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medes; Discord as the mother of funerals and mourning ; Venus as dressed by the Graces; Bellona as wearing terror and consternation like a garment. I might give several other instances out of Homer, as well as a great many out of Virgil. Milton has likewise very often made use of the same way of speaking, as where he tells us, that Victory sat on the right hand of the Messiah when he marched forth against the rebel angels; that at the rising of the sun, the Hours unbarred the gates of Light; that Discord was the daughter of Sin. Of the same nature are those expressions, where, describing the singing of the nightingale, he adds, “Silence was pleased ;” and upon the Messiah's bidding peace to the Chaos, “ Confusion heard his voice.”
I might add innumerable instances of our poet's writing in this beautiful figure. It is plain that these I have mentioned, in which persons of an imaginary nature are introduced, are such short allegories as are not, designed to be taken in the literal sense, but only to convey particular circumstances, to the reader, after an unusual and entertaining manner. But when such persons are introduced as principal actors, and engaged in a series of adventures, they take too much upon them, and are by no means proper for an heroic poem, which ought to appear credible in its principal parts.
I cannot forbear, therefore, thinking that Sin and Death are as improper agents in a work of this nature, as Strength and Necessity in one of the tragedies of Æschylus, who represented those two persons nailing down Prometheus to a rock, for which he has been justly censured by the greatest critics. I do not know any imaginary person made use of in a more sublime manner of thinking than that in one of the prophets, who describing God as descending from heaven, and visiting the sins of mankind, adds that dreadful circumstance, “Before him went the Pestilence.” It is certain this imaginary person might have been described in all her purple_spots. The fever might have marched before her, Pain might have stood at her right hand, Phrenzy on her left, and Death in her rear.
She might have been introduced as gliding down from the tail of a comet, or darted upon the earth in a flash of lightning: she might have tainted the atmosphere with her breath; the very glaring of her eyes might have scattered infection. But I believe every reader will think, that in such sublime writings, the mentioning of her, as it is done in scripture, has something in it more just, as well as great, than all that the most fanciful poet could have bestowed
her in the richness of his imagination.
No. 363. SATURDAY, APRIL 26.
Milton has shewn a wonderful art in describing that variety of passions which arose in our first parents upon the breach of the commandment that had been given them. We see them gradually passing from the triumph of their guilt, through remorse, shame, despair, contrition, prayer, and hope, to a perfect and complete repentance. At the end of the tenth book they are represented as prostrating themselves upon the ground, and watering the earth with their tears; to which the poet joins this beautiful circumstance, that they offered up their penetential prayers on the very place where their Judge appeared to them when he pronounced their sentence.
They forth with to the place
Watering the ground. There is a beauty of the same kind in a tragedy of Sophocles, where Edipus, after having put out his own eyes, instead of breaking his neck from the palace battlements, (which furnishes so elegant an entertainment for our English audience,) desires that he may be conducted to Mount Cithæron, in order to end his life in that very place where he was exposed in his infancy, and where he should then have died, had the will of his parents been executed.
As the author never fails to give a poetical turn to his sentiments, he describes, in the beginning of this book, the acceptance which these their prayers met with, in a short allegory, formed upon that beautiful passage in holy writ; “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which was before the throne ; and the smoke of the incense which came with the
prayers of the saints ascended up before God." -To heav'n their
Before the Father's throne. We have the same thought expressed a second time in the intercession of the Messiah, which is conceived in very emphatical sentiments and expressions.
Among the poetical parts of scripture, which Milton has so finely wrought into this part of his narration, I must not omit that wherein Ezekiel, speaking of the angels who appeared to him in a vision, adds, that “every one had four faces, and that their whole bodies, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, were full of eyes round about."
The cohort bright
Spangled with eyes.-The assembling of all the angels of heaven to hear the solemn decree passed upon man, is represented in very lively ideas. The Almighty is here described as remembering mercy in the midst of judgment, and commanding Michael to deliver his message in the mildest terms, lest the spirit of man, which was already broken with the sense of his guilt and misery, should fail before him.
-Yet lest they faint
Bewailing their excess) all terror hide. The conference of Adam and Eve is full of moring sentiments. Upon their going abroad after the melancholy night which they had passed together, they discover the lion and the eagle pursuing each of them their prey towards the eastern gates of Paradise. There is a double beauty in this incident ; not only as it represents great and just omens, which are always agreeable in poetry, but as it expresses that enmity which was now produced in the animal creation. The poet, to shew the like changes in nature, as well as to grace his fable with a noble prodigy, represents the sun in an eclipse. This particular incident has likewise a fine effect upon the imagination of the reader, in regard to what follows: for at the same time that the sun is under an eclipse, a bright cloud descends in the western quarter of the heavens, filled with an host of angels, and more luminous than the sun itself. The whole theatre of nature is darkened, that this glorious machine may appear in all its lustre and magnificence.
-Why in the east
He err'd not, for by this the heav'nly bands
I need not observe how properly this author, who always suits his parts to the actors whom he introduces, has employed Michael in the expulsion of our first parents from Paradise. The archangel on this occasion neither appears in his proper shape, nor in that familiar manner with which Raphael, the sociable spirit, entertained the father of mankind before the fall. His
his port, and behaviour, are suitable to a spirit of the highest rank, and exquisitely described in the following passage:
Th' archangel soon drew nigh,
Eve's complaint, upon hearing that she was to be removed from the garden of Paradise, is wonderfully beautiful: the sentiments are not only proper to the subject, but have something in them particularly soft and womanish.