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With thy son's treasures, and the sum is nought;
I have by golden Clio's gift acquired.
Verse is a work divine: despise not thou
Verse, therefore, which evinces (nothing more)
Bespeaks him animated from above.
The gods love verse: the infernal powers themselves Confess the influence of verse, which stirs
The lowest deep, and binds in triple chains
Of adamant both Pluto and the shades.
In verse the Delphic priestess, and the pale
And he who sacrifices, on the shrine
Hangs verse, both when he smites the threatening bull,
And when he spreads his reeking entrails wide
To scrutinise the fates enveloped there.
We too, ourselves, what time we seek again
Our native skies, (and one eternal now
Shall be the only measure of our being,)
Crown'd all with gold, and chanting to the lyre
That wheels yon circling orbs, directs, himself,
To share the banquet; and his length of locks
Of nature's birth; of gods that crept in search
Harmonious, and to give the human voice
A thousand modulations, heir by right
Indisputable of Arion's fame.
Now say, what wonder is it, if a son
Of thine delight in verse, if so conjoin'd
In close affinity, we sympathize
In social arts, and kindred studies sweet?
Such distribution of himself to us
Was Phoebus' choice; thou hast thy gift, and I
Mine also; and between us we receive,
Father and son, the whole inspiring god.
No! howsoe'er the semblance thou assume
I speak not now, on more important themes
My Father! who, when I had open'd once
The full-toned language of the eloquent Greeks,
Whose lofty music graced the lips of Jove,
Thyself didst counsel me to add the flowers
That Gallia boasts,-these too with which the smooth
Italian his degenerate speech adorns,
That witnesses his mixture with the Goth;
And Palestine's prophetic songs divine.
To sum the whole, whate'er the heaven contains,
The earth beneath it, and the air between,
The rivers and the restless deep, may all
Prove intellectual gain to me, my wish
All cloud removed, inclines her beauteous head,
And offers me the lip, if dull of heart
I shrink not, and decline her gracious boon.
Go, now, and gather dross, ye sordid minds
That covet it: what could my Father more?
To his young brows his own all-dazzling wreath.
Ye all are impotent against my peace,
For I am privileged, and bear my breast
Thy liberality, exceeds my power,
Suffice it, that I thus record thy gifts,
And bear them treasured in a grateful mind,
Ye, too, the favourite pastime of my youth,
My voluntary numbers! if ye dare
To hope longevity, and to survive
Your master's funeral, not soon absorb'd
In the oblivious Lethæan gulf,
Shall to futurity perhaps convey
This theme, and by these praises of my sire
In 1627, Milton wrote his first Latin elegy, addressed to Charles Deodate,* in answer to a letter from Cheshire.
Milton's Latin epistles are written in the style of Ovid but the matter and language not servilely borrowed from him. It seems to me extraordinary that Milton should have taken Ovid for his model. I agree with Warton that it would have been more probable that he would have taken Lucretius and Virgil, as more congenial to him. His poems "Ad Patrem," and "Mansus," I consider much superior, and in a different manner. I cannot agree that "his inherent powers of fancy and invention display themselves" much in the "Elegies." I suspect that the greater part of them might have been by any classical scholar of lively talents, rich in learning, and practised in conversation. Not so "Ad Patrem" or "Mansus;" or some of the college exercises. But it is no more than justice to quote Warton's more favourable judgment on the sixth elegy, also addressed to Deodate. He says "the transitions and corrections of this elegy are conducted with the skill and address of a master, and form a train of allusions and digressions, productive of fine sentiment and poetry. From a trifling and unimportant circumstance the reader is gradually led to great and lofty imagery."
Of all the elegies, that which pleases me most, and which I consider far the most poetical, and at the same time the most original in its imagery, is the fifth elegy, "In Adventum Veris," ætatis 20, 1629.
But even here the images have not the raciness and wildness of the descriptions in his English poems. Warton speaks of it as excellent in all the requisites of poetry. Here Milton says that his poetical genius returns in the spring: in later life, he has said that the autumn was the season of his composition.
The last elegy is, perhaps, the best, next to that upon the Spring. Milton was apt to encumber his poetry with too many learned allusions, which unfitted them for the general readers, who might have taste and sympathy without much technical erudition. At this period, Milton's mind, though his English poems prove that at times it was grave and deep, yet occasionally showed all the playfulness of his youthful age. I am not sure that I like his Ovidian graces. I prefer the solemn tones of his grander imagery; his picturesque descriptions of the scenery of nature: his voices among the lonely mountains; his evening contemplations, and his studious melancholy by the night-lamp. I prefer his allusions to the fables of Gothic romance rather than to the pantheon of the classics, which does not carry with it any part of our belief. Our imaginations can easily enter into the superstitions of the dark ages, which have far more of dignity and sublimity.
Perhaps Milton was at this date more proud of his scholarship than of his own original genius, as Petrarch to the last preferred his own Latin poems to his Italian, and placed on them his hopes of fame. But in a language which is not our own we can never equally express our unborrowed thoughts. In bringing our phraseology to the test, we are driven to the train of mind of others. It is only when the language rises up with the mental conception that it is racy and vigorous. Hence, in my opinion, there is a radical defect in all modern Latin poetry-though it may still have great merit of a secondary sort. I deny that Milton shows in these Latin compositions, unless perhaps on some rare occasion, any thing of the peculiarity of his native genius. * Charles Deodate, the son of Theodore, was born in 1574 at Geneva, where the family still flourishes. See Galiffe's "Généalogies des Familles Genevoises." Theodore came to England, and married a lady of good birth and fortune. In 1609 he appears to have been physician to Henry, Prince of Wales, and the Princess Elizabeth, afterwards Queen of Bohemia. He was brother of John Deodate, a learned Puritan divine, whose theological works, printed at Geneva, are well known. The family came from Lucca on account of their religion.
The following notice as to the family I am favoured with by one of its members, a learned librarian in the Public Library of Geneva. It is extracted from a letter written by Theodore, the father of Charles Deodate, and dated London, 20th March, 1675.
"Nous avons tenu le premier rang entre les familles nobles et patriciennes de tous tems à Lucques, et en sommes encore en possession; le père de mon grand-père logea en son palais l'empereur Charles Quint: il étoit alors gonfalonier; auquel tems mon grand-père nacquit, et l'empereur fût son parrain, et le nomma Charles, et lui donna l'enseigne des diamans, qu'il portait en son col, à son départ. Nous avons eu des généraux d'armées. Le général Diodati conserva Brissac à l'empereur contre l'armée des princes d'Allemagne ; et fut tué d'une volée de canon dans Munich en Bavière. A cette heure nous avons Don Jean Diodati, chevalier de Malthe, grand-prieur de Venise, cousin-germain de feu mon père," &c.
In his own tongue there are bursts of that mind which produced "Paradise Lost," even in his verses from the age of thirteen. Sometimes an image, sometimes an epithet displays it. A holy inspiration had already commenced in his mind. The tone of the sacred writings had taken fast possession of his enthusiasm: this perhaps was increased by his study of Dante. In Spenser there is more profusion and more flexibility, but not the same sombre and sublime cast. In Shakspeare also, there is more sweetness and less study; more of the "native woodnote wild;" but not that solemn and divine strain, as if an oracle spoke. There is a sort of prophetic awe in the out-breathings of Milton, like that of the Hebrew poetry: yet there is nothing totally uncompounded with human learning. Perhaps it were better if it had been. It is occasionally encumbered.
Milton conforms every thing to his own grand inventions. Shakspeare enters into the souls of others. Spenser brings them upon the stage in groups, in all the allegorical fabulousness of their outward forms. He is the painter of the times of chivalry, moralised into fictions of his own, which display the different virtues in the adventures of different knights; they form wonderful tales of inexhaustible variety, giants, and enchanted castles, and imprisoned damsels, rescued by heroic courage and divine interference.
ON L'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO.
MILTON left the university of Cambridge in 1632, at the age of twenty-three, and retired to the villa of his father at Horton in Buckinghamshire: here he wrote those juvenile poems, which are the most celebrated. The exact date of the "L'Allegro," and "Il Penseroso," is not known: it is evident that they were suggested by a poem in Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," and by a few beautiful stanzas of Beaumont and Fletcher. These poems are familiar to all: they are rich in picturesque description of natural imagery, selected and combined with the power of splendid genius, according to the opposite humours of cheerfulness and contemplative melancholy; and are the more attractive, because they paint Milton's individual taste, character, and habits. The style of the scenery is principally adapted to the spot and neighbourhood where he now lived.
But if I may venture the opinion, I will own that these are not the compositions in which the peculiarity of the grandeur of Milton's genius displays itself. Beautiful as these Odes are, there are others, besides Milton, who might have written them :— not many indeed. They have not the solemnity, the dim and unearthly visions, -the awful and gigantic grandeur,-the prophetic enthusiasm,-the terrible roll and bound and swell of the "Hymn on the Nativity." The subject did not call for such merits; but then, if they are excellent, they are excellent in an inferior walk. Probably I shall be thought heterodox in this judgment. I much prefer "Il Penseroso" to "L'Allegro," as more solemn, more deep-coloured, and more original in its imagery. Perhaps the general merit of these two pieces lies more in a selection of rural pictures combined with taste, than in particular images, except in a few passages of the latter poem. The metre wants variety and sonorousness. The passages I chiefly allude to, are Contemplation
In general, there is more of description than of sentiment, more of the material than of the immaterial, in these two compositions: but there are some parts of them which are very important to the illustration of the poet's character. The poet describes a very early period of the morning, "by selecting and assembling such picturesque objects," says Warton, "as were 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 day; the hunter, formerly much earlier at his sport than at present, is beating the covert; and the slumbering morn is roused with the cheerful echo of hounds and horns: the mower is whetting his scythe to begin his work; the milk-maid, whose business is of course at daybreak, comes abroad singing; the shepherd opens his fold, and takes the tale of his sheep, to see if any were lost in the night," &c. line 67.
When he sees towers and battlements bosomed high in tufted trees, the same excellent commentator says, "it is the great mansion-house in Milton's early days, before the old-fashioned architecture had given way to modern arts and improvements. Turrets and battlements were conspicuous marks of the numerous new buildings of King Henry VIII., and of some rather more ancient, many of which yet remained in their original state unchanged and undecayed: nor was that style, in part at least, quite omitted in Inigo Jones's first manner; where only a little is seen, more is left to the imagination. These symptoms of an old palace, especially when thus disposed, have a greater effect than a discovery of larger parts, and even a full display of the whole edifice. The embosomed battlements, and the spreading top of the tall grove, on which they reflect a reciprocal charm, still farther interest the fancy from the novelty of combination; while just enough of the towering structure is shown to make an accompaniment to the tufted expanse of venerable verdure, and to compose a picturesque association. With respect to their rural residence, there was a coyness in our gothic ancestors: modern seats are seldom so deeply ambushed: they disclose all their glories at once; and never excite expectation by concealment, by gradual approaches, and by interrupted appearances.” At line 131, the poet alludes to a stage worthy of his presence :
Then to the well-trod stage anon,
If Jonson's learned sock be on;
Or sweetest Shakspeare, fancy's child,
Milton had not yet gone such extravagant lengths in puritanism, as to join with his reforming brethren in condemning the stage.
By "trim gardens" ("Il Pens." I. 50), Milton means those gardens of elaborate artifice and extravagance, of which Bacon has given a description; some of which I still remember in existence, in my own boyhood, sixty years ago. There was a sort of magnificence and variety about them, in some respects more interesting than modern barrenness. I often wish them back;-the terraces, the slopes, the wilderness-walks, the mazes, the alleys, the garden-plots, the gravel-walks, the bowers, the summerhouses, the bowling-greens, have been too rudely and indiscriminately swept away. Where the poet says, line 109,
Or call up him who left half-told
he expresses his admiration of Chaucer, "the father of English poetry," says Warton, "who is here distinguished by a story remarkable for the wildness of its invention; and hence Milton seems to make a very pertinent and natural transition to Spenser, whose 'Faerie Queene,' although it externally professes to treat of tournaments and the trophies of knightly valour, of forests drear and terrific enchantments, is yet allegorical, and contains a remote meaning concealed under the veil of a fabulous story and of a typical narrative, which is not immediately perceived. Spenser sings in sage and solemn tunes, with respect to his morality, and the dignity of his stanza. In the mean time, it is to be remembered that there were other great bards, and of the romantic class, who sang in such tunes, and who mean 'more than meets the ear.' Both Tasso and Ariosto pretend to an allegorical and mysterious meaning; and Tasso's enchanted forest, the most conspicuous fiction of the kind, might have been here intended. Berni allows that his incantations, giants, magic gardens, monsters, and other romantic imageries, may amuse the ignorant, but that the intelligent have more penetration. Orl. Inam. 1. 1. c. xxv.
Ma voi ch' avete gl' intelletti sani,