Page images

“ The glorious faculty assigned
To elerate the more than reasoning mind,
And colour life's dark cloud with orient raysa
Imagination is that sacred power,

Imagination lofte and refined." • This superiority of our great epic Poet over the mighty Greek; and their illustrious Roman compeer, Virgil, arises not so much from the inborn genius of the author of Paradise Lost,-for Do genius can excel that of the author of Iliad, thongh a superior poem may be, and by our Milton, me įhink, has been construct. eu, -as from the respective times in which they flourished; the collective wisdom of ages, and the mightier and holier wisdom of our inspired religion being added, to wing the genius of the Christian Poet; and bear him to “the empyrean." This growing superiority, by the effects of time, not in genius, is observable in the poems of Virgil,-in some of his Eclognes and the Georgics, as well as in the Æneid. The pbilosophical spirit of the Roman Poet is peculiarly striking, if we compare the sixth book of the Æneid with the eleventh book of the Odyssey, both describing the descent into the regions of the spiritual world. Vira gil,- as it is proved by Bishop Warburton,t an admirable critic of such a question,-gives a figurative description of the Eleusinian Mysteries. It was perhaps this philosophic spirit of the Roman Bard, which induced so fine a mind as Mr. Burke's to preser he Æneid to the Niad. I In force of genius, however Homer and iVigil are not comparable ; but Homer and Milton decidedly are.

. “The Imagination is conscious of an indestructible dominion; the Soul may fall away from it, not being able to sustain its grandeur, but, if once felt and acknowledged, by no act of any other faculty of the mind can it be relaxed, impaired, or diminished," Wordsworth's preface to Poems, first published in 2 Vol. 8vo. 1815.

+ See Warburton's Divine Legation Book 2 Sect. 4. Works Vol. 2 p. 78. et seq.

This ingenious and learned Dissertation was replied to by one of the earliest Essays of Gibbon, now printed among his Miscellaneous Works, He coufesses that it was in spirit intemperate; nor is it & satisfactory refuta. tion of Warburtou'a bypothesis. Warburton, however, is of opinion that the provinces of the three great epic poets are thus assigned." As, he says, Virgil rivaled Homer, so Milton was the emulator of both. He found Homer possessed of the prorince of Morality; Virgil of Politics ; and nothing was left for him, but that of Religion." Vide, ut supra, p. 95. Bishop Newton was also of this opinion. But Dr. Joseph Wartou routes it.

Seo Boswell's Life of Jobpson, passim.

All the “ three poets, in three distant ages borr.,” make the religion of their several ages, in whole or in part, the subject of their poems. Homer describes the popular mythology of ancient Greece. Virgil gives us an insight into the mysteries, the tradi. tions, and the philosophy, of that imperfect creed. Milton alone sits on the true tripod of inspiration, and breathes forth the sacred oracles of our Divine religion. From his earliest years, as Sir Egerton Brydges has finely remarked, "a holy inspiration had already commenced in his mind. The tone of the sacred writings had taken fast possession of his enthusiasm. There is a solemn and divine strain as if an oracle spoke ; a sort of prophetic awe in the oubreathings of Milton, like that of Hebrew poctry."

In my last paper I compared the process of mind in Milton's Paradise Lost, as well as the subject, with the Hebrew Scriptures, The Paradise Regained bears the same analogy, in subject and mental process, to the Paradise Lost, as the New Testament bears to the Old. The undoubted superiority of Milton to his great prodecessors, therefore, mainly arises from the subjects of bis poems, and the age in which he fourished,

The ancient heathens understood so much only of good and evil as resulted from action. They had no conception of that which springs from the silent depths of thought and contemplation. I speak of their poetry and their religion, which were almost inseparably blended together. “The anthropomorphitism of the Pagan religion,-says Mr. Wordsworth, --subjected the minds of the greatest poets in those countries too much to the bondage of delinite form; from which the Hebrews were preserved by their ablurrence of idolatry, This abhorrence was almost as strong in our great epic Poel, both from the circumstances of his life and the constitution of his mind. However imbued the surface might be with classical literalure, he was a Hebrew in soul; and all things tended in him towards the sublime."

The imagery of the Hebrew Scriptures is taken from the great features of nature,- the storm, the whirlwind, and the fire, the natural executors of the Divine wiath; and from those agents of Divine Providence- the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, the appointed ministers of the vengeance of the God of Israel. To these may be added the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, betokening the rise and fall of nations. Death and Hades are also employed by the Hebrew poets to fill and to appal the imagination. Thus the Fall of Babylon is exulted over by the spirits of the departed kings in a state of separation, while it is compar, ed to the Fall of Lucifer, the Morning Star, which again in a mys, tical sense glances at the Fall of Satan.

“ Hades from beneath is mored because thee, to meet thee at thy coming :

He rouseth for thee the mighty dead, all the great chiefs of the Earth;

He maketh to rise up from their thrones, all the Kings of the nations.

All of them sball accost thee, and shall say unto thee :

Art thou, even thou too, become weak as we ? art thou made like unto us?

Is then thy pride brought down to the grave; the sound of thy sprightly instruments ?

Is the vermin become thy couch, and the earthworm thy covering? How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the Morning !" *

But when the Deity is spoken of, He is never represented by any definite form. He is an abstraction,—"a voice, a mystery.”

And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude ; only ye heard A VOICE +!” Again, the Voice of Jehovah was heard in the stillness of the cool evening breeze in Paradise. “The Lord was not in the wind, the Lord was not in the Earthquake, the Lord was not in the fire: but after the fire, Á STILL SMALL voice” made known ibe Presence of Jehovah to the prophet. I Before the awful throne of Jehovah in beaven, as impressed upon the imagination of the inspired poet and prophet, the seraphim veil their faces and their feet with their four wings, while with twain they fly. “And they cried alternately and said :

Holy, holy, holy, Jehovah God of Hosts!
The whole earth is filled with bis glory." §

• Isaiah XIV. 9-12. Bishop Lowth's Translation.
+ Deut: IV. 12.
# 1 Kings XIX. 11. 12.

Isaiah VI. .1.-3. Bishop Lowth's Translation.

I cannot deny my reader, or myself, the pleasure of showing how Milton has availed himself of this sublime passage of the inspired prophet--and the remark and quotation are quite in keeping with our present subject-in his splendid description of the descent of Raphael, “a seraph winged," who is that of Isaiah, with a slight difference in the disposition of his wings, for an obvious reason, mapaged with consummate skill hy the poet. The pair that veil the seraph's " face" in the Presence of Jehovah, “come mantling o'er his breast with regal ornament,” before a creature and an inserior.

“Şix wings he had, to shade
His lineaments divine; the pair that clad
Each shoulder broad, came mantling o'er his breast
With regal ornament; the middle pair
Girt like a starry zone his waist, and round
Skirted his loins and thighs with downy gold
And colours dipt in heaven; the third his feet
Shadowed from either heel with featbered mail,
Sky-tinctured grain. Like Maia's son be stood,
And shook his plumes, that heavenly fragrance filled

The circuit wide." * In the New Testament the thoughts and the imagery are all quiet and contemplative; except, as I have previously remarked, in the Apocalypse, and a few passages of the Gospels and Epistles, in which the sacred writers rise into prophecy of future events of the Church, aud of the Day of Judgment. Instead of the storm and the whirlwind and the fire, we meet with the beautiful and quiet figures of the lilies of the field, and the fowls of the air, and the shepherd and his sheep.

Behold the fowls of the air: for ibey sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barps; yet your Heavenly Fatber feedeth them.-Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin : and yet I say unto you, that even $olomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”+ How exquisitely affecting are such images as these. Jehovah is referred to as the Invisible by the direct assertion, that "no man hath seen he face of God at any time;"- instead of the sublime imagery of the throne of Jehovah, before whom the seraphs veiled their faces with their wings, which has been already cited from the Hebrew

• Par. Lost B: V. 277.

+ Matt : VI. 26, 28,

Seriptures. He is recognized as the God of Israet by the simple expression of “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Every thing, in short, which is depicted by the spirit of prophecy, and the images of poetry, in the sublime odes of the inspired Hebrew prophets, is taken for granted. The moral attributes of God, and the intermediate and final happiness of good men are ipsisted on by precept, by argument, and by the simple beauty of allegory. The allegory, or parable, however, of the New Testament, as it partakes of the character of the compositions of the Old Testament, so is it very frequently, and indeed commonly, prophetic. But I now. refer to those which are purely practical.

The thoughts and the imagery of Paradise Regained bear the same resemblance to this calm and contemplative character of the New Testament as to the subject matter; and a similar resemblance exists, as I have already intimated, between Paradise Lost and the Old Testament,

Referring once more to the illustration of the poem of Paradise Regained by the New Testament, I would say that contemplation, as opposed to action, in religion and in the highest order of poetry and imagination, is brought to perfection, if not primarily unfolded, by the inspired writings of the New Testament, wbich in its nature is so divine tbat it could derive its source from none other than a Divine Original. The good and evil, which are the offspring of this spiritual contemplation, extend beyond the present scene of things. Without this divine faculty ile perfection of human nature could Bot be accomplished. Truth would want wings to soar into heaven. For

“ Wisdom's self
Oft seeks to seeot retired solitude,
Where with her best nurse, CONTEMPLATION,
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
That in the various bustlo of resort
Were all to ruffled, and sometimes impaired.”

Comus. In the next paper I will endeavour to illustrate this truth at large by a more particular examination of Milton's brief epic;" and, in the words of one of his numerous commentators, to show, “ That as in Paradise Lost the poet seems 10 emulate the sublimity of Moses and the Prophets, it appears to bave been his mish in the Paradise Regained to copy the sweetness and simplicity of the Evangelists.".


« PreviousContinue »