« PreviousContinue »
His embroidery on the main theme is rich, and rarely inspired by philosophical ideas. The philosopher in him had ideas, but the poet it was that expressed them, and the poet had many things to express besides, on his own
Yet, as we have seen, in speaking of Christ Milton uses symbol in a particular way, which is warranted, as we shall see, by Augustine's authority. He believes in a physical fact, and yet that fact, real in itself, is a symbol of moral facts. The events of Scripture, the life of Jesus himself, are a sort of poetical allegory used by God, who, instead of writing in a book words that have two meanings, a literal and a figurative, causes to happen on earth events that have two senses: the plain solid fact, that Jesus lived, and the moral fact, that, concurrently, divine reason came into men. Even so, Satan is an image of passion in all men - even if he is not passion in all men- and also a reprobate angel cast down from Heaven by thunder. Thus, even when Milton did not interpret dogma so as to destroy it, as he occasionally did, he built, parallel to it, a course of psychological events that were as a sort of lining to that cloth, and were an integral part of the finished garment.
We must not, therefore, make a mere allegory of Paradise Lost. There is allegory in it, and myth and symbol. But at bottom Milton is a clear rationalist mind who despises "superstitions" when they correspond to no clear ideas of his own. He submitted to no symbolism, and to no dogma, further than he liked. The element of clearness, reason, culture is predominant in his mind, and his whole work is a sane and vigorous effort towards light and freedom.
I. MILTON IN PARADISE LOST
ARADISE LOST is built round two great themes
which are harmoniously balanced: the fall of the
angels and the fall of man. The first books describe the state of the fallen angels; in contrast to this, after an interval in Heaven, the following books picture man before his fall, in Paradise; then comes the fall of the angels, and the creation of the world which compensates it; and finally, the fall of man and the history of the world which will make up for it. The dramatic interest in the first half is in Satan's efforts; in the second, in the human drama between Adam and Eve. The two parts are linked, Satan's efforts being the cause of the human drama. The scheme is simple, clear, and grand, and bears the imprint of Milton's mind.
From the psychological and philosophical point of view we have taken in this work, Paradise Lost is first of all, as we have seen in Part II, the working out of Milton's ideas; but it is also and this remains to be studied a sort of transposition of his private and political experience. Milton has drawn upon his own life to depict situations similar to those he had known. Hence the false position he frequently puts himself into; for analogy in the events has driven him to take from himself or from his friends the traits wanted for the picture of the fallen angels.
Thus Satan's character, as Milton presents it, cannot but inspire feelings of sympathy and admiration. The traditional motive of Satan's fall was pride. Milton had then to describe the pride of Satan. But, as we have seen, pride was the ruling passion in his own soul. Consequently, the character of Satan is drawn with a power unique in literature. In reality, Milton pours out his own feelings. Satan's first speeches are pure Miltonic lyricism. For, in addition, Milton's pride had known defeat, even as Satan's had. What matters failure and the triumph of the enemy if one is resolved not to submit? Here we have the rage and defiance which Milton himself felt when he saw the Restoration coming, and which we have seen him expressing in prose in his Ready and Easy Way.1 Now, it must be pointed out that it was probably at the same time, since he began work on the epic about 1658, that he expressed the same feelings in verse:
Nor what the potent victor in his rage
Can else inflict, do I repent or change,
Though changed in outward lustre, that fix'd mind
What though the field be lost?
All is not lost: th' unconquerable will,
1 See above, p. 99.
And this empyreal substance cannot fail,
Who now triumphs, and in th' excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the tyranny of heav'n.2
No one is vanquished who remains strong in his own spirit.
Fallen cherub, to be weak is miserable
Doing or suffering. . . .
Milton, in hiding at the Restoration, sought for, and, in theory at least, in danger of death, remembering all his dreams of what the Kingdom of the Saints was to be, and seeing the reign of Belial in London itself—
In courts and palaces he also reigns,
Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons
Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine-4
Milton must have thought of the condition of the Elect somewhat in this strain:
Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,
Said then the lost Arch-Angel, this the seat
That we must change for heav'n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best,
Whom reason hath equall'd, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells: Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
2 P. L., I, 94-124.
3 I, 157-58.
4 I, 497-502.
Receive thy new possessor; one who brings
And when Beelzebub cries
The mind and spirit remains
he expresses the invincible spirit of the great Puritans as it appears, for instance, in Harrison's speeches before his execution or at his trial. He told his judges, "My lords, this matter was not a thing done in a corner," and argued to the end the case for the legality of the King's judgment. Like Vane, Hugh Peters, and all the friends of old, he was sentenced to be hanged, then drawn and quartered while still alive, and only after that, beheaded. And he told the people from the scaffold:
If I had ten thousand lives, I could freely and cheerfully lay down them all to witness in this matter. By God I have leaped over a wall; by God I have run through a troup, and by God I will get through this death, and he will make it easy to me. However men presume to call it by hard names, there was more of God in it than men are now aware of."
Miltonic speech this; and the rage of the fallen Puritans has gone into Satan's first speeches.
But Satan is not only pride. He is passion in general. He is, in particular, sensuality - and Milton gratuitously put this upon him. A sensual passion unites him to his daughter Sin, and their common ideal is to reach, as she says,
To that new world of light and bliss, among
The gods who live at ease, where I shall reign
Thy daughter and thy darling, without end."
5 I, 242-55.
6 I, 139-40.
7 See Masson, VI, 82, 95, 96.
8 See below, pp. 154-55.
9 II, 867-70.