*Thomas Sprat, History of Royal Society, 1667.
BOOKS TO READ
The New Atlantis, edited by G. D. W. Bevan, modern spelling (for schools). The New Atlantis, edited by G. C. Moore Smith, in old spelling (for schools).
Chapter LIV ABOUT SOME LYRIC POETS
BEFORE either Ben Jonson or Bacon died, a second Stuart king sat on the throne of England. This was Charles I the son of James VI and I. The spacious days of Queen Elizabeth were over and gone, and the temper of the people was changing. Elizabeth had been a tyrant but the people of England had yielded to her tyranny. James, too, was a tyrant, but the people struggled with him, and in the struggle they grew stronger. In the days of Elizabeth the religion of England was still unsettled. James decided that the religion of England must be Episcopal, but as the reign of James went on, England became more and more Puritan and the breach between King and people grew wide, for James was no Puritan nor was Charles after him.
As the temper of the people changed, the literature changed too. As England grew Puritan, the people began to look askance at the theater, for the Puritans had always been its enemies. Puritan ideas drew the great mass of thinking people.
For one reason or another the plays that were written became by degrees poorer and poorer. They were coarse too, many of them so much so that we do not care to read them now. But people wrote such stories as the play-goers of those days liked, and from them we can judge how low the taste of England had fallen. However, there were people in England in those days who revolted against this taste, and in 1642, when the great struggle between King Parliament had begun, all theaters were closed by order of Parliament. So for a time the life of English drama paused.
But while dramatic poetry declined, lyric poetry flourished. Lyric comes from the Greek word lura, a lyre, and all lyric poetry was at one time meant to be sung. Now we use the word for any short poem whether meant to be sung or not. In the times of James and Charles there were many lyric poets. Especially in the time of Charles it was natural that poets should write lyrics rather than longer poems. For a time of strong action, of fierce struggle was beginning, and amid the clash of arms men had no leisure to sit in the study and ponder long and quietly. But life brought with it many sharp and quick moments, and these could be best expressed in lyric poetry. And as was natural when religion was more and more being mixed with politics, when life was forcing people to think about religion whether they would or not, many of these lyric poets were religious poets. Indeed this is the great time of English religious poetry. So these lyric poets were divided into two classes, the religious poets and the court poets, gay cavaliers these last who sang love-songs, love- songs, too, in which we often seem to hear the clash of swords. For if these brave and careless cavaliers loved gayly, they fought and died as gayly as they loved.
Later on when you come to read more in English literature, you will learn to know many of these poets. In this book we have not room to tell about them or even to mention their names. Their stories are bound up with the stories of the times, and many of them fought and suffered for their king. But I will give you one or two poems which may make you want to know more about the writers of them.
Here are two written by Richard Lovelace, the very model of a gay cavalier. While he was at Oxford, King Charles saw him and made him M.A. or Master of Arts, not for his learning, but because of his beautiful face. He went to court and made love and sang songs gayly. He went to battle and fought and sang as gayly, he went to prison and still sang. To the cause of his King he clung through all, and when Charles was dead and Cromwell ruled with his stern hand, and song was hushed in England, he died miserably in a poor London alley.
The first of these songs was written by Lovelace while he was in prison for having presented a petition to the House of Commons asking that King Charles might be restored to the throne.
TO ALTHEA FROM PRISON
"When love with unconfined wings Hovers within my gates, And my divine Althea brings To whisper at the grates; When I lye tangled in her haire, And fettered to her eye, The gods, that wanton in the aire, Know no such liberty. . . . . . "When (like committed linnets) I With shriller throat shall sing The sweetness, mercy, majesty, And glories of my King. When I shall voyce aloud, how good He is, how great should be, Enlarged winds, that curle the flood, Know no such liberty.
"Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Mindes innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage; If I have freedome in my love, And in my soule am free, Angels alone that soar above Enjoy such liberty."
TO LUCASTA GOING TO THE WARRES
"Tell me not (sweet) I am unkinde, That from the nunnerie Of thy chaste heart and quiet minde To warre and armes I flie.
"True: a new Mistresse now I chase, The first foe in the field, And with a stronger faith embrace A sword, a horse, a shield.
"Yet this inconstancy is such As you, too, shall adore; I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov'd I not Honour more."
James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, was another cavalier poet whose fine, sad story you will read in history. He loved his King and fought and suffered for him, and when he heard that he was dead he drew his sword and wrote a poem with its point:
"Great, Good, and Just, could I but rate My grief, and thy too rigid fate, I'd weep the world in such a strain As it should deluge once again: But since thy loud-tongued blood demands supplies More from Briareus' hands than Argus' eyes, I'll sing thy obsequies with trumpet sounds And write thine epitaph in blood and wounds."
He wrote, too, a famous song known as Montrose's Love-song. Here it is:—
"My dear and only love, I pray This noble world of thee, Be governed by no other sway But purest monarchie.
"For if confusion have a part Which vertuous souls abhore, And hold a synod in thy heart, I'll never love thee more.
"Like Alexander I will reign, And I will reign alone, My thoughts shall evermore disdain A rival on my throne.
"He either fears his fate too much Or his deserts are small, That puts it not unto the touch, To win or lose it all.
"But I must rule and govern still, And always give the law, And have each subject at my will, And all to stand in awe.
"But 'gainst my battery if I find Thou shun'st the prize so sore, As that thou set'st me up a blind I'll never love thee more.
"If in the Empire of thy heart, Where I should solely be, Another do pretend a part, And dares to vie with me:
"Or if committees thou erect, And goes on such a score, I'll sing and laugh at thy neglect, and never love thee more.
"But if thou wilt be constant then, And faithful to thy word, I'll make thee glorious with my pen And famous by my sword.
"I'll serve thee in such noble ways Was never heard before, I'll crown and deck thee all with bays And love thee more and more."
In these few cavalier songs we can see the spirit of the times. There is gay carelessness of death, strong courage in misfortune, passionate loyalty. There is, too, the proud spirit of the tyrant, which is gentle and loving when obeyed, harsh and cruel if disobeyed.
There is another song by a cavalier poet which I should like to give you. It is a love-song, too, but it does not tell of these stormy times, or ring with the noise of battle. Rather it takes us away to a peaceful summer morning before the sun is up, when everything is still, when the dew trembles on every blade of grass, and the air is fresh and cool, and sweet with summer scents. And in this cool freshness we hear the song of the lark:
"The lark now leaves his wat'ry nest, And, climbing, shakes his dewy wings; He takes this window for the east; And to implore your light, he sings; 'Awake, awake! the Morn will never rise, Till she can dress her beauty at your eyes.'
"The merchant bow unto the seaman's star, The ploughman from the Sun his season takes; But still the lover wonders what they are, Who look for day before his mistress wakes. 'Awake, awake! break thro' your veils of lawn! Then draw your curtains, and begin the dawn.'"
That was written by William Davenant, poet-laureate. It is one our most beautiful songs, and he is remembered by it far more than by his long epic poem called Gondibert which few people now read. But I think you will agree with me that his name is worthy of being remembered for that one song alone.
Chapter LV HERBERT—THE PARSON POET
HAVING told you a little about the songs of the cavaliers I must now tell you something about the religious poets who were a feature of the age. Of all our religious poets, of this time at least, George Herbert is the greatest. He was born in 1593 near the town of Montgomery, and was the son of a noble family, but his father died when he was little more than three, leaving his mother to bring up George with his nine brothers and sisters.
George Herbert's mother was a good and beautiful woman, and she loved her children so well that the poet said afterwards she had been twice a mother to him.
At twelve he was sent to Westminster school where we are told "the beauties of his pretty behaviour shined" so that he seemed "to become the care of Heaven and of a particular good angel to guard and guide him."*
At fifteen he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. And now, although separated from his "dear and careful Mother"* he did not forget her or all that she had taught him. Already he was a poet. We find him sending verses as a New Year gift to his mother and writing to her that "my poor abilities in poetry shall be all and ever consecrated to God's glory."
As the years went on Herbert worked hard and became a gently good, as well as a learned man, and in time he was given the post of Public Orator at the University. This post brought him into touch with the court and with the King. Of this George Herbert was glad, for although he was a good and saintly man, he longed to be a courtier. Often now he went to court hoping for some great post. But James I died in 1625 and with him died George Herbert's hope of rising to be great in the world.
For a time, then, he left court and went into the country, and there he passed through a great struggle with himself. The question he had to settle was "whether he should return to the painted pleasure of a court life" or become a priest.
In the end he decided to become a priest, and when a friend tried to dissuade him from the calling as one too much below his birth, he answered: "It hath been judged formerly, that the domestic servants of the King of Heaven should be one of the noblest families on earth. And though the iniquity of late times have made clergymen meanly valued, and the sacred name of priest contemptible, yet I will labor to make it honorable. . . . And I will labor to be like my Saviour, by making humility lovely in the eyes of all men, and by following the merciful and meek example of my dear Jesus."
But before Herbert was fully ordained a great change came into his life. The Church of England was now Protestant and priests were allowed to marry, and George Herbert married. The story of how he met his wife is pretty.
Herbert was such a cheerful and good man that he had many friends. It was said, indeed, that he had no enemy. Among his many friends was one named Danvers, who loved him so much that he said nothing would make him so happy as that George should marry one of his nine daughters. But specially he wished him to marry his daughter Jane, for he loved her best, and would think of no more happy fate for her than to be the wife of such a man as George Herbert. He talked of George so much to Jane that she loved him without having seen him. George too heard of Jane and wished to meet her. And at last after a long time they met. Each had heard so much about the other that they seemed to know one another already, and like the prince and princess in a fairy tale, they loved at once, and three days later they were married.
Soon after this, George Herbert was offered the living of Bemerton near Salisbury. But although he had already made up his mind to become a priest he was as yet only a deacon. This sudden offer made him fearful. He began again to question himself and wonder if he was good enough for such a high calling. For a month he fasted and prayed over it. But in the end Laud, Bishop of London, assured him "that the refusal of it was a sin." So Herbert put off his sword and gay silken clothes, and putting on the long dark robe of a priest turned his back for ever to thoughts of a court life. "I now look back upon my aspiring thoughts," he said, "and think myself more happy than if I had attained what I so ambitiously thirsted for. I can now behold the court with an impartial eye, and see plainly that it is made up of fraud and titles and flattery, and many other such empty, imaginary, painted pleasures." And having turned his back on all gayety, he began the life which earned for him the name of "saintly George Herbert." He taught his people, preached to them, and prayed with them so lovingly that they loved him in return. "Some of the meaner sort of his parish did so love and reverence Mr. Herbert that they would let their plough rest when Mr. Herbert's saint's bell rang to prayers, that they might also offer their devotions to God with him; and would then return back to their plough. And his most holy life was such, that it begot such reverence to God and to him, that they thought themselves the happier when they carried Mr. Herbert's blessing back with them to their labour."*
But he did not only preach, he practised too. I must tell you just one story to show you how he practiced. Herbert was very fond of music; he sang, and played too, upon the lute and viol. One day as he was walking into Salisbury to play with some friends "he saw a poor man with a poorer horse, which was fallen under his load. They were both in distress and needed present help. This Mr. Herbert perceiving put off his canonical coat, and helped the poor man to unload, and after to load his horse. The poor man blest him for it, and he blest the poor man, and was so like the Good Samaritan that he gave him money to refresh both himself and his horse, and told him, that if he loved himself, he should be merciful to his beast. Thus he left the poor man.
"And at his coming to his musical friends at Salisbury, they began to wonder that Mr. George Herbert, which used to be so trim and clean, came into that company so soiled and discomposed. But he told them the occasion. And when one of the company told him, he had disparaged himself by so dirty an employment, his answer was: that the thought of what he had done would prove music to him at midnight, and the omission of it would have upbraided and made discord in his conscience whensoever he should pass by that place. 'For if I be bound to pray for all that be in distress, I am sure that I am bound, so far as it is in my power, to practice what I pray for. And though I do not wish for the like occasion every day, yet let me tell you, I would not willingly pass one day of my life without comforting a sad soul or shewing mercy. And I praise God for this occasion.
"'And now let's tune our instruments.'"*
This story reminds us that besides being a parson Herbert was a courtier and a fine gentleman. His courtly friends were surprised that he should lower himself by helping a poor man with his own hands. But that is just one thing that we have to remember about Herbert, he had nothing of the puritan in him, he was a cavalier, a courtier, yet he showed the world that it was possible to be these and still be a good man. He did not believe that any honest work was a "dirty employment." In one of his poems he says:
"Teach me my God and King, In all things Thee to see, And what I do in anything To do it as for Thee. . . . . . "All may of Thee Partake: Nothing can be so mean Which with his tincture (for Thy sake) Will not grow bright and clean.
"A Servant with this clause Makes drudgery divine; Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws Makes that and th' action fine.
"This is the famous stone That turneth all to gold; For that which God doth touch and own Cannot for less be told."*
I have told you the story about Herbert and the poor man in the words of Izaak Walton, the first writer of a life of George Herbert. I hope some day you will read that life and also the other books Walton wrote, for although we have not room for him in this book, his books are one of the delights of our literature which await you.
In all Herbert's work among his people, his wife was his companion and help, and the people loved her as much as they loved their parson. "Love followed her," says Walton, "in all places as inseparably as shadows follow substances in sunshine."
Besides living thus for his people Herbert almost rebuilt the church and rectory both of which he found very ruined. And when he had made an end of rebuilding he carved these words upon the chimney in the hall of the Rectory:
"If thou chance for to find A new house to thy mind, And built without thy cost; Be good to the poor, As God gives thee Store And then my labor's not lost."
His life, one would think, was busy enough, and full enough, yet amid it all he found time to write. Besides many poems he wrote for his own guidance a book called The Country Parson. It is a book, says Walton, "so full of plain, prudent, and useful rules that that country parson that can spare 12d. and yet wants it is scarce excusable."
But Herbert's happy, useful days at Bemerton were all too short. In 1632, before he had held his living three years, he died, and was buried by his sorrowing people beneath the altar of his own little church.
It was not until after his death that his poems were published. On his death-bed he left the book in which he had written them to a friend. "Desire him to read it," he said, "and if he can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul, let it be made public. If not let him burn it."
The book was published under the name of The Temple. All the poems are short except the first, called The Church Porch. From that I will quote a few lines. It begins:
"Thou whose sweet youth and early hopes enchance Thy rate and price, and mark thee for a treasure, Hearken unto a Verser, who may chance Ryme thee to good, and make a bait of pleasure. A verse may find him who a sermon flies, And turn delight into a sacrifice. . . . . . . . "Lie not, but let thy heart be true to God, Thy mouth to it, thy actions to them both: Cowards tell lies, and those that fear the rod; The stormy-working soul spits lies and froth Dare to be true: nothing can need a lie; A fault which needs it most, grows two thereby. . . . . . . . "Art thou a magistrate? then be severe: If studious, copy fair what Time hath blurr'd, Redeem truth from his jaws: if soldier, Chase brave employment with a naked sword Throughout the world. Fool not; for all may have, If they dare try, a glorious life, or grave. . . . . . . . "Do all things like a man, not sneakingly; Think the King sees thee still; for his King does. Simpring is but a lay-hypocrisy; Give it a corner and the clue undoes. Who fears to do ill set himself to task, Who fears to do well sure should wear a mask."
There is all the strong courage in these lines of the courtier- parson. They make us remember that before he put on his priest's robe he wore a sword. They are full of the fearless goodness that was the mark of his gentle soul. And now, to end the chapter, I will give you another little poem full of beauty and tenderness. It is called The Pulley. Herbert often gave quaint names to his poems, names which at first sight seem to have little meaning. Perhaps you may be able to find out why this is called The Pulley.
"When God at first made man, Having a glass of blessings standing by, 'Let us,' said He, 'pour on him all we can; Let the world's riches which dispersed lie, Contract into a span.'
"So strength first made way, Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure; When almost all was out, God made a stay, Perceiving that, alone of all His treasure, Rest in the bottom lay.
"'For if I should,' said He, 'Bestow this jewel on My creature, He would adore My gifts instead of Me, And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature: So both should losers be.
"'Yet let him keep the rest, But keep them with repining restlessness; Let him be rich and weary, that at least, If goodness lead him not, yet weariness May toss him to my breast.'"
Chapter LVI HERRICK AND MARVELL—OF BLOSSOMS AND BOWERS
ANOTHER poet of this age, Robert Herrick, in himself joined the two styles of poetry of which we have been speaking, for he was both a love poet and a religious poet.
He was born in 1591 and was the son of an old, well-to-do family, his father being a London goldsmith. But, like Herbert, he lost his father when he was but a tiny child. Like Herbert again he went to Westminster School and later Cambridge. But before he went to Cambridge he was apprenticed to his uncle, who was a goldsmith, as his brother, Herrick's father, had been. Robert, however, never finished his apprenticeship. He found out, we may suppose, that he had no liking for the jeweler's craft, that his hand was meant to create jewels of another kind. So he left his uncle's workshop and went to Cambridge, although he was already much beyond the usual age at which boys then went to college. Like Herbert he went to college meaning to study for the Church. But according to our present-day ideas he seems little fitted to have been a priest. For although we know little more than a few bare facts about Herrick's life, when we have read his poems and looked at his portrait we can draw for ourselves a clear picture of the man, and the picture will not fit in with our ideas of priesthood.
In some ways therefore, as we have seen, though there was an outward likeness between the lives of Herbert and of Herrick, it was only an outwards likeness. Herbert was tender and kindly, the very model of a Christian gentleman. Herrick was a jolly old Pagan, full of a rollicking joy in life. Even in appearance these two poets were different. Herbert was tall and thin with a quiet face and eyes which were truly "homes of silent prayer." In Herrick's face is something gross, his great Roman nose and thick curly hair seem to suit his pleasure-loving nature. There is nothing spiritual about him.
After Herrick left college we know little of his life for eight or nine years. He lived in London, met Ben Jonson and all the other poets and writers who flocked about great Ben. He went to court no doubt, and all the time he wrote poems. It was a gay and cheerful life which, when at length he was given the living of Dean Prior in Devonshire, he found it hard to leave.
It was then that he wrote his farewell to poetry. He says:—
"I, my desires screw from thee, and direct Them and my thought to that sublim'd respect And conscience unto priesthood."
It was hard to go. But yet he pretends at least to be resigned, and he ends by saying:—
"The crown of duty is our duty: Well— Doing's the fruit of doing well. Farewell."
For eighteen years Herrick lived in his Devonshire home, and we know little of these years. But he thought sadly at times of the gay days that were gone. "Ah, Ben!" he writes to Jonson, "Say how, or when Shall we thy guests Meet at those lyric feasts Made at the Sun, The Dog, the Triple Tun? Where we such clusters had, As made us nobly wild, not mad; And yet each verse of thine Out-did the meat, out-did the frolic wine."
Yet he was not without comforts and companions in his country parsonage. His good and faithful servant Prue kept house for him, and he surrounded himself with pets. He had a pet lamb, a dog, a cat, and even a pet pig which he taught to drink out of a mug.
"Though Clock, To tell how night draws hence, I've none, A Cock I have, to sing how day draws on. I have A maid (my Prue) by good luck sent, To save That little, Fates me gave or lent. A Hen I keep, which, creeking* day by day, Tells when She goes her long white egg to lay. A Goose I have, which, with a jealous ear, Lets loose Her tongue, to tell what danger's near. A Lamb I keep, tame, with my morsels fed, Whose Dam An orphan left him, lately dead. A Cat I keep, that plays about my house, Grown fat With eating many a miching** mouse. To these A Tracy*** I do keep, whereby I please The more my rural privacy, Which are But toys to give my heart some ease; Where care None is, slight things do lightly please."
*Clucking. **Thieving. ***His spaniel.
But Herrick did not love his country home and parish or his people. We are told that the gentry round about loved him "for his florid and witty discourses." But his people do not seem to have loved these same discourses, for we are also told that one day in anger he threw his sermon from the pulpit at them because they did not listen attentively. He says:—
"More discontents I never had, Since I was born, than here, Where I have been, and still am sad, In this dull Devonshire."
Yet though Herrick hated Devonshire, or at least said so, it was this same wild country that called forth some of his finest poems. He himself knew that, for in the next lines he goes on to say:—
"Yet justly, too, I must confess I ne'er invented such Ennobled numbers for the press, Than where I loathed so much."
Yet it is not the ruggedness of the Devon land we feel in Herrick's poems. We feel rather the beauty of flowers, the warmth of sun, the softness of spring winds, and see the greening trees, the morning dews, the soft rains. It is as if he had not let his eyes wander over the wild Devonshire moorlands, but had confined them to his own lovely garden and orchard meadow, for he speaks of the "dew-bespangled herb and tree," the "damasked meadows," the "silver shedding brooks." Hardly any English poet has written so tenderly of flowers as Herrick. One of the best known of these flower poems is To Daffodils.
"Fair Daffodils, we weep to see You haste away so soon; As yet the early-rising sun Has not attain'd his noon. Stay, stay, Until the hasting day Has run But to the Even-song; And, having pray'd together, we Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you, We have as short a spring; As quick a growth to meet decay, As you, or anything. We die As your hours do, and dry Away, Like to the summer's rain; Or as the pearls of morning's dew, Ne'er to be found again."
And here is part of a song for May morning:—
"Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair Fresh-quilted colours through the air: Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see The dew bespangling herb and tree, Each flower has wept and bow'd toward the east Above an hour since; yet you not dress'd; Nay! not so much as out of bed? When all the birds have matins said And sung their thankful hymns, 'tis sin, Nay, profanation to keep in, Whenas a thousand virgins on this day Spring, sooner than the lark to fetch in May.
Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and green And sweet as Flora. Take no care For jewels for your gown or hair; Fear not; the leaves will strew Gems in abundance upon you: Besides, the childhood of the day has kept, Against you come, some orient pearls unwept; Come and receive them while the light Hangs on the dew-locks of the night: And Titan on the eastern hill Retires himself, or else stands still Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying; Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying."
Another well-known poem of Herrick's is:—
"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to-day, To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of Heaven, the Sun, The higher he's a-getting, The sooner will his race be run, And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best, which is the first, When Youth and Blood are warmer: But being spent, the worse, and worst Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry; For having lost but once your prime, You may for ever tarry."
Herrick only published one book. He called it The Hesperides, or the works both Human and Divine. The "divine" part although published in the same book, has a separate name, being called his Noble Numbers. The Hesperides, from whom he took the name of his book, were lovely maidens who dwelt in a beautiful garden far away on the verge of the ocean. The maidens sang beautifully, so Herrick took their name for his book, for it might well be that the songs they sang were such as his. This garden of the Hesperides was sometimes thought to be the same as the fabled island of Atlantis of which we have already heard. And it was here that, guarded by a dreadful dragon, grew the golden apples which Earth gave to Hera on her marriage with Zeus.
The Hesperides is a collection of more than a thousand short poems, a few of which you have already read in this chapter. They are not connected with each other, but tell of all manner of things.
Herrick was a religious poet too, and here is something that he wrote for children in his Noble Numbers. It is called To his Saviour, a Child: A Present by a Child.
"Go, pretty child, and bear this flower Unto thy little Saviour; And tell him, by that bud now blown, He is the Rose of Sharon known. When thou hast said so, stick it there Upon his bib or stomacher; And tell Him, for good hansel too, That thou hast brought a whistle new, Made of a clear, straight oaten reed, To charm his cries at time of need. Tell Him, for coral, thou hast none, But if thou hadst, He should have one; But poor thou art, and known to be Even as moneyless as He. Lastly, if thou canst win a kiss From those mellifluous lips of His; Then never take a second one, To spoil the first impression."
Herrick wrote also several graces for children. Here is one:—
"What God gives, and what we take 'Tis a gift for Christ His sake: Be the meal of beans and peas, God be thanked for those and these: Have we flesh, or have we fish, All are fragments from His dish. He His Church save, and the king; And our peace here, like a Spring, Make it ever flourishing."
While Herrick lived his quiet, dull life and wrote poetry in the depths of Devonshire, the country was being torn asunder and tossed from horror to horror by the great Civil War. Men took sides and fought for Parliament or for King. Year by year the quarrel grew. What was begun at Edgehill ended at Naseby where the King's cause was utterly lost. Then, although Herrick took no part in the fighting, he suffered with the vanquished, for he was a Royalist at heart. He was turned out of his living to make room for a Parliament man. He left this parish without regret. "Deanbourne, farewell; I never look to see Deane, or thy warty incivility. Thy rocky bottom, that doth tear thy streams, And makes them frantic, ev'n to all extremes; To my content, I never should behold, Were thy streams silver, or thy rocks all gold. Rocky thou art, and rocky we discover Thy men: and rocky are thy ways all over. O men, O manners, now and ever known To be a rocky generation: A people currish; churlish as the seas; And rude, almost, as rudest savages: With whom I did, and may re-sojourn when Rocks turn to rivers, rivers turn to men."
Hastening to London, he threw off his sober priest's robe, and once more putting on the gay dress worn by the gentlemen of his day he forgot the troubles and the duties of a country parson.
Rejoicing in his freedom he cried:—
"London my home is: though by hard fate sent Into a long and irksome banishment; Yet since called back; henceforward let me be, O native country, repossess'd by thee."
He had no money, but he had many wealthy friends, so he lived, we may believe, merrily enough for the next fifteen years. It was during these years that the Hesperides was first published, although for a long time before many people had known his poems, for they had been handed about among his friends in manuscript.
So the years passed for Herrick we hardly know how. In the great world Cromwell died and Charles II returned to England to claim the throne of his fathers. Then it would seem that Herrick had not found all the joy he had hoped for in London, for two years later, although rocks had not turned to rivers, nor rivers to men, he went back to his "loathed Devonshire."
After that, all that we know of him is that at Dean Prior "Robert Herrick vicker was buried ye 15th day of October 1674." Thus in twilight ends the life of the greatest lyric poet of the seventeenth century.
All the lyric poets of whom I have told you were Royalists, but the Puritans too had their poets, and before ending this chapter I would like to tell you a little of Andrew Marvell, a Parliamentary poet.
If Herrick was a lover of flowers, Marvell was a lover of gardens, woods and meadows. The garden poet he has been called. He felt himself in touch with Nature:—
"Thus I, easy philosopher, Among the birds and trees confer,
And little now to make me wants, Or of the fowls or of the plants: Give me but wings as they, and I Straight floating in the air shall fly; Or turn me but, and you shall see I was but an inverted tree."*
*Appleton House, to the Lord Fairfax.
Yet although Marvell loved Nature, he did not live, like Herrick, far from the stir of war, but took his part in the strife of the times. He was an important man in his day. He was known to Cromwell and was a friend of Milton, a poet much greater than himself. He was a member of Parliament, and wrote much prose, but the quarrels in the cause of which it was written are matters of bygone days, and although some of it is still interesting, it is for his poetry rather that we remember and love him. Although Marvell was a Parliamentarian, he did not love Cromwell blindly, and he could admire what was fine in King Charles. He could say of Cromwell:—
"Though his Government did a tyrant resemble, He made England great, and his enemies tremble."*
*A dialogue between two Horses.
And no one perhaps wrote with more grave sorrow of the death of Charles than did Marvell, and that too in a poem which, strangely enough, was written in honor of Cromwell.
"He nothing common did, or mean, Upon that memorable scene, But with his keener eye The axe's edge did try: Nor called the gods with vulgar spite To vindicate his helpless right, But bowed his comely head, Down, as upon a bed."*
*An Horatian ode upon Cromwell's return from Ireland.
At Cromwell's death he wrote:—
"Thee, many ages hence, in martial verse Shall the English soldier, ere he charge, rehearse; Singing of thee, inflame himself to fight And, with the name of Cromwell, armies fright."*
*Upon the Death of the Lord Protector.
But all Marvell's writings were not political, and one of his prettiest poems was written about a girl mourning for a lost pet.
"The wanton troopers riding by Have shot my fawn, and it will die.
Ungentle men! they cannot thrive who killed thee. Thou ne'er didst alive Them any harm: alas! nor could Thy death yet do them any good. . . . . . With sweetest milk and sugar, first I it at my own fingers nurs'd; And as it grew, so every day It wax'd more sweet and white than they. It had so sweet a breath! And oft I blushed to see its foot so soft, And white (shall I say than my hand?) Nay, any lady's of the land. It is a wondrous thing how fleet 'Twas on those little silver feet; With what a pretty skipping grace It oft would challenge me to race; And when 't had left me far away, 'Twould stay, and run again, and stay; For it was nimbler much than hinds, And trod as if on the four winds. I have a garden of my own, But so with roses overgrown And lilies, that you would it guess To be a little wilderness; And all the spring-time of the year It only loved to be there. Among the lilies, I Have sought it oft, where it should lie Yet could not, till itself would rise, Find it, although before mine eyes; For in the flaxen lilies' shade, It like a bank of lilies laid. Upon the roses it would feed, Until its lips even seemed to bleed; And then to me 'twould boldly trip And plant those roses on my lip. . . . . . Now my sweet fawn in vanish'd to Whither the swans and turtles go; In fair Elysium to endure, With milk-white lambs and ermines pure, O do not run too fast: for I Will but bespeak thy grave, and die."
After the Restoration Marvell wrote satires, a kind of poem of which you had an early and mild example in the fable of the two mice by Surrey, a kind of poem of which we will soon hear much more. In these satires Marvell poured out all the wrath of a Puritan upon the evils of his day. Marvell's satires were so witty and so outspoken that once or twice he was in danger of punishment because of them. But once at least the King himself saved a book of his from being destroyed, for by every one "from the King down to the tradesman his books were read with great pleasure."* Yet he had many enemies, and when he died suddenly in August, 1678, many people though that he had been poisoned. He was the last, we may say, of the seventeenth-century lyric poets.
Besides the lyric writers there were many prose writers in the seventeenth century who are among the men to be remembered. But their books, although some day you will love them, would not interest you yet. They tell no story, they are long, they have not, like poetry, a lilt or rhythm to carry one on. It would be an effort to read them. If I tried to explain to you wherein the charm of them lies I fear the charm would fly, for it is impossible to imprison the sunbeam or find the foundations of the rainbow. It is better therefore to leave these books until the years to come in which it will be no effort to read them, but a joy.
Chapter LVII MILTON—SIGHT AND GROWTH
"THERE is but one Milton,"* there is, too, but one Shakespeare, yet John Milton, far more than William Shakespeare, stands a lonely figure in our literature. Shakespeare was a dramatist among dramatists. We can see how there were those who led up to him, and others again who led away from him. From each he differs in being greater, he outshines them all. Shakespeare was a man among men. He loved and sinned with men, he was homely and kindly, and we can take him to our hearts. Milton both in his life and work was cold and lonely. He was a master without scholars, a leader without followers. Him we can admire, but cannot love with an understanding love. Yet although we love Shakespeare we can find throughout all his works hardly a line upon which we can place a finger and say here Shakespeare speaks of himself, here he shows what he himself thought and felt. Shakespeare understood human nature so well that he could see through another's eyes and so forget himself. But over and over again in Milton's work we see himself. Over and over again we can say here Milton speaks of himself, here he shows us his own heart, his own pain. He is one of the most self-ful of all poets. He has none of the dramatic power of Shakespeare, he cannot look through another's eyes, so he sees things only from one standpoint and that his own. He stands far apart from us, and is almost inhumanly cold. That is the reason why so many of us find him hard to love.
When, on a bleak December day in 1606, more than three hundred years ago, Milton was born, Elizabeth was dead, and James of Scotland sat upon the throne, but many of the great Elizabethans still lived. Shakespeare was still writing, still acting, although he had become a man of wealth and importance and the owner of New Place. Ben Jonson was at the very height of his fame, the favorite alike of Court and Commons. Bacon was just rising to power and greatness, his Novum Organum still to come. Raleigh, in prison, was eating his heart out in the desire for freedom, trying to while away the dreary hours with chemical experiments, his great history not yet begun. Of the crowd of lyric writers some were boys at college, some but children in the nursery, and some still unborn. Yet in spite of the many writers who lived at or about the same time, Milton stands alone in our literature.
John Milton was the son of a London scrivener, that is, a kind of lawyer. He was well-to-do and a Puritan. Milton's home, however, must have been brighter than many a Puritan home, for his father loved music, and not only played well, but also composed. He taught his son to play too, and all through his life Milton loved music.
John was a pretty little boy with long golden brown hair, a fair face and dark gray eyes. But to many a strict Puritan, beauty was an abomination, and we are told that one of Milton's schoolmasters "was a Puritan in Essex who cut his hair short." No doubt to him a boy with long hair was unseemly. John was the eldest and much beloved son of his father, who perhaps petted and spoiled him. He was clever as well as pretty, and already at the age of ten he was looked upon by his family as a poet. He was very studious, for besides going to St. Paul's School he had a private tutor. Even with that he was not satisfied, but studied alone far into the night. "When he went to schoole, when he was very young," we are told, "he studied hard and sate up very late: commonly till twelve or one at night. And his father ordered the mayde to sitt up for him. And in those years he composed many copies of verses, which might well become a riper age."* We can imagine to ourselves the silence of the house, when all the Puritan household had been long abed. We can picture the warm quiet room where sits the little fair-haired boy poring over his books by the light of flickering candles, while in the shadow a stern-faced white-capped Puritan woman waits. She sits very straight in her chair, her worn hands are folded, her eyes heavy with sleep. Sometimes she nods. Then with a start she shakes herself wide awake again, murmuring softly that it is no hour for any Christian body to be out o' bed, wondering that her master should allow so young a child to keep so long over his books. Still she has her orders, so with a patient sigh she folds her hands again and waits. Thus early did Milton begin to shape his own course and to live a life apart from others.
At sixteen Milton went to Christ's College, Cambridge. And here he earned for himself the name of the Lady of Christ's, both because of his beautiful face and slender figure, and because he stood haughtily aloof from amusements which seemed to him coarse or bad. In going to Cambridge, Milton had meant to study for the Church. But all through life he stood for liberty. "He thought that man was made only for rebellion," said a later writer.* As a child he had gone his own way, and as he grew older he found it harder and harder to agree with all that the Church taught—"till coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded in the Church, that he who would take orders must subscribe slaves, and take an oath withal. . . . I thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing." Thus was he, he says, "church-outed by the Prelates."* Milton could not, with a free conscience, become a clergyman, so having taken his degree he went home to his father, who now lived in the country at Horton. He left Cambridge without regrets. No thrill of pleasure seemed to have warmed his heart in after days when he looked back upon the young years spent beside the Cam.
*The Reason of Church Government, book II.
Milton went home to his father's house without any settled plan of life. He had not made up his mind what he was to be, he was only sure that he could not be a clergyman. His father was well off, but not wealthy. He had no great estates to manage, and he must have wished his eldest son to do and be something in the world, yet he did not urge it upon him. Milton himself, however, was not quite at rest, as his sonnet On his being arrived to the age of twenty-three shows:—
"How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth, Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year: My hasting days fly on with full career, But my late Spring no bud or blossom show'th. Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth, That I to manhood am arriv'd so near, And inward ripeness doth much less appear, That some more timely happy spirits endu'th. Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow, It shall be still in strictest measure even To that same lot, however mean, or high, Toward which Time leads me; and the Will of Heaven; All is, if I have grace to use it so, As ever in my great Task-Master's eye."
Yet dissatisfied as he sometimes was, he was very sure of himself, and for five years he let his wings grow, as he himself said. But these years were not altogether lost, for if both day and night Milton roamed the meadows about his home in seeming idleness, he was drinking in all the beauty of earth and sky, flower and field, storing his memory with sights and sounds that were to be a treasure to him in after days. He studied hard, too, ranging at will through Greek and Latin literature. "No delay, no rest, no care or thought almost of anything holds me aside until I reach the end I am making for, and round off, as it were, some great period of my studies," he says to a friend. And as the outcome of these five fallow years Milton has left us some of his most beautiful poems. They have not the stately grandeur of his later works, but they are natural and easy, and at times full of a joyousness which we never find in him again. And before we can admire his great poem which he wrote later, we may love the beauty of L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas, which he wrote now.
L'Allegro and Il Penseroso are two poems which picture two moods in which the poet looks at life. They are two moods which come to every one, the mirthful and the sad. L'Allegro pictures the happy mood. Here the man "who has, in his heart, cause for contentment" sings. And the poem fairly dances with delight of being as it follows the day from dawn till evening shadows fall. It begins by bidding "loathed Melancholy" begone "'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy," and by bidding come "heart-easing Mirth."
"Haste, thee, nymph, and bring with thee Jest and youthful Jollity, Quips and cranks, and wanton wiles, Nods and becks, and wretched smiles. Such as hang on Hebe's cheek, And love to live in dimple sleek; Sport that wrinkled Care derides, And Laughter holding both his sides. Come, and trip it as ye go On the light fantastic toe. . . . . . To hear the lark begin his flight, And singing startle the dull night, From his watch-tower in the skies, Till the dappled dawn doth rise."
These are a few lines from the opening of the poem which you must read for yourselves, for if I quoted all that is beautiful in it I should quote the whole.
Il Penseroso pictures the thoughtful mood, or mood of gentle Melancholy. Here Mirth is banished, "Hence fair deluding joys, the brood of Folly, and hail divinest Melancholy." The poem moves with more stately measure, "with even step, and musing gait," from evening through the moonlit night till morn. It ends with the poet's desire to live a peaceful studious life.
"But let my due feet never fail To walk the studious cloisters pale; And love the high embowed roof, With antique pillars massy proof, And storied windows richly dight, Casting a dim religious light. There let the pealing organ blow To the full-voic'd choir below, In service high, and anthem clear, As may with sweetness through mine ear, Dissolve me into ecstacies, And bring all Heaven before mine eyes."
In Lycidas Milton mourns the death of a friend who was drowned while crossing the Irish Channel. He took the name from an Italian poem, which told of the sad death of another Lycidas. The verse moves with even more stately measure than Il Penseroso.
"Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear, Compels me to disturb your season due: For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime, Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer: Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme. . . . . . . Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise, (That last infirmity of noble minds) To scorn delights, and live laborious days; But the fair guerdon when we hope to find, And think to burst out into sudden blaze, Comes the blind Fury with th' abhorred shears, And slits the thin-spun life."
It was during these early years spent at Horton, too, that Milton wrote his masque of Comus. It is strange to find a Puritan poet writing a masque, for Puritans looked darkly on all acting. It is strange to find that, in spite of the Puritan dislike to acting, the last and, perhaps, the best masque in our language should be written by a Puritan, and that not ten years before all the theaters in the land were closed by Puritan orders. But although, in many ways, Milton was sternly Puritan, these were only the better ways. He had no hatred of beauty, "God has instilled into me a vehement love of the beautiful," he says.
The masque of Comus was written for a great entertainment given by the Earl of Bridgewater, at Ludlow Castle, and three of his children took part in it. In a darksome wood, so the story runs, the enchanter, Comus, lived with his rabble rout, half brute, half man. For to all who passed through the wood Comus offered a glass from which, if any drank, —
"Their human countenance, Th' express resemblance of the gods, is changed Into some brutish form of wolf, or bear, Or ounce, or tiger, hog, or bearded goat, All other parts remaining as they were."
And they, forgetting their home and friends, henceforth live riotously with Comus.
Through this wood a Lady and her two brothers pass, and on the way the Lady is separated from her brothers and loses her way. As she wanders about she is discovered by Comus who, disguising himself as a shepherd, offers her shelter in his "low but loyal cottage." The Lady, innocent and trusting, follows him. But instead of leading her to a cottage he leads her to his palace. There the Lady is placed in an enchanted chair from which she cannot rise, and Comus tempts her to drink from his magic glass. The Lady refuses, and with his magic wand Comus turns her to seeming stone.
Meanwhile the brothers have met a Guardian Spirit, also disguised as a shepherd, and he warns them of their sister's danger. Guided by him they set out to find her. Reaching the palace, they rush in, sword in hand. They dash the magic glass to the ground and break it in pieces and put Comus and his rabble to flight. But though the Lady is thus saved she remains motionless and stony in her chair.
"What, have ye let the false enchanter scape?" the Guardian Spirit cries. "Oh, ye mistook, ye should have snatched his wand and bound him fast." Without his rod reversed and backward- muttered incantation they cannot free the Lady. Yet there is another means. Sabrina, the nymph of the Severn, may save her. So the Spirit calls upon her for aid.
"Sabrina fair, Listen where thou art sitting Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave, In twisted braids of lilies knitting The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair, Listen for dear honour's sake, Goddess of the silver lake, Listen and save."
Sabrina comes, and sprinkling water on the Lady, breaks the charm.
"Brightest Lady, look on me; Thus I sprinkle on thy breast Drops that from my fountain pure I have kept of precious cure, Thrice upon thy fingers' tip, Thrice upon thy rubied lip; Next this marble venomed seat, Smeared with gums of glutinous heat, I touch with chaste palms moist and cold: Now the spell hath lost its hold."
The Lady is free and, greatly rejoicing, the Guardian Spirit leads her, with her brothers, safe to their father's home.
All these poems of which I have told you, Milton wrote during the quiet years spent at Horton. But at length these days came to an end. He began to feel his life in the country cramped and narrow. He longed to go out into the great wide world and see something of all the beauties and wonder of it. Italy, which had called so many of our poets, called him. Once more his kindly father let him do as he would. He gave him money, provided him with a servant, and sent him forth on his travels. For more than a year Milton wandered, chiefly among the sunny cities of Italy. He meant to stray still further to Sicily and Greece, but news from home called him back, "The sad news of Civil War." "I thought it base," he said, "that while my fellow-countrymen were fighting at home for liberty, I should be traveling abroad at ease."
When Milton returned home he did not go back to Horton, but set up house in London. Here he began to teach his two nephews, his sister's children, who were boys of nine and ten. Their father had died, their mother married again, and Milton not only taught the boys, but took them to live with him. He found pleasure, it would seem, in teaching, for soon his little class grew, and he began to teach other boys, the sons of friends.
Milton was a good master, but a severe one. The boys were kept long hours at their lessons, and we are told that in a year's time they could read a Latin author at sight, and within three years they went through the best Latin and Greek poets. But "as he was severe on one hand, so he was most familiar and free in his conversation to those to whom most sour in his way of education." He himself showed the example of "hard study and spare diet,"** for besides teaching the boys he worked and wrote steadily, study being ever the "grand affair of his life."** Only now and again he went to see "young sparks" of his acquaintance, "and now and then to keep a gawdy-day."** It is scarce to be imagined that a gawdy-day in which John Milton took part could have been very riotous.
Then after Milton had been leading this severe quiet life for about four years, a strange thing happened. One day he set off on a journey. He told no one why he went. Every one thought it was but a pleasure jaunt. He was away about a month, then "home he returns a married man that went out a bachelor."* We can imagine how surprised the little boys would be to find that their grave teacher of thirty-four had brought home a wife, a wife, too, who was little more than a girl a few years older than themselves. And as it was a surprise to them it is still a surprise to all who read and write about Milton's life to this day. With the new wife came several of her friends, and so the quiet house was made gay with feasting and merriment for a few days; for strange to say, Milton, the stern Puritan, had married a Royalist lady, the daughter of a cavalier. After these few merry days the gay friends left, and the young bride remained behind with her grave and learned husband, in her new quiet home. But to poor little Mary Milton, used to a great house and much merry coming and going, the life she now led seemed dull beyond bearing. She was not clever; indeed, she was rather stupid, so after having led a "philosophical life" for about a month, she begged to be allowed to go back to her mother.
Milton let he go on the understanding that she should return to him in a month or two. But the time appointed came and went without any sign of a returning wife. Milton wrote to her and got no answer. Several times he wrote, and still no answer. Then he sent a messenger. But the messenger returned without an answer, or at least without a pleasing one. He had indeed been "dismissed with some sort of contempt."
It would seem the cavalier family regretted having given a daughter in marriage to the Puritan poet. The poet, on his side, now resolved to cast out forever from his heart and home his truant wife. He set himself harder than before to the task of writing and teaching. He hid his aching heart and hurt pride as best he might beneath a calm and stern bearing. But life had changed for him. Up to this time all had gone as he wished. Ever since, when a boy of twelve, he had sat till midnight over his books with a patient waiting-maid beside him, those around had smoothed his path in life for him. His will had been law until a girl of seventeen defied him.
Time went on, the King's cause was all but hopeless. Many a cavalier had lost all in his defense, among them those of Mary Milton's family. Driven from their home, knowing hardly where to turn for shelter, they bethought them of Mary's slighted husband. He was on the winning side, and a man of growing importance. Beneath his roof Mary at least would be safe.
The poor little runaway wife, we may believe, was afraid to face her angry husband. But helped both by his friends and her own a meeting was arranged. Milton had a friend to whose house he often went, and in this house his wife was hid one day when the poet came to pay a visit. While Milton waited for his friend he was surprised, for when the door opened there came from the adjoining room, not his friend, but "one whom he thought to have never seen more." Mary his wife came to him, and sinking upon her knees before him begged to be forgiven. Long after, in his great poem, Milton seems to describe the scene when he makes Adam cry out to Eve after the Fall, "Out of my sight, thou serpent! That name best befits thee."
"But Eve, Not so repulsed, with tears that ceased not flowing, And tresses all disordered, at his feet Fell humble, and, embracing them, besought His peace; and thus proceeded in her plaint: 'Forsake me not thus, Adam! Witness, Heaven, What love sincere, and reverence in my heart I bear thee, and unweeting have offended, Unhappily deceived! Thy suppliant I beg, and clasp thy knees. Bereave me not, Whereon I live, thy gentle looks, thy aid, Thy counsel in this uttermost distress, My only strength and stay. Forlorn of thee, Whither shall I betake me? where subsist? While yet we live, scarce one short hour perhaps, Between us two let there be peace.' . . . . . . . She ended weeping; and her lowly plight, Immovable till peace obtained from fault Acknowledged and deplored, in Adam wrought Commiseration. Soon his heart relented Towards her, his life so late and sole delight, Now at his feet submissive in distress, Creature so fair his reconcilement seeking, His counsel, whom she had displeased, his aid; As one disarmed, his anger all he lost, And thus with peaceful words upraised her soon."
Milton thus took back to his home his wandering wife and not her only, but also her father, mother, and homeless brothers and sisters. So although he had moved to a larger house, it was now full to overflowing, for besides all this Royalist family he had living with him his pupils and his own old father.
Chapter LVIII MILTON—DARKNESS AND DEATH
AND now for twenty years the pen of Milton was used, not for poetry, but for prose. The poet became a politician. Victory was still uncertain, and Milton poured out book after book in support of the Puritan cause. These books are full of wrath and scorn and all the bitter passion of the time. They have hardly a place in true literature, so we may pass them over glad that Milton found it possible to spend his bitterness in prose and leave his poetry what it is.
One only of his prose works is still remembered and still read for its splendid English. That is Areopagitica, a passionate appeal for a free press. Milton desired that a man should have not only freedom of thought, but freedom to write down and print and publish these thoughts. But the rulers of England, ever since printing had been introduced, had thought otherwise, and by law no book could be printed until it had been licensed, and no man might set up a printing press without permission from Government. To Milton this was tyranny. "As good almost kill a man as kill a good book," he said, and again "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to my conscience above all liberties." He held the licensing law in contempt, and to show his contempt he published Areopagitica without a license and without giving the printer's or bookseller's name. It was not the first time Milton had done this, and his enemies tried to use it against him to bring him into trouble. But he had become by this time too important a man, and nothing came of it.
Time went on, the bitter struggle between King and people came to an end. The people triumphed, and the King laid his head upon the block. Britain was without ruler other than Parliament. It was then, one March day in 1649, that a few grave-faced, somber- clad men knocked at the door of Milton's house. We can imagine them tramping into the poet's low-roofed study, their heavy shoes resounding on the bare floor, their sad faces shaded with their tall black hats. And there, in sing-song voices, they tell the astonished man that they come from Parliament to ask him to be Secretary for Foreign Tongues.
Milton was astonished, but he accepted the post. And now his life became a very busy one. It had been decided that all letters to foreign powers should be written in Latin, but many Governments wrote to England in their own languages. Milton had to translate these letters, answer them in Latin, and also write little books or pamphlets in answer to those which were written against the Government.
It was while he was busy with this, while he was pouring out bitter abuse upon his enemies or upon the enemies of his party, that his great misfortune fell upon him. He became blind. He had had many warnings. He had been told to be careful of his eyes, for the sight of one had long been gone. But in spite of all warnings he still worked on, and at length became quite blind.
His enemies jeered at him, and said it was a judgment upon him for his wicked writing. But never for a moment did Milton's spirit quail. He had always been sure of himself, sure of his mission in life, sufficient for himself. And now that the horror of darkness shut him off from others, shut him still more into himself, his heart did not fail him. Blind at forty-three, he wrote:—
"When I consider how my light is spent, Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, And that one talent which is death to hide, Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, lest He, returning, chide; 'Doth God exact day labour, light denied?' I fondly ask: but Patience, to prevent That murmur, soon replies, 'God doth not need Either man's work, or His own gifts; who best Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best: His state Is kingly; thousands at His bidding speed, And post o'er land and ocean without rest; They also serve who only stand and wait.'"
Milton meant to take up this new burden patiently, but at forty- three, with all the vigor of life still stirring in him, he could not meekly fold his hands to stand and wait. Indeed, his greatest work was still to come. Blind though he was, he did not give up his post of Latin Secretary. He still remained Chief Secretary, and others worked under him, among them Andrew Marvell, the poet. He still gave all his brain and learning to the service of his country, while others supplied his lacking eyesight. But now in the same year Fate dealt him another blow. His wife died. Perhaps there had never been any great love or understanding between these two, for Milton's understanding of all women was unhappy. But now, when he had most need of a woman's kindly help and sympathy, she went from him leaving to his blind care three motherless girls, the eldest of whom was only six years old.
We know little of Milton's home life during the next years. But it cannot have been a happy one. His children ran wild. He tried to teach them in some sort. He was dependent now on others to read to him, and he made his daughters take their share of this. He succeeded in teaching them to read in several languages, but they understood not a word of what they read, so it was no wonder that they looked upon it as a wearisome task. They grew up with neither love for nor understanding of their stern blind father. To them he was not the great poet whose name should be one of the triumphs of English Literature. He was merely a severe father and hard taskmaster.
Four years after his first wife died Milton married again. This lady he never saw, but she was gentle and kind, and he loved her. For fifteen months she wrought peace and order in his home, then she too died, leaving her husband more lonely than before. He mourned her loss in poetic words. He dreamed she came to him one night:—
"Came vested all in white, pure as her mind; Her face was veil'd; yet to my fancied sight Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin'd So clear, as in no face with more delight. But O, as to embrace me she inclin'd, I wak'd; she fled; and day brought back my night."
With this sonnet (for those lines are part of the last sonnet Milton ever wrote) it would seem as if a new period began with Milton, his second period of poetry writing. Who knows but that it was the sharp sorrow of his loss which sent him back to poetry. For throughout Milton's life we can see that it was always something outside himself which made him write poetry. He did not sing like the birds because he must, but because he was asked to sing by some person, or made to sing by some circumstance.
However that may be, it was now that Milton began his greatest work, Paradise Lost. Twenty years before the thought had come to him that he would write a grand epic. We have scarcely spoken of an epic since that first of all our epics, the Story of Beowulf. And although others had written epics, Milton is to be remembered as the writer of the great English epic. At first he thought of taking Arthur for his hero, but as more and more he saw what a mass of fable had gathered round Arthur, as more and more he saw how plain a hero Arthur seemed, stripped of that fable, his mind turned from the subject. And when, at last, after twenty years of almost unbroken silence as a poet, he once more let his organ voice be heard, it was not a man he spoke of, but Man. He told the story which Caedmon a thousand years before had told of the war in heaven, of the temptation and fall of man, and of how Adam and Eve were driven out of the happy garden.
"Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste Brought death into the world, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful seat, Sing, Heavenly Muse."
You will remember, or if you look back to Chapter XIII you can read again about the old poet Caedmon and what he wrote. It was in 1655 that Junius published the so-called Caedmon Manuscript, and Milton, who was so great a student, no doubt heard of it and found some one to read it to him. And perhaps these poems helped to decide him in his choice, although many years before he had thought of writing on the subject.
Perhaps when you are older it may interest you to read the poems of Milton and the poems of Caedmon together. Then you will see how far ahead of the old poet Milton is in smooth beauty of verse, how far behind him sometimes in tender knowledge of man and woman. But I do not think you can hope to read Paradise Lost with true pleasure yet a while. It is a long poem in blank verse, much of it will seem dull to you, and you will find it hard to be interested in Adam and Eve. For Milton set himself a task of enormous difficulty when he tried to interest common men and women in people who were without sin, who knew not good nor evil. Yet if conceit, if self-assurance, if the want of the larger charity which helps us to understand another's faults, are sins, then Adam sinned long before he left Milton's Paradise. In fact, Adam is often a bore, and at times he proves himself no gentleman in the highest and best meaning of the word.
But in spite of Adam, in spite of everything that can be said against it, Paradise Lost remains a splendid poem. Never, perhaps, has the English language been used more nobly, never has blank verse taken on such stately measure. Milton does not make pictures for us, like some poets, like Spenser, for instance; he sings to us. He sings to us, not like the gay minstrel with his lute, but in stately measured tones, which remind us most of solemn organ chords. His voice comes to us, too, out of a poet's country through which, if we would find our way, we must put our hand in his and let him guide us while he sings. And only when we come to love "the best words in the best order" can we truly enjoy Milton's Paradise Lost.
Milton fails at times to interest us in Adam, but he does interest us in the Bad Angel Satan, and it has been said over and over again that Satan is his true hero. And with such a man as Milton this was hardly to be wondered at. All his life had been a cry for liberty—liberty even when it bordered on rebellion. And so he could not fail to make his arch rebel grand, and even in his last degradation we somehow pity him, while feeling that he is almost too high for pity. Listen to Satan's cry of sorrow and defiance when he finds himself cast out from Heaven:—
"'Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,' Said then the lost Archangel, 'this the seat That we must change for heaven?—this mournful gloom For that celestial light? Be it so, since he Who now is sovran can dispose and bid What shall be right; farthest from his is best, Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields, Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail, Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell Receive thy new possessor—one who brings A mind not to be changed by place or time, 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, all but less than he Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least We shall be free the Almighty hath not built Here for his envy, will not drive us hence; Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.'"
Then in contrast to this outburst of regal defiance, read the last beautiful lines of the poem and see in what softened mood of submission Milton pictures our first parents as they leave the Happy Garden:—
"In either hand the hastening Angel caught Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast To the subjected plain—then disappeared. They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld Of Paradise, so late their happy seat, Waved over by that flaming brand; the gate With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms. Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon; The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide. They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, Through Eden took their solitary way."
Milton worked slowly at this grand poem. Being blind he had now to depend on others to write out what poetry he made in his own mind, so it was written "in a parcel of ten, twenty, or thirty verses at a time by whatever hand came next." We are told that when he was dictating sometimes he sat leaning back sideways in an easy-chair, with his leg flung over the arm. Sometimes he dictated from his bed, and if in the middle of the night lines came to him, whatever time it was he would ring for one of his daughters to write them down for him, lest the thought should be lost ere morning.
We are told, too, that he wrote very little in summer. For he said himself that it was in winter and spring that his poetic fancy seemed to come best to him, and that what he wrote at other times did not please him. "So that in all the years he was about this poem, he may be said to have spent but half his time therein."*
But now, while Milton's mind was full of splendid images, while in spite of the discomfort and lonliness of his misruled home, he was adding line to line of splendid sounding English, great changes came over the land.
Oliver Cromwell died. To him succeeded his son Richard. But his weak hands could not hold the scepter. He could not bind together a rebel people as great Oliver had done. In a few months he gave up the task, and little more than a year later the people who had wept at the death of the great Protector, were madly rejoicing at the return of a despot.
With a Stuart king upon the throne, there was no safety for the rebel poet who had used all the power of his wit and learning against the Royal cause. Pity for his blindness might not save him. So listening to the warnings of his friends, he fled into hiding somewhere in the city of London, "a place of retirement and abscondence."
But after a time the danger passed, and Milton crept forth from his hiding-place. It was perhaps pity for his blind helplessness, perhaps contempt for his powerlessness, that saved him, who can tell? His books were burned by the common hangman, and he found himself in prison for a short time, but he was soon released. While others were dying for their cause, the blind poet whose trumpet call had been Liberty! Liberty! was contemptuously allowed to live.
Now indeed had Milton fallen on dark and evil days. He had escaped with his life and was free. But all that he had worked for during the past twenty years he saw shattered as at one blow. He saw his friends suffering imprisonment and death, himself forsaken and beggared. He found no sympathy at home. His daughters, who had not loved their father in his days of wealth and ease, loved him still less in poverty. They sold his books, cheated him with the housekeeping money, and in every way added to his unhappiness. At length, as a way out of the misery and confusion of his home, Milton married for the third time.
The new wife was a placid, kindly woman. She managed the house, managed too the wild, unruly girls as no one had managed them before. She saw the folly of keeping them, wholly untamed and half-educated as they were, at home, and persuaded her husband to let them learn something by which they might earn a living. So they went out into the world "to learn some curious and ingenious sorts of manufacture, that are proper for women to learn, particularly embroideries in gold and silver."
Thus for the last few years of his life Milton was surrounded by peace and content such as he had never before known. All through life he had never had any one to love him deeply except his father and his mother, whose love for him was perhaps not all wise. Those who had loved him in part had feared him too, and the fear outdid the love. But now in the evening of his days, if no perfect love came to him, he found at least kindly understanding. His wife admired him and cared for him. She had a fair face and pretty voice, and it is pleasant to picture the gray-haired poet sitting at his organ playing while his wife sings. He cannot see the sun gleam and play in her golden hair, or the quick color come and go in her fair face, but at least he can take joy in the sound of her sweet fresh voice.
It was soon after this third marriage that Paradise Lost was finished and published. And even in those wild Restoration days, when laughter and pleasure alone were sought, men acknowledged the beauty and grandeur of this grave poem. "This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too," said Dryden, another and younger poet.
People now came to visit the author of Paradise Lost, as before they had come to visit great Cromwell's secretary. We have a pleasant picture of him sitting in his garden at the door of his house on sunny days to enjoy the fresh air, for of the many houses in which Milton lived not one was without a garden. There, even when the sun did not shine, wrapt in a great coat of coarse gray cloth, he received his visitors. Or when the weather was colder he sat in an upstairs room hung with rusty green. He wore no sword, as it was the fashion in those days to do, and his clothes were black. His long, light gray hair fell in waves round his pale but not colorless face, and the sad gray eyes with which he seemed to look upon his visitors were still clear and beautiful.
Life had now come for Milton to a peaceful evening time, but his work was not yet finished. He had two great poems still to write.
One was Paradise Regained. In this he shows how man's lost happiness was found again in Christ. Here is a second temptation, the temptation in the wilderness, but this time Satan is defeated, Christ is victorious.
The second poem was Samson Agonistes, which tells the tragic story of Samson in his blindness. And no one reading it can fail to see that it is the story too of Milton in his blindness. It is Milton himself who speaks when he makes Samson exclaim:—
"O loss of sight, of thee I most complain! Blind among enemies: O worse than chains, Dungeon, or beggary, or decrepit age! Light, the prime work of God, to me is extinct, And all her various objects of delight Annulled, which might in part my grief have eased. Inferior to the vilest now become Of man or worm: the vilest here excel me, They creep, yet see; I, dark in light, exposed To daily fraud, contempt, abuse, and wrong, Within doors, or without, still as a fool, In power of others, never in my own;— O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon, Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse Without all hope of day!"
This was Milton's last poem. He lived still four years longer and still wrote. But his singing days were over, and what he now wrote was in prose. His life's work was done, and one dark November evening in 1674 he peacefully died.
"Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart: Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea: Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free, So didst thou travel on life's common way."*
Chapter LIX BUNYAN—"THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS"
THE second great Puritan writer of England was John Bunyan. He was born in 1628, more than twenty years after Milton. His father was a tinker. A tinker! The word makes us think of ragged, weather-worn men and women who wander about the countryside. They carry bundles of old umbrellas, and sometimes a battered kettle or two. They live, who knows how? they sleep, who knows where? Sometimes in our walks we come across a charred round patch upon the grass in some quiet nook by the roadside, and we know the tinkers have been there, and can imagine all sorts of stories about them. Or sometimes, better still, we find them really there by the roadside boiling a mysterious three- legged black kettle over a fire of sticks.
But John Bunyan's father was not this kind of tinker. He did not wander about the countryside, but lived at the little village of Elstow, about a mile from the town of Bedford, as his father had before him. He was a poor and honest workman who mended his neighbors' kettles and pans, and did his best to keep his family in decent comfort.
One thing which shows this is that little John was sent to school. In those days learning, even learning to read and write, was not the just due of every one. It was only for the well-to- do. "But yet," says Bunyan himself, "notwithstanding the meanness and inconsiderableness of my parents, it pleased God to put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn me both to read and write."
Bunyan was born when the struggle between King and people was beginning to be felt, and was a great boy of fourteen when at last the armies of King and Parliament met on the battlefield of Edgehill. To many this struggle was a struggle for freedom in religion. From end to end of our island the question of religion was the burning question of the day. Religion had wrought itself into the lives of people. In those days of few books the Bible was the one book which might be found in almost every house. The people carried it in their hands, and its words were ever on their lips. But the religion which came to be the religion of more than half the people of England was a stern one. They forgot the Testament of Love, they remembered only the Testament of Wrath. They made the narrow way narrower, and they believed that any who strayed from it would be punished terribly and eternally. It was into this stern world that little John Bunyan was born, and just as a stern religious struggle was going on in England so a stern religious struggle went on within his little heart. He heard people round him talk of sins and death, of a dreadful day of judgment, of wrath to come. These things laid hold of his childish mind and he began to believe that in the sight of God he must be a desperate sinner. Dreadful dreams came to him at night. He dreamed that the Evil One was trying to carry him off to a darksome place there to be "bound down with the chains and bonds of darkness, unto the judgment of the great day." Such dreams made night terrible to him.
Bunyan tells us that he swore and told lies and that he was the ringleader in all the wickedness of the village. But perhaps he was not so bad as he would have us believe, for he was always very severe in his judgments of himself. Perhaps he was not worse than many other boys who did not feel that they had sinned beyond all forgiveness. And in spite of his awful thoughts and terrifying dreams Bunyan still went on being a naughty boy; he still told lies and swore.
At length he left school and became a tinker like his father. But all England was being drawn into war, and so Bunyan, when about seventeen, became a soldier.
Strange to say we do not know upon which side he fought. Some people think that because his father belonged to the Church of England that he must have fought on the King's side. But that is nothing to go by, for many people belonged to that Church for old custom's sake who had no opinions one way or another, and who took no side until forced by the war to do so. It seems much more likely that Bunyan, so Puritan in all his ways of thought, should fight for the Puritan side. But we do not know. He was not long a soldier, we do not know quite how long, it was perhaps only a few months. But during these few months his life was saved by, what seemed to him afterwards to have been a miracle.
"When I was a soldier," he says, "I, with others, were drawn out to go to such a place to besiege it. But when I was just ready to go one of the company desired to go in my room. To which, when I had consented, he took my place. And coming to the siege, as he stood sentinel, he was shot in the head with a musket bullet, and died.
"Here, as I said, were judgments and mercy, but neither of them did awaken my soul to righteousness. Wherefore I sinned still, and grew more and more rebellious against God."
So whether Bunyan served in the Royal army, where he might have heard oaths, or in the Parliamentarian, where he might have heard godly songs and prayers, he still went on his way as before.
Some time after Bunyan left the army, and while he was still very young, he married. Both he and his wife were, he says, "as poor as poor might be, not having so much household stuff as a dish or a spoon betwixt us both. Yet this she had for her part, The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety, which her father had left her when he died."
These two books Bunyan read with his wife, picking up again the art of reading, which he had been taught at school, and which he had since almost forgotten. He began now to go a great deal to church, and one of his chief pleasures was helping to ring the bells. To him the services were a joy. He loved the singing, the altar with its candles, the rich robes, the white surplices, and everything that made the service beautiful. Yet the terrible struggle between good and evil in his soul went on. He seemed to hear voices in the air, good voices and bad voices, voices that accused him, voices that tempted. He was a most miserable man, and seemed to himself to be one of the most wicked, and yet perhaps the worst thing he could accuse himself of doing was playing games on Sunday, and pleasing himself by bell-ringing. He gave up his bell-ringing because it was a temptation to vanity. "Yet my mind hankered, therefore I would go to the steeple house and look on, though I durst not ring." One by one he gave up all the things he loved, things that even if we think them wrong do not seem to us to merit everlasting punishment. But at last the long struggle ended and his tortured mind found rest in the love of Christ.
Bunyan himself tells us the story of this long fight in a book called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. As we read we cannot help but see that Bunyan was never a very wicked man, but merely a man with a very tender conscience. Things which seemed to other men trifles were to him deadly sins; and although he was so stern to himself, to others he shows a fatherly tenderness which makes us feel that this rough tinker was no narrow Puritan, but a broad-minded, large-hearted Christian. And now that Bunyan had found peace he became a Baptist, and joined the church of a man whom he calls "the holy Mr. Gifford." Gifford had been an officer in the Royal army. He had been wild and drunken, but repenting of his evil ways had become a preacher. Now, until he died some years later, he was Bunyan's fast friend.
In the same year as Bunyan lost his friend his wife too died, and he was left alone with four children, two of them little girls, one of whom was blind. She was, because of that, all the more dear to him. "She lay nearer to my heart than all beside," he says.
And now Bunyan's friends found out his great gift of speech. They begged him to preach, but he was so humble and modest that at first he refused. At length, however, he was over-persuaded. He began his career as a minister and soon became famous. People came from long distances to hear him, and he preached not only in Elstow and Bedford but in all the country round. He preached, not only in churches, but in barns and in fields, by the roadside or in the market-place, anywhere, in fact, where he could gather an audience.
It was while Cromwell ruled that Bunyan began this ministry. But in spite of all the battles that had been fought for religious freedom, there was as yet no real religious freedom in England. Each part, as it became powerful, tried to tyrannize over every other party, and no one was allowed to preach without a license. The Presbyterians were now in power; Bunyan was a Baptist, and some of the Presbyterians would gladly have silenced him. Yet during Cromwell's lifetime he went his way in peace. Then the Restoration came. A few months later Bunyan was arrested for preaching without a license. Those who now ruled "were angry with the tinker because he strove to mend souls as well as kettles and pans."* Before he was taken prisoner Bunyan was warned of his danger, and if he had "been minded to have played the coward" he might have escaped. But he would not try to save himself. "If I should now run to make an escape," he said, "it will be a very ill savour in the country. For what will my weak and newly-converted brethren think of it but that I was not so strong in deed as I was in word."
So Bunyan was taken prisoner. Even then he might have been at once set free would he have promised not to preach. But to all persuasions he replied, "I durst not leave off that work which God has called me to."
Thus Bunyan's long imprisonment of twelve years began. He had married again by this time, and the parting with his wife and children was hard for him, and harder still for the young wife left behind "all smayed at the news." But although she was dismayed she was brave of heart, and she at once set about eagerly doing all she could to free her husband. She went to London, she ventured into the House of Lords, and there pleaded for him. Touched by her earnestness and her helplessness the Lords treated her kindly. But they told her they could do nothing for her and that she must plead her case before the ordinary judges.
So back to Bedford she went, and with beating heart and trembling limbs sought out the judges. Again she was kindly received, but again her petition was of no avail. The law was the law. Bunyan had broken the law and must suffer. He would not promise to cease from preaching, she would as little promise for him. "My lord," she said, "he dares not leave off preaching as long as he can speak."
So it was all useless labor, neither side could or would give way one inch. Bursting into tears the poor young wife turned away. But she wept "not so much because they were so hard-hearted against me and my husband, but to think what a sad account such poor creatures will have to give at the coming of the Lord, when they shall then answer for all things whatsoever they have done in the body, whether it be good, or whether it be bad."
Seeing there was no help for it, Bunyan set himself bravely to endure his imprisonment. And, in truth, this was not very severe. Strangely enough he was allowed to preach to his fellow- prisoners, he was even at one time allowed to go to church. But the great thing for us is that he wrote books. Already, before his imprisonment, he had written several books, and now he wrote that for which he is most famous, the Pilgrim's Progress.
It is a book so well known and so well loved that I think I need say little about it. In the form of a dream Bunyan tells, as you know, the story of Christian who set out on his long and difficult pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the City of the Blest. He tells of all Christian's trials and adventures on the way, of how he encounters giants and lion, of how he fights with a great demon, and of how at length he arrives at his journey's end in safety. A great writer has said, "There is no book in our literature on which we would so readily stake the fame of the old unpolluted English language, no book which shows so well how rich that language is in its own proper wealth, and how little it has been improved by all that it has borrowed."*
For the power of imagination this writer places Bunyan by the side of Milton. Although there were many clever men in England towards the end of the seventeenth century, there were only two minds which had great powers of imagination. "One of those minds produced the Paradise Lost, the other the Pilgrim's Progress." That is very great praise, and yet although Milton and Bunyan are thus placed side by side no two writers are more widely apart. Milton's writing is full of the proofs of his leaning, his English is fine and stately, but it is full of words made from Latin words. As an early writer on him said "Milton's language is English, but it is Milton's English."*