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CHAPTER IV.

prompt

To catch from Nature's humblest monitors
Whate'er they bring of impulses sublime.

WORDSWORTH.

OUR evening readings were occasionally delayed by those agreeable hinderances which the friendly intercourse of society placed in our way. HARTLEY had several friends in the neighbourhood-pleasant, sensible, and unaffectedjust such friends, indeed, as a man might desire whose circle of affection, required only a small addition to render it complete. To the literary man, an easy interchange of thought, or of the common civilities of life, affords the best antidote against the evils induced by solitary study. He is often prone to isolate himself from the world, and to gather his knowledge of it exclusively from books. He is apt to judge of life as it reveals itself to him from the teeming brain of a Shakspeare, a Moliere, or a Scott, instead of studying it at first hand from the men and women around him. This plain portrait of life may be deemed unattractive by the superficial observer; but a thoughtful spectator will be glad to look at it before it has been coloured, knowing that, although the effect may be less brilliant, the features will be more accurately preserved.

Southey, in one of the happiest of his occasional poems, tells us that his days are passed among the dead, who are

his never-failing friends, and it is doubtless no small happiness to have a close fellowship with such men as Milton and Spenser, Dante and Schiller, Pascal and Jeremy Taylor; but Southey would have done his heart good, and would have left a still worthier name, if instead of linking himself to his bookshelves by a life-long chain, he had gone more into the thoroughfares and bye-ways of ordinary life; if he had sat a welcome guest within the cottage porch, or spoken words of surest comfort by the bedside of the sick and dying. This, however, is not a vocation for which all good men are qualified; and Southey, feeling his unfitness for such labour, perhaps acted wisely in abstaining from the attempt. If so, this very sense of unfitness might have proved helpful by showing him the limits of his power. But these remarks are irrelevant. My notes of our next conversation are as follows::TALBOT. If I remember rightly, about sixty years elapsed between the appearance of the "Paradise Lost" and the publication of "The Seasons -a space of time that has left no landmarks in the region of rural poetry. The men of greatest power during that interval were not, with one splendid exception, great as poets, although their biographies find a place with those whom Johnson calls "the most eminent."

STANLEY. Who is the splendid exception? Waller, or Dryden ?"

Butler,

TALBOT. Not Butler, certainly; for the publication of the first and second parts of "Hudibras" preceded the "Paradise Lost;" and certainly not Waller, for he also published his best poems at an earlier period; and, moreover, had it been otherwise, I should not have spoken thus

of so comparatively feeble a poet. I was thinking of Dryden, whose finest poems were produced after the publication of the "Paradise Lost." Milton's epic appeared in 1667, the year in which Cowley died. Dryden published his "Absalom and Ahithophel" in 1681, the "Hind and Panther" in 1687, and the "Fables" in 1699, when he was sixty-eight years of age, a quarter of a century after the death of Milton.

HARTLEY. Though little separated in point of time, how mighty a chasm divided these two poets. It is difficult to imagine any greatness superior to that which Milton displayed, or any debasement of genius more striking than that exhibited by Dryden. The vices of Dryden were, however, only a reflection of the age, the least noble in English history; the virtues of Milton, though stimulated by the Puritanism of the Commonwealth, would have shone with equal lustre at any period. He was above that age, as he would have been above any -dwelling chiefly in a retired solitude of holy and sublime thoughts, and yet not alone nor unsupported, since he was compassed by celestial visitants, and could hear the music of heaven. Milton lived in stormy times, and his private life was none of the happiest; but poetry, with strong yet gentle hand, lifted him far above "the smoke and stir" of earth, and gave to him-a poor, blind, neglected man -such rich gifts to present to his country, that now the name of Milton is reverenced wherever the English language is spoken, and his works are valued above the spoils of an empire.

STANLEY. Milton's genius is infectious, for HARTLEY speaks in heroics. The poet's sublimity appears to give

a real, if temporary altitude to every one who comes into contact with it.

HARTLEY. "Twere passing well if Milton's spirit could still wield so potent an influence. In this age of incessant literary activity-when an author who has once made his voice heard, is certain to repeat his cackle every two or three months-when a poem can be composed before dinner and digested after dinner-when novels are written to order -when theology, once the food of intellectual giants, is minced small for toothless infants and old women,- -it is inspiriting to remember that great men have been among us, whose highest aspiration was not too lofty to be fulfilled through the calm and persistent cultivation of their genius. Milton knew that when he chose to occupy it. there was a seat for him with Homer, and Eschylus, with Dante, and Shakspeare; and, knowing and feeling this, he was yet content for many long years to fulfil life's common duties, until the leisure afforded by affliction and old enabled him to claim the throne to which he was entitled. The moral lesson to be gained from Milton's life, is as sublime as his poetry. What wonder, then, if the name of Milton acts upon us like a charm, and compels us, as STANLEY says, to talk in heroics.

age

TALBOT. Not thus did Milton's poetry or character affect his contemporaries. The greatest prose writer of that age, and certainly the most imaginative writer in prose of which our language can boast, was born five years after Milton, and died about seven years before him ; Jeremy Taylor does not once mention the name of his great coeval. Yet they were kindred spirits, and ought to have been united in a spiritual and intellectual friendship.

but

STANLEY. Such a friendship would have been impossible between the chaplain of Charles I. and the iconoclast who was secretary to the usurper, and who could see no reason "why the people may not punish a king that becomes a malefactor."

HARTLEY. Remember, too, how contemptuously Milton spoke of all chaplains. This was enough of itself to keep these great men asunder. I will read you the passage to which I refer. It is in the reply to "Eikon Basilike:". "A chaplain is a thing so diminutive and inconsiderable, that how he should come here among matters of so great concernment, to take such room up in the discourses of a prince, if it be not wondered is to be smiled at. The Scripture owns no such order, no such function in the Church; and the Church not owning them, they are left, for aught I know, to such a further examining as the sons of Sceva the Jew met with. Bishops or presbyters we know, and deacons we know, but what are chaplains? In state, perhaps, they may be listed among the upper serving men of some great household, and be admitted to some such place as may style them the sewers or the yeomanushers of devotion, where the master is too resty or too rich to say his own prayers or to bless his own table." The argument in this passage might have made Taylor smile; the abuse contained in it would have galled his sensitive spirit.

TALBOT. Doubtless between the rarely-gifted and saintly Taylor, and Milton, whose more robust spirit was equally pure and stedfast, there was as great a difference of opinion, as between a Clarendon and Hampden in

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