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N° 309. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 1711-12.
Di, quibus imperium est Animarum, Umbræque silentes,
VIRG. Æn. vi. ver. 264.
Ye realms, yet unreveal'd to human sight,
I HAVE before observed in general, that the persons whom Milton introduces into his poem always discover such sentiments and behaviour as are in a peculiar manner conformable to their respective characters.
Every circumstance in their speeches and actions, is with great justice and delicacy adapted to the persons who speak and act. As the poet very much excels in this consistency of his characters, I shall beg leave to consider several passages of the second book in this light. That superior greatness and mock-majesty which is ascribed to the prince of the fallen angels, is admirably preserved in the beginning of this book. His opening and closing the debate; his taking on himself that great enterprise, at the thought of which the whole infernal assembly trembled; his encountering the hideous phantom who guarded the gates of hell, and appeared to him in all his terrors; are instances of that proud and daring mind which could not brook submission, even to Omnipotence!
Satan was now at hand, and from his seat
With horrid strides, hell trembled as he strode;
The same boldness and intrepidity of behaviour discovers itself in the several adventures which he meets with, during his passage through the regions of unformed matter, and particularly in his address to those tremendous powers who are described as presiding over it.
The part of Moloch is likewise, in all its circumstances, full of that fire and fury which distinguish this spirit from the rest of the fallen angels. He is described in the first book as besmeared with the blood of human sacrifices, and delighted with the tears of parents, and the cries of children. In the second book he is marked out as the fiercest spirit that fought in heaven and if we consider the figure which he makes in the sixth book, where the battle of the angels is described, we find it every way answerable to the same furious, enraged character:
Where the might of Gabriel fought,
It may be worth while to observe, that Milton has represented this violent impetuous spirit, who is hurried on by such precipitate passions, as the first that rises in that assembly to give his opinion upon their present posture of affairs. Accordingly he declares himself abruptly for war, and appears incensed at his companions for losing so much time as even to deliberate upon it. All his sentiments are rash, au
dacious, and desperate. Such is that of arming themselves with their tortures, and turning their punishments upon him who inflicted them:
- No, let us rather choose,
Arm'd with hell flames and fury, all at once
Mix'd with Tartarian sulphur, and strange fire,
His preferring annihilation to shame or misery is also highly suitable to his character; as the comfort he draws from their disturbing the peace of heaven, that if it be not victory it is revenge, is a sentiment truly diabolical, and becoming the bitterness of this implacable spirit.
Belial is described in the first book as the idol of the lewd and luxurious. He is in the second book, pursuant to that description, characterised as timorous and slothful; and if we look into the sixth book, we find him celebrated in the battle of angels for nothing but that scoffing speech which he makes to Satan, on their supposed advantage over the enemy. As his appearance is uniform, and of a piece, in these three several views, we find his sentiments in the infernal assembly every way conformable to his character. Such are his apprehensions of a second battle, his horrors of annihilation, his preferring to be miserable, rather than not to be. I need not observe, that the contrast of thought in this speech, and that which precedes it, gives an agreeable variety to the debate.
Mammon's character is so fully drawn in the first
book, that the poet adds nothing to it in the second. We were before told, that he was the first who taught mankind to ransack the earth for gold and silver, and that he was the architect of Pandæmonium, or the infernal palace, where the evil spirits were to meet in council. His speech in this book is every way suitable to so depraved a character. How proper is that reflection of their being unable to taste the happiness of heaven were they actually there, in the mouth of one, who, while he was in heaven, is said to have had his mind dazzled with the outward pomps and glories of the place, and to have been more intent on the riches of the pavement than on the beatific vision. I shall also leave the reader to judge how agreeable the following sentiments are to the same character:
This deep world
Of darkness do we dread? How oft amidst
And with the majesty of darkness round
Covers his throne; from whence deep thunders roar
As he our darkness, cannot we his light
Beelzebub, who is reckoned the second in dignity that fell, and is, in the first book, the second that awakens out of the trance, and confers with Satan upon the situation of their affairs, maintains his rank in the book now before us. There is a wonderful majesty described in his rising up to speak. He acts as a kind of moderator between the two opposite parties, and proposes a third undertaking, which the
whole assembly gives into. The motion he makes of detaching one of their body in search of a new world is grounded upon a project devised by Satan, and cursorily proposed by him in the following lines of the first book:
Space may produce new worlds, whereof so rife
A generation, whom his choice regard
Full counsel must mature:
It is on this project that Beelzebub grounds his proposal:
What if we find
Some easier enterprise? There is a place
In pow'r and excellence, but favour'd more
The reader may observe how just it was, not to omit in the first book the project upon which the whole poem turns; as also that the prince of the fallen angels was the only proper person to give it birth, and that the next to him in dignity was the fittest to second and support it.
There is besides, I think, something wonderfully beautiful, and very apt to affect the reader's imagi