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Through paths of Paradise,
And such a dew and such a spice
From the under-world came sneaking.
And dumb and wan, came, tale on tale,
Displeased, some new thing seeking;
Whose innocent pinions sweetly twinkled,
And dulls the flaming of God's face.
This ode, which is here rendered with scrupulous attachment to the original, is an interesting example of the alternation of exquisite with tawdry and prosaic imagery, and noble with flat and poor expression, which is characteristic of most of Vondel's writings. These choruses at the close of each act are not peculiar to the Lucifer, but common to Dutch dramatic poetry generally. We have in English an exactly analogous example in the Cleopatra of Samuel Daniel, a tragedy written in rhymed verse, with solemn choral variations.
In the second act the rebellion has been confined to the desires of a few princes; in the third act it has taken fast hold of the multitude. The whole process is precisely that recounted in Book V., lines 616-710, of Paradise Lost. Belial and Apollyon have passed far and wide among the ranks of the angels, and, while calling them together under the banner of Lucifer, have "cast between ambiguous words and jealousies to sound or taint integrity." The angels are discovered huddling together, with all their beauty tarnished, drowned in grief and deep sunk in their own melancholy thoughts, and, ever and anon, with one voice they cryAlas! alas! alas! where has our bliss departed?
The loyal Chorus are properly displeased with this excessive and groundless show of depression. They declare that Heaven freezes with the wind of their lamentations. The azure ether is not accustomed to hear a music of affliction go up in vapour through its joyous vault. Triumphs, songs, and symphonies on stringed instruments befit the blessed. They call upon their fellow-choristers to aid them in cheering these sorrowful souls. But the Luciferists, as they are now called, only repeat their monotonous cry
Alas! alas alas! where has our bliss departed?
The Chorus reminds them of their being. They were born to be joyous; brought forth, like flowers, upon a beam of the glory of God:
created to hover and flash through the unshadowed light of life. At last the Luciferists enquire if the Chorus is really in earnest in asking them why they mourn; is it not well enough known that the angels have fallen from their high estate to make room for the dull brood of Man? The charter given by God has been repealed; the sun of spirits is suddenly gone down, and, burying their faces in their folded wings, they repeat once more their miserable refrain. The Chorus, excellent persons with whom the readers find it a little difficult to have patience, exclaims : "How dare you censure the high ordinance? This seems like a revolt! Oh, my brothers, cease this lamentation and defiance, and bow yourselves under the inevitable yoke!". This exemplary advice is severely criticised by the Luciferists; and a long discussion ensues, in which each party says a single line, after the occasional manner of most Greek plays. The ball of argument is tossed from hand to hand, and both speak well, the Luciferists, however, with most point and wit. The great seducers, Belial and Apollyon, then come upon the scene, and affect the greatest surprise at the appearance of the ranks of angels plunged in sorrow and wrapped about with desolation. They enquire, with simulated anxiety, into the cause of this; but the Luciferists are sad beyond speech, and the Chorus replies: "They mourn that the state of Man triumphs, that God will entwine his being with Adam's, and spirits be subject to human authority. There you learn briefly the ground of their sorrow." The Chorus further begs that Belial will settle the dispute; but without advantage to itself, for the angel-princes take, of course, the rebel standpoint, and argue with more subtlety than the lower Luciferists. The wrangling progresses further, the one side continually preferring their charge of a promise broken, a charter disannulled, and the other repeating in a variety of shapes the formula that
Obedience pleases God, the Ruler of our day,
Far more than incense clouds or godlike music may.
Belial at last sums up in saying—
Equality of grace would fit the Godhead best;
a rebellious assumption of superior justice, which rouses the Chorus to a somewhat long-winded summary of the contrast between the supremacy of the Creator and the subjection of the created. During the closing words of this harangue, the clouds and lurid fiery blaze increase, and out of the sinister gloom appears Belzebub. On his appearance, the miserable Luciferists repeat their uniform cry. The new-comer consoles them, and bids them be of good cheer
O cease from wailing; rend your badges and your robes
The followers of Lucifer reply. They are now so enraged that they declare themselves ready to smother Man in his own blood, rather than permit his usurpation. They entreat Belzebub to lead them on to battle, and they swear to follow his standard. Belzebub, "than whom, Satan except, none higher sits," with dignified indignation admirably displayed, rejects the proposition of the mutineers, and enters into a long argument with them, in which he pretends slowly to be persuaded of their wrongs. He further feigns to be exceedingly moved by the defalcation of Apollyon and Belial, but he steadily refuses their offer of leadership, unless they will permit him to lead them, as suppliants for mercy, to the Throne of Grace; and there is a peculiar motive for the unctuous zeal of this last offer, for, while the words are in his mouth, the magnificent presence of Michael is before us. The Field-Marshal addresses Belzebub in a haughty tone, and, in spite of this last flosculus which has fallen from his lips, roundly accuses him of stirring up rebellion. Belzebub, nothing abashed, humbly rebuts the charge, and prays Michael to assist him in interfering in favour of peace. Michael thereupon offers, in a sufficiently peremptory tone, to lay their petition before the Deity. The Luciferists boldly insist on their right, and blaze up into the most absolute defiance. Michael thereupon warns them that those who fight against him fight against God; but the rebel host shriek back that the stadholder, Lucifer, is on their side. Michael can hardly believe it; and then, in thunderous rhetoric, he calls down divine vengeance upon them, and, gathering the ranks of the faithful about him, soars upward to lay the matter at God's feet. Belzebub raises the courage of the Luciferists by announcing the advent of Lucifer, who approaches on his chariot, and greets them with great dignity of speech. The Luciferists pour out their anguish to him thus
Forbid it, Lucifer, nor suffer that our ranks
Be mortified so low and sink without a crime,
While Man, above us raised, may flash and beam sublime
In the very core of light, from which we seraphim
Pass quivering, full of pain, and fade like shadows dim.
We swear, by force, beneath thy glorious flag combined,
We swear, with one accord, to stay thine arm for ever;
Lucifer, however, still deems it politic to feign a loyal and pious mind; but at length he gives way, especially to the arguments of Belzebub. To his own superior intelligence the contest seems hopeless, the battle lost before it is fought. But at last he cries
I will content me, then, force to resist by force!
But he stops the shouts of delight with which this concession is greeted, to bid the princes take witness that he is forced into this step by the need
to protect God's realm against usurpation. Belzebub, then, like some arch-heretic or anti-pope, busies himself to prepare divine honours for the new deity. The crowd take up the idea, and shout
Crown, crown with triumph great God Lucifer.
At the command of Belzebub, they bring perfumes and burn them before him, and in choral antiphonies they sing his praise.
Follow the chief, whose trumpet and whose drum
Protect the crown of Angeldom!
Behold, behold, how the Moraing Star outflashes!
They pass away in triumph, and the Heavenly Chorus descends, filling the vacant scene, and trilling a mournful epode to this dithyrambic passion, full of pain and anxious wonder.
The fourth act opens with a most Miltonic blare of martial melody. All heaven is in a blaze, and Gabriel speeds to bid Michael prepare to defend God's name. The third part of heaven has sworn fealty to the traitorous Morning Star, and lead him on with shouts and singing. Melancholy and depression have now seized the loyal angels, and the unfaded seraphim sit brooding on their woe. To Michael, who demands to learn what effect the news produced at the Throne of God himself, Gabriel replies
I saw God's very gladness with a cloud of woe
O'er-shadowed, and there burst a flame out of the gloom
And cried out "Mercy, mercy! God, let Justice rest!"
Michael, thereupon, in a speech of great poetic vigour, calls the battalions of heaven to arms. They all pass out, and the scene is filled by the Luciferists, who enter, accompanying Lucifer and Belzebub. They cry to be instantly led to storm the ranks of Michael; but Lucifer first enquires into the condition of his own army, and then proceeds to take their oaths of allegiance. He bids them remember that it is now too late to recede, but they have taken a step at once fatal and fortunate which now forces them with violence to tear from their necks the yoke of slavery to Adam's sons. But whilst they shout in answer, and rapturously pledge themselves to follow the Morning Star, a herald is seen winging his way towards them from the height of heaven. This is
Raphael, sent on a last embassy of peace and reconciliation. The position of Raphael in this act closely resembles that of Abdiel, “faithful found among the faithless, faithful only he," in the end of the Fifth Book of Paradise Lost. In each case a single seraph opposes Lucifer at the moment of his violent action, alone, in his own palace, and undaunted by the hostile scorn of myriads. There is, however, the important distinction that Raphael is an ambassador, while the beautiful figure of Abdiel distinguishes itself by standing out in unshaken loyalty from the very ranks of the insurgents themselves. The resemblance is least marked in the opening words of Raphael's address. Instead of adopting the lofty arrogance of Michael or the cold impartiality of Gabriel, Raphael flings himself, overwhelmed with grief, on the neck of the stadholder. He says that he brings balsam from the lap of God; all will still be forgiven, if the rebel angels be disarmed, and if Lucifer return to his loyalty. He weeps in picturing to the assembly, in florid and impassioned language, how in the old happier days Lucifer bloomed in Paradise, in the presence of the sun of Godhead, blossoming out of a cloud of dew and fresh roses. He reminds Lucifer that his festal robes stood out stiff with pearls and turquoises, emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and bright gold. He describes him, exactly as Memling or Van der Goes would have painted him two centuries earlier, standing behind the throne of some gorgeous Madonna, with his gold hair streaming against the clear green and blue of a distant strip of landscape, or glancing among his jewellery, as he crushes an enemy under his mailed foot. It would have well suited a painter of that effluent period to paint the stadholder, as Raphael describes him, with the heaviest sceptre of heaven in his hand, and blazing like a sun among the circling stars. The arguments of Raphael are more worldly than those of Abdiel. He is afraid that Lucifer's beauty will be changed into the semblance of a griffin or dragon or other monstrous thing, and stimulates his vanity in the hope of changing his purpose. At last he interposes force, or a courteous semblance of force, and strives to wrest the battle-axe out of one of the stadholder's hands, and his buckler out of the other. The arch-rebel replies with dignity to these familiarities, and utterly rejects his overtures of peace. Raphael argues, but in vain; for Lucifer declares that Adam's honour is the whetstone of his battle-axe, and that he has but to reflect on the indignity which has been threatened to the angels, to grasp more tightly the weapon that must wipe out the memory of that insolence. Raphael takes it absolutely for granted that the rebellion will instantly and utterly fail; and, finding Lucifer deaf to his loving and sentimental entreaties, he threatens him with the punishment prepared for him. He declares that a pool of sulphur, bottomless, horrible, has in this very hour gaped to receive him. To all this Lucifer cannot listen with patience; he repels him with indignation and defiance. Raphael continues, however, calling him the perjured leader of a blind conspiracy, and declaring that the chains are actually being forged for his limbs.