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OF Man's first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
1. Of Man's first disobedience, &c.] Milton has proposed the subject of his poem in the following verses. These lines are perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned as any of the whole poem, in which particular the author has conformed himself to the example of Homer and the precept of Horace. His invocation to a work, which turns in a great measure upon the creation of the world, is very properly made to the Muse who inspired Moses in those books from whence our author drew his subject, and to the Holy Spirit who is therein represented as operating after a particular manner in the first production of nature. This whole exordium rises very happily into noble language and sentiment, as I think the transition to the fable is exquisitely beautiful and natural. Addison.
Besides the plainness and simplicity of these lines, there is a farther beauty in the variety of the numbers, which of themselves
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
tion. But Milton varies the pause according to the sense; and varies it through all the ten syllables, by which means he is a master of greater harmony than any other English poet: and he is continually varying the pause, and scarce ever suffers it to rest upon the same syllable in more than two, and seldom in so many as two, verses together. Here it is upon the first syllable of the verse,
-others on the grass
Couch'd and now filled with pasture gazing sat. IV. 351.
-such as in their souls infix'd Plagues; they astonish'd all resistance lost. VI. 838.
Upon the second,
these to their nests
-Down thither prone in flight
Upon the third,
—what in me is dark
-as the wakeful bird
Upon the fourth,
-on he led his radiant files, Dazzling the moon; these to the bow'r direct IV. 798.
-at his right band victory Sat eagle-wing'd; | beside him hung his bow, VI. 763.
Upon the fifth,
-bears, tigers, ounces, pards, Gambol'd before them; th' unwieldy elephant IV. 345.
-and in the air Made horrid circles; two broad suns their shields VI. 305.
Upon the sixth,
His stature reach'd the sky, and on
Upon the seventh,
Majestic though in ruin: | sage he stood II. 305.
Birds on the branches warbling; | all things smil'd VIII. 265.
Upon the eighth,
Hung on his shoulders like the
Upon the ninth,
Jehovah thund'ring out of Sion,
Between the Cherubim I. 386.
Rose as in dance the stately trees
And here upon the end,
-thou that day
Thy Father's dreadful thunder didst not spare III. 393.
Attended with ten thousand thousand saints VI. 767.
And sometimes to give the greater variety to the verse, there are two or more pauses in the same line: as
on the ground
Curs'd his creation X. 851.
But besides this variety of the
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
of the ancients, of which it wants only a foot; but then it is to be measured by the tone and accent, as well as by the time and quantity. An Iambic foot is one short and one long syllable, and six such feet constitute an Iambic verse: but the Ancients seldom made use of the pure lambic, especially in works of any considerable length, but oftener of the mixed Iambic, that is, with a proper intermixture of other measures; and of these perhaps Milton has expressed as happy a variety as any poet whatever, or indeed as the nature of a verse will admit, that consists only of five feet, and ten syllables for the most part. Sometimes he gives us almost pure Iambics, as in I. 314.
Myriads though bright! If he whom mutual league
Sometimes the Tribrachus or foot of three short syllables u ou, as in ver. 709.
To măný a row of pipes the soundboard breathes.
And sometimes there is variety
of these measures in the same verse, and seldom or never the same measures in two verses to
gether. And these changes are not only rung for the sake of contrived as to make the sound the greater variety, but are so more expressive of the sense. And this is another great art of
Hẽ call'd so loud, that all thẻ hōl- versification, the adapting of the
low deep Of bell resounded.
Sometimes he intermixes the Trochee or foot of one long and one short syllable -u, as in ver. 49.
Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to
very sounds, as well as words, sound, as Mr. Pope calls it: and to the subject matter, the style of
in this Milton is excellent as in all the rest, and we shall give several instances of it in the course of these remarks. So that he has abundantly exemplified in his own practice the rules laid down by himself in his preface, his versification having all the requisites of true musical delight, which, as he says, consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another.
1.] Bishop Newton, although perfectly well-read in the Latin poets, appears to have paid but little attention to the very
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
wide difference which there is between the quantity of Latin verse, and the accent, or ictus, on which the rythm of English verse entirely depends. Hence, reading with a classical eye, but laying aside his English ear, he thus marks Omnipotent. But, according to the invariable pronunciation of our language, the ictus falls so strong on the second syllable of Ŏmnipotent, that the first is comparatively short; and the verse, scanned accordingly, becomes a pure English Iambic.
Who dūrst | defỹ | th' Omnipotent |
Neither does he seem to have at all considered how much Milton availed himself both of elisions and contractions. Otherwise he would scarcely have cited the three following verses, as exhibiting the one a Dactyl, the other an Anapæst, the third a Tribrachus; for, in fact, the first and third are pure Iambics; and the second has no irregularity, except in the first foot, in which place much license is often taken, and the Trochee, particularly, is often introduced with the best effect.
Hurl'd head long flă | ming frōm |
th' ethereal skỷ | Myriads though bright; | If hẻ |
whom mũ | tuǎl league | To many ǎ row of pipes | the sound-board breathes. | Dunster.
The following verses may perhaps be admitted to contain in
stances of those feet which Bp. Newton desired to exhibit:
Shoots Invisiblě | vírtuě | even to the deep
Stream, and perpet | ŭǎl draw | their humid train
Inhospitably, I and kills their infant males.
The general principles of English rythm may be found sufficiently laid down by Dr. Blair in his Lectures, vol. iii. lect. 38. Those who would examine more exactly into the merits and the faults of Milton's versification, should consult Johnson's remarks upon it in the Rambler, Nos. 86, 88, 90, 92, 94. But the subject was ill-suited to Johnson's genius; and although many of his remarks are good, many also appear fastidious or incorrect. Mr. Todd, in his notes and further remarks upon the Essay in the Rambler, has more correctly appreciated the beauties of Milton's
1. Of Man's first disobedience,]
Maviy aside. Iliad.
Arma virumque cano. Æneid. In all these instances, as in Milton, the subject of the poem is the very first thing offered to us, and precedes the verb with which it is connected. It must be confessed, that Horace did not regard this, when he translated the first line of the Odyssey, Dic mihi, musa, virum, &c. De Art. Poet. 141. And Lucian, if I remember right, makes a jest of this observation, where he introduces the shade of Homer as
Sing, heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
expressly declaring that he had
4. With loss of Eden,] But Eden was not lost, and the last that we read of our first parents is that they were still in Eden, Through Eden took their solitary
With loss of Eden therefore means no more than with loss of Paradise, which was planted in Eden, which word Eden signifies delight or pleasure, and the country is supposed to be the same that was afterwards called Mesopotamia; particularly by our author in iv. 210, &c. Here the whole is put for a part, as sometimes a part for the whole, by a figure called Synecdoche.
4.till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,] As it is a greater Man, so it is a happier Paradise which our Saviour promised to the penitent thief, Luke xxiii. 43. This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise. But Milton had a notion that after the conflagration and the general judgment, the whole earth would be made a Paradise, xii. 463.
for then the earth
Than this of Eden, and far happier days.
6.that on the secret top of Oreb, or of Sinai,] Dr. Bentley says that Milton dictated sacred top: his reasons are such as follow: the ground of Horeb is said to be holy, Exod. iii 5. and Horeb is called the mountain of God, 1 Kings xix. 8. But it may be answered, that though that place of Horeb, on which Moses stood, was holy, it does not follow that the top of the mountain was then holy too: and by the mountain of God (Dr. Bentley knows) may be meant only, in the Jewish style, a very great mountain: besides, let the mountain be never so holy, yet according to the rules of good poetry, when Milton speaks of the top of the mountain, he should give us an epithet peculiar to the top only, and not to the whole mountain. Dr. Bentley says farther, that the epithet secret will not do here, because the top of this mountain is visible several leagues off. But Sinai and Horeb are the same mountain, with two several eminences, the higher of them called Sinai: and of Sinai Josephus in his Jewish Antiquit. book iii. c. 5. says that it is so high, that the top of it cannot be seen without straining the eyes. In this sense therefore (though I believe it is not Milton's sense) the top of it may be well said to be secret. In Exod. xvii. it is
Shall all be Paradise, far happier said that the Israelites, when en
camped at the foot of Horeb,