« ZurückWeiter »
antient manner above referred to;' and it seems that Satan's address to the Sun formed part of the soliloquy employed for the purpose. This shews how much attached was this great author to the dramatic form of composition; and Milman's “Fall of Jerusalem," and “ Belshazzar," have shewn how well adapted it is to productions of this nature. 66 Paradise Regained,” accordingly, though a narrative poem, was cast more in the dramatic mould than the epic; but, whether dramatic or epic, it is still liable to the critical considerations, to the test of which Addison reduces the “Paradise Lost,”- the fable, and the manners. The perfection of the fable depends upon that of the action, which should have three qualifications,unity, entirety, and grandeur. The action should be one. It should be complete in all its parts, consisting of a beginning, middle, and end; nothing foreign should interfere with it,-nothing necessary to its regular development be omitted. The action should be great, the language and versification correspondent to the subject; and its duration should be sufficient to cause a sense of magnitude, and enable the reader to form a distinct idea of parts and proportion, sufficient to employ the memory without overcharg
The unity of action in this poem is of the simplest kind; it possesses the simplicity of the old drama,-not the complexity of the old epic: it is not broken by episodes, to describe what went before ; but the action opens in the midst of things, and the antecedent circumstances are interwoven with the current dialogue, or explained by soliloquy. The action proposed is this,-proposed by the Deity,
“ in full frequence bright,
“ But first, I mean
To earn salvation for the sons of men.” The action is entire ; it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The Saviour commences, musing on his divine mission;
"a multitude of thoughts at once awakened in him swarm." He compares his present state with what he feels from within himself, and “what from without comes often to his ears;" and concludes, from all the circumstances of his previous history, that he is “hę of whom the prophets spake.” This musing of the Saviour might imply that he was not confident in his divine mission, was not from his birth conscious of his deity. This is objectionable; and, in a subsequent part of these observations, we will remark more upon it. Nevertheless, it tends to the integrity of the action. The object of the temptation is, that the Messiah may come out thence " by proof, th' undoubted Son of God ;” and the angelic choir hail him at the conclusion as the “Son of the Most High, Queller of Satan.” Had the poem began with more certainty, this evidence had been anticipated, and the action wanted parts. Still, bowever, there is an impropriety in putting the doubt into the mouth of the Saviour himself, and results from the adoption of the inartificial simplicity of the Greek drama.
The action is great. In this qualification it is superior to all epics. The anger of Achilles,—the settlement of Æneas, -involving the doom of kingdoms, and the Roman destiny, were great. The action of Paradise Lost” was greater ; it involved the fate of the whole species, of a world. Heaven, hell, and omnipotence, were employed. It is, however, easier to destroy than to build or restore. The action of " Paradise Lost,” though great, was founded on the fall of man; it involved a moral degradation. But the action of “ Paradise Regained” is superior; it is the conquest over temptation ; it celebrates a moral victory, in which the actors are the supreme and greatest of all beings, and one who is never
“ Less than archangel ruined.” Perhaps, here we may discern the ground of Milton's preference.
We have somewhat anticipated the next branch of our inquiry,—the Manners; that is, the consideration of the characters,—the “Dramatis personæ." The characters are few, but well distinguished. It has been observed, that there is great beauty in the contrast between the characters of the Tempter and our Saviour: Satan is the same character as in “Paradise Lost;" we recognize him again, though, improved, by practice, in artful sophistry and specious insinuation. But the divine eloquence of the Messiah strips his of all its meretricious glitter, and, with godlike ease, puts to nought arguments which seemed such as could find “no end in wandering mazes lost. ” With respect to the other characters, we may adopt the words of Addison, in his first paper on the 6 Paradise Lost:" — he has introduced all the variety his fable was capable of receiving. If the character of Satan be laudable in that poem, for resembling that of Ulysses in the various concealments and discoveries ; and is superior to that of Ulysses, inasmuch as he puts in practice many more wiles and stratagems, and hides himself under a greater variety of shapes and appearances, all of which are severally detected, to the great delight and surprise of the reader: the same excellence is also observable in this poem. He makes his appearance under disguise ; his detection is beautifully conceived. The apologies which he makes upon
the after occasions have all the effect of concealment and disguise; and the manner in which their falsehood is exposed, all the surprise and delight of detection or discovery. The analogy is perfect.
The character of Belial is well sketched : the sarcasms on the fair sex which it occasions are perhaps too severe; but woman, God's best and latest gift, may console herself that they proceed from the Devil, and that better beings may think better of her.
The character of the Virgin is only a sketch, but it is one by the hand of a master. The outline is delicate, and marked by a tender resignation, which invests her with the loveliness of sorrow, and the charm of piety : her grief is sainted; her affection sublimated : it is not mere maternal affection or grief, but that of the Virgin-mother involved in the mystery of her situation, and sustained by the immediate hand of heaven.
The sentiments of “ Paradise Regained” are remarkable for propriety. There is one instance in the “ Paradise Lost," where the sentiment is most exceptionable. It is in the raillery with which the rebel spirits taunt the faithful angels upon the success of their new-invented artillery, and which is composed of a string of indifferent pups. The passage need not be quoted; it may be found in the sixth book, v. 558–627. But the poem now under discussion is free from any such instance. Its sentiments are of the most superior kind; they have height, depth, and breadth ; they include all that is mental and inoral in the universe. From the high hill of speculation, they take in a field of argument, in which, with graphic power, is represented all that is striking in history, important in character, and interesting to the intellect and the heart. Our earthly condition is investigated, and wealth and power, and ambition, and every other endowment of mind or body, without virtue, is demonstrated to be vanity. Virtue is triumphant in solitude or in society. Job and Socrates are had in perpetual remembrance; the mere conqueror of other men, but not of himself, his own passions, and unsocial habits, is consigned to a righteous oblivion.
“ This is true glory and renown, when God,
Looking on the earth, with approbation marks
Who sent me, and thereby witness whence I am."
passage with the prosaic metre of Lord Byron's “ Cain.” The
noble poet seems to have thought, that if we had argument, we had no right to expect harmony; although the argument be none of the best either. His favourite Pope might have taught him better, who, in his “Essay on Man,” endeavoured to remedy the weakness of his positions by the compact strength of his elaborated line. He has endeavoured to render his reasons apparently more cogent by antithetical terseness ; and seems to have estimated the weight of his arguments by the balance of cadence, and decided the accuracy of his inferences by the collocation of phrase. The above passage of Milton is attuned to a fine organ stop; it is a full diapason of perfect harmony. Neither does he presume that the argument of his Lucifer is sufficiently strong to despise the assistance of measured diction, poetic embellishment, or melodious rhythm. Satan discourses in a strain as sweet as that in which Pan wooed fair Syrinx; of which, take this example :
“See there the olive grove of Academe,
Plato's retirement, where the attic bird
Whose poem Phæbus challenged for his own.” Yet his arguments are not weak, though set off with all this fine music and variety of tuneful lore; nor has the “Old Blind Man” of Britain flinched from enforcing them, in the most decided manner, conscious of his strength and ability, by the Saviour's lips, to answer and refute them. Milton's choice of plot has a decided preference over Byron's. Cain is a poor, weak mortal, slave to a despicable jealousy and scepticism, and incapable of grappling with the sophistry of Lucifer; so that the statements of the fiend have the best of the dispute, and remain unrefuted, unless the sanguine crime which he afterwards commits, be intended to show to what results such doctrines are likely to lead. If this be the moral, well and good; but there are some who might conceive, that