صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

molished the images in cathedrals have not proper to supernatural agents. We feel that always been able to demolish those which were we could talk with his ghosts and demons, enshrined in their minds. It would not be diffi- without any emotions of unearthly awe. We cult to show, that in politics the same rule could, like Don Juan, ask them to supper, and holds good. Doctrines, we are afraid, must eat heartily in their company His angels are generally be embodied before they can excite good men with wings. His devils are spiteful, strong public feeling. The multitude is more ugly executioners. His dead men are merely easily interested for the most unmeaning badge, living men in strange situations. The scene or the most insignificant name, than for the which passes between the poet and Facinata most important principle.

is justly celebrated. Still, Facinata in the From these considerations, we infer, that no burning tomb is exactly what Facinata would poet who should affect that metaphysical accu- have been at an auto da . Nothing can be racy for the want of which Milton has been more touching than the first interview of Dante blamed, would escape a disgraceful failure. and Beatrice. Yet what is it, but a lovely woStill, however, there was another extreme, man chiding, with sweet austere composure, which, though far less dangerous, was also to the lover for whese affections she is grateful, be avoided. The imaginations of men are in but whose vices she reprobates? The feelings a great measure under the control of their which give the passage its charm would suit opinions. The most exquisite art of a poetical the streets of Florence, as well as the summit colouring can produce no illusion when it is of the Mount of Purgatory. employed to represent that which is at once The Spirits of Milion are unlike those of perceived to be incongruous and absurd. Mil. almost all other writers. His fiends, in partiton wrote in an age of philosophers and theo- cular, are wonderful creations. They are not logians. It was necessary therefore for him to metaphysical abstractions. They are not abstain from giving such a shock to their un- wicked men. They are not ugly beasts. They derstandings, as might break the charm which have no horns, no tails, none of the fee-faw. it was his object to throw over their imagina- fum of Tasso and Klopstock. They have just tions. This is the real explanation of the enough in common with human nature to be indistinctness and inconsistency with which intelligible to human beings. Their characters he has often been reproached. Dr. Johnson are, like their forms, marked by a certain dim acknowledges, that it was absolutely neces. resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated sary for him to clothe his spirits with ma- to gigantic dimensions and veiled in mysteterial forms. “But,” says he, "he should rious gloom. have secured the consistency of his system, Perhaps the gods and demons of Æschylus by keeping immateriality out of sight, and se- may best bear a comparison with the angels ducing the reader to drop it from his thoughts." and devils of Milton. The style of the AtheThis is easily said ; but what if he could not nian had, as we have remarked, something of seduce the reader to drop it from his thoughts ? the vagueness and tenor of the Oriental chaWhat if the contrary opinion had taken so full racter; and the same peculiarity may be traced a possession of the minds of men, as to leave in his mythology. It has nothing of the ameno room even for the quasi-belief which poetry nity and elegance which we generally find in requires ? Such we suspect to have been the the superstitions of Greece. All is rugged, case. It was impossible for the poet to adopt barbaric, and colossal. His legends seem to altogether the material or the immaterial sys- harinonize less with the fragrant groves and tem. He therefore took his stand on the graceful porticos, in which his countrymen debatable ground. He left the whole in am- paid their vows to the God of Light and Godbiguity. He has doubtless by so doing laid dess of Desire, than with those huge and grohimself open to the charge of inconsistency. tesque labyrinths of eternal granite, in which But, though philosophically in the wrong, we Egypt enshrined her mystic Osiris, or in which cannot but believe that he was poetically in Hindostan still bows down to her seven-headed the right. This task, which almost any other idols. His favourite gods are those of the writer would have found impracticable, was elder generations,—the sons of heaven and easy to him. The peculiar art which he pos- earth, compared with whom Jupiter himself sessed of communicating his meaning circuit was a stripling and an upstart,—the gigantic ously, through a long succession of associated Titans and the inexorable Furies. Foremost ideas, and of intimating more than he ex- among his creations of this class stands Propressed, enabled him to disguise those incon- metheus, half fiend, half redeemer, the friend gruities which he could not avoid.

of man, the sullen and implacable enemy of Poetry, which relates to the beings of another heaven. He bears undoubtedly a considerable world, ought to be at once mysterious and resemblance to the Satan of Milion. In both picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of we find the same impatience of control, the Dante is picturesque, indeed, beyond any that same ferocity, the same unconquerable pride. was ever written. " Its effect approaches to that In both characters also are mingled, though in produced by the pencil or the chisel. But it is very different proportions, some kind and picturesque to the exclusion of all mystery. generous feelings. Prometheus, however, is This is a fault indeed on the right side, a fault hardly superhuman enough. He talks too inseparable from the plan of his poem, which, much of his chains and his uneasy posture. as we have already observed, rendered the ut. He is rather too much depressed and agitated. most accuracy of description necessary. Still His resolation seeins to depend on the knowit is a fault. His supernatural agents excite ledge which he possesses, that he holds the fate av interest; but it is not the interest which is of his torturer in his hands, and that the hour

of his release will surely come. But Satan is forth their blood on scaffolds. That hateful a creature of another sphere. The might of proscription, facetiously termed the Act of In, his intellectual nature is victorious over the ex- demnity and Oblivion, had set a mark on the tremity of pain. Amidst agonies which cannot poor, blind, deserted poet, and held him up by be conceived without horror, he deliberates, name to the hatred of a profligate court and resolves, and even exults. Against the sword an inconstant people! Venal and licentious of Michael, against the thunder of Jehovah, scribblers, with just sufficient talent to clothe against the flaming lake and the marl burning the thoughts of a pander in the style of a bello with solid fire, against the prospect of an eter- man, were now the favourite writers of the nity of unintermittent misery, his spirit bears sovereign and the public. It was a loathsome up unbroken, resting on its own innate ener. herd—which could be compared to nothing so gies, requiring no support from any thing ex- fitly as to the rabble of Comus, grotesque mon. ternal, nor even from hope itself!

sters, half bestial, half human, dropping with To return for a moment to the parallel which wine, bloated with gluttony, and reeling in obwe have been attempting to draw between Mil- scene dances. Amidst these his Muse was ton and Dante, we would add, that the poetry placed, like the chaste lady of the Masque, of these great men has in a considerable degree lofty, spotless, and serene-to be chatted at, taken its character from their moral qualities. and pointed at, and grinned at, by the whole They are not egotists. They rarely obtrude rabble of Satyrs and Goblins. If ever despond. their idiosyncrasies on their readers. They ency and asperity could be excused in any have nothing in common with those modern man, it might have been excused in Milton. beggars for fame, who extort a pittance from But the strength of his mind overcame every the compassion of the inexperienced, by ex- calamity. Neither blindness, nor gout, nor posing the nakedness and sores of their minds. age, nor penury, nor domestic afflictions, nor Yet it would be difficult to name two writers political disappointments, nor abuse, nor prowhose works have been more completely, scription, nor neglect, had power to disturb though undesignedly, coloured by their per- his sedate and majestic patience. His spirits sonal feelings.

do not seem to have been high, but they were The character of Milton was peculiarly dis- singularly equable. His temper was serious, unguished by loftiness of thought; that of perhaps stern; but it was a temper which no Dante by intensity of feeling. In every line sufferings could render sullen or fretful. Such of the Divine Comedy we discern the asperity as it was, when, on the eve of great events, he which is produced by pride struggling with returned from his travels, in the prime of health misery. There is perhaps no work in the and manly beauty, loaded with literary distincworld so deeply and uniformly

, sorrowful. The tions and glowing with patriotic hopes, such melancholy of Dante was no fantastic caprice. it continued to be when, after having experiIt was not, as far as at this distance of time enced every calamity which is incident to our can be judged, the effect of external circum- nature, old, poor, sightless, and disgraced, he stances. It was from within. Neither love retired to his hovel to die! nor glory, neither the conflicts of the earth nor Hence it was, that though he wrote the the hope of heaven could dispel it. It twined Paradise Lost at a time of life when images every consolation and every pleasure into its of beauty and tenderness are in general beown nature. It resembled that noxious Sardi- ginning to fade, even from those minds in nian soil of which the intense bitterness is said which they have not been effaced by anxiety to have been perceptible even in its honey. and disappointment, he adorned it with all His mind was, in the noble language of the He that is most lovely and delightful in the phy, brew poet, "a land of darkness, as darkness sical and in the moral world. Neither Theoitself, and where the light was as darkness !" critus nor Ariosto had a finer or a more healthThe gloom of his character discolours all the ful sense of the pleasantness of external passions of men and all the face of nature, objects, or loved better to luxuriate amidst and tinges with its own livid hue the flowers sunbeams and flowers, the songs of nightinof Paradise and the glories of the Eternal gales, the juice of summer fruits, and the Throne! All the portraits of him are singu- coolness of shady fountains. His conception larly characteristic. No person can look on of love unites all the voluptuousness of the the features, noble even to ruggedness, the Oriental harem, and all the gallantry of the dark furrows of the cheek, the haggard and chivalric tournament, with all the pure and woful stare of the eye, the sullen and contemp- quiet affection of an English fireside. His tuous curve of the lip, and doubt that they be- poetry reminds us of the miracles of Alpine longed to a man too proud and too sensitive to scenery. Nooks and dells, beautiful as fairy, be liappy.

land, are embosomed in its most rugged and Milton was, like Dante, a statesman and a gigantic elevations. The roses and myrtles lover; and, like Dante, he had been unfortu- bloom unchilled on the verge of the avalanche. nate in ambition and in love. He had sur- Traces, indeed, of the peculiar character of vived his health and his sight, the comforts of Milton may be found in all his works; but it his home and the prosperity of his party. Of is most strongly displayed in the Sonnets. the great men, by whom he had been distin- Those remarkable poems have been underguished at his entrance into life, some had valued by critics, who have not understood been taken away from the evil to come; some their nature. They have no epigrammatic had carried into foreign climates their un point. There is none of the ingenuity of Fili conquerable hatred of oppression; some were caji in the thought, none of the hard and bril. pining in dungeons; and some had poured liant-enamel of Petrarch in the style. They

VOL. I.-2

are simple but majestic records of the feelings ( is good; but it breaks off at the most interest of the poet; as little tricked out for the public ing crisis of the struggle. The performance eye as his diary would have been. A victory, of Ludlow is very foolish and violent; and an expected ariack upon the city, a momentary most of the later writers who have espoused fit of depression or exultation, a jest thrown the same cause, Oldmixon, for instance, and out against one of his books, a dream, which Catherine Macaulay, have, to say the least. for a short time restored to him that beautiful been more distinguished by zeal than either face over which the grave had closed forever, by candour or by skill. On the other side are led him to musings which, without effort, the most authoritative and the most popular shaped themselves into verse. The unity of historical works in our language, that of Clasentiment and severity of style, which charac- rendon, and that of Hume. The former is not terize these little pieces, remind us of the only ably written and full of valuable informaGreek Anthology; or perhaps still more of the tion, but has also an air of dignity and sinCollects of the English Liturgy—the noble cerity which makes even the prejudices and poem on the Massacres of Piedmont is strictly errors with which it abounds respectable. a collect in verse.

Hume, from whose fascinating narrative the The Sonnets are more or less striking, ac- great mass of the reading public are still con. cording as the occasions which gave birth to lented to take their opinions, hated religion so them are more or less interesting. But they much, that he hated liberty for having been are, almost without exception, dignified by a allied with religion-and has pleaded the cause sobriety and greatness of mind to which we of tyranny with the dexterity of an advocate, know not where to look for a parallel. It would while affecting the impartiality of a judge. indeed be scarcely safe to draw any decided The public conduci of Milton must be apinferences, as to the character of a writer, proved or condemned, according as the resist from passages directly egotistical. But the ance of the people to Charles I. shall appear qualities which we have ascribed to Milton, to be justifiable or criminal. We shall therethough perhaps most strongly marked in those fore make no apology for dedicating a few parts of his works which treat of his personal pages to the discussion of that interesting feelings, are distinguishable in every page, and and most important question. We shall not impart to all his writings, prose and poetry, argue it on general grounds, we shall not recur English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family to those primary principles from which the fikeness.

claim of any government to the obedience of His public conduct was such as was to be its subjects is to be deduced; it is a vantage. expected from a man of a spirit so high, and ground to which we are entitled; but we will an intellect su powerful. He lived at one of relinquish it. We are, on this point, so confi. the most memorable eras in the history of man- dent of superiority, that we have no objection bind; at the very crisis of the great conflict to imitate the ostentatious generosity of those netween Oromasdes and Arimanes—liberty ancient knights, who vowed to joust without and despotism, reason and prejudice. That helmet or shield against all enemies, and to great battle was fought for no single genera- give their antagonist the advantage of sun and tion, for no single land. The destinies of the wind. We will take the naked, constitutional human race were staked on the same cast question. We confidently afirm, that every with the freedom of the English people. Then reason, which can be urged in favour of the were first proclaimed those mighty principles, Revolution of 1688, may be urged with at least which have since worked their way into the equal force in favour of what is called the depths of the American forests, which have great rebellion. roused Greece from the slavery and degrada- In one respect only, we think, can the tion of two thousand years, and which, from warmest admirers of Charles venture to say one end of Europe to the other, have kindled that he was a better sovereign than his son. an unquenchable fire in the hearts of the op. He was not, in name and profession, a papist; pressed, and loosed the knees of the oppressors we say in name and profession, because both with a strange and unwonted fear!

Charles himself and his miserable creature, Of those principles, then struggling for their Laud, while they abjured the innocent badges infant existence, Milton was the most devoted of popery, retained all its worst vices, a com. and eloquent literary champion. We need plete subjection of reason to authority, a weak not say how much we admire his public con- preference of form to substance, a childish duch. But we cannot disguise from ourselves, passion for mummeries, an idolatrous venerathat a large portion of his countrymen still tion for the priestly character, and, above all, a think it unjustifiable. The civil war, indeed, stupid and ferocious intolerance. This, howhas been more discussed, and is less under-ever, we waive. We will concede that Charles stood, than any event in English history. The was a good protestant; but we say that his Roundheads laboured under the disadvantage protestantism does not make the slightest dis. of which the lion in the fable complained so tinction between his case and that of James. bitterly. Though they were the conquerors, The principles of the Revolution have often their enemies were the painters. As a body, been grossly misrepresented, and never more they had done their utmost to decry and ruin than in the course of the present year. There literature; and literature was even with them, is a certain class of men, who, while they as, in the long run, it always is with its enc- profess to hold in reverence the great names mies. The best book, on their side of the and great actions of former times, never look question, is the charming memoir of Mrs. at them for any other purpose than in order to Hucbinson. May's History of the Parliament find in them some excuse for existing abuses. In every venerable precedent, they pass by catholics from the crown, because they thought what is essential, and take only what is acci- them likely to be tyrants. The ground on dental: they keep out of sight what is benefi- which they, in their famous resolution, decial, and hold up to public imitation all that is clared the throne vacant, was this, “that defective. If, in any part of any great exam- James had broken the fundamental laws of the ple, there be any thing unsound, these flesh-flies kingdom.” Every man, therefore, who apdetect it with an unerring instinct, and dart proves of the Revolution of 1688, must hold upon it with a ravenous delight. They cannot that the breach of fundamental lows on the part of always prevent the advocates of a good mea- the sovereign justifies resistance. The question sure from compassing their end; but they feel, then is this: Had Charles I. broken the fundawith their prototype, that

mental laws of England ?

No person can answer in the negative, un" Their labours must be to pervert that end, And out of good still lo find means of evil.”

less he refuses credit, not merely to all the

accusations brought against Charles by his To the blessings' which England has de- opponents, but to the narratives of the warmest rived from the Revolution these people are royalists, and to the confessions of the king utterly insensible. The expulsion of a tyrant, himself. If there be any historian of any party the solemn recognition of popular rights, who has related the events of that reign, the liberty, security, toleration, all go for nothing conduct of Charles, from his accession to the with them. One sect there was, which, from meeting of the Long Parliament, had been a unfortunate temporary causes, it was thought continued course of oppression and treachery. necessary to keep under close restraint. One Let those who applaud the Revolution and conpart of the empire there was so unhappily cir- demn the rebellion, mention one act of James cumstanced, that at that time its misery was II., to which a parallel is not to be found in the necessary to our happiness, and its slavery to history of his father. Let them lay their finour freedom! These are the parts of the Re- gers on a single article in the Declaration of volution which the politicians of whom we Right, presented by the two Houses to William speak love to contemplate, and which seem to and Mary, which Charles is not acknowledged them, not indeed to vindicate, but in some de- to have violated. He had, according to the gree to palliate the good which it has produced. testimony of his own friends, usurped the Talk to them of Naples, of Spain, or of South functions of the legislature, raised taxes without America. They stand forth, zealots for the the consent of parliament, and quartered doctrine of Divine Right, which has now come troops on the people in the most illegal and back to us, like a thief from transportation, vexatious manner. Not a single session of under the alias of Legitimacy. But mention parliament had passed without some unconstithe miseries of Ireland! Then William is a tional attack on the freedom of debate. The hero. Then Somers and Shrewsbury are great right of petition was grossly violated. Arbi. men. Then the Revolution is a glorious era! trary judgments, exorbitant fines, and unwar. The very same persons, who, in this country, ranted imprisonments, were grievances of daily never omit an opportunity of reviving every and hourly occurrence. If these things do not wretched Jacobite slander respecting the whigs justify resistance, the Revolution was treason ; of that period, hare no sooner crossed St. if they do, the Great Rebellion was laudable. George's channel, than they begin to fill their But, it is said, why not adopt milder meabumpers to the glorious and immortal memory. sures? Why, after the king had consented to They may truly boast that they look not at men so many reforms, and renounced so many opbut measures. So that evil be done, they care pressive prerogatives, did the parliament connot who does it—the arbitrary Charles or the tinue to rise in their demands, at the risk of liberal William, Ferdinand the catholic or provoking a civil war? The ship-money had Frederick the protestant! On such occasions been given up. The star-chamber had beer their deadliest opponents may reckon upon abolished. Provision had been made for the their candid construction. The bold assertions frequent convocation and secure deliberation of these people have of late impressed a large of parliaments. Why not pursue an end conportion of the public with an opinion that fessedly good, by peaceable and regular means? James II. was expelled simply because he was We recur again to the analogy of the Revolua catholic, and that the Revolution was essen- tion. Why was James driven from the throne ! tially a protestant revolution.

Why was he not retained upon conditions ? But this certainly was not the case. Nor He too had offered to call a free parliament, can any person, who has acquired more know and to submit to its decision all the matters in ledge of the history of those times than is to be dispute. Yet we praise our forefathers, who found in Goldsmith's Abridgment, believe that, preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, if James had held his own religious opinions a dynasty of strangers, twenty years of foreign without wishing to make proselytes; or if, and intestine war, a standing army, and a nawishing even to make proselytes, he had con- tional debt, to the rule, however restrictel, of a tented himself with exerting only his constitu- tried and proved tyrant. The Long Parliational influence for that purpose, the Prince of ment acted on the same principle, and is entiOrange would ever have been invited over. tled to the same praise. They could not trust Our ancestors, we suppose, knew their own the king. He had no doubt passed salutary laws. meaning. And, if we may believe them, their But what assurance had they that he would hostility was primarily not to popery, but to not break them? He had renounced opprestyranny. They did not drive out a tyrant be- sive prerogatives. But where was the security cause he was a catholic; but they excluded I that he would not resume them? They had to

deal with a man whom no tie could bind, a man accustomed to hear prayers at six o'clock in who made and broke promises with equal faci- the morning! It is to such considerations as lity, a man whose honour had been a hundred these, together with his Vandyke dress, his umes pawned-and never redeemed.

handsome face, and his peaked beard, that he Here, indeed, the Long Parliament stands owes, we verily believe, most of his popularity on still stronger ground than the Convention with the present generation. of 1688. No action of James can be compared For ourselves, we own that we do not underfor wickedness and impudence to the conduct stand the common phrase—a good man, but a of Charles with respect to the Petition of Right. bad king. We can as easily conceive a good The lords and commons present him with a man and an unnatural father, or a good man bill in which the constitutional limits of his and a treacherous friend. We cannot, in estipower are marked out. He hesicales; he evades; mating the character of an individuai, leave at last he bargains to give his assent, for five out of our consideration his conduct in the subsidies. The bill receives his solemn assent. most important of all human relations. And The subsidies are voted. But no sooner is the if in that relation we find him to have been lyrant relieved, than he returas at once to all selfish, cruel, and deceitful, we shall take the the arbitrary measures which he had bound liberty to call him a bad man, in spite of all himself to abandon, and violates all the his temperance at table, and all his regularity clauses of the very act which he had been at chapel. paid to pass.

We cannot refrain from adding a few words For more than ten years, the people had respecting a topic on which the defenders of seen the rights, which were theirs by a double Charles are fond of dwelling. If, they say, he claim, by immemorial inheritance and by re- governed his people ill, he at least governed cent purchase, infringed by the persidious king them after the example of his predecessors. If who had recognised them. At length circum- he violated their privileges, it was because those stances compelled Charles to summon another privileges had not been accurately defined. No parliament; another chance was given them act of oppression has ever been imputed to for liberty. Were they to throw it away as him which has not a parallol in the annals of they had thrown away the former ? Were the Tudors. This point Hume has laboured they again to be cozened by le Roi le veut ? with an art which is as discreditable in an hisWere they again to advance their money on torical work as it would be admirable in a pledges, which had been forfeited over and forensic address. The answer is short, clear, over again? Were they to lay a second Peti- and decisive. Charles had assented to the tion of Right at the foot of the throne, to grant Petition of Right. He had renounced the opanother lavish aid in exchange for another un- pressive powers said to have been exercised meaning ceremony, and then take their do- by his predecessors, and he had renounced parture, lill, after ten years' more of fraud and them for money. He was not entitled to set oppression, their prince should again require up his antiquaied claims against his own rea supply, and again repay it with a perjury? cent release. They were compelled to choose whether they These arguments are so obvious that it may would trust a tyrant or conquer him. We think seem superfluous to dwell upon them. But that they chose wisely and nobly.

those who have observed how much the events The advocates of Charles, like the advocates of that time are misrepresented and misunderof other malefactors against whom overwhelm- stood, will not blame us for stating the case ing evidence is produced, generally decline all simply. It is a case of which the simplest controversy about the facts, and content them- statement is the strongest. selves with calling testimony to character. He The enemies of the parliament, indeed, rarehad so many private virtues! And had James ly choose to take issue on the great points of II. no private virtues ? Was even Oliver the question. They content themselves with Cromwell

, his bitterest enemies themselves exposing some of the crimes and follies o being judges, destitute of private virtues ? which public commotions necessarily ga And what, after all, are the virtues ascribed to birth. They bewail the unmerited fate Charles ? A religious zeal, not more sincere Strafford. They execrate the lawless violence ihan that of his son, and fully as weak and of the army. They laugh at the scriptural narrow-minded, and a few of the ordinary names of the preachers. Major-generals fleec. household decencies, which half the tomb- ing their districts; soldiers revelling on the stones in England claim for those who lie be- spoils of a ruined peasantry; upstarts, enrichneath them. A good father! A good husband ! ed by the public plunder, taking possession of --Ample apologies indeed for fifteen years of the hospitable firesides and hereditary trees persecution, tyranny, and falsehood.

of the old gentry; boys smashing the beautiful We charge him with having broken his co- windows of cathedrals; Quakers riding naked ronation oath-and we are told that he kept through the market-place; Fifth-monarchy. his marriage-vow! We accuse him of having men shouting for King Jesus; agitators lecgiven up his people to the merciless inflictions turing from the tops of tubs on the fate of of the inost hot-headed and hard-hearted of Agag ;-all these, they tell us, were the offprelates-and the defence is, that he took his spring of the Great Rebellion. little son on his knee and kissed him! We Be it so. We are not careful to answer in censure him for having violated the articles this matter. These charges, were they infiniteof the Petition of Right, after having, for good ly more important, would not alter our opinion and valuable consideration, promised to ob- of an event, which alone has made us to differ serve them-and we are informed that he was from the slaves who crouch beneath the scep,

« السابقةمتابعة »