No. 357 [from The Spectator] by Joseph Addison

Story type: Essay

No. 357
Saturday, April 19, 1712. Addison.
[Quis talia fando

Temperet a lachrymis?

Virg.] [1]

The Tenth Book of Paradise Lost has a greater variety of Persons in it than any other in the whole Poem. The Author upon the winding up of his Action introduces all those who had any Concern in it, and shews with great Beauty the Influence which it had upon each of them. It is like the last Act of a well-written Tragedy, in which all who had a part in it are generally drawn up before the Audience, and represented under those Circumstances in which the Determination of the Action places them.

I shall therefore consider this Book under four Heads, in relation to the Celestial, the Infernal, the Human, and the Imaginary Persons, who have their respective Parts allotted in it.

To begin with the Celestial Persons: The Guardian Angels of Paradise are described as returning to Heaven upon the Fall of Man, in order to approve their Vigilance; their Arrival, their Manner of Reception, with the Sorrow which appear’d in themselves, and in those Spirits who are said to Rejoice at the Conversion of a Sinner, are very finely laid together in the following Lines.

Up into Heaven from Paradise in haste
Th’ Angelick Guards ascended, mute and sad
For Man; for of his State by this they knew:
Much wondering how the subtle Fiend had stoln
Entrance unseen. Soon as th’ unwelcome News
From Earth arriv’d at Heaven-Gate, displeased
All were who heard: dim Sadness did not spare
That time Celestial Visages; yet mixt
With Pity, violated not their Bliss.
About the new-arriv’d, in multitudes
Th’ Ethereal People ran, to hear and know
How all befel: They tow’rds the Throne supreme
Accountable made haste to make appear
With righteous Plea, their utmost vigilance,
And easily approved; when the Most High
Eternal Father, from his secret cloud,
Amidst in thunder utter’d thus his voice.

The same Divine Person, who in the foregoing Parts of this Poem interceded for our first Parents before their Fall, overthrew the Rebel Angels, and created the World, is now represented as descending to Paradise, and pronouncing Sentence upon the three Offenders. The Cool of the Evening, being a Circumstance with which Holy Writ introduces this great Scene, it is poetically described by our Author, who has also kept religiously to the Form of Words, in which the three several Sentences were passed upon Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. He has rather chosen to neglect the Numerousness of his Verse, than to deviate from those Speeches which are recorded on this great occasion. The Guilt and Confusion of our first Parents standing naked before their Judge, is touched with great Beauty. Upon the Arrival of Sin and Death into the Works of the Creation, the Almighty is again introduced as speaking to his Angels that surrounded him.
See! with what heat these Dogs of Hell advance,
To waste and havock yonder World, which I
So fair and good created; etc.

The following Passage is formed upon that glorious Image in Holy Writ, which compares the Voice of an innumerable Host of Angels, uttering Hallelujahs, to the Voice of mighty Thunderings, or of many Waters.
He ended, and the Heavenly Audience loud
Sung Hallelujah, as the sound of Seas,
Through Multitude that sung: Just are thy Ways,
Righteous are thy Decrees in all thy Works,
Who can extenuate thee?–

Tho the Author in the whole Course of his Poem, and particularly in the Book we are now examining, has infinite Allusions to Places of Scripture, I have only taken notice in my Remarks of such as are of a Poetical Nature, and which are woven with great Beauty into the Body of this Fable. Of this kind is that Passage in the present Book, where describing Sin and Death as marching thro the Works of Nature he adds,
–Behind her Death
Close following pace for pace, not mounted yet
On his pale Horse–

Which alludes to that Passage in Scripture, so wonderfully poetical, and terrifying to the Imagination. And I look’d, and behold a pale Horse, and his Name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him: and Power was given unto them over the fourth Part of the Earth, to kill with Sword, and with Hunger, and with Sickness, and with the Beasts of the Earth. [1] Under this first Head of Celestial Persons we must likewise take notice of the Command which the Angels receiv’d, to produce the several Changes in Nature, and sully the Beauty of the Creation. Accordingly they are represented as infecting the Stars and Planets with malignant Influences, weakning the Light of the Sun, bringing down the Winter into the milder Regions of Nature, planting Winds and Storms in several Quarters of the Sky, storing the Clouds with Thunder, and in short, perverting the Whole Frame of the Universe to the Condition of its criminal Inhabitants. As this is a noble Incident in the Poem, the following Lines, in which we see the Angels heaving up the Earth, and placing it in a different Posture to the Sun from what it had before the Fall of Man, is conceived with that sublime Imagination which was so peculiar to this great Author.
Some say he bid his Angels turn ascanse
The Poles of Earth twice ten Degrees and more
From the Suns Axle; they with Labour push’d
Oblique the Centrick Globe–

We are in the second place to consider the Infernal Agents under the view which Milton has given us of them in this Book. It is observed by those who would set forth the Greatness of Virgil’s Plan, that he conducts his Reader thro all the Parts of the Earth which were discover’d in his time. Asia, Africk, and Europe are the several Scenes of his Fable. The Plan of Milton’s Poem is of an infinitely greater Extent, and fills the Mind with many more astonishing Circumstances. Satan, having surrounded the Earth seven times, departs at length from Paradise. We then see him steering his Course among the Constellations, and after having traversed the whole Creation, pursuing his Voyage thro the Chaos, and entring into his own Infernal Dominions.

His first appearance in the Assembly of fallen Angels, is work’d up with Circumstances which give a delightful Surprize to the Reader; but there is no Incident in the whole Poem which does this more than the Transformation of the whole Audience, that follows the Account their Leader gives them of his Expedition. The gradual Change of Satan himself is describ’d after Ovid’s manner, and may vie with any of those celebrated Transformations which are look’d upon as the most beautiful Parts in that Poets Works. Milton never fails of improving his own Hints, and bestowing the last finishing Touches to every Incident which is admitted into his Poem. The unexpected Hiss which rises in this Episode, the Dimensions and Bulk of Satan so much superior to those of the Infernal Spirits who lay under the same Transformation, with the annual Change which they are supposed to suffer, are Instances of this kind. The Beauty of the Diction is very remarkable in this whole Episode, as I have observed in the sixth Paper of these Remarks the great Judgment with which it was contrived.

The Parts of Adam and Eve, or the human Persons, come next under our Consideration. Milton’s Art is no where more shewn than in his conducting the Parts of these our first Parents. The Representation he gives of them, without falsifying the Story, is wonderfully contriv’d to influence the Reader with Pity and Compassion towards them. Tho Adam involves the whole Species in Misery, his Crime proceeds from a Weakness which every Man is inclined to pardon and commiserate, as it seems rather the Frailty of Human Nature, than of the Person who offended. Every one is apt to excuse a Fault which he himself might have fallen into. It was the Excess of Love for Eve, that ruin’d Adam, and his Posterity. I need not add, that the Author is justify’d in this Particular by many of the Fathers, and the most orthodox Writers. Milton has by this means filled a great part of his Poem with that kind of Writing which the French Criticks call the Tender, and which is in a particular manner engaging to all sorts of Readers.

Adam and Eve, in the Book we are now considering, are likewise drawn with such Sentiments as do not only interest the Reader in their Afflictions, but raise in him the most melting Passions of Humanity and Commiseration. When Adam sees the several Changes in Nature produced about him, he appears in a Disorder of Mind suitable to one who had forfeited both his Innocence and his Happiness; he is filled with Horrour, Remorse, Despair; in the Anguish of his Heart he expostulates with his Creator for having given him an unasked Existence.

Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay
To mould me Man? did I sollicite thee
From Darkness to promote me? or here place
In this delicious Garden? As my Will
Concurr’d not to my Being, twere but right
And equal to reduce me to my Dust,
Desirous to resign, and render back
All I received–

He immediately after recovers from his Presumption, owns his Doom to be just, and begs that the Death which is threatned him may be inflicted on him.

–Why delays
His Hand to execute, what his Decree
Fix’d on this day? Why do I overlive?
Why am I mock’d with Death, and lengthened out
To deathless Pain? how gladly would I meet
Mortality my Sentence, and be Earth
Insensible! how glad would lay me down,
As in my Mothers Lap? there should I rest
And sleep secure; his dreadful Voice no more
Would thunder in my Ears: no fear of worse
To me and to my Offspring, would torment me
With cruel Expectation–

This whole Speech is full of the like Emotion, and varied with all those Sentiments which we may suppose natural to a Mind so broken and disturb’d. I must not omit that generous Concern which our first Father shews in it for his Posterity, and which is so proper to affect the Reader.
–Hide me from the Face
Of God, whom to behold was then my heighth
Of Happiness! yet well, if here would end
The Misery, I deserved it, and would bear
My own Deservings: but this will not serve;
All that I eat, or drink, or shall beget
Is propagated Curse. O Voice once heard
Delightfully, Increase and Multiply;
Now Death to hear!–

–In me all
Posterity stands curst! Fair Patrimony,
That I must leave ye, Sons! O were I able
To waste it all my self, and leave you none!
So disinherited, how would you bless
Me, now your Curse! Ah, why should all Mankind,
For one Man’s Fault, thus guiltless be condemn’d,
If guiltless? But from me what can proceed
But all corrupt–

Who can afterwards behold the Father of Mankind extended upon the Earth, uttering his midnight Complaints, bewailing his Existence, and wishing for Death, without sympathizing with him in his Distress?
Thus Adam to himself lamented loud,
Thro the still Night; not now, (as ere Man fell)
Wholesome, and cool, and mild, but with black Air
Accompanied, with Damps and dreadful Gloom;
Which to his evil Conscience represented
All things with double Terror. On the Ground
Outstretched he lay; on the cold Ground! and oft
Curs’d his Creation; Death as oft accusd
Of tardy Execution–

The Part of Eve in this Book is no less passionate, and apt to sway the Reader in her Favour. She is represented with great Tenderness as approaching Adam, but is spurn d from him with a Spirit of Upbraiding and Indignation, conformable to the Nature of Man, whose Passions had now gained the Dominion over him. The following Passage, wherein she is described as renewing her Addresses to him, with the whole Speech that follows it, have something in them exquisitely moving and pathetick.

He added not, and from her turned: But Eve
Not so repulst, with Tears that ceas’d not flowing,
And Tresses all disorderd, at his feet
Fell humble; and embracing them, besought
His Peace, and thus proceeding in her Plaint.
Forsake me not thus, Adam! Witness Heav’n
What Love sincere, and Reverence in my Heart
I bear thee, and unweeting have offended,
Unhappily deceived! Thy Suppliant
I beg, and clasp thy Knees; bereave me not
(Whereon I live!) thy gentle Looks, thy Aid,
Thy Counsel, in this uttermost Distress,
My only Strength, and Stay! Forlorn of thee,
Whither shall I betake me, where subsist?
While yet we live, (scarce one short Hour perhaps)
Between us two let there be Peace, etc.

Adams Reconcilement to her is workd up in the same Spirit of Tenderness. Eve afterwards proposes to her Husband, in the Blindness of her Despair, that to prevent their Guilt from descending upon Posterity they should resolve to live Childless; or, if that could not be done, they should seek their own Deaths by violent Methods. As those Sentiments naturally engage the Reader to regard the Mother of Mankind with more than ordinary Commiseration, they likewise contain a very fine Moral. The Resolution of dying to end our Miseries, does not shew such a degree of Magnanimity as a Resolution to bear them, and submit to the Dispensations of Providence. Our Author has therefore, with great Delicacy, represented Eve as entertaining this Thought, and Adam as disapproving it.

We are, in the last place, to consider the Imaginary Persons, or [Death and Sin [3]] who act a large Part in this Book. Such beautiful extended Allegories are certainly some of the finest Compositions of Genius: but, as, I have before observed, are not agreeable to the Nature of an Heroick Poem. This of Sin and Death is very exquisite in its Kind, if not considered as a Part of such a Work. The Truths contained in it are so clear and open, that I shall not lose time in explaining them; but shall only observe, that a Reader who knows the Strength of the English Tongue, will be amazed to think how the Poet could find such apt Words and Phrases to describe the Action[s] of those two imaginary Persons, and particularly in that Part where Death is exhibited as forming a Bridge over the Chaos; a Work suitable to the Genius of Milton.

Since the Subject I am upon, gives me an Opportunity of speaking more at large of such Shadowy and Imaginary Persons as may be introduced into Heroick Poems, I shall beg leave to explain my self in a Matter which is curious in its Kind, and which none of the Criticks have treated of. It is certain Homer and Virgil are full of imaginary Persons, who are very beautiful in Poetry when they are just shewn, without being engaged in any Series of Action. Homer indeed represents Sleep as a Person, and ascribes a short Part to him in his Iliad, [4] but we must consider that tho we now regard such a Person as entirely shadowy and unsubstantial, the Heathens made Statues of him, placed him in their Temples, and looked upon him as a real Deity. When Homer makes use of other such Allegorical Persons, it is only in short Expressions, which convey an ordinary Thought to the Mind in the most pleasing manner, and may rather be looked upon as Poetical Phrases than Allegorical Descriptions. Instead of telling us, that Men naturally fly when they are terrified, he introduces the Persons of Flight and Fear, who, he tells us, are inseparable Companions. Instead of saying that the time was come when Apollo ought to have received his Recompence, he tells us, that the Hours brought him his Reward. Instead of describing the Effects which Minervas AEgis produced in Battel, he tells us, that the Brims of it were encompassed by Terror, Rout, Discord, Fury, Pursuit, Massacre, and Death. In the same Figure of speaking, he represents Victory as following Diomedes; Discord as the Mother of Funerals and Mourning; Venus as dressed by the Graces; Bellona as wearing Terror and Consternation like a Garment. I might give several other Instances out of Homer, as well as a great many out of Virgil. Milton has likewise very often made use of the same way of Speaking, as where he tells us, that Victory sat on the right Hand of the Messiah when he marched forth against the Rebel Angels; that at the rising of the Sun the Hours unbarrd the Gates of Light; that Discord was the Daughter of Sin. Of the same nature are those Expressions, where describing the singing of the Nightingale, he adds, Silence was pleased; and upon the Messiahs bidding Peace to the Chaos, Confusion heard his Voice. I might add innumerable Instances of our Poets writing in this beautiful Figure. It is plain that these I have mentioned, in which Persons of an imaginary Nature are introduced, are such short Allegories as are not designed to be taken in the literal Sense, but only to convey particular Circumstances to the Reader after an unusual and entertaining Manner. But when such Persons are introduced as principal Actors, and engaged in a Series of Adventures, they take too much upon them, and are by no means proper for an Heroick Poem, which ought to appear credible in its principal Parts. I cannot forbear therefore thinking that Sin and Death are as improper Agents in a Work of this nature, as Strength and Necessity in one of the Tragedies of Eschylus, who represented those two Persons nailing down Prometheus to a Rock, [5] for which he has been justly censured by the greatest Criticks. I do not know any imaginary Person made use of in a more sublime manner of thinking than that in one of the Prophets, who describing God as descending from Heaven, and visiting the Sins of Mankind, adds that dreadful Circumstance, Before him went the Pestilence. [6] It is certain this imaginary Person might have been described in all her purple Spots. The Fever might have marched before her, Pain might have stood at her right Hand, Phrenzy on her Left, and Death in her Rear. She might have been introduced as gliding down from the Tail of a Comet, or darted upon the Earth in a Flash of Lightning: She might have tainted the Atmosphere with her Breath; the very glaring of her Eyes might have scattered Infection. But I believe every Reader will think, that in such sublime Writings the mentioning of her as it is done in Scripture, has something in it more just, as well as great, than all that the most fanciful Poet could have bestowed upon her in the Richness of his Imagination.


[Footnote 1:

Reddere personae scit convenientia cuique.


[Footnote 2: Revelation vi. 8.]

[Footnote 3: [Sin and Death]]

[Footnote 4: In the fourteenth Book, where Here visits the home of Sleep, the brother of Death, and offers him the bribe of a gold chain if he will shut the eyes of Zeus, Sleep does not think it can be done. Here then doubles her bribe, and offers Sleep a wife, the youngest of the Graces. Sleep makes her swear by Styx that she will hold to her word, and when she has done so flies off in her company, sits in the shape of a night-hawk in a pine tree upon the peak of Ida, whence when Zeus was subdued by love and sleep, Sleep went down to the ships to tell Poseidon that now was his time to help the Greeks.]

[Footnote 5: In the Prometheus Bound of AEschylus, the binding of Prometheus by pitiless Strength, who mocks at compassion in the god Hephaistos, charged to serve him in this office, opens the sublimest of the ancient dramas. Addison is wrong in saying that there is a personification here of Strength and Necessity; Hephaistos does indeed say that he obeys Necessity, but his personified companions are Strength and Force, and of these Force appears only as the dumb attendant of Strength. Addisons greatest critics had something to learn when they were blind to the significance of the contrast between Visible Strength at the opening of this poem, and the close with sublime prophecy of an unseen Power of the Future that disturbs Zeus on his throne, and gathers his thunders about the undaunted Prometheus.

Now let the shrivelling flame at me be driven,
Let him, with flaky snowstorms and the crash
Of subterraneous thunders, into ruins
And wild confusion hurl and mingle all:
For nought of these will bend me that I speak
Who is foredoomed to cast him from his throne.

(Mrs. Websters translation.)]

[Footnote 6: Habakkuk iii. 5.]

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