« 上一頁繼續 »
The part of Eve in this book is no less passionate, and apt to sway the reader in her favour. She is represented with great tenderness as approaching Adam, but is spurned from him with a spirit of upbraiding and indignation, conformable to the nature of man, whose passions had now gained the dominion over him. The following passage, wherein she is described as renewing her addresses to him, with the whole speech that follows it, have something in them exquisitely moving and pathetic.
He added not, and from her turn'd: but Eve,
Between us two let there be peace,' &c. Adam's reconcilement to her is worked up in the same spirit of tenderness. Eve afterwards proposes to her husband, in the blindness of her despair, that to prevent their guilt from descending upon posterity, they should resolve to live childless; or, if that could not be done, they should seek their own deaths by violent methods. As those sentiments naturally engage the reader to regard the mother of mankind with more than
ordinary commiseration, they likewise contain a very fine moral. The resolution of dying to end our miseries, does not show such a degree of magnanimity, as a resolution to bear them, and submit to the dispensations of Providence. Our author has therefore, with great delicacy, represented Eve as entertaining this thought, and Adam as disapproving it.
We are, in the last place, to consider the imaginary persons, as Death and Sin, who act a large part in this book. Such beautiful extended allegories are certainly some of the finest compositions of genius, but, as I have before observed, are not agreeable to the nature of a heroic poem. This of Sin and Death is very exquisite in its kind, if not considered as a part of such a work. The truths contained in it are so clear and open, that I shall not lose time in explaining them, but shall only observe, that a reader who knows the strength of the English tongue, will be amazed to think how the poet could find such apt words and phrases to describe the actions of those two imaginary persons, and particularly in that part where Death is exhibited as forming a bridge over the chaos; a work suitable to the genius of Milton.
Since the subject I am upon gives me an opportunity of speaking more at large of such shadowy and imaginary persons as may be introduced into heroic poems, I shall beg leave to explain myself in a matter which is curious in its kind, and which none of the critics have treated of. It is certain Homer and Virgil are full of imaginary persons, who are very beautiful in poetry when they are just shown, without being
engaged in any series of action. Homer indeed represents Sleep as a person, and ascribes a short part to him in his Iliad; but we must consider, that though we now regard such a person as entirely shadowy and unsubstantial, the heathens made statues of him, placed him in their temples, and looked upon him as a real deity. When Homer makes use of other such allegorical persons, it is only in short expressions, which convey an ordinary thought to the mind in the most pleasing manner, and may rather be looked upon as poetical phrases than allegorical descriptions. Instead of telling us, that men naturally fly when they are terrified, he introduces the persons of Flight and Fear, who, he tells us, are inseparable companions. Instead of saying that the time was come when Apollo ought to have received his recompense, he tells us, that the hours brought him his reward. Instead of describing the effects which Minerva's Ægis produced in battle, he tells us that the brims of it were encompassed by Terror, Rout, Discord, Fury, Pursuit, Massacre and Death. In the same figure of speaking, he represents Victory as following Diomedes; Discord as the mother of funerals and mourning; Venus as dressed by the Graces; Bellona as wearing Terror and Consternation like a garment. I might give several other instances out of Homer, as well
as a great many out of Virgil. Milton has likewise very often made use of the same way of speaking; as where he tells us, that Victory sat on the right hand of the Messiah when he marched forth against the rebel angels; that, at the rising of the sun, the Hours unbarred the gates of light; that Discord was the daughter of
Sin. Of the same nature are those expressions, where, describing the singing of the nightingale, he adds, Silence was pleased; and
upon the Messiah's bidding peace to the chaos, Confusion heard his voice. I might add innumerable instances of our poet's writing in this beautiful figure. It is plain, that these I have mentioned, in which persons of an imaginary nature are introduced, are such short allegories as are not designed to be taken in the literal sense, but only to convey particular circumstances to the reader after an unusual and entertaining manner.
But when such persons are introduced as principal actors, and engaged in a series of adventures, they take too much upon them, and are by no means proper for a heroic
which ought to appear credible in its principal parts. I can not forbear therefore thinking that Sin and Death are as improper agents in a work of this nature, as Strength and Necessity in one of the tragedies of Eschylus, who represented those two persons nailing down Prometheus to a rock, for which he has been justly censured by the greatest critics. I do not know any imaginary person made use of in a more sublime manner of thinking than that in one of the prophets, who, describing God as descending from heaven, and visiting the sins of mankind, adds that dreadful circumstance, Before him went the pestilence.' It is certain this imaginary person might have been described in all her purple spots. The Fever might have marched before her, Pain might have stood at her right had, Frenzy on her left, and Death in her rear. She might have been introduced as gliding down from the tail of a comet, or darted
upon the earth in a flash of lightning: she might have tainted the atmosphere with her breath; the very glaring of her eyes might have scattered infection. But I believe every reader will think, that in such sublime writings the mentioning of her as it is done in scripture has something in it more just, as well as great, than all that the most fanciful poet could have bestowed upon her in the richness of his imagination.
No. 358. MONDAY, APRIL 21.
-Desipere in loco.
CHARLES LILLY attended me the other day, and made me a present of a large sheet of paper, on which is delineated a pavement in Mosaic work lately discovered at Stunsfield near Woodstock. A person who has so much the gift of speech as Mr. Lilly, and can carry, on a discourse without a reply, had great opportunity on that occasion to expatiate upon so fine a piece of antiquity. Among other things, I remember he gave me his opinion, which he drew from the ornaments of the work, that this was the floor of a room dedicated to mirth and concord. Viewing this work made my fancy run over the many gay expressions I have read in ancient authors, which contained invitations to lay aside care and anxiety, and give a loose to that pleasing forgetfulness wherein men put off their characters of