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Here we have the Alphonsine heavens in their order, and with their exact names. But all through the poem the language assumes the same astronomical system. Where the words Orb and Sphere occur, for example, they almost invariably-not quite invariably-mean Orb or Sphere in the Ptolemaic sense. Yet, to make all safe, Milton, as we have seen, inserts two passages at least in which the Copernican theory of the heavens is distinctly suggested as a possible or probable alternative; and, moreover, even while using the language of the other theory, he so arranges that it need not be supposed he does so for any other reason than poetical preference.
In one respect the diagram must fail to convey Milton's complete notion of the World or Mundane Universe at that moment where he supposes the Fiend first gazing down into it from the glorious opening at the zenith, and then plunging precipitate through its azure depths (III. 561-565) in quest of that particular spot in it where Man had his abode. That small Earth which is so conspicuous in the diagram, as being at the centre, either was not visible even to angelic eyes from such an amazing distance as the opening at the zenith of the Primum Mobile, or was not yet marked. The luminary that attracts Satan first, from its all-surpassing splendour, is the Sun. Though the tenant only of the fourth of the Spheres, this luminary so far surpasses all others in majesty that it seems like the King not only of the seven planetary Orbs, but of all the ten. It seems the very God of the whole new Universe-shooting its radiance even through the beds of the stars, as far as the Primum Mobile itself (III. 571-587). It is thither, accordingly, that Satan bends his flight; it is on this of all the bodies in the new Universe that he first alights; and it is only after the Angel Uriel, whom he there encounters, and who does not recognise him in his disguise, has pointed out to him the Earth shining at a distance in the sunlight (III. 722-724) that he knows the exact scene of his further labours. Thus informed, he wings off again from the Sun's body, and, wheeling his steep flight towards the Earth, alights at length on the top of Niphates, near Eden.
There is no need to follow the action of the poem farther in this Introduction. All that takes place after the arrival of Satan on the Earth-all that portion of the story that is enacted within the bounds of Eden or of Paradise-the reader can without difficulty make out for himself; or any such incidental elucidation as may be requisite will easily occur to him. It is necessary only to take account here of certain final modifications in Milton's imaginary physical structure of the Universe, which take place after the Tempter has succeeded in his enterprise and Man has fallen :-In the first place there is then established-what did not exist before—a permanent communication between Hell and the new Universe. When Satan had come up through Chaos from Hell-gate, he had done so with toil and difficulty, as one exploring his way; but no sooner had he succeeded in his mission than Sin and Death, whom he had left at Hell-gate, felt themselves instinctively aware of his success, and of the necessity there would thenceforward be for a distinct road between Hell and the new World, by which all the Infernals might go and come. Accordingly (X. 282-324) they construct such a road-a wonderful causey or bridge from Hell-gate, right through or over Chaos, to that exact part of the outside of the new Universe where Satan had first alighted,-i.e. not to its nadir, but to some point near its zenith, where there is the break or orifice in the Primum Mobile towards the Empyrean. And what is the consequence of this vast
Infinity, it is
the physical structure of the Universe? The consequence is that Whether host are no longer confined to Hell, but possess also the new except th like an additional island or pleasure-domain, up in Chaos, and on confines of their former home, the Empyrean. Preferring this conquest language dust ar proper empire in Hell, they are thenceforward perhaps more frequently been N World than in Hell, winging through its various Spheres, but chiefly of his ing the Air round our central Earth. But this causey from Hell to that orld, constructed by Sin and Death, is not the only modification of the ages ical Universe consequent on the Fall. The interior of the Human World t hangs from the Empyrean receives some alterations for the worse by the acree of the Almighty Himself. The elements immediately round the Earth vecome harsher and more malignant; the planetary and starry Spheres are so influenced that thenceforward planets and stars look inward upon the central Earth with aspects of malevolence; nay, perhaps it was now first that, either by a heaving askance of the Earth from its former position, or by a change in the Sun's path, the ecliptic became oblique to the equator (x. 651-691). All this is apart from changes in the actual body of the Earth, including the obliteration of the site of the desecrated Paradise, and the outbreak of virulence among all things animate.
From the foregoing sketch, it will be seen that, while the poem is properly enough, as the name Paradise Lost indicates, the tragical story of the temptation and fall of the human race in its first parents, yet this story is included in a more comprehensive epic, of which the rebel Archangel is the hero, and the theatre of which is nothing less than Universal Infinitude. While the consummation, as regards Man, is the loss of innocence and Eden, and the liability to Death, the consummation, as regards Satan, is more in the nature of a triumph. He has succeeded in his enterprise. He has vitiated the new World at its beginning, and he has added it as a conquest to the Hell which had been assigned to him and his for their only proper realm. True, in the very hour of his triumph a curse has been pronounced upon him; he and his host experience a farther abasement of their being by transmutation into the image of the Serpent; and he and they are left with the expectation of a time when their supposed conquest will be snatched from them, and they will be driven in ignominy back to whence they came. Still, for the present, and until that greater Man" arise who is to restore the human race, and be the final and universal victor, they are left in successful possession. Whatever the sequel is to be (and it is foreshadowed in vision in the two last books), the Epic has here reached its natural close. Its purpose was to furnish the imagination with such a story of transcendent construction as should connect the mysteries of the inconceivable and immeasurable universe anterior to Time and to Man with the traditions and experience of our particular planet. This is accomplished by fastening the imagination on one great being, supposed to belong to the thronging multitudes of the angelic race that peopled the Empyrean before our World was created; by following this being in his actions as a rebel in Heaven and then as an exile into Hell; and by leaving him at last so far in possession of the new Universe of Man that thenceforward his part as an Archangel is well-nigh forgotten, and he is content with his new and degraded function as the Devil of mere terrestrial regions. Thenceforward he and his are to dwell more in these terrestrial regions, and particularly in the air, than in Hell-mingling themselves devilishly in human affairs, and
even, by a splendid stroke of diabolic policy, enjoying the wors of story while securing their ruin, by passing themselves off as gods and world. of all kinds of mongrel mythologies. That this is the main course ative of of the Epic will be perceived all the more clearly if the reader will nession much of the action, though it all bears ultimately on the fate of Eartwhich place away from the Earth altogether, and at a rate different from tlous earthly causation-in the Empyrean, in Hell, in Chaos, or among the o starry interspaces of the entire Cosmos. The portions of the poem whics it occupied with descriptions of Eden and Paradise and the relation of evafs there are attractive from their peculiar beauty, but they amount to bu? fragment of the whole.
One result which ought to follow from a right understanding of the scheme of the Poem, as it has been here exhibited, is a truer idea of the place which Milton's Epic holds among the great poems of the world, and also of its relation to his total mind and life. What is that in any man which is highest, deepest, and most essential in him-which governs all, reveals all, gives the key to all that he thinks or is? What but his way of thinking or feeling, whatever it may be, respecting the relation or non-relation of the whole visible or physical world to that which is boundless, invisible, unfeatured, metaphysical? What he thinks or feels on this subject is essentially his philosophy; if he abstains from thinking on it at all, then that very abstinence is equally his philosophy. And what greater character can there be in a poem, or in any other work of art, than that it truly conveys the author's highest mind or mood on this subject-his theory, if he has one, or his antipathy to any theory, should that be the case? It may be doubted whether the world ever has taken a poem to its larger heart, or placed it in the list of the poems spoken of as great, except from a perception, more or less conscious, that it possessed, in a notable degree, this characteristic—that it was the expression, in some form or other, under whatever nominal theme, and with whatever intermixture of matter, of the intimate personal philosophy of a great living mind. To suppose, at all events, that Milton could have put forth any poem large extent uninformed by his deepest and most serious philosophy of life and of the world, is to know nothing whatever about him. The ingenious construction of a fiction that should anyhow entertain the world, and which the author might behold floating away, detached from himself, as a beautifully-blown bubble—this was not his notion of poesy. Into whatever he wrote he was sure to put as much of himself as possible; and into that work which he intended to be his greatest it would have been safe to predict that he would studiously put the very most of himself. It would have been safe to predict that he would make it not only a phantasy or tale of majestic proportions, with which the human race might regale its leisure, but also a bequest of his own thoughts and speculations on the greatest subjects interesting to man—a kind of testament to posterity that it was thus and thus that he, Milton, veteran and blind, had learnt to think on such subjects, and dared advise the world for ever to think also. True, from the nature of the case, a poet must express himself on such subjects not so much in direct propositions addressed to the reason as in figurative conceptions, phantasmagories, or allegories, imagined individually and connectedly in accordance with his intellectual intention. as far, therefore, as Paradise Lost is an expression of Milton's habitual mode of thought respecting Man and History in relation to an eternal and unknown
Infinity, it is 3 so by way of what the Germans call Vorstellung (popular image or represer ftation), and not by way of Begriff (pure or philosophic notion). Whether on such subjects it is possible to address the human mind at all except through visual or other sensuous images, and whether the most abstract language of philosophers consists of anything else than such images reduced to dust ar a made colourless, needs not here be inquired. Whatever might have been Milton's abstract theory on any such subject, it was certainly in the nature of his ingenius to express it in a Vorstellung. He had faith in this method as that by which the collective soul of man had been impressed and ruled in all ages and would be impressed and ruled to the end of time. He more than once inserts in the poem passages cautioning the reader that his descriptions acid narratives of supra-mundane scenes and events are not to be taken literally, vebut only symbolically. Thus, when the Archangel Raphael, yielding to Adam's i request, begins, after a pause, his narration of the events that had taken place in the Empyrean Heaven before the creation of Man and his Universe, he is made (v. 563-576) to preface the narration with these words :
Let Paradise Lost, then, be called a Vorstellung. But what a Vorstellung it is! That World of Man, the world of all our stars and starry transparencies, hung but drop-like after all from the Empyrean; the great Empyrean itself, "undetermined square or round," so that, though we do diagram it for form's sake, it is beyond all power of diagram; Hell, far beneath but still measurably far, with its outcast infernal Powers tending disastrously upwards or tugging all downwards; finally, between the Empyrean and Hell, that blustering blackness of an unimaginable Chaos, roaring around the Mundane Sphere, and assaulting everlastingly its outermost bosses, but unable to break through, or to disturb the serenity of the golden poise that steadies it from the zenithwhat phantasmagory more truly all-significant than this has the imagination of poet ever conceived? What expanse of space, comparable to this for vastness, has any other poet presumed to occupy with a coherent story? The physical universe of Dante's great poem would go into a nutshell as compared with that to which the imagination must stretch itself out in Paradise Lost. In this respect-in respect of the extent of physical immensity through which the poem ranges, and which it orbs forth with soul-dilating clearness and divides with never-to-be-obliterated accuracy before the eye-no possible poem can ever overpass it. And then the story itself! What story mightier, or more full of meaning, can there ever be than that of the Archangel rebelling in Heaven, degraded from Heaven into Hell, reascending from Hell to the Human Universe, winging through the starry spaces of that Universe, and
at last possessing himself of our central Earth, and impregnating its incipient history with the spirit of Evil? Vastness of scene and power of story together, little wonder that the poem should have so impressed the world. Little wonder that it should now be Milton's Satan, and Milton's narrative of the Creation in its various transcendental connexions, that are in possession of the British imagination, rather than the strict Biblical accounts from which Milton so scrupulously derived the hints to which he gave such marvellous expansion!
But will the power of the poem be permanent? Grand conception as it is, was it not a conception framed too much in congruity with special beliefs and modes of thinking of Milton's own age to retain its efficiency for ever? If the matters it symbolized are matters which the human imagination, and the reason of man in its most exalted mood, must ever strive to symbolize in some form or other, may not the very definiteness, the blazing visual exactness, of Milton's symbolization jar on modern modes of thought? Do we not desire, in our days also, to be left to our own liberty of symbolizing in these matters, and may it not be well to prefer, in the main, symbolisms the least fixed, the least sensuous, the most fluent and cloud-like, the most tremulous to every touch of new idea or new feeling? To this objection—an objection, however, which would apply to all great Poetry and Art whatever, and would affect the paintings of Michael Angelo, for example, as much as the Paradise Lost of Milton-something must be conceded. Changes in human ideas since the poem was written have thrown the poem, or parts of it, farther out of keeping with the demands of the modern imagination than it can have been with the requirements of Milton's contemporaries. Not to speak of the direct traces in it of a peculiar theology in the form of speeches and arguments (in which kind, however, there is less that need really be obsolete than some theological critics have asserted), the Ptolemaism of Milton's astronomical scheme would alone put the poem somewhat in conflict with the educated modern conceptions of physical Nature. No longer now is the Mundane Universe thought of as a definite succession of Orbs round the globe of Earth. No longer now can the fancy of man be stayed at any distance, however immense, by an imaginary Primum Mobile or outermost shell, beyond which all is Chaos. The Primum Mobile has been for ever burst; and into the Chaos supposed to be beyond it the imagination has voyaged out and still out, finding no Chaos, and no sign of shore or boundary, but only the same ocean of transpicuous space, with firmaments for its scattered islands, and such islands still rising to view on every farthest horizon. Thus accustomed to the idea of Nature as boundless, the mind, in one of its moods, may refuse to conceive it as bounded, and may regard the attempt to do so as a treason against pure truth. All this must be conceded, though the effects of the concession will not stop at Paradise Lost. But there are other moods of the mind-moral and spiritual moods-which poesy is bound to serve; and, just as Milton, in the interest of these, knowingly and almost avowedly repudiated the obligation of consistency with physical science as known to himself, and set up a great symbolic phantasy, so to this day the phantasy which he did set up has, for those anyway like-minded to him, lost none of its sublime significance. For all such is not that physical Universe, which we have learnt not to bound, still, in its inconceivable totality, but as a drop hung from the Empyrean; is not darkness around it; is not Hell beneath it? And what though all are not such? Is it not the highest function of a book to perpetuate like-mindedness to its author after he is gone, and