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that poem intended to disparage memory, Paradise Lost has received religion, but that every thing was the saiiction of time, and will procalculated for a contrary effect. bably last as long as that impartial On this point there can indeed be panegyrist.–The labours of critino question; yet it is still open to cism, as we learn to our surprise, discussion, whether there are not first brought it into general notice; remarks and descriptions in Mil- but subsequently to the days of the ton's work which it would have Spectator, down to the poet's latest been far better to have left unpen- and most enamoured biographers, ned ; and, if I am not greatly mis- criticism, with few exceptions, has taken, every reader of keen Christian been the echo of public applause. sensibility has always been far more The moral character of the poem, pained than pleased with the pas. however, as is the case with every sages 10 which I allude.
other production, is a concern of Among the numerous critiques much higher importance, and that which have been written on the I conceive to have been, by most Paradise Lost, I do not remember readers, less regarded and less unto have any where seen a regular derstood than any thing else bemoral estimate of this celebrated longing to this great work. My poem, till I lately met with the object in the following observations following valuable paper in a trans- will be to discuss its merits, purely atlantic religious monthly miscel- as a religious poem, and the offlany of about three years' stand- spring of the genius of Christianity. ing, published at New-Haven, en- In a production like Paradise titled " The Christian Spectator," Lost, possessing the highest liteandwhich contains various usefuland rary excellence, and destined, as interesting papers. The work is, I poets say,to immortality, the moral believe, scarcely, if at all, known influence is peculiarly important. even by name in this country; and It is both the proof and the effect I shall therefore for the sake of of genius to sanction what it in. your readers, transcribe the paper spires. If therefore the impression in question for your pages;-a made be favourable 10 evangelical compliment which the conductors piety, nothing is more to be desirof the American publication have ed; if unfavourable, nothing is often paid, with bandsome acknow- more to be deprecated. The imledgments, to papers in the Christian pression either way is always deep Observer. The part of the essay in proportion to the strength or to which I would chiefly invite prevalence of genius in a work. attention, as peculiarly interesting Even vice, under the glowing from the recent discussions on Lord touches of this magical power, may, Byron's Cain, is that in which the by its insinuating aspect, be miswriter gives his moral estimate of taken for virtue ; and “the worse,” those passages in the Paradise Lost by its seeming consistency, be made which relate to the character and to “ appear the belter reason.” sentiments of Satan and his fallen What then must a work, which is companions.
clearly one of the highest efforts of U.
poetical talent, and on a sacred
subject, be capable of effecting in A MORAL ESTIMATE OF PARA
regard to the moral exercises of DISE LOST.
the enthusiastic readier!-- Judging The literary character of this from what has often appeared, and poem has been too often discussed, been acknowledged, it is not to be and is too well established, to require doubted that this poem is capable additional investigation at the pre. of making the deepest impressions sent period. Like its predecessors, of a serious nature. Certain it is, the Iliad and Æneid, of heroic that no book is marked by more
distinctive features—is capable of position of Paradise Lost is the jusfixing more firmly its story on the tification of the ways of God to man. memory, or painting more vividly Whether this or any similar evanits images on the imagination. gelical object has been effected, Whatever therefore may be its and to wbat extent, may appear in moral influence, that influence must the sequel. lo the estimate which be peculiarly commanding; and the is made of the work in this respect, remark may perhaps be bazarded, it will be proper, according to the without the charge of extravagance, remarks already suggested, to conthat no book in the English lau- sider not merely wbat is theoretiguage, the Bible excepted, has cally established, but what is the more deeply impressed on the minds actual and most powerful feeling of readers its own peculiarities of inspired. religious diction, sentiment, and My plan will lead me to mention, feeling. As a proof of its effect on first, the excellencies of the
poem our religious mental associations, a religious view. it may be remarked, that many of 1. Here it will immediately occur our prevalent ideas on the primeval to the reader, that the solemnity of state of man, and his fall-on hea- the general subject, together with ven and hell-on angels and evil the sacred character of many of the spirits, supposed, until examined, particular topics connected with it, to be derived from revelation, are is a consideration of no small immerely the fictions of the poet. portance. It is itself some praise, The Bible furnishes but compara- in poetry, to select an impressive lively few hints on these subjects, subject of a serious cast, and to and yet, through the magical iu- present for the entertainment and fuence of Milton, we seem to be instruction of mankind ideas pepossessed of particular and full culiar to the scriptural revelation. information.
The world has heard enough of the The moral influence of a book feats of heroes, and the projects of is the impression of a religious great men. It is filled with the nature which it is capable of pro- eulogy of virtues wbich ibe Bible ducing on the mind of a susceptible, does not recognize, and of characintelligent reader. According as ters which it is lamentable should that impression is favourable to have ever existed. Active courage, Christian piety or not, the book is patriotism, friendship, and the like, valuable or worthless in a moral in the sense they are commonly view. The moral of a book, par- understood, are not acknowledged, ticularly of poems, is not aiways according to a statement somewhere what it professes, or is supposed to made by Paley, as constituting a be.
The great ethi lesson part of Christiau morals ; and the the Iliad, for instance, is said to be characters which they form are the advantages of union, or the only of that description of which evils of dissension, among princes. the world is worthy. The subjects This thought may have been in the of many of our most popular poems mind of the bard; but ihe real moral are of such a nature that it would of the poem is the desirable nature be a waste of a man's time and of ambition, military prowess, and talents to be employed in the perevenge. The impression which is rusal, and much more in the commade, the ardor which is inspired, position, of them. Riches, fame, is altogether in aid of these prin- and pleasure, worldly good, and I ciples or passions. And whatever may say worldly virtues, are suffiis the chief impression made by a ciently alluring to multitudes, withwork, this, in the opinion of an ele- out borrowing any addition to their gant essayist, is the only proper charms from the "Muse's painting.” moral. The leading religious pro- In order to make the most favourable impression on the mind, with that interest which must have been respect to that which essentially attached to it in the coursels of concerns it, (if the poet's object be eternity, and that train of operato do good as well as to please,) tions and effects which is known to the great leading idea should be have followed it in time ; is a subsolemn, and correspondent with the ject, of all others, the most touchawfuluess or grandeur of the human ing and solemn, and capable of destiny. Although it were easy, even making a degree of desirable relion an ordinary topic, to interweave gious impression by the plainest with it some moral truth, or to derive representation. In Milton's hand from it some striking lesson on the it loses none of its pative greatness. subject of salvation ; thus by a It was suited to the peculiar powpious deception taking hold on the ers of his genius. He alone was mind, and influencing its associa- 'fitted for it, or could bring to it tions in favour of religion; yet this sufficient elevation of thought, has very seldom been done. Very richness of fancy, and energy of few, like Cowper in his Task, while expression. With singular felicity, sporting on light or common themes he has contrived, both in the prin. have caused Their readers to pass cipal story, and in several digres. from an innocent gaiety to solemn sions and episodes, to interweave a thought, and to fall upon the most great part of the history of redempevangelical sentiments, without their tion, and many of the particular perceiving any depression of poetic truths, precepts, and narrations of spirit, or any diminution of their Scripture. Paradise Lost, therefore, own delight. As this is a felicity if not an heroic, may, according to which too few have attained, or Addison, be called a divine poein. seemed desirous of attaining, there in its subject certainly, it bears is some advantage therefore, and this character, with ihe peculiar not a little praise, considering its interest which it claims on such an ' uncommonness, in Milton's choice account. of a sacred and solemn theme for 2. Another particular recommendso important an attempt.
ing this poem, as religion is conIt has been made a question with cerned, is the generally grave and the critics, whether the poet's sub- pious spirit with which it is writject is a happy one for the work lie ten.—Milton seldom degrades his undertook; whether, if it had been solemn theme by the want of a more human and less divine, it manly seriousness, and of a religious would not bave been more interest
He seems to himself to tread ing to the bulk of readers. It has on consecrated ground, and whatalso been considered as a fault, that ever mistakes he may have made in the marvellous or supernatural, certain representations, yet there is forms not the machinery, as is com- no reason to doubt his pious inten. mon in others, but the ground-work tions, and chastened spirit. The of the poein. But however this subject itself was caiculated to inmay be, and however it may be de- spire such a feeling, and his fervent cided what are the most proper invocation of the Holy Spirit at the subjects for the Epic Muse, yet commencement of the poem, was a Milion's must be allowed to be in happy prognostic of the temper itself good, or good for some spe- which might be expected to reign cies of poetry. Whether properly througlı it. The dews of Castalia heroic or not, it possesses uncom- did not more moisten his lips, than mon interest. Our minds cannot every thing which became a pious, be employed upon it with too great if we may not say an eminently frequency or seriousness. The Fall holy, man, bad imbued his beari. of man, and the circumstances While we meet with that beautiful which attended it; together with suggestion-
« Smit with the love of sacred song; Which thou incur'st by flying, meet thy bnt chief
flight Thee, Sion, and the flowery brooks he. Seven fold, and scourge that wisdom peath
back to hell, That wash thy hallow'd feet, and war. Which taught thee yet no better, that bling flow,
no pain Nightly I visit:"
Can equal anger infinite provok’d.” Or tbat warmer one
In the same book, Salan says to himHail, Son of God, Saviour of men! thy selfShall be the copions matter of my song lufinite wrath, and infinite despair?
“Me miserable! which way shall I ffee, Henceforth, and never shall my barp thy Which way I flee is bell; myself am hell,
praise Forget, nor from thy Father's praise dis
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threat'ning to devour me opens join:” we may indulge a hope, that the To which the helf I suffer seems a hea
wide; bard would not, intentionally, infuse
ven.” into his song a spirit which was inconsistent with such bigh and holy ever, cannot be well presented by
An illustration of this kind, howprofessions. Indeed, a mind which was capable of conceiving, or which be read throughout to form a pro
a few examples. The book must could be employed about such ideas as Milton has expressed of per opinion of it in this respect. the majesty of God, the grace of favour of Paradise Lost, as a re
33. It is again to be noticed in Messiah, the charms of goodness, ligious poem, that it is not withthe splendour of heaven, and the
out its interesting development of gloom of hell, may be permitted, without a censure, to exercise it's evangelical truth and correct prinwithout a censure, to exercise its ciples. Poetry, in general, is liamighty powers on these subjects. ble to objections on this ground. It is difficult for a person of reflec. Not only is there a woeful omistion to read some strokes, or indeed sion of what is good, but there is a some protracted representations, in
Most this book, without being throughout repletion of what is bad. arrested in his feelings, by every be presumed in other languages,
poems in our language, and it may thing that is solemn, not only in abound with erroneous sentiments the subject, but in the manner of and false principles. There is, per. representing it. Let him, for in. stance, descend into the abyss where haps, no other species of writing so satan and his crew lie sweltering Lost forms, to a considerable de
faulty in this respect. Paradise in fire; let him bear them
gree, an exception to the present “ Converse with everlasting groans,
remark. The sentiments are, for Unrespited, unpitied, unrepriev'd,
the most part, doctrinally correct, Ages of hopeless end," and be will feel that the poet has and exhibit the aspect of scriptural made it a place where being itself representation. The poet cannot be is a curse, and where it infinitely accusedof entertaining materiallyunconcerns him not to be doomed to sound views of the tenets of revealed take up his residence, Or let him religion. In general, the profound attend to a few representations of doctrines of predestination, free the following kind; and if his mind grace, and moral agency; as also is not impressed with a salutary the momentous point relating to the
, dread of sin and its consequences, it is no solemnity of representation of redemption by him, are reprewhich can impress it. In the fourth sented in the manner of the Bible, book, Gabriel addresses Satan, as nearly perbaps as the nature of thus :
poetry will admit. This circum“ So judge thou, still presumptuous! till stance, so far as it extends, is no the wrath,
small praise; and were there no principle to counteract it in other soon brought to the forbidden tree. respects, would cause the poem to Here the instinctive suggestions of rank as high among the repositories her innocence made her at first of evangelical truth as among the positively averse to eating the fruit. sources of intellectual gratifica. But she had partially committed tion.
herself, and her curiosity being With regard to the practical ef- awake to the highest degree, she fects of truth and error, or the qua- was prepared to give ear to the farlities of moral action among intel. ther insinuations of the tempter. ligent beings, the poet is entitled to His flattering description of the much praise in their delineation. virtues of the fruit, and the sight The internal workings, and the of it, create desire. Sbe hesitates outward aspect, of holiness and sin, through fear;but resolving at length both in superior natures, and in 10 eat, she reasons herself into the man, are represented mostly as they belief, that she may disobey her are known, or as they must be con- Maker with inpunity, and then ceived to be.—The dignity, beauty, finishes the dreadful deed. Nothing and excellence of the one, and the can be conceived more natural than meanness, deformity, and vileness such a process of mind in Eve; and of the other, are painied in the it is drawn with such felicity as colours of truth and nature. In evinces its source to have been the his description, they are reflected poet's knowledge of the Bible and as from a mirror upon the mind of of the human heart. From such the reader. We may ascertain, by delineations of moral conduct, what looking into our hearts, how faith- profitable lessons do we not refully he depicts, for instance, the ceive on the great concerns of duty operations of sin from its incipiency and salvation! How emphatically to the full-grown overt act. In re- are we cautioned to avoid the causes counting the counsels and projects which lead to temptation and to of the evil spirits, and in detailing sin! the successive steps of the templa- The feelings of the unholy, upon tion and fall of man, we may find the supposition that they could be exquisite specimens of his art. received into heaven, were never Wiih what graphical correctness, better expressed than in the followparticularly, has he described that ing lines spoken by Mammon. mental process, which must be supposed to have taken place in Eve,
“ Suppose he should relent, immediately previous to her first And publish grace to all, on promise
made act of disobedience! Her atten
Of new subjection; with what eyes tion is first excited by the beauti
conld we ful appearance and insinuating ad- Stand in his presence bumble, and redress of the serpent, in consequence ceive of which she suspends her rural Strict laws impos'd, to celebrate his labours. She is then affected with
throne, surprise at his possession of the With warbled hymns, and to his Godpowers of speech. Her surprise
head sing naturally degenerates into curiosity, Forc'd hallelujahs ?
how wearisome and she is induced to inquire into the cause. The cause being dis- Eternity so spent, in worship paid
To whom we hate!" closed, her curiosity is yet further aroused; and she wishes to know The dignity of goodness and the where the fruit, possessing such meanness of vice, Milton has inciwonderful properties as the ser- dentally depicted, in a manner calpent ascribes to it, may be found. culated to excite the greatest admiPrompted by such a principle, she ration of the one and contempt of consents to follow the tempter, and is the other.