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Pope’s Retort Upon Addison
by [?]

‘And fled
Murmuring; and with him fled the shades of night.

The darkness flying with him, naturally we have the feeling that he is the darkness, and that all darkness has some essential relation to Satan.

But now, having thus witnessed his terrific expulsion, naturally we ask what was the sequel. Four books, however, are interposed before we reach the answer to that question. This is the reason that we fail to remark the extraordinary oversight of Milton. Dislocated from its immediate plan in the succession of incidents, that sequel eludes our notice, which else and in its natural place would have shocked us beyond measure. The simple abstract of the whole story is, that Satan, being ejected, and sternly charged under Almighty menaces not to intrude upon the young Paradise of God, ‘rides with darkness’ for exactly one week, and, having digested his wrath rather than his fears on the octave of his solemn banishment, without demur, or doubt, or tremor, back he plunges into the very centre of Eden. On a Friday, suppose, he is expelled through the main entrance: on the Friday following he re-enters upon the forbidden premises through a clandestine entrance. The upshot is, that the heavenly police suffer, in the first place, the one sole enemy, who was or could be the object of their vigilance, to pass without inquest or suspicion; thus they inaugurate their task; secondly, by the merest accident (no thanks to their fidelity) they detect him, and with awful adjurations sentence him to perpetual banishment; but, thirdly, on his immediate return, in utter contempt of their sentence, they ignore him altogether, and apparently act upon Dogberry’s direction, that, upon meeting a thief, the police may suspect him to be no true man; and, with such manner of men, the less they meddle or make, the more it will be for their honesty.


[1] It is strange, or rather it is not strange, considering the feebleness of that lady in such a field, that Miss Edgeworth always fancied herself to have caught Milton in a bull, under circumstances which, whilst leaving the shadow of a bull, effectually disown the substance. ‘And in the lowest deep a lower deep still opens to devour me.’ This is the passage denounced by Miss Edgeworth. ‘If it was already the lowest deep,’ said the fair lady, ‘how the deuce (no, perhaps it might be I that said ‘how the deuce‘) could it open into a lower deep?’ Yes, how could it? In carpentry, it is clear to my mind that it could not. But, in cases of deep imaginative feeling, no phenomenon is more natural than precisely this never-ending growth of one colossal grandeur chasing and surmounting another, or of abysses that swallowed up abysses. Persecutions of this class oftentimes are amongst the symptoms of fever, and amongst the inevitable spontaneities of nature. Other people I have known who were inclined to class amongst bulls Milton’s all-famous expression of ‘darkness visible,’ whereas it is not even a bold or daring expression; it describes a pure optical experience of very common occurrence. There are two separate darknesses or obscurities: first, that obscurity by which you see dimly; and secondly, that obscurity which you see. The first is the atmosphere through which vision is performed, and, therefore, part of the subjective conditions essential to the act of seeing. The second is the object of your sight. In a glass-house at night illuminated by a sullen fire in one corner, but else dark, you see the darkness massed in the rear as a black object. That is the ‘visible darkness.’ And on the other hand, the murky atmosphere between you and the distant rear is not the object, but the medium, through or athwart which you descry the black masses. The first darkness is subjective darkness; that is, a darkness in your own eye, and entangled with your very faculty of vision. The second darkness is perfectly different: it is objective darkness; that is to say, not any darkness which affects or modifies your faculty of seeing either for better or worse; but a darkness which is the object of your vision; a darkness which you see projected from yourself as a massy volume of blackness, and projected, possibly, to a vast distance.