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THIS first book proposes, first in brief, the whole subject, Man's disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise wherein he was placed: then touches the prime cause of his fall, the Serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent; who revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of Angels, was by the command of God driven out of heaven with all his crew into the great deep. Which action passed over, the poem hastens into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his Angels now falling into hell, described here, not in the centre, (for heaven and earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet accursed,) but in a place of utter darkness, fitliest called chaos: here Satan with his Angels lying on the burning lake, thunder-struck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity ay by him; they confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded; they rise, their numbers, array of battle, their chief leaders named, according to the idols known afterwards in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech, comforts them with hopes yet of regaining heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world and new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy or report in heaven; for that Angels were long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers to a full council. What his associates thence attempt. Pandemonium the palace of Satan rises, suddenly built out of the deep : the infernal peers there sit in council.
OF Man's first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
1. Of Man's first disobedience, &c.] Milton has proposed the subject of his poem in the following verses. These lines are perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned as any of the whole poem, in which particular the author has conformed himself to the example of Homer and the precept of Horace. His invocation to a work, which turns in a great measure upon the creation of the world, is very properly made to the Muse who inspired Moses in those books from whence our author drew his subject, and to the Holy Spirit who is therein represented as operating after a particular manner in the first production of nature. This whole exordium rises very happily into noble language and sentiment, as I think the transition to the fable is exquisitely beautiful and natural. Addison.
Besides the plainness and simplicity of these lines, there is a farther beauty in the variety of the numbers, which of themselves
charm every reader without any sublimity of thought or pomp of expression: and this variety of the numbers consists chiefly in the pause being so artfully varied, that it falls upon a different syllable in almost every line, as it may easily be perceived by distinguishing the verses thus:
Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, I whose mortal taste Brought death into the world, I and all our woe, With loss of Eden, | till one greater Man Restore us, I and regain the blissful seat, Sing, heav'nly Muse. I Mr. Pope, in a letter to Mr. Walsh containing some critical observations on English versification, remarks, that in any smooth English verse of ten syllables, there is naturally a pause at the fourth, fifth, or sixth syllable, and upon the judicious change and management of these depends the variety of versifica