Puslapio vaizdai


Born 1608-Died 1674.

FROM his sixteenth year Milton was educated at the university of Cambridge. At the age of twenty four he returned to the beautiful residence of his father, at Horton in Buckinghamshire, where he spent five years in the study of the Greek and Latin classics, and in the composition of his most beautiful minor poetry-the Allegro and Penseroso, Comus and Lycidas. In 1638 he travelled in France and Italy, and after an absence of more than a year, returned to his native country, then agitated by the differences between the king and parliament, and on the eve of the most violent civil commotions. Milton took part with the Puritans and the people of England, and applied his mind to the contest in his controversial writings with a power and vigour that have seldom been equalled. He was Latin Secretary to Cromwell till the death of the Protector in 1658. At the restoration of Charles II. in 1660, he was obliged to conceal himself, till the publication of the act of oblivion released him from danger. After this period, being retired from all public stations, he devoted himself exclusively to study, and especially to the composition of Paradise Lost, the idea of which he had conceived as early as 1642. It was finished in 1665.

The foundation of Milton's blindness was laid by his imprudent and incessant devotion to study in his earlier years; but this misfortune was immediately occasioned in 1651 by too great intensity of application in the performance of his Defensio Populi Anglicani, or Defence of the People of England.

Milton's life, in connexion with the age in which he lived, forms one of the very finest subjects of biographical and historical study. In the unjust and defective representation of Dr Johnson, his character appears exceedingly unamiable; in reality it was noble and delightful; obscured, indeed, by blemishes, but these not in themselves great, and rather reflected upon him by the circumstances in which he was placed, than growing out of the natural temper and constitution of his mind. His disposition was generous, equable, and cheerful, into whatever occasional harshness it might have been betrayed in the midst of external tumult and discord. And there was an habitual loftiness, a dignity, a virtuous severity in his spirit, and a grandeur in all his conceptions, which invests his general character with the attribute most peculiar to his poetry—that of the sublime.

Milton has diffused the spirit of piety over his writings, and he seems himself to have lived,

'As ever in his great Taskmaster's eye.'

To what degree of eminence or perfection he cultivated the in

fluence of religion in his own bosom it is not in the power of human ignorance to decide. Dr Johnson observes that 'Milton, who appears to have had full conviction of the truth of Christianity, and to have regarded the Holy Scriptures with the profoundest veneration, and to have been untainted with any heretical peculiarity of opinion, and to have lived in a confirmed belief of the immediate and occasional agency of Providence, yet grew old without any visible worship. In the distribution of his hours there was no hour of prayer either solitary or with his household; omitting public prayers, he omitted all.' Who, but Omniscience, can speak thus? A more humble and charitable judgment would certainly hesitate an assent to this sweeping conclusion in regard to so excellent a man. Indeed, the rash critic himself afterwards adds, 'That he lived without prayer can hardly be affirmed; his studies and meditations were a continual prayer.'

To remark upon Milton's poetical excellence seems almost needless. Yet it is undoubtedly true that the great masterpiece of his genius is praised where it is not read; and by many, perhaps by most readers, he is even now known and admired only in some of his exquisite minor productions. Paradise Lost must be studied, before its sublimity and beauty can be truly relished. Whatever delightful qualities can be found in his shorter productions, their exceeding richness and melody of language, their sweetness of fancy, their picturesque epithets, their elegance, their paintings of natural scenery, are here combined in an equal or superior degree; while we meet also with a vivid grandeur of description which is sometimes almost terrific, magnificent imagery, intense energy both in thought and expression, perfect conception and delineation of character, genuine pathos, learning, stateliness, moral sublimity, and all in a style elaborate and powerful, a blank verse, though occasionally harsh and inverted, yet superior in harmony and variety to that of every other poet.

If the shorter poetry of Milton be often perused with attention till the mind is imbued with its spirit, the pupil may then come to the study of Paradise Lost, with the greatest benefit and delight.


THUS while he spake, each passion dimm'd his face
Thrice chang'd with pale ire, envy, and despair;
Which marr'd his borrow'd visage, and betray'd
Him counterfeit, if any eye beheld :

For heavenly minds from such distempers foul
Are ever clear. Whereof he soon aware,
Each perturbation smooth'd with outward calm,
Artificer of fraud; and was the first

That practis'd falsehood under saintly show,
Deep malice to conceal, couch'd with revenge:
Yet not enough had practis'd to deceive

Uriel once warn'd; whose eye pursued him down
The way he went, and on the' Assyrian mount
Saw him disfigur'd, more than could befall
Spirit of happy sort: his gestures fierce
He mark'd and mad demeanour, then alone,
As he suppos'd, all unobserv'd, unseen.
So on he fares, and to the border comes
Of Eden, where delicious Paradise,

Now nearer, crowns with her enclosure green,
As with a rural mound, the champaign head
Of a steep wilderness, whose hairy sides
With thicket overgrown, grotesque and wild,
Access denied; and over-head up grew
Insuperable heighth of loftiest shade,

Cedar, and pine, and fir, and branching palm,
A sylvan scene; and, as the ranks ascend
Shade above shade, a woody theatre

Of stateliest view. Yet higher than their tops
The verdurous wall of Paradise up sprung;
Which to our general sire gave prospect large
Into his nether empire neighbouring round:
And higher than that wall a circling row
Of goodliest trees, loaden with fairest fruit,
Blossoms and fruits at once of golden hue,
Appear'd, with gay enamell'd colors mixt;
On which the sun more glad impress'd his beams
Than in fair evening cloud, or humid bow,

When God hath shower'd the earth; so lovely seem'd
That landskip: and of pure now purer air

Meets his approach, and to the heart inspires

Vernal delight and joy, able to drive

All sadness but despair; now gentle gales,
Fanning their odoriferous wings, dispense

Native perfumes, and whisper whence they stole

Those balmy spoils. As when to them who sail
Beyond the Cape of Hope, and now are past
Mozambic, off at sea north-east winds blow
Sabean odours from the spicy shore

Of Araby the blest; with such delay

Well pleas'd they slack their course, and many a league
Cheer'd with the grateful smell, old Ocean smiles:
So entertain'd those odorous sweets the Fiend,
Who came their bane.


-In this pleasant soil

His far more pleasant garden God ordain'd;
Out of the fertile ground he caus'd to grow
All trees of noblest kind for sight, smell, taste;
And all amid them stood the tree of life,
High eminent, blooming ambrosial fruit
Of vegetable gold; and next to life,

Our death, the tree of knowledge, grew fast by,
Knowledge of good bought dear by knowing ill.
Southward through Eden went a river large,
Nor chang'd his course, but through the shaggy hill
Pass'd underneath ingulf'd: for God had thrown
That mountain as his garden-mould high rais'd
Upon the rapid current, which, through veins
Of porous earth with kindly thirst up-drawn,
Rose a fresh fountain, and with many a rill
Water'd the garden: thence united fell
Down the steep glade, and met the nether flood,
Which from his darksome passage now appears,
And now divided into four main streams,
Runs diverse, wandering many a famous realm
And country, whereof here needs no account;
But rather to tell how, if Art could tell,
How from that sapphire fount the crisped brooks,
Rolling on orient pearl and sands of gold,
With mazy error under pendant shades
Ran nectar, visiting each plant, and fed
Flowers worthy' of Paradise, which not nice Art
In beds and curious knots, but Nature boon
Pour'd forth profuse, on hill, and dale, and plain,
Both where the morning sun first warmly smote
The open field, and where the unpierc'd shade
Imbrown'd the noontide bowers: thus was this place
A happy rural seat of various view;

Groves whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balm,
Others whose fruit, burnish'd with golden rind,
Hung amiable, Hesperian fables true,

If true, here only, and of delicious taste:
Betwixt them lawns, or level downs, and flocks
Grazing the tender herb, were interpos'd,
Or palmy hillock; or the flowery lap
Of some irriguous valley spread her store,
Flowers of all hue, and without thorn the rose:
Another side, umbrageous grots and caves
Of cool recess, o'er which the mantling vine
Lays forth her purple grape, and gently creeps
Luxuriant; meanwhile murmuring waters fall
Down the slope hills, dispers'd, or in a lake,

That to the fringed bank with myrtle crown'd
Her crystal mirror holds, unite their streams.
The birds their quire apply; airs, vernal airs,
Breathing the smell of field and grove, attune
The trembling leaves, while universal Pan,
Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance,
Led on th' eternal Spring.


Now came still Evening on, and Twilight gray
Had in her sober livery all things clad;
Silence accompanied; for beast and bird,
They to their grassy couch, these to their nests
Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale;
She all night long her amorous descant sung;
Silence was pleased: now glow'd the firmament
With living sapphires: Hesperus, that led
The starry host, rode brightest, till the moon,
Rising in clouded majesty, at length
Apparent queen unveil'd her peerless light,
And o'er the dark her silver mantle threw.

When Adam thus to Eve: Fair Consort, th' hour
Of night, and all things now retired to rest,
Mind us of like repose; since God hath set
Labour and rest, as day and night, to men
Successive; and the timely dew of sleep,
Now falling with soft slumberous weight, inclines
Our eye-lids: other creatures all day long
Rove idle, unemploy'd, and less need rest;
Man hath his daily work of body' or mind
Appointed, which declares his dignity,
And the regard of Heaven on all his ways;
While other animals unactive range,
And of their doings God takes no account.
To-morrow, ere fresh morning streak the east
With first approach of light, we must be risen,
And at our pleasant labor, to reform

Yon flowery arbours, yonder alleys green,
Our walk at noon, with branches overgrown,
That mock our scant manuring, and require

More hands than ours to lop their wanton growth:
Those blossoms also, and those dropping gums,
That lie bestrown, unsightly and unsmooth,
Ask riddance, if we mean to tread with ease;
Meanwhile, as Nature wills, night bids us rest.'

To whom thus Eve, with perfect beauty' adorn'd:
My author and Disposer, what thou bid'st

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