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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

The Theory of Creation in Paradise Lost

The Theory of Creation in Paradise Lost.

The second hypothesis is that to which I have referred as the hypothesis which supposes that this order of things had at some no very remote time a sudden origin making it such as it now is. 'I hat is the doctrine which you will find stated most fully and clearly in the immortal poem of John Milton, the English Divina Commedia, "Paradise Lost." I believe it is alone through the influence of that remarkable work, combined with daily teachings to which we have all listened in our childhood, that this hypothesis owes its general wide diffusion as one of the current beliefs of English-speaking people. If you turn to the Vllth book of "Paradise Lost," you will find there stated the theory, the hypothesis to which I refer, which is this: That this visible Universe of ours made its appearance at no great distance of time from the present day, and that the parts of which it is composed made their appearance in a certain definite order in the space of six natural days, in such a manner that in the first of these days light appeared; in the second, the firmament or sky separated the water above from the water beneath it; on the third day the waters drew away from the dry land, and from it the vast vegetable life which now exists made its appearance; that the fourth day was devoted to the apparition of the sun, the stars, the moon, and the planets; that on the fifth day aquatic animals originated within the waters; and then on the sixth day the earth gave rise to our four-footed terrestrial creatures and to all varieties of terrestrial animals except birds, which had appeared on the preceding day; and finally, man appeared upon the earth, and the work of fashioning the Universe was finished. John Milton, as I have said, leaves no doubt whatever as to how, in his judgment, these marvellous processes occurred. I doubt not that his immortal poem is familiar to all of you, but I should like to recall one passage to your minds, in order that I may be justified in what I shall have to say. Regarding the perfectly concrete, definite conception which Milton had of what he thought had been the mode of origin of the animal world, he says:—

The sixth, and of creation last, arose
With evening harps and matin; when God said,
"Let the Earth bring forth soul living in her kind,
Cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth,
Each in their kind." The earth obey'd, and straight
Opening her fertile womb, teem'd at a birth
Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms,
Limb'd and full-grown; out or the ground up rose
As from his lair, the wild beast, where he wons
In forest wild, in thicket, brake, or den;
Among the trees in pairs they rose, and walk'd;
The cattle in the fields and meadows green;
Those rare and solitary, these in flocks
Pasturing at once, and in broad herds upsprung.
The grassy clods now calved; now half appears
The tawny lion, pawing to get free
His hinder parts, then springs, as broke from bonds,
And rampant shakes his brinded mane; the ounce,
The libbard, and the tiger, as the mole
Rising, the crumbled earth above them threw
In hillocks; the swift, stag from under ground
Bore up his branching head; scarce from his mould
Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheav'd
His vastness; fleeced the flocks and bleating rose
As plants; ambiguous between sea and land,
The river-horse and scaly crocodile.
At once came forth whatever creeps the ground,
Insect or worm.

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There is no doubt as to the meaning of that hypothesis, or as to what a man of Milton's genius expected would have been actually visible to one who could know and witness the process, the origination of living things as he describes it.