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Adam and Eve's repentance. He speaks to the faithful
O Sons, like one of us Man is become
To know both good and evil, since his taste
Of that defended fruit! 37
So that, even in Milton's God, there are traces of the poet's humaneness. Divine reason, with some admixture of irony and pity, is reconciled with human feeling.
37 XI, 84-86.
PARADISE REGAINED AND SAMSON AGONISTES
ARADISE REGAINED sings Man's Regeneration.
The most remarkable thing about it, from our point of view here, is that such a title should be given to such a work.
The drama remains entirely intellectual. There is no action and no passions come into play. The purely emotional side of Jesus's story, his suffering and crucifixion, has not attracted Milton. Divine love, God's love for the world, which makes him sacrifice his only Son for the salvation of his creatures, Christ's love for men which makes him give his blood as an offering to Eternal Justice, has no appeal for Milton either. Milton was not sentimental; he was not a mystic. He had his strong share of human feelings and passions, but he was simple and natural, and satisfied his desires in the plain normal human way, without refining overmuch. Besides, he wanted to understand things. The incomprehensibility of God is to him an intellectual fact, a perception by the mind of its own limitations. It is not a mystery of love and blind self-forgetfulness.
Therefore, even as the Fall had been an argument in which man had been deceived, so the Restoration is an argument in which man, in the person of Jesus, triumphs. Paradise Regained is a tale of Reason and Passion discussing who shall win in man. It comes as near as it can to being an allegory, and barely escapes being one
through Milton's poetical scheme, which includes the persons of Satan and Christ. Christ is hardly a success artistically. It is agreed that the poet had his own childhood in mind in the lines
When I was yet a child, no childish play
To me was pleasing, all my mind was set
What might be public good.1
Milton has for once made a bad mistake in bringing in his own autobiography. He may have been a child with a passion for learning there are such children — and an abnormal pride. The fact, transmitted into Jesus's experience, sounds like the worst sort of cant; and the whole of the presentation of Christ in the first book is vitiated by intolerable self-consciousness.
Satan is not the grand Rebel of the first books of Paradise Lost, but the subtle tempter of Eve; and in that part, he is worthy of his glory. He shows true psychological acumen when he decides that the evident temptations of sensuality will be of no avail on Jesus and that only legitimate desires, like hunger, must be made use of. It is curious to point out that this should have driven the theme of sensuality out of the poem, but not at all: the loveliest part of Paradise Regained (and it contains many beautiful passages) is on women. Listen to Belial:
Set women in his eye, and in his walk,
1 I, 201-04.
And sweet allay'd, yet terrible to approach,
To whom quick answer Satan thus return'd:
Thou thyself doat'st on womankind, admiring
Their shape, their colour, and attractive grace,
None are, thou think'st, but taken with such toys.2
And never has Milton evoked any visions more fascinating than that
Of fairy damsels met in forest wide
By knights of Logres or of Lyones,
However, on the whole, outside these and other wellknown passages, the poem yields small reward. Landor's judgment on it is both picturesque and sound:
Milton is caught sleeping after his exertions in Paradise Lost, and the lock of his strength is shorn off; but here and there a prominent muscle swells out from the vast mass of the collapsed.*
To this mood of fatigue, no doubt, is to be attributed Milton's surly boutade against books:
However, many books
Wise men have said, are wearisome; who reads
A spirit and judgment equal or superior
(And what he brings, what needs he elsewhere seek?)
Uncertain and unsettled still remains,
Deep versed in books and shallow in himself,
Crude or intoxicate, collecting toys
And trifles for choice matters, worth a sponge;
2 II, 153-77.
3 II, 359-61.
4 Southey and Landor.
5 IV, 321-30.
There is much truth in it, and it is forcibly put; but let us rather remember the Areopagitica: "For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a progeny of life...." Where is the Milton of 1644, and all the youthful enthusiasm?
Samson Agonistes is Milton's literary and philosophical testament. It is a pure jewel, nearly as splendid and much more human than Paradise Lost. Did not the majestic proportions of the epic forbid all comparison, one might be tempted, sacrilegiously, to give Samson the first rank among Milton's works.
In Samson, Milton takes up once more all the main themes of his thinking, and works them out in a simpler and broader manner than in Paradise Lost.
First, we find here the particular subject of the fall through woman, that is, through sensuality. Then, the more general triumph of passion over reason. Like Adam, Samson yields to Dalila:
Against his better knowledge, not deceived,
But fondly overcome by female charm.
Regeneration is here also: the rejection of woman, and the triumph of reason; with a great heroic deed added. Then there is the interrogation of Destiny which is the bottom of Miltonic thought:
God of our fathers, what is man?
And the answer: the fall of man in himself is translated into disaster outside him; his inner regeneration, into external victory.
Samson Agonistes is a return to simplicity. Milton gives up the complications of dogma, fall and restoration, and frankly sets his drama in Samson's soul—a drama