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Milton has enlivened his geographical chart, by the introduction of the “ warlike muster of the Partbian king, who now, Satan says,
“ In Ctesiphon hath gathered all his hosts
Have wasted Sogdiana.” This description is a complete camera obscura; every thing lives,-is in motion,-light-armed troops and horses clad in mail, - riders, the flower and choice of many provinces :
“How quick they wheeled, and flying behind them shot
The field all iron cast a gleaming brown." Clouds of foot,---cuirassiers all in steel chariots, and elephants indorsed with towers of archers,--labouring pioneers laying hills plain, felling woods, filling vallies, and overlaying
“ With bridges rivers proud as with a yoke ;
Mules after these ; camels and dromedaries;
Besieged Albracca." Satan artfully follows his temptation up, by urging, that “prediction still in all things and all men supposes means," and advises him to secure the possession of his foretold kingdom, by adopting the assistance of the Parthian, which he (Satan) hath it in his power to render him :
“ Then Thou on the throne of David in full glory, From Egypt to Euphrates and beyond
Shall reign, and Rome or Cæsar not need fear." War, the Saviour observes, (and it is a truth worth repeating,) is an argument of human weakness rather than of strength, and reminds Satan that he has but little cause to be anxious for his success; and, in conclusion, trusts all things to God's “due time and providence.” “So spake Israel's true King."
We cannot quit this book without referring to a passage in the earlier part of it, in which the Saviour is stated to have “inly racked” the Tempter, by alluding to the little real motive he could have for his success, since, he tells him, “ My promotion will be thy destruction.' Satan adduces
his despair, and his desire to know the worst, as a sufficient answer to this question :
“For where no hope is left, is left no fear.
I would be at the worst ; worst is my port,
This is a feeling, the expression of which is wrung from him by the agony of the moment, and not merely assumed for the purpose of sophistry. Anguish compels the father of lies to speak the truth. Notwithstanding Milton manifests here a most delicate artifice, and it is this beauty on which we pause to expatiate. The artifice is in admirable keeping with the character. The very verity of the anguish is made by the Tempter an argument to cover his deception. Its expression, we conceive, is not addressed wholly to the Saviour, but partly to him, and partly as an exclamation aside, not designed to be audible. Our meaning may be illustrated by the manner in which Mr. Young delivers the following lines in Othello's address to the most potent, grave, and reverend signiors" of Venice:
“She swore,-in faith, 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange;
'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful;
Mr. Young does not address this passage directly to the Sagittary, but turns from them, and indulges in the sudden and tender recollection, conscious, yet ashamed, of being heard, but unable to restrain the overwhelming emotion. The heart's fountain is momently unsealed, and its sweet or bitter waters gush out, and will be visible. The passion in this passage of Milton, and that in the one forming the illustration, are opposite in their nature; but the mode of manifestation is the same. There is pleasure, also, in discovering resemblances in dissimilitudes.
“Perbaps, 'tis pretty to force together
In the fourth book, Milton is indeed himself: it begins with infinite spirit; simile is added to simile, to illustrate the desperate importunity with which the repulsed and perplexed, yet ingenious, Tempter returns to the contest. He shews the Messiah Rome
“The great and glorious Rome, queen of the earth ;"
and describes it with all his wonted eloquence. We have been too free of extracts already, or should indulge here. With that “persuasive rhetoric which sleeked his tongue, Satan declaims against the vices of Tiberius, who has now retired to Capree, having a committed to a wicked favorite all public cares :"
" With what ease,
Now made a sty.”
“When my season comes toʻsit
And of my kingdom there shall be no end." The Tempter endeavours to hide his mortification under an assumed confidence, and impudently demands homage for the inestimable gifts which he has in his power to offer.
After this, the dialogue rises into great sublimity; Satan affects to discover that “ he is otherwise inclined than to a worldly crown, addicted more to contemplation and profound dispute,” and recommends to him the study of heathen philosophy, and extols the learning and knowledge of the Gentiles : he dilates, with exquisite gusto and eloquent delight, upon Athens, “ the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence, native to famous wits or hospitable,”'-on the name of Plato, and his who bred
“ Great Alexander to subdue the world.” Homer,--the lofty grave tragedians, teachers best of moral prudence,--the famous orators,-Socrates,—the schools of Academics, the Peripatetic, the Epicurean, and the Stoic, are to him equally familiar, and subjects of lofty eulogy. The Saviour, in reply, well characterizes the different sects of philosophers, and asserts the superiority of the Hebrew over the Greek and Latin poetry, and the divinely-taught prophets over their orators. Satan disappears, and night arrives; the Saviour sleeps ; the Tempter disturbs hin with ugly dreams; he raises a tempest :
“Ill wast thou shrouded then,
their choicest notes in bush and spray, To gratulate the sweet return of morn." Satan resumes his temptation, and descants upon the “dismal night;" but observes, “these flaws, though mortals fear them, are as wholesome as a sneeze to man's less universe. In this strain of gay impudence he continues the colloquy, and then transports the Saviour to the pinnacle of the temple. Milton places this temptation last, the Evangelist gives it precedence; but Milton's locality tends to dramàtic effect in the denouement. Satan tries the last test to prove the divinity of the Saviour; he commands him to cast himself down
“ Safely, if Son of God;
But Satan smitten with amazement fell.” The proofs of his divinity have been gradually accumulating, --here they rise to a grand climax. The moral of the poem is demonstrated, angels celebrate his victory, and the Saviour returns to his mother's house.
All this is finely imagined, and exquisitely executed. We trust we have not been misapprehended in considering this poem as dramatic, rather than epic. The book of Job has been denominated an ancient drama. This poem is built upon somewhat the same model, and the structure is very similar. It possesses more action and less simplicity; and it can be no disparagement to say, that it is inferior to the inspired exemplar, in which there are strains of pathos and sublimity never elsewhere equalled. We wonder that this resemblance was not perceived ; it might have tended to rescue this poem from the neglect into which it undeservedly fell. It was neglected because it bore no likeness to the Iliad, with which it was conjectured that it claimed relationship. But, surely, the Book of Job is as worthy of imitation as the Iliad. It is a standard of excellence in its own peculiar style and manner. Perhaps its model might be no inconvenient medium for an author of genius, who might wish to make essay of his epic or dramatic powers. It is much to be feared,
that, were an epic sublimer than any yet produced to be submitted to public ordeal, that readers would be with difficulty found. The effort would be thought too laborious to get through twelve or twenty-four books, and the poem too much elaborated for general perusal. Even the author of Don Juan, with all the vivacity and versatility of talent, suited to all tastes which he has displayed in that “ kind of bastard" epic, knows the public capacity too well to trust it with the whole at once, or wait for its completion till he publish. They may take it down, he thinks, by small morsels; but the aggregate would nauseate them with the number of pages all in verse.
A novel has not that recurrence of harmony, which makes the ear pause at every line, and arrests the attention at every page. An epic is of lofty pretensions, and is approached with diffidence.' Were it to be published in parts as composed, it is to be doubted whether any insulated portion might be sufficiently interesting to the general reader, and the critic could only judge of it in the intirety. A poem formed on the model of the Book of Job, or of the Paradise Regained, might, we repeat, be found a convenient medium to introduce the pretensions of an epic genius, and prepare the way for a loftier effort and a larger theme.
That the Book of Job was, intentionally, the model of the “ Paradise Regained,” might be considerably confirmed by reference to that sublime specimen of Milton's prose composition, which commences the second book of the treatise, called - The Reason of Church-government urged against Prelacy,” in which he thinks it no shame to covenant with any knowing reader, that for some few years he might go on trust with him towards the payment of what he was then indebted;;
' namely, “A work not to be raised from the heat of youth, or the vapours of wine ; like that which flows at waste from the pen of some vulgar amourist, or the trencher fury of a rhyming parasite; nor to be obtained by the invocation of dame Memory and her siren daughters; but by devout prayer to that eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his Seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases."
The work, which was thus the subject of " cheerful and confident thoughts," was to be one of highest hope and hardest attempting; whether (says he) that epic form whereof the two poems of Homer, and those other two of Virgil and Tasso, are a diffuse, and the Book of Job a brief model; or whether the rules of Aristotle herein are strictly to be kept, or nature to be followed, which in them that know art, and use judgment, is no transgression, but an enriching of art,” &c.