« PreviousContinue »
king of evil by degrees becomes worthy of his new empire. Eve gathering flowers appears to him happy; her serenity is the pleasure of innocence; he hastens to destroy what he admires, because he is the destroyer of all happiness. In these four soliloquies Milton has preserved the same character for Satan, without copying himself. Satan is not the hero of his poem, but the master-piece of his poetry.”
Milton has almost given to Satan sensations of love for Eve. The fallen angel is jealous, at viewing the caresses of the wedded pair. Eve fascinating for a moment the rival of the Almighty, the chief of hell, the king of hate, leaves in the imagination an incomprehensible impression of the beauty of the woman.
The allegorical personages of “Paradise Lost," are Chaos, Death, and Sin. Such is the fire of the poet that he has made the two latter real and formidable persons. Nothing is more wondrous than the instinct of Sin, when, from the threshold of hell, between the flames of Tartarus and the ocean of Chaos, this phantom guesses that her father and her son have conquered the world. Death too, says to his mother Sin:
Such a scent I draw
So scented the grim feature, and upturn'd
from so far. Sin, as I observed in the “ Genie de Christianisme,” is of the feminine gender in English, and Death masculine. Racine wishing to save his language from this confusion of sexes, gave Sin the Greek name of Até, and Death that of Ades. I have not enslaved myself to his scruples. Against Louis Racine I have the authority of Jean Racine.
Le Mort est le seul dieu que j'osais implorer.
Death is the only God I dared implore. It appears to me that readers accustomed beforehand to this picture will easily reconcile themselves to this change of genders, making Death masculine, and Sin feminine, in spite of our articles.
Voltaire, while in London, was one day criticising this celebrated allegory; Young, who heard him, made this distich impromptu :
You are so witty, profligate, and thin,
It now but remains for me to speak of one other character in Paradise Lost, I mean that of Milton himself.
MILTON IN “PARADISE LOST."
THE republican is conspicuous in every verse of Paradise Lost :” the speeches of Satan breathe a hatred of subjection. Milton, however, who, although an enthusiast of liberty, had nevertheless served Cromwell, reveals the kind of republic which accorded with his ideas : it is not a republic of equality, a plebeian republic; he desired an aristocratic republic, in which gradations of rank are admitted. Satan says:
“ if not equal all, yet free,
Paradise Lost, Book V'. VOL. II.
If there could remain any doubt on this subject, Milton, in his tract entitled “The Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth," speaks a language calculated to dispel all uncertainty; he therein avows that the republic should be governed by a grand or general perpetual council; he rejects the popular remedy adopted to check the ambition of this permanent council, as the people would plunge headlong into a licentious and unbridled democracy. Milton, the proud republican, had a coat of arms: he bore on a field sable, an eagle argent, double-headed gules, beak and legs sable. An eagle was, for the poet at least, a speaking escutcheon. The Americans have escutcheons of a more feudal character than those of the knights of the fourteenth century ; such fancies are altogether harmless.
The speeches which constitute the greater part of “Paradise Lost,” have acquired new interest since we have had a representative government. The poet has introduced into his work the political forms of the government of his native land. Satan convokes in hell a real parliament; he divides it into two chambers ; Tartarus rejoices in a chamber of peers. Eloquence is one of the essential qualities of the author's talent; the speeches delivered by his personages are frequently models of
skill and energy. Abdiel, when parting from the rebel angels, addresses Satan in these words :
"O alienate from God, O spirit accurs'd,
There is, in the poem, something which at first sight appears unaccountable: the infernal republic attempts to overthrow the celestial monarchy; Milton, though his sentiments are wholly republican, invariably ascribes justice and victory to the Almighty! The reason of this is that the poet was swayed by his religious opinions. In accordance with the Independents, he desired a theocratic republic, a hierarchical liberty, subject only to the