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rallel. Burke was a statesman—Salmasius, a vain and empty pedagogue: the Revolution of England was a noble rousing of the spirit of a great people to preserve their laws: the Revolution of France was a vehement burst of wild and lawless violence; the unchaining of a people's worst passions in murder and bloodshed. Salmasius, in his attack, employed only vile and scurrilous abuse; Burke adorned his subject with temper, and some of the noblest flights of poetry and eloquence.

CHAPTER XII.

THE SONNETS OF MILTON.

"Milton, madam, was a genius that could cut a Colossus from a rock, but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones." So said Dr. Johnson to Mrs. Hannah More, when the lady expressed her surprise that he who had written "Paradise Lost" should write such poor sonnets. In his Life he says, "They deserve no particular criticism; of the best^it can only be said, they are not bad; and only the eighth

and the twenty-first are truly entitled to this slender commendation." Johnson thought, it appears, little of the sonnet and less of Milton. Neither of his criticisms have been adopted by men of better taste. One could almost believe that Wordsworth's fine sonnet upon "The Sonnet" was a reply to Johnson.

"Scorn not the sonnet, critic ! you have frowned
Mindless of its past honours; with this key
Shakspear unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch's wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camoens soothed an exile's grief;
The sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Fairy land
To struggle through dark rays; and when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains—alas! too few."

Indeed, Wordsworth has for ever set the question of the literary dignity of the English sonnet at rest. This is a walk of Poetry in which he far transcends Milton himself. The sonnets of Wordsworth are so numerous, and breathe tones of such varied softness and majesty, that they have redeemed the character of that mode of composition from the neglect and comparative scorn with which it was treated. Heads have been "carved on cherry-stones," and very beautiful heads too; though it must be admitted that, like some other curious pieces of human art, they need the microscopic glass to discover the wonderful proportions of their beauty. But here, in beautiful verity, we have the heads of weeping Madonnas, and of fiery Apostles,—of Satyrs peeping from the woody ambush, and Nymphs, with the thick clustering hair and speaking eye. There has frequently been felt a difficulty in reading the sonnet; its very ease has made it cumbersome to some minds; and our language is not so pliant and flexible as to tolerate, with good temper, innovations, and more especially, innovations from Italy. It is only the pen of a master that can bend the language to speak thus. The sonnet requires in its composition great fullness of thought and power of diction. Weak voices blow faintly through the best constructed pipes, and the mightiest organ depends for its inspiration upon the organist; but the accomplished player can call" magnificence from insignificance : the one string in his hand shall stir you more effectively, than all the chords of music placed at the command of an indifferent player.

"In his hand The thing became a trumpet."

Wordsworth saw little of the cherry-stone in Milton's sonnets. Shrill and high-sounding they thrill through the souls of those capable of receiving the afflation of the sound. In truth, Johnson's criticism is not to be received at all. The eighth and twenty-first, (so commended,) are really amongst the inferior. Let the reader turn to his edition of Milton, and judge for himself. Sir Egerton Brydges enters at length into the merits of Milton as a sonnetteer; and with his opinions, for the most part, we have a perfect sympathy. No one will claim for him the post of the Prince of sonnet-writers—that place must be awarded to Wordsworth alone. But even in the period at which he wrote, he did not reach the height of the models offered him from Italy. Mellifluousness he has none. His sonnets have a rugged spiritual grandeur : they rely upon some one sentiment for their effect: they have little of the pictorial of imagination: there is none of the pomp of language: a thought has to be uttered, and it must be uttered at once in a condensed lightning-stroke. Profound feeling is certainly the characteristic of them. Reflec

tion for the most part, although one or two are glorious pieces of exalted declamation,—as for instance the magnificent Ode on the " Massacre in Piedmont;"—

"Avenge, oh Lord! thy slaughtered saints, whese bonea Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold."

After all we suspect Johnson's political prejudices again; for most or many of the sonnets have a reference to his political views. Thus he was scarcely likely to relish that to Cromwell, and the closing apostrophe, noble as it is:

"Yet much remains
Te conquer still: Peace hath her victories
No less renowned than War: new foes arise
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains.
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw."

Sonnets are usually the productions of minds loving to revolve their own mental volitions. They are a colloquy with thought, and only used by those capable of intense reflection.— Perhaps it may be said that they have generally been the method by which the mind of genius has flung off" its egotism. It is thus with Shakspear, Dante, Petrarch, Wordsworth: it was so with Milton. The finest allusions to himself are in the sonnets. The mind records

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