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THE

entral Literary Magazine

It must be borne in mind that this Magazine is neutral in Politics and Religion; its pages are open to a free expression of all shades of opinion without leaning to any.

No. 7.

JULY, 1880.

VOL. IV.

MILTON'S

SATAN.*

The prominence given to Satan in the “Paradise Lost” has often been remarked and has led to the suggestion that his poem might have been designated by some such title as “The Revolt of the Angels.". Indeed one can fancy its being broken up into at least three great epics, “ Creation,” “ The Revolt of the Angels,” and “ The Fall of Man.” One thing however is certain, that as far as the general impression made is concerned, Satan is the hero of the poem-a circumstance which I venture to plead in justification of my attempt to detach a more or less complete sketch of him and his history from the setting in which Milton places him. In executing my task I shall proceed after the manner of a metaphysician rather than of a litterateur, beginning at the beginning and going on in regular order to the end. Our first question therefore will be—Whence was Satan? and how long had he existed at the time when Milton introduces us to him? In Book V., where the first meeting of the revolters is described

“ The seraph Abdiel, faithful found

Among the faithless, faithful only he,” remonstrating with his fellow angels, asks of Satan

" Thyself, though great and glorious, dost thou count

Equal to Him, begotten Son ; by whom
As by His word, the mighty Father made

All things, even thee ? * One of a series of papers on Milton, read to the members of the C.L.A., April 30th, 1880,

To whom Satan replied

" That we were form’d then, say'st thou ? and the work
Of secondary hands, by task transferred
From Father to his Son ? Strange point and new!
Doctrine which we would know whence learned : who saw
Whence this creation was? remember'st thou
Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being ?
We know no time when we were not as now :
Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised
By our own quickening power, when fatal course
Had circled his full orb, the birth mature
Of this our native Heaven, ethereal sons.

Our puissance is our own.” There is a certain grim humour, whether intentional or unintentional matters not, in the idea of the Arch-rebel trying to fasten a charge of heterodoxy on the faithful Abdiel. At the same time, if we follow Milton, it must be allowed that Satan was not altogether wrong, for in an earlier part of this same book, “ The Father Infinite ” is introduced saying

"Hear all ye Angels, progeny of light,

Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers ;
Hear my decree which unrevoked shall stand.
This day I have begot whom I declare
My only Son, and on this holy hill
Him have anointed, whom ye now behold

At my right hand.” From which it would appear that Satan had existed before the Son. We shall see later on what this fact had to do with Satan's conduct. Milton doubtless conceived of him as created, for he says elsewhere (V. 479 ff.)

“One Almighty is, from whom

All things proceed, and up to Him return; and as we learn from a subsequent soliloquy of Satan (IV. 43), probably means us to see in the rebel's words his first misrepresentation, skilfully vamped up for the purpose of preventing his followers being persuaded by Abdiel. There is, however, some inconsistency with regard to this point. But I must pass on to the poet's description of his hero-a description on which he has expended all his treasure of epithets. We find, as was natural, only the barest allusions to what he was in his first estate, as e.g.

"He, above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tower : his form had not yet lost
All its original brightness; nor appear'd
Less than Arch-Angel ruined and the excess
Of glory obscured, as when the sun, new risen
Looks through the horizontal misty air
Shorn of his beams.”

1. 589 ff. The two chief descriptions are given of him when he meets the “Prince of Angels," Michael, in the great struggle for supremacy, and after he has been defeated and cast into hell.

" Who, though with the tongue
Of Angels, can relate, or to what things
Liken on earth conspicuous, that may list
Human imagination to such height
Of Godlike power? for likest gods they seemed,
Stood they or moved, in stature, motion, arms,
Fit to decide the empire of great heaven.
Now waved their fiery swords, and in the air
Made horrid circles; two broad suns their shields
Blazed opposite, while Expectation stood
In horror; from each hand with speed retired
Where erst was thickest fight, the angelic throng,
And left large field, unsafe within the wind
Of such commotion; such as, to set forth
Great things by small, if, Nature's concord broke,
Among the constellations war were sprung,
Two planets, rushing from aspect malign
Of fiercest opposition, in mid sky
Should combat, and their jarring spheres confound.”

VI. 297

*

I. 192.

*

With true artistic skill, Milton both in the passage just quoted and in the two which follow suggests the idea he wishes to convey by comparison, thus effectually calling to his aid the imagination of his readers. After recovering from the shock of the fall from heaven we read that Satan

“ With head uplift above the wave, and eyes
That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides
Prone on the flood, extended long and large,
Lay Aoating many a rood; in bulk as huge
As whom the fables name of monstrous size,

or that sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works

Created hugest that swim the ocean stream."
" Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool

His mighty stature; on each hand the flames
Driven backward, slope their pointing spires, and rollid
In billows, leave in the midst a horrid vale,
Then with expanded wings he steers his Alight
Aloft, incumbent on the dusky air,
That felt unusual weight."

I. 221. Satan's position in heaven would seem to have been one of the loftiest, if not the loftiest ; for we read of

The regent powers
Under him regent; "

V. 696. and are told that

" All obeyed
The wonted signal and superior voice

Of their great Potentate;' moreover, he

“ Drew after him the third part of heaven's host:" “myriads,” yea

“ Millions of immortal spirits,

Powers matchless but with the Almighty," I. 609, 622. whom he addressss as

“ Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers.” V. 772.

V. 709.

V.710.

As to his powers, intellectual and otherwise, Milton says little that is specific ; at the same time it is obvious that we are intended to form the most exalted conception of their compass and greatness.

We next face the question-How Satan came to fall from his high estate in heaven. Milton repeatedly attributes it to pride and ambition simply ; but also describes the occasion and circumstances of the rise of pride. The occasion, we are told, was the decree announced by God

"This day I have begot whom I declare
My only Son;

Your head I him appoint;
And by myself have sworn to him shall bow
All knees in heaven, and shall confess him Lord.

Him who disobeys
Me disobeys.

So spake the Omnipotent, and with his words

All seemed well pleased; all seem'd, but were not all." V.611. Among those who seemed, but were not really pleased, was Satan, who

“ Fraught
With envy against the Son of God,

Could not bear
Through pride that sight, and thought himself impair'd;
Deep malice thence conceiving and disdain,
Soon as midnight brought on the dusky hour,
Friendliest to sleep and silence, he resolved
With all his legions to dislodge, and leave
Unworshipp'd, unobey'd, the throne supreme,
Contemptuous.”

V. 668. After the angelic throng had dispersed, awakening his next subordinate, he asks him

" What sleep can close
Thy eyelids ? and rememberest what decree
Of yesterday so late hath pass'd the lips
Of heaven's Almighty?

New laws thou seest imposed;
New laws from him who reigns, new minds may raise
In us who serve, new counsels, to debate

What doubtsul may ensue."
And having drawn after him, under pretence of preparing

Fit entertainment to receive our King
The Great Messiah-

V. 690.

An host
Innumerable as the stars of night,
Or stars of morning, dew-drops, which the sun

Impearls on every leas and every flower,"
gradually unveils with wondrous subtlety his rebellious designs -

“ Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers,

If these magnific titles yet remain
Not merely titular, since by decree
Another now hath to himself engross'd
All power, and us eclipsed, under the name
Of King anointed, for whom all this haste
Of midnight march and hurried meeting here,
This only to consult how we may best,

V. 679.

V. 744.

V. 780.

II. 650.

With what may be devised of honours new,
Receive him, coming to receive from us
Knee-tribute, yet unpaid, prostration vile !
Too much to one, but double how endured,
To one and to his image now proclaimed ?
But what if better counsels might erect
Our minds, and teach us to cast off this yoke?
Will ye submit your necks, and choose to bend
The supple knee? Ye will not, if I trust
To know ye right, or if ye know yourselves
Natives and sons of heaven, possess'd before
By none ; and if not equal all, yet free,

Equally free.” In the account given of the generation of sin and from sin of death by Satan, powerful as it is, Milton seems to me to have carried poetic personification beyond its legitimate bounds. He was driven to it, as it would seem, in order to account for the monsters whom the Archrebels found guarding the gates of Hell, and which he describes as follows :

“ The one seem'd woman to the waist, and fair,

But ended foul in many a scaly fold,
Voluminous and vast, a serpent arm'd
With mortal sting.

The other shape,
If shape it might be call'd, that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,
Or substance might be call'd that shadow seemid,
For each seem'd either ; black it stood as night,

Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell.' II. 666. His behaviour as the leader of the rebel hosts—the might with which he wielded his sword, his unflinching courage, his power of inspiring his followers with boundless devotion, his ingenuity in inventing new implements of mischief, which

All admired, and each, how he
To be the inventor miss'd, so easy it seemed
Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought
Impossible."

VI. 498. I must pass over and hasten to set him before you, first, when he was, in a sense, at his sublimest, i.e., shortly after defeat, and then, in his gradual degradation. Whilst still “ Prone on the flood,

Rolling in the fiery gulf ; ” and confessing the unexpected power of God, he declares his resolve not to

Repent or change, Though changed in outward lustre ;" and, when he had taken survey of

"The dungeon horrible on all sides round," where were

“Flames"

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1. 95.

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which gave

"No light, but rather darkness visible,"

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