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even, by a splendid stroke of diabolic policy, enjoying the worship of men while securing their ruin, by passing themselves off as gods and demigods of all kinds of mongrel mythologies. That this is the main course and purport of the Epic will be perceived all the more clearly if the reader will note how much of the action, though it all bears ultimately on the fate of Earth, takes place away from the Earth altogether, and at a rate different from that of earthly causation-in the Empyrean, in Hell, in Chaos, or among the orbs and starry interspaces of the entire Cosmos. The portions of the poem which are occupied with descriptions of Eden and Paradise and the relation of events there are attractive from their peculiar beauty, but they amount to but a fragment of the whole.
One result which ought to follow from a right understanding of the scheme of the Poem, as it has been here exhibited, is a truer idea of the place which Milton's Epic holds among the great poems of the world, and also of its relation to his total mind and life. What is that in any man which is highest, deepest, and most essential in him-which governs all, reveals all, gives the key to all that he thinks or is? What but his way of thinking or feeling, whatever it may be, respecting the relation or non-relation of the whole visible or physical world to that which is boundless, invisible, unfeatured, metaphysical? What he thinks or feels on this subject is essentially his philosophy; if he abstains from thinking on it at all, then that very abstinence is equally his philosophy. And what greater character can there be in a poem, or in any other work of art, than that it truly conveys the author's highest mind or mood on this subject-his theory, if he has one, or his antipathy to any theory, should that be the case? It may be doubted whether the world ever has taken a poem to its larger heart, or placed it in the list of the poems spoken of as great, except from a perception, more or less conscious, that it possessed, in a notable degree, this characteristic-that it was the expression, in some form or other, under whatever nominal theme, and with whatever intermixture of matter, of the intimate personal philosophy of a great living mind. To suppose, at all events, that Milton could have put forth any poem of large extent uninformed by his deepest and most serious philosophy of life and of the world, is to know nothing whatever about him. The ingenious construction of a fiction that should anyhow entertain the world, and which the author might behold floating away, detached from himself, as a beautifully-blown bubble-this was not his notion of poesy. Into whatever he wrote he was sure to put as much of himself as possible; and into that work which he intended to be his greatest it would have been safe to predict that he would studiously put the very most of himself. It would have been safe to predict that he would make it not only a phantasy or tale of majestic proportions, with which the human race might regale its leisure, but also a bequest of his own thoughts and speculations on the greatest subjects interesting to man—a kind of testament to posterity that it was thus and thus that he, Milton, veteran and blind, had learnt to think on such subjects, and dared advise the world for ever to think also. True, from the nature of the case, a poet must express himself on such subjects not so much in direct propositions addressed to the reason as in figurative conceptions, phantasmagories, or allegories, imagined individually and connectedly in accordance with his intellectual intention. as far, therefore, as Paradise Lost is an expression of Milton's habitual mode of thought respecting Man and History in relation to an eternal and unknown
Infinity, it is so by way of what the Germans call Vorstellung (popular image or representation), and not by way of Begriff (pure or philosophic notion). Whether on such subjects it is possible to address the human mind at all except through visual or other sensuous images, and whether the most abstract language of philosophers consists of anything else than such images reduced to dust and made colourless, needs not here be inquired. Whatever might have been Milton's abstract theory on any such subject, it was certainly in the nature of his genius to express it in a Vorstellung. He had faith in this method as that by which the collective soul of man had been impressed and ruled in all ages, and would be impressed and ruled to the end of time. He more than once inserts in the poem passages cautioning the reader that his descriptions and narratives of supra-mundane scenes and events are not to be taken literally, but only symbolically. Thus, when the Archangel Raphael, yielding to Adam's request, begins, after a pause, his narration of the events that had taken place in the Empyrean Heaven before the creation of Man and his Universe, he is made (v. 563-576) to preface the narration with these words :
Let Paradise Lost, then, be called a Vorstellung. But what a Vorstellung it is! That World of Man, the world of all our stars and starry transparencies, hung but drop-like after all from the Empyrean; the great Empyrean itself, "undetermined square or round," so that, though we do diagram it for form's sake, it is beyond all power of diagram; Hell, far beneath but still measurably far, with its outcast infernal Powers tending disastrously upwards or tugging all downwards; finally, between the Empyrean and Hell, that blustering blackness of an unimaginable Chaos, roaring around the Mundane Sphere, and assaulting everlastingly its outermost bosses, but unable to break through, or to disturb the serenity of the golden poise that steadies it from the zenithwhat phantasmagory more truly all-significant than this has the imagination of poet ever conceived? What expanse of space, comparable to this for vastness, has any other poet presumed to occupy with a coherent story? The physical universe of Dante's great poem would go into a nutshell as compared with that to which the imagination must stretch itself out in Paradise Lost. In this respect-in respect of the extent of physical immensity through which the poem ranges, and which it orbs forth with soul-dilating clearness and divides with never-to-be-obliterated accuracy before the eye-no possible poem can ever overpass it. And then the story itself! What story mightier, or more full of meaning, can there ever be than that of the Archangel rebelling in Heaven, degraded from Heaven into Hell, reascending from Hell to the Human Universe, winging through the starry spaces of that Universe, and
at last possessing himself of our central Earth, and impregnating its incipient history with the spirit of Evil? Vastness of scene and power of story together, little wonder that the poem should have so impressed the world. Little wonder that it should now be Milton's Satan, and Milton's narrative of the Creation in its various transcendental connexions, that are in possession of the British imagination, rather than the strict Biblical accounts from which Milton so scrupulously derived the hints to which he gave such marvellous expansion!
But will the power of the poem be permanent? Grand conception as it is, was it not a conception framed too much in congruity with special beliefs and modes of thinking of Milton's own age to retain its efficiency for ever? If the matters it symbolized are matters which the human imagination, and the reason of man in its most exalted mood, must ever strive to symbolize in some form or other, may not the very definiteness, the blazing visual exactness, of Milton's symbolization jar on modern modes of thought? Do we not desire, in our days also, to be left to our own liberty of symbolizing in these matters, and may it not be well to prefer, in the main, symbolisms the least fixed, the least sensuous, the most fluent and cloud-like, the most tremulous to every touch of new idea or new feeling? To this objection-an objection, however, which would apply to all great Poetry and Art whatever, and would affect the paintings of Michael Angelo, for example, as much as the Paradise Lost of Milton-something must be conceded. Changes in human ideas since the poem was written have thrown the poem, or parts of it, farther out of keeping with the demands of the modern imagination than it can have been with the requirements of Milton's contemporaries. Not to speak of the direct traces in it of a peculiar theology in the form of speeches and arguments (in which kind, however, there is less that need really be obsolete than some theological critics have asserted), the Ptolemaism of Milton's astronomical scheme would alone put the poem somewhat in conflict with the educated modern conceptions of physical Nature. No longer now is the Mundane Universe thought of as a definite succession of Orbs round the globe of Earth. No longer now can the fancy of man be stayed at any distance, however immense, by an imaginary. Primum Mobile or outermost shell, beyond which all is Chaos. The Primum Mobile has been for ever burst; and into the Chaos supposed to be beyond it the imagination has voyaged out and still out, finding no Chaos, and no sign of shore or boundary, but only the same ocean of transpicuous space, with firmaments for its scattered islands, and such islands still rising to view on every farthest horizon. Thus accustomed to the idea of Nature as boundless, the mind, in one of its moods, may refuse to conceive it as bounded, and may regard the attempt to do so as a treason against pure truth. All this must be conceded, though the effects of the concession will not stop at Paradise Lost. But there are other moods of the mind-moral and spiritual moods-which poesy is bound to serve; and, just as Milton, in the interest of these, knowingly and almost avowedly repudiated the obligation of consistency with physical science as known to himself, and set up a great symbolic phantasy, so to this day the phantasy which he did set up has, for those anyway like-minded to him, lost none of its sublime significance. For all such is not that physical Universe, which we have learnt not to bound, still, in its inconceivable totality, but as a drop hung from the Empyrean; is not darkness around it ; is not Hell beneath it? And what though all are not such? Is it not the highest function of a book to perpetuate like-mindedness to its author after he is gone, and
may not Paradise Lost be doing this? Nay, and what though the relevancy of the poem to the present soul of the world should have been more impaired by the lapse of time and the change of ideas than we have admitted it to be, and much of the interest of it, as of all the other great poems of the world, should now be historical? Even so what interest it possesses! What a portrait, what a study, of a great English mind of the seventeenth century it brings before us! "I wonder not so much at the poem itself, though worthy "of all wonder," says Bentley in the preface to his Edition of the poem, as "that the author could so abstract his thoughts from his own troubles as to "be able to make it-that, confined in a narrow and to him a dark chamber, "surrounded with cares and fears, he could expatiate at large through the 'compass of the whole Universe, and through all Heaven beyond it, and "could survey all periods of time from before the creation to the consum"mation of all things. This theory, no doubt, was a great solace to him "in his affliction, but it shows in him a greater strength of spirit, that made "him capable of such a solace. And it would almost seem to me to bc 'peculiar to him, had not experience by others taught me that there is that power in the human mind, supported with innocence and conscia virtus, "that can make it shake off all outward uneasiness and involve itself secure “and pleased in its own integrity and entertainment." It is refreshing to be able to quote from the great scholar and critic words showing so deep an appreciation by him of the real significance of the poem which, as an editor, he mangled. Whatever the Paradise Lost is, it is, as Bentley here points out a monument of almost unexampled magnanimity.