when brooding over the hint thrown out by Elwood, it must have appeared that as the cause of the loss of Paradise was the first Adam's succumbing under the temptation of Satan, the mode of its recovery must be the triumphant resistance to his arts and wiles by the second Adam. As therefore the only account of any temptation of our Lord by Satan is that in the wilderness after his baptism, in Milton's view the victory was then gained, the power of Satan was broken for ever, and all the subsequent deeds of our Lord were in order to secure his conquest and establish his empire. Whether this reasoning was correct or not, we leave to the decision of theologians. What is perhaps more decisive is, that from the words of our Lord to the penitent thief, “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,” Milton must have inferred that it had been already regained.*
The model which Milton set before him for this poem was the Book of Job, that greatest production of the Semitic Muse. He regarded it as being a “brief model” t of the epic form of poetry, while in truth it is dramatic, and thus secretly recommended itself to Milton's mind, which, as we have seen, was highly dramatic also. The Paradise Regained consists therefore mainly of dialogue, of debates between our Lord and the Tempter; and the chief use of the narrative parts is to connect the dialogues, and to adorn the poem with the splendour and beauties of description. It is therefore absurd
* “For Te Deum has a smatch of Limbus Patrum ; as if Christ had not opened the kingdom of heaven' before he had 'overcome the sharpness of death.'”-Apology for Smectymnuus.
☆ See above, page 352.
to compare this poem with Paradise Lost,—we might almost as well compare Samson Agonistes with it,-for it is clearly of quite a different kind; but in its kind as perfect as that great poem. It was, for example, the opinion of Wordsworth that “Paradise Regained was the most perfect in execution of anything written by Milton ;"* and Coleridge also thus expressed
' himself on the same subject :-“Readers would not be disap
pointed in this latter poem, if they proceeded to a perusal of it with a proper preconception of the kind of interest intended to be excited in that admirable work. In its kind it is the most perfect poem extant, though its kind may be inferior in interest-being in its essence didactic—to that other sort in which instruction is conveyed more effectually, because less directly, in connection with stronger and more pleasurable emotions, and thereby in a closer affinity with action. But might we not as rationally object to an accomplished woman's conversing, however agreeably, because it happened that we had received a keener pleasure from her singing to the harp ?”+
We have quoted the opinions of these two critics because they were themselves poets of a high order, and their decisions are therefore entitled to the utmost attention. It thus appears plain why, as Phillips says, Milton, when it was accounted inferior to Paradise Lost,“could not bear with patience any such thing when related to him." He knew well that it was as perfect, if not more so, in its kind, as that wonderful poem. In fact, blemishes have been found, and some with justice, in Paradise Lost, but none, to our knowledge, in Paradise Regained. Even Johnson bestows on it the meed of his unalloyed praise, and observes that “had it been written, not by Milton, but by some imitator, it would have claimed and received universal praise."
It is a strange notion taken up by some critics that the versification of this poem is inferior to that of Paradise Lost. Jortin says, it has not the same “harmony of numbers ;" Todd, that "it wants the variety and animation that so emi
* Life, vol.ii. p.
311. † Lectures on Shakspeare, etc., ii. 121.
nently distinguish the numbers of Paradise Lost;" and Symmons speaks of its “general deficiency in the charm of numbers.” Probably it was style and language they meant when they spoke of numbers. The language is no doubt less figurative and less brilliant in general, but it is at the same time more fluent, less inverted, and somewhat less Latinized than that of the greater poem; while when occasion offers--as in the description of the night-storm, of the banquet, of the Roman and Parthian empires—it rises fully to the level of its predecessor. As to the numbers or versification, they could not well be altered, unless Milton had chosen to go back to the broken verse of Peele and the elder poets; the system, the sweep, the current, which distinguishes good blank verse, is there as fully as in any poem written by Milton or by any
It must however be confessed that Paradise Regained never enjoyed, and we may venture to add, probably never will enjoy, the same popularity as Paradise Lost; and the reason is a very simple one. There are very few readers who can relish pure reasoning and calm well-sustained dialogue, as compared with those who are delighted by sublime or brilliant description, and by various, rapid, and animated action. Paradise Regained is less read than Paradise Lost for the same reason that the book of Job has not one reader for twenty readers of the Apocalypse. It may be placed among the works of our poet with Lycidas; and that higher order of minds which enjoys the one will enjoy the other.
We would make one remark on this poem which shows the geographic ignorance of Milton's time. The scene of the Temptation is evidently intended to be the great Arabian desert; for Satan says >
Others of some note,
Native of Thebez, wandering here was fed
Now, to reach this desert from the banks of the Jordan, it would be necessary to take a journey of very many miles, and the shortest way, we believe, would be through the city of Jerusalem. But in the view of the narrators of the life of our Lord, it was not this desert that was the scene of the Temptation, but that of the 'Arabah, the valley of the Jordan, where John was baptizing,* which has at all times been a wilderness, and to which view tradition has been true in fixing on Mount Quarantania, which overhangs it, as that from the summit of which the Tempter showed our Lord all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory.
* See Mark i. 3.