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NOTHING now remains to say about John Milton: his place among the immortals is secure. None of the great gifts were denied him, except humour; and the place of humour, in preventing over-emphasis and lack of proportion, was taken in him by something of the Greek instinct for form. It has been noticed that the chief artistic defect of the Teutonic races is a certain caprice and wilfulness; they are a law-abiding race, but they like to make their own laws, This distinguishes them from the Latin-speaking races, which with their language seem to have imbibed something of the respect for law that marked the Romans. If the Romans, as a people, had had imagination, it is difficult to set bounds to what they might have done in the realm of intellect; but in Greece alone do we find a people strong both in imagination and in the reason that regulates imagination, with a subtle feeling for proportion that has never been approached elsewhere. Their art progresses by an infinite series of small steps, by which the artists felt their way to perfection without the risk of breaking away from tradition. From this fountain Milton drank. His puritan training prepared him by a stern restraint to move within the laws of his art, and these laws he studied, not in the more capricious works of the west so much as in the best models of Greece and Rome. According to the custom of his time, he first exercised himself in Latin composition; I mean, of course, not the spurious kind, by which pieces of English are rendered in Latin, but: true composition, in which the author expresses his own thoughts. He wrote Latin, both prose and verse, as well as he wrote his own language: his verse, indeed, gives him a claim to be considered a Latin poet. This discipline, which may make pedants of inferior intellects, was admirable for -Milton's fiery imagination and lofty ambition: it was just the correc
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 coelum 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: