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by his admiration for that practice in the ancient poets, and they certainly form a stumbling-block to the unlearned. But there are few, if any, who can completely understand Milton's heroic poetry without the aid of a comment, and we will venture to assert that when one has fixed in his memory tions of the places named by the poet, and some of the political events connected with them, these very passages will ever after be among those which he will peruse with the greatest pleasure. We must repeat that Paradise Lost is one of those poems which must be studied carefully and with the aid of notes, to be fully understood and enjoyed.
The last objection which we will' notice is, that it was not judicious in the poet to give a narrative of future events in the twelfth book, instead of continuing the splendid series of pictures contained in the eleventh book. We doubtless join in the regret that such should be the case, but we will not join in making a charge out of it against the poet. The truth is, that what we would desire is an impossibility. Let any one go over in his mind the long series of events contained in this book, and the account given in it of doctrines and opinions, and he will see what a fruitless attempt it would have been to present them in a succession of pictorial representations. At least, they would have required the space of several books, and would probably have wearied by their prolixity.
Paradise Lost is the last great heroic poem that the world has seen, perhaps the last that it will ever see. Putting Dante's poem aside for the present, we may assert that it is the only successful poem on a religious subject, and it may be doubted if religion supplies any other theme for poetry than that which Milton selected. He was fortunate, too, in flourishing at the time he did ; for though he might have written it had he lived in the preceding century, he could hardly have done so in the subsequent one, and most certainly not in the nineteenth. We will justify this assertion.
An instinctive feeling seems to have led that true poet, Collins, to express himself as follows:
In scenes like these, which, daring to depart
Prevailing poet! whose undoubting mind
Melting it flows, pure, murmuring, strong, and clear,
presently see, the Ptolemaic astronomy was the prevalent one; and the trials for witchcraft, and condemnation of wretched old women by grave and learned judges, for having held personal intercourse with, and transferred their souls to, the Evil One, together with many other circumstances, prove the belief of the age in the actual existence of evil spirits. We are moreover
* As Collins had just before named Fairfax's translation, it is doubtful whether it is of him or of Tasso that he speaks in these last lines. For our purpose however it does not matter which. By the way, those who would fully enjoy that poem should read it as an original poem, not as a translation.
+ Tasso, in his insanity, actually believed himself to be persecuted by Maghi.
I The Invisible World of the pious and learned Bishop Hall, written in 1651, proves how deeply rooted the belief in evil spirits and their power was in those times, so that even the strongest and most highly cultivated intellects were held in bondage by it.
to observe, that whenever Milton had lived, he would have possessed all the knowledge of his age.
Now, with the seventeenth century, at least in England, expired the astronomy of Ptolemy. Had Milton then lived after that century, he could not for a moment have believed in a solid, globous world, enclosing various revolving spheres, with the earth in the centre, and unlimited, unoccupied, undigested space beyond. His local heaven and local hell would then have become, if not impossibilities, fleeting and uncertain to a degree which would preclude all firm, undoubting faith in their existence; for far as the most powerful telescopes can pierce into space, there is nothing found but a uniformity of stars after stars in endless succession, exalting infinitely our idea of the Deity and his attributes, but enfeebling in proportion that of any portion of space being his peculiar abode. Were Milton in possession of this knowledge, is it possible that he could have written the three first books of Paradise Lost? We are decidedly of opinion that he could not, for he never would have written that of the truth of which he could not have persuaded himself by any illusion of the imagination. It may be said that he would have adapted his fictions to the present state of astronomy. But he could not have done it ; such is the sublime simplicity of the true system of the universe, that it is quite unsuited to poetry, except in the most transient form.
In the eighteenth century, the absurd belief in witchcraft had abandoned every intelligent mind; the theory of the gods of the Gentiles having been evil spirits had also been found to rest on no solid foundation; the demonic possessions of the
1 Gospels began to be regarded as the mere popular theories of the causes of lunacy, epilepsy, and other diseases, to which ideas our Lord and his apostles had adapted their language; Dr. Farmer wrote an essay, which was much admired, to
prove that the Temptation of our Lord was only in vision. Had Milton been imbued, as he would have been, with these ideas, the whole economy of his poem must have been disturbed and altered. But it would have been still more so, in fact its whole foundation would have been overturned, if fate had delayed him till the present century, when Archbishop Lawrence introduced into literature the Book of Enoch, and when Coleridge could write as follows, without any imputation on his faith in Christ.
He did not reflect that all these difficulties are attached to a mere fiction, or, at the best, an allegory, supported by a few popular phrases and figures of speech used incidentally or dramatically by the Evangelists, and that the existence of a personal, intelligent, evil being, the counterpart and antagonist of God, is in direct contradiction to the most express declarations of Holy Writ. Shall there be evil in a city and the Lord hath not done it ?” Am. ii. 6. “I make peace and create evil.” Is. xlv. 7. This is the deep mystery of the abyss of God.* And again, he queries if the personality of the Devil be not “merely a Jewish dogma left undisturbed to fade away under
a the increasing light of the Gospel.”+
We have more than once observed that it is probable that Milton may have thought himself describing and narrating realities under the secret influence of the Holy Spirit; and if we would attain to the full enjoyment of his wonderful poem, we must, as far as possible, endeavour to produce in ourselves a similar frame of mind. We must also transfer ourselves back to the seventeenth century, give faith to the appearances and acts of evil spirits, view the earth as the centre of the universe, the heavenly bodies as revolving in solid spheres around it, and the planets as shedding their influences sweet or malign; we must even for a time suffer the gloom of Calvinism to cast its dark shade over our intellect. This however is a difficult operation; and few therefore will ever attain to the height of the pleasure which Paradise Lost must have yielded to persons of taste and poetic feeling at the time of its first appearance.
* Lectures on Shakspeare, etc. č. p. 135. It is an annotation on that part of Robinson Crusoe in which Defoe sets his hero to instruct Friday in religion. From the history which he gives of the Devil, Coleridge pleasantly supposes that Paradise Lost must have been bound up with one of Crusoe's Bibles. Dr. Hitchcock, in his Religion of Geology (p. 78), makes the following just remarks : _“The great English poet, in his Paradise Lost, has clothed this hypothesis (of an entire change throughout all organic nature] in a most graphic and philosophic dress ; and probably his descriptions have done more than the Bible to give it currency. Indeed, could the truth be known, I fancy that on many points of secondary importance the current theology of the day has been shaped quite as much by the ingenious machinery of Paradise Lost as by the Scriptures ; the theologians having so mixed up the ideas of Milton with those derived from inspiration, that they find it difficult to distinguish between them.”
+ Ibid. p. 154.
In conclusion, we must also observe the advantage, in a poetic sense, which Milton derived from his Arianism ; for had he held his early opinions on the nature of the Son, and sought, as he would have done, to avoid Tritheism, he would have fallen into difficulties that he could hardly have surmounted. It may be asked, how his opinions on this subject, which seem now so plain, escaped observation so long, except by Warburton and a few other of the more quick-sighted critics. The reply perhaps is, that these are in reality the secret, unconscious views of Christians in general, who have not had leisure or ability to discern nice distinctions and weigh súbtle reasonings. They therefore felt no surprise when they met with views and sentiments coinciding with the secret impressions on their own minds, and the more especially as they were always conveyed in the language of Scripture.
When Macaulay, the most brilliant of essayists, in the fervour of youth, with a mind filled with various knowledge and teeming with rich imagery, made Milton the subject of one of his earliest essays, he thought he discerned a resemblance between him and Dante, between Paradise Lost and the Divina Commedia. At a later period, the same opinion was expressed and the parallelism attempted to be traced by Mr. Hallam, when treating of Paradise Lost. The result of our own studies of these poets and their works has been different, and we will here endeavour to explain it.
“Milton,” says Mr. Macaulay, “was, like Dante, a statesman and a lover; and, like Dante, he had been unfortunate in ambition and in love.” Now, from what we have seen above, it is manifest that Milton was no Mejnún, that love never de
ranged his reason, that his affection for Mary Powell was no · violent, absorbing passion, but a calm and tranquil feeling, which never even impelled him to the composition of verses, and did not prevent him from catching a glimpse of the young lady's imperfections. In fine, we can only see in Milton's love the proceeding of a virtuous man of domestic habits, who sought