« AnteriorContinuar »
first engagement is carried on under a cope of fire, occasioned by the flights of innumerable burning darts and arrows which are discharged from either host. The second onset is still more terrible, as it is filled with those artificial thunders which seem to make the victory doubtful, and produce a kind of consternation even in the good angels. This is followed by the tearing up of mountains and promontories ; till, in the last place, the Messiah comes forth in the fulness of majesty and terror. The pomp of his appearance, amidst the roarings of his thunders, the flashes of his lightnings, and the noise of his chariot-wheels, is described with the utmost flights of human imagination.
There is nothing in the first and last day's engagement which does not appear natural, and agreeable enough to the ideas most readers would conceive of a fight between two armies of angels.
The second day's engagement is apt to startle an imagination, which has not been raised and qualified for such a description, by the reading of the ancient poets, and of Homer in particular. It was certainly a very bold thought in our author, to ascribe the first use of artillery to the rebel-angels. But as such a pernicious invention may be well supposed to have proceeded from such authors, so it entered very properly into the thoughts of that being who is all along described as aspiring to the majesty of his Maker. Such engines were the only instruments he could have made use of to imitate those thunders, that in all poetry, both sacred and profane, are represented as the arms of the Almighty. The tearing up of the hills, was not altogether so daring a thought as the former. We are, in some measure, prepared for such an incident by the description of the giants' war, which we meet with among the ancient poets. What still made this cir. cumstance the more proper for the poet's use, is the opinion of many learned men, that the fable of the giants’ war, which makes so great a noise in antiquity, and gave birth to the sublimest description in Hesiod's works, was an allegory founded upon this very tradition of a fight between the good and bad angels.
It may, perhaps, be worth while to consider with what judg. ment Milton, in this narration, has avoided every thing that is mean and trivial in the descriptions of the Latin and Greek poets; and, at the same time, improved every great hint which he met with in their works upon this subject. Homer, in that passage which Longinus has celebrated for its sublimeness, and which Ovid and Virgil have copied after him, tells us, that the giants threw Ossa upon Olympus, and Pelion upon Ossa. He adds an epithet to Pelion (eivooipullov) which very much swells the idea by bringing up to the reader's imagination all the woods that grew upon it. There is further a great beauty in his singling out by name these three remarkable mountains, so well known to the Greeks. This last is such a beautý as the scene of Milton's war could not possibly furnish him with. Claudian, in his fragment upon the giants' war, has given full scope to that wildness of imagination which was natural to him. 'He tells us, that ihe giants tore up whole islands by the roots, and threw them at the gods. He describes one of them in particular taking up Lemnos in his arms, and whirling it to the skies, with all Vulcan's shop in the midst of it. Another tears up mount Ida, with the river Enipeus, which ran down the sides of it; but the poet, not content to describe him with this mountain upon his shoulders, tells us that the river flowed down his back, as he held it up in that posture. It is visible to every judicious reader, that such ideas savour more of burlesque, than of the sublime. They proceed from a wantonness of imagination, and rather divert the mind than astonish it. Milton has taken every thing that is sublime in these several passages, and composes out of them the following great image :
From their foundations loosning to and fro,
Rocks, waters, woods; and by the shaggy tops
Up-lifting bore them in their handsWe have the full majesty of Homer in this short description, improved by the imagination of Claudian, without its puerilities.
I need not point out the description of the fallen angels seeing the promontories hanging over their heads in such a dreadful manner, with the other numberless beauties in this book, which are so conspicuous, that they cannot escape the notice of the most ordinary reader.
There are, indeed, so many wonderful strokes of poetry in this book, and such a variety of sublime ideas, that it would have been impossible to have given them a place within the bounds of this paper. Besides that, I find it in a great measure done to my hand at the end of my Lord Roscommon's Essays on Translated Poetry. I shall refer my reader thither for some of the masterstrokes in the sixth book of Paradise Lost, though at the same time there are many others which that noble author has not taken notice of.
Milton, notwithstanding the sublime genius he was master of, has in this book drawn to his assistance all the helps he could meet with among the ancient poets. The sword of Michael, which makes so great a havoc among the bad angels, was given him, we are told, out of the armory of God.
- - -But the sword
Descending, and in half cut sheerThis passage is a copy of that in Virgil, wherein the poet tells us, that the sword of Æneas, which was given him by a deity, broke into pieces the sword of Turnus, which came from a mortal forge. As the moral in this place is divine, so by the
way we may observe, that the bestowing on a man who is favoured by heaven such an allegorical weapon, is very conformable to the old eastern way of thinking. Not only Homer has made use of it, but we find the Jewish hero in the book of Maccabees, who had fought the battles of the chosen people with so much glory and success, receiving in his dream a sword from the hand of the prophet Jeremiah. The following passage, wherein Satan is described as wounded by the sword of Michael, is in imitation of Homer :
The grinding sword with discontinuous wound
And all his armour stain'd- - Homer tells us in the same manner, that upon Diomedes wounding the gods, there flowed from the wound an ichor, or pure kind of blood, which was not bred from mortal viands; and that though the pain was exquisitely great, the wound soon closed up, and healed, in those beings who are vested with immortality.
I question not but Milton in his description of his furious Moloch flying from the battle, and bellowing with the wound he had received, had his eye on Mars in the Iliad ; who, upon his being wounded, is represented as retiring out of the fight, and making an outcry louder than that of a whole army when it begins the charge. Homer adds, that the Greeks and Trojans, who were engaged in a general battle, were terrified on each side with the bellowing of this wounded deity. The reader will easily observe how Milton has kept all the horror of this image, without running into the ridicule of it.
- - -Where the might of Gabriel fought, .
Threaten'd, nor from the Holy One of Heaven
And unconth pain, fled bellowing.- Milton has likewise raised his description in this book with many images taken out of the poetical parts of scripture. The Messiah's chariot, as I have before taken notice, is formed upon a vision of Ezekiel,' who, as Grotius observes, has very much in him of Homer's spirit“ in the poetical parts of his prophecy.
The following lines in that glorious commission which is given the Messiah to extirpate the host of rebel angels, is drawn from a sublime passage in the psalms...
Go then, thou mightiest in thy Father's might,
Gird on thy sword on thy puissant thigh. The reader will easily discover many other strokes of the same nature.
There is no question but Milton had heated his imagination with the fight of the gods in Homer, before he entered upon this engagement of the angels. Homer there gives us a scene of men, heroes, and gods, mixed together in battle. Mars animates the contending armies, and lifts up his voice in such a manner, that it is heard distinctly amidst all the shouts and confusion of the fight. Jupiter at the same time thunders over their heads; while Neptune raises such a tempest, that the whole field of bat
Did Milton ever see Raphael's Vision of Ezekiel, one of his grandest conceptions, now in the Pitti palace !-G.
• Much in him of Homer's spirit. Rather, a spirit much above Homer's: witness the gradual departure of the divine presence from the holy temple and city, by several successive stages; with dreadful prophecies intermixed, till, in the end, the glory of the Lord, charioted by living wheels and winged cherubims, takes its station upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city—the most sublime and terrible idea that is to be met with in any author. See Ezekiel, ch. x, xi.-II.