Page images

O Prince, O Chief of many throned Powers
That led th' imbattel'd Seraphim to War,
Too well I fee and rue the dire event,
That with fad overthrow and foul defeat
Hath loft us Heav'n, and all this mighty hoft
In horrible deftruction laid thus low.
But fee the angry Victor bath recall'd
His Minifters of vengeance and pursues
Back to the gates of Heav'n : The Sulphurous hail
Shot after us in Storm, o'erblown bath laid
The fiery Surge, that from the Precipice

Of Heav'n receiv'd us falling, and the Thunder Wing'd with red lightning and impetuous rage, Perhaps hath Spent his Shafts, and ceafes now To bellow through the vast and boundless Deep.

THERE are feveral other very fublime Images on the fame Subject in the First Book, as allo in the Second.

What when we fled amain, purfu'd and ftrook
With Heav'n's afflicting Thunder, and befought
The Deep to fhelter us; this Hell then feem'd
A refuge from those wounds

IN (hort, the Poet never mentions any thing of this Battel but in fuch Images of Greatness and Terrour as are fuitable to the Subject. A


mong several others, I cannot forbear quoting that Paffage where the Power, who is defcrib'd as prefiding over the Chaos, fpeaks in the Third Book.

Thus Satan; and him thus the Anarch old
With faultring Speech and visage incompos'd
Answer'd, I know thee, ftranger, who thou art,
That mighty leading Angel, who of late
Made head against Heaven's King,tho' overthrown.
1 faw and heard; for fuch a numerous Hoft
Fled not in Silence through the frighted Deep
With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout,

Confufion worse confounded; and Heaven's Gates
Pour'd out by Millions her victorious Bands


IT required great Pregnancy of Invention, and Strength of Imagination, to fill this Battel with fuch Circumstances as should raise and astonish the Mind of the Reader; and, at the same time, an Exactness of Judgment to avoid every thing that might appear light or trivial. Those who look into Homer, are furpriz'd to find his Battels still rifing one above another, and improving in Horrour, to the Conclufion of the Iliad. Milton's Fight of Angels is wrought up with the fame Beauty. It is ufher'd in with fuch Signs of Wrath as are suitable to Omnipotence incenfed. The first Engagement is carried on under a Cope of Fire, ocVOL. V. F 2


cafion'd by the Flights of innumerable burning Darts and Arrows which are difcharged from either Hoft. The fecond Onfet is ftill more terrible, as it is filled with those artificial Thunders, which feem to make the Victory doubtful, and produce a kind of Confternation even in the good Angels. This is follow'd by the tearing up of Mountains and Promontories till, in the laft Place, the Meffiah comes forth in the Fulness of Majefty and Terrour. The Pomp of his Appearance, amidst the Roarings of his Thunders, the Flashes of his Lightnings, and the Noife of his Chariot-Wheels, is defcribed with the utmoft Flights of Humane Imagination.

THERE is nothing in the first and last Day's 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 fecond Day's Engagement is apt to ftartle 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 afcribe the first Ufe of Artillery to the Rebel Angels. But as fuch a pernicious Invention may be well fuppofed to have proceeded from fuch Authors, fo it entered very properly into the Thoughts of that Being, who is all along defcribed as afpiring to the Majefty of his Maker. Such Engines were the only Inrftuments he could have made


use of to imitate thofe Thunders, that in all' Poetry, both Sacred and Prophane, are reprefented as the Arms of the Almighty. The Tearing up the Hills was not altogether fo daring a Thought as the former. We are, in fome measure, prepared for fuch an Incident by the Description of the Gyants War, which we meet with among the ancient Poets. What ftill made this Circumftance the more proper for the Poet's Ufe, is the Opinion of many Learned Men, that the Fable of the Gyants War, which makes fo great a Noife in Antiquity, and gave Birth to the fublimest Description in Heftod'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 confider with what Judgment Milton, in this Narration, has avoided every Thing that is mean and trivial in the Defcriptions of the Latin and Greek Poets; and, at the fame time, improv'd every great Hint which he met with in their Works upon this Subject, Homer in that Paffage, 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 (erodipuλ) which very much swells the Idea, by bringing up to the Reader's Imagination all the Woods that grew upon it. There is further a great Beauty in his fingling out by Name these three remarkable Mountains, fo well known to the Greeks. F 3


This laft is such a Beauty as the Scene of Milton's War could not poffibly furnish him with, Claudian, in his Fragment upon the Gyants. War, has given full 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 defcribes 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 defcribe him with this Mountain upon his Shoulders, tells us, that the River flow'd down his Back, as he held it up in that Posture. It is vifible to every judicious Reader, that fuch Ideas favour more of Burlesque than of the Sublime. They proceed from a Wantonnefs of Imagination, and rather divert the Mind than astonish it. Milton has taken every thing that is Sublime in these feveral Paffages, and composes out of them the following great Image.

From their Foundations loofning to and fro They pluck'd the feated Hills with all their load, Rocks, Waters, Woods, and by the shaggy tops Up-lifting bore them in their Hands:

WE have the full Majefty of Homer in this fhort Description, improved by the Imagination of Claudian, without its Puerilities,

« PreviousContinue »