« PoprzedniaDalej »
of Judgment to avoid every thing that might appear light or trivial. Those, who look into Homer, are surprised to find his Battels still rising one above another, and improving in Honour, to the Conclusion of the Iliad. Milton's Fight of Angels is wrought up with the fame Beauty. It is ushered in with such Signs of Wrath as are suitable to Omnipotence incensed. The First Engagement is carried on under a Cope of Fire, occasion'd by the Flights of innumerable burning Darts and Arrows, which are discharged from either Host. The second Onset is still more terrible, as it is filled with those artificial Thunders, which seem to make the Victory doubtsul, and produce a kind of Consternation, even in the Good Angels. This is followed by the tearing up of Mountains and Promontories; till, in the last place, the Messiah comes forth in the sulness of Majesty and Terrour. The Pomp of his Appearance, amidst the Roarings of his Thunders, the Flashes of his Lightnings, and the Noise of his Chariot Wheels, is described with the utmost Flights of Human Imagination.
There is nothing in the first and last Days Engagement, which does not appear natural and agreeable enough to the Ideas most Readers would conceive of a Fight between two Armies of Angels.
The Second Day's Engagement is apt to startle an Imagination, which has not been raised and qualified for such a Description, by the reading of the Ancient Poets, and of Homer in particular. It was certainly a very bold Thought in our Author, to ascribe the first use of Artillery to the Rebel Angels. But as such a pernicious Invention may be well supposed to have proceeded from such Authors, so it entered very properly into the Thoughts of that Being, who is all along described as aspiring to the Majesty of his Maker. Such Engines were the only Instruments be could have made use of to imitate those Thunders, that in all Poetry, both Sacred and Prophane, are represented as the Arms of the Almighty. The tearing up the Hills was not altogether so daring a Thought as the former. We are, in some measure, prepared for such an Incident by the Description of the Gyants War, which we meet with among the Ancient Poets. What still made this Circumstance the more proper for the Poets use, is the Opinion of many learned Men, that the Fable of the Gyants War, which makes so great a Noise in Antiquity, [and gave Birth to the sublimest Description in He/iod's Works,] was an Allegory founded upon this very Tradition of a Fight between the good and bad Angels.
It may, perhaps, be worth while to consider with what Judgment Milton, in this Narration, has avoided every thing that is mean and trivial in the Descriptions of the Latin and Greek Poets; and, at the same time, improved every great Hint which he met with in their VVorks upon this Subject. Homerxa that Passage,which Longinus has celebrated for its Sublimeness, and which Virgil and Ovid have copied after him, tells us, that the Gyants threw Offa upon Olympus, and Pelion upon Offa. He adds an Epithet to Pelion (dvoai^vKXov) which very much swells the Idea, by bringing up to the Reader's Imagination all the Woods that grew upon it. There is surther a great Beauty in his singling out by Name these three remarkable Mountains so well known to the Greeks. This last is such a Beauty as the Scene of Milton's War could not possibly furnish him with. Claudian in his Fragment upon the Gyants War, has given sull Scope to that wildness of Imagination which was natural to him. He tells us, that the Gyants tore up whole Islands by the Roots, and threw them at the Gods. He describes one of them in particular taking up Lemnos in his Arms, and whirling it to the Skies, with all Vulcan's Shop in the midst of it. Another tears up Mount Ida, with the River Enipeus which ran down the sides of it; but the Poet, not content to describe him with this Mountain upon his Shoulders, tells us that the River flowed down his Back, as he held it up in that Posture. It is visible to every judicious Reader, that such Ideas savour more of Burlesque than of the Sublime. They proceed from a Wantonness of Imagination, and rather divert the Mind than astonish it. Milton has taken every thing that is Sublime in these several Passages, and composes out of them the following great Image.
From their Foundations loosning to andfro
We have the sull Majesty of Homer in this short Description, improved by the Imagination of Claudian, without its Puerilities.
I need not point out the Description of the sallen Angels, seeing the Promontories hanging over their Heads in such a dreadsul manner, with the other numberless Beauties in this Book, which are so conspicuous, that they cannot escape the Notice of the most ordinary Reader.
There are indeed so many wonderful stroaks of Poetry in this Book, and such a variety of Sublime Ideas, that it would have been impossible to have given them a place within the bounds of this Paper, Besides that, I find it in a great measure done to my
(Hand, at the end of my Lord Roj"common's Essay on Translated Poetry. I shall reser my Reader thither for some of the Master-Stroaks in the Sixth Book of Paradise Lost, tho' at the same time there are many others which that noble Author has not taken notice of.
Milton, notwithstanding the Sublime Genius he was Master of, has in this Book drawn to his Assistance all the helps he could meet with among the Ancient Poets. The Sword of Michael, which makes so great an havock among the bad Angels, was given him, we are told, out of the Armory of God.
1 But the Sword
\ Of Michael from the Armory of God
Was gitfn him temped so, that neither keen
This Passage is a Copy of that in Virgil, wherein the Poet tells us, that the Sword of Æneas, which was given him by a Deity, broke into pieces the Sword of Turnus, which came from a Mortal Forge: As the Moral in this place is Divine, so by the way we may observe, that the bestowing on a Man who is savour'd by Heaven such an Allegorical Weapon, is very conformable to the old Eastern way of Thinking. Not only Homer has made use of it, but we find the Jewish Hero in the Book of Maccabees, who had fought the Battels of the chosen People with so much Glory and Success, receiving in his Dream a Sword from the hand of the Prophet Jeremy [Jeremiah]. The following Passage, wherein Satan is described as wounded by the Sword of Michael, is in imitation of Homer.
l^he girding Sword with discontinuous wound
Homer tells us in the same manner, that upon Diomedes wounding the Gods, there flow'd from the Wound an Ichor, or pure kind of Blood, which was not bred from Mortal Viands; and that tho' the Pain was exquisitely great, the Wound soon closed up and healed in those Beings who are vested with Immortality.
I question not but Milton in his Description of his furious Moloch flying from the Battel, and bellowing with the Wound he had receiv'd,had his Eye upon Mars in the Iliad, who upon his being wounded, is represented as retiring out of the Fight, and making an Outcry louder than that of a whole Army when it begins the Charge. Homer adds, that the Greeks and Trojans, who were engaged in a general Battel, were terrified on each fide with the bellowing of this wounded Deity. The Reader will easily observe how Milton has kept all the horrour of this Image without running into the Ridicule of it .
f Where the might of Gabriel fought,
And with fierce Ensigns pierc'd the deep array [ CyMoloc furious King, who him defy'd, j And at his Chariot wheels to drag him bound Threaten'd, nor from the Holy One of Heav'n Refrain'd his tongue blasphemous; but anon Down clov'n to the waste, with shatter'd Arms And uncouth pain fled bellowing.
Milton has likewise rais'd his Description in this Book with many Images taken out of the Poetical Parts of Scripture. The Messiah's Chariot, as I have before taken notice, is form'd upon a Vision of Ezekiel, who, as Grotius observes, has very much in him of Homer's Spirit in the Poetical Parts of his Prophecy.
The following Lines in that glorious Commission which is given the Messiah to extirpate the Host of Rebel Angels, is drawn from a Sublime Passage in the Pfalms.
Go then thou mightiest in thy Father's might
The Reader will easily discover many other Stroaks of the fame nature.
There is no question but Milton had heated his Imagination with the Fight of the Gods in Homer, before he entered upon this Engagement of the Angels. Homer there gives us a Scene of Men, Heroes and Gods mixed together in Battel. Mars animates