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He is too eagerly intent on his argument to linger over the artifices by which it might be more winningly set forth. He has been taxed with Latinism, and oddly enough by Doctor Johnson, who I feel sure could not have read any one of his tracts, unless it were the “Areopagitica,” for very wrath. He has, it is true, some Latin constructions and uses a few words (like “assert,” “prevaricator,” “disoblige”) in their radical rather than in their derivative meaning, but on the whole his language is less vitiated with verbs taken directly from the Latin than that of most of the writers coeval with him. The much overrated Feltham, for instance, "formicates” with them, as he would have called it, and one might almost learn Latin by reading the “Vulgar Errors.” It is Milton's English words rather that seem foreign to us, such as "disgospel," "disworship,” "disalleige, " "lossless," "natureless," or "underfoot" and “lifeblood” used as adjectives. Sometimes he ventures on what would now be called an Americanism, as where he tells us of a "loud stench." But the most obvious defect of his prose is, as I have hinted, its want of equanimity.
He is not so truly a writer of great prose as a great man writing in prose, and it is really Milton that we seek there more than anything else. He is great enough when we find him to repay a thousand-fold what the search may have cost us. And when we meet him at his best, there is something in his commerce that fortifies the mind as only contact with a great character can. He is then a
perpetual fountain of highmindedness. In contest with an adversary he is brutally willing to strike below the belt, and shows as little magnanimity or fairness as the average editor of an American newspaper in dealing with a political opponent. Even Voltaire, hardened as were his own controversial nerves, was shocked by the nature of the weapons which Milton was eager to employ against Morus. But when he recovers possession of his true self, he is so at home among those things that endure, so amply conversant with whatever is of good report, so intimately conscious of a divine presence in a world of doubt and failure and disillusion, and of those spiritual ministrations symbolized by the prophet in the wilderness, that we listen to him as Adam to the angel, and the voice lingers not only in the ear but in the life. Mr. James Grant in his “Newspaper Press” says, drolly enough, of Coleridge, that “there was to the latest hour of his life a tendency, which could not be sufficiently deplored, to soar into regions of unrevealed truth.” It is this lift in Milton, rare enough among men, this undying instinct to soar and tempt us to venture our weaker wing, that gives an incomparable efficacy to those parts of his writing in prose that are best inspired. Here we breathe a mountain air in which, as Rousseau says, “ à mesure qu'on approche des régions éthérées l'âme contracte quelque chose de leur inaltérable pureté.” Nay, even while we are trudging wearily over the low and marish stretches of his discourse, there rises suddenly from before our feet a winged phrase that mounts and
carols like a lark, luring the mind with it to ampler spaces and a serener atmosphere. It is no small education for the nobler part of us to consort with one of such temper that he could say of himself with truth, “God intended to prove me, whether I durst take up alone a rightful cause against a world of disesteem, and found I durst." And it is the breath of this spirit that pours through the “Areopagitica” as through a trumpet, sounding the charge against whatever is base and recreant, whether in the world about us or in the ambush of
SHAKESPEARE'S “RICHARD III."
AN ADDRESS READ BEFORE THE EDINBURGH PHILOSOPHI
AFTER a general introduction, Mr. Lowell said:
I propose to say a few words on one of the plays usually attributed to Shakespeare, — a play in respect of which I find myself in the position of Peter Bell, seeing little more than an ordinary primrose where I ought, perhaps, to see the plant and flower of light; I mean the play of “Richard III.” Horace Walpole wrote “Historic Doubts” concerning the monarch himself, and I shall take leave to express some about the authorship of the drama that bears his name. I have no intention of applying to it a system of subjective criticism which I consider as untrustworthy as it is fascinating, and which I think has often been carried beyond its legitimate limits. But I believe it absolutely safe to say of Shakespeare that he never wrote deliberate nonsense, nor was knowingly guilty of defective metre; yet even tests like these I would apply with commendable modesty and hesitating reserve, conscious that the meaning of words, and still more
the associations they call up, have changed since Shakespeare's day; that the accentuation of some was variable, and that Shakespeare's ear may very likely have been as delicate as his other senses. On the latter point, however, I may say in passing, of his versification, which is often used as a test for the period of his plays, that Coleridge, whose sense of harmony and melody was perhaps finer than that of any other modern poet, did not allow his own dramatic verse the same licenses, and I might almost say the same mystifications, which he esteems applicable in regulating or interpreting that of Shakespeare. This is certainly remarkable. For my own part, I am convinced that if we had Shakespeare's plays as he wrote them, — and not as they have come down to us, deformed by the careless hurry of the copiers-out of parts, by the emendations of incompetent actors, and the mishearings of shorthand writers,- I am convinced that we should not find from one end of them to the other a demonstrably faulty verse or a passage obscure for any other reason than depth of thought or supersubtlety of phrase.
I know that in saying this I am laying myself open to the reproach of applying common sense to a subject which of all others demands uncommon sense for its adequate treatment, — demands perception as sensitive and diyination as infallible as the operations of that creative force they attempt to measure are illusive and seemingly abnormal. But in attempting to answer a question like that I have suggested, I should be guided by considera