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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.
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
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
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 ;
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
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
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
or that sea-beast
Created hugest that swim the ocean stream."
His mighty stature; on each hand the flames
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
V. 696. and are told that
" All obeyed
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.
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
Your head I him appoint;
Him who 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
Could not bear
V. 668. After the angelic throng had dispersed, awakening his next subordinate, he asks him
" What sleep can close
New laws thou seest imposed;
What doubtsul may ensue."
Fit entertainment to receive our King
Impearls on every leas and every flower,"
“ Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers,
If these magnific titles yet remain
With what may be devised of honours new,
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,
The other shape,
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
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
"No light, but rather darkness visible,"