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They left me then when the gray-hooded Even,
Like a sad votarist in Palmer's weed,
had been smitten, even in completing the THE Puritan poet was bound to show sense, into tuneless artificiality, by the us more of Puritanism than any other introduction of “ Phæbus' wain." But man ; for the poet is in deepest union his own England, its “hedge-row elms with the spirit of his time. In so far, in- and hillocks green,” its cottage windows deed, as he is a world-poet he will be caressed by more than his age ; he will stand up from
the sweet-briar or the vine, the crowd to receive light from past gen- Or the twisted eglantine, erations, and to “take the morning" of the future: but not the less will he be
had woed him with a finer magic than the child, the most characteristic child,
that of the ancients, lending merriment of his time. No Puritan, not Cromwell to his eye and song to his lip in morning himself, was more Puritan than Milton.
walks, Imagination singles out these two and
While the ploughman, near at hand, places them apart, the Puritan poet and
Whistles o'er the furrowed land, the Puritan king. In power of brain and
And the milkmaid singeth blithe, fiery strength of will, in velocity and in
And the mower whets his scythe, trepidity of intellectual vision, they were
And every shepherd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale. about equal. Cromwell was superior in massive sense and infallible certitude of In 1623, when Milton was a boy of fifteen, practical glance ; Milton had the incom- John Heminge and Henry Condell, “ only municable gift of poetic genius, enabling to keep the memory of so worthy a friend him to extract the finest essence of Puri- and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare,” tan nobleness, and preserve it for poster- had given to the world the folio edition ity, “married to immortal verse and of Shakespeare's works, very anxious equally immortal prose.” Watch well the that the said folio might commend itself steps of these two, and you will not fail to “the most noble and incomparable pair to catch some notes of the music to of brethren,” William, Earl of this, and which the historical procession of Puri- Philip, Earl of that, and exceedingly untanism marched.
conscious that, next to the production of John Milton, as we see him before the the works themselves, they were doing outbreak of the civil war, was the most the most important thing done, or likely comprehensively cultured young man in to be done, in the literary history of the England, probably in Europe. The lan-world. Milton read Shakespeare, and in guages of Greece and Rome were to him the lines which he wrote upon him in 1630, as mother tongues. He read the Italian there seems to be the due throb of tranpoets and the great poetical masters of scendent admiration. A superb enthusihis own country. He was able to esti- asm, an imaginative audacity bordering mate all the Renaissance could tell or on the gigantesque, are er bodied in the teach him. Here and there the dead idea of Shakespeare's readers being, hand of antiquity had struck with its with wonder and astonishment,” cast stiffening touch into the poetry which he into a state of trance-like death, made had already written. The glorious roll into “ marble with too much conceiving,” of music and imagery in the opening and thus forming a grave worthy of the stanzas of his Hymn of the Nativity, poet. leading us along a world veiled in maiden Thou, our fancy of itself bereaving, snow beneath amazed stars to the shep- Dost make us marble with too much conceiving, herds waiting the angels' song, had been And so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie, broken by the alien and ignoble appari- That kings for such a tomb would wish to die. tion of “the mighty Pan.” The gracious But the lines in L'Allegro, quietude and vivid simplicity of the lines
Sweetest Shakespeare, nature's child, in Comus,
Warbles his native wood-notes wild,
though right in laying emphasis upon land of the Puritan period have been so Shakespeare's sweetness, convey a sug- rich a field for the Shakespearian drama gestion of something like depreciation. as the England of Elizabeth. When Not thus would you speak if you in- Englishmen were arrayed in hostile tended to describe greatness colossal and camps, when every family circle was rent unapproached. To apply the term “na- with unutterable heartburnings, how, to ture's child” to one who exhausted the mention nothing else, could the most possibilities of art is like praising a con- marvellous faculty of humour that ever summate general for understanding regi- dwelt in man have found in England, to mental drill, and a reference to the love and to laugh at, and to preserve for “wood-notes wild ” of him who wrote the love and laughter of all times, the DogHamlet and the Tempest, Othello, Mac- berries, the Botttoms, the Petruchios, the beth, Lear, and Julius Cæsar, is like say- Malvolios, the Sir Tobys, the Launces, ing that the Himalayan range carries the Lancelot Gobbos, the Falstaffs, the grass-tufts and daisies. Beneath the grave-diggers, the clowns, the Pucks, the radiant expanse of the Shakespearian Ariels, the Calibans, which are but minor mind, the entire phenomenon of Puritan- figures in works so far beyond the comism may be contemplated as an angry mon reach of literary art that language spot of storm, moving along the face of kas no epithet by which to characterize the sea, beneath soft unfathomable bril- them? It was in a still, great time, of liance of summer sky. All that was energy healthful and therefore calm, of wrong in the social philosophy of Puri- enjoyment, of proud strength and exubertanism is checked and rectified by Sir ant life, tortured by no raging antagoToby's answer to Malvolio, himself “ a nisms, no rabid fanaticisms, that Shakekind of Puritan.” “Dost thou think, be- speare, with a genius capable of symcause thou art virtuous, there shall be no pathetically embracing and bodying forth more cakes and ale ?” Puritanism, in its every type of man, every phase of permabest mood of reverent submission, could nent human emotion, - loving all, toleratsay no more in vindication of the ways of ing all, interested in evil as well as in God to men, than is said by Isabel :- good, clear that even the fool and the
All the souls that were, were forfeit once; rogue have uses in a world so dull as And He who might the vantage best have took ours, and where there is so much smoke Found out the remedy.
to be consumed by the summer lightning And never did Puritanism more inly
of laughter, - could do his unique and realize, more delicately and intensely ex
inestimable work. press, the soul of Christian morality, than
We have arrived, therefore, at the first had been done by Portia :
of those distinctions by which, as with
critical surveying line, it must be our aim The quality of mercy is not strained ; to edge round and mark off the individuIt droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
ality of Milton. He was not of that class Upon the plac beneath : it is twice blessed; of poets whose inspiration lies essentially
It blesseth him at gives, and him that takes in their boundless, all-penetrating, all-tolShakespeare may with some propriety be erating sympathy; for whom concrete called the poet of the Reformation ; for men and women in their whole range of he is pre-eminently the poet of freedom, character, from sage to simpleton, from the poet of man; and the Reformation saint to sot, from ape to archangel, are denotes and dates for us a magnificent endlessly interesting ; who are not unawakening, energizing, expanding of the controllably fired with reforming ardour ; human mind. But he was not, and could who do not expect the world to become not be, the poet of Puritanism. He was much better than it is ; who, if the truth too great for that. He was incapable of must out, have an inextinguishable ten. being a partisan, or of giving up to the no- derness for evil, and will keep a lurking blest of special developments what was place at the world's chimney-corner for meant for mankind. Nor would the Eng- the devil himself. Nothing is more curie
ously characteristic of Shakespeare than | well skilled in music, soon perceived that the manifest enjoyment with which, by one of the race of immortals had been subtlest sympathy, he reads every secret born in his house. He began, apparently in the diabolical breast of lago. Goethe with the conscious and delighted assent throws all his cleverness and all his of his son, to give the young Apollo such heart into a version of Reineke Fuchs, an education as Plato might have preand carefully explains to Eckermann that scribed. An eminently good education he does not intend Mephistopheles to be it proved to be; only not so good, with a finally cast out. Burns, no more doubt- view to the production of a world-poet, as ing the existence of Satan than of his that which nature, jealous of the Platos own grandfather, feels to him exactly as and pedagogues, and apt to tumble them Goethe felt to Mephisto :
and their grammatical appurtenances out But fare ye weel, auld Nickie Ben,
of window when she has one of her miOwad ye tak' a thocht an' men',
raculous children in hand, had provided Ye aiblins micht- I dinna ken
for that Stratford lad who came to LonYet hae a stake; don, broken in character and probably I'm wae to think upo' yon den,
almost broken in heart, some forty years Ev'n for your sake. earlier, to be a hanger-on of the theatres As Shakespeare is the supreme name in and to mount the intellectual throne of this order of poets, the men of sympathy the world. No deer-stealing expeditions and of humour, Milton stands first in that other great order which is too didactic elms of Charlecote chase; no passionate for humour, and of which Schiller is
love-affairs and wild boy-marriage. Milthe best recent representative. He was
ton, carefully grounded in the tongues, called the lady of his College, not only went in due course to Cambridge Univerfor his beautiful face, but because of the sity, and during those years when the vestal purity and austerity of his virtue. youthful mind is in its stage of richest The men of the former class are intuitive, recipiency, lived among the kind of men passionate, impulsive ; not steadily con
who haunt seats of learning. On the scious of their powers ; fitful, unsyste- whole, the most uninteresting men in exmatic. Their love is ecstasy ;
whose very knowledge is a errors are the intoxication of joy; their learned ignorance ; not bees of industry, sorrows are as the pangs of death. Him- who have hoarded information by experimelhoch jauchzend, -zum Tode betrübt; ence, but book-worms. Mr. Trollope, by panting with rapture, to death brought
a rare felicity of genius, has managed to low: happy only in that their whole soul get these people into novels, but no one is thrown into every mood, and counting
has yet got them into poetry. It is imlife past when the intellect ceases to portant, also, that Milton was never to wander and the heart to love.
any distracting extent in love. If Shake
speare had been a distinguished universiWhen head and heart are whirling wild,
ty man, would he have told us of a catch What better can be found ?
that could “ draw three souls out of one The man who neither loves nor errs
weaver ?” And if the boy of eighteen Were better underground.*
had not been in a fine frenzy about Anne Milton, the poet of Puritanism, stands Hathaway, could he have known how out in bold contrast to these imperfect | Juliet and Romeo, Othello and Desdecharacters. From his infancy there was mona, loved ? nothing unregulated in his life. His The inspiration of Milton's genius was father, clearly a superior man, of keen not that of personal experience and emoProtestantism, successful in business, tion. He sang by no means as the bird
sings, to give voice to the feelings with “Wenn dir's in Kopf und Herzen schwirrt,
which the strings of the heart are vibratWas willst du Bessres haben? Wer nicht mehr liebt und nicht mehr irrt, ing to agony. He was a student of music
Der lasse sich begraben." – GOETHE. and of beauty, training himself to excel in the august art of song, aware of its difficul- I lage probably quite as silent to-day as in ty, but aware also of his powers. Conscious Milton's time, for the railway, at Uxeducation of this kind is perilous; genius, bridge, is five miles distant, and all who tamed and regulated, is apt to lose its must live near the steel highway have wings and become capable only of the left the little place. Here, on his visits sober paces of prose. It is, therefore, a to the Countess of Derby, Milton would proof of the fiery and inextinguishable see a less uniform landscape ; hills of nature of Milton's genius that it tri- pleasant undulation, and the Colne, still umphed over the artificiality of his train- undivided, lighting with pale gleam its ing; that there is the pulse of a true wooded valley. poetical life in his most highly wrought In such country, John Milton, animated poems, and that the whole mountain of by high intellectual passion, gathering his learning glows with the strong in- hímself up in what, compared with the ternal fame. His inspiration was from habitudes of the sympathetic poets, may within, the inspiration of a profound en- be characterized as a certain proud isothusiasm for beauty and an impassioned lation, trained himself for conquest in devotion to virtue. The district in which the world of mind. To some, even he lived during the period of his most though intelligent and friendly, he seemelaborate self-education is not marked ed to be wasting his years, and in a wellenough to have disturbed, by strong im- known sonnet he makes a poetical confespressions from without, the development sion that the same thought had struck of his genius from within. Horton lies warningly upon his own heart. But where the dead flat of South-eastern above the hasty rebukes of friends, and Buckingham meets the dead flat of South- deeper than the hints of conscience in western Middlesex. Egham Hill, not moments of self-reproach, was the prequite so high as Hampstead, and the chalk dominant conviction that he who, in his knoll on which Windsor Castle fails to youth, addresses himself, with the whole be sublime, are the loftiest ground in the energy of his soul, to culture, is in the immediate neighbourhood. Staines, the path of duty, and need not shrink from Pontes of the Romans, and Runnymead the great Task-master's eye." Culture, with its associations, are near. The par- indeed, is judged by mankind, and whatish church of Horton, in which Milton ever the Sophist and Epicurean schools worshipped for five or six years, and in may hold, ought to be judged by manwhich his mother is buried, has one of kind, with reference to its end. The the Norman porches common in the dis- study of the beautiful, without view to trict, but is drearily heavy in its general anything but the pleasure it affords or structure, and forms a notable contrast to the distinction it procures, is named that fine example of the old English dilettantism, a term not strictly of conchurch in which, by the willows of Avon, lie tempt but sharply excluding all idea of Shakespeare's bones. The river Colne heroic desert. Goethe, for example, is breaks itself, a few miles to the north, acknowledged as one of the superbly giftinto a leash of streams, the most consid- ed men of recent times, and as perhaps erable of which flows by Horton. The the best cultured; but a suspicion has abounding water-courses are veiled with got into the mind of the world that his willows, but the tree does not seem to culture was self-centred and self-sufficing, have attracted Milton's attention. It was a suspicion, I believe, unjust, but invinreserved for the poet-painter of the Liber cible hitherto by the testimony of Mr. Studiorum to show what depths of home-Carlyle and two or three others who have ly pathos, and what exquisite picturesque studied him most deeply; and therefore ness of gnarled and knotted line, could the heart-homage of mankind is inexorabe found in a pollard willow, and for Ten- bly denied him. It would not be piranyson to reveal the poetic expressiveness doxical to allege that Milton erred on the of the tree as denoting a solemn and pen- opposite side, that he was too consive landscape, such as that amid whose sciously alive to the duty of annexing “willowy hills and fields ” rose the carol high service, with God for feudal su
perior, to his self-culture, as the condimournful, holy, Chaunted loudly, chaunted lowly,
tion of its being noble. But the moral
instincts of the race pronounce that he Till her blood was frozen slowly, And her eyes were darkened wholly,
was in the main right, for they recog
nise a radiancy transfiguring the culture of the Lady of Shalott. About ten miles inspired by devotion to mankind and to the north of Horton is Harefield, a vil- governed by a sense of duty, more warm
ly touched with the bloom of life than | force of its own radiance, over rude the ice-like brilliance of mere æsthetic strength and malign enchantment. sensibility, scientific curiosity, or intellectual ambition.
So dear to Heaven is saintly chastity,
That, when a soul is found sincerely so, Few things in the whole range of liter
A thousand liveried angels lackey her, ary art are so fine as the works com
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt. posed by Milton during those years of calm yet ardent self-education which in- The tale is told beautifully, simply, withtervened between his leaving Cambridge out plot or any artifice; and with no reand his visiting Italy. Allusion has al, gard to superfíciai probabilities. Frankly ready been made to L'Allegro and Il discarding everything of the drama, Penseroso. In addition to the bright, except its form, the poet does not stoop, crisp touch of their landscape sketching, as, within certain limits, the dramatist and their comprehensive felicity of must, to be a literary mocking-bird. thought, sentiment, imagery, and diction, Aloft on his perch, like a nightingale, he there is in them a subtle melodiousness, fills the grove with his music, varying hi; attained by skilful interweaving of the note as the subject varies, but always with trochee and the iambus with one or two the same volume of sound and the same anapæstic touches, of which the language rich and mellow tone. None of the mashad previously possessed no example, ters of English poetry, Milton's predeand which has proved to this day inim- cessors, not Chaucer, not Spenser, not itable. But the pre-eminent work of the Shakespeare even, had done much to time is Comus. After Goethe and Keats detract from the originality, or to herald have been in the lists, this continues far the perfection of Comnus. Chaucer's and away the best poem of its class, the blank verse is not to be mentioned with best attempt of a modern to strike the that of Milton. Chaucer indeed had little lyre of Greece. It has the defect which sense of beauty, little sense of melody; seems inevitable in such poetry, the de- Milton's nature was instinct with both. fect of incongruity. This appears in the Chaucer was a strong, observant, activeopening lines. A spirit whose duty it is minded, coarse man, who could see the to wait upon virtuous ladies on earth, point of a story, and tell it in a straightmay well enough have a mansion in the forward way. His works are historically skies; but spirits and mansions were cer- invaluable, as enabling us to strip the tainly not to be found “before the starry middle age of that veneer and that tinsel threshold of Jove's court." And when with which modern affectation and literthis spirit talks of “the crown that vir- ary cant have overlaid it. Reading Chautue gives,” of “eternity," and above all cer, we learn how different from the sociof the “sin-worn mould” of “this dim ety of a refined age was the society of a spot which men call Earth,” all sense of time when a company of Canterbury pilillusion vanishes, and Jove and his court grims, including knight, clergyman, and are felt to be as much out of place as nun, could listen, well pleased, to descripthey would be in the Epistle to the Ro- tions which would now be hooted from mans. The introduction of the epithets the stage of the lowest music-hall in Lon“sin-worn” and “dim,” as characteriz- don. Chaucer has a true gift of narraing the world of living men, in a speech tive, a sympathy with brave and strenuby a familiar of Jove's court, may well ous life, a good heart, and a vein of husurprise us when we recall Milton's love mour characteristically English and very of Homer. The poet of the Iliad and the gross ; but we look almost in vain for heroes of whom he sang, did not regard either beauty or music in his page.
In the world of Greece and its islands, of much of Shakespeare's blank verse there Asia Minor and the garden-lined coast of is an idiomatic purity, united with an inSyria down to Sidon and Tyre, as dim or expressible sweetness, which Milton does sad, but as filled with light and with not reach. Shakespeare spoke and read jocund life. The very idea of sin had only English, as Sophocles spoke and hardly glimmered on their minds. Prob- read only Greek; and acquaintance with ably, however, Milton made no serious but one language seems a condition of attempt to keep the work true to the an- perfect purity of diction, perfect idiomatic tique in tone and colour.
faithfulness in its use. Milton's speech Comus is a descriptive poem, with is composite, and in its jewelled wealth something of dramatic form, but no aim there is stateliness almost too much for at dramatic verisimilitude, the subject grace. But except Shakespeare's pasbeing the triumph of Vestal Purity, by sages of poetry – those priceless passages