« AnteriorContinuar »
describing the Supreme Being in this great work of creation, represents him as laying the foundations of the earth, and stretching a line upon it: and in another place as garnishing the heavens, stretching out the north over the empty place, and hanging the earth upon nothing. This last noble thought Milton has expressed in the following WerSe:
“And earth self-balanced on her centre hung.”
The beauties of description in this book lie so very thick, that it is impossible to enumerate them in this paper. The poet has employed on them the whole energy of our tongue. The several great scenes of the creation rise up to view one after another in such a manner, that the reader seems present at this wonderful work, and to assist among the choirs of angels, who are the spectators of it. How glorious is the conclusion of the first day !
Thus was the first day even and morn,
Birth-day of heaven and earth ! with joy and shout
We have the same elevation of thought in the third day,
when the mountains were brought forth and the deep was made :
“Immediately the mountains huge appear
We have also the rising of the whole vegetable world described in this day's work, which is filled with all the graces that other poets have lavished on their description of the spring, and leads the reader's imagination into a theatre equally surprising and beautiful.
The several glories of the heavens make their appearance on the fourth day:
“First in his east the glorious lamp was seen,
One would wonder how the poet could be so concise in his description of the six days' works, as to comprehend them within the bounds of an episode, and at the same time so particular as to give us a lively idea of them. This is still more remarkable in his account of the fifth and sixth days, in which he has drawn out to our view the whole animal creation, from the reptile to the behemoth. As the lion and the leviathan are two of the noblest productions in the world of living creatures, the reader will find a most exquisite spirit of poetry in the account which our author gives us of them. The sixth day concludes with the formation of man, upon which the angel takes occasion, as he did after the battle in heaven, to remind Adam of his obedience, which was the principal design of this visit.
The poet afterwards represents the Messiah returning into heaven, and taking a survey of his great work. There is something inexpressibly sublime in this part of the poem, where the author describes the great period of time, filled with so many glorious circumstances, when the heavens and earth were finished; when the Messiah ascended up in triumph through the everlasting gates; when he looked down with pleasure upon his new creation; when every part of nature seemed to rejoice in its existence; when the morning-stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.
“So even and morn accomplish’d the sixth day:
Desisting, tho' unwearied, up return'd,
I cannot conclude this book upon the creation, without mentioning a poem which has lately appeared under that title. The work was undertaken with so good an intention, and is executed with so great a mastery, that it deserves to be looked upon as one of the most useful and noble productions in our English verse. The reader cannot but be pleased to find the depths of philosophy enlivened with all the charms of poetry, and to see so great a strength of reason amidst so beautiful a redundancy of the imagination. The author has shown us that design in all the works of nature which necessarily leads us to the knowledge of its first cause. In short, he has illustrated, by numberless and incontestable instances, that divine wisdom which the son of Sirach has so nobly ascribed to the Supreme Being in his formation of the world, when he tell us, that “He created her, and saw her, and numbered her, and poured her out upon all his works.” ADDISON.
CRITIQUE ON MILTON'S PARADISE LOST. (No. 345).
THE accounts which Raphael gives of the battle of angels, and the creation of the world, have in them those qualifications which the critics judge requisite to an episode. They are nearly related to the principal action, and have a just connection with the fable.
The eighth book opens with a beautiful description of the impression which this discourse of the archangel made on our first parents. Adam afterwards, by a very natural curiosity, inquires concerning the motions of those celestial bodies which make the most glorious appearance among the six days' work. The poet here, with a great deal of art, represents Eve as withdrawing from this part of their conversation to amusements more suitable to her sex. He well knew that the episode in this book, which is filled with Adam's account of his passion and esteem for Eve, would have been improper for her hearing, and has therefore devised very just and beautiful reasons for her retiring:
“So spake our sire, and by his countenance seem’d
The angel's returning a doubtful answer to Adam's inquiries, was not only proper for the moral reason which the poet assigns, but because it would have been highly absurd to have given the sanction of an archangel to any particular system of philosophy. The chief points in the Ptolemaic and Copernican hypotheses are described with great conciseness and perspicuity, and at the same time dressed in very pleasing and poetical images.
Adam, to detain the angel, enters afterwards upon his own history, and relates to him the circumstances in which he found himself upon his creation; as also his conversation with his Maker, and his first meeting with Eve. There is no part of the poem more apt to raise the attention of the reader than this discourse of our great ancestor; as nothing can be more surprising and delightful to us than to hear the sentiments that arose in the first man, while he was yet new and fresh from the hands of his Creator. The poet has interwoven every thing which is delivered upon this subject in Holy Writ with so many beautiful imaginations of his own, that nothing can be conceived more just and natural than this whole episode. As our author knew this subject could not but be agreeable to his reader, he would not throw it into the relation of the six days' work, but reserved it for a distinct episode, that he might have an opportunity of expatiating upon it more at large. Before I enter on this part of the poem, I cannot but take notice of two shining passages in the dialogue between Adam and the angel. The first is that wherein our ancestor gives an account of the pleasure he took in conversing with him, which contains a very noble moral:
“For while I sit with thee I seem in heaven,
The other I shall mention, is that in which the angel gives a reason why he should be glad to hear the story Adam was about to relate:
“For I that day was absent as befel,
There is no question but our poet drew the image in what follows from that in Virgil's sixth book, where Æneas