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That sparkling blazed, his other parts besides
Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
We have more which we should gladly say of the delineation of Satan ; especially of the glimpses which are now and then given of his deep anguish and despair, and of the touches of better feelings which are skilfully thrown into the dark picture, both suited and designed to blend with our admiration, dread, and abhorrence, a measure of that sympathy and interest with which every living, thinking being ought to be regarded, and without which all other feelings tend to sin and pain.
As far as regards the daring, dauntless disposition of Milton's Satan, we are inclined to agree with Dr. Channing. What, indeed, can more terribly demonstrate the desperate determination of the devil than the following famous lines:
Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,
That we must change for heav'n, this mournful gloom
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best,
Whom reason hath equall'd, force hath made supreme
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
So does his personal description of the fiend give us the idea of a Spirit of Evil, mighty and majestic :—
The superior Fiend
Was moving tow'rd the shore; his pond'rous shield,
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hath vex'd the Red Sea coast, whose waves o'erthrew
While with perfidious hatred they pursued
The sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
From the safe shore their floating carcasses
And broken chariot wheels: so thick bestrown,
Still we have often doubted whether Milton has successfully detailed the entire nature of the devil. He has made him, like the Prometheus of Eschylus, a magnificent rebel to the Divine power, but we scarcely perceive, throughout the Paradise Lost, that crafty, tempting, and utterly malignant demon, such as spoken of in Scripture. Milton, for instance, commits an unpardonable error when he makes Satan, tempting Eve, to be moved even for instant :
Such pleasure took the Serpent to behold
The very notion of a moment's hesitation to do wrong, in the mind of the demon, is utterly absurd. If such vacillation were to occur once, it
might occur again, and thus would it destroy that eternity of active evil which is supposed to occupy the arch-enemy of mankind. Milton's Satan is a grand impersonation of wickedness, but it is not the Tempter of the desert-insidious, indefatigable, and implacable. This is fully the opinion of Dr. Blair, who, in his celebrated Lectures, thus alludes to the Satan of Paradise Lost:
Milton has not described Satan such as we suppose an infernal spirit to be. He has, more suitably to his own purpose, given him a human, that is, a mixed character, not altogether void of some good qualities. He is brave, and faithful to his troops. In the inidst of his impiety he is not without remorse. He is even touched with pity for our first parents, and justifies himself in his design against them, from the necessity of his situation. He is actuated by ambition and resentment, rather than by pure malice. In short, Milton's Satan is no worse than many a conspirator or factious chief that makes a figure in history.
Shakespeare, in his Iago, has produced a masterly incarnation of the fiendish spirit. Iago has all the qualifications of the demon; he is deep, daring, sarcastic, malignant, and unmerciful: not alone his acts, but his every thought is wicked. He has no human feeling beyond hate and malice. True, he talks of injuries inflicted, yet we think it is a mistake to suppose that he is actuated by revenge. The fierce jealousy he expresses with regard to Othello is a mere pretext, such as even fiends will start in excuse for the perpetration of crime. This is the more clearly so, from his giving the very same reason, immediately afterwards, for destroying Cassio, when in Cassio's case he could have no ground for suspicion. Moreover, Iago cares nothing for his wife, and treats her with utter contempt. He is throughout the play an arch-enemy of mankind; and that Shakespeare intended him to be so is evident from the frequent allusions made to infernal agency. Thus Iago says
Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light.
Divinity of hell!
When devils will their blackest sins put on,
Othello, too, exclaims, in addressing Iago
I look down towards his feet, but that 's a fable.
Some of the speeches of Iago demonstrate his devil's spirit to perfection. For instance, how subtle is the following!
O sir, content you;
I follow him to serve my turn upon him :
For nought but provender; and, when he 's old, cashier'd;
Who trimm'd in forms and visages of duty,
Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves;
And, throwing but shews of service on their lords,
Do well thrive by them, and, when they have lined their coats,
It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago :
In following him I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
How fiendish, too, is this!
Virtue? a fig! 'tis in ourselves, that we are thus, or thus. Our bodies are our gardens; to the which, our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce; set hyssop, and weed up thyme; supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many; either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry; why the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions: But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts; whereof I take this, that you call-love, to be a sect, or scion.
He watches the progress of the evil he does with the exulting satisfaction of a demon
I will in Cassio's lodgings lose this napkin
Burn like the mines of sulphur-I did say so :
Look, where he comes! Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep,
Which thou ow'dst yesterday.
Shakespeare, though usually so fond of supernatural agency, exhibits consummate art in avoiding it when delineating the character and schemes of Iago. His object is to represent the fiend incarnate, triumphing in his villainy, without any other aid than the resources of his own diabolical mind, and he works out the plot most ably. Milton's Satan may be a magnificent creation, but Shakespeare's Iago approaches far nearer to the nature of the devil.
The Mephistopheles of Goethe may be said to be a compound of Milton's Satan and Shakespeare's Iago: he has the bold daring of the one and the cruel craft of the other. The opening prologue of Faust
reminds one strongly of Milton, though Mephistopheles is more subservient and sarcastic than Satan. Goethe's fiend thus addresses the Almighty Power:
Since Thou, O Lord, approachest us once more,
Of Suns and Planets I have nought to say-
Is just as whimsical as at his birth!
Much better had the creature thriven,
Had'st Thou to him no glimpse of Heaven's light given,
To prove himself a greater brute than all the rest!
Like one of your long-shanked grasshopper race,
While in the grass, he ever to the old tune sings.
The temptation of Faust by Mephistopheles is finely conceived and powerfully described. Though long, we make no excuse for presenting the greater portion of it:
* The translation of Faust, here given, is that by the Hon. Robert Talbot.