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and taken from life, to evoke the genius of victory to crown a dying hero, or to conjure up the muses to hold the medallion of a philosopher. In poetry the introduction of the unreal and untruthful is a more fatal error, and nowhere so much as in sacred poetry, in which religious objections are added to those which are merely æsthetical.


In the Paradise Lost" Milton has so intimately interwoven the imagery of Greek mythology with the sacred texts, that offence was unavoidable. Jehovah is represented like a Jupiter Tonans, the thunder-bolt is his dreaded weapon; it gives him even the appellation of Thunderer (II. 28); it is the thunder of the Almighty, wielded by the Messiah, which decides the doubtful contest of angels and demons, and which helps to give to the poem so much of the character of a Titanomachia.*

The Greek idea of Fate, as superior to the reigning gods of Olympus, has also an offensive prominence in the poem. It is hinted, and not by the devils alone, that there is some mysterious power, to whose decrees even God must bend, (II. 610, VI. 869, XI. 181.)

It is quite impossible to give here anything like a complete list of the reprehensible allusions to Greek mythology, of which the "Paradise Lost" is full. I must confine myself to a few examples, sufficient for illustration.

Heaven is a complete Olympus. The archangels dwell in separate palaces, erected as those of the Homeric gods, by Hephaestos, the divine architect, I. 732; and they are supported by nectar and ambrosia.

On the other hand, Hell is drawn like a perfect copy of Tartarus. There are in it

II. 575.


"Four infernal rivers, that disgorge
Into the burning lake their baleful streams;
Abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate;
Sad Acheron of sorrow, black and deep;
Cocytus named of lamentations loud,
Heard on the rueful stream; fierce Phlegethon
Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage.
Far off from these, a slow and silent stream,
Lethe, the river of oblivion rolls

Her wat'ry labyrinth, whereof who drinks
Forthwith his former state and being forgets,
Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain."
"Thither, by harpy-footed Furies, hail'd

At certain revolutions, all the damned
Are brought," &c.

Of course Milton must have meant heavenly thunder, distinct from earthly. For the latter belongs to these terrestrial elements, which, according to v. 22, the least of the angelic host can wield with ease.


"They ferry over this Lethean sound
Both to and fro, their sorrow to augment,
And wish and struggle, as they pass, to reach
The tempting stream, with one small drop to lose
In sweet forgetfulness all pain and woe,

All in one moment and so near the brink.
But Fate withstands, and to oppose the attempt
Medusa with Gorgonian terror guards

The ford, and of itself the water flies
All taste of living wight, as once it fled
The lips of Tantalus."

It is here where


"Nature breeds

Perverse all monstrous, all prodigious things;
Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire."


Frequent is the polytheistic allusion to gods in the plural number, which can only be explained from a familiarity with the term, caused by classical reading, and which at the present day is beginning to offend our feelings. Who will approve, that the poet says of the devils, "Their visages and stature as of gods," (I. 570) or that the archangel should be made to say, (VII. 329) That earth now seemed like to heaven, a seat where gods might dwell;" or the following passage in the poet's mouth, (X. 90) "The speed of Gods time counts not, though with swiftest minutes winged." And yet the impropriety that lies in these passages is surpassed by Eve being represented like a Greek Aphrodite, (VIII. 59)—

“With goddess-like demeanour forth she went,
Not unattended; for on her as queen
A pomp of winning graces waited still."

Nor does Michael scruple to talk of goddesses to Adam, (XI. 614.) "For that fair female troop thou saw'st, that seemed of goddesses, so blithe, so smooth, so gay, (compare I. 558, II. 108.)

There was a period in German literature, when the gods and goddesses of Greece were constantly conjured up to fill the metre, or furnish a hollow phrase. Even Schiller is not free from this fault. He meant no harm in thus appealing to Venus or Bacchus. It was a mere form of speech, the fruit of that devout study of the antique poets, which often made the moderns live and think and speak in the forms of antiquity. But we have emerged from this tirocinium. We have done with these classical exotics. The flowers to adorn our poetry, we require, henceforth, to be native and genuine.

One of the worst, perhaps the worst instance of the adoption of

Greek mythological ideas, is that passage in the Second Book, in which the journey of Satan from hell to earth is described, (II. 951):

"At length a universal hubbub wild,

Of stunning sounds and voices all confused,

Borne through the hollow dark, assaults his ear
With loudest vehemence: Thither he plies,
Undaunted to meet there whatever Power
Or Spirit of the nethermost abyss

Might in that noise reside, of whom to ask
Which way the nearest coast of darkness lies
Bordering on light; when straight behold the throne
Of Chaos, and his dark pavilion spread

Wide on the wasteful deep; with him enthroned
Sat sable-vested Night, eldest of things,
The consort of his reign; and by them stood
Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded Name

Of Demogorgon; Rumour next and Chance,
And Tumult and Confusion all embroil'd,
And Discord with a thousand various mouths."

We meet here with real beings, that have a personal existence, independent as it seems of God, and hostile to him. Nothing could be more offensive in a philosophical and religious point of view, or more improbable and aesthetically misplaced, than the god Chaos, and the goddess Night enthroned in royal state and in sullen independence of the spiritual hierarchy, which the poet acknowledges in the remainder of his work. It is nothing less than the acknowledgment of the eternity of matter.*

Less blameable perhaps, though more generally condemned, are the two allegorical conceptions of Sin and Death. It must be confessed by Milton's most ardent admirers that they cannot be defended: and I for one can not agree with Mr. Hallam, who "does not wish them away," though he admits that "they will not bear exact criticism," (Lit. of Europe, vol. IV. chap. V. s. 28.) Who can bear to see Satan represented like another Zeus, generating a being from his head, or as having carnal connexion with a woman? It is doubtful what is more offensive, the idea in itself, or the corruption and misplacement of the Homeric fable in the Christian epic. These and all the other mythological persons taken from the Greek Parnassus to adorn Christian poetry, remind me of the marble statues of Zeus or Apollo taken from their ancient altars, and with a few adaptations in emblems, or with new heads, placed in Christian churches to represent St. Peter or St. John.

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That the mythological decorations in the "Paradise Lost" are undeniable blemishes of that sublime poem, is, I believe, conceded on all sides. But various attempts have been made by the unqualified admirers of Milton to justify the poet, or at least to palliate his fault. It has been said, and with truth, that the fable of the "Paradise Lost" is too devoid of incidents and variety to be deprived of the imagery which the rich mythology of Greece affords.* If this plea holds good, it is a very strong argument to prove my first position, viz. that the subject of the poem is far from being, as Mr. Hallam has said, "the finest that has ever been chosen for heroic poetry;" it is a defence of the poet's taste at the expense of his judgment; for his judgment should have led him to select a subject which would not compel him to offend against the rules of the highest poetic beauty which is inseparable from truth. However, this defence is utterly futile. The employment of mythological allusions is quite independent of the subject of the "Paradise Lost." The Comus and Lycidas are quite as full of them. The fact is, Milton's classical learning had communicated

* Hallam, Lit. of Europe, vol. IV. ch. v. s. 32.

+ I can hardly understand the serious meaning of a passage in R. Chambers's Life of Milton, Cyclop. of Eng Literature, I. p. 331. "The theme of Paradise Lost' was in its nature connected with everything important in the circumstances of human history; and amidst these circumstances Milton saw that the fables of paganism were too important and poetical to be omitted."

Even the Hymn on the Nativity, Milton's earliest production, written when he was still at college, is not free from these mythological allusions, though the subject is purely Christian and devotional. The long list of Heathen Gods that are there mentioned as being hurled from their altars, are endowed with the reality of life:

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"But wisest Fate says no, &c."

It may be pleaded, that Milton had a right to speak of the Heathen Gods as real beings, as in doing so he adopted the views of venerable Fathers. This is his justification for the same view taken in Paradise Lost. But independently of this we find a merely ornamental figure in the following lines:

"Nature that heard such sound
Beneath the hollow round

Of Cynthia's seat, the airy region thrilling.
Now was almost won, &c."

to all his thoughts and writings a peculiar colouring: he was unable to rise above the element into which he had plunged in early youth; though he aspired to "soar with no middle flight above the Aonian Mount," his wings were too heavy with the element of the Parnassian Hippocrene; he sought his Muse on Oreb or on Sion; but still it was a muse that he sought, the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who dwelt among the shady groves of Helicon or Parnassus, and sang in the Olympian courts the loves of goddesses and the valiant deeds of gods and heroes.†

We now approach the much-debated topic of the materiality of Milton's spiritual beings. Johnson was the first, as far as I know, to charge Milton with inconsistency on this ground. He makes the following remarks :-" Another inconvenience of Milton's design is, that it requires the description of what cannot be described, the agency of spirits. He saw, that immateriality supplied no images, and that he could not show angels acting but by instruments of action; he, therefore, invested them with form and matter. This being necessary, was, therefore, defensible; and he should have secured the consistency of his system by keeping immateriality out of sight, and enticing his reader to drop it from his thoughts. But he has unhappily perplexed his poetry with his philosophy. His infernal and celestial powers are sometimes pure spirit, and sometimes animated body," &c. (p. 174.)

An attempt has been made by Macaulay to defend Milton against Dr. Johnson's charge. He argues, like Milton himself and Johnson, that to describe the agency of spirits to the comprehension of man materiality was necessary. "Logicians," he says, "may reason about abstractions, but the great mass of men must have images. The strong tendency of the multitude in all ages and nations to idolatry can be explained on no other principle." Thus he justifies materialism. Good! "But," he continues, "Milton wrote in an age of philosophers and theologians. It was necessary therefore for him to abstain from

* Macaulay (Milton p. 9) says, " He who in an enlightened and literary society aspires to be a great poet must first become a little child. He must take to pieces the whole web of his mind. He must unlearn much of that knowledge which has perhaps constituted hitherto his chief title to superiority. His very talents will be a hindrance to him." Let the reader judge now, if Milton did put aside all his classical lore to become a man instead of a scholar, and a poet by nature instead of a poet by books. See Johnson, 168, "Milton saw nature through the spectacle of books, and on most occasions calls learning to his assistance. The garden of Eden brings to his mind the vale of Enna, where Proserpine was gathering flowers. Satan makes his way through fighting elements like Argo," &c.

+ Strange contradiction: that the muse should be invoked immediately after the gods of Doric Land had been declared to be embodied evil spirits, (I. 506)!

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