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One did feel himself a stranger and pilgrim,—did look wistfully to the far-off heavens,—did wear supernal scorn at times upon his lip, and say, " I do well to be angry even unto death "? —it was the necessity of his nature, and one of the few things which proved him not to be divine.
This wholeness accounts for the multiformity and consecration of his genius. He is, contrary to common opinion, a many-sided man, as perhaps all men of the loftiest genius must be. His works include specimens of the epic, the drama, the pastoral, the ode, the elegy, the sonnet, the masque, the song, the epistle, the satire, the argument, the history, the theological treatise, the grammar, and the dictionary. His versatility and his vastness taken together, astonish you, and make you think of the "mountains leaping like lambs," in the great scriptural figure. Shakspere, Goethe, Scott, and others, in their manifold transformations, seem often to sink their idiosyncracy,—when personating small fools or villains visible only through their villany, they can become small as they; when, in the exercise of their demoniac gift, they enter into swine, they sometimes become swine themselves, and this thorough identification with others is partly a power and partly a weakness and blemish. Another class of writers, such as Johnson, and even Wordsworth, may attempt to change their voice and shift their position, but in vain—their little fishes talk like whales,—their speech bewrayeth them,—they cannot but utter their sturdy Shibboleth, and their efforts to personate others are as abortive as they are clumsy and violent. Milton, on the other hand, may be in this point compared to his own Satan, who, even when transformed into a serpent in Eden, was a splendid one;—
Crested aloft, and carbuncle his eyes;
who, when changed into a cherub, became—
and who, when in hell compelled to resume the serpent shape, it was—
"Still greatest he the midst, Now dragon grown, larger than whom the sun Engender'd in the Pythian vale." Like Atlas, wherever Milton is, the burden of the rolling heavens is on his shoulders.
The consecration of Milton's mind, too, sprang greatly from the large wholeness of his being. It is into fragmentary minds, especially into minds where there is some great deficiency, some gap as hopeless as it is wide,—into minds deficient, like Hume's, in imagination, or like Rousseau's, in common sense, or like Voltaire's, in reverence, or like Shelley's, in balance, that fiendish doubts as to the Divine origin and purpose of the universe are apt to insinuate themselves. Le Sage speaks of one Diable Boiteux, but in reality all the fiends are lame; and it is partly because they are so, that they are fiends. In proportion to the general power of a mind is ever its intense perception of any vital deficiency in itself; and this perception often leads, not to humility, but to that pride and discontent which are the soul of irreligion or Atheism. Those, on the other hand, who approach to entireness of intellect, present in their soul a rounded mirror calculated to reflect fully not only literature and nature, but that near, yet far off, ever present and never visible, One, who filleth immensity,—and such a soul was Milton's. Sometimes troubled but never turbid; sometimes shadowed, but never sullen; sometimes cold, but never frozen; sometimes heated, but never glaring— the broad lake of his genius faithfully gives back the awful countenance of his Father and God.
It is marvellous how thoroughly in Milton the "Consecration" and the " Poet's Dream" are attempered and reconciled. His dreams are always holy dreams, as though he were slumbering with his own angels in the vales of heaven, or at the foot of the
"Flaming Mount whose top Brightness had made invisible." The revel of his fancy is always under severe restraint, and when his genius at times does dance, it is a measured and mystic dance, like that of the seraphim around the sacred hill.
His use of the Pagan Mythology has often been objected to him as inconsistent with his reverence for the true Belief and the Book of God. But he never introduces the heathen gods except as tributaries and captives. His Dagons fall down before Jehovah; he has preserved in his poetry as in a vast museum, not a temple, the images of the fallen deities with the word " idols" labelled on them,—objects not of belief or reverence, but of curiosity or poetic interest.
We have called him elsewhere a belated bard of the Bible. In austere loftiness, thick imagery, holy calm, holier fury, and magnitude of purpose, he bears them a striking resemblance. His differentia—apart from the peculiar inspiration which appertained to them—lies in greater unity and artistic consciousness. There is a cant in the criticism of this day about poetic unity, and certain criticasters have even gone the length of denying that one, however many poetic elements he possesses, can be an absolute poet, without this. That this is absurd, will appear when we remember—1st, that the poems which are really artistic wholes are very few— can, in fact, be counted on one's fingers; when we remember, 2dly, that many noble poems, such as Young's Night Thoughts, Thomson's Seasons, and Bailey's Festus, do not possess unity; and when, to clench this argument, we remember, 3dly, that the highest poetry confessedly ever poured from the deep heart of man—that, namely, of the Hebrews—is fragmentary. What unity is there in the Psalms, or in those other fiery lyrics which are sprinkled through the books of the Old Testament? What band, save the band of individual genius, binds together the glorious minstrelsies of Isaiah, the pathetic strains of Jeremiah, or the mystic dreams of Ezekiel? In Job, indeed, there are a story and a plot; but they are very simple—they display scarcely any art, and the poetic power of the poem is in the gorgeousness of its separate passages. But Milton has striven after unity, and is one of the very few poets who have attained it. And this certainly has added a solid monumental, if also a somewhat artificial, character to his works. The productions of the Bible bards are the "trees of God, full of sap, and planted by his hand," although scattered and single; those of Milton stand up like a cathedral of man's handiwork, built to, not by, God, but forming a shapely and symmetrical whole.
Milton's sublimity has become proverbial. His natural element is the great. He may love the beautiful, but the sublime loves him. He walks at ease on heights "where angels bashful look," and descends, with equal calm and boldness, amidst depths into which other souls dare only timidly peer. How perfectly at home he is in that wondrous hell of his which he has cut out from Chaos, and wrapped in devouring fires; in Chaos itself, through whose wild and worldshaking uproar, " the womb of nature and perhaps her grave," the ship of his genius moves on in triumphant security; on Niphates mount, looking down on half the world, and up to that ardent angel standing in the sun; on the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north, beside the throne and chariot of the Apostate; or over the surge of the primeval deep, as the Spirit is moving its subsiding waters, and the Son is taking the golden compasses from God's eternal store,—or near the Brightness of the Father's glory, as He comes forth with whirlwind noise to chase his hapless enemies over the battlements of heaven! Never for a moment on the giddiest of these giddy heights, or in the sablest of these dark imaginative depths, does he reel, or blench, or tremble, display weakness, or indicate terror. Girt, sandalled, white robed, " in privilege of virtue," he becomes free of the universe, and is safe in hell as an angel of light would be,—can stand on the crystal battlements or in the heart of the sun, with the dignity of a 11 Watcher," and enter the heaven of heavens with the immunity of a "Holy One." The only instance in which he seems to fail, is in the conversations which he records between God and the Son,—but here he was hampered, not so much by the profundity of his reverence for both, as by the uncertainty of his views as to the relation they bore each other. He seems to have ceased being a Trinitarian, but had not fully become an Arian at the time he wrote Paradise Lost; and hence in those parts of the poem an awkwardness of manner— a stiffness of phraseology—a timidity of feeling—an eagerness to confine himself to the ipsissima verba of Scripture, and thus, while his dialogues of devils are most eloquent, varied, and powerful, his dialogues of Deity are exceedingly prosaic and dull.
The sublime element which was in Milton, condensed most fully and culminated in the idea of Satan. As this is probably the grandest character in the whole world of Poetry, it is proper to analyse it at some little length. It seems Milton's intention to represent the "Progress" of a Pilgrim from the Celestial City to that of utter and deepening Destruction, and that he may effect this on a broader scale, he chooses a canvas of unearthly magnitude and identifies his Pilgrim with a fallen Angelic Nature. Like great sculptors, he must work out his thought on colossal materials. He means to give the history of Individual Will, perverted, and placed in deadly antagonism with General Will, that is, with the Will of God; and to this perverted Will he must link a form and person the loftiest and most potent of which the imagination can conceive, a person too, of the reality of whose existence the Bible had informed him. He finds this proud and terrible shape in Satan, the archangel, who, according to Holy Writ, had fallen from heaven, nor had fallen alone, but had carried the third part of its "Stars" along with him. Having accepted the hint and outline from Scripture, he proceeds in accordance with his own idea to fill it up. On Satan he lavishes every power but omnipotence and every gift but goodness. He has might that could wield the elements; fury, that could tear them in sunder; wisdom only less than divine, and the deficiency in which seems supplied by a subtle and far-reaching craft; courage that yields only to fall back into the arms of resolute despair; pride and ambition pointing upwards to the throne of the universe as their goal and prize; fidelity to his followers, and capacity of enduring personal suffering, equalled only by hatred to all that oppose his path, by regret for happiness gone from him, and by savage envy at the happiness enjoyed by others; remorse and revenge, haughtiness and horror, fearlessness and anguished prospect struggling in one tempestuous yet determined breast. This mighty moral anomaly, Milton incarnates in a figure reflecting at once its powers and its mis-proportions, wearing on his brow a celestial crown blasted, and a reflection of heaven's glory obscured, with eyes like sun-smitten tarns, the chiaroscuro