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Five or six lines, soaring above all commonplaces, are sufficient for him to present a religious spectacle of morning :
Now, when as sacred light began to dawn,
In Eden, on the humid flowers, that breath'd
Their morning incense, when all things that breathe
From th' Earth's great altar send up silent praise
To the Creator, and his nostrils fill
With grateful smell.
You might fancy that you were reading one of the Psalms. "Praise God all the earth. Bless the Lord, O my soul !"
In short, if the poet sometimes betrays fatigue, if the lyre drops from his wearied hand, he rests, and I rest along with him. I should like the fine passages of the Cid and the Horatii connected by harmonious and laboured elegance. The simple parts of Corneille are but paths to the magnificent ones, that nevertheless delight me.
THE PLAN OF PARADISE LOST.
WHAT can I say of "Paradise Lost" that has not been said already? A thousand times have its sublime traits been cited; its conversations, its combats, the fall of its angels, and that Hell which
I would have fled
Affrighted, but strict Fate had cast too deep
I shall chiefly dwell, therefore, upon the general composition of the work, to point out the art with which the whole is conducted.
Satan awakes in the midst of the fiery lake, (and what a waking!) He calls together the council of the punished legions, reminds his companions of their failure and disobedience, of an ancient oracle which foretold the birth of a new world, the creation of a new race, formed with a design to fill the places of the fallen angels. Dreadful idea! It is in hell that the name of man is first pronounced.
Satan proposes to seek this unknown world, to destroy or to corrupt it. He departs, explores hell, encounters Sin and Death; he induces Sin to open the portals of the abyss, traverses Chaos, discovers the creation, descends from the sun, and arrives on earth; sees our first parents in Eden; is moved by their beauty, their innocence, and, by his remorseful tenderness, gives an ineffable idea of their nature and their happiness. God beholds Satan from heaven, and predicts the weakness of man, his utter ruin, unless some one presents himself to be his surety, and die for him. The heavenly choir stand mute with amazement. In the silence of heaven, the Son alone replies, and offers himself as a sacrifice. The victim is accepted, and man redeemed, even before he falls.
The Almighty sends Raphael to warn our first parents of their enemy's arrival and intent. The celestial messenger relates to Adam the revolt of the angels, which took place at the moment when the Father, from the summit of the holy hill, proclaims that he has begotten the Son, and endowed him with full power. The pride and jealousy of Satan, inflamed by this declaration, excite him to the combat; vanquished with his legions, he is thrown into hell. Milton had no data for assigning a motive for Satan's rebellion; he was obliged to draw every thing from his own genius. Thus, with the art of a great master, he makes
known what had befallen before the opening of the poem. Raphael then relates to Adam the work of the Six Days. Adam, in his turn, describes his own creation. The angel returns to heaven. Eve suffers herself to be tempted, tastes the forbidden fruit, and involves Adam in her fall.
In the tenth book all the personages re-appear: they are about to meet their fate. In the eleventh and twelfth books, Adam sees the results of his faults, in all that is to happen till the Incarnation of Christ. The Son must sacrifice himself to ransom man. The Son is one of the characters of the poem. By means of a vision, he remains the last and alone on the stage, in order to fulfil, in the soliloquy of the Cross, the definitive action. Con
Such is the work in its simplicity; the incidents and the narrations spring the one from the other. We travel through hell, chaos, heaven, earth, eternity, and time, amid blasphemies and hymns, tortures and delights; we rove through these immensities with ease, unconsciously, insensible of moving; we think not of the efforts it must have cost to bear us thus high, on eagle's wings, or to create such a universe.
The observation touching the last appearance of the Son, shows, contrary to the opinion of certain critics, that Milton would have been wrong in
suppressing the last two books. These books, considered, I know not why, as the weakest part of the poem, are, in my opinion, quite as beautiful as the others; nay, they have a human interest which the earlier ones possess not. From the greatest of poets, as he was, the author becomes the greatest of historians, without ceasing to be a poet. Michael informs our first parents that they must quit Paradise. Eve weeps; grieved at leaving her garden, she says,
My early visitation, and my last
At even, which I bred up with tender hand,
A charming trait of character, which has been supposed to be the idea of a modern German poet, but is only one of the beauties with which the works of Milton abound. Adam, too, complains, but it is that he must abandon the scenes where God had deigned to honour him with his presence. He says,
Here I would frequent
and to my sons relate