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REMARKS ON PARADISE REGAINED.
THE “Paradise Regained" bears the same character, compared with the “Paradise Lost," as the New Testament bears, compared with the Old: it is more subdued, more didactic, more simple and unornamented, more practical, and less imaginative. The holy poet seems to bave been awed by his subject, and to have given less of his own, either of thought, matter, or language: he appears rather the oracle or channel, through which the voice of the Divinity speaks. There is less of human learning, but more than human wisdom ;-less of that visionariness of dimlyembodied, half-spiritual forms; and none of that gorgeous display of sublime creation, which the pictures everywhere abounding in “Paradise Lost exhibit. All in the "Paradise Regained" wears a sober, serene majesty, like the mellow light of the moon in a calm autumnal evening.
It is true that the essence of poetry is not merely imagination or invention, but invention of a particular quality; and this belongs to the “ Paradise Lost" more than to the “ Paradise Regained:” as, for instance, to Satan's escape from hell, and his first sight of the newly-created globe of earth, and Adam and Eve placed in the enjoyment of it, than to the description of Christ's entry into the wilderness, and Satan in disguise first accosting him: but though the latter description is less grandly imaginative, it is still rich with invention, and invention which is truly poetical: still it is a representation of actual existences, though not a copy of them.
Milton is here pre-eminent in designing character and sentiment: his dialogue is supported with miraculous power and force; and its strength and sublimity shine out the more from the extreme plainness of the language: the task was perilous to find adequate arguments for the contest between the Divine Humanity and the devil. The reader who is not deeply moved, and deeply instructed by it, must be one of brutish and hopeless stupidity. I have said before, that I deemed it an unquestionable duty of every one who understands the English language to study Milton next to the Holy Writings: this remark more especially applies to the description of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. The “Paradise Lost" is moral and didactic, but less so than the “ Paradise Regained."
The reader may not here look for what are thought the common ornaments or spells of poetry: he must look for stern truths; for sublime sentiments; for a naked grandeur of imagery; for an absence of all the rhetorical flourishes of literary composition; for the dictates of a lofty and divine virtue; for a bold and gigantic dispersion of the veil from the delusions of human vanity; for the blaze of an Evil Spirit eclipsed by the splendour of a Good and Divine Spirit, illumined by the lamp of Heaven.
But though a great part of the poem is intellectual and argumentative, another large portion is full of grand or beautiful imagery: the description of the wilderness at the opening abounds with sublime scenery: the picture of the storm at the close of the last book, with the bright morning which succeeded, may vie with any of the noblest passages in the “Paradise Lost:” perhaps in expression, while it loses nothing of grandeur, it is more polished than any other to be found.
Milton intended this poem as the brief or didactic epic, of which ho oonsidered the book of Job to be a model, such as he notices in the se
cond book of his “Reason of Church Government.” “Milton," says Hayley, "had already executed one extensive divine poem, peculiarly distinguished by richness and sublimity of description : in framing a second, he naturally wished to vary its effect; to make it rich in moral sentiment, and sublime in its mode of unfolding the highest wisdom that man can learn: for this purpose it was necessary to keep all the ornamental parts of the poem in due subordination to the preceptive. This delicate and difficult point is accomplished with such felicity; they are blended together with such exquisite harmony and mutual aid ; that, instead of arraigning the plan, we might rather doubt if any possible change could improve it. Assuredly, there is no poem of an epic form, where the sublimest moral is so forcibly and abundantly united to poetical delight: the splendour of the poem does not blaze indeed so intensely as in his larger production: here he resembles the Apollo of Ovid; softening his glory in speaking to his son; and avoiding to dazzle the fancy, that he may descend into the heart."
In another place, Hayley, having spoken of the “uncommon energy and felicity of composition in Milton's two poems, however different in design, dimension, and effect,” adds,—"to censure the Paradise Regained,' because it does not more resemble the ‘Paradise Lost,' is hardly less absurd, than it would be to condemn the moon for not being a sun; instead of admiring the two different luminaries, and feeling that both the greater and the less are equally the work of the same divine and inimitable Power."
The origin of this poem is attributed to the suggestion of Ellwood, the quaker. Milton had lent this friend, in 1665, his “Paradise Lost," then completed in manuscript, at Chalfont, St. Giles'; desiring him to peruse it at his leisure, and give his judgment of it;"which I modestly but freely told him," says Ellwood, in his Life of Himself; “and, after some farther discourse of it, I pleasantly said to him, “Thou hast said much of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found?” He made me no answer, but sat some time in a muse; then broke off that discourse, and fell upon another subject." When Ellwood afterwards waited on him in London, Milton showed hi his " Paradise Regained;" and, in a pleasant tone, said to him,—“This is owing to you; for you put it into my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which before I had not thought of." Milton, in the opening of this poem, speaking of his Muse, as prompted
to tell of deeds
Above heroick, considers the subject of it, as well as of “Paradise Lost,” to be of much greater dignity and difficulty than the argument of Homer and Virgil. But the difference here is, as Richardson observes, that he confines himself “ to nature's bounds;" not as in the “Paradise Lost," where he soars “ above the visible diurnal spbere:" and so far “Paradise Regained" is less poetical, because it is less imaginative.
“Paradise Regained' has not met with the approbation that it deserves," says Jortin ; "it has not the harmony of numbers, the sublimity of thought, and the beauties of diction, which are in Paradise Lost:'it is composed in a lower and less striking style ;--a style suited to the subject. Artful sophistry, false reasoning, set off in the most specious manner, and refuted by the Son of God with strong unaffected eloquence, is the peculiar excellence of this poem." SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.
REMARKS ON BOOK I.
The very outline of the subject of this book of sublime wisdom, argument, and eloquence, is of the highest character of poetry. Our Saviour, in a fit of meditative abstraction, and just beginning to feel his divinity from the signs imparted to him at the baptism of St. John, wanders into a desert and barren wilderness, where he loses himself, and fasts for forty days. There Satan encounters him, first in disguise; and, when detected, in his avowed name, to teippt him to his fall; as he had formerly successfully tempted Eve, and thus effected the ruin of the human race.
The descriptive parts are here only occasional; but when they do occur, they are magnificent and picturesque. The argumentative parts form the main matter. Satan argues with the wicked power of a rebellious and perverted angel; but Christ, feeling within him the growing illumination of his mighty mission, always overcomes him: yet the fiend is as subtle, crafty, fattering, and persuasive, as he is ingenious and vigorous. Our Saviour had yet scarcely plumed his wings; he was doubtful of his own strength; yet a secret Spirit from heaven now whispered to him, that he was born for the trial. The dialogue is supported with amazing force and splendour on both sides: the mind of the profound reader is kept in anxious and trembling suspense.
The flash of the demon comes strong and dazzling: then follows the sublime and overwhelming answer, which eclipses it at once; and which moves the soul and heart by its acute and moral grandeur, and its heroic self-denial.
But let it be remembered, that in addition to Satan's alarming artifices, our Saviour had to sustain hunger, thirst, want of shelter, loneliness in a desert of terrific gloominess, out of which he could not find his way: this gives the story a sort of breathless interest, in which the human imagination can find the strongest sympathy. As a divinity, we should not feel the same interest in the fate of the hero of this poem ; unless he had, for the execution of his great mission, clothed himself with a nature which subjected him to all the evils of humanity.
The art with which the poet interests us in Satan himself, is miracu. lous: the demon's plausibilities sometimes almost make us pity him. His self-exculpations, his cunning arguments, to induce a belief that he means no ill-will to man, and that he has no interest in bating him, are invented with astonishing colour and wiliness: our Saviour's calm detection of Satan's sophistries is delightful and exalting. The reader, who feels in this no human sympathy; no glow at intellectual force ; no electrification at the spell of mighty genius; no expansion of the brain; no light to the ideas; no elation and renovation of our fallen nature ;-must be unspiritualized, and half-imbruted. If any man finds himself cold and dull at first, let him consider it a duty to endeavour by degrees to warm himself. The hardest ice will melt at last by the continual impulse of a glowing sun.
Our business is to improve our understandings, and exalt our hearts ; to be taught to detect the delusions of sin and the devil; and to bear the sorrows and wrongs of life with a magnanimous fortitude. What poem does this like “ Paradise Regained ?" What poem therefore ought we go to study, and become familiar with? The very authorities, on which its chief doctrines are built, are in themselves treasures of wisdom.
But I am at a loss to guess, what, even on the mere principles of poetry, there is of excellence wanting in this poem. Invention, character, sentiment, language,—all in a high degree,—cannot be denied it. Here is unbounded expanse of thought, and profundity of wisdom: here is all the moral eloquence, which is to be found in the noblest authors of antiquity: here is much of the essence of the inspired writings: here is w bat perhaps popular readers like best of all,--the most condensed and solid brevity: here is inexhaustible richness of thought combined with extreme plainness, and a scriptural simplicity of expression. I believe that no one ever read florid language for any number of pages without satiety and disgust.
Beautiful as the first book of the “Paradise Regained" is, I think that the poem continues to rise to the last: here is the difficulty; but it would be a fault if it did not. This book is principally occupied in Satan's exculpation of himself: the other books set forth the fiend's temptations, both material and intellectual; and our Saviour's sublime arguments in answer to him.
The style with which the “Paradise Regained” opens, is generally considered more sober, and less removed from its authorities, than that of the “ Paradise Lost;" and this is supposed to have partly arisen from the poet's awe of his subject, and partly from the weakness of rapidly declining age. With respect to the style, so far as it is more subdued, (if it be so,) I believe that it has purely been caused by the choice of bis subject, and the plainer and simpler language of the New Testament, wbich disdains all ornament, and in which the story gives less scope to imagination. Where we are relating recorded facts, from which we dare not vary, our language is necessarily more controlled and tame.
I am only surprised at the boldness of the poet in choosing this sublime theme: he could not but have foreseen all its difficulties; but knowing his own perfect familiarity with the scriptural language, his gigantic mind hazarded the task. This alone is a proof that he was not conscious of any “failure of strength;" and there is not a single passage in the execution which indicates any such failure: with whatever else compared of his immortal writings, the imagery is as distinct and picturesque ; the spiritual part, the thoughts and arguments, are at least equally vigorous, original, discriminative, and profound, and perhaps more abundant: nor has the language less of that naked strength, which supports itself by its own intrinsic power.
SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.
The subject proposed. Invocation of the Holy Spirit.
The poem opens with John baptizing at the river Jordan: Jesus coming there is baptized; and is attested, by the descent of the Holy Ghost, and by a voice from heaven, to be the Son of God. Satan, who is present, upon this immediately flies up into the regions of the air; where, summoning his infernal council, he acquaints them with his apprehensions that Jesus is that seed of the woman, destined to destroy all their power; and points out to them the immediate necessity of bringing the matter to proof, and of attempting, by snares and fraud, to counteract and defeat the person, from whom they have so much to dread: this office he offers himself to undertake : and, his offer being accepted, sets out on his enterprise. In the mean time, God, in the assembly of boly angels, declares that he has given up his Son to be tempted by Satan; but foretels that the tempter shall be completely defeated by him: upon which the angels sing a hymn of triumph. Jesus is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, while he is meditating on the commencement of his great office of Saviour of mankind. Pursuing his meditations, he narrates, in a soliloquy, what divine and philanthropic impulses he had felt from his early youth, and how his mother Mary, on perceiving these dispositions in him, had acquainted him with the circumstances of his birth, and informed him that he was no less a person than the Son of God; to which he adds what his own inquiries and reflections bad supplied in confirmation of this great truth, and particularly dwells on the recent attestation of it at the river Jordan. Our Lord passes forty days, fasting, in the wilderness; where the wild beasts become mild and harmless in his presence. Satan now appears under the form of an old peasant; and enters into discourse with our Lord, wondering what could have brought him alone into so dangerous a place, and at the same time professing to recognize him for the person lately acknowledged by John at the river Jordan, to be the Son of God. Jesus briefly replies. Satan rejoins with a description of the difficulty of supporting life in the wilderness; and entreats Jesus, if he be really the Son of God, to manifest his divine power, by changing some of the stones into bread. Jesus reproves him, and at the same time tells him that he knows who he is. Satan instantly avows himself, and offers an artful apology for himself and his conduct. Our blessed Lord severely reprimands him, and refutes every part of his justification. Satan, with much semblance of humility, still endeavours to justify himself; and professing his admiration of Jesus and his regard for virtue, requests to be permitted, at a future time, to hear more of his conversation ; but is answered, that this must be as he shall find permission from above. Satan then disappears, and the book closes with a short description of night coming on in the desert.