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assistants whom he kept about him. As at the time when the composition of Paradise Lost was begun the eldest daughter, Anne, was but twelve years of age, the second, Mary, but ten, and the youngest, Deborah, but six, and as when the poem was certainly finished their ages were about eighteen, sixteen, and twelve respectively, their services as readers during its composition can have been but partial. But, whether with them as his readers, or with young men and grown-up friends performing the part for hire or love, he was able to avail himself for his poem, as well as for the drier works on which he was simultaneously engaged, of any help which books could give. He may, accordingly, at this time, if not before, have made himself acquainted with some of those poems and other works, Italian and Latin, in which his subject, or some portion of it, had been previously treated. He was very likely to do so, and to take any hint he could get.
It would not be difficult to prove, at any rate, that, among the "select readings” engaged in specially for the purposes of Paradise Lost while it was in progress, must have been readings in certain books of geography and Eastern travel, and in certain Rabbinical, early Christian, and mediæval commentators on the subjects of Paradise, the Angels, and the Fall
. Nothing is more striking in the poem, nothing more touching, than the frequency, and, on the whole, wonderful accuracy, of its references to me.ps; and, whatever wealth of geographical information Milton may have carried with him into his blindness, there are evidences, I think, that he must have refreshed his recollections of this kind by the eyes of others, and perhaps by their guidance of his finger, after his sight was gone.
In short, for the Paradise Lost, as well as for the prose labours carried on along with it, there must have been abundance of reading ; and, remembering to what a stock of prior learning, possessed before his blindness, all such increments were added, we need have no wonder at the appearance now presented by the poem. To say merely that it is a most learned poem--the poem of a mind full of miscellaneous lore wherewith its grand imagination might work, is not enough. Original as it is, original in its entire conception, and in every portion and passage, the poem is yet full of flakes—we can express it no otherwise—full of fakes from all that is greatest in preceding literature, ancient or modern. This is what all the commentators have observed, and what their labours in collecting parallel passages from other poets and prose-writers have served more and more to illustrate. Such labours have been overdone ; but they have proved incontestably the tenacity of Miiton's memory: In the first place, Paradise Lost is permeated from beginning to end with citations from the Bible. Milton must have almost had the Bible by heart ; and, besides that some passages of his poem, where he is keeping close to the Bible as his authority, are avowedly coagulations of Scriptural texts, it is possible again and again, throughout the rest, to detect the flash, through his noblest language, of some suggestion from the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, or the Apocalypse. So, though in a less degree, with Homer, the Greek tragedians (Euripides was a special favourite of his), Plato, Demosthenes, and the Greek classics generally, and with Lucretius, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, Persius, and the other Latins. So with the Italian writers whom he knew so well— Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, and others now less remembered. So with modern Latinists of various European countries, still less recoverable. Finally, so with the whole series of preceding
English poets, particularly Spenser, Shakespeare, and some of the minor Speuserians of the reigns of James and Charles I., not forgetting that uncouth
popular favourite of his boyhood, Sylvester's Du Bartas. In connexion with all which, or with any particularly striking instance of the use by Milton of a thought or a phrase from previous authors, let the reader remember his own Definition of Plagiarism, given in his Eikovokaotas. “ Such kind of borrow. ing as this,” he there says, “if it be not bettered by the borrower, among good authors is accounted plagiary. And again, of quotations from the Bible, “ It is not hard for any man who hath a Bible in his hands to borrow good “ words and holy sayings in abundance; but to make them his own is a work of grace only from above."
How was the poem, as it grew in Milton's mind, committed to paper? It was dictated by parcels of ten, twenty, thirty, or more lines at a time. before his blindness, Milton had made use of amanuenses; but, after his blindness, he scarcely wrote at all with his own hand. It would be difficult to produce a genuine autograph of his of later date than 1652. On this matter Phillips is again our most precise authority. “There is another very remark"able passage,” he says, "" in the composure of this poem, which I have a
particular occasion to remember; for, whereas I had the perusal of it from " the very beginning, for some years as I went from time to time to visit him,
in a parcel of ten, twenty, or thirty verses at a time—which, being written " by whatever hand came next, might possibly want correction as to the
orthography and pointing—having, as the summer came on, not been shewed
any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, " that his verse never happily flowed but from the Autumnal Equinoctial to the " Vernal [i.e. from the end of September to the end of March), and that “ whatever he attempted [at other times] was never to his satisfaction, though “ he exerted his fancy never so much; so that, in all the years he was about “ this poem, he may be said to have spent but half his time therein.” The reader ought to correct by this extract, taken in connexion with information already given as to Milton's domestic circumstances, the impressions he may have received from Aummery pictures representing the blind poet in a rapt attitude dictating Paradise Lost to his attentive and revering daughters. His eldest daughter, Anne, could not write ; and though the other two could write, and may occasionally, when the poem was in progress, have acted as his amanuenses, their ages exclude the idea of their having been his chief assistants in this capacity—while we also know that the poor motherless girls had grown up in circumstances to make them regard the services they were required to perform for their father as less a duty than a trouble. On the whole, Phillips's words suggest what is probably the right notion—that Milton dictated his poem in small portions at a time, chieily within-doors, and more in winter than in summer, to any one that chanced to be about him. Sometimes it may have been one of his daughters; sometimes, latterly, when the poem was nearly complete, it may have been his third wife ; frequently it may have been one of the friends or youths who statedly read to him. From Phillips's statement it is also clear that he assisted Milton in revising the gathered scraps of MS. from time to time. Finally, when all was completed, a clean copy, or clean copies, must have been made by some practised scribe. One such clean copy was that sent to the licenser, a portion of which, as has been mentioned, still exists. The hand in that manuscript has not been identified.
III. SCHEME AND MEANING OF THE POEM.
Paradise Lost is an Epic. But it is not, like the Iliad or the Æneid, a national Epic ; nor is it an epic after any other of the known types. It is an epic of the whole human species-an epic of our entire planet, or indeed of the entire astronomical universe. The title of the poem, though perhaps the best thät could have been chosen, hardly indicates beforehand the full nature or. extent of the theme ; nor are the opening lines, by themselves, sufficiently descriptive of what is to follow. According to them, the song is to be
“Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
This is a true enough description, inasmuch as the whole story bears on this point. But it is the vast comprehension of the story, both in space and time, as leading to this point, that makes it unique among epics, and entitles Milton to speak of it as involving
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme." It is, in short, a poetical representation, on the authority of hints from the Book of Genesis, of the historical connexion between Human Time and Aboriginal or Eternal Infinity, or between our created World and the immeasurable and inconceivable Universe of Pre-human Existence. So far as our World is concerned, the poem starts from that moment when our newly-created Earth, with all the newly-created starry depths about it, had as yet but two human beings upon it ; and these consequently are, on this side of the presupposed Infinite Eternity, the main persons of the epic. But we are carried back into this pre-supposed Infinite Eternity, and the grand purpose of the poem is to connect, by a stupendous imagination, certain events or courses of the inconceivable history that had been unfolding itself there with the first fortunes of that new azure World which is familiar to us, and more particularly with the first fortunes of that savoured ball at the centre whereon those two Truman creatures walked. Now the person of the epic through the narration of whose acts this connexion is established is Satan. He, as all critics have perceived, and in a wider sense than most of them have perceived, is the real hero of the poem. He and his actions are the link between that new World of Man the infancy of which we behold in the poem and that boundless antecedent Universe of Pre-human Existence which the poem assumes. For he was a native of that Pre-human Universe—one of its greatest and most conspicuous natives ; and what we follow in the poem, when its story is taken chronologically, is the life of this great being, from the time of his yet unimpaired primacy or archangelship among the Celestials, on to that time when, in pursuit of a scheme of revenge, he fings himself into the new experimental World, tries the strength of the new race at its fountain-head, and, by success in his attempt, vitiates Man's portion of space to his own nature, and wins possession of it for a season. The attention of the reader is particularly requested to the following remarks and diagrams. The diagrams are not mere illustrations of what Milton may have conceived in his scheme of his poem.
They are what he did conceive and most tenaciously keep before his mind from first to last ; and, unless they are thoroughly grasped, the poem will not be understood as a whole, and many portions of it will be misinterpreted.
Aboriginally, or in primeval Eternity, before the creation of our Earth or the Starry Universe to which it belongs, universal space is to be considered, according to the requisites of the poem, not as containing stars or starry systems at all, but as, so to say, a sphere of infinite radius, divided equatorially into two hemispheres, thus
The upper of these two hemispheres of primeval Infinity is HEAVEN, OI THE EMPYREAN-a boundless, unimaginable region of Light, Freedom, Happiness, and Glory, in the midst whereof Deity, though omnipresent, has His immediate and visible dwelling, and where He is surrounded by a vast population of beings, called “the Angels,” or “Sons of God,” who draw near to His throne in worship, derive thence their nurture and their delight, and yet live dispersed through all the ranges and recesses of the region, leading severally their mighty lives and performing the behests of Deity, but organized into companies, orders, and hierarchies. Milton is careful to explain that all that he says of Heaven is said symbolically, and in order to make conceivable by the human imagination what in its own nature is inconceivable; but, this being explained, he is bold enough in his use of terrestrial analogies. Round the immediate throne of Deity, indeed, there is kept a blazing mist of vagueness, which words are hardly permitted to pierce, though the Angels are represented as from time to time assembling within it, beholding the Divine Presence and hearing the Divine Voice. But Heaven at large, or portions of it, are figured as tracts of a celestial Earth, with plain, hill, and valley, wherein the myriads of the Sons of God expatiate, in their two orders of Seraphim and Cherubim, and in their descending ranks as Archangels or Chiefs, Princes of various degrees, and individual Powers and Intelligences. Certain difierences, however, are implied as distinguishing these Celestials from the subsequent race of Mankind. As they are of infinitely greater prowess, immortal, and of more purely spiritual nature, so their ways even of physical existence and action iranscend all that is within human experience. Their forms are dilatable or contractible at pleasure; they move with incredible swiftness; and, as they are not subject to any law of gravitation, their motion, though ordinarily repre. sented as horizontal over the Heavenly ground, may as well be vertical or in any other direction, and their aggregations need not, like those of men, be in squares, oblongs, or other plane figures, but may be in cubes, or other rectan. gular or oblique solids, or in spherical masses. These and various other particulars are to be kept in mind concerning Heaven and its pristine inhabitants. As respects the other half or hemisphere of the primeval Infinity, though it too is inconceivable in its nature, and has to be described by words which are at best symbolical, less needs be said. For it is CHAOS, or the Uninhabited-a huge, limitless ocean, abyss, or quagmire, of universal darkness and lifelessness, wherein are jumbled in blustering confusion the elements of all matter, or rather the crude embryons of all the elements, ere as yet they are distinguishable. There is no light there, nor properly Earth, Water, Air, or Fire, but only a vast pulp or welter of unformed matter, in which all these lie tempestuously intermixed. Though the presence of Deity is there potentially too, it is still, as it were, actually retracted thence, as from a realm unorganized and left to Night and Anarchy ; nor do any of the Angels wing down into its repulsive obscurities. The crystal floor or wall of Heaven divides them from it; underneath which, and unvisited of light, save what may glimmer through upon its nearer strata, it howls and rages and stagnates eternally.
Such is and has been the constitution of the Universal Infinitude from ages immemorial in the Angelic reckoning. But lo! at last a day in the annals of Heaven when the grand monotony of existence hitherto is disturbed and broken. On a day—“ such a day as Heaven's great year brings forth”. (v. 582, 583)—all the Empyreal host of Angels, called by imperial summons from all the ends of Heaven, assemble innumerably before the throne of the Almighty ; beside whom, imbosomed in bliss, sat the Divine Son. They had come to hear this divine decree :
“Hear, all ye Angels, Progeny of Light,
Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers,
With joy and obedience is this decree received throughout the hierarchies, save in one quarter. One of the first of the Archangels in Heaven, if not the very first-the coequal of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, if not their superior -is the Archangel known afterwards (for his first name in Heaven is lost) as Satan, or Lucifer. In him the effect of the decree is rage, envy, pride, the re. solution to rebel. He conspires with his next subordinate, known afterwards as Beelzebub; and there is formed by them that faction in Heaven which in. cludes at length one third of the entire Heavenly host. Then ensue the wars in Heaven, Michael and the loyal Angels warring against Satan and the rebel Angels, so that for two days the Empyrean is in uproar. But on the third day the Messiah himself rides forth in his chariot of power, and armed with ten thousand thunders. Right on he drives, in his sole might, through the rebel ranks, till they are trampled and huddled, in one indiscriminate flock, incapable of resistance, before him and his fires. But his purpose is not utterly to destroy