Abbildungen der Seite

gross insult; professing to doubt whether our Lord, whom he had before frequently addressed as the Son of God, is in any way entitled to that appellation. From this wantonly blasphemous obloquy he still recovers himself, and offers, with his usual art, a qualification of what he had last said, and a justification of his persisting in farther attempts on the Divine Person, by whom he had been so constantly foiled. These are the masterly discriminating touches, with which the poet has admirably drawn the character of the tempter the general colouring is that of plausible hypocrisy, through which, when elicited by the sudden irritation of defeat, his diabolical malignity frequently flashes out, and displays itself with singular effect. We now come to the catastrophe of the poem. The tempter conveys our blessed Lord to the temple at Jerusalem, where the description of the holy city and of the temple is pleasingly drawn. Satan has now little to say; he brings the question to a decisive point, in which any persuasion of rhetorical language on his part can be of no avail; he therefore speaks in his own undisguised person and character, and his language accordingly is that of scornful insult. The result of the trial is given with the utmost brevity; and its consequences are admirably painted. The despair and fall of Satan, with its successive illustrations, ver. 562 to ver. 580, have all the boldness of Salvator Rosa; while the angels supporting our Lord "as on a floating couch, through the blithe air," is a sweetly pleasing and highly finished picture from the pencil of Guido. The refreshment ministered to our Lord by the angels is an intended and striking contrast to the luxurious banquet with which he had been tempted in the preceding part of the poem. The angelic hymn, which concludes the book, is at once poetical and scriptural: we may justly apply to it, and to this whole poem, an observation, which Fuller, in his "Worthics of Essex," first applied to Quarles; and which the ingenious Mr. Headley, in the "Biographical Sketches" prefixed to his "Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry," has transferred to the only poet to whom it is truly appropriate :-"To mix the waters of Jordan and Helicon in the same cup, was reserved for the hand of Milton; and for him, and him only, to find the bays of Mount Olivet equally verdant with those of Parnassus." It may farther be observed, that Milton is himself an eminent instance of one of his own observations in his "Tractate of Education;" having practically demonstrated, what he invites the juvenile student in poetry theoretically to learn:-" what religious, what glorious, and magnificent use might be made of poetry."-DUNSTER.


DR. JOHNSON has written several pages on Milton's versification, which have been reprinted by Todd as an essay the whole is written in Johnson's best manner; but I venture, however presumptuous it may appear, to assert that it is based on a theory wholly wrong. Johnson assumes, as many others have done, that the true heroic verse is the iambic; such as Dryden, Pope, and, I may add, Darwin, have brought to perfection; and that all variations from the iambic foot are irregularities, which may be pardonable for variety, but are still departures from the rule. Upon this ground, Milton is perpetually offending; and that which is among his primary beauties of metre is turned into a fault.

Let me be forgiven for my boldness in suggesting and exemplifying another theory of the great poet's versification, which I am convinced will be found a clew to the pronunciation of every part of his blank verse, and especially in " Paradise Lost."

I believe that Milton's principle was to introduce into his lines every variety of metrical foot which is to be found in the Latin poetry, especially in the lyrics of Horace; such as not merely iambic, but spondee, dactyl, trochee, anapest, &c. ; and that whoever reads his lines as if they were prose, and accents them as the sense would dictate, will find that they fall into one, or rather several of these feet; often ending like the Latin, with a half-foot: wherever they do not, I doubt not that it arises from a different mode of accenting some word from that which was the usage in Milton's time. If there is any attempt to read Milton's verses as iambics, with a mere occasional variation of the trochee and the spondee, they will often sound very lame, instead of being, as they really are, magnificently harmonious.

If Johnson's rules are adopted, some of Milton's most tuneful lines become inharmonious; and, in the same degree, one of Cowley's, exquisite if properly scanned, │ but which Johnson exhibits as very faulty

And the soft wings of peace cover him round;

this, taken to be an iambic, is full of false quantities; but I assume the proper mode of scanning it to be this :

And the | soft wings | of peace | cōvěr hîm | round:

viz., first, a trochee; then a spondee; third, an iambic; fourth, a dactyl; fifth, a demi-foot. Thus Milton,

Partaken, and uncropt falls to the ground,

should be scanned thus:

Părtaken, and uncrōptfalls to the ground.

first, an iambic; second, an iambic; third, a spondee; fourth, a dactyl; fifth, a demi-foot.


Take the following:

Of sense, whereby they hear, see, smell, touch, taste,

which I accent thus :


Of sense, wherebŷ-thěy hear, | see, smell, | touch, taste.

first, an iambic; second, a spondee; third, an iambic; fourth, a spondee; fifth a spondee.

The following lines, cited by Johnson, I scan thus :

1. Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind.
Wisdom to fölly as | nourishment to wind.

2. No ungrateful food, and food alike those pure.
No ungrateful food | and food | alike those pare.

3. For we have also our evening and our morn.

For we have also | our evening and our morn.

4. Inhospitably, and kills their infant males.

Inhospitably, and kills | their în fǎnt males.

5. And vital virtue infused, and vital warmth.
And vital virtue Infused | ănd vital wärmth.

6. God made thee of choice his own, and of his own.
God made thee of choice | his own, | ǎnd of | his own.

7. Abominable, inutterable, and worse.

Abominable, în ût|těrá]ble, and | worse.

8. Impenetrable, impaled with circling fire.
Impenetrable, im påled with | circling | fire.

9. To none communicable in earth or heaven.

To nōne | communicable in earth or heaven.

10. In curls on either cheek play'd: wings he wore.

In curls on either cheek play'd: wings | he wōre

11. Lies through the perplex'd paths of this drear wood.
Lies through the perplex'd | paths of this drear | wood.

12. On him, who had stole Jove's authentick fire.

On him who had | stole Jove's | aŭthen tick fire.

13. Universal reproach, far worse to bear.

Universal reproach, får | worse to | bear.

14. With them from bliss to the bottomless deep.
With them from bliss | to the bottomless | deep.

15. Present? thus to his son audibly spake.
Présent? | thus to | his son | audibly | spake.

16. Thy lingering, or with one stroke of this dart. I
Thy lingering, or ❘ with one | stroke of ❘ this dart.

17. To do aught good never will be our task.

To do |aught good | něvěr will be our | task.

18. Created hugest, that swim the ocean stream.
Created hugest that swim | the ocean stream.

19. Came singly where he stood on the bare strand.
Came sing|lý where | he stood | on the bare | strand,

20. Light from above, from the fountain of light.
Light from above, ] from the fountain of light
21. Things not reveal'd, which the invisible king.

Things not reveal'd, | which the Invisible king.

22. With their bright luminaries, that set and rose.

With their bright lû mināļries that sêt | and rōse.

Dr. Johnson, assuming the iambic to be the true heroic measure of English poetry, says that Milton has seldom two pure lines together. So far from it, he has a long succession of lines in every book of unbroken harmony, if we allow the variety of feet which he undoubtedly adopted as a system. The critic's false principle of our verse continually leads him to blame as faulty what in truth is harmonious: thus, having said that the elision of one vowel before another beginning the next word is contrary to the genius of our language, he is often driven to make this elision by his false rule; as in this line,

Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind.

Here he cuts off the last syllable of "folly "before" as: " but the verse properly scanned, does not require it to be cut off :

Wisdom to fōlly as nourishment | to wind.

All that Johnson says, as to the principle to be adopted on varying the pauses in parts of a verse, or of two or more verses taken together, seems to be whimsical and unfounded; but if true, would go to render faulty what is the real spell of Milton's sonorous variety of harmony. He asserts that there can be no metrical! harmony in a succession of less than three syllables, and that every pause ought in itself to have metrical harmony; and therefore that the pause on a monosyllable at the commencement of a line is bad. This would condemn some of Milton's most musical lines. The truth is, that Milton's paragraphs contain a succession of varied pauses "linked together" with the most perfect skill; and in not one of the places, where they are censured by the critic, are they any other than beautiful or grand. In almost every case, the sense demands that we should lay the accent where the metre demands it, unless we insist upon pure iambics.

That I may not be considered unjust to Johnson, I cite a specimen of his remarks in his own words: "When a single syllable is cut off from the rest, it must either be united to the line with which the sense connects it, or sounded alone if it be united to the other line, it corrupts its harmony; if disjoined, it must stand alone, and with regard to music, be superfluous; for there is no harmony in a single sound, because it has no proportion to another :"—

Hypocrites austerely talk,

Defaming as impure what God declares

Pure; and commands to some, leaves free to all.

Here the emphatic word " pure" derives double force from its position. The other passages next cited by Johnson are pre-eminently beautiful. I am utterly astonished at Johnson's want of ear and of taste on this occasion.

Todd very justly says, that "the fineness of Milton's pauses, and flow of his verses into each other, eminently appears in the very entrance of his Paradise

* Todd has cited an excellent observation, contrary to this, from T. Sheridan's "Lectures on the Art of Reading," vol ii. p. 258.

Lost,' in the first lines of which, the same numbers, in every respect, are hardly once repeated; as Mr. Say has observed in his Remarks on the Numbers of Paradise Lost,' 1745, p. 126."

But as Johnson can never write long without writing some things justly and powerfully, I cannot refrain from citing the following passages :

"It has been long observed, that the idea of beauty is vague and undefined, different in different minds, and diversified by time and place," &c.

"It is in many cases apparent that this quality is merely relative and comparative; that we pronounce things beautiful, because they have something, which we agree, for whatever reason, to call beauty, in a greater degree than we have been accustomed to find it in other things of the same kind; and that we transfer the epithet as our knowledge increases, and appropriate it to higher excellence, when higher excellence comes within our view. Much of the beauty of writing is of this kind; and therefore Boileau justly remarks, that the books which have stood the test of time, and been admired through all the changes which the mind of man has suffered, from the various evolutions of knowledge, and the prevalence of contrary customs, have a better claim to our regard than any modern can boast; because the long continuance of their reputation proves that they are adequate to our faculties and agreeable to nature.

"It is, however, the task of criticism to establish principles; to improve opinion into knowledge; and to distinguish those means of pleasing which depend upon known causes and rational deduction, from the nameless and inexplicable elegances which appeal wholly to the fancy; from which we feel delight, but know not how they produce it; and which may well be termed the enchantresses of the soul. Criticism reduces those regions of literature under the dominion of science, which have hitherto known only the anarchy of ignorance, the caprices of fancy, and the tyranny of prescription."

Johnson, no doubt, did right in endeavouring to establish principles and rules with regard to versification; but wrong principles do more harm than none at all. Either Johnson is on this subject wrong, or Milton is a very bad versifier: I do not think that any man of taste, or a tolerable ear, will in these days adopt the latter opinion: I do not believe that any one will endure the monotony of the pure iambic couplet carried beyond twenty or thirty lines. The occasional intermixture of the metrical feet of the ancients, judiciously applied, distinguishes Milton's blank verse from all other in our language. Iambic blank verse, or that which approaches to iambic, or even a mixed spondaic, wants all its force and diversity; or often becomes languid and diffuse, without the variety of musical prose.

As Milton's style is always condensed and full of matter, it may be said to have a tendency to harshness; for there is no doubt that our language is too much loaded with consonants, especially in our nouns and verbs: but if properly pronounced, there is no poetical author who has more sonorous or soft verses. At the same time, it must be admitted, that he has less fluency than Shakspeare, or even Spenser; but certainly more nerve and strength than either of them. Shakspeare has a more idiomatic combination of words, with a simple, beautiful, and spell-like colloquiality: Milton's combinations are new, learned, and often, perhaps too often, latinised: he is never trite: his mind always appears in full tension, and apart from the vulgar and the light.

« ZurückWeiter »