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Portia's inspired plea for mercy, or to Isabella's searching question:

“How would you be,
If He, which is the top of judgment, should

But judge you as you are ?” Paradise Lost. — This Puritan severity is especially marked in the three great poems of Milton's later life. As a young man he had chosen a purely romantic subject for his projected epic — the story of Arthur; his maturer interests led him to abandon this for a purely religious and doctrinal one. Paradise Lost, generally considered Milton's greatest work, is the story of Satan's rebellion against God, of his being hurled out of Heaven with his rebel hosts, and falling for nine days through Chaos and darkness into the depths of Hell. It tells of the creation of the world and of man; “of Man's first disobedience,” under Satan's temptation, and of his consequent loss of Paradise. Milton's purpose was to explain the existence of sin and death in the world, “and all our woe,” and to "justify the ways of God to men." But the poem is great rather in spite of, than because of, this theological interest. What gives it permanence is Milton's tremendous sweep of imagination and the exalted music of his verse. No poet before him, not even Dante, had conceived so large a stage for the action of his drama. We have not only the physical universe, or the World, as Milton called it, with its ten concentric spheres revolving about the earth, but the vast Empyrean beyond; we have Heaven, with its towers and battlements, while from Heaven's floor the "pendent world," the entire orb of creation, hangs suspended by golden chains. In Pandemonium, “high capital” of Satan, “the infernal peers” sit in council. Moreover, Milton's imagination was entirely adequate

in filling in the details of the action of this cosmic drama, and in conceiving fit and appropriate characters. The actors are not lost on the stage. Milton's persons God, Satan, the exalted and fallen angels, Adam and Eve - are, like his worlds, conceived and described with an heroic and epic grandeur. And more than this, Milton's poetic utterance is in perfect harmony with the majesty and scope of his imagination. His is the truly epic style. Indeed, Paradise Lost, and its sequel Paradise Regained, constitute the one great contribution of the English genius to the epic poetry of the world. By the incomparable dignity and majesty of the verse, with its prolonged and solemn music, and the curious involution of its slowly unfolding sentences, we are lifted out of the ordinary or the trivial into the incalculable spaces of that region into which it is the poet's object to transport us. The description of Satan's flight from the gates of Hell, upward through old Night and Chaos, in his search for the newly created World, is a good example of Milton's imaginative power and of his style:

“Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross. Nor was his ear less pealed
With noises loud and ruinous (to compare
Great things with small) than when Bellona storms
With all her battering engines, bent to rase
Some capital city; or less than if this frame
Of heaven were falling, and these elements
In mutiny had from her axle torn
The steadfast Earth. At last his sail-broad vans
He spreads for flight, and, in the surging smoke
Uplifted, spurns the ground; thence many a league,
As in a cloudy chair, ascending rides
Audacious.”

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After falling ten thousand fathoms in space, and floundering on through bog and strait, he mounts again “like a pyramid of fire,” and

"Weighs his spread wings, at leisure to behold
Far off the empyreal Heaven, extended wide
In circuit, undetermined square or round,
With opal towers and battlements adorned
Of living sapphire, once his native seat,
And, fast by, hanging in a golden chain,
This pendent World, in bigness as a star
Of smallest magnitude close by the moon.
Thither, full fraught with mischievous revenge,
Accurst, and in a cursèd hour, he hies.”

Paradise Lost is not a perfect poem: there are weak places in the argument and glaring inconsistencies in the narrative. In one place, for instance, God is represented as both foreseeing and allowing the fall of man, while in another He is represented as endeavoring to prevent it. He is portrayed as all-wise and all-powerful, and yet we see Him apparently powerless either to hold Satan a prisoner in Hell, or to prevent his entrance into Eden. But while we must admit such inconsistencies, we must not fail to realize the almost unparalleled difficulties of Milton's gigantic undertaking, a task "unattempted” before “in prose or rhyme.” For Milton's purpose in Paradise Lost was not merely to relate certain stupendous events, it was to enforce certain theological doctrines. Shakespeare contented himself, as a rule, with the faithful portrayal of human life, but Milton's daring ambition carried him beyond this; he set himself not merely to portray man's life, but to explain it. And in this determination to drag the most hidden things to light, Milton shrank from nothing. He did not hesitate to enter the "undiscovered country,"

to pass beyond the limits of space and time, and even in the awful brightness of the highest heaven he never seems to veil his eyes. There is no sense of awe in the presence of the unknown; nothing in heaven or earth undreamed of in his philosophy, nothing that he hesitates to depict and expound. We need not wonder, then, that even Milton's titanic genius proved unequal

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to such a superhuman task, or that his attempt to explain the mystery of human sin and suffering remains, at best, confused and unsatisfying.

But while we may not altogether pass over its shortcomings, we must remember that Paradise Lost is not to be judged as a theological treatise, but rather as a great poem. If from one aspect we feel its inadequacy, from another we are satisfied and uplifted by its inexhaustible power and beauty. Our ability to feel its greatness is a test of our power to appreciate what is great in poetry. Shakespeare had competitors and com

panions, even while he towered far above them; but Milton is as one who sits enthroned on a great height alone. His sublime epic — into which he put so much of his own lofty, audacious, and uncompromising spirit — remains apart in English poetry, unparalleled and unapproached, in an impressive and splendid isolation.

SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY PROSE Our study of Milton has carried us beyond the date of the Restoration, but before we leave the Elizabethans and Puritans, and enter that new England which began with the return of Charles II, we must turn back to the opening of the seventeenth century, and note some salient features in the history of prose. While the deep emotions, high imagination, and poetic fancy which possessed Renaissance England found their fullest and their earliest expression through poetry and the drama, from the close of the sixteenth century they began to ennoble prose also. We have already noted the beginning of a more sustained and majestic prose-style in Hooker; we must now glance at the further development of prose in the hands of some of his greatest and most representative successors.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) in 1614 published a History of the World, which, though tedious and discursive, is illuminated by many noble and poetic passages. Raleigh had known the world as few men know it, its ambitions, its rivalries, its heroism, its splendid successes, its cruel humiliations and defeats, and — imprisoned in the Tower at the close of a life crowded with great exploits — he undertook to write a survey of the course of human history. When we put aside all that seems pedantic or absurd in Raleigh's History, when we pass beyond the parade of a now antiquated

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