« ZurückWeiter »
the greatest intellects have held it, as Plato and Milton, but it cannot be proved. Milton, however, in trying to prove it, has created a new type of tragedy, different in form but no less true than those of Eschylus, Sophocles, and Shakespeare. He has brought a non-divine will in conflict with the divine, keeping our sympathies for both. Tragedy is not the conflict of good with evil, but the conflict of good with good, and Milton, although he did not mean it, has created in Satan a type that is not essentially evil, his poetic genius thus triumphing his puritanism. We feel no sympathy with Beelzebub, or Moloch, horrid king, or the obscene Chemos, for Baalim and Ashtaroth, or the rest of the rebel crew: these are lay figures, hideous and vile, at whom we care not to look. Such creatures all the ambitious must use, but we regret that Satan had no better to use. Satan himself, with his indomitable courage, is different altogether from these. He has even some cause of complaint, it would appear: at least, he is conquered by force only, without any attempt at reasoning; his cause is never shown to be wrong, it is assumed to be wrong. Paradise Lost is like the first play in a trilogy in which is shown the perversion of a noble spirit; we might conceive of a second and third that might show the reconciliation of the opposing wills, as Eschylus reconciled Athena and the Eumenides. Such a sequel
could not have entered Milton's mind, unless he had renounced the religious tenets in which he was brought up; so he leaves the work a fragment, like the Prometheus. But he was too true a poet not to feel its incompletehence he followed it up by Paradise Regained. And this was foredoomed to failure, not so much because the story from which it is drawn is perfect in its own simplicity, and cannot be made more beautiful, as because the poem lacks the essential of a tragedy. There is no conflict between good and good; no sympathy is felt for the tempter, who is base and even petty. It is a narrative, without real conflict; a morality, not a tragedy. Its interest for the reader lies in the secondary beauties of rhythm and language.
Although Milton in Paradise Lost shows the instinct for a tragic theme, he has no power to put a play on the
stage. This may quite well be an accident. If he had been brought up in the theatres, as Shakespeare was, he might have learnt how to make a play. Another Shakespeare he could not have been; he might perhaps have been a Marlowe. But his sympathies were not with the stage, and his attempts at stage writing were not successful. Samson was avowedly an imitation of the Greek model, but it consists of scenes rather than action or the meeting of convergent forces.. Comus affords a beautiful spectacle, and is full of beautiful verse, but it stands still on the stage; its theme moreover rests on an assumption that is not true to life. These things do not matter much in a masque, which was first and foremost a series of spectacles; and yet we may fairly contrast the masque in the hands of Ben Jonson or others of the dramatic school. We are told that Milton at first meant to write a play instead of Paradise Lost; but he was certainly well advised to change his theme to an epic.
His shorter poems are all beautiful, and they show the same ear for noble rhythms as the epic does. He has not, however, the gift of spontaneous song that marked the poets of the generation before him; and he has classical models often in view, so that this side of his work is not so original. He was at his best where difficulties of form were greatest. As the iambic line seems to allow the least possible freedom, his glory is greatest in making it to be of infinite variety: so also in the sonnet, the added difficulty of an elaborate rime-system enables him to achieve a new triumph. The sonnet may easily become a mere show-piece for verbal skill; with a trivial subject the kind becomes a base thing. But in his mouth "the thing became a trumpet." No poet has rivalled Milton's best, those on the Massacre in Piedmont, or on his blindness, or the vision of his dead wife. For anything approaching his power over the sonnet we look only to Wordsworth.
Milton as a poet completely overshadows Milton the scholar: yet he was a great scholar, and one of a rare type. All the learning of the ancients was his, so far as it could be known in his day; and this weight of learning he carries so lightly that it never obtrudes. He uses
the sounding names of history, geography, or mythology to give resonance to his verse, yet each name is in point. Without understanding the allusions, it is possible for a reader to enjoy the verse, and to appreciate the point correctly if vaguely; but each allusion, tracked to its source, throws light on the poet's thought, and a world of associations is called up harmonious to the theme. In this he resembles and surpasses Virgil. There is no effort and no forcing of effect: the allusions seem to be natural. If it is impossible properly to understand Milton without much learning, it is still possible to enjoy him: hence he may be read, in part at least, by the unlettered. But it is those who know most that enjoy and admire most. His admirable power over his material may be seen by a comparison with Ben Jonson, who, whilst less learned in reality, obtrudes his learning
Milton the man is not our subject, but it should not. be forgotten that he was also a great man. In his prose writings we see him busy with political and religious controversies; in both kinds he was far in advance of his age, even of our own age. He looked on these questions with an eye that saw the truth, and he was not blinded by the prejudices of his sect. As Cromwell's foreign secretary he played a statesman's part, and gave to his country the light of his own eyes. Later, when he was forced into retirement, blind and obscure, even in danger of life, he dwelt serene and gave his days to the use of that talent which is death to hide. He sought no fame: yet no fame is greater than his.
W. H. D. ROUSE.
A Masque (Comus) presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634, on Michaelmasse Night, etc., 1637; Obsequies to the Memorie of Mr. Edward King, Anno Dom., 1638 (Elegies, of which Lycidas is one); Part II. Justa Edouardo King naufrago, ab Amicis morentibus, etc.; Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England, and the Causes that hitherto have hindered it: Two books written to a friend, 1641; Of Prelatical Episcopacy, and whether it may be deduced from the Apostolic Times by vertue of those Testimonies which are alledg'd to that purpose in some late Treatises; one whereof goes under the Name of James, Archbishop of Armagh, 1641; Animadversions upon the Remonstrant's Defence against Smectymnuus, 1641; The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty, 1641; An Apology against a Pamphlet called A Modest Confutation of the Animadversions upon the Remonstrant against Smectymnuus, 1641; The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Restor'd, to the Good of both Sexes, from the Bondage of Canon Law and other Mistakes, to Christian Freedom, guided by the Rule of Charity, etc., 1643; second edition, 1643-4; Of Education: to Mr. Samuel Hartlib, 1644; Areopagitica (Speech for the liberty of Unlicensed Printing), 1644; The Judgment of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce. Written to King Edward the Sixt, in his second book of the Kingdom of Christ. And now Englisht, etc., 1644; Tetrachordon: Expositions upon the foure chief Places in Scripture which_treat of Marriage, or Nullities in Marriage, etc., 1645; Poems (English and Latin), 1645; second edition, 1673; The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, etc., 1648-9; second edition, 1650; Observations on the Articles of Peace (between Ormonde and the Irish), 1649; Eikonoklastes in Answer to a Book entitled Eikon Basilike, 1649; second edition, 1650; Joannis Miltoni Angli pro Populo Anglicano Defensio Contra Claudii anonymi, alias Salmasii, defensionem regiam, 1650-1; later editions, 1651, 1652, and 1658; Joannis Miltoni Angli pro Populo Anglicano Defensio Secunda, etc., 1654; Joannis Miltoni pro se Defensio Contra Alexandrum Morum Ecclesiasten, libelli famosi cui titulus Regis Sanguinis Clamor ad cœlum, etc., 1655; with appendix, Joannis Miltoni ad Alexandri Mori Supplementum Responsio, 1655; A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes, showing that it is not lawful to compel in matters of Religion, 1658-9; Considerations touching the likeliest means to remove Hirelings out of the Church, etc., 1659; A Letter to a Friend concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth, 1659; The Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth and the Excellencies thereof, etc., 1659-60; second edition, 1660; The Present Means and Brief Delineation of a Free Commonwealth... in a Letter to General Monk, 1660; Brief notes upon a late Sermon by Matthew Griffith, D.D., 1660; Paradise Lost, ten books, 1667, 1668, 1669; in twelve books, second edition, revised and augmented, 1674; third edition, 1678; fourth, 1688; Accedence commenc't Grammar, supply'd with sufficient rules, etc., 1669; The History of Britain, that part especially now call'd England, from the first traditional beginning, continu'd to the Norman Conquest. Collected out of the antientest and best authors, 1670; Artis Logica Plenior Institutio ad P. Remi Methodum concinnata, 1670; Paradise Regained, a Poem in four books; to which is added Samson Agonistes, 1671, 1680, 1688; Of True Religion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration, and what best means may be us'd against the growth of Popery, 1673; Joannis Miltoni
Angli Epistolarum Familiarium Liber unus, etc., 1674; Transla-
WORKS.-Verse and Prose (with Life), ed. by J. Mitford, eight
COLLECTED POEMS.-Some earlier editions, English and Latin, with
Among later editions are: Edited with introduction, notes, and
COLLECTED PROSE WORKS.-Toland (English and Latin), three
LIFE.-By E. Philips, originally prefixed to Letters of State, 1694;
See also Essays by Macaulay, Bagehot, Seeley, and Matthew