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[EDINBURGI REVIEW, 1825.]
Towards the close of the year 1823, Mr. Le-antiquity, no scrupulous purity, none of the mon, Deputy Keeper of the State Papers, in the ceremonial cleanness which characterize: ho course of his researches among the presses of diction of our academical Pharisees. He dues his office, met with a large Latin manuscript. not attempt to polish and brighten his composi. With it were found corrected copies of the tion into the Ciceronian gloss and brilliancy, foreign despatches written by Milton, while he He does not, in short, sacrifice sense and spirit filled the office of Secretary, and several papers to pedantic refinements. The nature of his relating to the Popish Trials and the Rye-house subject compelled him to use many words Plot. The whole was wrapped up in an enve
“That would have made Quintilian stare and gasp." lope, superscribed “ To Mr. Skinner, Merchant." On examination, the large manuscript proved But he writes with as much ease and freedura to be the long lost Essay on the Doctrines of as if Latin were his mother tongue; and Christianity, which, according to Wood and where he is least happy, his failure seems to Toland, Milton finished after the Restoration, arise from the carelessness of a native, not and deposited with Cyriac Skinner. Skinner, from the ignorance of a foreigner. What Denit is well known, held the same political opi- ham with great felicity says of Cowley, may be nions with his illustrious friend. It is therefore applied to him. He wears the garb, but not probable, as Mr. Lemon conjectures, that he the clothes, of the ancients. may have fallen under the suspicions of the Throughout the volume are discernible the government during that persecution of the traces of a powerful and independent mind, Whigs which followed the dissolution of the emancipated from the influence of authority, Oxford Parliament, and that, in consequence and devoted to the search of truth. He proef a general seizure of his papers, this work fesses to form his system from the Bible alone; may have been brought to the office in which , and his digest of Scriptural texts is certainly it had been found. But whatever the adven- among the best that have appeared. But he is tures of the manuscript may have been, no not always so happy in his inferences as in his doubt can exist, that it is a genuine relic of the citations. great poet.
Some of the heterodox opinions which he Mr. Sumner, who was commanded by his avows seem to have excited considerable majesty to edit and translate the treatise, has amazement: particularly his Arianism, and acquitted himself of this task in a manner his notions on the subject of polygamy. Yel honourable to his talents and to his character. we can scarcely conceive that any person His version is not indeed very easy or elegant; could have read the Paradise Lost without but it is entitled to the praise of clearness and suspecting him of the former, nor do we thick fidelity. His notes abound with interesting that any reader, acquainted with the history of quotations, and have the rare merit of really his life, ought to be much startled at the latter. e.ucidating the text. The preface is evidently The opinions which he has expressed respecta the work of a sensible and candid man, firm in ing the nature of the Deity, the eternity of matnis cwn religious opinions, and tolerant to- ter, and the observation of the Sabbath, might wards those of others.
we think, have caused more just surprise. The book itself will not add much to the But we will not go into the discussion of fame of Milton. It is, like all his Latin works, these points. The book, were it far more orwell written-though not exactly in the style thodox, or far more heretical than it is, would of the Prize Essays of Oxford and Cambridge. not much edify or corrupt the present generaThere is no elaborate imitation of classical tion. The men of our time are not to be con
verted or perverted by quartos. A few more • Joanris Miltoni, Angli, de Doctrina Christiana libri days, and this Essay will follow the Defensa duo posthumi. A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, com- Populi to the dust and silence of the upper piled froin the Holy Scriptures alone. By JOHN MILTON, shelf. The name of its author, and the le. translated from the original by Charles R. Sumner,
markable circumstances attending its publics
MA.. &c. &c. 1825.
tion, will secure to it a certain degree of atten- do not admire them the more because they tion. For a month or two it will occupy a few have appeared in dark ages. On the contrary minutes of chat in every drawing-room, and a we hold that the most wonderful and splendid few columns in every magazine; and it will proof of genius is a great poem produced in a then, to borrow the elegant language of the civilized age. We cannot understand why play-bills, be withdrawn, to make room for the those who believe in that most orthodox article forthcoming novelties.
of literary faith, that the earliest poets are We wish, however, to avail ourselves of the generally the best, should wonder at the rule interest, transient as it may be, which this as if it were the exception. Surely the uni work has excited. The dexterous Capuchins formity of the phenomenon indicates a corres never choose to preach on the life and mira- ponding uniformity in the cause. cles of a saint, till they have awakened the The fact is, that common observers reason devotional feelings of their auditors, by exhi- from the progress of the experimental sciences biting some relic of him—a thread of his gar- to that of the imitative arts. The improve. ment, a lock of his hair, or a drop of his blood. ment of the former is gradual and slow. Ages On the same principle, we intend to take ad- are spent in collecting materials, ages more in vantage of the late interesting discovery, and, separating and combining them. Even when while this memorial of a great and good man a system has been formed, there is still someis still in the hands of all, to say something of thing to add, to alter, or to reject. Every genehis moral and intellectual qualities. Nor, we ration enjoys the use of a vast hoard beare convinced, will the severest of our readers queathed to it by antiquity, and transmits it, blame us if, on an occasion like the present, augmented by fresh acquisitions, to future we turn for a short time from the topics of the ages. In these pursuits, therefore, the firs' day to commemorate, in all love and reve- speculators lie under great disaavantages, and, rence, the genius and virtues of John Milton, even when they fail, are entitleå io praise. the poet, the statesman, the philosopher, the Their pupils, with far inferior intellectuai glory of English literature, the champion and powers, speedily surpass them in actuai aitain. the martyr of English liberty.
ments. Every girl, who has read Mrs. Marcet's It is by his poetry that Milton is best known; little Dialogues on Political Economy, could and it is of his poetry that we wish first to teach Montague or Walpole many lessons in speak. By the general suffrage of the civilized finance. Any intelligent man may now, by world, his place has been assigned among the resolutely applying himself for a few years to greatest masters of the art. His detractors, mathematics, learn more than the great New. however, though oul-voted, have not been ton knew after half a century of study and silenced. There are many critics, and some meditation. of great name, who contrive, in the same But it is not thus with music, with painting, breath, to extol the poems and to decry the poet. or with sculpture. Still less is it thus with poThe works, they acknowledge, considered in etry. The progress of refinement rarely supthemselves, may be classed among the noblest-plies these arts with better objects of imitation. productions of the human mind. But they will It may, indeed, improve the instruments which not allow the author to rank with those great are necessary to the mechanical operations of men who, born in the infancy of civilization, the musician, the sculptor, and the painter, supplied, by their own powers, the want of in- But language, the machine of the poet, is best struction, and, though destitute of models them- fitted for his purpose in its rudest state. Naselves, bequeathed to posterity models which tions, like individuals, first perceive, and then defy imitation. Milton, it is said, inherited abstract. They advance from particular im. what his predecessors created; he lived in an ages to general terms. Hence, the vocabulary enlightened age; he received a finished edu- of an enlightened society is philosophical, that cation; and we must therefore, if we would of a half-civilized people is poetical. form a just estimate of his powers, make large This change in the language of men is partdeductions for these advantages.
ly the cause, and partly the effect of a corresWe venture to say, on the contrary, para- ponding change in the nature of their intellecdoxical as the remark may appear, that no tual operations, a change by which science poet has ever had to struggle with more un-gains, and poetry loses. Generalization is nefavourable circumstances than Milton. He cessary to the advancement of knowledge, but doubted, as he has himself owned, whether particularly in the creations of the imagitation. he had not been born “an age too late.” For în proportion as men know more, and think this notion Johnson has thought fit to make more, they look less at individuals and more him the butt of his clumsy ridicule. The poet, at classes. They therefore make better theowe believe, understood the nature of his art ries and worse poems. They give us vague better than the critic. He knew that his poeti- phrases instead of images, and personified cal genius derived no advantage from the qualities instead of men. They may be better civilization which surrounded him, or from able to analyze human nature than their prethe earning which he had acquired : and he decessors. But analysis is not the business lvoked back with something like regret to the of the poet. His office is to portray, not to disLuder age of simple words and vivid impres- sect. He may believe in a mora, ser.se, like sions.
Shaftesbury. He may refer all human action3 We think that, as civilization advances, po- to self-interest
, like Helvetius, or he may never etry almost necessarily declines. Therefore, think about the matter at all. His creed on thongh we admire those great works of imagi- such subjects will no more influence his nation which have appeared in dark ages, we poetry, properly so called. than the notions
which a painter may have conceived respecting good ones--but little poetry. Men will judge the lachrymal glands, or the circulation of the and compare; but they will not crcate. They blood will affect the tears of his Niobe, or the will talk about the old poets, and comment on blushes of his Aurora. If Shakspeare had them, and to a certain degree enjoy them. written a book on the motives of human ac- But they will scarcely be able to conceive the tions, it is by no means certain that it would effect which poetry produced on their ruder have been a good one. It is extremely impro- ancestors, the agony, the ecstasy, the plenitude bable that it would have contained half so of belief. The Greek Rhapsodists, according to much able reasoning on the subject as is to be Plato, could not recite Homer without almost found in the “Fable of the Bees.” But could falling into convulsions.* The Mohawk hardly Mandeville have created an Iago? Well as he feels the scalping-knife while he shouts his knew how to resolve characters into their ele- death-song, The power which the ancient menis, would he have been able to combine bards of Wales and Germany exercised over those elements in such a manner as to make their auditors seems to modern readers almost up a man-a real, living, individual man? miraculous. Such feelings are very rare in a
Perhaps no man can be a poet, or can even civilized community, and most rare among enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness those who participate most in its improve. of mind, if any thing which gives so much ments. They linger longest among the peapleasure ought to be called unsoundness. By santry. poetry we mean, not of course all writing in Poetry produces an illusion on the eye of the verse, nor even all good writing in verse. mind, as a magic lantern produces an illusion Our definition excludes many metrical compo- on eye of the body. And, as the magic sitions which, on other grounds, deserve the lantern acts best in a dark room, poetry effects highest praise. By poetry we mean, the art of its purpose most completely in a dark age. employing words in such a manner as to pro- As the light of knowledge breaks in upon its duce an illusion on the imagination: the art of exhibitions, as the outlines of certainty bedoing by means of words what the painter does come more and more definite, and the shades by means of colours. Thus the greatest of of probability more and more distinct, the
poets has described it, in lines universally ad-hues and lineaments of the phantoms which it mired for the vigour and felicity of their dic- calls up grow fainter and fainter. We cannot tion, and still more valuable on account of the unite the incompatible advantages of reality just notion which they convey of the art in and deception, the clear discernment of truh which he excelled.
and the exquisite enjoyment of fiction. "As imagination bodies forth
He who, in an enlightened and literary The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen society, aspires to be a great poet, must first Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing become a little child. He must take to pieces A local habitation and a name.”
the wholc web of his mind. He must unlearn These are the fruits of the “fine frenzy" which much of that knowledge which has perhaps he ascribes to the poet--a fine frenzy doubtless, constituted hitherto his chief title of supebut still a frenzy. Truth, indeed, is essential riority. His very talents will be a hinderance to poetry; but it is the truth of madness. The to him. His difficulties will be proportioned reasonings are just; but the premises are false. to his proficiency in the pursuits which are After the first suppositions have been made, fashionable among his contemporaries; and every thing ought to be consistent; but those that proficiency will in general be proportioned first suppositions require a degree of credulity to the vigour and activity of his mind. And which almost amounts to a partial and tempo- it is well, if, after all his sacrifices and exerrary derangement of the intellect. Hence, of tions, his works do not resemble a lisping all people, children are the most imaginative. man, or a modern ruin. We have seen in our They abandon themselves without reserve to own time, great talents, intense labour, and every illusion. Every image which is strongly long meditation, employed in this struggie presented' to their mental eye produces on against the spirit of the age, and employed, them the effect of reality. No man, whatever we will not say, absolutely in vain, but with his sensibility may be, is ever affected by dubious success and feeble applause. Hamlet or Lear, as a little girl is affected by If these reasonings be just, no poet has the story of poor Red Riding-hood. She knows ever triumphed over greater difficulties than that it is all false, that wolves cannot speak, Milton. He received a learned education. that there are no wolves in England. Yet in He was a profound and elegant classical spite of her knowledge she believes; she scholar: he had studied all the mysteries of weeps, she trembles ; she dares not go into a Rabbinical literature: he was intimately acdark room .est she should feel the teeth of the quainted with every language of modern Eumonster at her throat. Such is the despotism rope, from which either pleasure or information of the imagination over uncultivated minds. was then to be derived. He was perhaps the
In a rude state of society, men are children only great poet of later times who has been with a greater variety of ideas. It is there- distinguished by the excellence of his Latin fore in such a state of society that we may verse. The genius of Petrarch was scarcely expect to find the poetical temperament in its of the first order; and his poems in the ancien? highest perfection. In an enlightened age language, though much praised by those who there will be much intelligence, much science, have never read them, are wretched com much philosophy, abundance of just classifica- positions. Cowley, with all his admirable wi' ion and subtle analysis, abundance of wit and sloquence, abundance of verses, and even of See the Dialogue between Socrates and lo
and ingenuiry, had little imagination; nor nected with them. He electrifies the mind indced do we think his classical diction com- through conductors. The most unimaginative parable to that of Milton. The authority of man must understand the Iliad. Homer gives Johnson is against us on this point. But him no choice, and requires from him no e xerJohnson had studied the bad writers of the tion; but takes the whole upon himself, and middle ages till he had become utterly insen- sets his images in so clear a light that it is sible to the Augustan elegance, and was as ill impossible to be blind to them. The works qualified to judge between two Latin styles of Milton cannot be comprehended or enjoyed, as an habitual drunkard to set up for a wine- unless the mind of the reader co-operate with taster.
that of the writer. He does not paint a finished Versification in a dead language is an exotic, picture, or play for a mere passive listener. a far-fetched, costly, sickly imitation of that He sketches, and leaves others to fill up the which elsewhere may be found in healthful outline. He strikes the key-note, and expects and spontaneous perfection. The soils on his hearer to make out the melody. which this rarity flourishes are in general as We often hear of the magical influence ill suited to the production of vigorous native of poetry. The expression in general means poetry, as the flower-pots of a hot-house to the nothing; but, applied to the writings of Milton, growth of oaks. That the author of the Para- it is most appropriate. His poetry acts like dise Lost should have written the Epistle to an incantation. Its merit lies less in its Manso, was truly wonderful. Never before obvious meaning than in its occult power. were such marked originality and such ex- There would seem, at first sight, to be no more quisite mimicry found together. Indeed, in all in his words than in other words. But they the Latin poems of Milton, the artificial manner are words of enchantment; no sooner are they indispensable to such works is admirably pre pronounced than the past is present, and the served, while, at the same time, the richness distant near. New forms of beauty start at of his fancy and the elevation of his senti-once into existence, and all the burial places ments give to them a peculiar charm, an air of the memory give up their dead. Change of nobleness and freedom, which distinguishes the structure of the sentence, substitute one them from all other writings of the same class. synonyme for another, and the whole effect is They remind us of the amusements of those destroyed. The spell loses its power: and he angelic warriors who composed the cohort of who should then hope to conjure with it, would Gabriel :
find himself as much mistaken as Cassim in "About him exercised heroic games
the Arabian tale, when he stood crying, “Open The unarmed youth of heaven. But o'er their heads Wheat," “ Open Barley," to the door which Celestial armory, shield, helm, and spear,
obeyed no sound but “Open Sesame !" The Hung bright, with diamond flaming and with gold."
miserable failure of Dryden, in his attempt to We cannot look upon the sportive exercises rewrite some parts of the Paradise Lost, is a for which the genius of Milton ungirds itself, remarkable instance of this. without catching a glimpse of the gorgeous In support of these observations we may and terrible panoply which it is accustomed remark, that scarcely any passages in the to wear. The strength of his imagination poems of Milton are more generally known, triumphed over every obstacle. So intense or more frequently repeated, than those which and ardent was the fire of his mind, that it notare little more than muster rolls of names. only was not suffocated beneath the weight They are not always more appropriate or of its fuel, but penetrated the whole super-more melodious than other names. But they incumbent mass with its own heat and ra- are charmed names. Every one if them is diance.
the first link in a long chain of associated It is not our intention to attempt any thing ideas. Like the dwelling-place of our infancy like a complete examination of the poetry of revisited in manhood, like the song of our Miiton. The public has long been agreed as country heard in a strange land, they produce to the merit of the most remarkable passages, upon us an effect wholly independent of their the incomparable harmony of the numbers, intrinsic value. One transports us back to a and the excellence of that style which no rival remote period of history. Another places us has been able to equal, and no parodist to among the moral scenery and manners of a Jegrade, which displays in their highest per- distant country. A third evokes all the dear fection the idiomatic powers of the English classical recollections of childhood, the schooltongue, and to which every ancient and every room, the dog-eared Virgil, the holiday, and modern language has contributed something the prize. A fourth brings before us the of grace, of energy, or of music. In the vast splendid phantoms of chivalrous romance, field of criticism in which we are entering, the trophied lists, the embroidered housings, innumerable reapers have already put their the quaint devices, the haunted forests, the sickles. Yet the harvest is so abundant that enchanted gardens, the achievements of ena. the negligent search of a straggling gleaner moured knights, and the smiles of rescued may be rewarded with a sheas.
princesses. The most striking characteristic of the poetry In none of the works of Milton is his pecilof Milton is the extreme remoteness of the liar manner more happily displayed than in össociations, by means of which it acts on the the Allegro and the Penseroso. It is impossi. reader. Its effect is produced, not so much ble to conceive that the mechanism of larguage by whai il expresses, as by what it suggests, can be brought to a more exquisite degree of pol so much by the ideas which it direcily perfection. These poems diífer from others conveys, a.s by other ideas which are con- as ottar of roses differs from ordinary rose
water, the close packed essence from the thin surpassed in energy and magnifice ice. Se diluted mixture. They are indeed not so much phocles made the Greek drama as dramatic as poems, as collections of hints, from each of was consistent with its original form. His which the reader is to make out a poem for portraits of men have a sort of similarity; but himself. Every epithet is a text for a canto. it is the similarity not of a painting, but of a
The Comus and the Samson Agonistes are bas-relief. It suggests a resemblance; but it works, which, though of very different merit, does not produce an illusion. Euripides atoffer some marked points of resemblance. tempted to carry the reform further. But it They are both Lyric poems in the form of was a task far beyond his powers, perhaps liePlays. There are perhaps no two kinds of yond any powers. Instead of correcting what composition so essentially dissimilar as the was bad, he destroyed what was excellent. He drama and the ode. The business of the dra- substituted crutches for stilts, bad sermons for malist is to keep himself out of sight, and to good odes. let nothing appear but his characters. As Milton, it is well known, admired Euripides soon as he attracts notice to his personal feel- highly; much more highly than, in our opinion, ings, the illusion is broken. The effect is as he deserved. Indeed, the caresses, which this unpleasant as that which is produced on the partiality leads him to bestow on “sad Elecstage by the voice of a prompter, or the en- tra's poet,” sometimes reminds us of the beau. trance of a scene-shifter. Hence it was that tiful Queen of Fairy-land kissing the long ears the tragedies of Byron were his least success of Bottom. At all evenis, there can be no ful performances. They resemble those paste- doubt that this veneration for the Athenian, board pictures invented by the friend of child- whether just or not, was injurious to the Sam. ren, Mr. Newberry, in which a single movable son Agonistes. Had he taken Æschylus for head goes around twenty different bodies; so his model, he would have given himself up to that the same face looks out upon us succes- the lyric inspiration, and poured out profusely sively, from the uniform of a hussar, the furs all the treasures of his mind, without bestow. of a judge, and the rags of a beggar. In all ing a thought on those dramatic proprieties the characters, patriots and lyrants, haters and which the nature of the work rendered it im. lovers, the frown and sneer of Harold were possible to preserve. In the attempt to recondiscernible in an instant. But this species of cile things in their own nature inconsistent, he egotism, though fatal to the drama, is the inspi-has failed, as every one must have failed. We ration of the ode. It is the part of the lyric cannot identify ourselves with the characters, poe: to abandon himself, without reserve, to his as in a good play. We cannot identify our. own emotions.
selves with the poet, as in a good ode. The Between these hostile elements many great conflicting ingredients, like an acid and an men have endeavoured to effect an amalgama- alkali mixed, neutralize each other. We are tion, but never with complete success. The by no means insensible to the merits of this Greek drama, on the model of which the Sam- celebrated piece, to the severe dignity of the son was written, sprung from the Ode. The style, the graceful and pathetic solemnity of dialogue was ingrafted on the chorus, and the opening speech, or the wild and barbaric naturally partook of its character. The genius melody which gives so striking an effect to the of the greatest of the Athenian dramatists co-choral passages. But we think it, we confess, operated with the circamstances under which the least successful effort of the geni is of tragedy made its first appearance. Æschylus Milton. was, head and heart, a lyric poet. In his time, The Comus is framed on the model of the the Greeks had far more intercourse with the Italian Masque, as the Samson is framed on East than in the days of Homer; and they had the model of the Greek Tragedy. It is, cer. not yet acquired that immense superiority in tainly, the noblest performance of the kind war, in science, and in the arts, which, in the which exists in any language. It is as far su. following generation, led them to treat the perior to the Faithful Shepherdess, as the Asiatics with contempt. From the narrative Faithful Shepherdess is to the Aminta, or the of Herodotus, it should seem that they still Aminta to the Pastor Fido. It was well for looked up, with the veneration of disciples, to Milton that he had here no Euripides to mis. Egypt and Assyria. At this period, accord- lead him. He understood and loved the litera. ingly, it was natural that the literature of ture of modern Italy. But he did not feel for Greece should be tinctured with the Oriental it the same veneration which he encertai..ca style. And that style, we think, is clearly for the remains of Athenian and Roman poetry, discernible in the works of Pindar and Æschy- consecrated by so many lofty and endearing lus. The latter often reminds us of the He recollections. The faults, moreover, of his brew writers. The book of Job, indeed, in Italian predecessors were of a kind to which conduct and diction, bears a considerable re- his mind had a deadly antipathy. He could semblance to some of his dramas. Considered stoop to a plain style, sometimes even to a bald as plays, his works are absurd: considered as style; but false brilliancy was his utter aver choruses, they are above all praise. If, for sion. His Muse had no objection to a russel irs!ance, we examine the address of Clytem- attire; but she turned with disgust from the nestra to Agamemnon on his return, or the de- finery of Guarini, as tawdry, and as palıry as scription of the seven Argive chiefs, by the the rags of a chimney-sweeper on May-day. principles of dramatic writing, we shall in- Whatever ornaments she wears are of massive stantly condemn them as monstrous. But, if gold, not only dazzling to the sight, but capable we forget the characters, and think only of the of standing the severest test of the crucible. poetry, we shall admit that it has never been Milton attended in the Comus to the distinc