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work, falls far below the scriptural idea, that he created all things out of nothing. The first verse in the Bible, tells us with a most magnificent simplicity that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” and is perfectly silent as to any materials with which he formed them. To suppose indeed the existence of matter antecedent to the creation, is to suppose it eternal, and is, for that reason, as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural, and the very word creation implies existence given to something, which never before existed. LINE 934.
-and this hour Down had been falling. This expression is like a fathoming-line put into our hands by the poet for the purpose of sounding an abyss without a bottom. Nor is this the only passage in which Milton sublimely and with great effect, by the help of a mere supposition, assists our apprehension of the subject. In the 6th book we find one similar to this, where describing the battle of the angels and the dreadful din, that it occasioned, he says
Had to her centre shook.
Or if some other place. Meaning the earth, his purposed goal, and the great object of his enterprize. LINE 988.
The Anarch old. Milton, as has been already observed, in the instance of Death, is extremely ingenious in the invention
of names and titles suited to his ideal characters. An ordinary poet would have been contented to have called his Chaos a monarch, despairing of a better appellative; but how much more emphatical is the title here given him, which while it sets before our eyes the figure of this king of all confusion, keeps awake our atttention also to the uncontroulable wildness of his subjects ! LINE 990. I know thee, stranger who thou art.
The poet very judiciously represents Chaos as already informed of what otherwise he must have learned by narrative from Satan, whose journey must of course have been retarded, and whose reply, though necessary for the instruction of the enquirer, would have afforded no new lights to the reader. LINE 1023. But he, once past, &c.
Dr. Newton might have recollected, that the slaughter of the suitors, the event on which the whole Odyssey turns, and which takes place in the 22d book, is anticipated in the 20th, where Homer represents them as smitten with frenzy by Pallas, while their meat dripped blood as they ate it, and they laughed and wept involuntarily. Circumstances from which, as well as from several other terrible prognostics there mentioned, the prophet Theoclymenus foretells the slaughter of them all without one exception. The reader thus apprized of it, cannot but foresee the catastrophe sooner by two books than it happens.
The death of Hector, who is stain in the 22d Iliad, is likewise anticipated, being foretold by Jupiter himself in the 17th.
And the death of Turnus, the event with which the Æneid closes, is so broadly hinted in the 10th book, that the reader must be slow of apprehension indeed, who does not thenceforth expect it. See line 503.
In all these instances the surprise is not only di. minished but absolutely superseded; whereas in the present instance, the simple and bare mention of such a wonderful work as the bridge in question, rather excites curiosity than abates it, and does not in the least de, gree prevent our surprize, and astonishment, when we read afterward in the 10th book the poet's circumstantial account of the manner, in which it was constructed.
It is in reality a common thing with poets to touch slightly beforehand, a subject, which they mean to dilate in the sequel. LINE 1046. Weighs his spread wings.
The Editor begs leave to dissent from Mr. Thyer, in the preference that he gives to the line cited from Tasso. The word adequate is indeed a beautiful one, and the word spread does not compensate it; but if we connect with Milton's hemistich the words immediately ensuing, at leisure to behold, we find this act of balancing the wings prolonged to a degree that impresses it more forcibly on the reader's fancy, and which is therefore more poetical.
Hail holy light, &c.
Certainly, as Dr. Newton intimates, there can be no need to apologize for lines like these,. nor is there any room to question their propriety. If Epic poetry can possibly disclaim so rich and noble an ornament, we may then fairly say, that Milton has given us something better than an Epic poem. But while we admire, and are charmed with the diction, and the melody of the numbers, we cannot but feel, that there is something in this passage still more captivating than even these something, which not only pleases the ear, and the fancy, but that wins the heart also, and endears the writer. It is that vein of unaffected piety, which winds through it, and occasionally discovers itself, as he proceeds. When in the opening of this fine exordium he addresses himself to the Light, considering it as' in some sort an attribute of God, he evidently speaks under an impression of such awe and reverence, as could only be felt by a mind habituated to divine contemplation. When afterwards, alluding to his constant and
regular study of the divine writers, he says so
Nightly I visit knowing that this was not a gratis dictum for embellishment-sake merely, much less the language of ostentation, and that Milton was in truth, as he professed himself to be, frequently occupied in the study of Scripture, we respect and honour him for the just and manly avowal of it, and taking this acknowledged fact with us are convinced that when, in the close of all, he prays for spiritual illumination, he asks it, not because it suited his poetical occasions to finish with a prayer, but because he really wished it, and hoped also to obtain it.
It ought likewise to be observed for the honour of the Bible, that to his firm belief of it, and his familiar acquaintance with it, this divine poet, and truly such, was in a great measure indebted as well for the beauty of the stile and sentiments, as for the matter of his poem. LINE 70.
and Satan there The reader will recollect, that he left him at the close of the second book, weighing his spread wings at ļeisure to behold. &c. LINE 84. Wide interrupt.
Interrupt is a substantive of Milton's creation, who when the current language failed him, coined for his owy use, and always well and wisely.