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(swool urnov) which very much swells the idea, by bringing up to the reader's imagination all the woods that grew upon it. There is further a great beauty in his singling out by name these three remarkable mountains, so well known to the Greeks. This last is such a beauty as the scene of Milton's war could not possibly furnish him with. Claudian, in his fragment upon the giant's war, has given full scope to that wildness of imagination which was natural to him. He tells us, that the giants tore up whole islands by the roots, and threw them at the gods. He describes one of them in particular taking up Lemnos in his arms, and whirling it to the skies, with all Vulcan's shop in the midst of it. Another tears up mount Ida, with the river Enipeus, which ran down the sides of it; but the poet, not content to describe him with this mountain upon his shoulders, tells us, that the river flowed down his back as he held it up in that posture.
It is visible to every judicious reader, that such ideas savour more of burlesque than of the sublime. They proceed from a wantonness of imagination, and rather divert the mind than astonish it. Milton has taken every thing that is sublime in these several passages, and composes out of them the following great image:
From their foundations loos’ning to and fro,
their load, Rocks, waters, woods; and by their shaggy tops Uplifting bore them in their handsWe have the full majesty of Homer in this short description, improved by the imagination of Claudian, without its puerilities.
I need not point out the description of the fallen angels, seeing the promontories hanging over their heads in such a dreadful manner, with the other numberless beauties in this book, which are so conspicuous that they can not escape the notice of the most ordinary reader.
There are indeed so many wonderful strokes of poetry in this book, and such a variety of sublime ideas, that it would have been impossible to have given them a place within the bounds of this paper. Besides that, I find it in a great measure done to my hand, at the end of my
lord Roscommon's essay on translated poetry. I shall refer my
reader thither for some of the master strokes of the sixth book of Paradise Lost, though at the same time there are many others which that noble author has not taken notice of.
Milton, notwithstanding the sublime genius he was master of, has in this book drawn to his assistance all the helps he could meet with among the ancient poets. The sword of Michael, which makes so great a havoc among the bad angels, was given him, we are told, out of the armory of God.
But the sword
This passage is a copy of that in Virgil, wherein the poet tells us, that the sword of Eneas, which was given him by a deity, broke into pieces the sword of Turnus, which came from a
mortal forge. As the moral in this place is divine, so by the way we may observe, that the bestowing on a man who is favoured by heaven such an allegorical weapon, is very conformable to the old eastern way of thinking. Not only Homer has made use of it; but we find the Jewish hero in the book of Maccabees, who had fought the battles of the chosen people with so much glory and success, receiving in his dream a sword from the hand of the prophet Jeremiah. The following passage, wherein Satan is described as wounded by the sword of Michael, is in imitation of Homer.
The griding sword with discontinuous wound
Homer tells us in the same manner, that upon Diomede's wounding the gods, there flowed from the wound an ichor, or pure kind of blood, which was not bred from mortal viands; and that though the pain was exquisitely great, the wound soon closed
and healed in those beings who are vested with immortality.
I question not but Milton, in his description of his furious Moloch flying from the battle, and bellowing with the wound he had received, had his eye on Mars in the Iliad, who, upon his being wounded, is represented as retiring out of the fight, and making an outcry louder than that of a whole army when it begins the charge. Homer adds, that the Greeks and Trojans who were engaged in a general battle, were terrified on each side with the bellowing of this wounded deity. The reader will easily observe how Milton has kept all the horror of this image, without running into the ridicule of it.
-Where the might of Gabriel fought,
And uncouth pain fled bellowingMilton has likewise raised his description in this book with many images taken out of the poetical parts of scripture. The Messiah's chariot, as I have before taken notice, is formed upon a vision of Ezekiel, who, as Grotius observes, has very much in him of Homer's spirit, in the poetical parts of his prophecy.
The following lines in that glorious commission which is given the Messiah to extirpate the host of rebel angels, are drawn from a sublime passage in the Psalms.
Go then, thou mightiest, in thy Father's might!
Gird on, and sword upon thy puissant thigh. The reader will easily discover many other strokes of the same nature.
There is no question but Milton had heated his imagination with the fight of the gods in Homer,
before he entered upon this engagement of the angels. Homer there gives us a scene of men, heroes, and gods, mixed together in battle. Mars animates the contending armies, and lifts up his voice in such a manner that it is heard distinctly amidst all the shouts and confusion of the fight; Jupiter at the same time thunders over their heads; while Neptune raises such a tempest, that the whole field of battle and all the tops of the mountains shake about them. The
us, that Pluto himself, whose habitation was in the very centre of the earth, was so affrighted at the shock, that he leapt from his throne. Homer afterwards describes Vulcan as pouring down a storm of fire upon the river Xanthus, and Minerva as throwing a rock at Mars; who, he tells us, covered seven acres in his fall.
As Homer has introduced into his battle of the gods every thing that is great and terrible in nature, Milton has filled his fight of good and bad angels with all the like circumstances of horror. The shout of armies, the rattling of brazen chariots, the hurling of rocks and mountains, the earthquake, the fire, the thunder, are all of them employed to lift up the reader's imagination, and give him a suitable idea of so great an action. With what art has the poet represented the whole body of the earth trembling, even before it was created!
In how sublime and just a manner does he afterwards describe the whole heaven shaking un