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In a brilliant passage Lucifer wavers and sickens, wonders if he dare return to his duty, seeks vainly for counsel and confidence, but is constantly held up by his pride and rage. At the moment that he wavers most, the trumpet of God sounds through the circles of heaven, and it is too late. The battle breaks upon his despair, but Apollyon is full of hope and daring. Raphael, in an agony of regret, and with a breaking heart, remains on the scene, while the Luciferists rush to battle. To him the Chorus of good angels enters, and they with him join in a hymn of passionate entreaty to God even now, if it be not too late, to exercise the glorious privilege of pardon.
So closes the fourth act; and when the fifth opens, Raphael is discovered at some distance from the field of battle, giving rapturous thanks for its victorious issue. He has not fought in it himself, but he has been watching from far off, and now he sees the shields of good angels returning, and glittering like suns, each shield-sun streaming triumphant day. Uriel comes to him out of the ranks, and as he crosses the plain of heaven he swings his flaming sword till its rays are flashed back from the facets of his diamond helmet. Called upon by Raphael to describe the fight, Uriel tells how God commanded Michael, the prince of his army, and faithful Gabriel, next to him in command, to lead forth the invincible ranks of the angels against the rebellious godless army, and to sweep them from the pure azure of heaven into the gulf which ready opens wide
His fiery Chaos to receive their fall.
Straightway the heavenly army flew to victory like an arrow from the bow. Unnumbered multitudes of celestial warriors, well-marshalled, they progressed in a three-cornered phalanx, a triangle of advance, a unity in a three-pointed light. Michael, with the lightning in his hand, led the van. Meanwhile the rebel host was speeding to meet them with
no less velocity.
Their army waxed apace, and like a crescent moon
Threw out two points like horns that gained upon us soon,
Or like the star that fronts the Bull i' the Zodiack,
And the other monsters quaint that wheel around his track
One horn is led by Belial and one by Belzebub, while Lucifer brings on the van. The description of the Apostate, though with barocco details omitted by the purer taste of Milton, is closely parallel to the celebrated analogous passage in the Sixth Book of Paradise Lost. Encircled by his staff-bearers and green liveries, in golden harness, on which his coat of arms shone in glowing purple, he sat in his sun-bright chariot, the wheels of which were thickly inlaid with rubies. Like a lion or fell dragon he raged for the fight, and his soul flamed athirst for destruction; nor, as he flashed through the field, could any foe see his back, sown all over with stars. With his battle-axe in his hand, and on his left arm a
buckler engraved with the Morning Star, he rushed into the fray. Raphael interrupts again to mourn over the beauty of this phoenix, now doomed to endless flame, but bids Uriel proceed. The latter describes how the battle burst in a hail of burning darts, and the whole air was thunder. After this artillery had expended its force the armies met on closer terms, and, lighting down from their chariots, met hand to hand with club and halbert, sabre, spear, and dagger. The plumes of the angels were singed with lightning, and all their gorgeous panoplies were mingled in undistinguishable confusion, so that one saw turquoise-blue and gold, diamond and pearl, mixed and jarred together, nor knew which splendour belonged to which angel. Again and again repulsed, still Lucifer brought back his shattered army, still only to break like a wave on the iron ranks of the blessed. At last from a height he poured his forces on them; and Vondel, in describing the charge, adds a figure of speech which may have been inspired by one of the landscapes which Jacob Ruysdael was just beginning to exhibit at Amsterdam, but which can hardly be drawn from the home-staying poet's own experience—
Like some great inland lake or northland waterfall
That breaks upon the rocks and raves with rushing brawl;
Through stones and down from heights in mighty jets it sallies.
Then the battle raged more than ever; the vaults of heaven were deafened with "the roar of an angel onset; "but the point of Michael's array pierced the half-moon of Lucifer's with a lurid blaze of red and blue sulphurous flame, and with blow on blow, like thunder-clap on thunder-clap, in spite of all Lucifer's fierce endeavour, struck it apart and divided it. Then, soaring high above the fight in his bright steel array, Lucifer gloomed like a blue dragon, poisoning the whole air with his split tongue and blowing odious vapours through his nostrils. At last Michael and he were face to face, and around them half the battle paused to watch the encounter of two such magnificent princes. First Lucifer swung high his battle axe with intent to fell God's banner, on which the mystic name of the Creator stood blazoned in crystalline splendour. But Michael shouted to him to beware and to yield-to lead off his godless rout, or else prepare to suffer the worst pangs of punishment. But the maddened archangel strove all the more to cleave the diamonds that formed the sacred name, but the moment he touched them the blade of his battle-axe sprang to atoms. Then Michael grasped his lightning sword, and cleft the arch-enemy of the blessed through helmet and head. He fell heavily out of his chariot. Then Apollyon felt the flaming sword of Uriel. Belzebub still raged, Belial still defied the hosts of God; but the fall of the stadholder had fully broken the half-moon of the rebel onset, although the giant Orion attempted to lead a return charge. Uriel compares the appearance of the fallen archangel to that of an ass, a rhinoceros, and an ape, such an uncouth monster did he seem lying prone on the battle
field. Apollyon fled; and soon he and all the rest were driven thunderstruck before the sword of Michael till they came to the abyss that gaped to receive them, and were hurried down, roaring and yelping, into the jaws of hell itself, while Michael, returning, was greeted with cymbals, shawms, and tambours.
The remarkable points of resemblance between this long and spirited description of the fall of the rebel angels and that given in the Sixth Book of Paradise Lost are, of course, far too close and too numerous to be mere coincidences. There can be no doubt whatever that the deep impression made on Milton's imagination by the battle in the Lucifer remained vividly before him when he came to deal with the same branch of his subject. In some respects the earlier poet has distinctly the advantage. He gives but one fight; while Milton, for no intelligible reason, divides the action between three days. The addition of the gunpowder and the ridiculous tossing about of mountains torn up from their bases are certainly no improvements upon the simpler, more human description of Vondel. In volume of melody and in the beauty of individual passages the English poet, of course, far exceeds the Dutch.
Uriel ceases his discourse as Michael and the victorious Chorus enter. They sing this ode, curious for its variations of metre and the eccentric distribution of its rhymes
Blest be the hero's hour,
Who smote the godless power,
And his might, and his light, and his standard,
His crown was near God's own,
But from his lofty throne,
With his might, into night he hath vanished;
When valorous Michaël
With the brand in his hand quenched the passion
He holds God's banner now;
With laurels crown his brow!
Peace shall reign here again, and her forehead
Amid the conquering throng
Praises to God belong;
Honour bring to the King of all kingdoms!
Michael, in a triumphal harangue, proclaims the victory of the loyal cause, and points to the hosts of the fallen angels, ever sinking dizzily downwards, writhing, accursed, misshapen. It is at this minute that Gabriel hastily enters, bearing most startling tidings
Gabriel. Alas! alas! alas! to adverse fortune bow!
What do ye here? In vain are songs of triumph now,
In vain of spoil of arms and gonfalons ye boast!
Michael. What hear I, Gabriel?
O! Adam is fallen and lost!
Most grievously hath erred and lies in piteous case.
Lucifer has gathered together the remnants of his army in the bowels of hell, and, to hide them from God's eye, has concealed them in a cloud, a dark cavern of murder. Seated in the midst of them, in hellish council, he addresses them, precisely as in Milton, and proposes to them to attack man by force or subtlety; the seduction of the human race is agreed upon. Lucifer gloats over the future misery of man, fallen like themselves, and rejoices to imagine that this will complete their revenge on God, and ensure the defeat of his purposes. Belial is then deputed to make his way up from hell to the Terrene Paradise, and, having accomplished the journey, he tempts Eve exactly as recounted in Genesis, and she falling is the cause of the fall of Adam. How Eve gives her husband the apple, and how they awake in dolorous plight from their state of happy innocence, is pathetically told. God thunders among the trees of the garden; and Michael bids Uriel undertake the duty, that in Paradise Lost he undertakes himself, of driving the guilty pair out of Eden with the two-edged flaming sword. Michael then charges other archangels with the final punishment of the rebel and now intriguing angels, and with this doom of endless pain the drama closes―
Ozias, to whose fist the very Godhead gave
The heavy hammer framed of diamond beaten out,
Is, Azarias, now into thy care committed;
Go hence, and thrust therein all that our power defied.
Maceda, take this torch I to your zeal confide,
And flame the sulphur-pool in the centre of the world;
There torture Lucifer, and leave his body curled
In everlasting fire, with many a prince accursed,
Where Sorrow, wretched Pain, numb Horror, Hunger, Thirst,
When we consider to how great an extent an English writer was about to lorrow from this poem, it is singular to find its Dutch author acknowledging a debt to a now forgotten English writer. In the learned and interesting preface to his play, Vondel notes, while citing earlier writers on the same subject, "among English Protestants, too, the learned pen of Richard Baker has discussed very broadly in prose the fate of Lucifer and all the matter of the rebellious spirits." This was Sir Richard Baker whose Chronicle Sir Roger de Coverley was so fond of; a wealthy but imprudent gentleman, who ended his days in the
No doubt the passage referred to by the Dutch poet is to be found in Baker's Meditations and Disquisitions, a somewhat uncommon theological work, to which the present writer has had no opportunity of referring.
The Lucifer was not received very favourably in Holland. It was true that the violent and internecine strife of the two great religious parties, the burning and parching zeal to which the noble Barneveld had fallen a victim thirty years before, had in a great measure cooled down. But still fanatic rage ran very high in the United Provinces, and one attack after another was made upon "the false imaginations," "hellish fancies," and "irregular and unscriptural devices" of Vondel's beautiful drama. An effort was made in February 1654 to prevent the representation of "the tragedy made by Joost van den Vondel, named Luisevar, treating in a fleshly manner the high theme of God's mysteries." When this fell through, and the piece had been acted, a still more strenuous effort was made to prevent the printing and to prohibit the sale; but at last, through a perfect sea of invective and obloquy, the poem sailed safe in the haven of recognised literature. Its political significance, real or imagined, gave it no doubt an interest that counterbalanced its supposed sins against theology. It was considered— and the idea has received the support of most modern Dutch critics— that in Lucifer Vondel desired to give an allegorical account of the rising of the Netherlands against Philip II. According to this theory, Michael by the Duke of
God was represented by the King of Spain, Alva, Adam by the Cardinal Granvella, and Lucifer by the first stadholder, William the Silent, who was murdered in 1584. There are several difficulties in the way of consenting to this belief: in the first place, the incidents occurred more than seventy years before the writing of the poem; and secondly, the event of the one rebellion was diametrically opposed to that of the other. William of Orange, indeed, was murdered by a hired assassin, but not until he had secured the independent existence of the new State; and there would be a curious inappropriateness in describing the popular hero as a fallen and defeated angel thrust into hell. There is, however, another theory of the political signification of the Lucifer, which seems to me much more plausible. It is that which sees in the figure of the rebel archangel the still dominant prince of the English Commonwealth, Cromwell, the enemy of Holland, and in the God and the Michael of Vondel's drama, Charles I. and Laud still surviving in their respective successors. Considered as a prophecy of the approaching downfall of the still flourishing English Republic, the allegory has a force and a spirited coherence that are entirely lacking in the generally received version.
If Milton had preserved his original design, it is probable that the resemblance of his poem to Vondel's tragedy would have been still greater than it is. In the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge, are, or were, two draughts of Milton's first scheme for Paradise Lost, and