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much by what it expresses, as by what it sug- / all the dear classical recollections of childgests; not so much by the ideas which it di-hood, the school-room, the dog-eared Virgil, rectly conveys, as by other ideas which are the holiday, and the prize. A fourth brings connected with them. He electrifies the before us the splendid phantoms of chivalmind through conductors. The most unim- rous romance, the trophied lists, the embroidaginative man must understand the Iliad. ered housings, the quaint devices, the hauntHomer gives him no choice, and requires ed forests, the enchanted gardens, the achievefrom him no exertion, but takes the whole ments of enamored knights, and the smiles of upon himself, and sets the images in so clear rescued princesses. a light, that it is impossible to be blind to In none of the works of Milton is his peculthem. The works of Milton cannot be com- iar manner more happily displayed than in prehended or enjoyed, unless the mind of the Allegro and the Penseroso. It is impossible reader co-operate with that of the writer. to conceive that the mechanism of language He does not paint a finished picture, or play can be brought to a more exquisite degree of for a mere passive listener. He sketches, and perfection. These poems differ from others, leaves others to fill up the outline. He as atar of roses differs from ordinary rose strikes the key-note, and expects his hearer water, the close packed essence from the thin to make out the melody
diluted mixture. They are indeed not so We often hear of the magical influence of much poems, as collections of hints, from each poetry. The expression in general means of which the reader is to make out a poem for nothing: but, applied to the writings of Mil- himself. Every epithet is a text for a stanza. ton, it is most appropriate. His poetry acts The Comus and the Samson Agonistes are like an incantation. Its merit lies less in its works which, though of very different merit, obvious meaning than in its occult power. offer some marked points of resemblance. There would seem, at first sight, to be no Both are lyric poems in the form of plays. more in his words than in other words. But There are perhaps no two kinds of composithey are words of enchantment. No sooner tion so essentially dissimilar as the drama and are they pronounced, than the past is present the ode. The business of the dramatist is to and the distant near. New forms of beauty keep himself out of sight, and to let nothing start at once into existence, and all the burial-appear but his characters. As soon as he atplaces of the memory give up their dead. tracts notice to his personal feelings, the illuChange the structure of the sentence; substi-sion is broken. The effect is as unpleasant as tute one synonyme for another, and the that which is produced on the stage by the whole effect is destroyed. The spell loses its voice of the prompter or the entrance of a power; and he who should then hope to con- scene-shifter. Hence it was, that the tragejure with it would find himself as much mis- dies of Byron were his least successful pertaken as Cassim in the Arabian tale, when he formances. They resemble those pasteboard stood crying, “Open Wheat,” “Open Barley," pictures invented by the friend of children, to the door which obeyed no sound but “Open Mr. Newbury, in which a single movable head Sesame.” The miserable failure of Dryden in goes round twenty different bodies, so that his attempt to translate into his own diction the same face looks out upon us successively, some part of the Paradise Lost, is a remarka- from the uniform of a hussar, the furs of a ble instance of this.
judge, and the rags of a beggar. In all the In support of these observations we may characters, patriots and tyrants, haters and remark, that scarcely any passages in the lovers, the frown and sneer of Harold were poems of Milton are more generally known or discernible in an instant. But this species of more frequently repeated than those which egotism, though fatal to the drama, is the inare little more than muster-rolls of names. Ispiration of the ode. It is the part of the lyric They are not always more appropriate or poet to abandon himself, without reserve, to more melodious than other names. But his own emotion. ' they are charmed names. Every one of Between these hostile elements many great them is the first link in a long chain of men have endeavored to effect an amalgamaassociated ideas. Like the dwelling-place of tion, but never with complete success. The our infancy revisited in .manhood, like the Greek Drama, on the 'model of which the song of our country heard in a strange land, Samson was written, sprang from the Ode. they produce upon us an effect wholly inde- The dialogue was ingrafted on the chorus, pendent of their intrinsic value. One trans- and naturally partook of its character. The ports us back to a remote period of history. genius of the greatest of the Athenian dramaAnother places us among the novel scenes and tists co-operated with the circumstances unmanners of a distant region. A third evokes | der which tragedy made its first appearance. Æschylus was, head and heart, a lyric poet. (as in a good play. We cannot identify our In his time, the Greeks had far more inter- selves with the poet, as in a good ode. The course with the East than in the days of Ho-conflicting ingredients, like an acid and an almer, and they had not yet acquired that kali mixed, neutralize each other. We are immense superiority in war, in science, and by no means insensible to the merits of this in the arts, which, in the following generation, celebrated piece, to the severe dignity of the led them to treat the Asiatics with contempt. style, the graceful and pathetic solemnity of From the narrative of Herodotus it should the opening speech, or the wild and barbaric seem that they still looked up, with the dis- melody which gives so striking an effect to ciples, to Egypt and Assyria. At this period, thè choral passages. But we think it, we conaccordingly, it was natural that the literature fess, the least successful effort of the genius of Greece should be tinctured with the Ori- of Milton. ental style. And that style, we think, is dis- The Comus is framed on the model of the cernible in the works of Pindar and Æschylus. Italian Masque, as the Samson is framed on The latter often reminds us of the Hebrew the model of the Greek Tragedy. It is cerwriters. The book of Job, indeed, in conduct 'tainly the noblest performance of the kind and diction, bears a considerable resemblance which exists in any language. It is as far to some of his dramas. Considered as plays, superior to the Faithful Shepherdess, as the his works are absurd; considered as choruses, Faithful Shepherdess is to the Aminta, or the they are above all praise. If, for instance, Aminta to the Pastor Fido. It was well for we examine the address of Clytemnestra to Milton that he had here no Euripides to misAgamemnon on his return, or the description lead him. He understood and loved the literof the seven Argive chiefs, by the principles ature of modern Italy. But he did not feel of dramatic writing, we shall instantly con- for it the same veneration which he enterdemn them as monstrous. But if we forget tained for the remains of Athenian and Roman the characters, and think only of the poetry, poetry, consecrated by so many lofty and enwe shall admit that it has never been sur- dearing recollections. The faults, moreover, passed in energy and magnificence. Sopho- of his Italian predecessors were of a kind to cles made the Greek drama as dramatic as which his mind had a deadly antipathy. He was consistent with its original form. His could stoop to a plain style, sometimes even portraits of men have a sort of similarity; but to a bald style; but false brilliancy was his it is the similarity not of a painting, but of a utter aversion. His muse had no objection to bas-relief. It suggests a resemblance; but it a russet attire; but she turned with disgust does not produce an illusion. Euripides at- from the finery of Guarini, as tawdry and as tempted to carry the reform further. But it paltry as the rags of a chimney-sweeper on was a task far beyond his powers, perhaps May-day. Whatever ornaments she wears beyond any powers. Instead of correcting are of massive gold, not only dazzling to the what was bad, he destroyed what was excel- sight, but capable of standing the severest lent. He substituted crutches for stilts, bad test of the crucible. sermons for good odes.
Milton attended in the Comus to the disMilton, it is well known, admired Euripides tinction which he afterwards neglected in the highly, much more highly than, in our opin- Samson. He made his Masque what it ought ion, Euripides deserved. Indeed the caresses to be, essentially lyrical, and dramatic only which this partiality leads our countryman in semblance. He has not attempted a fruitto bestow on “sad Electra's poet,” sometimes less struggle against a defect inherent in the remind us of the beautiful Queen of Fairy- nature of that species of composition; and he land kissing the long ears of Bottom. At all has therefore succeeded, wherever success events, there can be no doubt that this vener- was not impossible. The speeches must be read ation for the Athenian, whether just or not, as majestic soliloquies; and he who so reads was injurious to the Samson Agonistes. Had them will be enraptured with their eloquence, Milton taken Æschylus for his model, he their sublimity, and their music. The interwould have given himself up to the lyric in- ruptions of the dialogue, however, impose a spiration, and poured out profusely all the constraint upon the writer, and break the iltreasures of his mind, without bestowing a lusion of the reader. The finest passages are thought on those dramatic proprieties which those which are lyric in form as well as in the nature of the work rendered it impossible spirit. “I should much commend,” says the to preserve. In the attempt to reconcile things excellent Sir Henry Wotten in a letter to Milin their own nature inconsistent, he has failed, ton, “the tragical part if the lyrical did not as every one else must have failed. We can- ravish me with a certain Dorique delicacy in not identify ourselves with the characters, your songs and odes, whereunto, I must plainly confess to you, I have seen yet nothing the appearance which Dante undertakes to parallel in our language." The criticism was describe, he never shrinks from describing it. just. It is when Milton escapes from the He gives us the shape, the color, the sound, the shackles of the dialogue, when he is dis- smell, the taste; he counts the numbers; he charged from the labor of uniting two incon- measures the size. His similes are the illustragruous styles, when he is at liberty to indulge tions of a traveller. Unlike those of other his choral raptures without reserve, that he poets, and especially of Milton, they are introrises even above himself. Then, like his own duced in a plain, business-like manner; not good Genius bursting from the earthly form for the sake of any beauty in the objects from and weeds of Thyrsis, he stands forth in celes- which they are drawn; not for the sake of any tial freedom and beauty; he seems to cry ex- | ornament which they may impart to the poem; ultingly,
but simply in order to make the meaning of
the writer as clear to the reader as it is to him“Now my task is smoothly done, I can fly or I can run,"
self. The ruins of the precipice which led
from the sixth to the seventh circle of hell to skim the earth, to soar above the clouds, tol were like those of the rock which fell into the bathe in the Elysian dew of the rainbow, and Adige on the south of Trent. The cataract of to inhale the balmy smells of nard and cassia,
Phlegethon was like that of Aqua Cheta at which the musky winds of the zephyr scatter
the monastery of St. Benedict. The place through the cedared alleys of the Hesperides. | where the heretics were confined in burning
There are several of the minor poems of tombs resembled the vast cemetery of Arles. Milton on which we would willingly make a Now let us compare with the exact details of few remarks. Still more willingly would we Dante the dim intimations of Milton. We will enter into a detailed examination of that ad- I cite a few examples. The English poet has mirable poem, the Paradise Regained, which, I never thought of taking the measure of Satan. strangely enough, is scarcely ever mentioned He gives us merely a vague idea of vast bulk. except as an instance of the blindness of the In one passage the fiend lies stretched out huge parental affection which men of letters bear | in length, floating many a rood, equal in size towards the offspring of their intellects. That to the earth-born enemies of Jove, or to the Milton was mistaken in preferring this work, I sea-monster which the mariner mistakes for excellent as it is, to the Paradise Lost, we an island. When he addresses himself to battle readily admit. But we are sure that the su-l against the guardian angels, he stands like periority of the Paradise Lost to the Paradise Teneriffe or Atlas: his stature reaches the sky. Regained is not more decided, than the supe-Contrast with these descriptions the lines in riority of the Paradise Regained to every poem which Dante has described the gigantic spectre which has since made its appearance. Our of Nimrod. “His face seemed to me as long limits, however, prevent us from discussing land as broad as the ball of St. Peter's at the point at length. We hasten on to that Rome; and his other limbs were in proportion; extraordinary production which the general so that the bank, which concealed him from suffrage of critics has placed in the highest the waist downwards, nevertheless showed so class of human compositions.
much of him, that three tall Germans would The only poem of modern times which can in vain have attempted to reach to his hair.” be compared with the Paradise Lost is the We are sensible that we do no justice to the Divine Comedy. The subject of Milton, in admirable style of the Florentine poet. But some points, resembled that of Dantę; but he Mr. Cary's translation is not at hand; and 'has treated it in a widely different manner. our version, however rude, is sufficient to ilWe cannot, we think, better illustrate our lustrate our meaning. opinion respecting our own great poet, than Once more, compare the lazar-house in the by contrasting him with the father of Tuscan eleventh book of the Paradise Lost with the literature.
last ward of Malebolge in Dante. Milton The poetry of Milton differs from that of avoids the loathsome details, and takes refuge Dante, as the hieroglyphics of Egypt differed in indistinct but solemn and tremendous imfrom the picture-writing of Mexico. The imagery,Despair hurrying from couch to couch to ages which Dante employs speak for them- mock the wretches with his attendance, Death selves; they stand simply for what they are. shaking his dart over them, but, in spite of Those of Milton have a signification which is supplications, delaying to strike. What says often discernible only to the initiated. Their Dante? “There was such a moan there as value depends less on what they directly rep- there would be if all the sick who, between resent than on what they remotely suggest. July and September, are in the hospitals of However strange, however grotesque, may be Valdichiana, and of the Tuscan swamps, and
· of Sardinia were in one pit together; and such | many functions of which spirits must be incar
a stench was issuing forth as is wont to issue pable. But these objections, though sancfrom decayed limbs."
tioned by eminent names, originate, we ventWe will not take upon ourselves the invid- ure to say, in profound ignorance of the art ious office of settling precedency between two of poetry such writers. Each in his own department is What is a spirit? What are our own minds, incomparable; and each, we may remark, has the portion of spirit with which we are best wisely, or fortunately, taken a subject adapted acquainted? We observe certain phenomena. to exhibit his peculiar talent to the greatest We cannot explain them into material causes. advantage. The Divine Comedy is a personal We therefore infer that there exists something narrative. Dante is the eye-witness and ear-which is not material. But of this something witness of that which he relates. He is the we have no idea. We can define it only by very man who has heard the tormented spir- negatives. We can reason about it only by its crying out for the second death, who has symbols. We use the word: but we have no read the dusky characters on the portal with image of the thing; and the business of poetry in which there is no hope, who has hidden his is with images, and not with words. The poet face from the terrors of the Gorgon, who has uses words indeed; but they are merely the fled from the hooks and the seething pitch of instruments of his art, not its objects. They Barbariccia and Draghignazzo. His own are the materials which he is to dispose in hands have grasped the shaggy sides of Luci- such a manner as to present a picture to the fer. His own feet have climbed the mountain mental eye. And if they are not so disposed, of expiation. His own brow has been marked they are no more entitled to be called poetry by the purifying angel. The reader would than a bale of canvas and a box of colors to be throw aside such a tale in incredulous disgust, called a painting. unless it were told with the strongest air of Logicians may reason about abstractions. veracity, with a sobriety even in its horrors, But the great mass of men must have images. with the greatest precision and multiplicity in The strong tendency of the multitude in all its details. The narrative of Milton in this ages and nations to idolatry can be explained respect differs from that of Dante, as the ad-on no other principle. The first inhabitants ventures of Amadis differ from those of Gull of Greece, there is reason to believe, worliver. The author of Amadis would have shipped one invisible Deity. But the necessity made his book ridiculous if he had introduced of having something more definite to adore those minute particulars which give such a produced, in a few centuries, the innumerable charm to the work of Swift, the nautical ob- crowd of Gods and Goddesses. In like manservations, the affected delicacy about names, ner the ancient Persians thought it impious the official documents transcribed at full to exhibit the Creator under a human form. length, and all the unmeaning gossip and Yet even these transferred to the Sun the worscandal of the court, springing out of nothing, ship which, in speculation, they considered and tending to nothing. We are not shocked due only to the Supreme Mind. The History at being told that a man who lived, nobody of the Jews is the record of a continued knows when, saw many very strange sights, struggle between pure Theism, supported by and we can easily abandon ourselves to the the most terrible sanctions, and the strangely illusion of the romance. But when Lemuel fascinating desire of having some visible and Gulliver, surgeon, resident at Rotherhithe, tangible object of adoration. Perhaps none tells us of pygmies and giants, dying islands, of the secondary causes which Gibbon has asand philosophizing horses, nothing but such signed for the rapidity with which Christiancircumstantial touches could produce for a ity spread over the world, while Judaism single moment a deception on the imagina- scarcely ever acquired a proselyte, operated tion.
more powerfully than this feeling. God, the Of all the poets who have introduced into uncreated, the incomprehensible, the invisible, their works the agency of supernatural beings, attracted few worshippers. A philosopher Milton has succeeded best. Here Dante de- might admire so noble a conception: but the cidedly yields to him: and as this is a point crowd turned away in disgust from words on which many rash and ill-considered judg- which presented no image to their minds. It ments have been pronounced, we feel inclined was before Deity embodied in a human form, to dwell on it a little longer. The most fatal walking among men, partaking of their inerror which a poet can possibly commit in the firmities, leaning on their bosoms, weeping management of his machinery, is that of at- over their graves, slumbering in the manger, tempting to philosophize too much. Milton bleeding on the cross, that the prejudices of has been often censured for ascribing to spirits the Synagogue, and the doubts of the Academy, and the pride of the portico, and the fasces of case. It was impossible for the poet to adopt the Lictor, and the swords of thirty legions, altogether the material or the immaterial were humbled in the dust. Soon after Chris- system. He therefore took his stand on the tianity had achieved its triumph, the prin- debatable ground. He left the whole in amciple which had assisted it began to corrupt biguity. He has, doubtless, by so doing laid it. It became a new Paganism. Patron saints himself open to the charge of inconsistency. assumed the offices of household gods. St. But, though philosophically in the wrong, we George took the place of Mars. St. Elmo con- cannot but believe that he was poetically in soled the mariner for the loss of Castor and the right. This task, which almost any other Pollux. The Virgin Mother and Cecilia suc- writer would have found impracticable, was ceeded to Venus and the Muses. The fascination easy to him. The peculiar art which he posof sex and loveliness was again joined to that sessed of communicating his meaning circuitof celestial dignity; and the homage of chiv- ously through a long succession of associated alry was blended with that of religion. Re- ideas, and of intimating more than he exformers have often made a stand against these pressed, enabled him to disguise those incon- . feelings; but never with more than apparent gruities which he could not avoid. and partial success. The men who demolished Poetry which relates to the beings of another the images in Cathedrals have not always world ought to be at once rysterious and been able to demolish those which were en- picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of shrined in their minds. It would not be diffi- Dante is picturesque indeed beyond any that cult to show that in politics the same rule was ever written. Its effect approaches to holds good. Doctrines, we are afraid, must that produced by the pencil or the chisel. But generally be embodied before they can excite it is picturesque to the exclusion of all mys. a strong public feeling. The multitude is tery. This a fault on the right side, a fault more easily interested for the most unmean- inseparable from the plan of Dante's poem, ing badge, or the most insignificant name, which, as we have already observed, rendered than for the most important principle. | the utmost accuracy of description necessary.
From these considerations, we infer that no Still it is a fault. The supernatural agents expoet, who should affect that metaphysical ac- cite an interest; but it is not the interest which curacy for the want of which Milton has been is proper to supernatural agents. We feel that blamed, would escape a disgraceful failure. we could talk to the ghosts and dæmons withStill, however, there was another extreme, out any emotion of unearthly awe. We could, which, though far less dangerous, was also to like Don Juan, ask them to supper, and eat be avoided. The imaginations of men are in heartily in their company. Dante's angels are a great measure under the control of their good men with wings. His devils are spiteful opinions. The most exquisite art of poetical ugly executioners. His dead men are merely coloring can produce no illusion, when it is living men in strange situations. The scene employed to represent that which is at once which passes between the poet and Farinata perceived to be incongruous and absurd. is justly celebrated. Still, Farinata in the Milton wrote in an age of philosophers and burning tomb is exactly what Farinata would theologians. It was necessary, therefore, for have been at an auto da fe. Nothing can be him to abstain from giving such a shock to more touching than the first interview of their understandings as might break the charm Dante and Beatrice. Yet what is it, but a which it was his object to throw over their lovely woman chiding, with sweet austere imaginations. This is the real explanation composure, the lover for whose affection she of the indistinctness and inconsistency with is grateful, but whose vices she reprobates? which he has often been reproached. Dr. The feelings which give the passage its charm Johnson acknowledges that it was absolutely would suit the streets of Florence as well as necessary that the spirit should be clothed the summit of the Mount of Purgatory. with material forms. “But," says he, “the The spirits of Milton are unlike those of alpoet should have secured the consistency of most all other writers. His fiends, in partichis system by keeping immateriality out of ular, are wonderful creations. They are not sight, and seducing the reader to drop it from metaphysical abstractions. They are not his thoughts." This is easily said; but what wicked men. They are not ugly beasts. They if Milton could not seduce his readers to drop have no horns, no tails, none of the fee-fawimmateriality from their thoughts? What if fum of Tasso and Klopstock. They have just the contrary opinion had so fully taken pos- enough in common with human nature to be session of the minds of men as to leave no intelligible to human beings. Their characters Mom even for the half belief which poetry are, like their forms, marked by a certain dim requires? Such we suspect to have been the resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated