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THE LIVES OF THE AUTHORS,
IN TWELVE YOLUMES.
PUBLISHED BY JAMES CRISSY.
No. 369. SATURDAY, MAY 3, 1712.
Segniùs irritant animos demissa per aures,
HOR. ARS. POET.
What we hear moves less than what we see.
MILTON, after having represented in vision the history of mankind to the first great period of nature, despatches the remaining part of it in narration. He has devised a very handsome reason for the angel's proceeding with Adam after this manner, though doubtless the true reason was the difficulty which the poet would have found to have shadowed out so mixed and complicated a story in visible objects. I could wish, however, that the author had done it, whatever pains it might have cost him. To give my opinion freely, I think that the exhibiting part of the history of mankind in vision, and part in narrative, is as if a history-painter should put in colours one half of his subject, and write down the remaining part of it. If Milton's poem flags any where, it is in this narration; where, in some
places the author has been so attentive to his divinity, that he has neglected his poetry. The narration, however, rises very happily on several occasions, where the subject is capable of poetical ornaments, as particularly in the confusion which he describes among the builders of Babel, and in his short sketch of the plagues of Egypt. The storm of hail and fire, with the darkness that overspread the land for three days, are described with great strength. The beautiful passage which follows is raised upon noble hints in scripture.
-Thus with ten wounds
The river-dragon is an allusion to the crocodile, which inhabits the Nile, from whence Egypt derives her plenty. This allusion is taken from that sublime passage in Ezekiel; Thus saith the Lord God, Behold I am against thee, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.' Milton has given us another very noble and poetical image in the same description, which is copied almost word for word out of the history of Moses.
• All night he will pursue, but his approach
As the principal design of this episode was to give Adam an idea of the holy person who was to reinstate human nature in that happiness and perfection from which it had fallen, the poet confines himself to the line of Abraham, from whence the Messiah was to descend. The angel is described as seeing the patriarch actually travelling towards the Land of Promise, which gives a particular liveliness to this part of the narration.
I see him, but thou canst not; with what faith
As Virgil's vision in the sixth Æneid probably gave Milton the hint of this whole episode, the last line is a translation of that verse where