페이지 이미지

enclosing the whole Universe from absolute Infinity or Nothingness, had to be thought of as in any sense a material or impenetrable shell.

The utter strangeness of this Ptolemaic system to our present habits of thought causes us to forget how long it lasted. Although it was in 1543 that Copernicus had propounded the other system, and although the views of Copernicus struggled gradually into the belief of subsequent astronomers, and had further demonstration given them by Galileo (1610-1616), the Ptolemaic or Alphonsine system, with its ten Spheres enclosing the stationary Earth at different distances, and wheeling round it in a complex combination of their separate motions, retained its prevalence in the popular mind of Europe, and even in the scientific world, till the end of the seventeenth century. Hence all the literature of England, and of other countries, down to that date, is latently cast in the imaginative mould of that system, and is full of its phraseology and of suggestions from it. When Shakespeare speaks of the "stars starting from their spheres,' he means from the Ptolemaic Spheres; and, similarly, the word " sphere" in our old poetry has generally this meaning. Indeed, it retains this meaning in some of our still current expressions, as "This is not my sphere," "You are out of your sphere," &c. A full examination of our old literature in the light of the principle of criticism here suggested-i.e. with the recollection that it was according to the Ptolemaic conception of the Universe, and not according to the Copernican, that our old poets thought of things and expressed their thoughts-might lead to curious results. We are concerned at present, however, with Milton only.

In Milton's case we are presented with the interesting phenomenon of a mind apparently uncertain to the last which of the two systems, the Ptolemaic on the Copernican, was the true one, or perhaps beginning to be persuaded of the higher probability of the Copernican, but yet retained the Ptolemaic for poetical purposes. For Milton's life (1608—1674) coincides with the period of the struggle between the two systems. In his boyhood and youth he had, doubtless, inherited the general or Ptolemaic belief-that in which Shakspeare died. Here, for example, is what everybody was reading during Milton's youth in that favourite book, Sylvester's Translation of Du Bartas :

"As the ague-sick upon his shivering pallet
Delays his health oft to delight his palate,
When wilfully his tastless taste delights
In things unsavoury to sound appetites,
Even so some brain-sicks live there now-a-days
That lose themselves still in contrary ways-
Preposterous wits that cannot row at ease
On the smooth channel of our common seas;
And such are those, in my conceit at least,
Those clerks that think-think how absurd a jest !-
That neither heavens nor stars do turn at all
Nor dance about this great round Earthly Ball,
But the Earth itself, this massy globe of ours,
Turns round about once every twice-twelve hours.

Du Bartas had been a French Protestant, and his English translator, Sylvester, was a Puritan. It was not, therefore, only to the Roman Inquisition or to Roman Catholics that Galileo must have seemed a "brain-sick" and "a preposterous wit when he advocated the Copernican theory. In 1638 Milton had himself conversed with Galileo, then old and blind, near Florence.



There it was," he wrote in 1644 (Areopag.), “that I found and visited the

[ocr errors]


"famous Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition, for thinking in Astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licensers thought." And yet, despite this passage, and other passages showing how strongly the character and history of Galileo had fascinated him, it may be doubted whether Milton even then felt himself entitled to reject the system which Galileo had impugned. His friends and literary associates, the Smectymnuans, at all events, in their answer to Bishop Hall's "Humble Remonstrance (1641);had cited the Copernican doctrine as an unquestionable instance of a supreme absurdity. "There is no more truth in this assertion," they say of one of Bishop Hall's statements, "than if he had said, with Anaxagoras, "Snow is black,' or with Copernicus, The Earth moves, and the Heavens "stand still."" There cannot be a more distinct proof than this incidental passage affords, of the utter repulsiveness of the Copernican theory to even the educated English intellect as late as the middle of the seventeenth century. Milton was probably even then, if we may judge from the above-quoted reference to Galileo, in advance of his contemporaries on this question; and in the interval between that time and the completion of his Paradise Lost his Copernicanism may have become decided. There are, at any rate, two passages in Paradise Lost where he shows his perfect acquaintance with the Copernican theory, and with the arguments in its behalf. The one (IV. 592-597) is an incidental passage; in the other and much longer passage (VIII. 15—178) he makes the question a subject of express conversation between Raphael and Adam. In this last passage Adam is represented as arriving by intuition at the Copernican theory, or at least as perceiving its superior simplicity over the Ptolemaic; and, though the drift of the Angel's reply is that the question is an abstruse one, and that it is of no great consequence for man's real duty in the world which system is the true one, yet the balance of the Angel's remarks is also Copernican. There is no doubt that these two passages were inserted by Milton to relieve his own mind on the subject, and by way of caution to the reader that the scheme of the physical Universe adopted in the construction of the poem is not to be taken as more than a hypothesis for the imagination.

That scheme is, undoubtedly, the Ptolemaic or Alphonsine. Accordingly the little central circle, hung drop-like from the Empyrean in our last diagramand there representing the dimensions of the total Creation of the six days, or, in other words, of our Starry Universe-may be exhibited now on a magnified scale, by simply reproducing one of the diagrams of the Heavens which were given in all the old books of Astronomy. The following is a copy (a little neater than the original, but otherwise exact) from a woodcut which we find in an edition, in 1610, of the Sphæra of the celebrated middle-age astronomer, Joannes a Sacrobosco, or John Holywood. This treatise, originally written in the thirteenth century, and amended or added to by subsequent writers, was the favourite manual of astronomy throughout Europe down to Milton's time. He himself used it as a text-book, as we learn from his nephew Phillips. The cut, the reader ought to understand, represents the interior of the Mundane System in equatorial section as looked down into from the pole of the ecliptic. It is, in short, a view down from the opening at the pole in the preceding cut.

This, literally this, so far as mere diagram can represent it, is the World or Mundane Universe, as Milton keeps it in his mind's eye throughout the poem. It is an enormous azure round of space scooped or carved out of Chaos, and communicating aloft with the Empyrean, but consisting within itself of ten Orbs or hollow Spheres in succession, wheeling one within the other, down to


[ocr errors]

the stationary nest of our small Earth at the centre, with the elements of water, air, and fire, that are immediately around it. It is according to this scheme that Milton virtually describes the process of creation in the first, the second, and the fourth of the six days of Genesis (VII. 232-275 and 339386) the only deviation being that the word "Firmament" is not there applied specifically to the eighth or Starry Sphere, but is used for the whole continuous depth of all the heavens as far as the Primum Mobile. As if to

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

"They pass the Planets Seven, and pass the Fixed,
And that Crystalline Sphere whose balance weighs
The trepidation talked, and that First Moved.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

prevent any mistake, however, there is one passage in which the Ten Spheres are actually enumerated. It is that (III. 481-483) where the attempted ascent of ambitious souls from Earth to the Empyrean by their own effort is described. In order to reach the opening into the Empyrean at the World's zenith, what are the successive stages of their flight?

Here we have the Alphonsine heavens in their order, and with their exact names. But all through the poem the language assumes the same astronomical system. Where the words Orb and Sphere occur, for example, they almost invariably-not quite invariably-mean Orb or Sphere in the Ptolemaic sense. Yet, to make all safe, Milton, as we have seen, inserts two passages at least in which the Copernican theory of the heavens is distinctly suggested as a possible or probable alternative; and, moreover, even while using the language of the other theory, he so arranges that it need not be supposed he does so for any other reason than poetical preference.

In one respect the diagram must fail to convey Milton's complete notion of the World or Mundane Universe at that moment where he supposes the Fiend first gazing down into it from the glorious opening at the zenith, and then plunging precipitate through its azure depths (111. 561—565) in quest of that particular spot in it where Man had his abode. That small Earth which is so conspicuous in the diagram, as being at the centre, either was not visible even to angelic eyes from such an amazing distance as the opening at the zenith of the Primum Mobile, or was not yet marked. The luminary that attracts Satan first, from its all-surpassing splendour, is the Sun. Though the tenant only of the fourth of the Spheres, this luminary so far surpasses all others in majesty that it seems like the King not only of the seven planetary Orbs, but of all the ten. It seems the very God of the whole new Universe-shooting its radiance even through the beds of the stars, as far as the Primum Mobile itself (III. 571-587). It is thither, accordingly, that Satan bends his flight; it is on this of all the bodies in the new Universe that he first alights; and it is only after the Angel Uriel, whom he there encounters, and who does not recognise him in his disguise, has pointed out to him the Earth shining at a distance in the sunlight (III. 722-724) that he knows the exact scene of his further labours. Thus informed, he wings off again from the Sun's body, and, wheeling his steep flight towards the Earth, alights at length on the top of Niphates, near Eden.

There is no need to follow the action of the poem farther in this Introduction. All that takes place after the arrival of Satan on the Earth-all that portion of the story that is enacted within the bounds of Eden or cf Paradise-the reader can without difficulty make out for himself; or any such incidental elucidation as may be requisite will easily occur to him. It is necessary only to take account here of certain final modifications in Milton's imaginary physical structure of the Universe, which take place after the Tempter has succeeded in his enterprise and Man has fallen :— -In the first place there is then established-what did not exist before-a permanent communication between Hell and the new Universe. When Satan had come up through Chaos from Hell-gate, he had done so with toil and difficulty, as one exploring his way; but no sooner had he succeeded in his mission than Sin and Death, whom he had left at Hell-gate, felt themselves instinctively aware of his success, and of the necessity there would thenceforward be for a distinct road between Hell and the new World, by which all the Infernals might go and come. Accordingly (x. 282-324) they construct such a road-a wonderful causey or bridge from Hell-gate, right through or over Chaos, to that exact part of the outside of the new Universe where Satan had first alighted,-i.e. not to its nadir, but to some point near its zenith, where there is the break or orifice in the Primum Mobile towards the Empyrean. And what is the consequence of this vast

alteration in the physical structure of the Universe? The consequence is that the Infernal host are no longer confined to Hell, but possess also the new Universe, like an additional island or pleasure-domain, up in Chaos, and on the very confines of their former home, the Empyrean. Preferring this conquest to their proper empire in Hell, they are thenceforward perhaps more frequently in our World than in Hell, winging through its various Spheres, but chiefly inhabiting the Air round our central Earth. But this causey from Hell to the World, constructed by Sin and Death, is not the only modification of the physical Universe consequent on the Fall. The interior of the Human World as it hangs from the Empyrean receives some alterations for the worse by the decree of the Almighty Himself. The elements immediately round the Earth become harsher and more malignant; the planetary and starry Spheres are so influenced that thenceforward planets and stars look inward upon the central Earth with aspects of malevolence; nay, perhaps it was now first that, either by a heaving askance of the Earth from its former position, or by a change in the Sun's path, the ecliptic became oblique to the equator (x. 651–691). All this is apart from changes in the actual body of the Earth, including the obliteration of the site of the desecrated Paradise, and the outbreak of virulence among all things animate.

From the foregoing sketch, it will be seen that, while the poem is properly enough, as the name Paradise Lost indicates, the tragical story of the temptation and fall of the human race in its first parents, yet this story is included in a more comprehensive epic, of which the rebel Archangel is the hero, and the theatre of which is nothing less than Universal Infinitude. While the consummation, as regards Man, is the loss of innocence and Eden, and the liability to Death, the consummation, as regards Satan, is more in the nature of a triumph. He has succeeded in his enterprise. He has vitiated the new World at its beginning, and he has added it as a conquest to the Hell which had been assigned to him and his for their only proper realm. True, in the very hour of his triumph a curse has been pronounced upon him; he and his host experience a farther abasement of their being by transmutation into the image of the Serpent; and he and they are left with the expectation of a time when their supposed conquest will be snatched from them, and they will be driven in ignominy back to whence they came. Still, for the present, and until that

greater Man" arise who is to restore the human race, and be the final and universal victor, they are left in successful possession. Whatever the sequel is to be (and it is foreshadowed in vision in the two last books), the Epic has here reached its natural close. Its purpose was to furnish the imagination with such a story of transcendent construction as should connect the mysteries of the inconceivable and immeasurable universe anterior to Time and to Man with the traditions and experience of our particular planet. This is accomplished by fastening the imagination on one great being, supposed to belong to the thronging multitudes of the angelic race that peopled the Empyrean before our World was created; by following this being in his actions as a rebel in Heaven and then as an exile into Hell; and by leaving him at last so far in possession of the new Universe of Man that thenceforward his part as an Archangel is well-nigh forgotten, and he is content with his new and degraded function as the Devil of mere terrestrial regions. Thenceforward he and his are to dwell more in these terrestrial regions, and particularly in the air, than in Hell-mingling themselves devilishly in human affairs, and


« 이전계속 »