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Rose out of chaos: or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flow'd
heav'ns and earth] Alluding to
Aonas in montes ut duxerit una sororum,
And again, Georg. iii. 11.
Aonio rediens deducam vertice Musas; though afterwards, I know not by what fatality, that country was famous for the dulness of its inhabitants. 16. Things unattempted yet in prose or rhime.] Milton appears to have meant a different thing by rhime here, from rime in his preface, where it is six times
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer Before all temples th' upright heart and pure,
It is said that Milton took the first hint of this poem from an Italian tragedy called Il Paradiso perso; and it is pretended that he has borrowed largely from Masenius, a German Jesuit, and other modern authors; but it is all a pretence; he made use of all authors, such was his learning; but such is his genius, he is no copyer; his poem is plainly an original, if ever there was one. His subject indeed of the fall of Man, together with the principal episodes, may be said to be as old as Scripture, but his manner of handling them is entirely new, with new illustrations and new beauties of his own; and he may as justly boast of the novelty of his poem, as
any of the ancient poets bestow that recommendation upon their works; as Lucretius, i. 925.
Avia Pieridum peragro loca, nullius ante Trita solo: &c.
and Virgil, Georg. iii. 3. Caetera quae vacuas tenuissent carmina mentes
Omnia jam vulgata. Primus ego in patriam &c.
iii. 292. Juvat ire jugis, qua nulla priorum Castaliam molli divertitur orbita clivo. 17. And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, &c.] Invoking the Muse is commonly a matter of mere form, wherein the poets neither mean, nor desire to be thought to mean, any thing seriously. But the Holy Ghost here invoked is too solemn a name to be used insignificantly: and besides, our author, in the beginning of his next work, Paradise Regained, scruples not to say to the same divine person,
Inspire, As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute.
This address therefore is no mere formality. Yet some may think that he incurs a worse charge of enthusiasm, or even profaneness, in vouching inspiration for his performance: but the Scriptures represent inspiration as of a much larger extent than is commonly apprehended, teaching that every good gift, in naturals as well as in morals, de
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast abyss,
I may assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
scendeth from the great Father of lights, Jam. i. 17. And an extraordinary skill even in mechanical arts is there ascribed to the illumination of the Holy Ghost. It is said of Bezalečl who was to make the furniture of the tabernacle, that the Lord had filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, and to devise curious works, &c. Exod. xxxv. 31. Heylin. It may be observed too injustification of our author, that other sacred poems are not without the like invocations, and particularly Spenser's Hymns of heavenly love and heavenly beauty, as well as some modern Latin poems. But I conceive that Milton intended something more; for I have been informed by those, who had opportunities of conversing with his widow, that she was wont to say that he did really look upon himself as inspired, and I think his works are not without a spirit of enthusiasm. In the beginning of his 2d book of The Reason of Church Government, speaking of his design of writing a poem
Say first, for heav'n hides nothing from thy view, Nor the deep tract of hell, say first what cause Mov’d our grand parents, in that happy state,
From their Creator, and transgress his will
The mother of mankind, what time his pride
God to men.] A verse, which Mr. Pope has thought fit to borrow with some little variation, in the beginning of his Essay on Man,
But vindicate the ways of God to Innail.
It is not easy to conceive any good reason for Mr. Pope's preferring the word vindicate, but Milton makes use of the word justify, as it is the Scripture word, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, Rom. iii. 4. And the ways of God to men are justified in the many argumentative discourses throughout the poem, and particularly in the conferences between God the Father and the Son. 27. Say first, for heav'n hides nothing from thy view, Nor the deep tract of hell,] The poets attribute a kind of omniscience to the Muse, and very rightly, as it enables them to speak of things which could not otherwise be supposed to come to
Of rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
If he oppos'd ; and with ambitious aim
With vain attempt.
Him the almighty Power
Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky, 45
38. — by whose aid aspiring To set himself in glory' above his peers, Here Dr. Bentley objects, that Satan's crime was not, his aiming above his peers: he was in place high above them before, as the Doctor proves from v. 812. But though this be true, yet Milton may be right here; for the force of the words seems, not that Satan aspired to set himself above his peers, but that he aspired to set himself in glory, &c. that is in divine glory, in such glory as God and his Son were set in. Here was his crime; and this is what God
charges him with in v. 725. who intends to” erect his throne
Equal to ours,
And in vi. 88. Milton says that the rebel angels hoped
To win the mount of God, and on his throne
To set the envier of his state, the proud
See also to the same purpose vii. 140, &c. From these passages it appears that there is no occasion for Dr. Bentley's alteration, which is this,
aspiring To place and glory above the Son of God.
Besides the other methods which Milton has employed to diversify and improve his numbers, he takes the same liberties as Shakespeare and others of our old poets, and in imitation of the Greeks and Latins often cuts off the vowel at the end of a word, when the next word begins with a vowel; though he does not like the Greeks wholly drop the vowel, but still retains it in writing like the Latins. Another liberty, that he takes likewise for the greater improvement and variety of his versification, is pronouncing the same word sometimes as two syllables, and sometimes as only one syllable or two short ones. We have frequent instances in spirit, ruin, riot, reason, highest, and several other words. We shall take care throughout this edition to mark such vowels as are to be cut off, and such as are to be contracted and abbreviated, thus'.
45. Hurl’d headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky, Hom. Iliad. i. 591.