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light of every accomplished mind, but it is a duty. He who is not conversant with it, cannot conceive how far the genius of the Muse can go. They who have no mirror in their minds to receive and reflect, may be but slightly and dimly touched; but they must let the rays shine upon them, even as the sun falls upon the barren rocks: at some happy moment they may be benefited by the genial beams.
Here are none of the frivolous idlenesses; the wanton sports of imagination; the false voluptuousness; the whimsical fictions; the affected pathos; the sickly whinings; the forced deliriums; the raptures of extravagant words; the feigned melancholy; the morbid musings; the dreamy mistiness of unmeaning verbiage; the echos of echos of artificial sounds. All is pure majesty; the sober strength, the wisdom from above, that instructs and awes. It speaks as an oracle,-not with a mortal voice.
The bard, whatever might have been his inborn genius, could never have attained this height of argument and execution but by a life of laborious and holy preparation;—a constant conversance with the ideas suggested by the Sacred Writings; the habitual resolve to lift his mind and heart above earthly thoughts; the incessant exercise of all the strongest faculties of the intellect; retirement, temperance, courage, hope, faith.
He had all the aids of learning; all the fruit of all the wisdom of ages; all the effect of all that poetic genius, and all that philosophy had
achieved: all were infused and mingled up in his mind with his own native growth. Had his learning been heaped on a mind of less native splendour, it could have produced none of these results it fell upon a fire, which bore it up into a golden and ethereal flame.
While the gigantic productions of such a mind were in progress, the poet must have felt strong consolations for all his misfortunes, privations, and dangers; but not unmixed, it appears, with some regrets and some complainings. This last we must infer from the passages in Samson Agonistes,' already noticed.
Whoever is powerful in virtuous faculties, and exercises them as he ought, must necessarily feel a great and proud delight from the exertion; but in the noble employment of the mind there is unmingled delight: hours become like minutes, and days like hours. Sitting in the humble porch of his humble house, blind, poor, meanly clad, unattended, how great must Milton have felt above all kings and conquerors of the earth,-above the possessors of the wealth of the world, the inhabitants of marble palaces and golden saloons! He knew his own dignity; and it was among his glories that he knew it. He never shrunk from the assertion of his own ascendency. It did not lower his self-esteem to hear the popular shouts bestowed on his inferiors,-on Waller, and Cowley, and Denham, and the wits that basked in the sunshine of the Court, while he was neglected, and his sublime strains unfelt and untasted: he
knew the day would come when all that was wise and great must acknowledge his supremacy.
Perhaps self-confidence was among his leading traits: if he had been deficient in this quality he would never have performed what he did. It may produce rashness; where there is innate strength it will produce success. Temerity is better than a chilling and helpless fear: to have power, and not to know it, is worse perhaps than not to have it whoever depends on the opinions of others, and cannot assert his own cause, is almost sure to be crushed.
Nothing is more useful in literary biography than to endeavour to ascertain by what means others have attained extraordinary excellence : there must always be a concurrence of causes, of which some may perhaps be accidental: the inborn gift is first, and indispensable; but encouragement, discipline, and toil, are also necessary. It is clear that Milton showed the superiority of his endowments at ten years old; and all other concurrences would have done nothing without these.
Can any case be shown where true genius did not exhibit itself in early childhood? It appears to me very improbable. I know no ascertained case. An extreme sensibility is a primary ingredient: this must show itself early. Sometimes common observers have mistaken the symptoms of genius; but this does not alter the case. Vulgar censors often take the appearances of genius in childhood for folly; as has been so beautifully described by Beattie, in Young Edwin.'
RECAPITULATION OF MILTON'S PERSONAL
I KNOW not that much can be added to the traits of Milton's character which I have already given. As in almost all cases of great genius, there is a consonance in the qualities of the poetry and the poet. Grandeur, inflexibility, sternness, originality, naked force, all true splendour, or strength, arises from internal conviction or belief.
The poet was never compliant to the ways of the world from his very childhood he kept himself aloof: he nursed his visions in solitude, and soothed his haughty hopes of future loftiness of fame by lonely musing: the ideal world in which his mind lived would not coalesce with the rude concourse of mankind.
As to his own purity and sanctity of soul, the declarations, and enthusiastic apostrophes in his own prose writings render it impossible to doubt it he made them in the hearing of his most bitter enemies, public enemies through all Europe,-rendered furious by a common cause, in which all the principles of ancient institutions
were involved. The extent to which he carried his arguments appears to me wrong, and I cannot deem his conclusions other than harsh and vindictive; but, as I have said before, I do not think that tenderness of feeling was his distinction. His gigantic heart was not easily melted into tears: he knew how to paint rebellious angels, mighty even in their defeat.
All his excitements were intellectual: his thoughts were compound: but it is surprising how a mind habituated for twenty years to the coarse routine of public business, could at once throw it all off, and produce a poetical texture so close-wrought, and of such unmingled majesty. Plain as the style is, it never sinks into colloquiality or the language of business: he had kept his genius aloof from his daily occupation, and suffered not the world to blow or breathe upon it.
In the commencement of the ninth book of the Paradise Lost' the poet speaks of his subject as more heroic than the subjects of the Iliad and Eneid :
If answerable style I can obtain
Of my celestial patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse,
Since first this subject for heroic song
Pleased me, long chusing and beginning late;
Not sedulous by nature to indite
Wars, hitherto the only argument
So before, in book vii, addressing himself to his
Muse Urania, he says:—