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aloft would do so no more. But the poet is, by virtue of his office, a seer, and Milton foresaw that the principles he had advocated would ultimately prevail ; just as the blind and aged Samson-Samson Agonistes, the wrestler
-triumphed over the Philistines. And the drama ends with a noble song of content and faith, which fitly closed Milton's work as a poet :
“So virtue, given for lost,
A secular bird ages of lives."
"All is best, though we oft doubt
Bore witness gloriously." Milton's last years were years of peace. He bore with calmness the pains of the disease (gout) which he had inherited, and to the worst ills of Poverty happily he was never exposed. Retaining to the last his faculties unclouded, he passed away without pain on Sunday, the 8th of November, 1674.*
Just three weeks before (October 15th) the grave had closed over a poet of very different mould, Robert Her
* The best commentary on Milton's life is to be found in his own words :“He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter of landable things, ought himself to be a true poem."
rick, the author of “ The Hesperides.” In life and in character a greater contrast could hardly be found than Herrick, the gay lyrist of English Epicureanism, whose philosophy was summed up in the Horatian “carpe diem,” whose life was animated by no elevated purposeconsecrated by no patriotic or philanthropic work, to the great Puritan poet, with his deep sense of duty, his intense religious conviction, and his lofty zeal for the welfare of his country. Herrick was born in Cheapside, London, in 1591. In his youth he made the acquaintance of Ben Jonson, and sat with him at “those lyric feasts” which he afterwards commemorated. He studied at Cambridge-unfortunately for himself took holy orders, thereby missing his vocation-and was presented by Charles I., in 1629 to the vicarage of Dean Prior, in Devonshire. Poor Herrick! His tastes, his gifts, and his accomplishments fitted him to shine among the wits. and beaux of London society, and he was relegated to the companionship of Devonshire boors. He did his best to be cheerful in these adverse circumstances; and amused his superabundant leisure by singing the daintiest, gracefullest songs imaginable to imaginary Julias, Silvias, Corinnas, by writing in fluent but vigorous verse about country customs and rural peculiarities, while he drank ample drughts of generous liquor, or taught his pet pig to drink, out of a tankard, or chatted airily with his faithful servant Prue. In 1648 he was expelled from his vicarage, and he returned to London, where he published his lyrics, epigrams, and miscellanies, under the title of “ Hesperides ”- so called, of course, because written in the West of England. In the previous year he had given to the world some soberer strains, his “Noble Numbers; or, Pious
Pieces ; " but in these his genius is seen to less advantage.
During the Puritan period Herrick lived at Westminster, on the alms of the wealthier Royalists, and I cannot suppose that this chapter of his life was a happy, and it was certainly not an honourable, one. After the Restoration he returned to his Devonshire vicarage, and probably with the burden of gathering years upon him, knew better how to appreciate its quiet. He was in his 84th year when he died.
As Herrick wrote nothing in his later life, we may be thought to have erred in placing him among the poets of Charles the Second's reign ; but his lyrics breathe the true spirit of the Restoration. They were much more in harmony with the time, when king and courtiers gave up everything to pleasure, than at the date of their publication, when the country was divided into two hostile camps, and the minds of men were informed with a deep earnestness and a strenuous ardour of which the poet of “The Hesperides ” was wholly incapable. However this may be, Herrick, as a lyrist, has few equals among our English poets. The English language becomes plastic as clay in his ingenious hands, and assumes the most graceful and fantastic forms. Rhymes come at his bidding; and felicities of expression of the most artistic character seem to spring up spontaneously. No doubt he polished his verses with the utmost care, but he had the art to conceal art, and perhaps none of our poets is more successful in producing the impression that he sings, like the birds, because he cannot help singing. He lifts up his voice among the flowers and the green leaves with notes as sweet and natural as those of the mavis.
An accent of melancholy sometimes finds its way into Herrick's bright, gay verse; but it is the melancholy of Paganism. It is the pleasure-seeker's sorrow as he sees the dregs in the wine-cup; as he observes the shortening of the days and the fading of the flowers. “Let us be merry,” he cries with something of forced merriment, “ for to-morrow we die.” It is not that he recognizes the vanity and triviality of his pleasures; but that they must so soon come to an end. It is this thought which interrupts his hilarious song with a sudden cadence of pain. He weeps to see the daffodils haste away so soon; because they remind him of the mortality of human affairs, and the brief span of human existence.
“We have short time to stay as you;
We have as short a spring;
No'er to be found again." We have here no hint of a brighter future, no suggestions of immortality; it is the old Pagan creed, and it sits unbecomingly on the English priest.
As might be expected, there is no earnestness in Herrick's religious poetry. I do not say that it is intentionally insincere, but he does not put his heart into his song; and it has happily been said that he sings to the old heathen tunes. “Even at his prayers, his spirit is mundane and not filled with heavenly things.” He carries his gay jocular temper into the sanctuary; in his “ Dirge of Jepthah's Daughter” he introduces the strangest, the most alien allusions to seventeenth century customs as far removed as possible from his subject. He is most at home, however, when singing of his real or ideal mistresses, of bright eyes and sweet flowers, of wassail-bowls and morris-dances, of all that is bright and luxuriant in rural life, of country wakes and races, of the may-pole and the harvest-field ; and when dealing with such themes his verse is always vigorous, always musical, and always picturesque,, though, unfortunately, not always decent. “I sing,” he says :
“I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,
Herrick is a poet for the summer-time, for golden noons and warm, sweet twilights, when our “bosom's lord” sits lightly on its throne, and we are disposed for awhile to listen to the strains of careless lyres and to watch the free dances of rustic maids.
Four years after Milton, died his collaborateur and friend, Andrew Marvell (1624-1678), who, in the Civil War period, had laboured both in prose and poetry to advance the cause of the Parliament and discredit that of the Crown. Though bred in the atmosphere of Puritanism,