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side of the great age, and was sixty years later than Shakespeare in completing the work, the singularity of his literary greatness, his loneliness as a lofty genius in his time, becomes somewhat less inexplicable. The "Paradise Lost” occupies this moment of climax, to repeat the phrase, in literary history, and, like nearly all works in such circumstances, it has a greatness all its own. But, beyond that, it lies in a region of art where no other English work companions it, as an epic of the romantic spirit such as Italy most boasts of, but superior in breadth, in ethical power, in human interest, to Ariosto or Tasso, and comparing with them as Pindar with the Alexandrians; it realized Hell and Eden, and the world of heavenly war and the temptation, to the vision of men, with tremendous imaginative power, stamping them into the race-mind as permanent imagery; and the literary kinship which the workmanship bears to what is most excellent and shining in the great works of Greece, Rome, and Italy, as well as to Hebraic grandeur, helps to place the poem in that remoter air which is an association of the mind with all art. No other English
. poem has a similar brilliancy, aloofness, and perfection as of something existing in another element, except the "Adonais.” In it personal lyricism achieved the most impersonal of elegies, and mingled the fairest dreams of changeful imaginative grief with the soul's intellectual passion for immortality full-voiced. It is detached from time and place; the hunger of the soul for eternity, which is its substance, human nature can never lay off; its literary kinship is with what is most lovely in the idyllic melody of the antique; and, owing to its small scale and the simple unity of its mood, it gives forth the perpetual charm of literary form in great purity. These two poems stand alone with Shakespeare's plays, and are for epic and lyric what his work is for drama, the height of English performance in the cultivation of romance. Other poets must be judged to have attained excellence in romantic art in proportion as they reveal the qualities of Shakespeare, Milton and Shelley; for these three are the masters of romantic form, which, like the spirit of life proceeding from within outward, is the vital structure of English poetic genius. This internal power is also a principle of classic art in its antique examples; but academic criticism developed from them a hardened formalism to which romantic art is related as the spirit of life to the death-mask of the past. Such pallor has from time to time crossed the features of English letters in a man or an age, and has brought a marble dignity, as to Landor, or the shadow of an Augustan elegance, as in the era of Pope; but it has faded and passed away under the flush of new life. Even in prose, in which so-called classic qualities are still sought by academic taste, the genius of English has shown a native obstinacy. The novel is so Protean in form as to seem amorphous, but essentially repeats the drama, and submits in its masters to Shakespearian parallelism; in substance and manner it has been overwhelmingly of a romantic cast; and in the other forms of prose, style, though of all varieties, has, perhaps, proved most preservative when highly colored, individualized, and touched with imaginative greatness, as in Browne, Taylor, Milton, Bunyan, Burke, Carlyle, Macaulay; but the inferiority of their matter, it should be observed, affects the endurance of the eighteenth century prose masters — Steele, Addison, Swift, and Johnson, to name the foremost. Commonly, it must be allowed, English, both prose and poetry, not
withstanding its triumphs, is valued for substance and not for form, whether this be due to a natural incapacity, or to a retardation in development which may hereafter be overcome, or to the fact that the richness of the substance renders the fineness of the form less eminent.
In conclusion, the thought rises of itself, will this continuity, assimilative power, and copiousness, this original genius, this serviceableness to civilization and the private life, this supreme romantic art, be maintained, now that the English and their speech are spread through the world, or is the history of the intellectual expansion of Athens and Rome, the moral expansion of Jerusalem, to be repeated? The saying of Shelley, "The mind in creation is a fading coal,” seems to be true of nations. Great literatures, or periods in them, have usually marked the culmination of national power; if they “look before and after," as Virgil in the “Æneid,” they gather their wisdom, as he too did, by a gaze reverted to the past. The paradox of progress, in that the laudator temporis acti is always found among the best and noblest of the elders, while yet the whole world of man ever moves on to greater knowledge, power, and good, continues like the riddle of the Sphinx; but time seems unalterably in favor of mankind through all dark prophecies. The mystery of genius is unsolved; and the Messianic hope that a child may be born unto the people always remains; but the greatness of a nation dies only with that genius which is not a form of human greatness in individuals, but is shared by all of the blood, and constitutes them fellow-countrymen. The genius of the English shows no sign of decay; age has followed age, each more gloriously, and whether the period that is now closing be really an end or only the initial movement of a vaster arc of time, corresponding to the greater English destiny, world-wide, world-peopling, world-freeing, the arc of the movement of democracy through the next ages - is immaterial; so long as the genius of the people, its piety and daring, its finding faculty for truth, its creative shaping in art, be still integral and vital, so long as its spiritual passion be fed from those human and divine ideas whose abundance is not lessened, and on those heroic tasks which a world still half discovered and partially subdued opens through the whole range of action and of the intellectual and moral life - SO long as these things endure, English speech must still be fruitful in great ages of literature, as in the past these have been its fountainheads. But if no more were to be written on the page of English, yet what is written there, contained and handed down in famous books and made the spiritual food of the vast multitude whose children's children shall use and read the English tongue through coming centuries under every sky, will constitute a moral dominion to which Virgil's line may proudly apply –