« السابقةمتابعة »
in London accompanying his body, not without a friendly concourse of the vulgar."
In his youth, Milton was remarkable for his beauty of person ; so that at Cambridge he was called “the lady of Christ's College." His eyes were dark gray, but full of animation; and his hair, which was light brown, he wore parted at the top, and clustering, as he describes that of Adam, upon his shoulders. His person was middle size and well proportioned. His habits were those of a severe student, and his temperance was proverbial. In his youth he studied very late at night, but he afterwards corrected this practice, and retiring to bed at the early hour of nine, rose about five. The opening of his day was uniformly consecrated to religion. When he rose, he heard a chapter in the Hebrew Bible read, and then occupied himself till twelve in private meditation, in listening while some author was read to him, or in dictating as some friendly hand supplied him with its pen. At noon commenced his hour of exercise, which was succeeded by his early and frugal dinner; after which he either played on the organ or sang, or heard some one else sing. From music he returned with fresh vigour to study or composition. At six he received the visits of his friends; at eight he supped, and at nine, having drank a glass of water, retired to his repose. Such was the scheme of his daily life.
Dr. Symmons, the learned editor of his prose works, thus concludes his life :-"We have now completed the history of John Milton,--a man in whom were illustriously combined all the qualities that could adorn, or could elevate the nature to which he belonged ;--a man, who at once possessed beauty of countenance, symmetry of form, elegance of manners, benevolence of temper, magnanimity and loftiness of soul, the brightest illumination of intellect, knowledge the most various and extended, virtue that never loitered in her career nor deviated from her course ;--a man, who, if he had been delegated as the representative of his species to one of the superior worlds, would have suggested a grand idea of the human race, as of beings affluent in moral and intellectual treasure-raised and distinguished in the universe, as the favorites and heirs of heaven."
To these, I will add the remarks of Sir Egerton Bryilges, no less beautiful than just :-“He had not only every requisite of the Muse, but every one of the highest order, and in the highest degree. His invention of poetical fable, and poetical imagery, was exhaustless, and always grand, and always consistent with the faith of a cultivated and sensitive mind. Sublimity was his primary and unfailing power. His characters were new, surprising, gigantic, or beautiful; and full of instruction, such as high wisdom sanctioned. His sentiments were lofty, comprehensive, eloquent, consistent, holy, original; and an amalgamation of spirit, religion, intellect, and marvellous learning. His language was his own: sometimes a little rough and unvernacular, but as magnificent as his mind: of pregnant thought; naked in its strength; rich and picturesque, where imagery was required; often exquisitely harmonious where the occasion permitted, but sometimes strong, mighty, and speaking with the voice of thunder."
Lastly, I must quote a few lines from Fletcher's “Introductory Review" to Milton's Prose Works :-“The name of Milton is a synonyme for vastness of attainment, sublimity of conception, and splendour of expression. His poetry is a fountain of living waters in the very heart of civilization. Its tendency is even more magnificent than its composition. Combining all that is lovely in religion, with all that in reason is grand and beautiful, it creates, while it gratifies, and at the same time purifies those tastes and powers that refine and exalt humanity. It is almost of itself, not less by the invigorating nature of its moral than of its intellectual qualities, sufficient to perpetuate the stability of an empire. To use his own words, his poetical writings “are of power to inbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtue and public civility. They will be lost only with our language :--the tide of his song will cease to flow oply with 16
A SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF MILTON.
that of time. But let us never think of Milton as a poet merely: he was a citizen, alive to all that was due from man to man in all the relations of life. He was invested with a power to mould the mind of a nation, and to lead the people into the glorious ways of truth and prosperous virtue. He beheld tyranny and intolerance trampling upon the most sacred prerogatives of God and man, and he was compelled by the nobility of his nature, by the obligations of virtue, by the loud summons of beleaguered truth, in short, by his patriotism as well as his piety, to lay down the lyre, and to adventure within the circle of peril and glory; and buckling on the controversial panoply, he threw it off only when the various works of this volume,* surpassed by none in any sort of eloquence, became the record and trophy of his achievements, and the worthy forerunners of those poems which a whole people will not willingly let die.'”
But there are two points in Milton's character to which none of his biographers have done justice, for this plain reason—they have little sympathy with his sentiments : I mean his Politics and his Religion,t in both of which he was far ahead of his age. His political principles were purely republican, for he believed, and supported with an eloquence, logic, and learning unequalled, that all governments should be for the good of the governed, and should derive their power solely and directly from the people. Believing, also, that all true religion is the communing of the heart with God, he thought that an "established religion" was a contradiction of terms, and contended, with all his powers, that every man should have a perfect right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. As a natural conclusion from this, he maintained what is now called the “voluntary principle,”—the only one that obtains in our country,—that each church or congregation should elect its own pastor, and support him by voluntary contributions. From his youth an opponent to Prelacy, in the latter part of his life he opposed the Presbyterian form of church government, and advocated Independency or.Congregationalism, from conviction of its more scriptural order. He was also ahead of his age in contending for the unlimited freedom of the press; and his great work on that subject is a rich armory, from which many defenders of this cause in later times, have drawn their strongest weapons.
When, therefore, we survey Milton's character in all its parts ;-when we view him as the great champion of civil and religious liberty, who looked so much farther and saw so much deeper than the men of his time ;-and when we contemplate the variety, extent, and accuracy of his learning, the sublimity of bis imagination, the loftiness of his soul;-and, above all, when we see all these bigh intellectual endowments and such deep wisdom united to such moral purity and holiness of character as he possessed,—who can hesitate to place him at THE HEAD OF HIS RACE?I
* His prose works, particularly his controversial.
+ I may except Robert Fletcher, in his admirable "Introductory Review" to Milton's Prose Works; Edwin Paxton Hood, in his excellent little work, entitled, “ John Milton, the Patriot and Poet;" and the writer of the article “ Milton," in the Ency. clopædia Britannica.
| Read Life by Ellwood, Toland, Fenton, Newton, Warton, Symmops, Mitford, and Brydges. Also, an eloquent article in the 420 volume of the Edinburgh Rorio, by Macaulay: and another, of glowing eloquence, in Dr. Channing's works, vol. 1. Coleridge and Hazlitt also have written upon Milton, each with his own peculiar power. Indeed, bardly any distingui-hed English scholar has not felt it a fort of duty as well as privilege, to cast in his mite in praise of this wonderful man.
REMARKS ON BOOK I.
This Book on the whole is so perfect from beginning to end, that it would be difficult to find a single superfluous passage. Milton's poetical style is more serried than any other: rhymed metre leads to empty words, involutions, and circumlocutions; but it is in the thought, still more than in the language, that this closeness is apparent. The matter, the illustrations, and the allusions, are historically, naturally, or philosophically true. The learning is of every extent and diversity ;-recondite, classical, scientific, antiquarian. But the most surprising thing is how he vivifies every topic he touches by poetry: he gives life and picturesqueness to the driest catalogue of buried names, personal or geographical. They who bring no learning, yet feel themselves charmed by sounds and epithets which give a vague pleasure to the mind, and stir up the imagination into an indistinct emotion.
Notwithstanding all that bas been said so copiously about poetical imagination by critics, ancient and modern, I still think that the generality of authors and readers have a very confused idea of it.
It is the power, not only of conceiving, but creating embodied illustrations of abstract truths, which are sublime, or pathetic, or beautiful.
But those ideas, which Milton has embodied, no imagination would have dared to attempt but his own: none else would have risen "to the highth of this great argument.” Every one else would have fallen short of it, and degraded it.
Among the miraculous acquirements of Milton, was his deep and familiar intimacy with all classical and all chivalrous literature,-the amalgamation in his mind of all the philosophy and all the sublime and ornamental literature of the ancients, and all the abstruse, the laborious, the immature learning of those who again drew off the mantle of Time from the ancient treasures of genius, and mingled with them their own crude conceptions and fantastic theories. He extracted from this mine all that would aid the imagination without shocking the reason. He never rejected philosophy ;-but where it was fabulous, only offered it as ornament.
It will not be too much to say, that of all uninspired writings, (if these be uninspired,) Milton's are the most worthy of profound study by all minds which would know the creativeness, the splendour, the learning, the eloquence, the wisdoin, to which the human intellect can reach.
Milton's force and sublimity of fable is especially attested by his frequent concurrence with the hints and language of the Scriptures, and his filling up those dark and mysterious intimations which escaped less illuminated minds. Here, then, imagination took its grandest and most oracular form.
But they, who have degraded and depraved their taste hy vulgar poetry, not only do not rise to the delight of this tone, but have no conception of it. They deem the bard's work to be a concentration of petty spangles of words, like false jewels made of paste by an adroit artisan. Every thing is technical, and they judge only by skill in decoration.
In Milton's language, though there is internal force and splendour, there is outward plainness. Common readers think that it sounds and looks like prose: this is one of its attractions; while all which is stilted, and decorated, and affected, soon fatigues and satiates. To delight the ear and the eye is a mere sensual indulgence ;-true poetry strikes at the soul. After all which has been said of Milton by so many learned and able critics, these remarks may seem superfluous; but I persuade myself that some of the topics of praise here urged have not been duly noticed before. I must here also repeat my conviction, that of all critics, Addison is the most beautiful, eloquent, and just: he enters deep into the fable, the imagery, and the sentiment: most of the other commentators merely busy themselves with the explanation or illustration of the learning.
We are bound to study in what way Milton has exercised his mighty powers of invention and imagination, and what ought to be their purposes, their qualities, and their merits. If any one thinks the imagination to be an idle and empty power, he is as hard and dull as he is ignorant and blind. In the "Paradise Lost” we have demonstrated what a grand and holy imagination can do.
Sir EGERTON BRYDGES.
[The following is from the hand of the poet himself: as it is short, I have given his own orthography,* peculiar in some points.-Ed.)
“The measure is English Heroic Verse, without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; Rime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter; grac't indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets, carried away by Custom, but much to thir own vexation, hindrance, and constraint, to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse then else they would have exprest them. Not without cause, therefore, somo both Italian and Spanish Poets of primo note, have rejected Rime both in longer and shorter Works, as have alsı), long since, our best English Tragedies; as a thing of itself, to all judicious cares, triveal and of no true musical delight; which consists only in apt Numbers, fit quantity of Syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like end. ings, a fault avoided by the learned Ancients both in Poetry and all good Oratory. This neglect then of Rime, so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar readers, that it rather is to be esteem'd an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recover'd to Heroic Poem from the troublesom and inodern bondage of Rimeing."
* From Milton's own edition, as edited by Rev. J. Mitford, and reprinted most accurately and beautifully by Pickering, in eight volumes, 8vn.. Lorio, 1861.
This first book proposes, first in brief, the whole subject, man's dis
obedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise, wherein he was placed. Then touches the prime cause of his fall, the serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent; who, revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of Angels, was by the command of God driven out of heaven with all his crew into the great deep. Which action passed over, the Poem hastes into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his Angels now fallen into hell, described here, not in the centre, for heaven and earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet accursed; but in a place of utter darkness, fitliest called Chaos: Here Satan, with his Angels lying on the burning lake, thunderstruck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity lay by him: they confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded: they rise; their numbers, array of battel, their chief leaders named, according to the idols known afterwards in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech, comforts them with hope yet of regaining heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world and a new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy or report in heaven: for that Angels were long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and wbat to determine thereon, he refers to a full council. What bis associates thence attempt. Pandæmonium, the palace of Satan, rises, suddenly built out of the deep: the infernal Peers there sit in council.
Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
1. Of man's first disobedience. The poet ! means hy which they are brought about here lays before the reader the subject are to be unfolded by degrees, whilst here of the following work-the disobedience he offers to the reader's imagination only of our ancestors to the crmmand of God ' such ideas as are most capable to inspire
the effects of that disobedience which him with reverence and attention. The lost them Paradise; and the hope we are poem bezins with the origin of evil in allowed to entertain, through the Divine i our world, and the disobedience of our Goodness, of being restored to the like ancestors to God--the cause of all our blissful state. Such are the great events WO.--CALLANDER. our poet proposes to celebrate. The ! 4. Till one greater Man. Rom. v. 19.