Page images

Nor was his name unheard or unadored

In ancient Greece; and in Ausonian land
Men called him Mulciber; and how he fell
From Heaven they fabled, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o'er the crystal battlements: from morn
To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
A summer's day; and with the setting sun
Dropt from the zenith like a falling star,
On Lemnos, th' Ægean isle: thus they relate,
Erring; for he with this rebellious rout
Fell long before: nor aught availed him now

exudes from the earth upon the shores of the Caspian and some other eastern countries. It is highly inflammable, burning with a white, smoky flame. Asphaltus is the bituminous substance that we have already referred to as floating on the Dead Sea. It is very fusible and inflammable. The phrase "hasty multitude" corresponds pretty much to the classical expression "mobile vulgus," from which our word mob no doubt comes; just as the word cab comes from cabriolet.

739-740. And in Ausonian land men called him Mulciber.] "Ausonia" is one of the ancient names of Italy, and "Mulciber" is another name for Vulcan. It is probably derived from the Latin "mulceo," I soften, because, by his art, he softens iron and makes it ductile. Vulcan was the son of Jupiter, and the husband of Juno.

742 Sheer o'er the crystal battle・ments.] i. e. right over, pitched headlong at once. The word sheer is now obsolete.

From morn to noon, &c.] The plain prose would be," he fell from morning to evening;" but Milton adopts the periphrasis, to give the mind time to dwell on the height from which he fell; and he also beautifies the pas sage by such poetic touches as " dewy eve," "the setting sun," and " a falling star." The whole passage ought to be read slowly, to produce due effect. On learning that the sum and substance of this passage is, "that Vulcan was thrown out of heaven and fell for so many days from morning to evening,"



a dull matter of fact reader is apt to feel disappointed, and think with himself, Is this poetry? Yes, it is! and of the divinest sort too. Listen to what one says, who was both a critic and a poet of no mean name. "How much the power of poetry depends upon the nice inflections of rhythm alone may be proved, by taking the finest passages of Milton or Shakspeare, and merely putting them into prose with the least possible variation of the words themselves. The attempt would be like gathering up dewdrops, which appear jewels and pearls on the grass, but run into water in the hand; the essence and the elements remain, but the grace, the sparkle, and the form are gone."JAMES MONTGOMERY's Lectures on General Literature.

It is evident that the passage is imitated, if we may not say improved, from HOMER, Iliad, book i. 760.

"Once in your cause I felt his matchless might,

Hurled headlong downward from the ethereal height;

Tossed all the day in rapid circles round; Nor till the sun descended touched the ground," &c.

[blocks in formation]

By all his engines, but was headlong sent

T' have built in Heaven high towers; nor did he 'scape

With his industrious crew to build in Hell.


Meanwhile, the wingéd heralds, by command

Of sovereign power, with awful ceremony

And trumpets' sound, throughout the host proclaim
A solemn council forthwith to be held


At Pandemonium, the high capital

Of Satan and his peers: their summons called
From every band and squaréd regiment,

By place or choice, the worthiest; they anon,
With hundreds and with thousands, trooping came
Attended all access was thronged; the gates
And porches wide, but chief the spacious hall
(Though like a covered field, where champions bold
Wont ride in armed, and at the Soldan's chair
Defied the best of Panim chivalry
To mortal combat, or career with lance)
Thick swarmed, both on the ground and in the air
Brushed with the hiss of rustling wings. As bees
In spring time, when the sun with Taurus rides,
Pour forth their populous youth about the hive
In clusters; they among fresh dews and flowers
Fly to and fro, or on the smoothéd plank,
The suburb of their straw-built citadel,
New-rubbed with balm, expatiate and confer
Their state affairs; so thick the airy crowd

756. Pandemonium.] Literally the place of all the devils, or, as Milton immediately translates it, "the high capital of Satan and his peers." Milton perhaps formed the word from the Greek Pantheon; or in Latin, the analogy of which he follows, Pantheum, a temple dedicated to all the gods, or at any rate so called because it was very beautiful, and as it were altogether heavenly and divine. "Quod esset pulcherrimum, quasique prorsus cœleste ac divinum."-FACCIOLATI.

761. All access was thronged.] i.e. every road leading to the place was thronged.

769. When the sun with Taurus rides.] The sun enters Taurus about the 20th of April. The periphrasis is necessary in poetry. However "the

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

20th of April" might suit business purposes, the poet avoids it as too prosaic. Thomson, who kept the same verent eye on Milton that Pope says Virgil kept on Homer, follows him in this:

"At last when Aries rolls the bounteous sun, And the bright Bull receives him. Then no


The expansive atmosphere is cramped with

cold," &c. &c.

774. Expatiate and confer their state affairs.] "Expatiate" may here be used as an intransitive verb, when it will signify, "they fly about hither and thither," or it, as well as the following verb "confer," may have the preposition on understood, in which case this is the meaning: "they deliver long orations, and dispute with one another, on state affairs."

Swarmed and were straitened; till, the signal given,
Behold a wonder! they but now who seemed
In bigness to surpass earth's giant sons,

Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room
Throng numberless; like that pygmean race
Beyond the Indian mount, or fairy elves,
Whose midnight revels, by a forest side
Or fountain, some belated peasant sees,


Or dreams he sees, while over-head the moon
Sits arbitress, and nearer to the earth


Wheels her pale course; they, on their mirth and dance
Intent, with jocund music charm his ear;

At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds.
Thus incorporeal Spirits to smallest forms

Reduced their shapes immense, and were at large,
Though without number still, amidst the hall
Of that infernal court. But far within,

776. Till, the signal given.] "Signal" is in the nominative absolute, as I have pointed the passage; but, we may consider till a preposition, and the phrase "till the signal given" a Latinism for "till the giving of the signal."


777. Behold a wonder!] It seems somewhat inconsistent to refer to this fact, of spirits being able to change their shape and size, as a wonder," seeing Milton had already, line 423. to 431., explained the whole philosophy of the matter.

780. Like that pygmean race beyond the Indian mount.] The "Pygmæi were a fabulous nation of dwarfs, the Lilliputians of antiquity, who, according to Homer, had every spring to sustain a war against the cranes on the banks of Oceanus. Various places have been named as their abode, but Milton here refers to Indian pygmies, who were said to live under the earth, on the east of the river Ganges. For an account of them, see PLINY, book vii. chap. ii.

781. Or fairy elves, whose midnight revels, &c.] Revel, coming from the Fr. resveiller (and that from the Latin vigilare), to wake or watch, means nocturnal jollity and carousal among men; but among fairies, dancing and


merriment, in which "the rude forefathers of the hamlet" believed that these imaginary people delighted to indulge. The officer who at court had the management of these sports was styled "the master of the revels." Shakspeare uses the same word in a passage so beautiful that I hope to be pardoned for introducing it here, even on so slight a "hint."

"Our revels now are ended; these our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous pa-

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a wrack behind: we are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."

Tempest, act iv. scene i.

785. Sits arbitress.] i.e. witness; or, perhaps, umpire, to decide who dances best. The phrase "over-head" is a literal translation of a word used by Horace on a similar occasion: "Jam Cytherea chorus ducit Venus, imminente luna."-Ode i. 4.

790. At large.] Had plenty of room to turn themselves in their reduced shape. Numerous as they were, they were not crowded, owing to this wonderful faculty of contracting their forms.

And in their own dimensions, like themselves,
The great Seraphic Lords and Cherubim
In close recess and secret conclave sat;
A thousand Demi-gods on golden seats,
Frequent and full. After short silence then,
And summons read, the great consult began.

793. In their own dimensions like
themselves.] "As soon as the infernal
palace is finished, we are told the mul-
titude and rabble of spirits immediately
shrunk themselves into a small com-
pass, that there might be room for such
a numberless assembly in this capa-
cious hall; but it is the poet's refinement
upon this thought which I most admire,
and which is indeed very noble in it-
for he tells us that, notwithstand-
ing the vulgar, among the fallen spirits,
contracted their forms, those of the
first rank and dignity still preserved
their natural dimensions."-ADDISON.

[blocks in formation]


into the vernacular-a custom of which we have several instances in the Praver Book and in Shakspeare. In the Exhortation, for instance, we have several couples of this kind — “acknowledge and confess," "dissemble and cloke" (?), "humble and lowly," "assemble and meet together." Indeed the practice appears to have been so common in the time of Queen Elizabeth, that Shakspeare makes one of his fools turn it into ridicule.

"Will. Which he, Sir?


Touch. He, Sir, that must marry this woman: therefore, you clown, abandon, which is in the vulgar, leave, the society, which in the boorish is,company of this female, which in the common is, woman, which together is, abandon the society of this female; or, clown, thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest; or to wit, I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage." As you like it, act v. scene i.

798. Consult, with the accent on the last syllable, is here used in a Latin sense instead of the proper English word consultation. "After summons read" is also a Latinism for "after the reading of the summons," or, as we say, "the call of meeting."


[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

"Milton's great and distinguishing excellence is, his sublimity. In this, perhaps, he excels Homer; as there is no doubt of his leaving Virgil, and every other poet, far behind him. Almost the whole of the First and Second Books of Paradise Lost are continued instances of the sublime. The prospect of Hell and of the fallen host. the appearance and behaviour of Satan, the consultation of the infernal chiefs, and Satan's flight through Chaos to the borders of this world, discover the most lofty ideas that ever entered into the conception of any poet."-BLAIR's Lectures.

"Is not each great, each amiable Muse
Of classic ages in thy Milton met?

A genius universal as his theme;

Astonishing as Chaos; as the bloom

Of blowing Eden, fair; as Heaven, sublime.”

THOMSON'S Seasons.

« PreviousContinue »