« PreviousContinue »
here very wisely turned over to those, whose tempers could not be hurt by it, and to whom it was an affair of small consequence to lose their labour. LINE 614.
Thus roving on. The word thus refers the reader to the four parties last mentioned, who set worth, each a different way, on the business of discovery, See line 570. LINE 618. Through many a dark and dreary vale.
The poet seems to have contemplated the hurrid scene, till, as in a dream or vision, he saw it. His description of Hell is not only a map, but a natural history of it, and the Hells of Homer and Virgil are even comfortable compared with this.
A reader of taste cannot fail to observe how the colouring deepens, and darkens, from the beginning to the finishing of this dreadful picture, and that there is a frightful solemnity in the numbers of the whole period wonderfully adapted to the subject. LINE 648.
-Before the gates there sat. To the remark and quotation made by Dr. Newton, it may be added by way of comfort to all, who like Bishop Atterbury, have a taste for the extraordinary beauties of this passage, that if allegories are to be banished (as Mr. Addison, thinks they should be) from the Epic, this of Milton will not be proscribed alone, but Homer's famous allegory, in which he personifies prayer and injury, must go with it. See Iliad 9. line 498. Perhaps
also the group of allegorical figures assembled by Virgil ät the mouth of Tartarus, must accompany them; but
this is left to the decision of those who can persuade themselves to part with an exquisite beauty, for the sake of a slight, indeed a fanciful, objection. See Virgil Æn. vi. line 273. See also Dr. Newton's note on line 965. LINE 666.
The other shape. Mr. Thyer seems to have attended but slightly to the appearance of Death as drawn by Milton, when he supposed it a copy of that, which he has produced from Spenser. The Death of the latter is a decided shadow ; but there is something incomparably more poetical in the ambiguous nature of the Death described by the former. Milton's is in fact an original figure, a Death of his own invention, a kind of intermediate form between matter and spirit, partaking of both, and consisting of neither. The idea of its substance is lost in its tenuity, and yet, contemplated awhile as a shadow, it becomes a substance.
It is not impossible, that the author might represent Death as a being of such doubtful definition, with an eye to its different effects on the fate of the righteous and the wicked. To these it is a real evil, to those, only an imaginary one. LINE 672.
what seem'd his head. The indistinctness of this phantom-form is admirably well preserved. First the poet calls it a shape, then doubts if it could properly so be called; then a substance; then a shadow; then doubts if it was either; and lastly,
he will not venture to affirm, that what seemed his head, was such in reality, but being covered with the similitude of a crown, he is rather inclined to think it such. The dimness of this vague and fleeting outline is infinitely more terrible than exact description, because it leaves the imagination at full liberty to see for itself, and to suppose
the worst. LINE 686.
and learn by proof, Hell-born, not to contend with Spirits of Hear'r.
Somewhat resembling in the turn and manner of it, what Achilles says to Asteropæus, Iliad xxi. 1. 184.
χαλεπον του ερισθενεος Κρονιωνος Παισιν εριζεμεναι, Πολαμοιο περ εκγεγαωτι. LINE 688. To whom the goblin full of wrath reply'd.
'The poet contrives to be as much at a loss to de nominate, as to describe his Death, and seems to exhaust both invention and language for suitable appellations. He calls him, the shape, the monster, the goblin, the grisly terror, the hellish pest, the phantasm, and afterwards in the tenth book, the grim feature. LINE 713. No second stroke intend.
The expression reminds us of Abishai's speech to David. Samuel 1. c. 26. v. 8, when he entreats his permission to slay Saul.
Let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear, even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time,
LINE 747. Hast thou forgot me then? and do I seem
Now in thine eye so foul? This is a very just and instructive part of the allegory, as most can testify from their experience. Sin, pleasant in contemplation and enjoyment, is foul in re trospect, and man, while he suffers the remorse, that attends it, stands amazed at himself, that he could be seduced by it. LINE 804.
who sets them on, This is also just. It is the dread of Death, which aggravates and gives emphasis to the accusations of conscience.
The whole allegory indeed is most judiciously conducted, in perfect harmony with Scripture, and human experience, and is, as Mr. Richardson has observed, a kind of paraphrase on these words of St. James 1. 15.
“ Then, when Lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth Sin, and Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth Death." LINE 847. His famine should be filled.
Famine is here used for hunger, the cause for the effect. LINE 876.
-Then in the key-hole turns. The poet evidently had in view that passage of the 21st book of the Odyssey, in which Penelope opens
the door of the chamber, where hung the tal of Ulysses. See line 46.
θοως απελυσε κορωνης Εν δε κληιδ' ηκε, θυρεων δ' ανεκοπτεν οχηας
Αντα τιτισκομενη. τα ανεβραχεν, ηυτε ταυρος
Πληγέντα κληιδι, πετασθησαν δε οι ωκα. of which lines the Editor begs permission to give his own translation.
She loos’d the ring and brace, then introduc'd
And flew wide open. But Milton's doors are opened in a stile as much more sublime than Homer's, as the scene and the occa sion are more tremendous. LINE 883.
-She open'd, but to shut
Excell'd her pow'r. A beautiful observation. Sin opens the infernal doors, but Mercy alone can shut them. LINE 885. That with extended wings, &c..
Dimensions like these, vast as they are, are still within the bounds of credibility, when ascribed to such a subject; but the same, perhaps, cannot be said of Homer's helmet worn by Pallas, which he tells us was large enough to have covered the infantry of an hundred cities. Iliad v. 1. 744.
Εκατον πολεων πουλεεσσ’ αραρνιαν. LINE 916. His dark materials to create new worlds.
This is a poetical account indeed, but rather & mechanical one of the creation, and such as while it supposes the Deity to have needed means, with which to