The first murder is familiar to you all. As the inventor of murder, and the father of the art, Cain must have been a man of first-rate genius. All the Cains were men of genius. Tubal Cain invented tubes, I think, or some such thing. But, whatever were the originality and genius of the artist, every art was then in its infancy; and the works must be criticised with a recollection of that fact. Even Tubal’s work would probably be little approved at this day in Sheffield; and therefore of Cain (Cain senior, I mean) it is no disparagement to say, that his performance was but so so. Milton, however, is supposed to have thought differently. By his way of relating the case, it should seem to have been rather a pet murder with him, for he retouches it with an apparent anxiety for its picturesque effect:—
Whereat he inly raged; and, as they takl’d,
Smote him into the midriff with a stone
That beat out life: he fell; and, deadly pale,
Groan’d out his soul with gushing blood effus’d.Par. Lost, B. XI.
Upon this, Richardson the painter, who had an eye for effect, remarks as follows in his Notes on Paradise Lost, p. 497:—”It has been thought,” says he, “that Cain beat (as the common saying is) the breth out of his brother’s body with a great stone; Milton gives in to this, with the addition, however, of a large wound.” In this place it was a judicious addition; for the rudeness of the weapon, unless raised and enriched by a warm, sanguinary colouring, has too much of the naked air of the savage schoool; as if the deed were perpetrated by a Polypheme without science, premeditation, or anything but a mutton bone.
Thomas De Quincey, ‘On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts’, Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. 21, no. 122 (February, 1827), p. 202