His Flight between the several Worlds that shined on every side of him, with the particular Description of the Sun, are set forth in all the Wantonness of a luxuriant Imagination. His Shape, Speech and Behaviour upon his transforming himself into an Angel of Light, are touched with exquisite Beauty. The Poets Thought of directing Satan to the Sun, which in the vulgar Opinion of Mankind is the most conspicuous Part of the Creation, and the placing in it an Angel, is a Circumstance very finely contrived, and the more adjusted to a Poetical Probability, as it was a received Doctrine among the most famous Philosophers, that every Orb had its Intelligence; and as an Apostle in Sacred Writ is said to have seen such an Angel in the Sun. In the Answer which this Angel returns to the disguised evil Spirit, there is such a becoming Majesty as is altogether suitable to a Superior Being. The Part of it in which he represents himself as present at the Creation, is very noble in it self, and not only proper where it is introduced, but requisite to prepare the Reader for what follows in the Seventh Book.
I saw when at his Word the formless Mass,
This Worlds material Mould, came to a Heap:
Confusion heard his Voice, and wild Uproar
Stood rul’d, stood vast Infinitude confin’d.
Till at his second Bidding Darkness fled,
Light shon, &c.
In the following Part of the Speech he points out the Earth with such Circumstances, that the Reader can scarce forbear fancying himself employed on the same distant View of it.
Look downward on the Globe whose hither
With Light from hence, tho but reflected, shines;
That place is Earth, the Seat of Man, that Light
His Day, &c.
I must not conclude my Reflections upon this Third Book of Paradise Lost, without taking Notice of that celebrated Complaint of Milton with which it opens, and which certainly deserves all the Praises that have been given it; tho as I have before hinted, it may rather be looked upon as an Excrescence, than as an essential Part of the Poem. The same Observation might be applied to that beautiful Digression upon Hypocrisie, in the same Book.
[Footnote 1: De Arte Poetica. II. 38-40.]
[Footnote 2: Poetics, iii. 4.
The surprising is necessary in tragedy; but the Epic Poem goes farther, and admits even the improbable and incredible, from which the highest degree of the surprising results, because there the action is not seen.]
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No. 316. Monday, March 3, 1712. John Hughes.
Libertas; quae sera tamen respexit Inertem.
Virg. Ecl. I.