« ZurückWeiter »
recent events clearly in mind. We see this in the great debate in Book II.-a section of the poem in which Milton's dramatic powers are shown at their very highest. Four speakers take part. Moloch, “the strongest and the fiercest spirit that fought in Heaven, now fiercer by despair," represents Brute Force, and ad. vocates open war. Belial, beautiful in person, outwardly attractive, but “ than whom a spirit more lewd fell not from Heaven, nor one more gross to love vice for itself," represents intellect and culture divorced from righteousness, as in the Cavalier ; he expounds the policy of indifference. Mammon is the type of Godless wealth, and argues for the founding of a new kingdom, the kingdom of Mammon, as a rival to the kingdom of God. Beelzebub,“ majestic though in ruin,” wise in all the wisdom of the world, stands for Godless state-craft and ambition, and urges that the rebels shall seek to thwart God's purposes by cunning and strategy-a proposal which is applauded and accepted by the infernal council. In all this, it is evident, Milton, while writing of the disastrous overthrow of the Puritan cause immediately in mind, is also portraying at large those chief forces of evilbrutality, the insidious influences of unmoralised culture, the spirit of Mammonism, and the statesmanship which knows nothing of righteousness which are always most effective in maintaining and spreading Satan's kingdom of
! Mr. Stopford Brooke, by whom this part of the subject has been admirably treated, suggests that we may, perhaps, even trace in Peelzebub the lineaments of Charles's evil counsellor, Strafford.
darkness among men.
And then, that the contrast may be pointed, Milton later introduces the Seraph Abdiel, “ than whom none with more zeal adored the Deity, and divine commands obeyed," and who stands forth, when Satan stirred rebellion in Heaven
Among the faithless faithful only he ;
His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal.1 There we have the portrait of the unbending Puritan of Milton's time and of the righteous man of all times and places who, amid the temptations and persecutions, the hardships and the trials of the Satanic kingdom on earth, holds fast to God.
It must also be noted that in yet another way Milton's poem reaches out beyond the limits of its nominal subject. By the use of a device taken directly from Virgil—the device of “historical anticipation," as it is sometimes called matter is incorporated which, while lying far outside the story of Eden and the Fall, is none the less essential to the completion of the poet's plan. In a vision Adam is permitted to foresee the awful consequences of his sin in all the corruption of the world till the time of the great Flood; after which, Michael takes up the theme, sketches for him the history of 1 V.894-897 • It is employed a number of times in the "Æneid": notably in the designs on the Shield of Æneas (Book viii.), and in the prophecy of Anchises concerning the future greatness and glory of Rome (Book vi.).
mankind onward till the coming of the Saviour, and outlines the work of Redemption presently to be accomplished. Thus, though the specific text is the loss of Paradise, the closing emphasis is not on the triumph of evil. It is upon the infinite grace and goodness of God in the redemption of fallen man. Then the poet links his universal theme with the question of individual conduct and destiny ; and Adam is made to learn the great lesson, which for Milton is the supreme truth of all human life that happiness on earth consists in willing dependence upon God's power, trust in His goodness, obedience to His will. Michael having ended his speech,
Thus Adam last replied : “ How soon hath thy prediction, Seër blest, Measured this transient World, the race of Time, Till Time stand fixed ! Beyond is all abyss, Eternity, whose end no eye can reach. Greatly instructed I shall hence depart, Greatly in peace of thought, and have my fill Of knowledge, what this vessel can contain ; Beyond which was my folly to aspire. Henceforth I learn that to obey is best, And love with fear the only God; to walk As in His presence, ever to observe His providence and on Him sole depend, Merciful over all His works, with good Still overcoming evil, and by small Accomplishing great things, by things deemed weak Subverting worldly strong, and worldly wise By simply meek ; that suff'ring for Truth's sake
Is fortitude to highest victory,
And to the faithful Death the Gate of Life-
To whom thus also th' Angel last replied :
Only add Deeds to thy Knowledge answerable ; add Faith, Add Virtue, Patience, Temperance ; add Love, By name to come called Charity, the soul Of all the rest : then wilt thou not be loth To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess A paradise within thee, happier far."1
In the foregoing paragraphs I have tried to indicate something of the greatness of “Paradise Lost " when considered only on the side of its subject-matter and spirit ; and let me add that such greatness remains even though for many modern readers much of Milton's theology is a thing of the past. But there is another point of view from which the poem has to be regarded. It has to be studied as a work of art. “ Paradise Lost,” as I have elsewhere put it,
belongs in plan and structure to a particular and well-defined kind of poetry—to the kind we call ' epic 'poetry ; it was written by a man of enormous scholarship who sought to make his own work accord with the technical principles of the great epics of classical antiquity, and who 1 XII. 552-587.
not only adopted these as his models, but also drew continually upon them for various details— incidents, metaphors, similes, turns of speech. • Paradise Lost' has therefore to be studied as an example of the epic ; its plan and composition have to be examined from the standpoint of epic art; it has in particular to be compared with its acknowledged models. Milton's indebtedness to literature in a wider sense has also to be considered—to the Bible, the Greek dramatists, Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser ; and while his countless borrowings are duly noted, special attention will have to be paid to the use to which these borrowings are put by the greatest of plagiarists,' and to the skill with which he adapts them and so makes them his own." 1
Within the limited space of this little book I cannot go into further details regarding this part of our subject. I must content myself with having suggested some of the lines of inquiry which the student of “ Paradise Lost must follow up on his own account. There is, however, one point upon which I must pause to lay stress. We have learned that, while throughout Milton was both Puritan and humanist-a child at once of the Reformation and the Renaissance -the maturing of his genius was accompanied
1 "An Introduction to the Study of Literature,", pp. 75, 76. As a matter of detail it should be noted that “Paradise Lost" is the first important non-dramatic poem in English in blank verse. Milton's prefixed justification of this should be read. The style and versification of the poem throughout form a separate subject for study; as Milton is still our greatest master of all the varied resources of what is surely, with the possible exception of the Greek hexameter, the finest and most flexible measure that any literature has yet possessed.