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periority. He hated monarchs in the state, and prelates in the church: for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected, that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority.
It has been observed, that they who most loudly clamour for liberty do not most liberally grant it. What we know of Milton's character, in domestic relations, is, that he was severe and arbitrary. His family consisted of women; and there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females, as subordinate and inferior beings. That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education. He thought women made only for obedience and man only for rebellion.
Of his family some account may be expected. His sister first married to Mr. Philips, afterwards married to Mr. Agar, a friend of her first husband, who succeeded him in the Crownoffice. She had, by her first husband, Edward and John, the two nephews whom Milton educated; and, by her second, two daughters.
His brother, Sir Christopher, had two daughters, Mary, and Catharine; and a son, Thomas, who succeeded Agar in the Crown-office, and left a daughter living, in 1749, in Grosvenor
Milton had children only by his first wife; Anne, Mary, and Deborah. Anne, though deformed, married a master-builder, and died of her first child. Mary died single. Deborah married Abraham Clark, a weaver in Spitalfields, and lived seventy-six years, to August 1727. This is the daughter of whom public mention has been made. She could repeat the first lines of Homer, the Metamorphoses, and some of Euripides, by having often read them. Yet here incredulity is ready to make a stand. Many repetitions are necessary to fix in the memory lines not understood; and why should Milton wish or want to hear them so often? These lines were at the beginning of the poems. Of a book written in a language not understood, the beginning raises no more attention than the end; and as those that understand it know commonly the beginning best, its rehearsal will seldom be necessary. It is not likely that Milton required any passage to be so much repeated as that his daughter could learn it; nor likely that he desired the initial lines to be read at all; nor that the daughter, weary of the drudgery of pronouncing unideal sounds, would voluntarily commit them to memory.
To this gentlewoman Addison made a present, and promised some establishment, but died soon after. Queen Caroline sent her fifty guineas. She had seven sons and three daughters, but none of them had any children, except her son Caleb and her daughter Elizabeth. Caleb went to Fort St. George, in the East Indies, and had two sons, of whom nothing is now known.
Both these persons were living at Holloway, about the year 1734, and at that time possessed such a degree of health and strength as enabled them on Sundays and prayer-days to walk a mile up a steep hill to Highgate Chapel. One of them was ninety-two at the time of her death. Their parentage was known to few, and their names were corrupted into Melton. By the Crown-office, mentioned in the two last paragraphs, we are to understand the Crown-office of the Court of Chancery.-H.
Elizabeth married Thomas Foster, a weaver in Spitalfields; and had seven children, who all died. She kept a petty grocer's or chandler's shop, first at Holloway, and afterwards in Cocklane near Shoreditch Church. She knew little of her grandfather, and that little was not good. She told of his harshness to his daughters, and his refusal to have them taught to write; and, in opposition to other accounts, represented him as delicate, though temperate, in his diet.
In 1750, April 5, "Comus" was played for her benefit. She had so little acquaintance with diversion or gayety, that she did not know what was intended when a benefit was offered her. The profits of the night were only one hundred and thirty pounds, though Dr. Newton brought a large contribution; and twenty pounds were given by Tonson, a man who is to be praised as often as he is named. Of this sum, one hundred pounds were placed in the stocks, after some debate between her and her husband in whose name it should be entered; and the rest augmented their little stock, with which they removed to Islington. This was the greatest benefaction that "Paradise Lost" ever procured the author's descendants; and to this he who has now attempted to relate his life had the ho nour of contributing a prologue.
In the examination of Milton's poetical works, I shall pay so much regard to time as to begin with his juvenile productions. For his early pieces he seems to have had a degree of fondness not very laudable; what he has once written he resolves to preserve, and gives to the public an unfinished poem, which he broke off because he was "nothing satisfied with what he had done,” supposing his readers less nice than himself. These preludes to his future labours are in Italian, Latin, and English. Of the Italian I cannot pretend to speak as a critic; but I have heard them commended by a man well qualified to decide their merit. The Latin pieces are lusciously elegant; but the delight which they afford is rather by the exquisite imitation of the ancient writers, by the purity of the diction, and the harmony of the numbers, than by any power of invention, or vigour of sentiment. They are not all of equal value; the elegies excel the odes; and some of the exercises on Gunpowder Trea son might have been spared.
The English poems, though they make no promises of "Paradise Lost," have this evidence of genius, that they have a cast original and unborrowed. But their peculiarity is not excellence; if they differ from the verses of others, they differ for the worse; for they are too often distinguished by repulsive harshness; the combinations of words are new, but they are not pleasing; the rhymes and epithets seem to be laboriously sought, and violently applied.
That in the early parts of his life he wrote with much care appears from his manuscripts, happily preserved at Cambridge, in which many of his smaller works are found as they were first written, with the subsequent corrections. Such relics show how excellence is acquired; what
With the exception of " Comus," in which, Dr Johnson afterwards says, may very plainly be discover ed the dawn of twilight of "Paradise Lost."-C
we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.
Those who admire the beauties of this great poet sometimes force their own judgment into false approbation of his little pieces, and prevail upon themselves to think that admirable which is only singular. All that short compositions can commonly attain is neatness and elegance. Milton never learned the art of doing little things with grace; he overlooked the milder excellence of suavity and softness; he was a lion that had no skill in dangling the kid.
One of the poems on which much praise has been bestowed, is "Lycidas;” of which the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What beauty there is we must therefore seek in the sentiments and images. It is not to be considered as the effusion of real passion; for passion runs not after remote allusions and obscure opinions. Passion plucks no berries from the myrtle and ivy, nor calls upon Arethuse and Mincius, nor tells of rough satyrs and "fauns with cloven heel." Where there is leisure for fiction there is little grief.
amination. Surely no man could have fancied that he read "Lycidas" with pleasure, had he not known the author.
Of the two pieces, "L'Allegro" and "Il Peuseroso," I believe opinion is uniform; every man that reads them, reads them with pleasure. The Author's design is not, what Theobald has remarked, merely to show how objects derive their colours from the mind, by representing the ope ration of the same things upon the gay and the melancholy temper, or upon the same man as he is differently disposed: but rather how, among the successive variety of appearances, every disposition of mind takes hold on those by which it may be gratified.
The cheerful man hears the lark in the morn ing; the pensive man hears the nightingale in the evening. The cheerful man sees the cock strut, and hears the horn and hounds echo in the wood; then walks, not unseen, to observe the glory of the rising sun, or listen to the singing milk-maid, and view the labours of the plough. man and the mower; then casts his eyes about him over scenes of smiling plenty, and looks up to the distant tower, the residence of some fair inhabitant; thus he pursues real gayety through a day of labour or of play, and delights himself at night with the fanciful narratives of superstitious ignorance.
In this poem there is no nature, for there is no truth; there is no art, for there is nothing new. Its form is that of a pastoral; easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting; whatever images it can supply are long ago exhausted; and its in- The pensive man, at one time, walks unseen herent improbability always forces dissatisfac- to muse at midnight; and at another hears the tion on the mind. When Cowley tells of Her-sullen curfew. If the weather drives him home, vey, that they studied together, it is easy to he sits in a room lighted only by glowing embers; suppose how much he must miss the companion or by a lonely lamp outwatches the north star, of his labours, and the partner of his discoveries; to discover the habitation of separate souls, and but what image of tenderness can be excited by varies the shade of his meditation, by contemthese lines? plating the magnificent or pathetic scenes of tragic and epic poetry. When the morning comes, a morning gloomy with rain and wind, he walks into the dark trackless woods,* falls asleep by some murmuring water, and with melancholy enthusiasm expects some dream of prog alle-nostication, or some music played by aerial performers
"We drove a field, and both together heard
What time the gray fly winds her sultry horn, Bauening our flocks with the fresh dews of night."
We know that they never drove a field, and that they had no flocks to batten; and though it be allowed that the representation may be gorical, the true meaning is so uncertain and remote, that it is never sought, because it cannot be known when it is found.
Both Mirth and Melancholy are solitary, silent inhabitants of the breast, that neither receive nor transmit communication: no mention is therefore made of a philosophical friend, or a pleasant companion. The seriousness does not arise from any participation of calamity, nor the gayety from the pleasures of the bottle.
Among the flocks, and copses, and flowers, appear the heathen deities; Jove and Phoebus, Neptune and Eolus, with a long train of my thological imagery, such as a college easily supplies. Nothing can less display knowledge, or less exercise invention, than to tell how a shepherd has lost his companion, and must now feed his flocks alone, without any judge of his skill in piping; and how one god asks another god what has become of Lycidas, and how nei-a ther god can tell. He who thus grieves will excite no sympathy; he who thus praises will confer no bonour.
This poem has yet a grosser fault. With these trifling fictions are mingled the most awful and sacred truths, such as ought never to be polluted with such irreverent combinations. The shepherd likewise is now a feeder of sheep, and afterwards an ecclesiastical pastor, a superintendent of a Christian flock. Such equivocations are always unskilful; but here they are indecent, and at least approach to impiety, of which, however, I believe the writer not to have been conscious.
Such is the power of reputation justly acquired, that its blaze drives away the eye from nice ex
The man of cheerfulness, having exhausted the country, tries what towered cities will afford, and mingles with scenes of splendour, gay as semblies, and nuptial festivities; but he mingles mere spectator, as, when the learned comedies of Jonson, or the wild dramas of Shakspeare, are exhibited, he attends the theatre.
The pensive man never loses himself in crowds, but walks the cloister, or frequents the cathedral. Milton probably had not yet forsaken the church.
Both his characters delight in music; but he seems to think that cheerful notes would have obtained from Pluto a complete dismission of Eurydice, of whom solemn sounds only procured a conditional release.
Here, as Wharton justly observes, Johnson "has confounded his description." The melancholy man does not go out while it rains, but waits till the sun begins to fling His faming beams.
For the old age of Cheerfulness he makes no | are so general, that they excite no distinct ima provision; but Melancholy he conducts with ges of corrupt enjoyment, and take no dangerous great dignity to the close of life. His cheerful- hold on the fancy. ness is without levity, and his pensiveness without asperity.
Through these two poems the images are properly selected and nicely distinguished; but the colours of the diction seem not sufficiently discriminated. I know not whether characters are kept sufficiently apart. No mirth can, indeed, be found in his melancholy; but I am afraid that I always meet some melancholy in his mirth. They are two noble efforts of imagination.*
The greatest of his juvenile performances is the mask of "Comus," in which may very plainly be discovered the dawn or twilight of "Paradise Lost." Milton appears to have formed very early that system of diction, and mode of verse, which his maturer judgment approved, and from which he never endeavoured nor desired to deviate.
Nor does "Comus" afford only a specimen of his language; it exhibits likewise his power of description and his vigour of sentiment, employed in the praise and defence of virtue. A work more truly poetical is rarely found; allusions, images, and descriptive epithets, embellish almost every period with lavish decoration. As a series of lines, therefore, it may be considered as worthy of all the admiration with which the votaries have received it.
As a drama it is deficient. The action is not probable. A mask, in those parts where supernatural intervention is admitted, must indeed be given up to all the freaks of imagination; but, so far as the action is merely human, it ought to be reasonable, which can hardly be said of the conduct of the two brothers; who, when their sister sinks with fatigue in a pathless wilderness, wander both away together in search of berries too far to find their way back, and leave a helpless lady to all the sadness and danger of solitude. This, however, is a defect overbalanced by its convenience.
What deserves more reprehension is, that the prologue spoken in the wild wood by the attendant Spirit is addressed to the audience; a mode of communication so contrary to the nature of dramatic representation, that no precedents can support it.
The following soliloquies of Comus and the Lady are elegant, but tedious. The song must owe much to the voice if it ever can delight. At last the brothers enter with too much tranquillity; and when they have feared lest their sister should be in danger, and hoped that she is not in danger, the elder makes a speech in praise of chastity, and the younger finds how fine it is to be a philosopher.
Then descends the Spirit in form of a shepherd; and the brother, instead of being in haste to ask his help, praises his singing, and inquires his business in that place. It is remarkable, that at this interview the brother is taken with a short fit of rhyming. The Spirit relates that the Lady is in the power of Comus; the brother moralizes again; and the Spirit makes a long narration, of no use, because it is false, and therefore unsuitable to a good being.
In all these parts the language is poetical, and the sentiments are generous; but there is something wanting to allure attention.
The dispute between the Lady and Comus is the most animated and affecting scene of the drama, and wants nothing but a brisker reciprocation of objections and replies to invite attention and detain it.
The songs are vigorous and full of imagery; but they are harsh in their diction, and not very musical in their numbers.
Throughout the whole the figures are too bold, and the language too luxuriant for dialogue. It is a drama in the epic style, inelegantly splendid, and tediously instructive.
The Sonnets were written in different parts of Milton's life, upon different occasions. They deserve not any particular criticism; for of the best it can only be said, that they are not bad; and perhaps only the eighth and the twentyfirst are truly entitled to this slender commendation. The fabric of a sonnet, however adapted to the Italian language, has never succeeded in ours, which, having greater variety of termination, requires the rhymes to be often changed.
Those little pieces may be despatched without much anxiety; a greater work calls for greater care. I am now to examine "Paradise Lost;" a poem, which, considered with respect to design, may claim the first place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind.
The discourse of the Spirit is too long; an objection that may be made to almost all the following speeches; they have not the sprightliness of a dialogue animated by reciprocal contention, By the general consent of critics, the first butem rather declamations deliberately com- praise of genius is due to the writer of an epic pos d, and formally repeated on a moral ques-poem, as it requires an assemblage of all the tion. The auditor therefore listens as to a lec-powers which are singly sufficient for other comture, without passion, without anxiety.
The song of Comus has airiness and jollity; but, what may recommend Milton's morals as well as his poetry, the invitations to pleasure
Mr. Warton intimates (and there can be little doubt of the truth of his conjecture) that Milton borrowed many of the images in these two fine poems from "Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy," a book published in 1621, and at sundry times since, abounding in learning, curious information, and pleasantry. Mr. Warton says, that Milton appears to have been an attentive reader thereof; and to this assertion I add, of my own knowledge, that it was a book that Dr Johnson frequently resorted to, as many others have done, for amusement after the fatigue of study.-H.
positions. Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason. Epic poetry undertakes to teach the most important truths by the most pleasing precepts, and therefore relates some great event in the most affecting manner. History must supply the writer with the rudiments of narration, which he must improve and exalt by a nobler art, must animate by dramatic energy, and diversify by retrospection and anticipation; morality must teach him the exact bounds and different shades of vice and virtue; from policy, and the practice of life, he has to learn the discriminations of character, and the tendency of the passions, either
single or combined; and physiology must supply him with illustrations and images. To put these materials to poetical use, is required an imagination capable of painting nature, and realizing fiction. Nor is he yet a poet till he has attained the whole extension of his language, distinguished all the delicacies of phrase, and all the colours of words, and learned to adjust their different sounds to all the varieties of metrical
Bossu is of opinion, that the poet's first work is to find a moral, which his fable is afterwards to illustrate and establish. This seems to have been the process only of Milton; the moral of other poems is incidental and consequent; in Milton's only it is essential and intrinsic. His purpose was the most useful and the most arduous; "to vindicate the ways of God to man to show the reasonableness of religion, and the necessity of obedience to the Divine law.
and of man; of angels good and evil; of man in his innocent and sinful state.
Among the angels, the virtue of Raphael is mild and placid, of easy condescension and free communication; that of Michael is regal and lofty, and, as may seem, attentive to the dignity of his own nature. Abdiel and Gabriel appear occasionally, and act as every incident requires; the solitary fidelity of Abdiel is very amiably pamted.
Of the evil angels the characters are more diversified. To Satan, as Addison observes, such sentiments are given as suit "the most exalted and most depraved being." Milton has been censured by Clarke* for the impiety which sometimes breaks from Satan's mouth; for there are thoughts, as he justly remarks, which no ob;"servation of character can justify, because no good man would willingly permit them to pass, however transiently, through his own mind. To make Satan speak as a rebel, without any such expressions as might taint the reader's imagination, was indeed one of the great difficulties in Milton's undertaking; and I cannot but think that he has extricated himself with great happiness. There is in Satan's speeches little that can give pain to a pious ear. The language of rebellion cannot be the same with that of obedience. The malignity of Satan foams in haughtiness and obstinacy: but his expressions are commonly general, and no otherwise offensive than as they are wicked.
To convey this moral there must be a fable, a narration artfully constructed, so as to excite curiosity, and surprise expectation. In this part of his work, Milton must be confessed to have equalled every other poet. He has involved in his account of the fall of man the events which preceded, and those that were to follow it; he has interwoven the whole system of theology with such propriety, that every part appears to be necessary; and scarcely any recital is wished shorter for the sake of quickening the progress of the main action.
The subject of an epic poem is naturally an event of great importance. That of Milton is not the destruction of a city, the conduct of a colony, or the foundation of an empire. His subject is the fate of worlds, the revolutions of heaven and of earth; rebellion against the supreme King, raised by the highest order of created beings, the overthrow of their host, and the punishment of their crime; the creation of a new race of reasonable creatures, their original happiness and innocence, their forfeiture of immortality, and their restoration to hope and peace. Great events can be hastened or retarded only by persons of elevated dignity. Before the greatness displayed in Milton's poem, all other greatness shrinks away. The weakest of his agents are the highest and noblest of human beings, the original parents of mankind; with whose actions the elements consented; on whose rectitude, or deviation of will, depended the state of terrestrial nature, and the condition of all the future inhabitants of the globe.
Of the other agents in the poem, the chief are such as it is irreverence to name on slight occasions. The rest were lower powers;
of which the least could wield
powers, which only the control of Omnipotence restrains from laying creation waste, and filling the vast expanse of space with ruin and confusion. To display the motives and actions of beings thus superior, so far as human reason can examine them, or human imagination represent them, is the task which this mighty Poet has undertaken and performed.
The other chief's of the celestial rebellion are very judiciously discriminated in the first and second books; and the ferocious character of Moloch appears both in the battle and the council, with exact consistency.
To Adam and to Eve are given during their innocence, such sentiments as innocence can generate and utter. Their love is pure benevolence and mutual veneration; their repasts are without luxury, and their diligence without toil. Their addresses to their Maker have little more than the voice of admiration and gratitude. Fruition left them, nothing to ask; and innocence left them nothing to fear.
But with guilt enter distrust and discord, mutual accusation, and stubborn self-defence; they regard each other with alienated minds, and dread their Creator as the avenger of their transgression. At last they seek shelter in his mercy, soften to repentance, and melt in supplication. Both before and after the fall, the superiority of Adam is diligently sustained.
Of the probable and the marvellous, two parts of a vulgar epic poem, which immerge the critic in deep consideration, the "Paradise Lost" requires little to be said. It contains the history of a miracle, of creation and redemption; it dis plays the power and the mercy of the Supreme Being: the probable therefore is marvellous, and the marvellous is probable. The substance of the narrative is truth; and, as truth allows no choice, it is like necessity, superior to rule. To the accidental or adventitious parts, as to every thing human, some slight exceptions may be made; but the main fabric is immoveably supported.
In the examination of epic poems, much specu- It is justly remarked by Addison, that this lation is commonly employed upon the charac-poem has, by the nature of its subject, the ad
The characters in the "Paradise Lost" gden of examination, are those of angels
Awth of the Es-ay on Study."-Dr. L
vantage above all others, that it is universally and perpetually interesting. All mankind will, through all ages, bear the same relation to Adam and Eve, and must partake of that good and evil which extend to themselves.
Of the machinery, so called from ecs and unxavis, by which is meant the occasional interposition of supernatural power, another fertile topic of critical remarks, here is no room to speak, because every thing is done under the immediate and visible direction of Heaven; but the rule is so far observed, that no part of the action could have been accomplished by any other
Of episodes, I think there are only two, contained in Raphael's relation of the war in heaven, and Michael's prophetic account of the changes to happen in this world. Both are closely connected with the great action; one was necessary to Adam as a warning, the other as a consolation.
To the completeness or integrity of the design, nothing can be objected; it has distinctly and clearly what Aristotle requires-a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is perhaps no poem, of the same length, from which so little can be taken without apparent mutilation. Here are no funeral games, nor is there any long description of a shield. The short digressions at the beginning of the third, seventh, and ninth books, might doubtless be spared; but superfluities so beautiful who would take away? or who does not wish that the author of the "Iliad" had gratified succeeding ages with a little knowledge of himself? Perhaps no passages are more frequently or more attentively read than those extrinsic paragraphs; and, since the end of poetry is pleasure, that cannot be unpoetical with which all are pleased.
The questions, whether the action of the poem be strictly one, whether the poem can be properly termed heroic, and who is the hero, are raised by such readers as draw their principles of judgment rather from books than from reason. Milton, though he entitled "Paradise Lost" only a poem, yet calls it himself heroic song. Dryden petulantly and indecently denies the heroism of Adam, because he was overcome: but there is no reason why the hero should not be unfortunate, except established practice, since success and virtue do not go necessarily together. Cato is the hero of Lucan; but Lucan's authority will not be suffered by Quintilian to decide, However, if success be necessary, Adam's deceiver was at last crushed; Adam was restored to his Maker's favour, and therefore may securely resume his human rank.
After the scheme and fabric of the poem, must be considered its component parts, the sentiments and the diction.
The sentiments, as expressive of manners, or appropriated to characters, are, for the greater part, unexceptionably just.
Splendid passages, containing lessons of morality, or precepts of prudence, occur seldom. Such is the original formation of this poem, that, as it admits no human manners till the fall, it can give little assistance to human conduct. Its end is to raise the thoughts above sublunary cares or pleasures. Yet the praise of that fortitude, with which Abdiel maintained his singularity of virtue against the scorn of multitudes,
may be accommodated to all times; and Raphael's reproof of Adam's curiosity after the planetary motions, with the answer returned by Adam, may be confidently opposed to any rule of life which any poet has delivered.
The thoughts which are occasionally called forth in the progress, are such as could only be produced by an imagination in the highest degree fervid and active, to which materials were supplied by incessant study and unlimited curiosity. The heat of Milton's mind may be said to sublimate his learning, to throw off into his work the spirit of science, unmingled with its grosser parts.
He had considered creation in its whole extent, and his descriptions are therefore learned. He had accustomed his imagination to unrestrained indulgence, and his conceptions therefore were extensive. The characteristic quality" of his poem is sublimity. He sometimes descends to the elegant, but his element is the great. He can occasionally invest himself with grace; but his natural port is gigantic loftiness.* He can please when pleasure is required; but it is his peculiar power to astonish.
He seems to have been well acquainted with his own genius, and to know what it was that Nature had bestowed upon him more bountifully than upon others; the power of displaying the vast, illuminating the splendid, enforcing the awful, darkening the gloomy, and aggravating the dreadful; he therefore chose a subject on which too much could not be said, on which he might tire his fancy without the censure of ex travagance.
The appearances of nature, and the occurrences of life, did not satiate his appetite of greatness. To paint things as they are, requires a minute attention, and employs the memory rather than the fancy. Milton's delight was to sport in the wide regions of possibility; reality was a scene too narrow for his mind. He sent his faculties out upon discovery, into worlds where only imagination can travel, and delighted to form new modes of existence, and furnish sentiment and action to superior beings; to trace the counsels of hell, or accompany the choirs of heaven.
But he could not be always in other worlds he must sometimes revisit earth, and tell of things visible and known. When he cannot raise wonder by the sublimity of his mind, he gives delight by its fertility.
Whatever be his subject, he never fails to fill the imagination; but his images and descriptions of the scenes or operations of Nature do not seem to be always copied from original form, nor to have the freshness, raciness, and energy of immediate observation. He saw Nature, as Dryden expresses it, "through the spectacles of books; and on most occasions calls learning to his assistance. The garden of Eden brings to his mind the vale of Enna, where Proserpine was gathering flowers. Satan makes his way through fighting elements, like Argo between the Cyanean rocks; or Ulysses, between the two Sicilian whirlpools, when he shunned Charybdis on the larboard. The mythological allusions have been justly censured, as not being always
* Algarotti terms it gigontesca sublimita Miltoniana, Dr. J.