Shirley, 1594-1666: delineates fashionable life with success. His best plays are The Maid's Revenge, The Politician, and The Lady of Pleasure. The last suggested to Van Brugh his character of Lady Townly, in The Provoked Husband. Lamb says Shirley "was the last of a great race, all of whom spoke the same language, and had a set of moral feelings and notions in common. A new language and quite a new turn of tragic and comic interest came in at the Restoration."
Thomas Dekker, died about 1638: wrote, besides numerous tracts, twenty-eight plays. The principal are Old Fortunatus, The Honest Whore, and Satiro-Mastix, or, The Humorous Poet Untrussed. In the last, he satirized Ben Jonson, with whom he had quarrelled, and who had ridiculed him in The Poetaster. In the Honest Whore are found those beautiful lines so often quoted:
... the best of men That e'er wore earth about him was a sufferer; A soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit; The first true gentleman that ever breathed.
Extracts from the plays mentioned may be found in Charles Lamb's "Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who lived about the time of Shakspeare."
BACON, AND THE RISE OF THE NEW PHILOSOPHY.
Birth and Early Life. Treatment of Essex. His Appointments. His Fall. Writes Philosophy. Magna Instauratio. His Defects. His Fame. His Essays.
BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE OF BACON.
Contemporary with Shakspeare, and almost equal to him in English fame at least, is Francis Bacon, the founder of the system of experimental philosophy in the Elizabethan age. The investigations of the one in the philosophy of human life, were emulated by those of the other in the realm of general nature, in order to find laws to govern further progress, and to evolve order and harmony out of chaos.
Bacon was born in London, on the 22d of January, 1560-61, to an enviable social lot. His father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, was for twenty years lord keeper of the great seal, and was eulogized by George Buchanan as "Diu Britannici regni secundum columen." His mother was Anne Cook, a person of remarkable acquirements in language and theology. Francis Bacon was a delicate, attractive, and precocious child, noticed by the great, and kindly called by the queen "her little lord keeper." Ben Jonson refers to this when he writes, at a later day:
England's high chancellor, the destined heir In his soft cradle to his father's chair.
Thus, in his early childhood, he became accustomed to the forms and grandeur of political power, and the modes by which it was to be striven for.
In his thirteenth year he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, then, as now, the more mathematical and scientific of the two universities. But, like Gibbon at Oxford, he thought little of his alma mater, under whose care he remained only three years. It is said that at an early age he disliked the Logic of Aristotle, and began to excogitate his system of Induction: not content with the formal recorded knowledge, he viewed the universe as a great storehouse of facts to be educed, investigated, and philosophically classified.
After leaving the university, he went in the suite of Sir Amyas Paulet, the English ambassador, to France; and recorded the observations made during his travels in a treatise On the State of Europe, which is thoughtful beyond his years. The sudden death of his father, in February, 1579-80, recalled him to England, and his desire to study led him to apply to the government for a sinecure, which would permit him to do so without concern as to his support. It is not strange—considering his youth and the entire ignorance of the government as to his abilities—that this was refused. He then applied himself to the study of the law; and whatever his real ability, the jealousy of the Cecils no doubt prompted the opinion of the queen, that he was not very profound in the branch he had chosen, an opinion which was fully shared by the blunt and outspoken Lord Coke, who was his rival in love, law, and preferment. Prompted no doubt by the coldness of Burleigh, he joined the opposition headed by the Earl of Essex, and he found in that nobleman a powerful friend and generous patron, who used his utmost endeavors to have Bacon appointed attorney-general, but without success. To compensate Bacon for his failure, Essex presented him with a beautiful villa at Twickenham on the Thames, which was worth L2,000.
TREATMENT OF ESSEX.—Essex was of a bold, eccentric, and violent temper. It is not to the credit of Bacon that when Essex, through his rashness and eccentricities, found himself arraigned for treason, Bacon deserted him, and did not simply stand aloof, but was the chief agent in his prosecution. Nor is this all: after making a vehement and effective speech against him, as counsel for the prosecution—a speech which led to his conviction and execution—Bacon wrote an uncalled-for and malignant paper, entitled "A Declaration of the Treasons of Robert, Earl of Essex."
A high-minded man would have aided his friend; a cautious man would have remained neutral; but Bacon was extravagant, fond of show, eager for money, and in debt: he sought only to push his own fortunes, without regard to justice or gratitude, and he saw that he had everything to gain from his servility to the queen, and nothing from standing by his friend. Even those who thought Essex justly punished, regarded Bacon with aversion and contempt, and impartial history has not reversed their opinion.
HIS APPOINTMENTS.—He strove for place, and he obtained it. In 1590 he was appointed counsel extraordinary to the queen: such was his first reward for this conduct, and such his first lesson in the school where thrift followed fawning. In 1593 he was brought into parliament for Middlesex, and there he charmed all hearers by his eloquence, which has received the special eulogy of Ben Jonson. In his parliamentary career is found a second instance of his truckling to power: in a speech touching the rights of the crown, he offended the queen and her ministers; and as soon as he found they resented it, he made a servile and unqualified apology.
At this time he began to write his Essays, which will be referred to hereafter, and published two treatises, one on The Common Law, and one on The Alienation Office.
In 1603 he was, by his own seeking, among the crowd of gentlemen knighted by James I. on his accession; and in 1604 he added fortune to his new dignity by marrying Alice Barnham, "a handsome maiden," the daughter of a London alderman. He had before addressed the dowager Lady Hatton, who had refused him and bestowed her hand upon his rival, Coke.
In 1613 he attained to the long-desired dignity of attorney-general, a post which he filled with power and energy, but which he disgraced by the torture of Peacham, an old clergyman, who was charged with having written treason in a sermon which he never preached nor published. As nothing could be extorted from him by the rack, Bacon informed the king that Peacham "had a dumb devil." It should be some palliation of this deed, however, that the government was quick and sharp in ferretting out treason, and that torture was still authorized.
In 1616 he was sworn of the privy council, and in the next year inherited his father's honors, being made lord keeper of the seal, principally through the favor of the favorite Buckingham. His course was still upward: in 1618 he was made lord high chancellor, and Baron Verulam, and the next year he was created Viscount St. Albans. Such rapid and high promotion marked his great powers, but it belonged to the period of despotism. James had been ruling without a parliament. At length the necessities of the government caused the king to summon a parliament, and the struggle began which was to have a fatal issue twenty-five years later. Parliament met, began to assert popular rights, and to examine into the conduct of ministers and high officials; and among those who could ill bear such scrutiny, Bacon was prominent.
HIS FALL.—The charges against him were varied and numerous, and easy of proof. He had received bribes; he had given false judgments for money; he had perverted justice to secure the smiles of Buckingham, the favorite; and when a commission was appointed to examine these charges he was convicted. With abject humility, he acknowledged his guilt, and implored the pity of his judges. The annals of biography present no sorrier picture than this. "Upon advised consideration of the charges," he wrote, "descending into my own conscience, and calling my memory to account so far as I am able, I do plainly and ingenuously confess that I am guilty of corruption, and do renounce all defence. O my lords, spare a broken reed!"
It is useless for his defenders, among whom the chief are Mr. Basil Montagu and Mr. Hepworth Dixon, to inform us that judges in that day were ill paid, and that it was the custom to receive gifts. If Bacon had a defence to make and did not make it, he was a coward or a sycophant: if what he said is true, he was a dishonest man, an unjust judge. He was sentenced to pay a fine of L40,000, and to be imprisoned in the Tower at the king's pleasure; the fine was remitted, and the imprisonment lasted but two days, a result, no doubt foreseen, of his wretched confession. This was the end of his public career. In retirement, with a pension of L1,200, making, with his other means, an annual income of L2,500, this "meanest of mankind" set himself busily to work to prove to the world that he could also be the "wisest and brightest;" a duality of fame approached by others, but never equalled. He was, in fact, two men in one: a dishonest, truckling politician, and a large-minded and truth-seeking philosopher.
BEGINS HIS PHILOSOPHY.—Retired in disgrace from his places at court, the rest of his life was spent in developing his Instauratio Magna, that revolution in the very principles and institutes of science—that philosophy which, in the words of Macaulay, "began in observations, and ended in arts." A few words will suffice to close his personal history. While riding in his coach, he was struck with the idea that snow would arrest animal putrefaction. He alighted, bought a fowl, and stuffed it with snow, with his own hands. He caught cold, stopped at the Earl of Arundel's mansion, and slept in damp sheets; fever intervened, and on Easter Day, 1626, he died, leaving his great work unfinished, but in such condition that the plan has been sketched for the use of the philosophers who came after him.
He is said to have made the first sketch of the Instauratio when he was twenty-six years old, but it was much modified in later years. He fondly called it also Temporis Partus Maximus, the greatest birth of Time. After that he wrote his Advancement of Learning in 1605, which was to appear in his developed scheme, under the title De Augmentis Scientiarum, written in 1623. His work advanced with and was modified by his investigations.
In 1620 he wrote the Novum Organum, which, when it first appeared, called forth from James I. the profane bon mot that it was like the peace of God, "because it passeth all understanding." Thus he was preparing the component parts, and fitting them into his system, which has at length become quite intelligible. A clear notion of what he proposed to himself and what he accomplished, may be found in the subjoined meagre sketch, only designed to indicate the outline of that system, which it will require long and patient study to master thoroughly.
THE GREAT RESTORATION, (MAGNA INSTAURATIO.)—He divided it into six parts, bearing a logical relation to each other, and arranged in the proper order of study.
I. Survey and extension of the sciences, (De Augmentis Scientiarum.) "Gives the substance or general description of the knowledge which mankind at present possesses." That is, let it be observed, not according to the received system and divisions, but according to his own. It is a new presentation of the existent state of knowledge, comprehending "not only the things already invented and known, but also those omitted and wanted," for he says the intellectual globe, as well as the terrestrial, has its broils and deceits.
In the branch "De Partitione Scientiarum," he divides all human learning into History, which uses the memory; Poetry, which employs the imagination; and Philosophy, which requires the reason: divisions too vague and too few, and so overlapping each other as to be of little present use. Later classifications into numerous divisions have been necessary to the progress of scientific research.
II. Precepts for the interpretation of nature, (Novum Organum.) This sets forth "the doctrine of a more perfect use of the reason, and the true helps of the intellectual faculties, so as to raise and enlarge the powers of the mind." "A kind of logic, by us called," he says, "the art of interpreting nature: differing from the common logic ... in three things, the end, the order of demonstrating, and the grounds of inquiry."
Here he discusses induction; opposes the syllogism; shows the value and the faults of the senses—as they fail us, or deceive us—and presents in his idola the various modes and forms of deception. These idola, which he calls the deepest fallacies of the human mind, are divided into four classes: Idola Tribus, Idola Specus, Idola Fori, Idola Theatri. The first are the errors belonging to the whole human race, or tribe; the second—of the den—are the peculiarities of individuals; the third—of the market-place—are social and conventional errors; and the fourth—those of the theatre—include Partisanship, Fashion, and Authority.
III. Phenomena of the Universe, or Natural and Experimental History, on which to found Philosophy, (Sylva Sylvarum.) "Our natural history is not designed," he says, "so much to please by vanity, or benefit by gainful experiments, as to afford light to the discovery of causes, and hold out the breasts of philosophy." This includes his patient search for facts—nature free, as in the history of plants, minerals, animals, etc.—nature put to the torture, as in the productions of art and human industry.
IV. Ladder of the Understanding, (Scala Intellectus.) "Not illustrations of rules and precepts, but perfect models, which will exemplify the second part of this work, and represent to the eye the whole progress of the mind, and the continued structure and order of invention, in the most chosen subjects, after the same manner as globes and machines facilitate the more abstruse and subtle demonstrations in mathematics."
V. Precursors or anticipations of the second philosophy, (Prodromi sive anticipationes philosophiae secundae.) "These will consist of such things as we have invented, experienced, or added by the same common use of the understanding that others employ"—a sort of scaffolding, only of use till the rest are finished—a set of suggestive helps to the attainment of this second philosophy, which is the goal and completion of his system.
VI. Second Philosophy, or Active Science, (Philosophia Secunda.) "To this all the rest are subservient—to lay down that philosophy which shall flow from the just, pure, and strict inquiry hitherto proposed." "To perfect this is beyond both our abilities and our hopes; yet we shall lay the foundations of it, and recommend the superstructure to posterity."
An examination of this scheme will show a logical procession from the existing knowledge, and from existing defects, by right rules of reason, and the avoidance of deceptions, with a just scale of perfected models, to the second philosophy, or science in useful practical action, diffusing light and comfort throughout the world.
In a philosophic instead of a literary work, these heads would require great expansion in order adequately to illustrate the scheme in its six parts. This, however, would be entirely out of our province, which is to present a brief outline of the works of a man who occupies a prominent place in the intellectual realm of England, as a profound philosopher, and as a writer of English prose; only as one might introduce a great man in a crowd: those who wish to know the extent and character of his greatness must study his works.
They were most of them written in Latin, but they have been ably translated and annotated, and are within the ready reach and comprehension of students. The best edition in English, is that by Spedding, Ellis, and Heath, which has been republished in America.
BACON'S DEFECTS.—Further than this tabular outline, neither our space nor the scope of our work will warrant us in going; but it is important to consider briefly the elements of Bacon's remarkable fame. His system and his knowledge are superseded entirely. Those who have studied physics and chemistry at the present day, know a thousand-fold more than Bacon could; for such knowledge did not exist in his day. But he was one of those—and the chief one—who, in that age of what is called the childhood of experimental philosophy, helped to clear away the mists of error, and prepare for the present sunshine of truth. "I have been laboring," says some writer, (quoted by Bishop Whately, Pref. to Essay XIV.,) "to render myself useless." Such was Bacon's task, and such the task of the greatest inventors, discoverers, and benefactors of the human race.
Nor did Bacon rank high even as a natural philosopher or physicist in his own age: he seems to have refused credence to the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, which had stirred the scientific world into great activity before his day; and his investigations in botany and vegetable physiology are crude and full of errors.
His mind, eminently philosophic, searched for facts only to establish principles and discover laws; and he was often impatient or obstinate in this search, feeling that it trammelled him in his haste to reach conclusions.
In the consideration of the reason, he unduly despised the Organon of Aristotle, which, after much indignity and misapprehension, still remains to elucidate the universal principle of reasoning, and published his new organon—Novum Organum—as a sort of substitute for it: Induction unjustly opposed to the Syllogism. In what, then, consists that wonderful excellence, that master-power which has made his name illustrious?
HIS FAME.—I. He labored earnestly to introduce, in the place of fanciful and conjectural systems—careful, patient investigation: the principle of the procurement of well-known facts, in order that, by severe induction, philosophy might attain to general laws, and to a classification of the sciences. The fault of the ages before him had been hasty, careless, often neglected observation, inaccurate analysis, the want of patient successive experiment. His great motto was experiment, and again and again experiment; and the excellent maxims which he laid down for the proper conduct of experimental philosophy have outlived his own facts and system and peculiar beliefs. Thus he has fitly been compared to Moses. He led men, marshalled in strong array, to the vantage ground from which he showed them the land of promise, and the way to enter it; while he himself, after all his labors, was not permitted to enjoy it. Such men deserve the highest fame; and thus the most practical philosophers of to-day revere the memory of him who showed them from the mountain-top, albeit in dim vision, the land which they now occupy.
II. Again, Bacon is the most notable example among natural philosophers of a man who worked for science and truth alone, with a singleness of purpose and entire unconcern as to immediate and selfish rewards. Bacon the philosopher was in the strongest contrast to Bacon the politician. He left, he said, his labors to posterity; his name and memory to foreign nations, and "to (his) own country, after some time is past over." His own time could neither appreciate nor reward them. Here is an element of greatness worthy of all imitation: he who works for popular applause, may have his reward, but it is fleeting and unsatisfying; he who works for truth alone, has a grand inner consequence while he works, and his name will be honored, if for nothing else, for this loyalty to truth. After what has been said of his servility and dishonesty, it is pleasing to contemplate this unsullied side of his escutcheon, and to give a better significance to the motto on his monument—Sic sedebat.
HIS ESSAYS.—Bacon's Essays, or Counsels Civil and Moral, are as intelligible to the common mind as his philosophy is dry and difficult. They are short, pithy, sententious, telling us plain truths in simple language: he had been writing them through several years. He dedicated them, under the title of Essays, to Henry, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King James I., a prince of rare gifts, and worthy such a dedication, who unfortunately died in 1612. They show him to be the greatest master of English prose in his day, and to have had a deep insight into human nature.
Bacon is said to have been the first person who applied the word essay in English to such writings: it meant, as the French word shows, a little trial-sketch, a suggestion, a few loose thoughts—a brief of something to be filled in by the reader. Now it means something far more—a long composition, dissertation, disquisition. The subjects of the essays, which number sixty-eight, are such as are of universal interest—fame, studies, atheism, beauty, ambition, death, empire, sedition, honor, adversity, and suchlike.
The Essays have been ably edited and annotated by Archbishop Whately, and his work has been republished in America.
THE ENGLISH BIBLE.
Early Versions. The Septuagint. The Vulgate. Wiclif; Tyndale. Coverdale; Cranmer. Geneva; Bishop's Bible. King James's Bible. Language of the Bible. Revision.
EARLY VERSIONS OF THE SCRIPTURES.
When we consider the very extended circulation of the English Bible in the version made by direction of James I., we are warranted in saying that no work in the language, viewed simply as a literary production, has had a more powerful historic influence over the world of English-speaking people.
Properly to understand its value as a version of the inspired writings, it is necessary to go back to the original history, and discover through what precedent forms they have come into English.
All the canonical books of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew. The apocryphal books were produced either in a corrupted dialect, or in Greek.
THE SEPTUAGINT.—Limiting our inquiry to the canonical books, and rejecting all fanciful traditions, it is known that about 286 or 285 B.C., Ptolemy Philadelphus, King of Egypt, probably at the instance of his librarian, Demetrius Phalereus, caused seventy-two Jews, equally learned in Hebrew and in Greek, to be brought to Alexandria, to prepare a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures. This was for the use of the Alexandrian Jews. The version was called the Septuagint, or translation of the seventy. The various portions of the translation are of unequal merit, the rendering of the Pentateuch being the best; but the completed work was of great value, not only to the Jews dispersed in the countries where Greek had been adopted as the national language, but it opened the way for the coming of Christianity: the study of its prophecies prepared the minds of men for the great Advent, and the version was used by the earlier Christians as the historic ground of their faith.
The books of the New Testament were written in Greek, with the probable exception of St. Matthew's Gospel, which, if written in Hebrew, or Aramaean, was immediately translated into Greek.
Contemporary with the origin of Christianity, and the vast extension of the Roman Empire, the Latin had become the all-absorbing tongue; and, as might be expected, numerous versions of the whole and of parts of the Scriptures were made in that language, and one of these complete versions, which grew in favor, almost superseding all others, was called the Vetus Itala.
THE VULGATE.—St. Jerome, a doctor of the Latin Church in the latter part of the fourth century, undertook, with the sanction of Damasus, the Bishop of Rome, a new Latin version upon the basis of the Vetus Itala, bringing it nearer to the Septuagint in the Old Testament, and to the original Greek of the New.
This version of Jerome, corrected from time to time, was approved by Gregory I., (the Great,) and, since the seventh century, has been used by the Western Church, under the name of the Vulgate, (from vulgatus—for general or common use.) The Council of Trent, in the sixteenth century, declared it alone to be authentic.
Throughout Western Europe this was used, and made the basis of further translations into the national languages. It was from the Vulgate that Aldhelm made his Anglo-Saxon version of the Psalter in 706; Bede, his entire Saxon Bible in the same period; Alfred, his portion of the Psalms; and other writers, fragmentary translations.
As soon as the newly formed English language was strong enough, partial versions were attempted in it: one by an unknown hand, as early as 1290; and one by John de Trevisa, about one hundred years later.
WICLIF: TYNDALE.—Wiclif's Bible was translated from the Latin Vulgate, and issued about 1378. If it be asked why he did not go to the original sources, and thus avoid the errors of successive renderings, the answer is plain: he was not sufficiently acquainted with Hebrew and Greek to translate from them. Wiclif's translation was eagerly sought, and was multiplied by the hands of skilful scribes. Its popularity was very great, as is attested by the fact that when, in the House of Lords, in the year 1390, a bill was offered to suppress it, the measure signally failed. The first copy of Wiclif's Bible was not printed until the year 1731.
About a century after Wiclif, the Greek language and the study of Greek literature came into England, and were of great effect in making the forthcoming translations more accurate.
First among these new translators was William Tyndale, who was born about the year 1477. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, and left England for fear of persecution. He translated the Scriptures from the Greek, and printed the volume at Antwerp—the first printed translation of the Scriptures in English—in the year 1526. This work was largely circulated in England. It was very good for a first translation, and the language is very nearly that of King James's Bible. It met the fury of the Church, all the copies which could be found being burned by Tonstall, Bishop of London, at St. Paul's Cross. When Sir Thomas More asked how Tyndale subsisted abroad, he was pithily answered that Tyndale was supported by the Bishop of London, who sent over money to buy up his books. To the fame of being a translator of the Scriptures, Tyndale adds that of martyrdom. He was seized, at the instance of Henry VIII., in Antwerp, and condemned to death by the Emperor of Germany. He was strangled in the year 1536, at Villefort, near Brussels, praying, just before his death, that the Lord would open the King of England's eyes.
The Old Testament portion of Tyndale's Bible is principally from the Septuagint, and has many corruptions and errors, which have been corrected by more modern translators.
MILES COVERDALE: CRANMER'S BIBLE.—In 1535, Miles Coverdale, a co-laborer of Tyndale, published "Biblia; The Bible, that is, the Holy Scriptures of the Olde and New Testament, faithfully and truly translated out of the Douche and Latyn into Englishe: Zurich." In the next year, 1536, Coverdale issued another edition, which was dedicated to Henry VIII., who ordered a copy to be placed in every parish church in England. This translation is in part that of Tyndale, and is based upon it. Another edition of this appeared in 1537, and was called Matthew's Bible, probably a pseudonym of Coverdale. Of this, from the beginning to the end of Chronicles is Tyndale's version. The rest of the Old Testament is Coverdale's translation. The entire New Testament is Tyndale's. This was published by royal license. Strange mutation! The same king who had caused Tyndale to be strangled for publishing the English Scriptures at Antwerp, was now spreading Tyndale's work throughout the parishes of England. Coverdale published many editions, among which the most noted was Cranmer's Bible, issued in 1539, so called because Cranmer wrote a preface to it. Coverdale led an eventful life, being sometimes in exile and prisoner, and at others in high favor. He was Bishop of Exeter, from which see he was ejected by Mary, in 1553. He died in 1568, at the age of eighty-one.
THE GENEVAN: BISHOPS' BIBLE.—In the year 1557 he had aided those who were driven away by Mary, in publishing a version of the Bible at Geneva. It was much read in England, and is known as the Genevan Bible. The Great Bible was an edition of Coverdale issued in 1562. The Bishops' Bible was so called because, at the instance of Archbishop Parker, it was translated by a royal commission, of whom eight were bishops. And in 1571, a canon was passed at Canterbury, requiring a large copy of this work to be in every parish church, and in the possession of every bishop and dignitary among the clergy. Thus far every new edition and issue had been an improvement on what had gone before, and all tended to the production of a still more perfect and permanent translation. It should be mentioned that Luther, in Germany, after ten years of labor, from 1522 to 1532, had produced, unaided, his wonderful German version. This had helped the cause of translations everywhere.
KING JAMES'S BIBLE.—At length, in 1603, just after the accession of James I., a conference was held at Hampton Court, which, among other tasks, undertook to consider what objections could be made to the Bishops' Bible. The result was that the king ordered a new version which should supersede all others. The number of eminent and learned divines appointed to make the translation was fifty-four; seven of these were prevented by disability of one kind or another. The remaining forty-seven were divided into six classes, and the labor was thus apportioned: ten, who sat at Westminster, translated from Genesis through Kings; eight, at Cambridge, undertook the other historical books and the Hagiographa, including the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ruth, Esther, and a few other books; seven at Oxford, the four greater Prophets, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the twelve minor Prophets; eight, also at Oxford, the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Revelation of St. John; seven more at Westminster, the Epistles of St. Paul, and the remaining canonical books; and five more at Cambridge, the Apocryphal books. The following was the mode of translation: Each individual in one of the classes translated himself every book confided to that class; each class then met and compared these translations, and thus completed their task. The work thus done was sent by each class to all the other classes; after this, all the classes met together, and while one read the others criticized. The translation was commenced in the year 1607, and was finished in three years. The first public issue was in 1611, when the book was dedicated to King James, and has since been known as King James's Bible. It was adopted not only in the English Church, but by all the English people, so that the other versions have fallen into entire disuse, with the exception of the Psalms, which, according to the translation of Cranmer's Bible, were placed in the Book of Common Prayer, where they have since remained, constituting the Psalter. It should be observed that the Psalter, which is taken principally from the Vulgate, is not so near the original as the Psalms in King James's version: the language is, however, more musical and better suited to chanting in the church service.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE BIBLE.—There have been numerous criticisms, favorable and adverse, to the language of King James's Bible. It is said to have been written in older English than that of its day, and Selden remarks that "it is rather translated into English words than into English phrase." The Hebraisms are kept, and the phraseology of that language is retained. This leads to the opinion of Bishop Horsley, that the adherence to the Hebrew idiom is supposed to have at once enriched and adorned our language. Bishop Middleton says "the style is simple, it is harmonious, it is energetic, and, which is of no small importance, use has made it familiar, and time has rendered it sacred." That it has lasted two hundred and fifty years without a rival, is the strongest testimony in favor of its accuracy and the beauty of its diction. Philologically considered, it has been of inestimable value as a strong rallying-point for the language, keeping it from wild progress in any and every direction. Many of our best words, which would otherwise have been lost, have been kept in current use because they are in the Bible. The peculiar language of the Bible expresses our most serious sentiments and our deepest emotions. It is associated with our holiest thoughts, and gives phraseology to our prayers. It is the language of heavenly things, but not only so: it is interwreathed in our daily discourse, kept fresh by our constant Christian services, and thus we are bound by ties of the same speech to the devout men of King James's day.
REVISION.—There are some inaccuracies and flaws in the translation which have been discerned by the superior excellence of modern learning. In the question now mooted of a revision of the English Bible, the correction of these should be the chief object. A version in the language of the present day, in the course of time would be as archaic as the existing version is now; and the private attempts which have been made, have shown us the great danger of conflicting sectarian views.
In any event, it is to be hoped that those who authorize a new translation will emulate the good sense and judgment of King James, by placing it in the hands of the highest learning, most liberal scholarship, and most devoted piety.
JOHN MILTON, AND THE ENGLISH COMMONWEALTH.
Historical Facts. Charles I. Religious Extremes. Cromwell. Birth and Early Works. Views of Marriage. Other Prose Works. Effects of the Restoration. Estimate of his Prose.
It is Charles Lamb who says "Milton almost requires a solemn service to be played before you enter upon him." Of Milton, the poet of Paradise Lost, this is true; but for Milton the statesman the politician, and polemic, this is neither necessary nor appropriate. John Milton and the Commonwealth! Until the present age, Milton has been regarded almost solely as a poet, and as the greatest imaginative poet England has produced; but the translation and publication of his prose works have identified him with the political history of England, and the discovery in 1823, of his Treatise on Christian Doctrine, has established him as one of the greatest religious polemics in an age when every theological sect was closely allied to a political party, and thus rendered the strife of contending factions more bitter and relentless. Thus it is that the name of John Milton, as an author, is fitly coupled with the commonwealth, as a political condition.
It remains for us to show that in all his works he was the strongest literary type of history in the age in which he lived. Great as he would have been in any age, his greatness is mainly English and historical. In his literary works may be traced every cardinal event in the history of that period: he aided in the establishment of the Commonwealth, and of that Commonwealth he was one of the principal characters. His pen was as sharp and effective as the sabres of Cromwell's Ironsides.
A few words of preliminary history must introduce him to our reader. Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth, in 1603, James I. ascended the throne with the highest notions of kingly prerogative and of a church establishment; but the progress of the English people in education and intelligence, the advance in arts and letters which had been made, were vastly injurious to the autocratic and aristocratic system which James had received from his predecessor. His foolish arrogance and contempt for popular rights incensed the people thus enlightened as to their own position and importance. They soon began to feel that he was not only unjust, but ungrateful: he had come from a rustic throne in Scotland, where he had received L5,000 per annum, with occasional presents of fruits, grain, and poultry, to the greatest throne in Europe; and, besides, the Stuart family, according to Thackeray, "as regards mere lineage, were no better than a dozen English and Scottish houses that could be named."
They resisted his illegal taxes and forced loans; they clamored against the unconstitutional Court of High Commission; they despised his arrogant favorites; and what they might have patiently borne from a gallant, energetic, and handsome monarch, they found it hard to bear from a pedantic, timid, uncouth, and rickety man, who gave them neither glory nor comfort. His eldest son, Prince Henry, the universal favorite of the nation, had died in 1612, before he was eighteen.
CHARLES I.—When, after a series of struggles with the parliament, which he had reluctantly convened, James died in 1625, Charles I. came to an inheritance of error and misfortune. Imbued with the principles of his father, he, too, insisted upon "governing the people of England in the seventeenth century as they had been governed in the sixteenth," while in reality they had made a century of progress. The cloud increased in blackness and portent; he dissolved the parliament, and ruled without one; he imposed and collected illegal and doubtful taxes; he made forced loans, as his father had done; he was artful, capricious, winding and doubling in his policy; he made promises without intending to perform them; and found himself, finally, at direct issue with his parliament and his people. First at war with the political principles of the court, the nation soon found itself in antagonism with the religion and morals of the court. Before the final rupture, the two parties were well defined, as Cavaliers and Roundheads: each party went to extremes, through the spite and fury of mutual opposition. The Cavaliers affected a recklessness and dissoluteness greater than they really felt to be right, in order to differ most widely from those purists who, urged by analogous motives, decried all amusements as evil. Each party repelled the other to the extreme of opposition.
RELIGIOUS EXTREMES.—Loyalty was opposed by radicalism, and the invectives of both were bitter in the extreme. The system and ceremonial of a gorgeous worship restored by Laud, and accused by its opposers of formalism and idolatry, were attacked by a spirit of excess, which, to religionize daily life, took the words of Scripture, and especially those of the Old Testament, as the language of common intercourse, which issued them from a gloomy countenance, with a nasal twang, and often with a false interpretation.
As opposed to the genuflections of Laud and the pomp of his ritual, the land swarmed with unauthorized preachers; then came out from among the Presbyterians the Independents; the fifth-monarchy men, shouting for King Jesus; the Seekers, the Antinomians, who, like Trusty Tomkins, were elect by the fore-knowledge of God, who were not under the law but under grace, and who might therefore gratify every lust, and give the rein to every passion, because they were sealed to a certain salvation. Even in the army sprang up the Levellers, who wished to abolish monarchy and aristocracy, and to level all ranks to one. To each religious party, there was a political character, ranging from High Church and the divine right of kings, to absolute levellers in Church and State. This disintegrating process threatened not only civil war, with well-defined parties, but entire anarchy in the realm of England. It was long resisted by the conservative men of all opinions. At length the issue came: the king was a prisoner, without a shadow of power.
The parliament was still firm, and would have treated with the king by a considerable majority; but Colonel Pride surrounded it with two regiments, excluded more than two hundred of the Presbyterians and moderate men; and the parliament, thus purged, appointed the High Court of Justice to try the king for treason.
Charles I. fell before the storm. His was a losing cause from the day he erected his standard at Nottingham, in 1642, to that on which, after his noble bearing on the scaffold, the masked executioner held up his head and cried out, "This is the head of a traitor."
With a fearful consistency the Commons voted soon after to abolish monarchy and the upper house, and on their new seal inscribed, "On the first year of freedom by God's blessing restored, 1648." The dispassionate historian of the present day must condemn both parties; and yet, out of this fierce travail of the nation, English constitutional liberty was born.
CROMWELL.—The power which the parliament, under the dictation of the army, had so furiously wielded, passed into the hands of Cromwell, a mighty man, warrior, statesman, and fanatic, who mastered the crew, seized the helm, and guided the ship of State as she drove furiously before the wind. He became lord protector, a king in everything but the name. We need not enter into an analysis of these parties: the history is better known than any other part of the English annals, and almost every reader becomes a partisan. Cromwell, the greatest man of his age, was still a creature of the age, and was led by the violence of circumstances to do many things questionable and even wicked, but with little premeditation: like Rienzi and Napoleon, his sudden elevation fostered an ambition which robbed him of the stern purpose and pure motives of his earlier career.
The establishment of the commonwealth seemed at first to assure the people's liberty; but it was only in seeming, and as the sequel shows, they liked the rule of the lord protector less than that of the unfortunate king; for, ten years after the beheading of Charles I., they restored the monarchy in the person of his son, Charles.
Such, very briefly and in mere outline, was the political situation. And now to return to Milton: It is claimed that of all the elements of these troublous times, he was the literary type, and this may be demonstrated—
I. By observing his personal characteristics and political appointments;
II. By the study of his prose works; and
III. By analyzing his poems.
BIRTH AND EARLY WORKS.—John Milton was born on the 9th of December, 1608, in London. His grandfather, John Mylton, was a Papist, who disinherited his son, the poet's father, for becoming a Church-of-England man. His mother was a gentlewoman. Milton was born just in time to grow up with the civil troubles. When the outburst came in 1642, he was thirty-four years old, a solemn, cold, studious, thoughtful, and dogmatic Puritan. In 1624 he entered Christ College, Cambridge, where, from his delicate and beautiful face and shy airs, he was called the "Lady of the College." It is said that he left the university on account of peculiar views in theology and politics; but eight years after, in 1632, he took his degree as master of arts. Meanwhile, in December, 1629, he had celebrated his twenty-first birthday, when the Star of Bethlehem was coming into the ascendant, with that pealing, organ-like hymn, "On the Eve of Christ's Nativity"—the worthiest poetic tribute ever laid by man, along with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of the Eastern sages, at the feet of the Infant God:
See how from far upon the Eastern road, The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet; O run, prevent them with thy humble ode, And lay it lowly at his blessed feet; Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet, And join thy voice unto the angel choir, From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire.
Some years of travel on the Continent matured his mind, and gave full scope to his poetic genius. At Paris he became acquainted with Grotius, the illustrious writer upon public law; and in Rome, Genoa, Florence, and other Italian cities, he became intimate with the leading minds of the age. He returned to England on account of the political troubles.
MILTON'S VIEWS OF MARRIAGE.—In the consideration of Milton's personality, we do not find in him much to arouse our heart-sympathy. His opinions concerning marriage and divorce, as set forth in several of his prose writings, would, if generally adopted, destroy the sacred character of divinely appointed wedlock. His views may be found in his essay on The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce; in his Tetrachordon, or the four chief places in Scripture, which treat of Marriage, or Nullities in Marriage; in his Colasterion, and in his translation of Martin Bucer's Judgment Concerning Divorce, addressed to the Parliament of England. Where women were concerned he was a hard man and a stern master.
In 1643 he married Mary Powell, the daughter of a Cavalier; and, taking her from the gay life of her father's house, he brought her into a gloom and seclusion almost insupportable. He loved his books better than he did his wife. He fed and sheltered her, indeed, but he gave her no tender sympathy. Then was enacted in his household the drama of the rebellion in miniature; and no doubt his domestic troubles had led to his extended discussion of the question of divorce. He speaks, too, almost entirely in the interest of husbands. With him woman is not complementary to man, but his inferior, to be cherished if obedient, to minister to her husband's welfare, but to have her resolute spirit broken after the manner of Petruchio, the shrew-tamer. In all this, however, Milton was eminently a type of the times. It was the canon law of the established Church of England at which he aimed, and he endeavored to lead the parliament to legislation upon the most sacred ties and relations of human life. Happily, English morals were too strong, even in that turbulent period, to yield to this unholy attempt. It was a day when authority was questioned, a day for "extending the area of freedom," but he went too far even for emancipated England; and the mysterious power of the marriage tie has always been reverenced as one of the main bulwarks of that righteousness which exalteth a nation.
His apology for Smectymnuus is one of his pamphlets against Episcopacy, and receives its title from the initial letters of the names of five Puritan ministers, who also engaged in controversy: they were Stephen Marshall, Edward Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcome, William Spenston. The Church of England never had a more intelligent and relentless enemy than John Milton.
OTHER PROSE WORKS.—Milton's prose works are almost all of them of an historical character. Appointed Latin Secretary to the Council, he wrote foreign dispatches and treatises upon the persons and events of the day. In 1644 he published his Areopagitica, a noble paper in favor of Unlicensed Printing, and boldly directed against the Presbyterian party, then in power, which had continued and even increased the restraints upon the press. No stouter appeal for the freedom of the press was ever heard, even in America. But in the main, his prose pen was employed against the crown and the Church, while they still existed; against the king's memory, after the unfortunate monarch had fallen, and in favor of the parliament and all its acts. Milton was no trimmer; he gave forth no uncertain sound; he was partisan to the extreme, and left himself no loop-hole of retreat in the change that was to come.
A famous book appeared in 1649, not long after Charles's execution, proclaimed to have been written by King Charles while in prison, and entitled Eikon Basilike, or The Kingly Image, being the portraiture of his majesty in his solitude and suffering. It was supposed that it might influence the people in favor of royalty, and so Milton was employed to answer it in a bitter invective, an unnecessary and heartless attack upon the dead king, entitled Eikonoklastes, or The Image-breaker. The Eikon was probably in part written by the king, and in part by Bishop Gauden, who indeed claimed its authorship after the Restoration.
Salmasius having defended Charles in a work of dignified and moderate tone, Milton answered in his first Defensio pro Populo Anglicano; in which he traverses the whole ground of popular rights and kingly prerogative, in a masterly and eloquent manner. This was followed by a second Defensio. For the two he received L1,000, and by his own account accelerated the disease of the eyes which ended in complete blindness.
No pen in England worked more powerfully than his in behalf of the parliament and the protectorate, or to stay the flood tide of loyalty, which bore upon its sweeping heart the restoration of the second Charles. He wrote the last foreign despatches of Richard Cromwell, the weak successor of the powerful Oliver; but nothing could now avail to check the return of monarchy. The people were tired of turmoil and sick of blood; they wanted rest, at any cost. The powerful hand of Cromwell was removed, and astute Monk used his army to secure his reward. The army, concurring with the popular sentiment, restored the Stuarts. The conduct of the English people in bringing Charles back stamped Cromwell as a usurper, and they have steadily ignored in their list of governors—called monarchs—the man through whose efforts much of their liberty had been achieved; but history asserts itself, and the benefits of the "Great Rebellion" are gratefully acknowledged by the people, whether the protectorate appears in the court list or not.
THE EFFECT OF THE RESTORATION.—Charles II. came back to such an overwhelming reception, that he said, in his witty way, it must have been his own fault to stay away so long from a people who were so glad to see him when he did come. This restoration forced Milton into concealment: his public day was over, and yet his remaining history is particularly interesting. Inheriting weak eyes from his mother, he had overtasked their powers, especially in writing the Defensiones, and had become entirely blind. Although his person was included in the general amnesty, his polemical works were burned by the hangman; and the pen that had so powerfully battled for a party, now returned to the service of its first love, poetry. His loss of power and place was the world's gain. In his forced seclusion, he produced the greatest of English poems—religious, romantic, and heroic.
ESTIMATE OF HIS PROSE.—Before considering his poems, we may briefly state some estimate of his prose works. They comprise much that is excellent, are full of learning, and contain passages of rarest rhetoric. He said himself, that in prose he had only "the use of his left hand;" but it was the left hand of a Milton. To the English scholar they are chiefly of historical value: many of them are written in Latin, and lose much of their terseness in a translation which retains classical peculiarities of form and phrase.
His History of England from the Earliest Times is not profound, nor philosophical; he followed standard chronicle authorities, but made few, if any, original investigations, and gives us little philosophy. His tractate on Education contains peculiar views of a curriculum of study, but is charmingly written. He also wrote a treatise on Logic. Little known to the great world outside of his poems, there is one prose work, discovered only in 1823, which has been less read, but which contains the articles of his Christian belief. It is a tractate on Christian doctrine: no one now doubts its genuineness; and it proves him to have been a Unitarian, or High Arian, by his own confession. This was somewhat startling to the great orthodox world, who had taken many of their conceptions of supernatural things from Milton's Paradise Lost; and yet a careful study of that poem will disclose similar tendencies in the poet's mind. He was a Puritan whose theology was progressive until it issued in complete isolation: he left the Presbyterian ranks for the Independents, and then, startled by the rise and number of sects, he retired within himself and stood almost alone, too proud to be instructed, and dissatisfied with the doctrines and excesses of his earlier colleagues.
In 1653 he lost his wife, Mary Powell, who left him three daughters. He supplied her place in 1656, by marrying Catherine Woodstock, to whom he was greatly attached, and who also died fifteen months after. Eight years afterward he married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, who survived him.
THE POETRY OF MILTON.
The Blind Poet. Paradise Lost. Milton and Dante. His Faults. Characteristics of the Age. Paradise Regained. His Scholarship. His Sonnets. His Death and Fame.
THE BLIND POET.
Milton's blindness, his loneliness, and his loss of power, threw him upon himself. His imagination, concentrated by these disasters and troubles, was to see higher things in a clear, celestial light: there was nothing to distract his attention, and he began that achievement which he had long before contemplated—a great religious epic, in which the heroes should be celestial beings and our sinless first parents, and the scenes Heaven, Hell, and the Paradise of a yet untainted Earth. His first idea was to write an epic on King Arthur and his knights: it is well for the world that he changed his intention, and took as a grander subject the loss of Paradise, full as it is of individual interest to mankind.
In a consideration of his poetry, we must now first recur to those pieces which he had written at an earlier day. Before settling in London, he had, as we have seen, travelled fifteen months on the Continent, and had been particularly interested by his residence in Italy, where he visited the blind Galileo. The poems which most clearly show the still powerful influence of Italy in all European literature, and upon him especially, are the Arcades, Comus, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas, each beautiful and finished, and although Italian in their taste, yet full of true philosophy couched in charming verse.
The Arcades, (Arcadians,) composed in 1684, is a pastoral masque, enacted before the Countess Dowager of Derby at Harefield, by some noble persons of her family. The Allegro is the song of Mirth, the nymph who brings with her
Jest and youthful jollity, Quips and cranks, and wanton wiles, Nods and becks and wreathed smiles,
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Sport that wrinkled Care derides, And Laughter holding both his sides.
The poem is like the nymph whom he addresses,
Buxom, blithe, and debonaire.
The Penseroso is a tribute to tender melancholy, and is designed as a pendant to the Allegro:
Pensive nun devout and pure, Sober, steadfast, and demure, All in a robe of darkest grain, Flowing with majestic train.
We fall in love with each goddess in turn, and find comfort for our varying moods from "grave to gay."
Burke said he was certain Milton composed the Penseroso in the aisle of a cloister, or in an ivy-grown abbey.
Comus is a noble poem, philosophic and tender, but neither pastoral nor dramatic, except in form; it presents the power of chastity in disarming Circe, Comus, and all the libidinous sirens. L'Allegro and Il Penseroso were written at Horton, about 1633.
Lycidas, written in 1637, is a tender monody on the loss of a friend named King, in the Irish Channel, in that year, and is a classical pastoral, tricked off in Italian garb. What it loses in adherence to classic models and Italian taste, is more than made up by exquisite lines and felicitous phrases. In it he calls fame "that last infirmity of noble mind." Perhaps he has nowhere written finer lines than these:
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed. And yet anon repairs his drooping head, And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore Flames in the forehead of the morning sky.
Besides these, Milton wrote Latin poems with great vigor, if not with remarkable grace; and several Italian sonnets and poems, which have been much admired even by Italian critics. The sonnet, if not of Italian origin, had been naturalized there when its birth was forgotten; and this practice in the Italian gave him that power to produce them in English which he afterward used with such effect.
PARADISE LOST.—Having thus summarily disposed of his minor poems, each of which would have immortalized any other man, we come to that upon which his highest fame rests; which is familiarly known by men who have never read the others, and who are ignorant of his prose works; which is used as a parsing exercise in many schools, and which, as we have before hinted, has furnished Protestant pulpits with pictorial theology from that day to this. It occupied him several years in the composition; from 1658, when Cromwell died, through the years of retirement and obscurity until 1667. It came forth in an evil day, for the merry monarch was on the throne, and an irreligious court gave tone to public opinion.
The hardiest critic must approach the Paradise Lost with wonder and reverence. What an imagination, and what a compass of imagination! Now with the lost peers in Hell, his glowing fancy projects an empire almost as grand and glorious as that of God himself. Now with undazzled, presumptuous gaze he stands face to face with the Almighty, and records the words falling from His lips; words which he has dared to place in the mouth of the Most High—words at the utterance of which
... ambrosial fragrance filled All heaven, and in the blessed spirits elect Sense of new joy ineffable diffused.
Little wonder that in his further flight he does not shrink from colloquy with the Eternal Son—in his theology not the equal of His Father—or that he does not fear to describe the fearful battle between Christ with his angelic hosts against the kingdom of darkness:
... At his right hand victory Sat eagle-winged: beside him hung his bow And quiver with three-bolted thunder stored.
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... Them unexpected joy surprised, When the great ensign of Messiah blazed, Aloft by angels borne his sign in heaven.
How heart-rending his story of the fall, and of the bitter sorrow of our first parents, whose fatal act
Brought death into the world and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful seat.
How marvellous is the combat at Hell-gate, between Satan and Death; how terrible the power at which "Hell itself grew darker"! How we strive to shade our mind's eye as we enter again with him into the courts of Heaven. How refreshingly beautiful the perennial bloom of Eden:
Picta velut primo Vere coruscat humus.
What a wonderful story of the teeming creation related to our first parents by the lips of Raphael:
When from the Earth appeared The tawny lion, pawing to get free His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds, And rampant shakes his brinded mane.
And withal, how compact the poem, how perfect the drama. It is Paradise, perfect in beauty and holiness; attacked with devilish art; in danger; betrayed; lost!
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked and ate; Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat, Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe That all was lost!
Unit-like, complete, brilliant, sublime, awful, the poem dazzles criticism, and belittles the critic. It is the grandest poem ever written. It almost sets up a competition with Scripture. Milton's Adam and Eve walk before us instead of the Adam and Eve of Genesis. Milton's Satan usurps the place of that grotesque, malignant spirit of the Bible, which, instead of claiming our admiration, excites only our horror, as he goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He it is who can declare
The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. What matter where, if I be still the same, And what I should be?
MILTON AND DANTE.—It has been usual for the literary critic to compare Milton and Dante; and it is certain that in the conception, at least, of his great themes, Milton took Dante for his guide. Without an odious comparison, and conceding the great value, principally historical, of the Divina Commedia, it must be said that the palm remains with the English poet. Take, for a single illustration, the fall of the arch-fiend. Dante's Lucifer falls with such force that he makes a conical hole in the earth to its centre, and forces out a hill on the other side—a physical prediction, as the antipodes had not yet been established. The cavity is the seat of Hell; and the mountain, that of Purgatory. So mathematical is his fancy, that in vignette illustrations we have right-lined drawings of these surfaces and their different circles. Science had indeed progressed in Milton's time, but his imagination scorns its aid; everything is with him grandly ideal, as well as rhetorically harmonious:
... Him the Almighty power, Hurled headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky, With hideous ruin and combustion down To bottomless perdition, there to dwell In adamantine chains and penal power, Who durst defy th' Omnipotent in arms.
And when a lesser spirit falls, what a sad AEolian melody describes the downward flight:
... How he fell From Heaven they fabled thrown by angry Jove, Sheer o'er the crystal battlements: from morn To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve A summer's day; and with the setting sun, Dropt from the zenith like a falling star.
The heavenly colloquies to which we have alluded between the Father and the Son, involve questions of theology, and present peculiar views—such as the subordination of the Son, and the relative unimportance of the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. They establish Milton's Arianism almost as completely as his Treatise on Christian Doctrine.
HIS FAULTS.—Grand, far above all human efforts, his poems fail in these representations. God is a spirit; he is here presented as a body, and that by an uninspired pen. The poet has not been able to carry us up to those infinite heights, and so his attempt only ends in a humanitarian philosophy: he has been obliged to lower the whole heavenly hierarchy to bring it within the scope of our objective comprehension. He blinds our poor eyes by the dazzling effulgence of that light which is
... of the Eternal co-eternal beam.
And it must be asserted that in this attempt Milton has done injury to the cause of religion, however much he has vindicated the power of the human intellect and the compass of the human imagination. He has made sensuous that which was entirely spiritual, and has attempted with finite powers to realize the Infinite.
The fault is not so great when he delineates created intelligences, ranging from the highest seraph to him who was only "less than archangel ruined." We gaze, unreproved by conscience, at the rapid rise of Pandemonium; we watch with eager interest the hellish crew as they "open into the hill a spacious wound, and dig out ribs of gold." We admire the fabric which springs
... like an exhalation, with the sound Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet.
Nothing can be grander or more articulately realized than that arched roof, from which,
Pendent by subtle magic, many a row Of starry lamps and blazing cressets, fed With naphtha and asphaltus, yields the light As from a sky.
It is an illustrative criticism that while the painter's art has seized these scenes, not one has dared to attempt his heavenly descriptions with the pencil. Art is less bold or more reverent than poetry, and rebukes the poet.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE AGE.—And here it is particularly to our purpose to observe, that in this very boldness of entrance into the holy of holies—in this attempted grasp with finite hands of infinite things, Milton was but a sublimated type of his age, and of the Commonwealth, when man, struggling for political freedom, went, as in the later age of the French Illuminati, too far in the regions of spirit and of faith. As Dante, with a powerful satire, filled his poem with the personages of the day, assigning his enemies to the girone of the Inferno, so Milton vents his gentler spleen by placing cowls and hood and habits in the limbo of vanity and paradise of fools:
... all these upwhirled aloft Fly o'er the backside of the world far off, Into a limbo large and broad, since called The paradise of fools.
It was a setting forth of that spirit which, when the Cavaliers were many of them formalists, and the Puritans many of them fanatics, led to the rise of many sects, and caused rude soldiers to bellow their own riotous fancies from the pulpit. In the suddenness of change, when the earthly throne had been destroyed, men misconceived what was due to the heavenly; the fancy which had been before curbed by an awe for authority, and was too ignorant to move without it, now revelled unrebuked among the mysteries which are not revealed to angelic vision, and thus "fools rushed in where angels fear to tread."
The book could not fail to bring him immense fame, but personally he received very little for it in money—less than L20.
PARADISE REGAINED.—It was Thomas Ellwood, Milton's Quaker friend, who, after reading the Paradise Lost, suggested the Paradise Regained. This poem will bear no comparison with its great companion. It may, without irreverence, be called "The gospel according to John Milton." Beauties it does contain; but the very foundation of it is false. Milton makes man regain Paradise by the success of Christ in withstanding the Devil's temptations in the wilderness; a new presentation of his Arian theology, which is quite transcendental; whereas, in our opinion, the gate of Paradise was opened only "by His precious death and burial; His glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Ghost." But if it is immeasurably inferior in its conception and treatment, it is quite equal to the Paradise Lost in its execution.
A few words as to Milton's vocabulary and style must close our notice of this greatest of English poets. With regard to the first, the Latin element, which is so manifest in his prose works, largely predominates in his poems, but accords better with the poetic license. In a list of authors which Mr. Marsh has prepared, down to Milton's time, which includes an analysis of the sixth book of the Paradise Lost, he is found to employ only eighty per cent. of Anglo-Saxon words—less than any up to that day. But his words are chosen with a delicacy of taste and ear which astonishes and delights; his works are full of an adaptive harmony, the suiting of sound to sense. His rhythm is perfect. We have not space for extended illustrations, but the reader will notice this in the lady's song in Comus—the address to
Sweet Echo, sweeter nymph that liv'st unseen Within thy airy shell, By slow Meander's margent green!
* * * * *
Sweet queen of parley, daughter of the sphere, So may'st thou be translated to the skies, And give resounding grace to all heaven's harmonies.
And again, the description of Chastity, in the same poem, is inimitable in the language:
So dear to Heaven is saintly Chastity, That when a soul is found sincerely so, A thousand liveried angels lackey her.
HIS SCHOLARSHIP.—It is unnecessary to state the well-known fact, attested by all his works, of his elegant and versatile scholarship. He was the most learned man in England in his day. If, like J. C. Scaliger, he did not commit Homer to memory in twenty-one days, and the whole of the Greek poets in three months, he had all classical learning literally at his fingers' ends, and his works are absolutely glistening with drops which show that every one has been dipped in that Castalian fountain which, it was fabled, changed the earthly flowers of the mind into immortal jewels.
Nor need we refer to what every one concedes, that a vein of pure but austere morals runs through all his works; but Puritan as he was, his myriad fancy led him into places which Puritanism abjured: the cloisters, with their dim religious light, in Il Penseroso—and anon with mirth he cries:
Come and trip it as you go, On the light fantastic toe.
SONNETS.—His sonnets have been variously estimated: they are not as polished as his other poems, but are crystal-like and sententious, abrupt bursts of opinion and feeling in fourteen lines. Their masculine power it was which caused Wordsworth, himself a prince of sonneteers, to say:
In his hand, The thing became a trumpet, whence he blew Soul-animating strains....
That to his dead wife, whom he saw in a vision; that to Cyriac Skinner on his blindness, and that to the persecuted Waldenses, are the most known and appreciated. That to Skinner is a noble assertion of heart and hope:
Cyriac, this three-years-day these eyes, though clear To outward view, of blemish and of spot, Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot: Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year, Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask? The conscience friend to have lost them over-plied In liberty's defence, my noble task, Of which all Europe talks from side to side, This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask Content, though blind, had I no better guide.
Milton died in 1674, of gout, which had long afflicted him; and he left his name and works to posterity. Posterity has done large but mistaken justice to his fame. Men have not discriminated between his real merits and his faults: all parties have conceded the former, and conspired to conceal the latter. A just statement of both will still establish his great fame on the immutable foundations of truth—a fame, the honest pursuit of which caused him, throughout his long life,
To scorn delights, and live laborious days.
No writer has ever been the subject of more uncritical, ignorant, and senseless panegyric: like Bacon, he is lauded by men who never read his works, and are entirely ignorant of the true foundation of his fame. Nay, more; partisanship becomes very warlike, and we are reminded in this controversy of the Italian gentleman, who fought three duels in maintaining that Ariosto was a better poet than Tasso: in the third he was mortally wounded, and he confessed before dying that he had never read a line of either. A similar logomachy has marked the course of Milton's champions; words like sharp swords have been wielded by ignorance, and have injured the poet's true fame.
He now stands before the world, not only as the greatest English poet, except Shakspeare, but also as the most remarkable example and illustration of the theory we have adopted, that literature is a very vivid and permanent interpreter of contemporary history. To those who ask for a philosophic summary of the age of Charles I. and Cromwell, the answer may be justly given: "Study the works of John Milton, and you will find it."
COWLEY, BUTLER, AND WALTON.
Cowley and Milton. Cowley's Life and Works. His Fame. Butler's Career. Hudibras. His Poverty and Death. Izaak Walton. The Angler; and Lives. Other Writers.
COWLEY AND MILTON.
In contrast with Milton, in his own age, both in political tenets and in the character of his poetry, stood Cowley, the poetical champion of the party of king and cavaliers during the civil war. Historically he belongs to two periods—antecedent and consequent—that of the rebellion itself, and that of the Restoration: the latter was a reaction from the former, in which the masses changed their opinions, in which the Puritan leaders were silenced, and in which the constant and consistent Cavaliers had their day of triumph. Both parties, however, modified their views somewhat after the whirlwind of excitement had swept by, and both deprecated the extreme violence of their former actions. This is cleverly set forth in a charming paper of Lord Macaulay, entitled Cowley and Milton. It purports to be the report of a pleasant colloquy between the two in the spring of 1665, "set down by a gentleman of the Middle Temple." Their principles are courteously expressed, in a retrospective view of the great rebellion.
COWLEY'S LIFE AND WORKS.—Abraham Cowley, the posthumous son of a grocer, was born in London, in the year 1618. He is said to have been so precocious that he read Spenser with pleasure when he was twelve years old; and he published a volume of poems, entitled "Poetical Blossoms," before he was fifteen. After a preliminary education at Westminster school, he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1636, and while there he published, in 1638, two comedies, one in English, entitled Love's Riddle, and one in Latin, Naufragium Joculare, or, The Merry Shipwreck.
When the troubles which culminated in the civil war began to convulse England, Cowley, who was a strong adherent of the king, was compelled to leave Cambridge; and we find him, when the war had fairly opened, at Oxford, where he was well received by the Royal party, in 1643. He vindicated the justice of this reception by publishing in that year a satire called Puritan and Papist. Upon the retirement of the queen to Paris, he was one of her suite, and as secretary to Viscount St. Albans he conducted the correspondence in cipher between the queen and her unfortunate husband.
He remained abroad during the civil war and the protectorate, returning with Charles II. in 1660. "The Blessed Restoration" he celebrated in an ode with that title, and would seem to have thus established a claim to the king's gratitude and bounty. But he was mistaken. Perhaps this led him to write a comedy, entitled The Cutter of Coleman Street, in which he severely censured the license and debaucheries of the court: this made the arch-debauchee, the king himself, cold toward the poet, who at once issued A Complaint; but neither satire nor complaint helped him to the desired preferment. He quitted London a disappointed man, and retired to the country, where he died on the 28th of July, 1667.
His poems bear the impress of the age in a remarkable degree. His Mistress, or, Love Verses, and his other Anacreontics or paraphrases of Anacreon's odes, were eminently to the taste of the luxurious and immoral court of Charles II. His Davideis is an heroic poem on the troubles of King David.
His Poem on the Late Civil War, which was not published until 1679, twelve years after his death, is written in the interests of the monarchy.
His varied learning gave a wide range to his pen. In 1661 appeared his Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy, which was followed in the next year by Two Books of Plants, which he increased to six books afterward—devoting two to herbs, two to flowers, and two to trees. If he does not appear in them to be profound in botanical researches, it was justly said by Dr. Johnson that in his mind "botany turned into poetry."
His prose pen was as ready, versatile, and charming as his poetic pencil. He produced discourses or essays on commonplace topics of general interest, such as myself; the shortness of life; the uncertainty of riches; the danger of procrastination, etc. These are well written, in easy-flowing language, evincing his poetic nature, and many of them are more truly poetic than his metrical pieces.
HIS FAME.—Cowley had all his good things in his lifetime; he was the most popular poet in England, and is the best illustration of the literary taste of his age. His poetry is like water rippling in the sunlight, brilliant but dazzling and painful: it bewilders with far-fetched and witty conceits: varied but full of art, there is little of nature or real passion to be found even in his amatory verses. He suited the taste of a court which preferred an epigram to a proverb, and a repartee to an apothegm; and, as a consequence, with the growth of a better culture and a better taste, he has steadily declined in favor, so that at the present day he is scarcely read at all. Two authoritative opinions mark the history of this decline: Milton, in his own day, placed him with Spenser and Shakspeare as one of the three greatest English poets; while Pope, not much more than half a century later, asks:
Who now reads Cowley? If he pleases yet, His moral pleases, not his pointed wit.
Still later, Dr. Johnson gives him the credit of having been the first to master the Pindaric ode in English; while Cowper expresses, in his Task, regret that his "splendid wit" should have been
Entangled in the cobwebs of the schools.
But if he is neglected in the present day as a household poet, he stands prominently forth to the literary student as an historic personage of no mean rank, a type and representative of his age, country, and social conditions.
BUTLER'S CAREER.—The author of Hudibras, a satirical poem which may as justly be called a comic history of England as any of those written in prose in more modern times, was born in Worcestershire, on the 8th of February, 1612. The son of poor parents, he received his education at a grammar school. Some, who have desired to magnify his learning, have said that he was for a time a student at Cambridge; but the chronicler Aubrey, who knew him well, denies this. He was learned, but this was due to the ardor with which he pursued his studies, when he was clerk to Mr. Jeffreys, an eminent justice of the peace, and as an inmate of the mansion of the Countess of Kent, in whose fine library he was associated with the accomplished Selden.
We next find him domiciled with Sir Samuel Luke, a Presbyterian and a parliamentary soldier, in whose household he saw and noted those characteristics of the Puritans which he afterward ridiculed so severely in his great poem, a poem which he was quietly engaged in writing during the protectorate of Cromwell, in hope of the coming of a day when it could be issued to the world.
This hope was fulfilled by the Restoration. In the new order he was appointed secretary to the Earl of Carbery, and steward of Ludlow Castle; and he also increased his frugal fortunes by marrying a widow, Mrs. Herbert, whose means, however, were soon lost by bad investments.
HUDIBRAS.—The only work of merit which Butler produced was Hudibras. This was published in three parts: the first appeared in 1663, the second in 1664, and the third not until 1678. Even then it was left unfinished; but as the interest in the third part seems to flag, it is probable that the author did not intend to complete it. His death, two years later, however, settled the question.
The general idea of the poem is taken from Don Quixote. As in that immortal work, there are two heroes. Sir Hudibras, corresponding to the Don, is a Presbyterian justice of the peace, whose features are said to have been copied from those of the poet's former employer, Sir Samuel Luke. For this, Butler has been accused of ingratitude, but the nature of their connection does not seem to have been such as to warrant the charge. Ralph the squire, the humble Sancho of the poem, is a cross-grained dogmatic Independent.
These two the poet sends forth, as a knight-errant with a squire, to correct existing abuses of all kinds—political, religious, and scientific. The plot is rambling and disconnected, but the author contrives to go over the whole ground of English history in his inimitable burlesque. Unlike Cervantes, who makes his reader always sympathize with his foolish heroes, Butler brings his knight and squire into supreme contempt; he lashes the two hundred religious sects of the day, and attacks with matchless ridicule all the Puritan positions. The poem is directly historical in its statement of events, tenets, and factions, and in its protracted religious discussions: it is indirectly historical in that it shows how this ridicule of the Puritans, only four years after the death of Cromwell, delighted the merry monarch and his vicious court, and was greatly acceptable to the large majority of the English people. This fact marks the suddenness of the historic change from the influence of Puritanism to that of the restored Stuarts.
Hudibras is written in octosyllabic verse, frequently not rising above doggerel: it is full of verbal "quips and cranks and wanton wiles:" in parts it is eminently epigrammatic, and many of its happiest couplets seem to have been dashed off without effort. Walpole calls Butler "the Hogarth of poetry;" and we know that Hogarth illustrated Hudibras. The comparison is not inapt, but the pictorial element in Hudibras is not its best claim to our praise. This is found in its string of proverbs and maxims elucidating human nature, and set forth in such terse language that we are inclined to use them thus in preference to any other form of expression.
Hudibras is the very prince of burlesques; it stands alone of its kind, and still retains its popularity. Although there is much that belongs to the age, and much that is of only local interest, it is still read to find apt quotations, of which not a few have become hackneyed by constant use. With these, pages might be filled; all readers will recognize the following:
He speaks of the knight thus:
On either side he would dispute, Confute, change hands, and still confute:
* * * * *
For rhetoric, he could not ope His mouth but out there flew a trope.
Again: he refers, in speaking of religious characters, to
Such as do build their faith upon The holy text of pike and gun, And prove their doctrine orthodox, By apostolic blows and knocks; Compound for sins they are inclined to By damning those they have no mind to.
Few persons of the present generation have patience to read Hudibras through. Allibone says "it is a work to be studied once and gleaned occasionally." Most are content to glean frequently, and not to study at all.
HIS POVERTY AND DEATH.—Butler lived in great poverty, being neglected by a monarch and a court for whose amusement he had done so much. They laughed at the jester, and let him starve. Indeed, he seems to have had few friends; and this is accounted for quaintly by Aubrey, who says: "Satirical wits disoblige whom they converse with, and consequently make to themselves many enemies, and few friends; and this was his manner and case."
The best known of his works, after Hudibras, is the Elephant in the Moon, a satire on the Royal Society.
It is significant of the popularity of Hudibras, that numerous imitations of it have been written from his day to ours.
Butler died on the 25th of September, 1680. Sixty years after, the hand of private friendship erected a monument to him in Westminster Abbey. The friend was John Barber, Lord Mayor of London, whose object is thus stated: "That he who was destitute of all things when alive, might not want a monument when he was dead." Upon the occasion of erecting this, Samuel Wesley wrote:
While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive, No generous patron would a dinner give; See him, when starved to death and turned to dust, Presented with a monumental bust. The poet's fate is here in emblem shown, He asked for bread, and he received a stone.
To his own age he was the prince of jesters; to English literature he has given its best illustration of the burlesque in rhetoric. To the reader of the present day he presents rare historical pictures of his day, of far greater value than his wit or his burlesque.
If men are to be measured by their permanent popularity, Walton deserves an enthusiastic mention in literary annals, not for the greatness of his achievements, but for his having touched a chord in the human heart which still vibrates without hint of cessation wherever English is spoken.