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No. 369 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 369
Saturday, May 3, 1712. Addison.
‘Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures
Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus–‘


Milton, after having represented in Vision the History of Mankind to the first great Period of Nature, dispatches the remaining part of it in Narration. He has devised a very handsome Reason for the Angels proceeding with Adam after this manner; though doubtless the true Reason was the Difficulty which the Poet would have found to have shadowed out so mixed and complicated a Story in visible Objects. I could wish, however, that the Author had done it, whatever Pains it might have cost him. To give my Opinion freely, I think that the exhibiting part of the History of Mankind in Vision, and part in Narrative, is as if an History-Painter should put in Colours one half of his Subject, and write down the remaining part of it. If Milton’s Poem flags any where, it is in this Narration, where in some places the Author has been so attentive to his Divinity, that he has neglected his Poetry. The Narration, however, rises very happily on several Occasions, where the Subject is capable of Poetical Ornaments, as particularly in the Confusion which he describes among the Builders of Babel, and in his short Sketch of the Plagues of Egypt. The Storm of Hail and Fire, with the Darkness that overspread the Land for three Days, are described with great Strength. The beautiful Passage which follows, is raised upon noble Hints in Scripture:

–Thus with ten Wounds
The River-Dragon tamed at length submits
To let his Sojourners depart, and oft
Humbles his stubborn Heart; but still as Ice
More harden’d after Thaw, till in his Rage
Pursuing whom he late dismissed, the Sea
Swallows him with his Host, but them lets pass
As on dry Land between two Chrystal Walls,
Aw’d by the Rod of Moses so to stand

The River-Dragon is an Allusion to the Crocodile, which inhabits the Nile, from whence Egypt derives her Plenty. This Allusion is taken from that Sublime Passage in Ezekiel, Thus saith the Lord God, behold I am against thee, Pharaoh King of Egypt, the great Dragon that lieth in the midst of his Rivers, which hath said, my River is mine own, and I have made it for my self. Milton has given us another very noble and poetical Image in the same Description, which is copied almost Word for Word out of the History of Moses.

All Night he will pursue, but his Approach
Darkness defends between till morning Watch;
Then through the fiery Pillar and the Cloud
God looking forth, will trouble all his Host,
And craze their Chariot Wheels: when by command
Moses once more his potent Rod extends
Over the Sea: the Sea his Rod obeys:
On their embattell’d Ranks the Waves return
And overwhelm their War–

As the principal Design of this Episode was to give Adam an Idea of the Holy Person, who was to reinstate human Nature in that Happiness and Perfection from which it had fallen, the Poet confines himself to the Line of Abraham, from whence the Messiah was to Descend. The Angel is described as seeing the Patriarch actually travelling towards the Land of Promise, which gives a particular Liveliness to this part of the Narration.

I see him, but thou canst not, with what Faith
He leaves his Gods, his Friends, his Native Soil,
Ur of Chaldaea, passing now the Ford
To Haran, after him a cumbrous Train
Of Herds and Flocks, and numerous Servitude,
Not wand’ring poor, but trusting all his Wealth
With God, who call’d him, in a Land unknown.
Canaan he now attains, I see his Tents
Pitch’d about Sechem, and the neighbouring Plain
Of Moreh, there by Promise he receives
Gifts to his Progeny of all that Land,
From Hamath Northward to the Desart South.
(Things by their Names I call, though yet unnamed.)