« السابقةمتابعة »
indeed!! It is needless to linger longer over the travels of this illustrious man: every where homage and respect awaited him. The Marquis Baptista Manso, to whom reference has been made, addressed to him a Latin poem, the translation of which runs thus:—"Did your piety equal your talents, form, countenance, grace, and manners, you were not so much an Englishman, by Hercules! as an angel." The exception in reference to piety, relates to Milton being a Protestant; a zealous Romanist could see no piety out of the borders of his own church. Yet even Romanists did him honour— he was admitted to the library of the Vatican. The Cardinal Barberini did him especial honour: he met him at his own gate, and conducted him into the assembly.
This journey must have been of very great importance to the poet—the man—the citizen. Other countries were presented to him; he saw what courts were like; he beheld man under new aspects: nor was it long before he developed, in some degree, the importance of the brief time to him, between his departure from England and his return. How vast the difference between "Comus11 and the "Areopagitica," between the gentle spray, the flashing, silvery beauty of his "Lycidas," or the " Arcades," and the muscular strength, the electric power of his sonnets. The imagery he beheld must have been of immense service to him in his stupendous and mightiest poem. It is difficult to believe that the same grandlyshaped and massive sublimity of structure of thought could have been grouped in the poem, if other countries had not been seen, and other buildings contemplated, than those afforded to the eye of the resident merely in the English metropolis. It would be easy to select lines and images, and those some of the finest, in the poems, which are evidently portraits and pictures sketched from the vivid memory.— Doubtless, the objects of a poet's wonder and admiration are everywhere: to him there is nothing mean, nothing little; but a mind like Milton's, traversing the Appenines—sailing over Laman—sitting beneath the shadow of Jura—or treading the fairy halls and palaces of the City on the Sea, then only declining from the hoar majesty of her long reign, and still wearing proudly her tiara of towers,— or, amidst the monuments of Rome—Rome of the Caesars—-Rome of the Medici—the Rome of Virgil and of Petrarch. Places like these, to visit, would form an era indeed in the life of a poet already great, and capable of climbing
the highest cliffs of sublimity; and the result of his travels is written in his immortal works. How valuable would be even the experience of eighteen months of observation of such a man, too, in his future situation of Latin secretary to Cromwell. And, indeed, there lay before him, as he looked towards the Mediterranean, a still more precious land—Hellas—Arcadia— the Morea; Homer—Phidias—Demosthenes— Herodotus; real names, indeed, all these to John Milton. Why does he not go on a few months longer, which would be well bestowed in looking over those monuments? His country was struggling for liberty at home; and he could not, therefore, consent to be idle abroad, when his country needed every brave heart to sympathise and struggle for her: when the struggle came, how differently acted Hobbes, the philosopher of despotism and materialism! He set out upon bis travels, and returned not until he could do so without risk. Ah! and how, my friend, would you act in such a case ? and how should I I Well, I suppose, if, like Hobbes, we believed in nothing— if ours was a cold, dead materialistic despotism —like him we should wisely fly; but if, like John Milton, we believed in Truth and Freedom, and that God does defend the right,
and that justice, in the long run, comes round, why, I think we, too, like him, should hasten to take our parts where Duty beckons in the great strife.
The life and writings of Milton cannot be understood and appreciated, without a large acquaintance with the times in which he lived. Milton's life, as a mirror, reflects those times; his mind was certainly not created, but it was moulded by them. His life was something like an epic representation of those great days, the heroic grandeur of which has never been equalled in England before or since; the mind of our patriot poet, absorbed within itself the minds of the great actors around him; there was no greatness which he had not within him. Looking upon him now, he seems to be the image of his age; his mind was cast in a mould originally singularly stern; it was not Saxon, it was not Grecian, in its structure; his birth
place, England; his favourite studies of Grecian lore appeared to be only absorbed into a grand Hebraistic temperament of soul; he rises before us shrouded in the grand habiliments of the ancient prophet; he combines within himself the poet, the prophet, the martyr, and the priest; he is always sublime; this man never stoops to littleness; he traverses perpetually a region of ideas, of lofty imaginations; he assimilates the minds of other men into the healthy temper of his own soul; we feel that he can be not only all that is great in other men—but greater;—Cromwell, Pym, Hampden, Elliot, Vane—there is no great mood of their minds, but we trace it in the mind of Milton—all that appears great, striking, heroic in the men of those days;—we are certain that Milton comprehended all—could have done all.
This great man—this greatest of men— stands in a two-fold light before us: the greatest of poets, if to reach the highest points of sublimity, and majesty of conception, and diction, is to be the greatest; he was yet more than this—he was a great citizen—a great teacher; to him, evidently, it was of more importance to perform well the duties of life, than to mdulge in the raptures and pleasures of poetry. He did not forget the citizen, in the