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tive needed for the Teutonic genius. The result is not Teutonic, and it is not classic, but a new thing; his imagination, like the electric flash, made a chemical compound of the two. Thus it is that we and an epic in a self-conscious and learned age, itself, like the Æneid, a parodox, yet alive, and a model of verse that has no forerunner and no follower.
No less remarkable is the intellectual force that inspires the whole mass:
Principio cælum ac terram campos qua liquentis
Mens agitat molem et magno se corpore miscet. Milton's poetry, especially Paradise Lost, is a universe infused with mind, giving the same impression of irresistible and overwhelming force as the universe itself. His thoughts fill the imagination and transcend it, his rhythms fill the ears like the sound of the sea. Sense and intellect are filled, and more than filled. We feel the same complete satisfaction and fulness in Homer, but with Milton we feel also a kind of awe. Homer is man's poet: by him all the passion and enthusiasm of humanity are sung with perfect sympathy; man with all his failings, often so lovable, sometimes so dark, becomes a god, or at least shows his capacity for godhead. Virgil again, the poet of imperial dignity and national ambition, paints for us the pathos of human frailty, and the tragedy of a gentle soul chosen by fate to do ungentle deeds. With these, the divine is something not to be explained, that must be endured or obeyed. Homer, despairing perhaps of any rational explanation of the universe, touches his gods with light ridicule; yet he owns a moral rule, which the best men must obey they know not why, only he does not explicitly connect this with a divine sanction. With Virgil, the divine has something of the grimness of a Stoic fate: its plans are dark, but they must be carried out, no matter if men and women are broken. Milton has the courage to grapple with the great problem: he will justify the ways of God to man. If he does not succeed in doing this, that is because the thing cannot be done by human intellect. It is an act of faith to hold that God is just:
the greatest intellects have held it, as Plato and Milton, but it cannot be proved. Milton, however, in trying to prove it, has created a new type of tragedy, different in form but no less true than those of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Shakespeare. He has brought a non-divine will in conflict with the divine, keeping our sympathies for both. Tragedy is not the conflict of good with evil, but the conflict of good with good, and Milton, although he did not mean it, has created in Satan a type that is not essentially evil, his poetic genius thus triumphing over his puritanism. We feel no sympathy with Beelzebub, or Moloch, horrid king, or the obscene Chemos, for Baalim and Ashtaroth, or the rest of the rebel crew: these are lay figures, hideous and vile, at whom we care not to look. Such creatures all the ambitious must use, but we regret that Satan had no better to use. Satan himself, with his indomitable courage, is different altogether from these. He has even some cause of complaint, it would appear: at least, he is conquered by force only, without any attempt at reasoning; his cause is never shown to be wrong, it is assumed to be wrong.
Paradise Lost is like the first play in a trilogy in which is shown the perversion of a noble spirit; we might conceive of a second and third that might show the reconciliation of the opposing wills, as Æschylus reconciled Athena and the Eumenides.
Such a sequel could not have entered Milton's mind, unless he had renounced the religious tenets in which he was brought up; so he leaves the work a fragment, like the Prometheus.
But he was too true a poet not to feel its incompleteness: hence he followed it up by Paradise Regained. And this was foredoomed to failure, not so much because the story from which it is drawn is perfect in its own simplicity, and cannot be made more beautiful, as because the poem lacks the essential of a tragedy. There is no conflict between good and good; no sympathy is felt for the tempter, who is base and even petty. It is a narrative, without real conflict; a morality, not a tragedy. Its interest for the reader lies in the secondary beauties of rhythm and language.
Although Milton in Paradise Lost shows the instinct for a tragic theme, he has no power to put a play on the
stage. This may quite well be an accident. If he had been brought up in the theatres, as Shakespeare was, he might have learnt how to make a play. Another Shakespeare he could not have been; he might perhaps have been a Marlowe. But his sympathies were not with the stage, and his attempts at stage writing were not successful. Samson was avowedly an imitation of the Greek model, but it consists of scenes rather than action or the meeting of convergent forces.. Comus affords a beautiful spectacle, and is full of beautiful verse, but it stands still on the stage; its theme moreover rests on an assumption that is not true to life. These things do not matter much in a masque, which was first and foremost a series of spectacles; and yet we may fairly contrast the masque in the hands of Ben Jonson or others of the dramatic school. told that Milton at first meant to write a play instead of Paradise Lost ; but he was certainly well advised to change his theme to an epic.
His shorter poems are all beautiful, and they show the same ear for noble rhythms as the epic does. He has not, however, the gift of spontaneous song that marked the poets of the generation before him; and he has classical models often in view, so that this side of his work is not so original. He was at his best where difficulties of form were greatest. As the iambic line seems to allow the least possible freedom, his glory is greatest in making it to be of infinite variety: so also in the sonnet, the added difficulty of an elaborate rime-system enables him to achieve a new triumph. The sonnet may easily become a mere show-piece for verbal skill; with a trivial subject the kind becomes a base thing. But in his mouth “ the thing became a trumpet.” No poet has rivalled Milton's best, those on the Massacre in Piedmont, or on his blindness, or the vision of his dead wife. For anything approaching his power over the sonnet we look only to Wordsworth.
Milton as a poet completely overshadows Milton the scholar: yet he was a great scholar, and one of a rare type. All the learning of the ancients was his, so far as it could be known in his day; and this weight of learning he carries so lightly that it never obtrudes. He uses
the sounding names of history, geography, or mythology to give resonance to his verse, yet each name is in point. Without understanding the allusions, it is possible for a reader to enjoy the verse, and to appreciate the point correctly if vaguely; but each allusion, tracked to its source, throws light on the poet's thought, and a world of associations is called up harmonious to the theme. In this he resembles and surpasses Virgil. There is no effort and no forcing of effect: the allusions seem to be natural. If it is impossible properly to understand Milton without much learning, it is still possible to enjoy him: hence he may be read, in part at least, by the unlettered. But it is those who know most that enjoy and admire most. His admirable power over his material may be seen by a comparison with Ben Jonson, who, whilst less learned in reality, obtrudes his learning
In his prose
Milton the man is not our subject, but it should not be forgotten that he was also a great man. writings we see him busy with political and religious controversies; in both kinds he was far in advance of his age, even of our own age.
He looked on these questions with an eye that saw the truth, and he was not blinded by the prejudices of his sect. As Cromwell's foreign secretary he played a statesman's part, and gave to his country the light of his own eyes. Later, when he was forced into retirement, blind and obscure, even in danger of life, he dwelt serene and gave his days to the use of that talent which is death to hide. He sought no fame: yet no fame is greater than his.
W. H. D. ROUSE.
A Masque (Comus) presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634, on Michael-
Scripture which treat of Marriage, or Nullities in Marriage, etc.,