Billeder på siden

and have the truth unveiled to them; the palace of the Destinies opened to Henry, and the prospect of his successors which is there given him; are striking and magnificent objects, and do honour to the genius of Voltaire.

Though some of the episodes in this poem are properly extended, yet the narration is, on the whole, too general; the events are too much crowded, and superficially related; which is, doubtless, one cause of the poem making a faint impression. The strain of sentiment which runs through it is high and noble. Religion appears, on every occasion, with great and proper lustre ; and the author breathes that spirit of humanity and toleration which is conspicuous in all his works.

[ocr errors]

Milton, of whom it remains now to speak, has chalked out for himself a new and very extraordinary road in poetry. As soon as we open his Paradise Lost, we find ourselves introduced all at once into an invisible world, and surrounded with celestial and infernal beings. Angels and devils are not the machinery, but principal actors, in the poem; and what, in any other composition, would be the marvellous, is here only the natural course of events. A subject so remote from the affairs of this world, may furnish ground, to those who think such discussions material, to bring it into doubt, whether Paradise Lost can properly be

classed among epic poems. By whatever name it is to be called, it is, undoubtedly, one of the highest efforts of poetical genius; and in one great characteristic of the epic poem, majesty and sublimity, it is fully equal to any that bear that name.

How far the author was altogether happy in the choice of his subject, may be questioned. It has led him into very difficult ground. Had he taken a subject that was more human, and less theological; that was more connected with the occurrences of life, and afforded a greater display of the characters and passions of men, his poem would perhaps have, to the bulk of readers, been more pleasing and attractive. But the subject which he has chosen, suited the daring sublimity of his genius.* It is a subject for which Milton alone was fitted; and in the conduct of it, he has shown a stretch both of imagination and invention which is perfectly wonderful. It is astonishing how, from the few hints given us in the sacred Scriptures, he was able to raise so complete and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


"He seems to have been well acquainted with his own genius, and to know what it was that nature had bestowed 66 upon him more bountifully than upon others; the power displaying the vast, illuminating the splendid, enforcing the "awful, darkening the gloomy, and aggravating the dreadful. "He therefore chose a subject, on which too much could not "be said; on which he might tire his fancy without the cen"sure of extravagance."-Dr JOHNSON'S Life of Milton.

regular a structure, and to fill his poem with such a variety of incidents. Dry and harsh passages sometimes occur. The author appears, upon some occasions, a metaphysician and a divine, rather than a poet. But the general tenor of his work is interesting: he seizes and fixes the imagination; engages, elevates, and affects us as we proceed, which is always a sure test of merit in an epic composition. The artful change of his objects; the scene laid now in earth, now in hell, and now in heaven, affords a sufficient diversity; while unity of plan is, at the same time, perfectly supported. We have still life, and calm scenes, in the employments of Adam and Eve in Paradise; and we have busy scenes, and great actions in the enterprise of Satan, and the wars of the angels. The innocence, purity, and amiableness of our first parents, opposed to the pride and ambition of Satan, furnishes a happy contrast, that reigns throughout the whole poem; only the conclusion, as I before observed, is too tragic for epic poetry.

The nature of the subject did not admit any great display of characters; but such as could be introduced are supported with much propriety. Satan, in particular, makes a striking figure, and is, indeed, the best drawn character in the poem. Milton has not described him such as we suppose an infernal spirit to be. He has, more suitably to his own purpose, given him a human, that is, a mixed character, not altogether void of some

good qualities. He is brave and faithful to his troops. In the midst of his impiety, he is not without remorse. He is even touched with pity for our first parents; and justifies himself in his design against them, from the necessity of his situation. He is actuated by ambition and resentment, rather than by pure malice. In short, Milton's Satan is no worse than many a conspirator or factious chief, that makes a figure in history. The different characters of Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial, are exceedingly well painted in those eloquent speeches which they make in the second book. The good angels, though always described with dignity and propriety, have more uniformity than the infernal spirits in their appearance; though among them, too, the dignity of Michael, the mild condescension of Raphael, and the tried fidelity of Abdiel, form proper characteristical distinctions. The attempt to describe God Almighty himself, and to recount dialogues between the Father and the Son, was too bold and arduous, and is that wherein our poet, as was to have been expected, has been most unsuccessful. With regard to his human characters; the innocence of our first parents, and their love, are finely and delicately painted. In some of his speeches to Raphael, and to Eve, Adam is, perhaps, too knowing and refined for his situation. Eve is more distinctly characterized. Her gentleness, modesty, and frailty, mark very expressively a female character.

Milton's great and distinguishing excellence is, his sublimity. In this, perhaps, he excels Homer; as there is no doubt of his leaving Virgil, and every other poet, far behind him. Almost the whole of the first and second books of Paradise Lost are continued instances of the sublime. The prospect of hell and of the fallen host, the appearance and behaviour of Satan, the consultation of the infernal chiefs, and Satan's flight through chaos to the borders of this world, discover the most lofty ideas that ever entered into the conception of any poet. In the sixth book, also, there is much grandeur, particularly in the appearance of the Messiah; though some parts of that book are censurable; and the witticisms of the devils upon the effect of their artillery, form an intolerable blemish. Milton's sublimity is of a different kind from that of Homer. Homer's is generally accompanied with fire and impetuosity; Milton's possesses more of a calm and amazing grandeur. Homer warms and hurries us along; Milton fixes us in a state of astonishment and elevation. Homer's sublimity appears most in the description of actions; Milton's in that of wonderful and stupendous objects.

But though Milton is most distinguished for his sublimity, yet there is also much of the beautiful, the tender, and the pleasing, in many parts of his work. When the scene is laid in Paradise, the imagery is always of the most gay and smiling

« ForrigeFortsæt »