Among My Books
by James Russell Lowell
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Wordsworth, like most solitary men of strong minds, was a good critic of the substance of poetry, but somewhat niggardly in the allowance he made for those subsidiary qualities which make it the charmer of leisure and the employment of minds without definite object. It may be doubted, indeed, whether he set much store by any contemporary writing but his own, and whether he did not look upon poetry too exclusively as an exercise rather of the intellect than as a nepenthe of the imagination.[349] He says of himself, speaking of his youth:—

"In fine, I was a better judge of thoughts than words, Misled in estimating words, not only By common inexperience of youth, But by the trade in classic niceties, The dangerous craft of culling term and phrase From languages that want the living voice To carry meaning to the natural heart; To tell us what is passion, what is truth, What reason, what simplicity and sense."[350]

Though he here speaks in the preterite tense, this was always true of him, and his thought seems often to lean upon a word too weak to bear its weight. No reader of adequate insight can help regretting that he did not earlier give himself to "the trade of classic niceties." It was precisely this which gives to the blank-verse of Landor the severe dignity and reserved force which alone among later poets recall the tune of Milton, and to which Wordsworth never attained. Indeed, Wordsworth's blank-verse (though the passion be profounder) is always essentially that of Cowper. They were alike also in their love of outward nature and of simple things. The main difference between them is one of scenery rather than of sentiment, between the life-long familiar of the mountains and the dweller on the plain.

It cannot be denied that in Wordsworth the very highest powers of the poetic mind were associated with a certain tendency to the diffuse and commonplace. It is in the understanding (always prosaic) that the great golden veins of his imagination are imbedded.[351] He wrote too much to write always well; for it is not a great Xerxes-army of words, but a compact Greek ten thousand, that march safely down to posterity. He set tasks to his divine faculty, which is much the same as trying to make Jove's eagle do the service of a clucking hen. Throughout "The Prelude" and "The Excursion" he seems striving to bind the wizard Imagination with the sand-ropes of dry disquisition, and to have forgotten the potent spell-word which would make the particles cohere. There is an arenaceous quality in the style which makes progress wearisome. Yet with what splendors as of mountain-sunsets are we rewarded! what golden rounds of verse do we not see stretching heavenward with angels ascending and descending! what haunting harmonies hover around us deep and eternal like the undying barytone of the sea! and if we are compelled to fare through sands and desert wildernesses, how often do we not hear airy shapes that syllable our names with a startling personal appeal to our highest consciousness and our noblest aspiration, such as we wait for in vain in any other poet!

Take from Wordsworth all which an honest criticism cannot but allow, and what is left will show how truly great he was. He had no humor, no dramatic power, and his temperament was of that dry and juiceless quality, that in all his published correspondence you shall not find a letter, but only essays. If we consider carefully where he was most successful, we shall find that it was not so much in description of natural scenery, or delineation of character, as in vivid expression of the effect produced by external objects and events upon his own mind, and of the shape and hue (perhaps momentary) which they in turn took from his mood or temperament. His finest passages are always monologues. He had a fondness for particulars, and there are parts of his poems which remind us of local histories in the undue relative importance given to trivial matters. He was the historian of Wordsworthshire. This power of particularization (for it is as truly a power as generalization) is what gives such vigor and greatness to single lines and sentiments of Wordsworth, and to poems developing a single thought or sentiment. It was this that made him so fond of the sonnet. That sequestered nook forced upon him the limits which his fecundity (if I may not say his garrulity) was never self-denying enough to impose on itself. It suits his solitary and meditative temper, and it was there that Lamb (an admirable judge of what was permanent in literature) liked him best. Its narrow bounds, but fourteen paces from end to end, turn into a virtue his too common fault of giving undue prominence to every passing emotion. He excels in monologue, and the law of the sonnet tempers monologue with mercy. In "The Excursion" we are driven to the subterfuge of a French verdict of extenuating circumstances. His mind had not that reach and elemental movement of Milton's, which, like the tradewind, gathered to itself thoughts and images like stately fleets from every quarter; some deep with silks and spicery, some brooding over the silent thunders of their battailous armaments, but all swept forward in their destined track, over the long billows of his verse, every inch of canvas strained by the unifying breath of their common epic impulse. It was an organ that Milton mastered, mighty in compass, capable equally of the trumpet's ardors or the slim delicacy of the flute, and sometimes it bursts forth in great crashes through his prose, as if he touched it for solace in the intervals of his toil. If Wordsworth sometimes puts the trumpet to his lips, yet he lays it aside soon and willingly for his appropriate instrument, the pastoral reed. And it is not one that grew by any vulgar stream, but that which Apollo breathed through, tending the flocks of Admetus,—that which Pan endowed with every melody of the visible universe,—the same in which the soul of the despairing nymph took refuge and gifted with her dual nature,—so that ever and anon, amid the notes of human joy or sorrow, there comes suddenly a deeper and almost awful tone, thrilling us into dim consciousness of a forgotten divinity.

Wordsworth's absolute want of humor, while it no doubt confirmed his self-confidence by making him insensible both to the comical incongruity into which he was often led by his earlier theory concerning the language of poetry and to the not unnatural ridicule called forth by it, seems to have been indicative of a certain dulness of perception in other directions.[352] We cannot help feeling that the material of his nature was essentially prose, which, in his inspired moments, he had the power of transmuting, but which, whenever the inspiration failed or was factitious, remained obstinately leaden. The normal condition of many poets would seem to approach that temperature to which Wordsworth's mind could be raised only by the white heat of profoundly inward passion. And in proportion to the intensity needful to make his nature thoroughly aglow is the very high quality of his best verses. They seem rather the productions of nature than of man, and have the lastingness of such, delighting our age with the same startle of newness and beauty that pleased our youth. Is it his thought? It has the shifting inward lustre of diamond. Is it his feeling? It is as delicate as the impressions of fossil ferns. He seems to have caught and fixed forever in immutable grace the most evanescent and intangible of our intuitions, the very ripple-marks on the remotest shores of being. But this intensity of mood which insures high quality is by its very nature incapable of prolongation, and Wordsworth, in endeavoring it, falls more below himself, and is, more even than many poets his inferiors in imaginative quality, a poet of passages. Indeed, one cannot help having the feeling sometimes that the poem is there for the sake of these passages, rather than that these are the natural jets and elations of a mind energized by the rapidity of its own motion. In other words, the happy couplet or gracious image seems not to spring from the inspiration of the poem conceived as a whole, but rather to have dropped of itself into the mind of the poet in one of his rambles, who then, in a less rapt mood, has patiently built up around it a setting of verse too often ungraceful in form and of a material whose cheapness may cast a doubt on the priceless quality of the gem it encumbers.[353] During the most happily productive period of his life, Wordsworth was impatient of what may be called the mechanical portion of his art. His wife and sister seem from the first to have been his scribes. In later years, he had learned and often insisted on the truth that poetry was an art no less than a gift, and corrected his poems in cold blood, sometimes to their detriment. But he certainly had more of the vision than of the faculty divine, and was always a little numb on the side of form and proportion. Perhaps his best poem in these respects is the "Laodamia," and it is not uninstructive to learn from his own lips that "it cost him more trouble than almost anything of equal length he had ever written." His longer poems (miscalled epical) have no more intimate bond of union than their more or less immediate relation to his own personality. Of character other than his own he had but a faint conception, and all the personages of "The Excursion" that are not Wordsworth are the merest shadows of himself upon mist, for his self-concentrated nature was incapable of projecting itself into the consciousness of other men and seeing the springs of action at their source in the recesses of individual character. The best parts of these longer poems are bursts of impassioned soliloquy, and his fingers were always clumsy at the callida junctura. The stream of narration is sluggish, if varied by times with pleasing reflections (viridesque placido aequore sylvas); we are forced to do our own rowing, and only when the current is hemmed in by some narrow gorge of the poet's personal consciousness do we feel ourselves snatched along on the smooth but impetuous rush of unmistakable inspiration. The fact that what is precious in Wordsworth's poetry was (more truly even than with some greater poets than he) a gift rather than an achievement should always be borne in mind in taking the measure of his power. I know not whether to call it height or depth, this peculiarity of his, but it certainly endows those parts of his work which we should distinguish as Wordsworthian with an unexpectedness and impressiveness of originality such as we feel in the presence of Nature herself. He seems to have been half conscious of this, and recited his own poems to all comers with an enthusiasm of wondering admiration that would have been profoundly comic[354] but for its simple sincerity and for the fact that William Wordsworth, Esquire, of Rydal Mount, was one person, and the William Wordsworth whom he so heartily reverenced quite another. We recognize two voices in him, as Stephano did in Caliban. There are Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch. If the prophet cease from dictating, the amanuensis, rather than be idle, employs his pen in jotting down some anecdotes of his master, how he one day went out and saw an old woman, and the next day did not, and so came home and dictated some verses on this ominous phenomenon, and how another day he saw a cow. These marginal annotations have been carelessly taken up into the text, have been religiously held by the pious to be orthodox scripture, and by dexterous exegesis have been made to yield deeply oracular meanings. Presently the real prophet takes up the word again and speaks as one divinely inspired, the Voice of a higher and invisible power. Wordsworth's better utterances have the bare sincerity, the absolute abstraction from time and place, the immunity from decay, that belong to the grand simplicities of the Bible. They seem not more his own than ours and every man's, the word of the inalterable Mind. This gift of his was naturally very much a matter of temperament, and accordingly by far the greater part of his finer product belongs to the period of his prime, ere Time had set his lumpish foot on the pedal that deadens the nerves of animal sensibility.[355] He did not grow as those poets do in whom the artistic sense is predominant. One of the most delightful fancies of the Genevese humorist, Toepffer, is the poet Albert, who, having had his portrait drawn by a highly idealizing hand, does his best afterwards to look like it. Many of Wordsworth's later poems seem like rather unsuccessful efforts to resemble his former self. They would never, as Sir John Harrington says of poetry, "keep a child from play and an old man from the chimney-corner."[356]

Chief Justice Marshall once blandly interrupted a junior counsel who was arguing certain obvious points of law at needless length, by saying, "Brother Jones, there are some things which a Supreme Court of the United States sitting in equity may be presumed to know." Wordsworth has this fault of enforcing and restating obvious points till the reader feels as if his own intelligence were somewhat underrated. He is over-conscientious in giving us full measure, and once profoundly absorbed in the sound of his own voice, he knows not when to stop. If he feel himself flagging, he has a droll way of keeping the floor, as it were, by asking himself a series of questions sometimes not needing, and often incapable of answer. There are three stanzas of such near the close of the First Part of "Peter Bell," where Peter first catches a glimpse of the dead body in the water, all happily incongruous, and ending with one which reaches the height of comicality:—

"Is it a fiend that to a stake Of fire his desperate self is tethering? Or stubborn spirit doomed to yell, In solitary ward or cell, Ten thousand miles from all his brethren?"

The same want of humor which made him insensible to incongruity may perhaps account also for the singular unconsciousness of disproportion which so often strikes us in his poetry. For example, a little farther on in "Peter Bell" we find:—

"Now—like a tempest-shattered bark That overwhelmed and prostrate lies, And in a moment to the verge Is lifted of a foaming surge— Full suddenly the Ass doth rise!"

And one cannot help thinking that the similes of the huge stone, the sea-beast, and the cloud, noble as they are in themselves, are somewhat too lofty for the service to which they are put.[357]

The movement of Wordsworth's mind was too slow and his mood to meditative for narrative poetry. He values his own thoughts and reflections too much to sacrifice the least of them to the interests of his story. Moreover, it is never action that interests him, but the subtle motives that lead to or hinder it. "The Wagoner" involuntarily suggests a comparison with "Tam O'Shanter" infinitely to its own disadvantage. "Peter Bell," full though it be of profound touches and subtle analysis, is lumbering and disjointed. Even Lamb was forced to confess that he did not like it. "The White Doe," the most Wordsworthian of them all in the best meaning of the epithet, is also only the more truly so for being diffuse and reluctant. What charms in Wordsworth and will charm forever is the

"Happy tone Of meditation slipping in between The beauty coming and the beauty gone,"

A few poets, in the exquisite adaptation of their words to the tune of our own feelings and fancies, in the charm of their manner, indefinable as the sympathetic grace of woman, are everything to us without our being able to say that they are much in themselves. They rather narcotize than fortify. Wordsworth must subject our mood to his own before he admits us to his intimacy; but, once admitted, it is for life, and we find ourselves in his debt, not for what he has been to us in our hours of relaxation, but for what he has done for us as a reinforcement of faltering purpose and personal independence of character. His system of a Nature-cure, first professed by Dr. Jean Jaques and continued by Cowper, certainly breaks down as a whole. The Solitary of "The Excursion," who has not been cured of his scepticism by living among the medicinal mountains, is, so far as we can see, equally proof against the lectures of Pedler and Parson. Wordsworth apparently felt that this would be so, and accordingly never saw his way clear to finishing the poem. But the treatment, whether a panacea or not, is certainly wholesome inasmuch as it inculcates abstinence, exercise, and uncontaminate air. I am not sure, indeed, that the Nature-cure theory does not tend to foster in constitutions less vigorous than Wordsworth's what Milton would call a fugitive and cloistered virtue at a dear expense of manlier qualities. The ancients and our own Elizabethans, ere spiritual megrims had become fashionable, perhaps made more out of life by taking a frank delight in its action and passion and by grappling with the facts of this world, rather than muddling themselves over the insoluble problems of another. If they had not discovered the picturesque, as we understand it, they found surprisingly fine scenery in man and his destiny, and would have seen something ludicrous, it may be suspected, in the spectacle of a grown man running to hide his head in the apron of the Mighty Mother whenever he had an ache in his finger or got a bruise in the tussle for existence.

But when, as I have said, our impartiality has made all those qualifications and deductions against which even the greatest poet may not plead his privilege, what is left to Wordsworth is enough to justify his fame. Even where his genius is wrapped in clouds, the unconquerable lightning of imagination struggles through, flashing out unexpected vistas, and illuminating the humdrum pathway of our daily thought with a radiance of momentary consciousness that seems like a revelation. If it be the most delightful function of the poet to set our lives to music, yet perhaps he will be even more sure of our maturer gratitude if he do his part also as moralist and philosopher to purify and enlighten; if he define and encourage our vacillating perceptions of duty; if he piece together our fragmentary apprehensions of our own life and that larger life whose unconscious instruments we are, making of the jumbled bits of our dissected map of experience a coherent chart. In the great poets there is an exquisite sensibility both of soul and sense that sympathizes like gossamer sea-moss with every movement of the element in which it floats, but which is rooted on the solid rock of our common sympathies. Wordsworth shows less of this finer feminine fibre of organization than one or two of his contemporaries, notably than Coleridge or Shelley; but he was a masculine thinker, and in his more characteristic poems there is always a kernel of firm conclusion from far-reaching principles that stimulates thought and challenges meditation. Groping in the dark passages of life, we come upon some axiom of his, as it were a wall that gives us our bearings and enables us to find an outlet. Compared with Goethe we feel that he lacks that serene impartiality of mind which results from breadth of culture; nay, he seems narrow, insular, almost provincial. He reminds us of those saints of Dante who gather brightness by revolving on their own axis. But through this very limitation of range he gains perhaps in intensity and the impressiveness which results from eagerness of personal conviction. If we read Wordsworth through, as I have just done, we find ourselves changing our mind about him at every other page, so uneven is he. If we read our favorite poems or passages only, he will seem uniformly great. And even as regards "The Excursion" we should remember how few long poems will bear consecutive reading. For my part I know of but one,—the Odyssey.

None of our great poets can be called popular in any exact sense of the word, for the highest poetry deals with thoughts and emotions which inhabit, like rarest sea-mosses, the doubtful limits of that shore between our abiding divine and our fluctuating human nature, rooted in the one, but living in the other, seldom laid bare, and otherwise visible only at exceptional moments of entire calm and clearness. Of no other poet except Shakespeare have so many phrases become household words as of Wordsworth. If Pope has made current more epigrams of worldly wisdom, to Wordsworth belongs the nobler praise of having defined for us, and given us for a daily possession, those faint and vague suggestions of other-worldliness of whose gentle ministry with our baser nature the hurry and bustle of life scarcely ever allowed us to be conscious. He has won for himself a secure immortality by a depth of intuition which makes only the best minds at their best hours worthy, or indeed capable, of his companionship, and by a homely sincerity of human sympathy which reaches the humblest heart. Our language owes him gratitude for the habitual purity and abstinence of his style, and we who speak it, for having emboldened us to take delight in simple things, and to trust ourselves to our own instincts. And he hath his reward. It needs not to bid

"Renowned Chaucer lie a thought more nigh To rare Beaumond, and learned Beaumond lie A little nearer Spenser";

for there is no fear of crowding in that little society with whom he is now enrolled as fifth in the succession of the great English Poets.


[323] "I pay many little visits to the family in the churchyard at Grasmere," writes James Dixon (an old servant of Wordsworth) to Crabb Robinson, with a simple, one might almost say canine pathos, thirteen years after his master's death. Wordsworth was always considerate and kind with his servants, Robinson tells us.

[324] In the Prelude he attributes this consecreation to a sunrise seen (during a college vacation) as he walked homeward from some village festival where he had danced all night—

"My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows Were then made for me; bond unknown to me Was given that I should be, else sinning greatly, A dedicated spirit."—B. IV.

[325] Prelude, Book II.

[326] "I to the muses have been bound, These fourteen years, by strong indentures."

Idiot Boy (1798).

[327] I think this more than doubtful, for I find no traces of the influence of any of these poets in his earlier writings. Goldsmith was evidently his model in the Descriptive Sketches and the Evening Walk. I speak of them as originally printed.

[328] Prelude, Book III. He studied Italian also at Cambridge, his teacher, whose name was Isola, had formerly taught the poet Gray. It may be pretty certainly inferred, however, that his first systematic study of English poetry was due to the copy of Andersen's British Poets, left with him by his sailor brother John on setting out for his last voyage in 1805.

[329] Prelude, Book VII. Written before 1805, and referring to a still earlier date. "Wordsworth went in powder, and with cocked hat under his arm, to the Marchioness of Stafford's rout." (Southey to Miss Barker, May, 1806.)

[330] This was probably one reason for the long suppression of Miss Wordsworth's journal, which she had evidently prepared for publication as early as 1805.

[331] Crabb Robinson, I. 250, Am. Ed.

[332] Wordsworth's purity afterwards grew sensitive almost to prudery. The late Mr. Clough told me that he heard him at Dr. Arnold's table denounce the first line in Keats's Ode to a Grecian Urn as indecent, and Haydon records that when he saw the group of Cupid and Psyche he exclaimed, "The dev-ils!"

[333] The whole passage is omitted in the revised edition. The original, a quarto pamphlet, is now very rare, but fortunately Charles Lamb's copy of it is now owned by my friend Professor C. E. Norton.

[334] Wordsworth showed his habitual good sense in never sharing, so far as is known, the communistic dreams of his friends Coleridge and Southey. The latter of the two had, to be sure, renounced them shortly after his marriage, and before his acquaintance with Wordsworth began. But Coleridge seems to have clung to them longer. There is a passage in one of his letters to Cottle (without date, but apparently written in the spring of 1798) which would imply that Wordsworth had been accused of some kind of social heresy. "Wordsworth has been caballed against so long and so loudly that he has found it impossible to prevail on the tenant of the Allfoxden estate to let him the house after their first agreement is expired." Perhaps, after all, it was Wordsworth's insulation of character and habitual want of sympathy with anything but the moods of his own mind that rendered him incapable of this copartnery of enthusiasm. He appears to have regarded even his sister Dora (whom he certainly loved as much as it was possible for him to love anything but his own poems) as a kind of tributary dependency of his genius, much as a mountain might look down on one of its ancillary spurs.

[335] Speaking to one of his neighbors in 1845 he said, "that, after he had finished his college course, he was in great doubt as to what his future employment should be. He did not feel himself good enough for the Church; he felt that his mind was not properly disciplined for that holy office, and that the struggle between his conscience and his impulses would have made life a torture. He also shrank from the Law, although Southey often told him that he was well fitted for the higher parts of the profession. He had studied military history with great interest, and the strategy of war, and he always fancied that he had talents for command, and he at one time thought of a military life, but then he was without connections, and he felt, if he were ordered to the West Indies, his talents would not save him from the yellow fever, and he gave that up." (Memoirs, II. 466.) It is curious to fancy Wordsworth a soldier. Certain points of likeness between him and Wellington have often struck me. They resemble each other in practical good sense, fidelity to duty, courage, and also in a kind of precise uprightness which made their personal character somewhat uninteresting. But what was decorum in Wellington was piety in Woidsworth, and the entire absence of imagination (the great point of dissimilarity) perhaps helped as much as anything to make Wellington a great commander.

[336] Cottle says, "The sale was so slow and the severity of most of the reviews so great that its progress to oblivion seemed to be certain." But the notices in the Monthly and Critical Reviews (then the most influential) were fair, and indeed favorable, especially to Wordsworth's share in the volume. The Monthly says, "So much genius and originality are discovered in this publication that we wish to see another from the same hand." The Critical, after saying that "in the whole range of English, poetry we scarcely recollect anything superior to a passage in Lines written near Tintern Abbey," sums up thus: "Yet every piece discovers genius; and ill as the author has frequently employed his talents, they certainly rank him with the best of living poets." Such treatment cannot surely be called discouraging.

[337] A very improbable story of Coleridge's in the Biographia Literaria represents the two friends as having incurred a suspicion of treasonable dealings with the French enemy by their constant references to a certain "Spy Nosey." The story at least seems to show how they pronounced the name, which was exactly in accordance with the usage of the last generation in New England.

[338] Wordsworth found (as other original minds have since done) a hearing in America sooner than in England. James Humphreys, a Philadelphia bookseller, was encouraged by a sufficient list of subscribers to reprint the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads. The second English edition, however, having been published before he had wholly completed his reprinting, was substantially followed in the first American, which was published in 1802.

[339] Some of the weightiest passages in this Preface, as it is now printed, were inserted without notice of date in the edition of 1815.

[340] "On my alluding to the line,

"'Three feet long and two feet wide,'

"and confessing that I dared not read them aloud in company, he said, 'They ought to be liked.'" (Crabb Robinson, 9th May, 1815.) His ordinary answer to criticisms was that he considered the power to appreciate the passage criticised as a test of the critic's capacity to judge of poetry at all.

[341] Byron, then in his twentieth year, wrote a review of these volumes not, on the whole, unfair. Crabb Robinson is reported as saying that Wordsworth was indignant at the Edinburgh Review's attack on Hours of Idleness. "The young man will do something if he goes on," he said.

[342] The Rev. Dr. Wordsworth has encumbered the memory of his uncle with two volumes of Memoirs, which for confused dreariness are only matched by the Rev. Mark Noble's "History of the Protectorate House of Cromwell." It is a misfortune that his materials were not put into the hands of Professor Reed, whose notes to the American edition are among the most valuable parts of it, as they certainly are the clearest. The book contains, however, some valuable letters of Wordsworth, and those relating to this part of his life should be read by every student of his works, for the light they throw upon the principles which governed him in the composition of his poems. In a letter to Lady Beaumont (May 21, 1807) he says, "Trouble not yourself upon their present reception, of what moment is that compared with what I trust is their destiny!—to console the afflicted, to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier; to teach the young and the gracious of every age, to see, to think and feel, and therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous; this is their office, which I trust they will faithfully perform long after we (that is all that is mortal of us) are mouldered in our graves.... To conclude, my ears are stone dead to this idle buzz [of hostile criticism] and my flesh as insensible as iron to these petty stings and; after what I have said, I am sure yours will be the same I doubt not that you will share with me an invincible confidence that my writings (and among them these little poems) will co-operate with the benign tendencies in human nature and society wherever found; and that they will in their degree be efficacious in making men wiser, better, and happier." Here is an odd reversal of the ordinary relation between an unpopular poet and his little public of admirers; it is he who keeps up their spirits, and supplies them with faith from his own inexhaustible cistern.

[343] "Wordsworth's pamphlet will fail of producing any general effect, because the sentences are long and involved; and his friend De Quincey, who corrected the press, has rendered them more obscure by an unusual system of punctuation." (Southey to Scott, 30th July, 1809.) The tract is, as Southey hints, heavy.

[344] The first essay in the third volume of the second edition.

[345] Wordsworth's children were,— John, born 18th June, 1803; still living; a clergyman. Dorothy, born 16th August, 1804; died 9th July, 1847. Thomas, born 16th June, 1806; died 1st December, 1812. Catharine, born 6th September, 1808; died 4th June, 1812. William, born 12th May, 1810; succeeded his father as Stamp-Distributor.

[346] Good luck (in the sense of Chance) seems properly to be the occurrence of Opportunity to one who has neither deserved nor knows how to use it. In such hands it commonly turns to ill luck. Moore's Bermudan appointment is an instance of it Wordsworth had a sound common-sense and practical conscientiousness, which enabled him to fil his office as well as Dr. Franklin could have done. A fitter man could not have been found in Westmoreland.

[347] "I am not one who much or oft delight In personal talk."

[348] How far he swung backward toward the school under whose influence he grew up, and toward the style against which he had protested so vigorously, a few examples will show. The advocate of the language of common life has a verse in his Thanksgiving Ode which, if one met with it by itself, he would think the achievement of some later copyist of Pope:—

"While the tubed engine [the organ] feels the inspiring blast."

And in "The Italian Itinerant" and "The Swiss Goatherd" we find a thermometer or barometer called

"The well-wrought scale Whose sentient tube instructs to time A purpose to a fickle clime."

Still worse in the "Eclipse of the Sun," 1821:—

"High on her speculative tower Stood Science, waiting for the hour When Sol was destined to endure That darkening."

So in "The Excursion,"

"The cold March wind raised in her tender throat Viewless obstructions."

[349] According to Landor, he pronounced all Scott's poetry to be "not worth five shillings."

[350] Prelude, Book VI.

[351] This was instinctively felt, even by his admirers. Miss Martineau said to Crabb Robinson in 1839, speaking of Wordsworth's conversation: "Sometimes he is annoying from the pertinacity with which he dwells on trifles; at other times he flows on in the utmost grandeur, leaving a strong impression of inspiration." Robinson tells us that he read "Resolution" and "Independence" to a lady who was affected by it even to tears, and then said, "I have not heard anything for years that so much delighted me; but, after all, it is not poetry."

[352] Nowhere is this displayed with more comic self-complacency than when he thought it needful to rewrite the ballad of Helen of Kirconnel,—a poem hardly to be matched in any language for swiftness of movement and savage sincerity of feeling. Its shuddering compression is masterly. Compare

"Curst be the heart that thought the thought, And curst the hand that fired the shot, When in my arms burd Helen dropt, That died to succor me! O, think ye not my heart was sair When my love dropt down and spake na mair?"

compare this with,—

"Proud Gordon cannot bear the thoughts That through his brain are travelling, And, starting up, to Bruce's heart He launched a deadly javelin: Fair Ellen saw it when it came, And, stepping forth to meet the same, Did with her body cover The Youth, her chosen lover. * * * * * "And Bruce (as soon, as he had slain The Gordon) sailed away to Spain, And fought with rage incessant Against the Moorish Crescent."

These are surely the verses of an attorney's clerk "penning a stanza when he should engross." It will be noticed that Wordsworth here also departs from his earlier theory of the language of poetry by substituting a javelin for a bullet as less modern and familiar. Had he written,—

"And Gordon never gave a hint, But, having somewhat picked his flint, Let fly the fatal bullet That killed that lovely pullet,"

it would hardly have seemed more like a parody than the rest. He shows the same insensibility in a note upon the Ancient Mariner in the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads: "The poem of my friend has indeed great defects; first, that the principal person has no distinct character, either in his profession of mariner, or as a human being who, having been long under the control of supernatural impressions, might be supposed himself to partake of something supernatural; secondly, that he does not act, but is continually acted upon; thirdly, that the events, having no necessary connection, do not produce each other; and lastly, that the imagery is somewhat laboriously accumulated." Here is an indictment, to be sure, and drawn, plainly enough, by the attorney's clerk aforenamed. One would think that the strange charm of Coleridge's most truly original poems lay in this very emancipation from the laws of cause and effect.

[353] "A hundred times when, roving high and low, I have been harassed with the toil of verse, Much pains and little progress, and at once Some lovely Image in the song rose up, Full formed, like Venus rising from the sea."

Prelude, Book IV.

[354] Mr. Emerson tells us that he was at first tempted to smile, and Mr. Ellis Yarnall (who saw him in his eightieth year) says, "These quotations [from his own works] he read in a way that much impressed me; it seemed almost as if he were awed by the greatness of his own power, the gifts with which he had been endowed." (The italics are mine.)

[355] His best poetry was written when he was under the immediate influence of Coleridge. Coleridge seems to have felt this, for it is evidently to Wordsworth that he alludes when he speaks of "those who have been so well pleased that I should, year after year, flow with a hundred nameless rills into their main stream." (Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of S.T.C., Vol. I. pp. 5-6.) "Wordsworth found fault with the repetition of the concluding sound of the participles in Shakespeare's line about bees:

"'The singing masons building roofs of gold.'

"This, he said, was a line that Milton never would have written. Keats thought, on the other hand, that the repetition was in harmony with the continued note of the singers." (Leigh Hunt's Autobiography.) Wordsworth writes to Crabb Robinson in 1837, "My ear is susceptible to the clashing of sounds almost to disease." One cannot help thinking that his training in these niceties was begun by Coleridge.

[356] In the Preface to his translation of the Orlando Furioso.

[357] In "Resolution" and "Independence".


If the biographies of literary men are to assume the bulk which Mr. Masson is giving to that of Milton, their authors should send a phial of elixir vitae with the first volume, that a purchaser might have some valid assurance of surviving to see the last. Mr. Masson has already occupied thirteen hundred and seventy-eight pages in getting Milton to his thirty-fifth year, and an interval of eleven years stretches between the dates of the first and second instalments of his published labors. As Milton's literary life properly begins at twenty-one, with the "Ode on the Nativity," and as by far the more important part of it lies between the year at which we are arrived and his death at the age of sixty-six, we might seem to have the terms given us by which to make a rough reckoning of how soon we are likely to see land. But when we recollect the baffling character of the winds and currents we have already encountered, and the eddies that may at any time slip us back to the reformation in Scotland or the settlement of New England; when we consider, moreover, that Milton's life overlapped the grand siecle of French literature, with its irresistible temptations to digression and homily for a man of Mr Masson's temperament, we may be pardoned if a sigh of doubt and discouragement escape us. We envy the secular leisures of Methusaleh, and are thankful that his biography at least (if written in the same longeval proportion) is irrecoverably lost to us. What a subject would that have been for a person of Mr. Masson's spacious predilections! Even if he himself can count on patriarchal prorogations of existence, let him hang a print of the Countess of Desmond in his study to remind him of the ambushes which Fate lays for the toughest of us. For myself, I have not dared to climb a cherry-tree since I began to read his work. Even with the promise of a speedy third volume before me, I feel by no means sure of living to see Mary Powell back in her husband's house; for it is just at this crisis that Mr. Masson, with the diabolical art of a practised serial writer, leaves us while he goes into an exhaustive account of the Westminster Assembly and the political and religious notions of the Massachusetts Puritans. One could not help thinking, after having got Milton fairly through college, that he was never more mistaken in his life than when he wrote,

"How soon hath Time, that subtle thief of youth, Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!"

Or is it Mr. Masson who has scotched Time's wheels?

It is plain from the Preface to the second volume that Mr. Masson himself has an uneasy consciousness that something is wrong, and that Milton ought somehow to be more than a mere incident of his own biography. He tells us that, "whatever may be thought by a hasty person looking in on the subject from the outside, no one can study the life of Milton as it ought to be studied without being obliged to study extensively and intimately the contemporary history of England, and even incidentally of Scotland and Ireland too.... Thus on the very compulsion, or at least the suasion, of the biography, a history grew on my hands. It was not in human nature to confine the historical inquiries, once they were in progress, within the precise limits of their demonstrable bearing on the biography, even had it been possible to determine these limits beforehand; and so the history assumed a co-ordinate importance with me, was pursued often for its own sake, and became, though always with a sense of organic relation to the biography, continuous in itself." If a "hasty person" be one who thinks eleven years rather long to have his button held by a biographer ere he begin his next sentence, I take to myself the sting of Mr. Masson's covert sarcasm. I confess with shame a pusillanimity that is apt to flag if a "to be continued" do not redeem its promise before the lapse of a quinquennium. I could scarce await the "Autocrat" himself so long. The heroic age of literature is past, and even a duodecimo may often prove too heavy [Greek: oion nun brotoi] for the descendants of men to whom the folio was a pastime. But what does Mr. Masson mean by "continuous"? To me it seems rather as if his somewhat rambling history of the seventeenth century were interrupted now and then by an unexpected apparition of Milton, who, like Paul Pry, just pops in and hopes he does not intrude, to tell us what he has been doing in the mean while. The reader, immersed in Scottish politics or the schemes of Archbishop Laud, is a little puzzled at first, but reconciles himself on being reminded that this fair-haired young man is the protagonist of the drama. Pars minima est ipsa puella sui.

If Goethe was right in saying that every man was a citizen of his age as well as of his country, there can be no doubt that in order to understand the motives and conduct of the man we must first make ourselves intimate with the time in which he lived. We have therefore no fault to find with the thoroughness of Mr. Masson's "historical inquiries." The more thorough the better, so far as they were essential to the satisfactory performance of his task. But it is only such contemporary events, opinions, or persons as were really operative on the character of the man we are studying that are of consequence, and we are to familiarize ourselves with them, not so much for the sake of explaining them as of understanding him. The biographer, especially of a literary man, need only mark the main currents of tendency, without being officious to trace out to its marshy source every runlet that has cast in its tiny pitcherful with the rest. Much less should he attempt an analysis of the stream and to classify every component by itself, as if each were ever effectual singly and not in combination. Human motives cannot be thus chemically cross-examined, nor do we arrive at any true knowledge of character by such minute subdivision of its ingredients. Nothing is so essential to a biographer as an eye that can distinguish at a glance between real events that are the levers of thought and action, and what Donne calls "unconcerning things, matters of fact,"—between substantial personages, whose contact or even neighborhood is influential, and the supernumeraries that serve first to fill up a stage and afterwards the interstices of a biographical dictionary.

"Time hath a wallet at his back Wherein he puts alms for Oblivion."

Let the biographer keep his fingers off that sacred and merciful deposit, and not renew for us the bores of a former generation as if we had not enough of our own. But if he cannot forbear that unwise inquisitiveness, we may fairly complain when he insists on taking us along with him in the processes of his investigation, instead of giving us the sifted results in their bearing on the life and character of his subject, whether for help or hindrance. We are blinded with the dust of old papers ransacked by Mr. Masson to find out that they have no relation whatever to his hero. He had been wise if he had kept constantly in view what Milton himself says of those who gathered up personal traditions concerning the Apostles: "With less fervency was studied what Saint Paul or Saint John had written than was listened to one that could say, 'Here he taught, here he stood, this was his stature, and thus he went habited; and O, happy this house that harbored him, and that cold stone whereon he rested, this village where he wrought such a miracle.'.... Thus while all their thoughts were poured out upon circumstances and the gazing after such men as had sat at table with the Apostles, ... by this means they lost their time and truanted on the fundamental grounds of saving knowledge, as was seen shortly in their writings." Mr. Masson has so poured out his mind upon circumstances, that his work reminds us of Allston's picture of Elijah in the Wilderness, where a good deal of research at last enables us to guess at the prophet absconded like a conundrum in the landscape where the very ravens could scarce have found him out, except by divine commission. The figure of Milton becomes but a speck on the enormous canvas crowded with the scenery through which he may by any possibility be conjectured to have passed. I will cite a single example of the desperate straits to which Mr. Masson is reduced in order to hitch Milton on to his own biography. He devotes the first chapter of his Second Book to the meeting of the Long Parliament. "Already," he tells us, "in the earlier part of the day, the Commons had gone through the ceremony of hearing the writ for the Parliament read, and the names of the members that had been returned called over by Thomas Wyllys, Esq., the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. His deputy, Agar, Milton's brother-in-law, may have been in attendance on such an occasion. During the preceding month or two, at all events, Agar and his subordinates in the Crown Office had been unusually busy with the issue of the writs and with the other work connected with the opening of Parliament." (Vol. II. p. 150.) Mr. Masson's resolute "at all events" is very amusing. Meanwhile

"The hungry sheep look up and are not fed."

Augustine Thierry has a great deal to answer for, if to him we owe the modern fashion of writing history picturesquely. At least his method leads to most unhappy results when essayed by men to whom nature has denied a sense of what the picturesque really is. The historical picturesque does not consist, in truth of costume and similar accessaries, but in the grouping, attitude, and expression of the figures, caught when they are unconscious that the artist is sketching them. The moment they are posed for a composition, unless by a man of genius, the life has gone out of them. In the hands of an inferior artist, who fancies that imagination is something to be squeezed out of color-tubes, the past becomes a phantasmagoria of jackboots, doublets, and flap-hats, the mere property-room of a deserted theatre, as if the light had been scenical and illusory, the world an unreal thing that vanished with the foot-lights. It is the power of catching the actors in great events at unawares that makes the glimpses given us by contemporaries so vivid and precious. And St. Simon, one of the great masters of the picturesque, lets us into the secret of his art when he tells us how, in that wonderful scene of the death of Monseigneur, he saw "du premier coup d'oeil vivement porte, tout ce qui leur echappoit et tout ce qui les accableroit." It is the gift of producing this reality that almost makes us blush, as if we had been caught peeping through a keyhole, and had surprised secrets to which we had no right,—it is this only that can justify the pictorial method of narration. Mr. Carlyle has this power of contemporizing himself with bygone times, he cheats us to

"Play with our fancies and believe we see";

but we find the tableaux vivants of the apprentices who "deal in his command without his power," and who compel us to work very hard indeed with our fancies, rather wearisome. The effort of weaker arms to shoot with his mighty bow has filled the air of recent literature with more than enough fruitless twanging.

Mr. Masson's style, at best cumbrous, becomes intolerably awkward when he strives to make up for the want of St. Simon's premier coup d'oeil by impertinent details of what we must call the pseudo-dramatic kind. For example, does Hall profess to have traced Milton from the University to a "suburb sink" of London? Mr. Masson fancies he hears Milton saying to himself, "A suburb sink! has Hall or his son taken the trouble to walk all the way down to Aldersgate here, to peep up the entry where I live, and so have an exact notion of my whereabouts? There has been plague in the neighborhood certainly; and I hope Jane Yates had my doorstep tidy for the visit." Does Milton, answering Hall's innuendo that he was courting the graces of a rich widow, tell us that he would rather "choose a virgin of mean fortunes honestly bred"? Mr. Masson forthwith breaks forth in a paroxysm of what we suppose to be picturesqueness in this wise: "What have we here? Surely nothing less, if we choose so to construe it, than a marriage advertisement! Ho, all ye virgins of England (widows need not apply), here is an opportunity such as seldom occurs: a bachelor, unattached; age, thirty-three years and three or four months; height [Milton, by the way, would have said highth] middle or a little less; personal appearance unusually handsome, with fair complexion and light auburn hair; circumstances independent; tastes intellectual and decidedly musical; principles Root-and-Branch! Was there already any young maiden in whose bosom, had such an advertisement come in her way, it would have raised a conscious flutter? If so, did she live near Oxford?" If there is anything worse than an unimaginative man trying to write imaginatively, it is a heavy man when he fancies he is being facetious. He tramples out the last spark of cheerfulness with the broad damp foot of a hippopotamus.

I am no advocate of what is called the dignity of history, when it means, as it too often does, that dulness has a right of sanctuary in gravity. Too well do I recall the sorrows of my youth, when I was shipped in search of knowledge on the long Johnsonian swell of the last century, favorable to anything but the calm digestion of historic truth. I had even then an uneasy suspicion, which has ripened into certainty, that thoughts were never draped in long skirts like babies, if they were strong enough to go alone. But surely there should be such a thing as good taste, above all a sense of self-respect, in the historian himself, that should not allow him to play any tricks with the dignity of his subject. A halo of sacredness has hitherto invested the figure of Milton, and our image of him has dwelt securely in ideal remoteness from the vulgarities of life. No diaries, no private letters, remain to give the idle curiosity of after-times the right to force itself on the hallowed seclusion of his reserve. That a man whose familiar epistles were written in the language of Cicero, whose sense of personal dignity was so great that, when called on in self-defence to speak of himself, he always does it with an epical stateliness of phrase, and whose self-respect even in youth was so profound that it resembles the reverence paid by other men to a far-off and idealized character,—that he should be treated in this offhand familiar fashion by his biographer seems to us a kind of desecration, a violation of good manners no less than of the laws of biographic art. Milton is the last man in the world to be slapped on the back with impunity. Better the surly injustice of Johnson than such presumptuous friendship as this. Let the seventeenth century, at least, be kept sacred from the insupportable foot of the interviewer!

But Mr. Masson, in his desire to be (shall I say) idiomatic, can do something worse than what has been hitherto quoted. He can be even vulgar. Discussing the motives of Milton's first marriage, he says, "Did he come seeking his L500, and did Mrs. Powell heave a daughter at him?" We have heard of a woman throwing herself at a man's head, and the image is a somewhat violent one; but what is this to Mr. Masson's improvement on it? It has been sometimes affirmed that the fitness of an image may be tested by trying whether a picture could be made of it or not. Mr. Masson has certainly offered a new and striking subject to the historical school of British art. A little further on, speaking of Mary Powell, he says, "We have no portrait of her, nor any account of her appearance; but on the usual rule of the elective affinities of opposites, Milton being fair, we will vote her to have been dark-haired." I need say nothing of the good taste of this sentence, but its absurdity is heightened by the fact that Mr. Masson himself had left us in doubt whether the match was one of convenience or inclination. I know not how it may be with other readers, but for myself I feel inclined to resent this hail-fellow-well-met manner with its jaunty "we will vote." In some cases, Mr. Masson's indecorums in respect of style may possibly be accounted for as attempts at humor by one who has an imperfect notion of its ingredients. In such experiments, to judge by the effect, the pensive element of the compound enters in too large an excess over the hilarious. Whether I have hit upon the true explanation, or whether the cause lie not rather in a besetting velleity of the picturesque and vivid, I shall leave the reader to judge by an example or two. In the manuscript copy of Milton's sonnet in which he claims for his own house the immunity which the memory of Pindar and Euripides secured for other walls, the title had originally been, "On his Door when the City expected an Assault." Milton has drawn a line through this and substituted "When the Assault was intended to the City." Mr. Masson fancies "a mood of jest or semi-jest in the whole affair"; but we think rather that Milton's quiet assumption of equality with two such famous poets was as seriously characteristic as Dante's ranking himself sesto tra cotanto senno. Mr. Masson takes advantage of the obliterated title to imagine one of Prince Rupert's troopers entering the poet's study and finding some of his "Anti-Episcopal pamphlets that had been left lying about inadvertently. 'Oho!' the Cavalier Captain might then have said, 'Pindar and Euripides are all very well, by G——! I've been at college myself; and when I meet a gentleman and scholar, I hope I know how to treat him; but neither Pindar nor Euripides ever wrote pamphlets against the Church of England, by G——! It won't do, Mr. Milton!'" This, it may be supposed, is Mr. Masson's way of being funny and dramatic at the same time. Good taste is shocked with this barbarous dissonance. Could not the Muse defend her son? Again, when Charles I., at Edinburgh, in the autumn and winter of 1641, fills the vacant English sees, we are told, "It was more than an insult; it was a sarcasm! It was as if the King, while giving Alexander Henderson his hand to kiss, had winked his royal eye over that reverend Presbyter's back!" Now one can conceive Charles II. winking when he took the Solemn League and Covenant, but never his father under any circumstances. He may have been, and I believe he was, a bad king, but surely we may take Marvell's word for it, that

"He nothing common did or mean,"

upon any of the "memorable scenes" of his life. The image is, therefore, out of all imaginative keeping, and vulgarizes the chief personage in a grand historical tragedy, who, if not a great, was at least a decorous actor. But Mr. Masson can do worse than this. Speaking of a Mrs. Katherine Chidley, who wrote in defence of the Independents against Thomas Edwards, he says, "People wondered who this she-Brownist, Katherine Chidley, was, and did not quite lose their interest in her when they found that she was an oldish woman, and a member of some hole-and-corner congregation in London. Indeed, she put her nails into Mr. Edwards with some effect." Why did he not say at once, after the good old fashion, that she "set her ten commandments in his face"? In another place he speaks of "Satan standing with his staff around him." Mr. Masson's style, a little Robertsonian at best, naturally grows worse when forced to condescend to every-day matters. He can no more dismount and walk than the man in armor on a Lord Mayor's day. "It [Aldersgate Street] stretches away northwards a full fourth of a mile as one continuous thoroughfare, until, crossed by Long Lane and the Barbican, it parts with the name of Aldersgate Street, and, under the new names of Goswell Street and Goswell Road, completes its tendency towards the suburbs and fields about Islington." What a noble work might not the Directory be if composed on this scale! The imagination even of an alderman might well be lost in that full quarter of a mile of continuous thoroughfare. Mr. Masson is very great in these passages of civic grandeur; but he is more surprising, on the whole, where he has an image to deal with. Speaking of Milton's "two-handed engine" in Lycidas, he says: "May not Milton, whatever else he meant, have meant a coming English Parliament with its two Houses? Whatever he meant, his prophecy had come true. As he sat among his books in Aldersgate Street, the two-handed engine at the door of the English Church was on the swing. Once, twice, thrice, it had swept its arcs to gather energy; now it was on the backmost poise, and the blow was to descend." One cannot help wishing that Mr. Masson would try his hand on the tenth horn of the beast in Revelation, or on the time and half a time of Daniel. There is something so consoling to a prophet in being told that, no matter what he meant, his prophecy had come true, and that he might mean "whatever else" he pleased, so long as he may have meant what we choose to think he did, reasoning backward from the assumed fulfilment! But perhaps there may be detected in Mr. Masson's "swept its arcs" a little of that prophetic hedging-in vagueness to which he allows so generous a latitude. How if the "two-handed engine," after all, were a broom (or besom, to be more dignified),

"Sweeping—vehemently sweeping, No pause admitted, no design avowed,"

like that wielded by the awful shape which Dion the Syracusan saw? I make the suggestion modestly, though somewhat encouraged by Mr. Masson's system of exegesis, which reminds one of the casuists' doctrine of probables, in virtue of which a man may be probabiliter obligatus and probabiliter deobligatus at the same time. But perhaps the most remarkable instance of Mr. Masson's figures of speech is where we are told that the king might have established a bona fide government "by giving public ascendency to the popular or Parliamentary element in his Council, and inducing the old leaven in it either to accept the new policy, or to withdraw and become inactive." There is something consoling in the thought that yeast should be accessible to moral suasion. It is really too bad that bread should ever be heavy for want of such an appeal to its moral sense as should "induce it to accept the new policy." Of Mr. Masson's unhappy infection with the vivid style an instance or two shall be given in justification of what has been alleged against him in that particular. He says of London that "he was committed to the Tower, where for more than two months he lay, with as near a prospect as ever prisoner had of a chop with the executioner's axe on a scaffold on Tower Hill." I may be over-fastidious, but the word "chop" offends my ears with its coarseness, or if that be too strong, has certainly the unpleasant effect of an emphasis unduly placed. Old Auchinleck's saying of Cromwell, that "he gart kings ken they had a lith in their necks," is a good example of really vivid phrase, suggesting the axe and the block, and giving one of those dreadful hints to the imagination which are more powerful than any amount of detail, and whose skilful use is the only magic employed by the masters of truly picturesque writing. The sentence just quoted will serve also as an example of that tendency to surplusage, which adds to the bulk of Mr. Masson's sentences at the cost of their effectiveness. If he had said simply "chop on Tower Hill" (if chop there must be), it had been quite enough, for we all know that the executioner's axe and the scaffold are implied in it. Once more, and I have done with the least agreeable part of my business. Mr. Masson, after telling over again the story of Strafford with needless length of detail, ends thus: "On Wednesday, the 12th of May, that proud curly head, the casket of that brain of power, rolled on the scaffold of Tower Hill." Why curly? Surely it is here a ludicrous impertinence. This careful thrusting forward of outward and unmeaning particulars, in the hope of giving that reality to a picture which genius only has the art to do, is becoming a weariness in modern descriptive writing. It reminds one of the Mrs. Jarley expedient of dressing the waxen effigies of murderers in the very clothes they wore when they did the deed, or with the real halter round their necks wherewith they expiated it. It is probably very effective with the torpid sensibilities of the class who look upon wax figures as works of art. True imaginative power works with other material. Lady Macbeth striving to wash away from her hands the damned spot that is all the more there to the mind of the spectator because it is not there at all, is a type of the methods it employs and the intensity of their action.

Having discharged my duty in regard to Mr. Masson's faults of manner, which I should not have dwelt on so long had they not greatly marred a real enjoyment in the reading, and were they not the ear-mark of a school which has become unhappily numerous, I turn to a consideration of his work as a whole. I think he made a mistake in his very plan, or else was guilty of a misnomer in his title. His book is not so much a life of Milton as a collection of materials out of which a careful reader may sift the main facts of the poet's biography. His passion for minute detail is only to be equalled by his diffuseness on points mainly if not altogether irrelevant. He gives us a Survey of British Literature, occupying one hundred and twenty-eight pages of his first volume, written in the main with good judgment, and giving the average critical opinion upon nearly every writer, great and small, who was in any sense a contemporary of Milton. I have no doubt all this would be serviceable and interesting to Mr. Masson's classes in Edinburgh University, and they may well be congratulated on having so competent a teacher; but what it has to do with Milton, unless in the case of such authors as may be shown to have influenced his style or turn of thought, one does not clearly see. Most readers of a life of Milton may be presumed to have some knowledge of the general literary history of the time, or at any rate to have the means of acquiring it, and Milton's manner (his style was his own) was very little affected by any of the English poets, with the single exception, in his earlier poems, of George Wither. Mr. Masson also has something to say about everybody, from Wentworth to the obscurest Brownist fanatic who was so much as heard of in England during Milton's lifetime. If this theory of a biographer's duty should hold, our grandchildren may expect to see "A Life of Thackeray, or who was who in England, France, and Germany during the first Half of the Nineteenth Century." These digressions of Mr. Masson's from what should have been his main topic (he always seems somehow to be "completing his tendency towards the suburbs" of his subject), give him an uneasy feeling that he must get Milton in somehow or other at intervals, if it were only to remind the reader that he has a certain connection with the book. He is eager even to discuss a mere hypothesis, though an untenable one, if it will only increase the number of pages devoted specially to Milton, and thus lessen the apparent disproportion between the historical and the biographical matter. Milton tells us that his morning wont had been "to read good authors, or cause them to be read, till the attention be weary, or memory have his full fraught; then with useful and generous labors preserving the body's health and hardiness, to render lightsome, clear, and not lumpish obedience to the mind, to the cause of religion and our country's liberty when it shall require firm hearts in sound bodies to stand and cover their stations rather than see the rum of our Protestantism and the enforcement of a slavish life." Mr. Masson snatches at the hint: "This is interesting," he says; "Milton, it seems, has for some time been practising drill! The City Artillery Ground was near.... Did Milton among others make a habit of going there of mornings? Of this more hereafter." When Mr. Masson returns to the subject he speaks of Milton's "all but positive statement ... that in the spring of 1642, or a few months before the breaking out of the Civil War, he was in the habit of spending a part of each day in military exercise somewhere not far from his house in Aldersgate Street." What he puts by way of query on page 402 has become downright certainty seventy-nine pages further on. The passage from Milton's tract makes no "statement" of the kind it pleases Mr. Masson to assume. It is merely a Miltonian way of saying that he took regular exercise, because he believed that moral no less than physical courage demanded a sound body. And what proof does Mr. Masson bring to confirm his theory? Nothing more nor less than two or three passages in "Paradise Lost," of which I shall quote only so much as is essential to his argument:—

"And now Advanced in view they stand, a horrid front Of dreadful length and dazzling arms, in guise Of warriors old with ordered spear and shield, Awaiting what command their mighty chief Had to impose."[359]

Mr. Masson assures us that "there are touches in this description (as, for example, the ordering of arms at the moment of halt, and without word of command) too exact and technical to have occurred to a mere civilian. Again, at the same review....

"'He now prepared To speak; whereat their doubled ranks they bend From wing to wing, and half enclose him round With all his peers; attention held them mute.'[360]

"To the present day this is the very process, or one of the processes, when a commander wishes to address his men. They wheel inward and stand at 'attention.'" But his main argument is the phrase "ported spears," in Book Fourth, on which he has an interesting and valuable comment. He argues the matter through a dozen pages or more, seeking to prove that Milton must have had some practical experience of military drill. I confess a very grave doubt whether "attention" and "ordered" in the passages cited have any other than their ordinary meaning, and Milton could never have looked on at the pike-exercise without learning what "ported" meant. But, be this as it may, I will venture to assert that there was not a boy in New England, forty years ago, who did not know more of the manual than is implied in Milton's use of these terms. Mr. Masson's object in proving Milton to have been a proficient in these martial exercises is to increase our wonder at his not entering the army. "If there was any man in England of whom one might surely have expected that he would be in arms among the Parliamentarians," he says, "that man was Milton." Milton may have had many an impulse to turn soldier, as all men must in such times, but I do not believe that he ever seriously intended it. Nor is it any matter of reproach that he did not. It is plain, from his works, that he believed himself very early set apart and consecrated for tasks of a very different kind, for services demanding as much self-sacrifice and of more enduring result. I have no manner of doubt that he, like Dante, believed himself divinely inspired with what he had to utter, and, if so, why not also divinely guided in what he should do or leave undone? Milton wielded in the cause he loved a weapon far more effective than a sword.

It is a necessary result of Mr. Masson's method, that a great deal of space is devoted to what might have befallen his hero and what he might have seen. This leaves a broad margin indeed for the insertion of purely hypothetical incidents. Nay, so desperately addicted is he to what he deems the vivid style of writing, that he even goes out of his way to imagine what might have happened to anybody living at the same time with Milton. Having told us fairly enough how Shakespeare, on his last visit to London, perhaps saw Milton "a fair child of six playing at his father's door," he must needs conjure up an imaginary supper at the Mermaid. "Ah! what an evening ... was that; and how Ben and Shakespeare be-tongued each other, while the others listened and wondered; and how, when the company dispersed, the sleeping street heard their departing footsteps, and the stars shone down on the old roofs." Certainly, if we may believe the old song, the stars "had nothing else to do," though their chance of shining in the middle of a London November may perhaps be reckoned very doubtful. An author should consider how largely the art of writing consists in knowing what to leave in the inkstand.

Mr. Masson's volumes contain a great deal of very valuable matter, whatever one may think of its bearing upon the life of Milton. The chapters devoted to Scottish affairs are particularly interesting to a student of the Great Rebellion, its causes and concomitants. His analyses of the two armies, of the Parliament, and the Westminster Assembly, are sensible additions to our knowledge. A too painful thoroughness, indeed, is the criticism we should make on his work as a biography. Even as a history, the reader might complain that it confuses by the multiplicity of its details, while it wearies by want of continuity. Mr. Masson lacks the skill of an accomplished story-teller. A fact is to him a fact, never mind how unessential, and he misses the breadth of truth in his devotion to accuracy. The very order of his title-page, "The Life of Milton, narrated in Connection with the Political, Ecclesiastical, and Literary History of his Time," shows, it should seem, a misconception of the true nature of his subject. Milton's chief importance, it might be fairly said his only importance, is a literary one. His place is fixed as the most classical of our poets.

Neither in politics, theology, nor social ethics, did Milton leave any distinguishable trace on the thought of his time or in the history of opinion. In both these lines of his activity circumstances forced upon him the position of a controversialist whose aims and results are by the necessity of the case desultory and ephemeral. Hooker before him and Hobbes after him had a far firmer grasp of fundamental principles than he. His studies in these matters were perfunctory and occasional, and his opinions were heated to the temper of the times and shaped to the instant exigencies of the forum, sometimes to his own convenience at the moment, instead of being the slow result of a deliberate judgment enlightened by intellectual and above all historical sympathy with his subject. His interest was rather in the occasion than the matter of the controversy. No aphorisms of political science are to be gleaned from his writings as from those of Burke. His intense personality could never so far dissociate itself from the question at issue as to see it in its larger scope and more universal relations. He was essentially a doctrinaire, ready to sacrifice everything to what at the moment seemed the abstract truth, and with no regard to historical antecedents and consequences, provided those of scholastic logic were carefully observed. He has no respect for usage or tradition except when they count in his favor, and sees no virtue in that power of the past over the minds and conduct of men which alone insures the continuity of national growth and is the great safeguard of order and progress. The life of a nation was of less importance to him than that it should be conformed to certain principles of belief and conduct. Burke could distill political wisdom out of history because he had a profound consciousness of the soul that underlies and outlives events, and of the national character that gives them meaning and coherence. Accordingly his words are still living and operative, while Milton's pamphlets are strictly occasional and no longer interesting except as they illustrate him. In the Latin ones especially there is an odd mixture of the pedagogue and the public orator. His training, so far as it was thorough, so far, indeed, as it may be called optional, was purely poetical and artistic. A true Attic bee, he made boot on every lip where there was a trace of truly classic honey.

Milton, indeed, could hardly have been a match for some of his antagonists in theological and ecclesiastical learning. But he brought into the contest a white heat of personal conviction that counted for much. His self-consciousness, always active, identified him with the cause he undertook. "I conceived myself to be now not as mine own person, but as a member incorporate into that truth whereof I was persuaded and whereof I had declared myself openly to be the partaker."[361] Accordingly it does not so much seem that he is the advocate of Puritanism, Freedom of Conscience, or the People of England, as that all these are he, and that he is speaking for himself. He was not nice in the choice of his missiles, and too often borrows a dirty lump from the dunghill of Luther; but now and then the gnarled sticks of controversy turn to golden arrows of Phoebus in his trembling hands, singing as they fly and carrying their messages of doom in music. Then, truly, in his prose as in his verse, his is the large utterance of the early gods, and there is that in him which tramples all learning under his victorious feet. From the first he looked upon himself as a man dedicated and set apart. He had that sublime persuasion of a divine mission which sometimes lifts his speech from personal to cosmopolitan significance; his genius unmistakably asserts itself from time to time, calling down fire from heaven to kindle the sacrifice of irksome private duty, and turning the hearthstone of an obscure man into an altar for the worship of mankind. Plainly enough here was a man who had received something other than Episcopal ordination. Mysterious and awful powers had laid their unimaginable hands on that fair head and devoted it to a nobler service. Yet it must be confessed that, with the single exception of the "Areopagitica," Milton's tracts are wearisome reading, and going through them is like a long sea-voyage whose monotony is more than compensated for the moment by a stripe of phosphorescence heaping before you in a drift of star-sown snow, coiling away behind in winking disks of silver, as if the conscious element were giving out all the moonlight it had garnered in its loyal depths since first it gazed upon its pallid regent. Which, being interpreted, means that his prose is of value because it is Milton's, because it sometimes exhibits in an inferior degree the qualities of his verse, and not for its power of thought, of reasoning, or of statement. It is valuable, where it is best, for its inspiring quality, like the fervencies of a Hebrew prophet. The English translation of the Bible had to a very great degree Judaized, not the English mind, but the Puritan temper. Those fierce enthusiasts could more easily find elbow-room for their consciences in an ideal Israel than in a practical England. It was convenient to see Amalek or Philistia in the men who met them in the field, and one unintelligible horn or other of the Beast in their theological opponents. The spiritual provincialism of the Jewish race found something congenial in the English mind. Their national egotism quintessentialized in the prophets was especially sympathetic with the personal egotism of Milton. It was only as an inspired and irresponsible person that he could live on decent terms with his own self-confident individuality. There is an intolerant egotism which identifies itself with omnipotence,[362] and whose sublimity is its apology; there is an intolerable egotism which subordinates the sun to the watch in its own fob. Milton's was of the former kind, and accordingly the finest passages in his prose and not the least fine in his verse are autobiographic, and this is the more striking that they are often unconsciously so. Those fallen angels in utter ruin and combustion hurled, are also cavaliers fighting against the Good Old Cause; Philistia is the Restoration, and what Samson did, that Milton would have done if he could.

The "Areopagitica" might seem an exception, but that also is a plea rather than an argument, and his interest in the question is not one of abstract principle, but of personal relation to himself. He was far more rhetorician than thinker. The sonorous amplitude of his style was better fitted to persuade the feelings than to convince the reason. The only passages from his prose that may be said to have survived are emotional, not argumentative, or they have lived in virtue of their figurative beauty, not their weight of thought. Milton's power lay in dilation. Touched by him, the simplest image, the most obvious thought,

"Dilated stood Like Teneriffe or Atlas.... .... nor wanted in his grasp What seemed both spear and shield."

But the thin stiletto of Macchiavelli is a more effective weapon than these fantastic arms of his. He had not the secret of compression that properly belongs to the political thinker, on whom, as Hazlitt said of himself, "nothing but abstract ideas makes any impression." Almost every aphoristic phrase that he has made current is borrowed from some one of the classics, like his famous

"License they mean when they cry liberty,"

from Tacitus. This is no reproach to him so far as his true function, that of poet, is concerned. It is his peculiar glory that literature was with him so much an art, an end and not a means. Of his political work he has himself told us, "I should not choose this manner of writing, wherein, knowing myself inferior to myself (led by the genial power of nature to another task), I have the use, as I may account, but of my left hand."

Mr. Masson has given an excellent analysis of these writings, selecting with great judgment the salient passages, which have an air of blank-verse thinly disguised as prose, like some of the corrupted passages of Shakespeare. We are particularly thankful to him for his extracts from the pamphlets written against Milton, especially for such as contain criticisms on his style. It is not a little interesting to see the most stately of poets reproached for his use of vulgarisms and low words. We seem to get a glimpse of the schooling of his "choiceful sense" to that nicety which could not be content till it had made his native tongue "search all her coffers round." One cannot help thinking also that his practice in prose, especially in the long involutions of Latin periods, helped him to give that variety of pause and that majestic harmony to his blank-verse which have made it so unapproachably his own. Landor, who, like Milton, seems to have thought in Latin, has caught somewhat more than others of the dignity of his gait, but without his length of stride. Wordsworth, at his finest, has perhaps approached it, but with how long an interval! Bryant has not seldom attained to its serene equanimity, but never emulates its pomp. Keats has caught something of its large utterance, but altogether fails of its nervous severity of phrase. Cowper's muse (that moved with such graceful ease in slippers) becomes stiff when (in his translation of Homer) she buckles on her feet the cothurnus of Milton. Thomson grows tumid wherever he assays the grandiosity of his model. It is instructive to get any glimpse of the slow processes by which Milton arrived at that classicism which sets him apart from, if not above, all our other poets.

In gathering up the impressions made upon us by Mr. Masson's work as a whole, we are inclined rather to regret his copiousness for his own sake than for ours. The several parts, though disproportionate, are valuable, his research has been conscientious, and he has given us better means of understanding Milton's time than we possessed before. But how is it about Milton himself? Here was a chance, it seems to me, for a fine bit of portrait-painting. There is hardly a more stately figure in literary history than Milton's, no life in some of its aspects more tragical, except Dante's. In both these great poets, more than in any others, the character of the men makes part of the singular impressiveness of what they wrote and of its vitality with after times. In them the man somehow overtops the author. The works of both are full of autobiographical confidences. Like Dante, Milton was forced to become a party by himself. He stands out in marked and solitary individuality, apart from the great movement of the Civil War, apart from the supine acquiescence of the Restoration, a self-opinionated, unforgiving, and unforgetting man. Very much alive he certainly was in his day. Has Mr. Masson made him alive to us again? I fear not. At the same time, while we cannot praise either the style or the method of Mr. Masson's work, we cannot refuse to be grateful for it. It is not so much a book for the ordinary reader of biography as for the student, and will be more likely to find its place on the library-shelf than the centre-table. It does not in any sense belong to light literature, but demands all the muscle of the trained and vigorous reader. "Truly, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect that it is Milton's life it is naught."

Mr. Masson's intimacy with the facts and dates of Milton's career renders him peculiarly fit in some respects to undertake an edition of the poetical works. His edition, accordingly, has distinguished merits. The introductions to the several poems are excellent and leave scarcely anything to be desired. The general Introduction, on the other hand, contains a great deal that might well have been omitted, and not a little that is positively erroneous. Mr. Masson's discussions of Milton's English seem often to be those of a Scotsman to whom English is in some sort a foreign tongue. It is almost wholly inconclusive, because confined to the Miltonic verse, while the basis of any altogether satisfactory study should surely be the Miltonic prose; nay, should include all the poetry and prose of his own age and of that immediately preceding it. The uses to which Mr. Masson has put the concordance to Milton's poems tempt one sometimes to class him with those whom the poet himself taxed with being "the mousehunts and ferrets of an index." For example, what profits a discussion of Milton's [Greek: hapax legomena], a matter in which accident is far more influential than choice?[363] What sensible addition is made to our stock of knowledge by learning that "the word woman does not occur in any form in Milton's poetry before 'Paradise Lost,'" and that it is "exactly so with the word female"? Is it any way remarkable that such words as Adam, God, Heaven, Hell, Paradise, Sin, Satan, and Serpent should occur "very frequently" in "Paradise Lost"? Would it not rather have been surprising that they should not? Such trifles at best come under the head of what old Warner would have called cumber-minds. It is time to protest against this minute style of editing and commenting great poets. Gulliver's microscopic eye saw on the fair skins of the Brobdignagian maids of honor "a mole here and there as broad as a trencher," and we shrink from a cup of the purest Hippocrene after the critic's solar microscope has betrayed to us the grammatical, syntactical, and, above all, hypothetical monsters that sprawl in every drop of it. When a poet has been so much edited as Milton, the temptation of whosoever undertakes a new edition to see what is not to be seen becomes great in proportion as he finds how little there is that has not been seen before.

Mr. Masson is quite right in choosing to modernize the spelling of Milton, for surely the reading of our classics should be made as little difficult as possible, and he is right also in making an exception of such abnormal forms as the poet may fairly be supposed to have chosen for melodic reasons. His exhaustive discussion of the spelling of the original editions seems, however, to be the less called-for as he himself appears to admit that the compositor, not the author, was supreme in these matters, and that in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases to the thousand Milton had no system, but spelt by immediate inspiration. Yet Mr. Masson fills nearly four pages with an analysis of the vowel sounds, in which, as if to demonstrate the futility of such attempts so long as men's ears differ, he tells us that the short a sound is the same in man and Darby, the short o sound in God and does, and what he calls the long o sound in broad and wrath. Speaking of the apostrophe, Mr. Masson tells us that "it is sometimes inserted, not as a possessive mark at all, but merely as a plural mark: hero's for heroes, myrtle's for myrtles, Gorgons and Hydra's, etc." Now, in books printed about the time of Milton's the apostrophe was put in almost at random, and in all the cases cited is a misprint, except in the first, where it serves to indicate that the pronunciation was not heroes as it had formerly been.[364] In the "possessive singular of nouns already ending in s" Mr. Masson tells us, "Milton's general practice is not to double the s; thus, Nereus wrinkled look, Glaucus spell. The necessities of metre would naturally constrain to such forms. In a possessive followed by the word sake or the word side, dislike to [of] the double sibilant makes us sometimes drop the inflection. In addition to 'for righteousness' sake' such phrases as 'for thy name sake' and 'for mercy sake,' are allowed to pass; bedside is normal and riverside nearly so." The necessities of metre need not be taken into account with a poet like Milton, who never was fairly in his element till he got off the soundings of prose and felt the long swell of his verse under him like a steed that knows his rider. But does the dislike of the double sibilant account for the dropping of the s in these cases? Is it not far rather the presence of the s already in the sound satisfying an ear accustomed to the English slovenliness in the pronunciation of double consonants? It was this which led to such forms as conscience sake and on justice side, and which beguiled Ben Jonson and Dryden into thinking, the one that noise and the other that corps was a plural,[365] What does Mr. Masson say to hillside, Bankside, seaside, Cheapside, spindleside, spearside, gospelside (of a church), nightside, countryside, wayside, brookside, and I know not how many more? Is the first half of these words a possessive? Or is it not rather a noun impressed into the service as an adjective? How do such words differ from hilltop, townend, candlelight, rushlight, cityman, and the like, where no double s can be made the scapegoat? Certainly Milton would not have avoided them for their sibilancy, he who wrote

"And airy tongues that syllable men's names On sands and shores and desert wildernesses,"

"So in his seed all nations shall be blest,"

"And seat of Salmanasser whose success,"

verses that hiss like Medusa's head in wrath, and who was, I think, fonder of the sound than any other of our poets. Indeed, in compounds of the kind we always make a distinction wholly independent of the doubled s. Nobody would boggle at mountainside; no one would dream of saying on the fatherside or motherside.

Mr. Masson speaks of "the Miltonic forms vanquisht, markt, lookt, etc." Surely he does not mean to imply that these are peculiar to Milton? Chapman used them before Milton was born, and pressed them farther, as in nak't and saf't for naked and saved. He often prefers the contracted form in his prose also, showing that the full form of the past participle in ed was passing out of fashion, though available in verse.[366] Indeed, I venture to affirm that there is not a single variety of spelling or accent to be found in Milton which is without example in his predecessors or contemporaries. Even highth, which is thought peculiarly Miltonic, is common (in Hakluyt, for example), and still often heard in New England. Mr. Masson gives an odd reason for Milton's preference of it "as indicating more correctly the formation of the word by the addition of the suffix th to the adjective high." Is an adjective, then, at the base of growth, earth, birth, truth, and other words of this kind? Horne Tooke made a better guess than this. If Mr. Masson be right in supposing that a peculiar meaning is implied in the spelling bearth (Paradise Lost, IX. 624), which he interprets as "collective produce," though in the only other instance where it occurs it is neither more nor less than birth, it should seem that Milton had hit upon Horne Tooke's etymology. But it is really solemn trifling to lay any stress on the spelling of the original editions, after having admitted, as Mr. Masson has honestly done, that in all likelihood Milton had nothing to do with it. And yet he cannot refrain. On the word voutsafe he hangs nearly a page of dissertation on the nicety of Milton's ear. Mr. Masson thinks that Milton "must have had a reason for it,"[367] and finds that reason in "his dislike to [of] the sound ch, or to [of] that sound combined with s.... His fine ear taught him not only to seek for musical effects and cadences at large, but also to be fastidious as to syllables, and to avoid harsh or difficult conjunctions of consonants, except when there might be a musical reason for harshness or difficulty. In the management of the letter s, the frequency of which in English is one of the faults of the speech, he will be found, I believe, most careful and skilful. More rarely, I think, than in Shakespeare will one word ending in s be found followed immediately in Milton by another word beginning with the same letter; or, if he does occasionally pen such a phrase as Moab's sons, it will be difficult to find in him, I believe, such a harsher example as earth's substance, of which many writers would think nothing. [With the index to back him Mr. Masson could safely say this.] The same delicacy of ear is even more apparent in his management of the sh sound. He has it often, of course; but it may be noted that he rejects it in his verse when he can. He writes Basan for Bashan, Sittim for Shittim, Silo for Shiloh, Asdod for Ashdod. Still more, however, does he seem to have been wary of the compound sound ch as in church. Of his sensitiveness to this sound in excess there is a curious proof in his prose pamphlet entitled 'An Apology against a Pamphlet, called A Modest Completion, etc.,' where, having occasion to quote these lines from one of the Satires[368] of his opponent, Bishop Hall,

"'Teach each hollow grove to sound his love, Wearying echo with one changeless word,'

"he adds, ironically, 'And so he well might, and all his auditory besides, with his teach each!'" Generalizations are always risky, but when extemporized from a single hint they are maliciously so. Surely it needed no great sensitiveness of ear to be set on edge by Hall's echo of teach each. Did Milton reject the h from Bashan and the rest because he disliked the sound of sh, or because he had found it already rejected by the Vulgate and by some of the earlier translators of the Bible into English? Oddly enough, Milton uses words beginning with sh seven hundred and fifty four times in his poetry, not to speak of others in which the sound occurs, as, for instance, those ending in tion. Hall, had he lived long enough, might have retorted on Milton his own

"Manliest, resolutest, breast, As the magnetick hardest iron draws,"

or his

"What moves thy inquisition? Know'st thou not that my rising is thy fall, And my promotion thy destruction?"

With the playful controversial wit of the day he would have hinted that too much est-est is as fatal to a blank-verse as to a bishop, and that danger was often incurred by those who too eagerly shunned it. Nay, he might even have found an echo almost tallying with his own in

"To begirt the almighty throne Beseeching or besieging,"

a pun worthy of Milton's worst prose. Or he might have twitted him with "a sequent king who seeks." As for the sh sound, a poet could hardly have found it ungracious to his ear who wrote,

"Gnashing for anguish and despite and shame,"

or again,

"Then bursting forth Afresh with conscious terrors vex me round That rest or intermission none I find. Before mine eyes in opposition sits Grim Death, my son."

And if Milton disliked the ch sound, he gave his ears unnecessary pain by verses such as these,—

"Straight couches close; then, rising, changes oft His couchant watch, as one who chose his ground";

still more by such a juxtaposition as "matchless chief."[369] The truth is, that Milton was a harmonist rather than a melodist. There are, no doubt, some exquisite melodies (like the "Sabrina Fair ") among his earlier poems, as could hardly fail to be the case in an age which produced or trained the authors of our best English glees, as ravishing in their instinctive felicity as the songs of our dramatists, but he also showed from the first that larger style which was to be his peculiar distinction. The strain heard in the "Nativity Ode," in the "Solemn Music," and in "Lycidas," is of a higher mood, as regards metrical construction, than anything that had thrilled the English ear before, giving no uncertain augury of him who was to show what sonorous metal lay silent till he touched the keys in the epical organ-pipes of our various language, that have never since felt the strain of such prevailing breath. It was in the larger movements of metre that Milton was great and original. I have spoken elsewhere of Spenser's fondness for dilatation as respects thoughts and images. In Milton it extends to the language also, and often to the single words of which a period is composed. He loved phrases of towering port, in which every member dilated stands like Teneriffe or Atlas. In those poems and passages that stamp him great, the verses do not dance interweaving to soft Lydian airs, but march rather with resounding tread and clang of martial music. It is true that he is cunning in alliterations, so scattering them that they tell in his orchestra without being obvious, but it is in the more scientific region of open-voweled assonances which seem to proffer rhyme and yet withhold it (rhyme-wraiths one might call them), that he is an artist and a master. He even sometimes introduces rhyme with misleading intervals between and unobviously in his blank-verse:—

"There rest, if any rest can harbour there; And, reassembling our afflicted powers, Consult how we may henceforth most offend Our enemy, our own loss how repair, How overcome this dire calamity, What reinforcement we may gain from hope, If not, what resolution from despair."[370]

There is one almost perfect quatrain,—

"Before thy fellows, ambitious to win From me some plume, that thy success may show Destruction to the rest. This pause between (Unanswered lest thou boast) to let thee know";

and another hardly less so, of a rhyme and an assonance,—

"If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so oft In worst extremes and on the perilous edge Of battle when it raged, in all assaults."

There can be little doubt that the rhymes in the first passage cited were intentional, and perhaps they were so in the others; but Milton's ear has tolerated not a few perfectly rhyming couplets, and others in which the assonance almost becomes rhyme, certainly a fault in blankverse:—

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