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the wretches with his attendance: Death shak- | portion of spirit with which we are best ac ing his dart over them, but in spite of suppli- quainted? We observe certain phenomena cations, delaying to strike. What says Dante? We cannot explain them into material causes, "There was such a moan there as there would We therefore infer that there exists something be if all the sick, who, between July and Sep- which not material. But of this something tember, are in the hospitals of Valdichiana, we have no idea. We can define it only by and of the Tuscan swamps, and of Sardinia, negatives. We can reason about it only by were in one pit together; and such a stench symbols. We use the word, but we have no was issuing forth as is wont to issue from de- image of the thing: and the business of poetry caved limbs." is with images, and not with words. The poet uses words indeed; but they are merely the instruments of his art, not its objects. They are the materials which he is to dispose in such a manner as to present a picture to the mental eye. And, if they are not so disposed, they are no more entitled to be called poetry, than a bale of canvass and a box of colours are to be called a painting.
Logicians may reason about abstractions, but the great mass of mankind can never feel an interest in them. They must have images. The strong tendency of the multitude in all ages and nations to idolatry can be explained on no other principle. The first inhabitants of Greece, there is every reason to believe, worshipped one invisible Deity. But the necessity of having something more definite to adore produced, in a few centuries, the innumerable crowd of gods and goddesses. In like manner the ancient Persians thought it impious to exhibit the Creator under a human form. Yet even these transferred to the sun the worship which, speculatively, they consi dered due only to the Supreme mind. The history of the Jews is the record of a continual struggle between pure Theism, supported by the most terrible sanctions, and the strangely fascinating desire of having some visible and tangible object of adoration. Perhaps none of the secondary causes which Gibbon has assigned for the rapidity with which Christianity spread over the world, while Judaism scarcely ever acquired a proselyte, operated more powerfully than this feeling. God, the uncreated, the incomprehensible, the invisibie, attracted few worshippers. A philosopher might admire so noble a conception; but the crowd turned away in disgust from words which presented no image to their minds. It was before Deity, embodied in a human form, walking among men, partaking of their infirmities, leaning on their bosoms, weeping over their graves, sum bering in the manger, bleeding on the cross, that the prejudices of the Synagogue, and the doubts of the Academy, and the pride of the Portico, and the fasces of the lictor, and the swords of thirty legions, were humbled in the dust! Soon after Christianity had achieved its triumph, the principle which had assisted it began to corrupt. It became a new paganism Patron saints assumed the offices of household gods. St. George took the place of Mars. St Elmo consoled the mariner for the loss of Cas tor and Polux. The Virgin Mother and Cicilia succeeded to Venus and the Muses. The fas cination of sex and loveliness was again joined to that of celestial dignity; and the homage of chivalry was blended with that of religion. Reformers have often made a stand against these feelings; but never with more than apparent and partial success. The men who de
We will not take upon ourselves the invidivus office of settling precedency between two such writers. Each in his own department is incomparable; and each, we may remark, has, wisely or fortunately, taken a subject adapted to exhibit his peculiar talent to the greatest advantage. The Divine Comedy is a personal narrative. Dante is the eye-witness and earwitness of that which he relates. He is the very man who has heard the tormented spirits crying out for the second death; who has read the dusky characters on the portal, within which there is no hope; who has hidden his face from the terrors of the Gorgon; who has fled from the hooks and the seething pitch of Barbariccia and Diaghignazzo. His own hands have grasped the shaggy sides of Lucifer. His own feet have climbed the mountain of expiation. His own brow has been marked by the purifying angel. The reader would throw aside such a tale in incredulous disgust, unless it were told with the strongest air of veracity, with a sobriety even in its horrors, with the greatest precision and multiplicity in its details. The narrative of Milton in this respect differs from that of Dante, as the adventures of Amidas differ from those of Gulliver. The author of Amidas would have made his book ridiculous if he had introduced those minute particulars which give such a charm to the work of Swift, the nautical observations, the affected delicacy about names, the official documents transcribed at full length, and all the unmeaning gossip and scandal of the court, springing out of nothing, and tending to nothing. We are ot shocked at told that
a man who lived, nobody knows when, saw many very strange sights, and we can easily abandon ourselves to the illusion of the romance. But when Lemuel Gulliver, surgeon, now actually resident at Rotherhithe, tells us of pigmies and giants, flying islands and philosophizing horses, nothing but such circumstantial touches could produce, for a single moment, a deception on the imagination.
Of all the poets who have introduced into their works the agency of supernatural beings, Milton has succeeded best. Here Dante decidedly yields to him. And as this is a point on which many rash and ill-considered judgments have been pronounced, we feel inclined to dwell on it a little longer. The most fatal error which a poet can possibly commit in the management of his machinery, is that of attempting to philosophize too much. Milton has been often censured for ascribing to spirits many functions of which spirits must be incapable. But these objections, though sauctioned by eminent names, originate, we venture to say, in profound ignorance of the art of poetry. What is spirit? What are our own minds, the
molishe the images in cathedrals have not always been able to demolish those which were enshrined in their minds. It would not be difficult to show, that in politics the same rule holds good. Doctrines, we are afraid, must generally be embodied before they can excite strong public feeling. The multitude is more easily interested for the most unmeaning badge, or the most insignificant name, than for the most important principle.
proper to supernatural agents. We feel that we could talk with his ghosts and demons, without any emotions of unearthly awe. We could, like Don Juan, ask them to supper, and eat heartily in their company His angels are good men with wings. His devils are spiteful, ugly executioners. His dead men are merely living men in strange situations. The scene which passes between the poet and Facinata is justly celebrated. Still, Facinata in the burning tomb is exactly what Facinata would have been at an auto da fé. Nothing can be more touching than the first interview of Dante and Beatrice. Yet what is it, but a lovely woman chiding, with sweet austere composure, the lover for whose affections she is grateful, but whose vices she reprobates? The feelings which give the passage its charm would suit the streets of Florence, as well as the summit of the Mount of Purgatory.
From these considerations, we infer, that no poet who should affect that metaphysical accuracy for the want of which Milton has been blamed, would escape a disgraceful failure. Still, however, there was another extreme, which, though far less dangerous, was also to be avoided. The imaginations of men are in a great measure under the control of their opinions. The most exquisite art of a poetical colouring can produce no illusion when it is employed to represent that which is at once The Spirits of Milton are unlike those of perceived to be incongruous and absurd. Mil- almost all other writers. His fiends, in partiton wrote in an age of philosophers and theo-cular, are wonderful creations. They are not logians. It was necessary therefore for him to metaphysical abstractions. They are not abstain from giving such a shock to their un- wicked men. They are not ugly beasts. They derstandings, as might break the charm which have no horns, no tails, none of the fee-faw it was his object to throw over their imagina- fum of Tasso and Klopstock. They have just tions. This is the real explanation of the enough in common with human nature to be indistinctness and inconsistency with which intelligible to human beings. Their characters he has often been reproached. Dr. Johnson are, like their forms, marked by a certain dim acknowledges, that it was absolutely neces- resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated sary for him to clothe his spirits with ma- to gigantic dimensions and veiled in mysteterial forms. "But," says he, "he should rious gloom. have secured the consistency of his system, by keeping immateriality out of sight, and seducing the reader to drop it from his thoughts." This is easily said; but what if he could not seduce the reader to drop it from his thoughts? What if the contrary opinion had taken so full a posses on of the minds of men, as to leave no room even for the quasi-belief which poetry requires? Such we suspect to have been the case. It was impossible for the poet to adopt altogether the material or the immaterial system. He therefore took his stand on the debatable ground. He left the whole in ambiguity. He has doubtless by so doing laid himself open to the charge of inconsistency. But, though philosophically in the wrong, we cannot but believe that he was poetically in the right. This task, which almost any other writer would have found impracticable, was easy to him. The peculiar art which he possessed of communicating his meaning circuitously, through a long succession of associated ideas, and of intimating more than he expressed, enabled him to disguise those incongruities which he could not avoid.
Poetry, which relates to the beings of another world, ought to be at once mysterious and picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of Dante is picturesque, indeed, beyond any that was ever written. Its effect approaches to that produced by the pencil or the chisel. But it is picturesque to the exclusion of all mystery. This is a fault indeed on the right side, a fault inseparable from the plan of his poem, which, as we have already observed, rendered the utmost accuracy of description necessary. Still it is a fault. His supernatural agents excite an interest; but it is not the interest which is
Perhaps the gods and demons of Æschylus may best bear a comparison with the angels and devils of Milton. The style of the Athenian had, as we have remarked, something of the vagueness and tenor of the Oriental character; and the same peculiarity may be traced in his mythology. It has nothing of the amenity and elegance which we generally find in the superstitions of Greece. All is rugged, barbaric, and colossal. His legends seem to harmonize less with the fragrant groves and graceful porticos, in which his countrymen paid their vows to the God of Light and Goddess of Desire, than with those huge and gro tesque labyrinths of eternal granite, in which Egypt enshrined her mystic Osiris, or in which Hindostan still bows down to her seven-headed idols. His favourite gods are those of the elder generations, the sons of heaven and earth, compared with whom Jupiter himself was a stripling and an upstart,-the gigantic Titans and the inexorable Furies. Foremost among his creations of this class stands Prometheus, half fiend, half redeemer, the friend of man, the sullen and implacable enemy of heaven. He bears undoubtedly a considerable resemblance to the Satan of Milton. In both we find the same patience of control, the same ferocity, the same unconquerable pride. In both characters also are mingled, though in very different proportions, some kind and generous feelings. Prometheus, however, is hardly superhuman enough. He talks too much of his chains and his uneasy posture He is rather too much depressed and agitated. His resolution seems to depend on the knowledge which he possesses, that he holds the fate of his torturer in his hands, and that the hour
To return for a moment to the parallel which we have been attempting to draw between Milton and Dante, we would add, that the poetry of these great men has in a considerable degree taken its character from their moral qualities. They are not egotists. They rarely obtrude their idiosyncrasies on their readers. They have nothing in common with those modern beggars for fame, who extort a pittance from the compassion of the inexperienced, by exposing the nakedness and sores of their minds. Yet it would be difficult to name two writers whose works have been more completely, though undesignedly, coloured by their personal feelings.
of his release will surely come. But Satan is forth their blood on scaffolds. That hateful a creature of another sphere. The might of proscription, facetiously termed the Act of In. his intellectual nature is victorious over the ex-demnity and Oblivion, had set a mark on the tremity of pain. Amidst agonies which cannot poor, blind, deserted poet, and held him up by be conceived without horror, he deliberates, name to the hatred of a profligate court and resolves, and even exults. Against the sword an inconstant people! Venal and licentious of Michael, against the thunder of Jehovah, scribblers, with just sufficient talent to clothe against the flaming lake and the marl burning the thoughts of a pander in the style of a bellwith solid fire, against the prospect of an eter- man, were now the favourite writers of the nity of unintermittent misery, his spirit bears sovereign and the public. It was a loathsome up unbroken, resting on its own innate ener- herd-which could be compared to nothing so gies, requiring no support from any thing ex- fitly as to the rabble of Comus, grotesque monternal, nor even from hope itself! sters, half bestial, half human, dropping with wine, bloated with gluttony, and reeling in obscene dances. Amidst these his Muse was placed, like the chaste lady of the Masque, lofty, spotless, and serene-to be chatted at, and pointed at, and grinned at, by the whole rabble of Satyrs and Goblins. If ever despondency and asperity could be excused in any man, it might have been excused in Milton. But the strength of his mind overcame every calamity. Neither blindness, nor gout, nor age, nor penury, nor domestic afflictions, nor political disappointments, nor abuse, nor proscription, nor neglect, had power to disturb his sedate and majestic patience. His spirits do not seem to have been high, but they were singularly equable. His temper was serious, perhaps stern; but it was a temper which no sufferings could render sullen or fretful. Such as it was, when, on the eve of great events, he returned from his travels, in the prime of health and manly beauty, loaded with literary distinc tions and glowing with patriotic hopes, such it continued to be-when, after having experienced every calamity which is incident to our nature, old, poor, sightless, and disgraced, he retired to his hovel to die!
The character of Milton was peculiarly distinguished by loftiness of thought; that of Dante by intensity of feeling. In every line of the Divine Comedy we discern the asperity which is produced by pride struggling with misery. There is perhaps no work in the world so deeply and uniformly sorrowful. The melancholy of Dante was no fantastic caprice. It was not, as far as at this distance of time san be judged, the effect of external circumstances. It was from within. Neither love nor glory, neither the conflicts of the earth nor Hence it was, that though he wrote the the hope of heaven could dispel it. It twined Paradise Lost at a time of life when images every consolation and every pleasure into its of beauty and tenderness are in general beown nature. It resembled that noxious Sardi-ginning to fade, even from those minds in nian soil of which the intense bitterness is said which they have not been effaced by anxiety to have been perceptible even in its honey. and disappointment, he adorned it with all His mind was, in the noble language of the He- that is most lovely and delightful in the phybrew poet, "a land of darkness, as darkness sical and in the moral world. Neither Theoitself, and where the light was as darkness!"critus nor Ariosto had a finer or a more healthThe gloom of his character discolours all the ful sense of the pleasantness of external passions of men and all the face of nature, objects, or loved better to luxuriate amidst and tinges with its own livid hue the flowers sunbeams and flowers, the songs of nightin of Paradise and the glories of the Eternal gales, the juice of summer fruits, and the Throne! All the portraits of him are singu- coolness of shady fountains. His conception larly characteristic. No person can look on of love unites all the voluptuousness of the the features, noble even to ruggedness, the Oriental harem, and all the gallantry of the dark furrows of the cheek, the haggard and chivalric tournament, with all the pure and woful stare of the eye, the sullen and contemp-quiet affection of an English fireside. His tuous curve of the lip, and doubt that they be- poetry reminds us of the miracles of Alpine longed to a man too proud and too sensitive to scenery. Nooks and dells, beautiful as fairybe happy. land, are embosomed in its most rugged and gigantic elevations. The roses and myrtles bloom unchilled on the verge of the avalanche.
Milton was, like Dante, a statesman and a lover; and, like Dante, he had been unfortunate in ambition and in love. He had survived his health and his sight, the comforts of his home and the prosperity of his party. Of the great men, by whom he had been distinguished at his entrance into life, some had been taken away from the evil to come; some had carried into foreign climates their unconquerable hatred of oppression; some were pining in dungeons; and some had poured YOL. I.-2
Traces, indeed, of the peculiar character of Milton may be found in all his works; but it is most strongly displayed in the Sonnets. Those remarkable poems have been under valued by critics, who have not understood their nature. They have no epigrammatic point. There is none of the ingenuity of Fili caji in the thought, none of the hard and bril liant enamel of Petrarch in the style They
are simple but majestic records of the feelings is good; but it breaks off at the most interestof the poet; as little tricked out for the public ing crisis of the struggle. The performance eye as his diary would have been. A victory, of Ludlow is very foolish and violent; and an expected attack upon the city, a momentary most of the later writers who have espoused fit of depression or exultation, a jest thrown the same cause, Oldmixon, for instance, and out against one of his books, a dream, which Catherine Macaulay, have, to say the least, for a short time restored to him that beautiful been more distinguished by zeal than either face over which the grave had closed forever, by candour or by skill. On the other side are led him to musings which, without effort, the most authoritative and the most popular shaped themselves into verse. The unity of historical works in our language, that of Clasentiment and severity of style, which charac- rendon, and that of Hume. The former is not terize these little pieces, remind us of the only ably written and full of valuable informa Greek Anthology; or perhaps still more of the tion, but has also an air of dignity and sinCollects of the English Liturgy-the noble cerity which makes even the prejudices and poem on the Massacres of Piedmont is strictly errors with which it abounds respectable. a collect in verse. Hume, from whose fascinating narrative the great mass of the reading public are still contented to take their opinions, hated religion so much, that he hated liberty for having been allied with religion-and has pleaded the cause of tyranny with the dexterity of an advocate, while affecting the impartiality of a judge.
The public conduct of Milton must be approved or condemned, according as the resistance of the people to Charles I. shall appear to be justifiable or criminal. We shall therefore make no apology for dedicating a few pages to the discussion of that interesting and most important question. We shall not argue it on general grounds, we shall not recur to those primary principles from which the claim of any government to the obedience of its subjects is to be deduced; it is a vantageground to which we are entitled; but we will relinquish it. We are, on this point, so confi
The Sonnets are more or less striking, according as the occasions which gave birth to them are more or less interesting. But they are, almost without exception, dignified by a sobriety and greatness of mind to which we know not where to look for a parallel. It would indeed be scarcely safe to draw any decided inferences, as to the character of a writer, from passages directly egotistical. But the qualities which we have ascribed to Milton, though perhaps most strongly marked in those parts of his works which treat of his personal feelings, are distinguishable in every page, and impart to all his writings, prose and poetry, English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family likeness.
His public conduct was such as was to be expected from a man of a spirit so high, and an intellect so powerful. He lived at one of he most memorable eras in the history of man-dent of superiority, that we have no objection and; at the very crisis of the great conflict to imitate the ostentatious generosity of those etween Oromasdes and Arimanes-liberty ancient knights, who vowed to joust without nd despotism, reason and prejudice. That helmet or shield against all enemies, and to great battle was fought for no single genera- give their antagonist the advantage of sun and tion, for no single land. The destinies of the wind. We will take the naked, constitutional human race were staked on the same cast question. We confidently aflirm, that every with the freedom of the English people. Then reason, which can be urged in favour of the were first prociaimed those mighty principles, Revolution of 1688, may be urged with at least which have since worked their way into the equal force in favour of what is called the depths of the American forests, which have great rebellion. roused Greece from the slavery and degradation of two thousand years, and which, from one end of Europe to the other, have kindled an unquenchable fire in the hearts of the oppressed, and loosed the knees of the oppressors with a strange and unwonted fear!
In one respect only, we think, can the warmest admirers of Charles venture to say that he was a better sovereign than his son. He was not, in name and profession, a papist; we say in name and profession, because both Charles himself and his miserable creature, Of those principles, then struggling for their Laud, while they abjured the innocent badges infant existence, Milton was the most devoted of popery, retained all its worst vices, a comand eloquent literary champion. We need plete subjection of reason to authority, a weak not say how much we admire his public con- preference of form to substance, a childish duct. But we cannot disguise from ourselves, passion for mummeries, an idolatrous venerathat a large portion of his countrymen still tion for the priestly character, and, above all, a think it unjustifiable. The civil war, indeed, stupid and ferocious intolerance. This, howhas been more discussed, and is less under-ever, we waive. We will concede that Charles stood, than any event in English history. The was a good protestant; but we say that his Roundheads laboured under the disadvantage protestantism does not make the slightest disof which the lion in the fable complained so tinction between his case and that of James. bitterly. Though they were the conquerors, The principles of the Revolution have often their enemies were the painters. As a body, been grossly misrepresented, and never more they had done their utmost to decry and ruin than in the course of the present year. There literature; and literature was even with them, is a certain class of men, who, while they as, in the long run, it always is with its ene- profess to hold in reverence the great names mies. The best book, on their side of the and great actions of former times, never look question, is the charming memoir of Mrs. at them for any other purpose than in order to luchinson. May's History of the Parliament | find in them some excuse for existing abusez
In every venerable precedent, they pass by what is essential, and take only what is accidental: they keep out of sight what is beneficial, and hold up to public imitation all that is defective. If, in any part of any great example, there be any thing unsound, these flesh-flies detect it with an unerring instinct, and dart upon it with a ravenous delight. They cannot always prevent the advocates of a good measure from compassing their end; but they feel, with their prototype, that
"Their labours must be to pervert that end, And out of good still to find means of evil."
catholics from the crown, because they thought them likely to be tyrants. The ground on which they, in their famous resolution, declared the throne vacant, was this, "that James had broken the fundamental laws of the kingdom." Every man, therefore, who approves of the Revolution of 1688, must hold that the breach of fundamental laws on the part of the sovereign justifies resistance. The question then is this: Had Charles I. broken the fundamental laws of England?
But this certainly was not the case. Nor can any person, who has acquired more knowledge of the history of those times than is to be found in Goldsmith's Abridgment, believe that, if James had held his own religious opinions without wishing to make proselytes; or if, wishing even to make proselytes, he had contented himself with exerting only his cons tional influence for that purpose, the Prince of Orange would ever have been invited over. Our ancestors, we suppose, knew their own meaning. And, if we may believe them, their hostility was primarily not to popery, but to tyranny. They did not drive out a tyrant because he was a catholic; but they excluded
No person can answer in the negative, unless he refuses credit, not merely to all the accusations brought against Charles by his opponents, but to the narratives of the warmest royalists, and to the confessions of the king himself. If there be any historian of any party who has related the events of that reign, the conduct of Charles, from his accession to the meeting of the Long Parliament, had been a continued course of oppression and treachery. Let those who applaud the Revolution and condemn the rebellion, mention one act of James II., to which a parallel is not to be found in the history of his father. Let them lay their fingers on a single article in the Declaration of Right, presented by the two Houses to William and Mary, which Charles is not acknowledged to have violated. He had, according to the testimony of his own friends, usurped the functions of the legislature, raised taxes without the consent of parliament, and quartered troops on the people in the most illegal and vexatious manner. Not a single session of parliament had passed without some unconsti tional attack on the freedom of debate. The right of petition was grossly violated. Arbitrary judgments, exorbitant fines, and unwarranted imprisonments, were grievances of daily and hourly occurrence. If these things do not justify resistance, the Revolution was treason; if they do, the Great Rebellion was laudable. But, it is said, why not adopt milder me. Why, after the king had consented to so many reforms, and renounced so many oppressive prerogatives, did the parliament continue to rise in their demands, at the risk of provoking a civil war? The ship-money had been given up. The star-chamber had been abolished. Provision had been made for the frequent convocation and secure deliberation of parliaments. Why not pursue an end confessedly good, by peaceable and regular means? We recur again to the analogy of the Revolu tion. Why was James driven from the throne! Why was he not retained upon conditions He too had offered to call a free parliament, and to submit to its decision all the matters in dispute. Yet we praise our forefathers, who preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, a dynasty of strangers, twenty years of foreign and intestine war, a standing army, and a national debt, to the rule, however restricted, of a tried and proved tyrant. The Long Parliament acted on the same principle, and is enti. tled to the same praise. They could not trust the king. He had no doubt passed salutary laws. But what assurance had they that he would not break them? He had renounced oppres sive prerogatives. But where was the security that he would not resume them? They had to
To the blessings which England has derived from the Revolution these people are utterly insensible. The expulsion of a tyrant, the solemn recognition of popular rights, liberty, security, toleration, all go for nothing with them. One sect there was, which, from unfortunate temporary causes, it was thought necessary to keep under close restraint. One part of the empire there was so unhappily circumstanced, that at that time its misery was necessary to our happiness, and its slavery to our freedom! These are the parts of the Revolution which the politicians of whom we speak love to contemplate, and which seem to them, not indeed to vindicate, but in some degree to palliate the good which it has produced. Talk to them of Naples, of Spain, or of South America. They stand forth, zealots for the doctrine of Divine Right, which has now com back to us, like a thief from transportation, under the alias of Legitimacy. But mention the miseries of Ireland! Then William is a hero. Then Somers and Shrewsbury are great men. Then the Revolution is a glorious era! The very same persons, who, in this country, never omit an opportunity of reviving every wretched Jacobite slander respecting the whigs of that period, have no sooner crossed St. George's channel, than they begin to fill their bumpers to the glorious and immortal memory.sures? They may truly boast that they look not at men but measures. So that evil be done, they care not who does it-the arbitrary Charles or the liberal William, Ferdinand the catholic or Frederick the protestant! On such occasions their deadliest opponents may reckon upon their candid construction. The bold assertions of these people have of late impressed a large portion of the public with an opinion that James II. was expelled simply because he was a catholic, and that the Revolution was essentially a protestant revolution.