페이지 이미지

omne genus, who were still more decidedly legitimists than the Wartons, are, between their love of Milton and their sympathy with Johnson's political faith, placed in even a more lamentable plight. Coleridge and Foster first-echoed afterwards by Channing and Macaulay—took the true method in their rejoinder to Johnson. They pled from his bar to a higher—they said, Coram haud judice. They proceeded not to depreciate Johnson, but to distinguish him from the subject of his criticism. They stated—especially Channing—the broad and deep differences between Johnson's strong, coarse mind, and the ethereal ardour, attitude, and habit of Milton, and asked the unanswerable question, How could two such minds sympathise; and might not, probably, Milton's criticism on Johnson have been as worthless as Johnson's on Milton? Of the Wartons, Todd, &c., otherwise, it were useless to speak at large. Joseph and Thomas Warton, men of limited depth, but of refined taste, appreciated the beautiful in Milton's soul rather than the sublime—themselves minor men, they wrote best about his minor poems. To Todd's devotion to him, we owe the admirable edition we have. Bishop Newton did “ Tom's best," as Johnson would have said about him, although his criticism is often contemptible. The accomplished Sir Egerton Brydges came forth with chivalric zeal to encounter Johnson, and loud was the flourish of trumpets which announced his entrance on the lists, and sharp and clear the stroke of challenge he struck upon the Achillean shield; but whether from age, or weakness, or excess of desire to do what his power did not permit him to do, he reeled in the saddle, and dropped down helpless. With the best of causes, and the warmest enthusiasm for it, he is but a weak defender of Milton. Very different is our estimate of Channing's noble panegyric. Its great charm lies in the calm possession and command of an unanswerable argument ; he knows the strength of his case too well to put himself to trouble and travail in maintaining it—he simply and clearly states it, and the statement is the proof. Channing's nature and creed, too, eminently fitted him to be the panegyrist of Milton. It is a Republican commending a Republican—a man of cultured classical taste, worshipping a Modern Greek-a



[ocr errors]

man of seraphic spirituality, glorifying a more exalted specimen of the same race-a man who combined high moral qualities with certain heterodox sentiments, illustrating the character of a still sublimer Heretic. Possessed of less moral sympathy with Milton, Macaulay brought to the subject a richer scholarship, a more brilliant diction, and the fervour of a heart then in the “dew of its youth,” and palpitating with an enthusiasm of which he seems now somewhat ashamed. Latterly, Landor, Emerson, De Quincey, Professor Wilson, David Masson, and others, have scattered pearls of praise, and supplied splendid fragments of criticism.

Perhaps three words will go farther than long elaborate definition and discussion in expressing the genius of Miltonand these are Wholeness, Sublimity, and Simplicity. How much lies in that plain strong word “Whole!” Completeness, harmony, health, and purity are all included in the term. Milton was not a bright fragment, with yawning edges and fluctuating lustre,-he was in a minor sense a “Whole One. " Gifted originally with all natural capacities,—the Reasoning and the Imaginative, the Creative and the Mechanical, the Mathematical and the Musical—he gave them the highest culture possible in his age; he sustained and inspirited their operations by the exercise and careful management of a fine bodily constitution ; and he baptized them in the streams of Divine Truth and of Gospel Morality—in

“ Siloa's brook that flows

Hard by the oracle of God.'' The result was, not a giant or monster of mingled power and weakness, wisdom and folly, such as we find in a Julius Cæsar, a Mirabeau, a Voltaire, or a Napoleon, but a thoroughly furnished, and compactly-built nuan—with strength and symmetry equal to each other—with head and heart bound together by the band of worship,—truly what Cæsar was falsely called, " the foremost man in all this world,”-only, shall we

a little lower than the angels," or than those surpassing mortals, who, in the days of the past, met with angels, or saw the Great I AM himself, and became their similitudes on earth, and their oracles to men. And what if this Whole





One did feel himself a stranger and pilgrim,—did look wistfully to the far-off heavens,--did wear supernal scorn at times upon his lip, and say, “I do well to be angry even unto death" ?

it was the necessity of his nature, and one of the few things which proved him not to be divine.

This wholeness accounts for the multiformity and consecration of his genius. He is, contrary to common opinion, a many-sided man, as perhaps all men of the loftiest genius must be. His works include specimens of the epic, the drama, the pastoral, the ode, the elegy, the sonnet, the masque, the song, the epistle, the satire, the argument, the history, the theological treatise, the grammar, and the dictionary. His versatility and his vastness taken together, astonish you,

and make you think of the mountains leaping like lambs,” in the great scriptural figure. Shakspere, Goethe, Scott, and others, in their manifold transformations, seem often to sink their idiosyncracy,—when personating small fools or villains visible only through their villany, they can become small as they ; when, in the exercise of their demoniac gift, they enter into swine, they sometimes become swine themselves, and this thorough identification with others is partly a power and partly a weakness and blemish. Another class of writers, such as Johnson, and even Wordsworth, may attempt to change their voice and shift their position, but in vain—their little fishes talk like whales,--their speech bewrayeth them,--they cannot but utter their sturdy Shibboleth, and their efforts to personate others are as abortive as they are clumsy and violent. Milton, on the other hand, may be in this point compared to his own Satan, who, even when transformed into a serpent in Eden, was a splendid one;

"His head
Crested aloft, and carbuncle his eyes ;
With burnish'd neck of verdant gold, erect
Amidst his circling spires, that on the grass
Floated redundant: pleasing was his shape

And lovely; "-
who, when changed into a cherub, became-

« Such as in his face
Youth smild celestial, and to every limb
Suitable grace diffus'd ;”

Le Sage

and who, when in hell compelled to resume the serpent shape, it was

“ Still greatest he the midst,
Now dragon grown, larger than whom the sun

Engender'd in the Pythian vale.” Like Atlas, wherever Milton is, the burden of the rolling heavens is on his shoulders.

The consecration of Milton's mind, too, sprang greatly from the large wholeness of his being. It is into fragmentary minds, especially into minds where there is some great deficiency, some gap as hopeless as it is wide,-into minds deficient, like Hume's, in imagination, or like Rousseau's, in common sense, or like Voltaire's, in reverence, or like Shelley's, in balance, that fiendish doubts as to the Divine origin and purpose of the universe are apt to insinuate themselves. speaks of one Diable Boiteux, but in reality all the fiends are lame; and it is partly because they are so, that they are fiends. In proportion to the general power of a mind is ever its intense perception of any vital deficiency in itself; and this perception often leads, not to humility, but to that pride and discontent which are the soul of irreligion or Atheism. Those, on the other hand, who approach to entireness of intellect, present in their soul a rounded mirror calculated to reflect fully not only literature and nature, but that near, yet far off, ever present and never visible, One, who filleth immensity,—and such a soul was Milton's. Sometimes troubled but never turbid; sometimes shadowed, but never sullen; sometimes cold, but never frozen; sometimes heated, but never glaringthe broad lake of his genius faithfully gives back the awful countenance of his Father and God.

It is marvellous how thoroughly in Milton the “Consecration” and the “ Poet's Dream” are attempered and reconciled. His dreams are always holy dreams, as though he were slumbering with his own angels in the vales of heaven, or at the foot of the

“Flaming Mount whose top

Brightness had made invisible.” The revel of his fancy is always under severe restraint, and when his genius at times does dance, it is a measured and mystic dance, like that of the seraphim around the sacred hill.


His use of the Pagan Mythology has often been objected to him as inconsistent with his reverence for the true Belief and the Book of God. But he never introduces the heathen gods except as tributaries and captives. His Dagons fall down before Jehovah; he has preserved in his poetry as in a vast museum, not a temple, the images of the fallen deities with the word “idols ” labelled on them, -objects not of belief or reverence, but of curiosity or poetic interest.

We have called him elsewhere a belated bard of the Bible. In austere loftiness, thick imagery, holy calm, holier fury, and magnitude of purpose, he bears them a striking resemblance. His differentia-apart from the peculiar inspiration which appertained to them—lies in greater unity and artistic consciousness. There is a cant in the criticism of this day about poetic unity, and certain criticasters have even gone the length of denying that one, however many poetic elements he possesses, can be an absolute poet, without this. That this is absurd, will appear when we remember - 1st, that the poems which are really artistic wholes are very fewcan, in fact, be counted on one's fingers; when we remember, 2dly, that many noble poems, such as Young's Night Thoughts, Thomson's Seasons, and Bailey's Festus, do not possess unity; and when, to clench this argument, we remember, 3dly, that the highest poetry confessedly ever poured from the deep heart of man—that, namely, of the Hebrews—is fragmentary. What unity is there in the Psalms, or in those other fiery lyrics which are sprinkled through the books of the Old Testament? What band, save the band of individual genius, binds together the glorious minstrelsies of Isaiah, the pathetic strains of Jeremiah, or the mystic dreams of Ezekiel ? In Job, indeed, there are a story and a plot; but they are very simple—they display scarcely any art, and the poetic power of the poem is in the gorgeousness of its separate passages. But Milton has striven after unity, and is one of the very few poets who have attained it. And this certainly has added a solid monumental, if also a somewhat artificial, character to his works. The productions of the Bible bards are the “ trees of God, full of sap, and planted by his hand," although scattered and single; those of Milton stand up like a cathedral of man's handiwork,

« 이전계속 »