« PreviousContinue »
PARADISE REGAINED *.
THAT the Paradise Regained has been considerably under. rated by the world, seems of late to be an opinion almost generally admitted. But perhaps we shall state the fact more correctly, if we say that it bas been neglected, rather than underrated ; that it has been more unknown, than not admired. This is so much the case, that I apprehend some of the warmest panegyrists of the Paradise Lost have never honoured this Poem with a perusal; or only with a casual and most unfair one, under a cloud of prejudices against it.-A critick, whose taste, judgement, and candour are unquestioned, has given it absolutely no place at all among the Works of its Author.
“ If I might venture to place Milton's Works according to their degrees of poetick excellence,” says Dr. Joseph Warton, “ it fhould be perhaps in the following order, PARADISE Lost, COMUS, SAMSON AGONISTES, LYCIDAS, L'ALLEGRO, IL PENSEROSO." (See concluding note to the Lycidas, in Warton's Edition of Milton's Juvenile Poems .') I should hope that PARADISE REGAINED Nipped accidentally out of the lift: indeed what the late Mr. Warton has said of the rus, I do not hesitate to apply to the Poem before us, and to hazard freely my unqualified opinion, that “ the Author is here inferiour only to his own Puradise Loft."
* I have ventured 10 form the remarks of the learned editor of Paradise Regained, fubjoined in his elegant edition of 1795 to the end of each book, into a Preliminary Discourse; as corresponding, in this modification, with the delign of Mr. Addison's critical essay on Paradise Lost ; which is, to point out #rongly the particular beauties of the Poem to the reader's notice; or, in other words, to tell him the delicious fare which he may expect, and to bid him “ fit down, and feed, and welcome at the table." TODD.
If we consider the First Book, we all find much to admire, and little to censure.
The Proposition of the Subject is clear and dignified, and is beautifully wound up in the concluding line, “ And Eden rais'd in the waste wilderness."
The Invocation of the Holy Spirit is equally devout and poetical. The Baptisin of John carries us with the best effect in medias res. Satan's Infernal Council is briefly, but finely, afembled; his speech is admirable; and the effect of it is ftrongly depicted. This is ftrikingly contrafted by the fucceeding beautiful description of the Deity surrounded by liis Angels; his Speech to them; and the triumphant Hymn of the Cæleftial Choir. Indeed the whole opening of this poem is exccuted in fo masterly a manner, that, making allowance for a certain wish to compress, which is palpably visible, very few parts of the Paradise Loji can in any respect claim a pre-eminence.-The brief description of our Lord's entering “ now the bordering defart wild, and with dark frades and rocks environ'd round;" and again, where " looking round on every fide he beholds a pathlefs desart, duik with horrid thades,” are scenes worthy the pencil of Salvator. Our Lord's Soliloquy is a material part of the Poem, and briefly narrates the early part of his life. In the Paradise Lost, whero the Divine Persons are speakers, Milton has to chafiened his pen, that we meet with few poetical images, and chiefly fcriptural fentiments, delivered, as near as may be, in fcriptural, and almoll always in unornamentcd, language. But the poet feems to consider this circunstance of the Temptation, (if I may venture so to express myself,) as the latt, perfect, completion of the Initiation of the Man Jesus in the mystery of his own divine nature and office: at least he feels himself entitled to make our Saviour while on earth, and “inthrined in fleshly tabernacle," speak in a certain degree, ar@pwa viws, or, after the manner of men. Accordingly all the speeches of our blefied Lord, in this poem, are far more elevated than any language that is put into the mouth of the Divine Speakers in any part of the Paradise Lost. The ingrafting Mary's Speech into that of her Son, it must be allowed, is not a happy circumfiance. It has an awkward effe et, loads the rest of the Speech, and might have been avoided, and better managed. The defcription of the probable manner of our Lord's paling the forty days in the wilderness is very picturesque; and
le return of the wild beasts to their Paradisiacal mildness is finely touched. The appearance of the 'Tempter in his assumed character; the deep art of his two firft speeches, covered, but not totally concealed, by a semblance of fimplicity; his bold avowal and plausible vindication of himself; the subsequent detection of bis fallacies, and the pointed reproofs of his impudence and hypocrisy, on the part of our Blessed Lord ;-cannot be too much admired. Indeed, the whole conclusion of this Book abounds fa much in closeness of reasoning, grandeur of sentiment, elevation of style, and harmony of numbers, that it may well be questioned whether poetry on such a subject, and especially in the form of dialogue, ever produced any thing superiour to it.
The fingular beauty of the brief description of night coming on in the defart, closes the Book with such admirable effect, that it leaves us con la bocca dolce.
The opening of the Second Book is not calculated to engage attention, by any particular beauty of the picturesque or descriptive kind; but by recurring to what passed at the river Jordan among Jesus's new disciples and followers upon his absence, and by making Mary express her maternal feelings upon it, tlie poet has given an extent and variety to his subject. It might perhaps be wished, that all which he has put into the mouth of the Virgin, refpecting the carly life of her Son, bad been confined solely to this place, instead of a part being incorporated in our Lord's foliloquy in the first Book. There it seems aukwardly introduced, but here I conceive her speech might have been extended with good effect. Our Lord, (ver. 110.) is, in a brief but appropriate description, again presented to us in the wilderness. The poet, in the mean time, makes Satan return to his infernal council, to report
the bad fuccess of his first attempt, and to demand their counsel, and assistance, in an enterprise of so much difficulty, This he does in a brief and energetick speech. Hence arises a debate; or at least a proposition on the part of Belial, and a rejection of it by Satan, of which I cannot sufficiently express my admiration. The language of Belial is exquisitely descriptive of the power of beauty, without a single word introduced, or even a thought conveyed, that is unbecoming its place in this divine Poem. Satan's reply is eminently fine: his imputing to Belial, as the most diffolute of the fallen Angels, the amours attributed by the poets and mythologists to the Heathen Gods, while it is
replete with classick beauty, furnishes an excellent "moral to those extravagant fictions: and his defcription of the little effect which the most powerful enticements can produce on the refolute mind of the virtuous, while it is heightened with many beautiful turns of language, is, in its general tenour, of the most superiour and dignified kind. Indeed all this part of his speech (from ver. 191, to ver. 225.) seems to breathe such a sincere. and deep sense of the charms of real goodness, that we almost forget who is the speaker: at least we readily subscribe to what he had said of himself in the first Book ;
6 I have not loft
“ Or virtuous.” After such sentiments so exprefled, it might have been thought difficult for the poet to return to his subject, by making the Arch-Fiend resume his attempts against the Divine Person, the commanding majesty of whose invincible virtue he had just been defcribing with fuch feemingly heart-felt admiration. This is managed with much address, by Satan's propofing to adopt such modes of temptation as are apt to prevail mott, where the propensities are virtuous, and where the difpofition is amiable and generous : and, by the immediate return of the Tempter and his asiociates to the wilderness, the Poem advances towards the beighth of its argument.--Our Saviour's passing the night is well described. The coming on of morn is a beautiful counterpart of " night coming on in the defart," which fo finely closed the preceding Book. Our Lord's waking—his viewing the country ---and the description of the “ pleasant grove,” which is to be the scene of the banquet-are all set off with every grace that poetry can give. The appearance of Satan, varied from his firit difguile, as he has now quite another part to ad, is perfectly well imagined ; and his speech, referring to scripture examples of persons miraculously fed ip defart places, is truly artful and in character; as is his second fycophantick address, where, having acknowledged our Lord's right to all created ehmugs, he adds,
# Troubled that thou should'At hunger, hath purvey'd
" With honour.” The banquet (ver. 340.) comprises every thing that Roman luxury, Eastern magnificence, mythological fable, or poetick fancy can supply; and, if compared with fimilar defcriptions in the Italian Poets, will be found much superiour to them. In the concluding part of his invitation the virulence of the Arch-Fiend breaks out, as it were involuntarily, in a farcastick allufion to the divine prohibition respecting the tree of knowledge; but he immediately resumes his hypocritical servility, which much resembles his language in the ninth Book of the Paradise Lost, when, in his addresses to Eve,“ persuasive rhetorick seek'd his tongue.” The three last lines are quite in this ftyle;
“ All these are Spirits of air, and woods, and springs,
Thy gentle ministers, who come to pay
“ Thee homage, and acknowledge thee their Lord." Our Lord's reply is truly sublime;
“ I can at will, doubt not, as soon as thou,
$6 Array'd in glory, on my cup to attend." This part of the Book in particular is so highly finished, that I could wish it had concluded, as it might well have done, with the vanishing of the banquet. The present conclusion, from its subject, required another style of poetry. It has little description, no machinery, and no mythological allusions to elevate and adorn it; but it is not without a sublimity of another kind. Satan's speech, in which he assails our Lord with the temptation of riches as the means of acquiring greatness, is in a noble tone of dramatick dialogue; and the reply of our Saviour, where he rejects the offer, contains a series of the finest moral precepts exprefled in that plain majestick language, which, in many parts of Didactick Poetry, is the most becoming vestitus orationis. Still it must be acknowledged, that all this is much loft and obscured by the radiance and enriched'