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Notes to Paradise Lost.
285–290. “as when hollow rocks,” &c. Hume compares Virgil, Æn. x. 98, and Todd compares Homer, Iliad, ii. 144.
299-309. " Which when Beelsebub perceived," &c. Observe how, in the account of the Infernal Council, Milton reserves the decisive speech for the great angel, Beelzebub, not absolutely the chief of the host, but nearest to the chief, and in private possession of his plans. He does not speak till the subject has been discussed on different sides by three preceding speakers, and he can observe the state of feeling produced. Moloch, the fierce and defiant, has advised open war; he is reckless of all farther consequences, and would brave even annihilation. Belial, the plausible and effeminate, is for submission and passive endurance. Mere existence has charms for him ; anything is better than annihilation ; and he suggests that in the mere lapse of time changes for the better may occur, and that, at all events, there will be an accommodation to circumstances. Mammon, in the main, or in the negative part of his advice, agrees with Belial; but, being a more inventive and architectonic spirit, he throws a positive element into his counsel-to wit, that, while accepting present circumstances, they should make the best of them by industry and ingenuity, and so develop the material and economic resources of Hell. There can be no doubt that Milton, in these three speeches, had in view a kind of poetic representation of three very common types of human and national statesmanship—types which he might have found about him in the political world of England while he was writing. In most emergencies men may be distinguished as taking—some the Moloch view of affairs, which recommends action at all hazards; others the Belial view, which recommends slothful epicureanism ; and others the Mammon view, which recommends material thrift and the accumulation of wealth at whatever abandonment of antecedents, enterprises, and higher ends. It is while the infernal assembly are under the influence of Mammon's speech, and are clearly more disposed to go with him and Belial than with Moloch, that a greater statesman than all three rises-greater in his very look of grave thought and majesty, and greater also in what he has actually cogitated and means to propose. For the proposition which Beelzebub rises to submit differs, it will be found, from the previous advices precisely in this, that it is specific—a definite plan, adapted to the exigency. In its nature it is a compromise between Motoch's policy and the other; but it is so far on Moloch's side that it does contemplate action-not, however, the blundering action into which that hot spirit would have rushed, but a course of action subtle and well-considered.
310-340. " Thrones and Imperial Powers," &c. This part of Beelzebub's speech, and, indeed, the whole of it, so far as controversial, is mainly a reply to Mammon, whose counsel at that moment had met with general approbation. In the very act of opening his address to the Angels by their titles of dignity, Beelzebub grapples with the pre
vailing sentiment. “Thrones and Imperial Powers, offspring of Heaven," he begins, or rather shall I now call you Princes of Hell, since so the vote seems to be going, and ye are pleased with Mammon's picture of the Empire that, by industry and art, ye may build up in Hell ? 0, doubtless! a fine vision, but for one little consideration which ye have not taken into account.” He then goes on to show that Mammon's scheme proceeds on the supposition of a total disconnexion between the realm in which they now are and Heaven. But, that supposition being wrong-Hell, though so far separated from Heaven, being still within Heaven's jurisdiction, and the Almighty not having given it up to the outcast Angels as a waste world of which they may make the best they can, unnoticed and unregulated, but meaning still to rule there with his iron sceptre, as in Heaven with his golden one-Mammon's scheme is robbed of its feasibility. He wants to do what he likes with his own; but what if it be not his own ?
332. “voutsafed.” So the word is generally spelt by Milton, perhaps to avoid the disagreeable sound of ch before the s.
332-336. “what peace . . . but custody severe , .. what peace .. but hostility and hate.” Richardson notes the violent construction of but here, and quotes, as analogous, the phrase "Ei liberorum, nisi divitiæ, nihil erat," from the Menachmi of Plautus,
344-378. “ What if we find some easier enterprise ? There is a place,” &c. Having disposed of Mammon's project, and having also glanced, but only slightly, at Moloch's blustering alternative, Beelzebub now develops his own practical proposition. The whole passage is an important one in the plan of the Poem.
351-353 so was His will,” &c. Heb. vi. 17; with a recollection also, as Hume noted, of Iliad, i. 528, and Æn. ix, 104.
367. "puny.” Perhaps, as Newton suggested, in its etymological sense of puis né, after-born, or later-born.
378-380. “Thus Beëlsebub pleaded his devilish counsel-first devised by Satan, and in part proposed.” See Book I. 650—656, and the note there. Milton, it will be seen, is careful to remind his readers that Beelzebub's proposition was not original on his part, but only a development of an idea which had been already suggested to all the Angels by their supreme chief on their first muster out of the Burning Lake. Beelzebub may have meanwhile ruminated the idea ; or he and Satan may have discussed it between themselves, and the chief may have delegated the exposition of it to his minister, reserving his own appearance for the final act.
387. “ States," i.e. Estates, as in the phrases “ States of the Realm,” “Estates of Parliament,” “the Third Estate.”
388, 389. “ with full assent they vote." We must suppose here some brief act of voting, by gesture and acclamation, on the part of the whole assembly-Beelzebub pausing in his speech to permit it to be made, but still standing.
390-416. “ Well have ye judged,” &c. Assuming that all are agreed and that the debate is now ended, Beelzebub, before he sits down, broaches the all-important matter that yet remains—who shall go as emissary in search of the new World. We may suppose that here too Beelzebub speaks as had been arranged between him and Satan. He does not name Satan, and seems as ignorant as any who shall be chosen for the mission ; but his representation of its difficulties and dangers is evidently calculated to discourage inconvenient volunteers.
395. “ with neighbouring arms," i.e. with our forces then conveniently
“ her balm”: see note, Book I. 254. 410.
" The happy Isle," i.e. “ the Earth hanging in the sea of air," say the commentators, after Bishop Newton, who quotes an exactly similar expression for the terrestrial globe from Cicero. But this interpretation must be wrong. The Angels know nothing as yet of the Earth or the nature of its environment; they know only vaguely of some kind of starry world then about to be created, and probably at that moment newly-created in the central part of infinite space where Chaos adjoins Heaven. It is this world, which they cannot figure exactly, but which they can fancy as an azure sphere or round, insulated between Heaven and Chaos, that is “the happy isle.” To a voyager arriving in it after toiling upward through Chaos it would indeed be an island or insulated world.
412. “senteries," i.e. sentries. The common derivation of this word and of its other form, sentinel, is from the Latin sentire, to perceive; but Wedgwood derives both from the old French sente (now sentier), a path, through its diminutives senteret, and sentine or sentelle, a little path, The sentry or sentinel is the man who walks up and down in little path.
414. we now no less”: so spelt in the original edition ; but there is a direction among the Errata to change “we” into “ wee,” showing that Milton meant the word to be pronounced emphatically here.
417, 418. “expectation held his look suspense": i.e. As he sat, he still kept his look ranging or suspended over the assembly, as if uncertain from what quarter there might be a response.
429. “unmoved": possibly “undisturbed by the dangers in prospect," but rather, I think, "unsolicited," “ of his own accord.” I “
432—444. “ Long is the way,” &c. In these twelve lines, we have, from Satan's lips, a farther general sketch of the Miltonic zones or divisions of infinite Space, taken in ascending series. First there is Hell, or the huge convex of fire in which the speaker and his hearers are ; when that is burst and the adamantine gates overhead are passed, Chad is reached ; and somewhere over Chaos is the unknown new Starry World. Milton is careful again and again to impress, as occasion offers, this distinct diagram of Universal Space as he requires the readers of his poem to conceive it.
434.“ convex.” The commentators suggest that concave would liave been the proper word from Satan's point of view; but might he not be imagining Hell from the outside?
439. “unessential Night”: i.e. having no real substance or existence, -a kind of vast Non-entity or abortion of Being. 445.
“ I should ill become," &c, Hume compares Sarpedon's speech, Iliad, xii. 310, &c.
459–456. Wherefore do I assume . . . High-honoured sits ?” A sentence of very close and gnarled structure. Refusing to accept” is equivalent to were I to refuse to accept,” or were I one refusing to accept." Of hazard as of honour, due alike to him who reigns," &c. ; i.e. which two things are equally due to him who reigns. " And so much more," &c. : i.e. “as these two things are equally due to a ruler, there ought to be an increase of the one (hazard) assigned him in exact proportion to the amount he has of the other (honour).”
452. “refusing,” i.e. if I should refuse. 457–488.
“ intend at home . . . what best”: i.e. “study” or “attend to”—an old, but perfectly exact usage of the word "intend; ” which means literally “to stretch or bend over."
482, 483. “ for neither do the Spirits damned lose all their virtue.” A remarkable saying, of which, as is well known, Milton claims ample benefit throughout his Poem. The connecting word “neither" is of some importance here, as showing that the poet, while describing the reverent demeanour of the Angels to Satan and their praises of his magnanimity and disinterestedness, is already thinking of similar traits of nobleness to be found in bad men. “ Let not bad men,” he says, “set much store by those casual acts of seeming nobleness to which glory or ambition may doubtless spur even the worst of them ; for neither have that other class of evil beings, the irretrievably damned, lost such virtue as this."
486-495. “Thus they . . ended .. as, when from mountain tops," &c. The construction and meaning are intricate, but may be rendered thus : “Thus they ended their consultations, which had begun so darkly, in a common feeling of joy and admiration of their chief; just as, at the end
of a gloomy day-when the dusky clouds, ascending from the mountaintops during a lull of the North-wind, have overspread Heaven's cheerful face, [and] the louring element has been scowling snow or shower over the darkened landscape--if by chance the setting sun shoot a beam over the scene, then all brightens and revives.” Thyer found the exact phrase, “Heaven's cheerful face,” in Spenser (F. Q. ii. 12. 34); and Newton and others find traces of Iliad v. 522–526 and other passages in the whole simile. Mr. Keightley quotes Spenser's 40th Sonnet.
491. “ Scowls o'er the darkened landskip snow or shower." A bold metaphor; for, unless we enclose the words “snow or shower" between two commas (which would violate the original pointing), we must understand the “louring element” to be “ scowling snow or shower over the landscape.” “ Landskip,” spelt “lantskip” in the original text.
496, 497.“ Devil with devil damned firm concord holds." Todd quotes from the Contemplations of Milton's great opponent, Bishop Hall ( Book IV.), a very similar saying: “Even evil Spirits keep touch within themselves.” Is this saying of the Bishop's also a metaphor from military drill, where all precision of corporate movement depends on each man “keeping the touch” with his individual neighbour ? Milton might have borrowed the phrase. We shall find that he had the idea.
512. “A globe of fiery Seraphim." This is explained to mean battalion in circle," and Bishop Newton quotes a passage from Virgil (Æn, x, 373) in which such is the sense of “globus.” But here in Milton the globe may be a solid globe or sphere; for the Angels, unlike men, being capable of vertical motion as well as of horizontal, may form themselves in solids—in cubes as well as squares, and in spheres as well as circles. See Par. Reg. IV. 581-2.
513. "horrent": i.e. bristling.
517. "sounding alchymy" : 1.e. trumpet; this use of “alchymy" for any metal being not uncommon in poets.
518. “By harald's voice explained." An official proclamation by voice follows the trumpet-blast, explaining its meaning.
527. "his great chief." So in the First Edition, but in the Second and others “ this great chief."
530--532. “ As at the Olympian games,” &c. Newton refers to Iliad ii. 773 ; and Hume to Æn. vi. 642, as well as to the phrase "metaque fervidis evitata rotis” in Horace (Od. i. 1, 5), evidently recollected here by Milton.
-brigads : see note, Book I. 675. 533-538. ,
“ As when, to warn ... Welkin burns." Though printed in the original editions, and in most still, as a separate and complete sentence, these lines are, in syntax, but a prolongation of the foregoing. A comparison suggests itself of the wheelings and brigadings of the