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upon every book in particular. The first three books I have already dispatched, and am now entering upon the fourth. I need not acquaint my reader that there are multitudes of beauties in this great author, especially in the descriptive parts of this poem, which I have not touched upon, it being my intention to point out those only which appear to me the most exquisite, or those which are not so obvious to ordinary readers. Every one that has read the critics who have written upon the Odyssey, the Iliad, and the AEneid, knows very well, that though they agree in their opinions of the great beauties in those poems, they have nevertheless each of them discovered several masterstrokes which have escaped the observation of the rest. In the same manner, I question not but any writer who shall treat of this subject after me, may find several beauties in Milton which I have not taken notice of. I must likewise observe, that as the greatest masters of critical learning differ among one another, as to some particular points in an epic poem, I have not bound myself scrupulously to the rules which any one of them has laid down upon that art, but have taken the liberty sometimes to join with one, and sometimes with another, and sometimes to differ from all of them, when I have thought that the reason of the thing was on my side. We may consider the beauties of the fourth book under three heads. In the first are those pictures of still-life which we meet with in the description of Eden, Paradise, Adam's bower, &c. In the next are the machines, which comprehend the speeches and behaviour of the good and bad artgels. In the last is the conduct of Adam and Eve, who are the principal actors in the poem. In the description of Paradise, the poet has observed Aristotle's rule of lavishing all the ornaments of diction on the weak unactive parts of the fable which are not supported by the beauty of sentiments and characters. Accordingly the reader may observe, that the expressions are more florid and elaborate in these descriptions than in most other parts of the poem. I must further add, that though the drawings of gardens, rivers, rainbows, and the like dead pieces of nature, are justly censured in a heroic poem, when they run out into an unnecessary length; the description of Paradise would have been faulty, had not the poet been very particular in it, not only as it is the scene of the principal action, but as it is requisite to give us an idea of that happiness from which our first parents fell. The plan of it is wonderfully beautiful, and formed upon the short sketch which we have of it in holy writ. Milton's exuberance of imagination has poured forth such a redundancy of ornaments on this seat of happiness and innocence, that it would be endless to point out each particular. I must not quit this head, without further observing, that there is scarce a speech of Adam and Eve in the whole poem, wherein the sentiments and allusions are not taken from this their delightful habitation. The reader, during their whole course of action, always finds himself in the walks of Paradise. In short, as the critics have remarked, that in those poems wherein shepherds are actors, the thoughts ought always to take a tincture from the woods, fields, and rivers; so we may observe, that our first parents seldom lose sight of their happy station in any thing they speak or do; and, if the reader will give me leave to use the expression, that their thoughts are always Paradisiacal. We are in the next place to consider the machines of the fourth book. Satan being now within prospect of Eden, and looking round upon the glories of the creation, is filled with sentiments different from those which he discovered whilst he was in hell. The place inspires him with thoughts more adapted to it. He reflects upon the happy condition from whence he fell, and breaks forth into a speech that is softened with several transient touches of remorse and self-accusation: but at length he confirms himself in impenitence, and in his design of drawing man into his own state of guilt and misery. This conflict of passions is raised with a great deal of art, as the opening of his speech to the Sun is very bold and noble.*
* When Milton meant to have made only a tragedy of Paradise Iost, he purposed to begin it with the first ten lines of this speech.
“O thou, that, with surpassing glory crown'd,
This speech is, I think, the finest that is ascribed to Satan in the whole poem. The evil spirit afterwards proceeds to make his discoveries concerning our first parents, and to learn after what manner they may be best attacked. His bounding over the walls of Paradise; his sitting in the shape of a cormorant upon the tree of life, which stood in the centre of it, and overtopped all the other trees of the garden; his alighting among the herd of animals, which are so beautifully represented as playing about Adam and Eve; together with his transforming himself into different shapes, in order to hear their conversation; are circumstances that give an agreeable surprise to the reader, and are devised with great art, to connect that series of adventures in which the poet has engaged this artificer of fraud.
The thought of Satan's transformation into a cormorant, and placing himself on the tree of life, seems raised upon that passage in the Iliad where two deities are described as perching on the top of an oak in the shape of vultures.
His planting himself at the ear of Eve under the form of a toad, in order to produce vain dreams and imaginations, is a circumstance of the same nature: as his starting up in his own form is wonderfully fine, both in the literal description, and in the moral which is concealed under it. His answer upon his being discovered, and demanded to give an account of himself, is conformable to the pride and intrepidity of his character:
“Know ye not then, said Satan, fill'd with scorn,
Zephon's rebuke, with the influence it had on Satan, is exquisitely graceful and moral. Satan is afterwards led away to Gabriel, the chief of the guardian angels who kept watch in Paradise. His disdainful behaviour on this occasion is so remarkable a beauty, that the most ordinary reader cannot but take notice of it. Gabriel's discovering his approach at a distance, is drawn with great strength and liveliness of imagination:
“O friends, I hear the tread of nimble feet
The conference between Gabriel and Satan abounds with sentiments proper for the occasion, and suitable to the persons of the two speakers. Satan clothing himself with terror when he prepares for the combat is truly sublime, and at least equal to Homer's description of Discord celebrated by Longinus, or to that of Fame in Virgil, who are both represented with their feet standing upon the earth, and their heads reaching above the clouds:
“While thus he spake, the angelic squadron bright
Turn'd fiery red, sharpening in mooned horns
On the other side, Satan, alarm’d,
I must here take notice, that Milton is everywhere full of hints and sometimes literal translations taken from the greatest of the Greek and Latin poets. But this I may reserve for a discourse by itself, because I would not break the thread of these speculations, that are designed for English readers, with such reflections as would be of no use but to the learned.
I must, however, observe in this place, that the breaking
off the combat between Gabriel and Satan, by the hanging out of the golden scales in heaven, is a refinement upon Homer's thought, who tells us, that before the battle between Hector and Achilles, Jupiter weighed the event of it in a pair of scales. The reader may see the whole passage in the twenty-second Iliad.
Virgil, before the last decisive combat, describes Jupiter in the same manner, as weighing the fates of Turnus and Æneas. Milton, though he fetched this beautiful circumstance from the Iliad and Æneid, does not only insert it as a poetical embellishment, like the authors above mentioned, but makes an artful use of it for the proper carrying on of his fable, and for the breaking off the combat between the two warriors, who were upon the point of engaging. To this we may further add, that Milton is the more justified in this passage, as we find the same noble allegory in holy writ, where a wicked prince, some few hours before he was assaulted and slain, is said to have been “ weighed in the scales, and to have been found wanting."
I must here take notice, under the head of the machines, that Uriel's gliding down to the earth upon a sun-beam, with the poet's device to make him descend, as well in his return to the sun as in his coming from it, is a prettiness that might have been admired in a little fanciful poet, but seems below the genius of Milton. The description of the host of armed angels walking their nightly round in Paradise, is of another spirit:
“ So saying, on he led his radiant files,
Dazzling the moon; as that account of the hymns which our first parents used to hear them sing in these their midnight walks, is altogether divine, and inexpressibly amusing to the imagination.
We are in the last place to consider the parts which Adam and Eve act in the fourth book. The description of them, as they first appeared to Satan, is exquisitely drawn, and sufficient to make the fallen angel gaze upon them with all that astonishment and those emotions of envy
in which he is represented.