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So distinctly is Paradise Regained a sequel to Paradise Losi that acquaintance with Paradise Lost is all but presupposed in the reader ere he begins the shorter poem. Such acquaintance, indeed, is not absolutely necessary; but it conduces to a more exact understanding of the total meaning of the poem, and of not a few individual passages in it. Indeed, even that diagram of Universal Space or Physical Infinitude which was before the poet's mind, as we have seen, throughout Paradise Lost (see the Introduction to that poem), is still present to his mind, though more dimly, in Paradise Regained.
The result of Satan's triumph in Paradise Lost, it is to be remembered, was that he and his crew of Fallen Angels had succeeded in adding the "orbicular World" of Man, i.e. the whole Starry Universe or Cosmos with the Earth at its centre, to that infernal Empire of Hell to which they had been driven down on their expulsion from Heaven or the Empyrean. At the close of the real action of the great epic this is what we find Satan and Sin congratulating themselves upon (Book X. 350-409),—that Man's World has now been wrested from the Empire of Heaven above, and annexed to that of Hell beneath. An inter-communication has been established between Hell and Man's World, and it is hinted that thenceforward the Fallen Angels will not dwell so much in their main dark dominion of Hell as in the more lightsome World overhead, to which access is now easy. Distributing themselves through this World, they will rule its spheres and its elements; but more especially will they congregate in the Air round the central Earth, so as to intermingle with human affairs continually, and exercise their diabolic functions on the successive generations of men. Originally Angels in the Empyreal Heaven, then doomed spirits in Hell, they will now be the "Powers of the Air," round about the Earth, and the Gods of Man's World. So they anticipate; and, over and over again throughout the poem, we are reminded that their anticipation has been fulfilled. What is the theory throughout Paradise Lost but that the gods of all the heathen mythologies, worshipped by all the nations, are the Fallen Angels, who, in their new condition as Demons of Man's World and Powers of the Air, have so blinded and drugged the perceptions and imaginations of men as to be accepted as divinities ?
In Paradise Regained all this is assumed. It is assumed that for some thousands of years these "Powers of the Air," alias Devils, alias Gods of the Polytheistic Mythologies, have been in possession of Man's World, distributed through it, some here, some there, according to their characters and faculties of mischief, but occasionally meeting in council somewhere in the element of Air or Mist. Satan is still their chief, the greatest in power and in ability, the leader in their councils, their governor, and the director of their common enterprises. He is no longer the same sublime spirit as in the Paradise Lost, in whom were to be discerned the majestic lineaments of the Archangel just ruined. The thousands of years he has spent since then in his self-selected function as the Devil of our Earth, -no longer flying from star to star and through the grander regions of Universal Space, but winging about constantly close to our Earth, and meddling incessantly with all that is worst in merely terrestrial affairs, -have told upon his nature, and even upon his mien and bearing. He is a meaner, shrewder spirit, both morally and physically less impressive. But he has not yet degenerated into the mere scoffing Mephistopheles of Goethe's great poem. He retains something of his former magnanimity, or at least of his power of understanding and appealing to the higher motives of thought and action. Whatever of really great invention or wisdom remains among the diabolic host in their diffusion through Man's World and its elements is still chiefly lodged in him. He it is, accordingly, who, in his vigilance over the course of affairs on Earth, is the first to become aware of the advent of one that may possibly be that prophesied "greater Man" who is to retrieve the consequences of Adam's fall, end the diabolic influence in Man's World, and reconnect that World with Heaven. He it is who, as soon as he has made this discovery, summons the diabolic crew to consultation; and it is on him also that the farther trial of Christ's virtue is devolved.
The greater portion of the first book of the Poem is preliminary to the real action. It describes the baptism of Christ, when about thirty years of age, and as yet obscure and unknown, by John at Bethabara on the Jordan, the recognition of him by John, the proclamation from Heaven of his Messiahship, the presence of Satan among those who
hear this proclamation, and his alarm thereupon. A few days are then supposed to elapse, during which Christ remains in his lodging in Bethabara, the object now of much public regard, and with his first disciples gathering round him; after which he is led by the Spirit into the Wilderness, there to revolve his past life, and meditate on the ministry he is about to begin. It is after he has been already forty days in the Desert, and has begun to feel hunger, that the special action of the Poem opens (1. 303). It extends over three days. On the first day (the fortieth, it is to be supposed, of Christ's stay in the Wilderness), we have Satan's presentation of himself to Christ in the guise of an old peasant, their first discourse, and the commencement of the Temptation in the manner in which it is related both in Matthew and in Luke,—to wit, by the suggestion to Christ that he should prove his divinity by turning the stones around him into bread. This part of the relation occupies the remainder of Book I., which ends with a description of the coming on of night in the Desert. In Book II. the relation is resumed. About half the Book is occupied with an episodic account of the perplexity of Mary and the disciples by reason of Christ's mysterious absence, and an account also of a second council of the Evil Spirits to advise with Satan on his farther proceedings; but the remainder of the Book brings us back to the Desert, where Satan, early in the second day, renews the temptation. This second day's temptation is the most protracted and laborious, and the account of it extends from Book II. through the whole of Book III. and over two-thirds of Book IV. It is here that Milton has allowed his imagination the largest liberty in expanding the brief hints of the scriptural texts. Both in Matthew and in Luke the acts of the Temptation are represented as three. There is the Temptation of the Bread, or the appeal to Christ's hunger, which is put first by both Evangelists; there is the Temptation of the Vision of the Kingdoms of the Earth from a mountain-top, or the appeal to Christ's ambition,-which Luke puts second in order, but Matthew last; and there is the Temptation on the Pinnacle of the Temple, or, as it may be called, the appeal to vanity,—which Matthew puts second, but Luke last. Milton, assigning a separate day to each act of the Temptation, follows Luke's order rather than Matthew's in the last
two acts, and devotes the second day to the appeal to Christ's ambition. But he adds a variety of circumstances. begins the day, for example, with a repetition of the hungertemptation of the previous day, and then passes on to subtle appeals to the higher appetites of wealth and power, so as to prepare the way for the vision of the Kingdoms of the Earth. Milton's management of this vision (which begins at line 251 of Book III. and extends to line 393 of Book IV.) calls for our highest admiration. He contrives to make it not only a splendid, but also a most accurate, general view of the political condition of the earth at the time referred to, when the Parthians in the East and the Romans in the West were the great rival powers that had swamped all others; and, by thus supposing Satan to have based his temptation on the actual state of the world, and a calculation of what might be done by the genius of a bold adventurer, striking in, at that particular juncture, between the Romans and the Parthians, he imparts to it a character of deep Machiavellian ability. But the Temptation passes into still a new vein at the close; where, the direct appeal to political ambition having failed, Satan, with Athens in view, instead of Rome, tries to work on the passion for purely intellectual distinction. This too failing, the second day's temptation is at an end, and there is the return from the mountain-top to the Wilderness, where Christ is left alone during a night of storm and ghastliness. There remains then only the final act of the Temptation, reserved for the third day, the temptation on the Pinnacle of the Temple. Although Milton has also put his own interpretation on this portion of the Temptation, working up to the actual transportation of Christ to the pinnacle, and the challenge of his power there, by previous questionings of Satan whether, after all, he is the "Son of God" in any very extraordinary sense, yet a comparatively brief space suffices both for the discourse leading up to the incident and for the incident itself. The third day's temptation, indeed, encroaching only a little on that day, and not protracted over the whole of it, occupies only about the last third of Book IV. One sees, at the close of the poem, why Milton preferred Luke's arrangement of the three acts of the Temptation to Matthew's. The reservation of the incident on the pinnacle of the Temple to the last enables the poet to close with that fine visual effect of Christ standing alone on
the pinnacle, after Satan's inglorious fall, till the fiery globe of ministering Angels surround him, and bear him in safety to earth on their wings as on a floating couch. Down they bear him to a flowery valley, and to the celestial food spread out for him there; he refreshes himself therewith, while the Angels above sing a hymn of his victory and its consequences; then, rising, he finds his way unobserved to his mother's house.
Speaking of Paradise Regained, Milton's nephew, Phillips, says (Life of Milton, 1694): "It is generally censured to be much inferior to the other (ie. to Paradise Lost), though he (Milton) could not hear with patience any such thing when related to him." Tradition, as usual, has exaggerated this statement, until now the current assertion is that Milton preferred Paradise Regained to Paradise Lost. We may safely say that he knew better. But, probably, in that "general censure of the inferiority of the smaller poem, which had begun, according to Phillips, even during the three years that were spared Milton to note its reception, he discovered critical misconceptions which have transmitted themselves to our time." Is Paradise Regained complete or not?" is a question on which a good deal has been written by Peck, Warburton, Newton, and others. The sole reason for thinking that it is incomplete, and that possibly the four books of the Poem as it now stands were originally intended only as part of a much larger poem, is founded on the smallness of that portion of Christ's life which is embraced in the poem, and on the stopping short of that consummation which would have completed the antithesis to Paradise Lost,-i.e. the expulsion of Satan and his crew out of the human World altogether back to Hell. This objection has already been discussed, and found invalid. By no protraction of the poem over the rest of Christ's life, we may also remark, could Milton have brought the story to the consummation thought desirable. The virtual deliverance of the World from the power of Satan and his crew may be represented as achieved in Christ's life on earth, and Milton represents it as achieved in Christ's first encounter with Satan at the outset of his ministry; but the actual or physical expulsion of the Evil Spirits out of their usurped world into their own nether realm was left a matter of prophecy or promise, and was certainly not regarded by Milton as having been accomplished