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No. 333 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 333
Saturday, March 22, 1712. Addison.

–vocat in Certamina Divos.


We are now entering upon the Sixth Book of Paradise Lost, in which the Poet describes the Battel of Angels; having raised his Readers Expectation, and prepared him for it by several Passages in the preceding Books. I omitted quoting these Passages in my Observations on the former Books, having purposely reserved them for the opening of this, the Subject of which gave occasion to them. The Authors Imagination was so inflam’d with this great Scene of Action, that wherever he speaks of it, he rises, if possible, above himself. Thus where he mentions Satan in the Beginning of his Poem:

–Him the Almighty Power
Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless Perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to Arms.

We have likewise several noble Hints of it in the Infernal Conference.

O Prince! O Chief of many throned Powers,
That led th’ imbattel’d Seraphim to War,
Too well I see and rue the dire Event,
That with sad Overthrow and foul Defeat
Hath lost us Heavn, and all this mighty Host
In horrible Destruction laid thus low.
But see I the angry Victor has recalled
His Ministers of Vengeance and Pursuit,
Back to the Gates of Heavn: The sulphurous Hail
Shot after us in Storm, overblown, hath laid
The fiery Surge, that from the Precipice
Of Heaven receiv’d us falling: and the Thunder,
Winged with red Lightning and impetuous Rage,
Perhaps hath spent his Shafts, and ceases now
To bellow through the vast and boundless Deep.

There are several other very sublime Images on the same Subject in the First Book, as also in the Second.

What when we fled amain, pursued and strook
With Heavns afflicting Thunder, and besought
The Deep to shelter us; this Hell then seem’d
A Refuge from those Wounds–

In short, the Poet never mentions anything of this Battel but in such Images of Greatness and Terror as are suitable to the Subject. Among several others I cannot forbear quoting that Passage, where the Power, who is described as presiding over the Chaos, speaks in the Third Book.

Thus Satan; and him thus the Anarch old
With faultring Speech, and Visage incompos’d,
Answer’d, I know thee, Stranger, who thou art,
That mighty leading Angel, who of late
Made Head against Heavens King, tho overthrown.
I saw and heard, for such a numerous Host
Fled not in silence through the frighted Deep
With Ruin upon Ruin, Rout on Rout,
Confusion worse confounded; and Heavns Gates
Pour’d out by Millions her victorious Bands

It requir’d great Pregnancy of Invention, and Strength of Imagination, to fill this Battel with such Circumstances as should raise and astonish the Mind of the Reader; and at the same time an Exactness of Judgment, to avoid every thing that might appear light or trivial. Those who look into Homer, are surprized to find his Battels still rising one above another, and improving in Horrour, to the Conclusion of the Iliad. Milton’s Fight of Angels is wrought up with the same Beauty. It is usher’d in with such Signs of Wrath as are suitable to Omnipotence incensed. The first Engagement is carry’d on under a Cope of Fire, occasion’d by the Flights of innumerable burning Darts and Arrows, which are discharged from either Host. The second Onset is still more terrible, as it is filled with those artificial Thunders, which seem to make the Victory doubtful, and produce a kind of Consternation even in the good Angels. This is follow’d by the tearing up of Mountains and Promontories; till, in the last place, the Messiah comes forth in the Fulness of Majesty and Terror, The Pomp of his Appearance amidst the Roarings of his Thunders, the Flashes of his Lightnings, and the Noise of his Chariot-Wheels, is described with the utmost Flights of Human Imagination.