« السابقةمتابعة »
no longer waved their joyous leaves to his soft strains: but we cannot here be at a loss for a meaning; a meaning, which is as clearly perceived as it is elegantly represented.-T. WARTON.
The rhymes and numbers, which Dr. Johnson condemns, appear to me as eminent proofs of the poet's judgment; exhibiting, in their varied and arbitrary disposition, an ease and gracefulness, which infinitely exceed the formal couplets or alternate rhymes of modern Elegy. Lamenting also the prejudice which has pronounced "Lycidas" to be vulgar and disgusting, I shall never cease to consider this monody as the sweet effusion of a most poetic and tender mind; entitled, as well by its beautiful melody, as by the frequent grandeur of its sentiments and language, to the utmost enthusiasm of admiration.-TODD.
Whatever stern grandeur Milton's two epics and his drama, written in his latter days, exhibit; by whatever divine invention they are created; "Lycidas" and "Comus” have a fluency, a sweetness, a melody, a youthful freshness, a dewy brightness of description, which those gigantic poems have not. It is true that "Lycidas" has no deep grief; its clouds of sorrow are everywhere pierced by the golden rays of a splendid and joyous imagination: the ingredients are all poetical, even to single words; the epithets are all picturesque and fresh; and the whole are combined into a splendid tissue, as new in their position as they are radiant in their union. The unexpected transitions from one to the other at once surprise and delight: they are like the heavens of an autumnal evening, when they are lighted up by electric flames. The contrasts of sorrow, and hope, and glory, keep us in a state of mingled excitement to the end: the imagery never flags: though it blazes with the most beautiful forms of inanimate nature, and all sorts of pastoral pictures; yet the whole are by some spell or other made intellectual and spiritual: they do not play merely upon the mirror of the fancy.
That prime charm of poetry, the rapidity and the novelty, yet the natural association of beautiful ideas, is preeminently exhibited in "Lycidas," where the sudden transitions to contrasted images and sentiments keep the mind in a state of delightful ferment;
And o'er the cheek of sorrow throw
It strikes me, that there is no poem of Milton, in which the pastoral and rural imagery is so breathing, so brilliant, and so new, as in this: the tone which has most similtude to it, is that of some descriptive passages of Shakspeare, whose simple brightness and modulation of words seem always to have dwelt on Milton's memory and ear.
But though strength was Milton's characteristic, there are many passages, many turns of thought and expression, in this poem, which are not wanting in tenderness, in pathetic recollections, and tearful sighs; in that sort of grief which belongs to true poetry: in grief neither factitious nor gloomy, but genuine, though hopeful; and mingled with rays of light, though melancholy. But I must forbear to say more on this exquisite and inimitable Elegy, lest those remarks should run to an extent disproportioned to its length.-SIR EGERTON BRydges.
L'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO.
WHEN Milton's juvenile poems were revived into notice about the middle of the last century, these two short lyrics became, I think, the most popular. They are very beautiful, but in my opinion far from the best of the poet's youthful productions: they have far less invention than "Comus" or "Lycidas," and surely invention is the primary essential; they have more of fancy than invention, as those two words are in modern use distinguished from each other. Besides, it is clear that they were suggested by the poem prefixed to "Burton's Anatomie of Melancholy," and a song in the "Nice Valour" of Beaumont and Fletcher.
There is here no fable, which is absolutely necessary for prime poetry. The rural descriptions are fresh, forcible, picturesque, and most happily selected; but still many of them seem to me much less original than those of "Lycidas" and "Comus;" and though there is a certain degree of contemplative sentiment in them all, it is not of so passionate or sublime a kind as in those other exquisite pieces, in which there is more of moral instruction and mingled intellect, and, in short, vastly more of spirituality.
The scenery of nature, animate and inanimate, derives its most intense interest from its connection with our moral feelings and duties, and our ideal visions. If I am not mistaken, Gray thought this when he spoke of merely descriptive poems. Gray's own stanza, in his "Fragment on Vicissitude," beginning
Yesterday the sullen year
perhaps the finest stanza in his poems, is a most striking example of this sublime combination.
I say, that these two admired lyrics of Milton have less of this combination than I could wish. They were written in the buoyancy and joyousness of youth, though the joyousness of the latter is pensive. All was yet hope with the poet; none of the evils of life had yet come upon him. It was the joy of mental display and visionary glory, of a mind proudly displaying its own richness, and throwing from its treasures beams of light on all external objects; but it was the rapidity of a ferment too much in motion, to allow it to wait long enough on particular topics: therefore there was in these two productions less intensity than in most of the author's other poetry: he is here generally content to describe the surface of what he notices. His learned allusions abound, though not so much perhaps as in most of his other writings; these, however, are not the proofs of his genius, but only of his memory and industry.
462 REMARKS ON L'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO.
I admit, that the choice of the imagery of these pieces could only have been made by a true poet, of nice discernment and brilliant fancy; of mind constantly occupied by contemplation, and skilful in making use of all those superstitions in which the visionary delight; and that the whole are woven into one web of congenial associations, which make a beautiful and splendid constellation; still a large portion of the ingredients, taken separately, have been anticipated by other poets.
These remarks will probably draw forth the question, "Whence, then, has arisen the superior popularity of these two compositions?" I may now be forgiven for asserting, that popularity is a doubtful test of merit. One reason may be, that they are more easily understood; that they are less laboured and less deep; that they do not try and fatigue, either the heart or the intellect. The mass of the people like slight amusement, and subjects of easy apprehension; the greater part of Milton's poetry is too solemn and thought-working for their taste or their power.
In the sublime bard's latter poems,-in his epics and his drama, and even in his early monody of "Lycidas,"-his rural images, though not more picturesque, nor perhaps, except in "Lycidas," quite so fresh, yet derive a double force from their position-from the circumstances of the persons on whom they are represented as acting; as, for instance, on Adam, Eve, Satan, our Saviour, Samson, and on the mourners for the death of Lycidas.
When the description of scenery forms part of a fable, and is connected with the development of a story, the mind of the reader is already worked up into a state of sensitiveness and sympathy, which confers upon surrounding objects hues of augmented impression.
When Milton recalls to his mind those images with which he had been familiar in the society of his friend Lycidas, they awaken, from the accident of his death, affections and regrets which they never had done before. When Eve is about to be expelled from Paradise, how she grieves over her lost flowers and garden-delights! How the "air of heaven, fresh-blowing," invigorates and charms Samson, when brought out from a close prison! How affecting is the scene in the wilderness, when, after a night of tremendous tempest, our Saviour is cheered by a balmy morning of extreme brilliance!
These are what make fable necessary to constitute the highest poetry. I do not recollect that this has been sufficiently insisted upon by former critics. The want of it is assuredly experienced in Thomson's beautifully descriptive poem of "The Seasons." SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.
(THE CHEERFUL MAN.)
HENCE, loathed Melancholy,
In Stygian cave forlorn,
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy! Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brooding darkness spreads his jealous wings,
There, under ebon shades, and low-brow'd rocks,
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.
Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee
2. Of Cerberus. Erebus, not Cerberus,, was the legitimate husband of Night. Milton was too universal a scholar, to be unacquainted with this mythology; but as Melancholy is here the creature of Milton's imagination, he had a right to give her what parentage he pleased, and to marry Night, the natural mother of Melancholy, to any ideal husband that would best serve to heighten the allegory.-T. WARTON.
4. Unholy: Abominable, execrable.
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And in thy right hand lead with thee
57. Not unseen. In the Penseroso, (line 65,) he walks unseen. Happy men love witnesses of their joy: the splenetick love solitude.
67. His tale. It was suggested to me by the late ingenious Mr. Headley, that the word tale does not here imply stories told by shepherds, but is a technical term for numbering sheep. This interpretation I am inclined to adopt. Let us ana
40. Unreproved: Blameless, innocent, | lyze the context. The poet is describing not subject to reproof. Sandys has “un- a very early period of the morning; and reproved kisses." this he describes, by selecting and as
of a house.
48. Twisted eglantine: The honey-sembling such picturesque objects as acsuckle. All these three plants are often company that period, and such as were seen growing against the side or walls familiar to an early riser. He is waked by the lark, and goes into the fields; the sun is just emerging, and the clouds are still hovering over the mountains; the cocks are crowing, and with their lively notes scatter the lingering remains of darkness; human labours and employments are renewed with the dawn of the day; the hunter (formerly much earlier at his sport than at present) is beating the covert, and the slumbering morn is roused with the cheful eclo of hounds