Imatges de pÓgina
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and great, divine and lovely, than Homer's or Virgil's, or those of any other poets, ancient or modern.-RICHARDSON.


Johnson's criticism, inserted in his 'Life of Milton,' is so universally known that I shall not repeat it here: it shows the critic to have been a master of language, and of perspicuity and method of ideas: it has not, however, the sensibility, the grace, and the nice perceptions of Addison: it is analytical and dry. As it does not illustrate any of the abstract positions by cited instances, it requires a philosophical mind to feel its full force it has wrapped up the praises, which were popularly expressed by Addison, in language adapted to the learned. The truth is, that Johnson's head was more the parent of that panegyric than his heart: he speaks by rule; and by rule he is forced to admire. Rules are vain, to which the heart does not assent. Many of the attractions of Milton's poem are not at all indicated by the general words of Johnson. From Addison's critique, we can learn distinctly its character and colours; we can be taught how to appreciate; and can judge by the examples produced, how far our own sympathies go with the commentator: we cannot read therefore without being made converts, where the comment is right. It is not only in the grand outline that Milton's mighty excellence lies; it is in filling up all the parts even to the least minutiæ; the images, the sentiments, the long argumentative passages, are all admirable, taken separately; they form a double force, as essential parts of one large and magnificent whole. The images are of two sorts; inventive and reflective: the first are, of course, of the highest order.

Throughout the whole of Paradise Lost' the author appears to have been a most critical reader and passionate admirer of Holy Scripture: he is indebted to Scripture infinitely more than to Homer and Virgil, and all other books whatever. Not only the principal fable, but all his episodes are founded upon Scripture: the Scripture has not only furnished him with the noblest hints, raised his thoughts, and fired his imagination; but has also very much enriched his language, given a certain solemnity and majesty to his diction, and supplied him with many of his choicest, happiest expressions. Let men, therefore, learn from this instance to reverence the Sacred Writings: if any man can pretend to deride or despise them, it must be said of him, at least, that he has a taste and genius the most different from Milton's that can be imagined. Whoever has any true taste and genius, we are confident, will esteem this poem the best of modern productions, and the Scriptures the best of all ancient ones.-NEWTON.



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If our conceptions were confined to what reality and experience have impressed upon us, our minds would be narrow, and our faculties without light. The power of inventive imagination approaches to something above humanity: it makes us participant of other worlds and other states of being. Still mere invention is nothing, unless its quality be high and beautiful. Shakspeare's invention was in the most eminent degree rich; but still it was mere human invention. The invention of the character of Satan, and of the good and bad angels, and of the seats of bliss, and of Pandemonium, and of Chaos and the gates of hell, and of Sin and Death, and other supernatural agencies, is unquestionably of a far loftier and more astonishing order.

Though the arts of composition, carried one step beyond the point which brings out the thought most clearly and forcibly, do harm rather than good; yet up to this point they are of course great aids: and all these Milton possessed in the utmost perfection: all the strength of language, all its turns, breaks, and varieties, all its flows and harmonies, and all its learned allusions, were his. In Pope there is a monotony and technical mellifluence in Milton there is strength with harmiony, and simplicity with elevation. He is never stilted, never gilded with tinsel; never more cramped than if he were writing in prose; and, while he has all the elevation, he has all the freedom of unshackled language. To render metre during a long poem unfatiguing, there must be an infinite diversity of combinations of sound and position of words, which no English bard but Milton has reached. Johnson, assuming that the English heroic line ought to consist of iambics, has tried it by false tests: it admits as many varied feet as Horace's Odes; | and so scanned, all Milton's lines are accented right.

If we consider the 'Paradise Lost' with respect to instruction, it is the deepest and the wisest of all the uninspired poems which ever were written: and what poem can be good, which does not satisfy the understanding?

Of almost all other poems it may be said, that they are intended more for delight than instruction; and instruction in poetry will not do without delight: yet when to the highest delight is added the most profound instruction, what fame can equal the value of the composition? Such unquestionably is the compound merit of the Paradise Lost.' It is a duty imperious on him who has an intellect capable of receiving this instruction, not to neglect the cultivation of it; in him who understands the English language, the neglect to study this poem is the neglect of a positive duty: here is to be found in combination what can be learned nowhere else.

There is a mode of presenting objects to the imagination, which purifies, sharpens,

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and exalts the mind: there may be mere sports of the imagination, which may be innocent, but fruitless. Such is never Milton's produce; he never indulges in mere ornament or display: his light is fire, and nutriment, and guidance: like the dawn of returning day to the vegetation of the earth, which dispels the noxious vapours of night, and pierces the incumbent weight of the air; it withdraws the mantle of dim shadows from common minds, and irradiates them with a shining lamp. As to what are called the figures of poetry, in which Pope deals so much, they are never admitted by the solid and stern richness of Milton.

The generality even of the better classes of poetry is not the food of the mind, but its mere luxury; Milton's is its substance, its life, its essence: he introduces the gravest, the most abstruse, the most learned topics into his poetry; and by a spiritual process, which he only possesses, converts them into the very essence of poetical inspiration. I assert, in defiance of Dryden, that there are no flats in Milton: inequalities there are; but they are not flats, in Dryden's sense of the word. Dryden was a man of vigorous talent, but he was an artist in poetry: if active and powerful talent is genius, then he had genius; otherwise not: a clear perception and vigorous expression is not genius. Dryden had not a creative mind; Milton was all creation: we want new ideas, not old ones better dressed. Dryden thought that what was not worked up into a pointed iambie couplet was flat: he valued not the ore; he deemed that the whole merit lay in the use of the tool, and the skill of its application. Milton said, "I am content to draw the pure golden ore from the mine, and I will not weaken it by over-polish."

The merit of Milton was, that he used his gigantic imagination to bring into play his immense knowledge. Heaven, Hell, Chaos, and the Earth, are stupendous subjects of contemplation: three of them we can conceive only by the strength of imagination; the fourth is partly exposed to our senses, but can be only dimly and partially viewed except through the same power. Who then shall dare to say, that the genius most fitted to delineate and illustrate these shadowy and evanescent wonders, and who has executed this work in a manner exceeding all human hope, has not performed the most instructive, as well as the most delightful of tasks? and who shall dare to deny that such a production ought to be made the universal study of the nation which brought it .forth?

Before such a performance all technical beauties sink to nothing. The question is,— are the ideas mighty, and just, and authorized; and are they adequately expressed? If this is admitted, then ought not every one to read this poem next to the Bible? So thought Bishop Newton. But Johnson has the effrontery to assert, that though it may be read as a duty, it can give no pleasure: for this, Newton seems to have pronounced by anticipation the stigma due to him. Is any intellectual delight equal to that which a high and sensitive mind derives from the perusal of innumerable passages in every book of this inimitable work of poetical fiction?-The very story never relaxes: it is thick-wove with incident, as well as sentiment, and argumentative grandeur: and how it closes, when the archangel waves the "flaming-brand" over the eastern gate of Paradise; and, on looking back, Adam and Eve saw the "dreadful faces" and "fiery arms" that "throng'd" round it!-In what other poem is any passage so heart-rending and so terrible as this?









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