And when Satan's eyes are called "baleful," the word, besides indicating the "huge affliction and dismay" that he feels, gives a hint of the woes that are in store for the victims on whom those eyes have not yet lit.
It was this habit of "verbal curiosity" and condensation which seduced Milton into punning. Some of his puns are very bad. There is a modern idea that a pun is a thing to laugh at. Milton's puns, like Shakespeare's, give no smallest countenance to this theory. Sometimes he plays with what is merely a chance identity of sound, as where Satan, entering Paradise—
At one slight bound high overleapt all bound.
But in most of these cases it seems likely that he believed in an etymological relation between the two words, and so fancied that he was drawing attention to an original unity of meaning. Some such hypothesis is needful to mitigate the atrocity of his worst pun, in Paradise Regained, where he describes
The ravens with their horny beaks Food to Elijah bringing even and morn— Though ravenous, taught to abstain from what they brought.
Milton was no philologist, and we may be permitted in charity to suppose that he derived "raven" and "ravenous" from the same root.
Some of his puns are to be justified for another reason—that they are made the weapons of mockery. So when Satan rails against Abdiel he says—
Thou shalt behold Whether by supplication we intend Address, and to begirt the Almighty Throne Beseeching or besieging.
The long punning-bout between Satan and Belial in the Sixth Book exemplifies the more usual form of the Miltonic pun. When he introduces the newly-invented artillery, Satan makes a speech, "scoffing in ambiguous words"—
Ye, who appointed stand, Do as you have in charge, and briefly touch What we propound, and loud that all may hear.
And again, when it has taken effect, scattering the heavenly host in unseemly disorder, he says—
If our proposals once again were heard, We should compel them to a quick result.
Belial, "in like gamesome mood," replies to the jests of his leader, until, by the providence of Heaven, his wit and his artillery are buried under a weight heavier than themselves. On this whole scene Landor remarks that "the first overt crime of the refractory angels was punning"; and adds, with true Miltonic conciseness, "they fell rapidly after that."
Some minor flaws, which may be found in Milton by those who give a close examination to his works, are to be attributed to the same cause—his love of condensed statement. Mixture of metaphors in poetry is often caused merely by the speed of thought, which presents a subject in a new aspect without care taken to adjust or alter the figure. In these cases the obscurity or violence of expression arises not from defect, but from excess of thought. Some few instances occur in Milton, who, in Lycidas, writes thus—
But now my oat proceeds, And listens to the Herald of the Sea.
The syntax of the thought is sufficiently lucid and orderly, but it is compressed into too few words. In the Fifth Book of Paradise Lost is described how—
The Eternal Eye, whose sight discerns Abtrusest thoughts, from forth his holy mount, And from within the golden lamps that burn Nightly before him, saw without their light Rebellion rising—saw in whom, how spread Among the Sons of Morn, what multitudes Were banded to oppose his high decree; And, smiling, to his only Son thus said.
Here, it is true, "the Eternal Eye" smiles and speaks to his only Son. But Milton has really discarded the figure after the words "his high decree," which bring in a new order of thoughts. He trusts the reader to follow his thought without grammatical readjustment—to drop the symbol and remember only the thing symbolised. His trust was warranted, until Landor detected the solecism. The clearest case of mixed metaphor ever charged against Milton occurs in the Eleventh Book, where the lazar-house is described—
Sight so deform what heart of rock could long Dry-eyed behold?
Rogers pointed this out to Coleridge, who told Wordsworth that he could not sleep all the next night for thinking of it. What months of insomnia must he not have suffered from the perusal of Shakespeare's works!
The close-wrought style of Milton makes the reading of Paradise Lost a hard task in this sense, that it is a severe intellectual exercise, without relaxation. The attention that it demands, word by word, and line by line, could not profitably be given to most books; so that many readers, trained by a long course of novel-reading to nibble and browse through the pastures of literature, find that Milton yields little or no delight under their treatment, and abandon him in despair.
And yet, with however great reluctance, it must be admitted that the close study and admiring imitation of Milton bring in their train some lesser evils. Meaning may be arranged too compactly in a sentence; for perfect and ready assimilation some bulk and distention are necessary in language as in diet. Now the study of Milton, if it teaches anything, teaches to discard and abhor all superfluity. He who models himself upon this master will never "go a-begging for some meaning, and labour to be delivered of the great burden of nothing." But he may easily fall into the opposite error of putting "riddles of wit, by being too scarce of words." He will be so intent upon the final and perfect expression of his thought, that his life may pass before he finds it, and even if, in the end, he should say a thing well, he is little likely to say it in due season. "Brevity is attained in matter," says a master of English prose, "by avoiding idle compliments, prefaces, protestations, parentheses, superfluous circuit of figures and digressions: in the composition, by omitting conjunctions—not only ... but also, both the one and the other, whereby it cometh to pass, and such like idle particles." Either sort of brevity may be learned from Milton. But any one who has been compelled to make efforts of unprompted eloquence, and to choose his expressions while he is on his feet, knows well how necessary is the function performed by these same prefaces, protestations, parentheses, and idle particles. Suavely uttered, they keep expectation alive in the audience, and give the orator time to think. Whether in speaking or in writing, no fluent and popular style can well be without them. I should be inclined to say—If I may be permitted to use the expression—Speaking for myself and for those who agree with me—It is no great rashness to assert— a hundred phrases like these are an indispensable part of an easy writer's, as of an easy speaker's, equipment. To forego all these swollen and diluted forms of speech is to run the risk of the opposite danger, congestion of the thought and paralysis of the pen—the scholar's melancholy. To give long days and nights to the study of Milton is to cultivate the critical faculty to so high a pitch that it may possibly become tyrannical, and learn to distaste all free writing. Accustomed to control and punish wanton activity, it will anticipate its judicial duties, and, not content with inflicting death, will devote its malign energy to preventing birth.
It is good, therefore, to remember that Milton himself took a holiday sometimes, and gave a loose to his pen and to his thought. Some parts of his prose writings run in a full torrent of unchastened eloquence. An open playground for exuberant activity is of the first importance for a writer. Johnson found such a playground in talk. There he could take the curb off his prejudices, give the rein to his whimsical fancy, and better his expression as he talked. But where men must talk, as well as write, upon oath, paralysis is not easily avoided. In the little mincing societies addicted to intellectual and moral culture the creative zest is lost. The painful inhibition of a continual rigorous choice, if it is never relaxed, cripples the activity of the mind. Those who can talk the best and most compact sense have often found irresponsible paradox and nonsense a useful and pleasant recreation ground. It was Milton's misfortune, not the least of those put upon him by the bad age in which he lived, that what Shakespeare found in the tavern he had to seek in the Church. Denied the wild wit-combats of the Mermaid, he disported himself in a pamphlet-war on bishops and divorce. But he found health and exercise for his faculties there; and the moral (for all things have a moral) is this: that when, in a mood of self-indulgence, we can write habitually with the gust, the licentious force, the flow, and the careless wealthy insolence of the Animadversions upon the Remonstrant's Defence against Smectymnuus, we need not then repine or be ill-content if we find that we can rise only occasionally to the chastity, the severity, and the girded majesty of Paradise Lost.
CHAPTER VI THE STYLE OF MILTON; AND ITS INFLUENCE ON ENGLISH POETRY
When Milton was born, Shakespeare, Jonson, Beaumont, Dekker, Chapman, Daniel, Drayton, and half a hundred other Elizabethan notables were yet alive. When he died, Addison, Swift, Steele, and Arbuthnot were already born. Thus his life bridges the gulf between the age of Elizabeth and the age of Anne; and this further examination of his style has for object to inquire what part he may claim in the change of temper, method, subject, and form which came over English poetry during that period.
The answer usually given to this question is that he had no part at all. He lived and died alone. He imitated no one, and founded no school. There was none of his more distinguished contemporaries with whom he was on terms of intimacy; none whose ideals in poetry remotely resembled his. So that although he is to be ranged among the greatest of English poets, a place in the legitimate hereditary succession would, on these considerations, be denied to him. When Dryden succeeded to the dictatorship of Jonson, the continuity of literary history was resumed. The great processes of change which affected English letters during the seventeenth century are in no way associated with the name of Milton. Waller and Denham, Davenant and Dryden, "reformed" English verse; Hobbes, Cowley, Tillotson, Dryden and Sprat remodelled English prose. And in the meantime, if this account is to be accepted, while English verse and English prose were in the melting-pot, this splendid efflorescence was an accident, a by-product, without meaning or causal virtue in the chemical process that was going forward.
Others will have it that Milton was a belated Elizabethan. But the difficulty of that theory is that he reversed rather than continued many of the practices of the Elizabethans, and introduced reforms of his own, no less striking than the reforms effected by Dryden. Shirley is a good example of a genuine late Elizabethan. But in Shirley's works there is nothing that is not an echo. In Milton's, on the other hand, after the volume of 1645, there is nothing that echoes any earlier English poet even faintly. He renayed his ancestry; and, if he left no descendants, he must needs be regarded as "a vast species alone."
The Elizabethans, including even the author of Sejanus and the translator of Homer, were Romantics. The terms Romantic and Classic are perhaps something overworn; and, although they are useful to supply a reason, it may well be doubted whether they ever helped any one to an understanding. Yet here, if anywhere, they are in place; for Milton is, by common consent, not only a Classic poet, but the greatest exemplar of the style in the long bead-roll of English poets. The "Augustans" prided themselves on their resemblance to the poets of the great age of Rome. Was there nothing in common between them and Milton, and did they really borrow nothing and learn nothing from him?
This much is agreed, that of all English styles Milton's is best entitled to the name of Classic. In his poems may be found every device that belongs to the Classic manner, as in Shakespeare's plays may be found every device that belongs distinctively to the Romantic. Perhaps the two manners are best compared by the juxtaposition of descriptive passages. In description it is impossible for literature to be exhaustive; a choice must be made, an aspect emphasised, and by far the greater part left to the imagination of the reader. A man, for instance, has stature, feature, bones, muscles, nerves, entrails; his eyes, hair, and skin are of certain colours; he stands in a particular attitude at a particular spot on the surface of the earth; he is agitated by certain passions and ideas; every movement that he makes is related to his constitution and his past history; he has affinity with other men by the ties of the family, the society, the State; he thinks and acts more in a minute than a hundred writers can describe and explain in a year; he is a laughing, weeping, money-making, clothes-wearing, lying, reasoning, worshipping, amorous, credulous, sceptical, imitative, combative, gregarious, prehensile, two-legged animal. He does not cease to be all this and more, merely because he happens to be at one of his thousand tricks, and you catch him in the act. How do you propose to describe him?
Broadly speaking, there are two methods available. You may begin with the more general and comprehensive of the relations that fall in with your purpose, securing breadth of view and truth in the larger values, leaving the imagination to supply the more particular and personal details on the barest of hints from you: or you may fix your gaze exclusively on some vivid cluster of details, indicating their remoter relations and their place in a wider perspective by a few vague suggestions.
The first of these ways is Milton's. He maps out his descriptions in bold outline, attending always to the unity of the picture and the truth of the larger relations. He is chary of detail, and what he adds is added for its own immediate importance rather than for its remoter power of suggestion. Adam and Eve when they are first introduced, are thus described:—
Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall, Godlike erect, with native honour clad In naked majesty, seemed lords of all, And worthy seemed; for in their looks divine The image of their glorious Maker shone, Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure,— Severe, but in true filial freedom placed, Whence true authority in men.
As pictorial description this is all but completely empty. It tells you only that they stood upright, that they were like their Maker, and that they were possessed of the virtues that their appearance would lead you to expect. Their physical delineation is to be accommodated by the imagination of the reader to this long catalogue of moral qualities,—nobility, honour, majesty, lordliness, worth, divinity, glory, brightness, truth, wisdom, sanctitude, severity, and purity. In the following lines the poet proceeds to distinguish the one figure from the other, adding a few details with regard to each. The epithets he chooses are still vague. Adam's forehead is "fair" and "large," his eye is "sublime," his locks are "hyacinthine," and (a detail that has escaped the notice of many illustrators of Paradise Lost) they fall in clusters as low as his shoulders. From beginning to end of the description the aim of the poet is to preserve the right key of large emotion, and the words that he chooses are chosen chiefly for their emotional value. The emotions are given; the portraiture is left to be filled in by the imagination.
Shakespeare commonly works in the reverse way. He does not, like Crabbe, describe "as if for the police"; he chooses his detail with consummate skill, but he makes use of it to suggest the emotions. It is impossible to set his description of persons over against Milton's; for the drama does not describe persons, it presents them in action; and a description, where it occurs, is often designed merely to throw light on the character and feelings of the speaker. "Her voice was ever soft, gentle, and low" is a description rather of Lear, as he hangs over the dead body of Cordelia, refusing to believe that she is dead, than of Cordelia herself. "An excellent thing in woman" is not a doctrine, but a last heartbreaking movement of defiance, as if to refute any stander-by who dares to think that there is something amiss, that a voice should not be so low as to be inaudible.
The contrast of the methods may, therefore, be better noted in the description of scenes. There is no very close parallel obtainable; but the two passages compared by Lessing are not wholly dissimilar in theme, and serve well enough to illustrate the difference of the styles. The first, taken from the Seventh Book of Paradise Lost, tells how the King of Glory, from the verge of his heavenly domain, beholds the gulf of Chaos:—
On Heavenly ground they stood, and from the shore They viewed the vast immeasurable Abyss, Outrageous as a sea, dark, wasteful, wild, Up from the bottom turned by furious winds And surging waves, as mountains to assault Heaven's highth, and with the centre mix the pole.
The other is the imaginary view from Dover Cliff, described by Edgar in King Lear:—
How fearful And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low! The crows and choughs that wing the midway air Show scarce so gross as beetles: half way down Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade! Methinks he seems no bigger than his head; The fishermen, that walk upon the beach, Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark, Diminish'd to her cock; her cock, a buoy Almost too small for sight: the murmuring surge That on th' unnumbered idle pebbles chafes, Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more; Lest my brain turn and the deficient sight Topple down headlong.
Johnson objected to this description: "No, sir; it should be all precipice,—all vacuum. The crows impede your fall. The diminished appearance of the boats, and other circumstances, are all very good description, but do not impress the mind at once with the horrible idea of immense height. The impression is divided; you pass on, by computation, from one stage of the tremendous space to another."
This criticism is, in effect, a plea for Milton's method, although by a freak of fate it was uttered in vindication of Congreve. Some years earlier, in his edition of Shakespeare, Johnson had remarked on the same passage, and had indicated the poetic method that he approved: "He that looks from a precipice finds himself assailed by one great and dreadful image of irresistible destruction."
Johnson's critical opinions on poetry are deserving of the most careful consideration, and, where they fail to convince, of an undiminished respect. But not Johnson himself can raise a doubt as to which of the two passages quoted above is the greater masterpiece of description proper. Shakespeare sets a scene before your eyes, and by his happy choice of vivid impression makes you giddy. The crows help, rather than impede your fall; for to look into illimitable vacuum is to look at nothing, and therefore to be unmoved. But the classic manner is so careful for unity of emotional impression that it rejects these humble means for attaining even to so great an end. It refuses to work by mice and beetles, lest the sudden intrusion of trivial associations should mar the main impression. No sharp discords are allowed, even though they should be resolved the moment after. Every word and every image must help forward the main purpose. Thus, while the besetting sin of the Romantics is the employment of excessive, or irrelevant, or trivial or grotesque detail, the besetting sin of the Classics is so complete an omission of realistic detail that the description becomes inflated, windy and empty, and the strongest words in the language lose their vital force because they are set fluttering hither and thither in multitudes, with no substantial hold upon reality. There is nothing that dies sooner than an emotion when it is cut off from the stock on which it grows. The descriptive epithet or adjective, if only it be sparingly and skilfully employed, so that the substantive carry it easily, is the strongest word in a sentence. But when once it loses its hold upon concrete reality it becomes the weakest, and not all the protests of debility, superlative degrees, and rhetorical insistence, can save it from neglect.
It is apparent, therefore, how necessary to Milton were the concrete epic realities with which his poem deals,—the topographical scheme of things, and the definite embodiment of all his spiritual essences. Keats' Hyperion fails largely for want of an exact physical system such as Milton devises. Keats works almost wholly with vague Romantic suggestion, and there is nothing for the poem to hang on by. Something is happening; but it is difficult to say what, for we see only dream-imagery, and hear only muffled echoes. Had Milton made unsparing use of abstraction and suggestion, his poem would have fallen into windy chaos. The "philosophical poems" of his age did so fall. Henry More's Platonick Song of the Soul (1642), wherein are treated the Life of the Soul, her Immortality, the Sleep of the Soul, the Unity of Souls, and Memory after Death, is a dust-storm of verbiage. Such words as "calefaction," "exility," "self-reduplication," "tricentreity," "individuation," "circumvolution," "presentifick circularity," struggle and sprawl within the narrow room of the Spenserian stanza. Milton keeps us in better company than this, even in Hell. He uses abstract terms magnificently, but almost always with a reference to concrete realities, not as the names of separate entities. By the substitution of abstract nouns for concrete he achieves a wonderful effect of majesty. He does not name, for instance, the particular form of wind instrument that the heralds blew in Hell:—
Four speedy Cherubim Put to their mouths the sounding alchymy.
He avoids defining his creatures by names that lend themselves to definite picture: of Death he says—
So spake the grisly Terror;
and he makes Raphael, at the call of Heaven's king, rise
from among Thousand celestial Ardours.
In the Tenth Book, Death, snuffing the distant scent of mortality, becomes all nose—
So scented the grim Feature, and upturned His nostril wide into the murky air.
A superb example of this powerful use of abstract terms is contained in the First Book of Paradise Regained, where is described how Satan, disguised as an old man, took his leave of the Son of God, and
Bowing low His gray dissimulation, disappeared Into thin air diffused.
The word "dissimulation" expresses the fact of the gray hairs assumed, the purpose of deceit, the cringing attitude, and adds a vague effect of power. The same vagueness is habitually studied by Milton in such phrases as "the vast abrupt," "the palpable obscure," "the void immense," "the wasteful deep," where, by the use of an adjective in place of a substantive, the danger of a definite and inadequate conception is avoided.
Milton, therefore, describes the concrete, the specific, the individual, using general and abstract terms for the sake of the dignity and scope that they lend. The best of our Romantic poets follow the opposite course: they are much concerned with abstract conceptions and general truths, but they bring them home by the employment of concrete and specific terms, and figures so familiar that they cannot easily avoid grotesque associations. These grotesque associations, however trivial, are the delight of humour: Alexander's dust will stop a beer-barrel; divine ambition exposes
what is mortal and unsure To all that fortune, death, and danger dare, Even for an egg-shell.
The comments made by Johnson on a certain well-known passage in Macbeth are an excellent example of the objections urged against the Romantic method—a method whereby, says Johnson, poetry is "debased by mean expressions." He takes for text the invocation of Night by Lady Macbeth—
Come, thick night, And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, To cry, "Hold, hold!"
Johnson's criticisms, which take up a whole paper in The Rambler, may be conveniently stated in summary. The epithet dun, he says, is "an epithet now seldom heard but in the stable, and dun night may come and go without any other notice but contempt." A knife, again, is "an instrument used by butchers and cooks in the meanest employments; we do not immediately conceive that any crime of importance is to be committed with a knife." In the third place, although to wish to elude the eye of Providence is "the utmost extravagance of determined wickedness," yet even this great conception is debased by two unfortunate words when the avengers of guilt are made to peep through a blanket.
It is easy, in this case at least, to defend Shakespeare. There is no need to make much of the fact that Johnson attributes the speech to Macbeth. The essence of the crime is that it is the treacherous and cowardly crime of an assassin, committed on a guest while he sleeps. Implements of war are out of place here; it is the very crime for a knife, and Lady Macbeth shows her sense of this when she uses the word. Again, the darkness that she invokes is not the solemn shadow of night, but the stifling, opaque smoke of Hell. The blanket was perhaps suggested to Shakespeare by the black canopy that hung over the Elizabethan stage to represent night; but, in any case, it gives the notion of an artificial privacy, shutting out light and shutting in sound, a smothered unnatural secrecy. The use of the word blanket, in fact, carries with it a new fantastic horror. Night herself, who has brought the fatal gift of sleep to Duncan, is represented as the cowardly accomplice of the murderers, performing the most dastardly office that can fall to the hireling of a bravo.
The mean associations, therefore, in so far as they exist, help Shakespeare's purpose. Milton had no purpose that could be furthered by such help. The omissions in his descriptions cannot be supplied by an appeal to experience, for what he describes is outside the pale of human experience, and is, in that sense, unreal. His descriptions do not so much remind us of what we have seen as create for us what we are to see. He is bound, therefore, to avoid the slightest touch of unworthy association; the use of even a few domestic figures and homely phrases would bring his hanging palace about his ears. What dangers he escaped may be well seen in Cowley's Davideis, which fell into them all. This is how Cowley describes the attiring of his Gabriel, who is commissioned to bear a message to David—
He took for skin a cloud most soft and bright, That e'er the midday Sun pierced through with light: Upon his cheeks a lively blush he spred; Washt from the morning beauties deepest red. An harmless flaming Meteor shone for haire, And fell adown his shoulders with loose care. He cuts out a silk Mantle from the skies, Where the most sprightly azure pleas'd the eyes. This he with starry vapours spangles all, Took in their prime ere they grow ripe and fall,—
—and so on. The whole business suggests the arming of Pigwiggin; or the intricacies of Belinda's toilet in The Rape of the Lock. Such a Gabriel should add the last touch of adornment from a patch-box filled with sun-spots; and then is fit only to be—
Drawn with a team of little atomies Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep.
Milton was not in the least likely to fall into this fantastic-familiar vein. But he was also debarred from dealing freely in realism; from carrying conviction by some sudden startling piece of fidelity to the mixed texture of human experience and human feeling. When the feast is spread in Eden he remarks, it is true,—"No fear lest dinner cool"; but a lapse like this is of the rarest. His success—and he knew it—depended on the untiring maintenance of a superhuman elevation. His choice of subject had therefore not a little to do with the nature of his diction; and, through the influence of his diction, as shall be shown hereafter, with the establishment of the poetic tradition that dominated Eighteenth Century poetry.
The same motives and tendencies, the same consistent care for remoteness and loftiness, may be seen in the character of the similes that he most frequently employs. Almost all his figures and comparisons illustrate concrete objects by concrete objects, and occurrences in time by other occurrences later in time. The essentially Romantic sort of figure, scarcely used by Milton, illustrates subtle conceptual relations by parable—
Now at the last gasp of Love's latest breath, When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies, And Faith is kneeling by his bed of death, And Innocence is closing up his eyes,— Now, if thou would'st, when all have given him over, From death to life thou might'st him yet recover.
Sometimes, by a curious reversal, poets, especially the more sophisticated poets of the Romantic Revival, describe a perfectly definite outward object or scene by a figure drawn from the most complex abstract conceptions. So Shelley, with whom these inverted figures are habitual, compares the skylark to
A poet hidden In the light of thought;
and Byron, describing the rainbow over a waterfall, likens it to
Love watching Madness with unalterable mien.
Both ways are foreign to the epic manner of Milton. His figures may be called historic parallels, whereby the names and incidents of human history are made to elucidate and ennoble the less familiar names and incidents of his prehistoric theme. Sometimes, following Homer, he borrows a figure from rustic life, as where, for instance, he compares the devils, crowding into Pandemonium, to a swarm of bees. But he perceived clearly enough that he could not, for the reasons already explained, afford to deal largely in this class of figure: he prefers to maintain dignity and distance by choosing comparisons from ancient history and mythology, or from those great and strange things in Nature which repel intimacy—the sun, the moon, the sea, planets in opposition, a shooting star, an evening mist, a will-o'-the-wisp, a vulture descending from the Himalayas, the ice-floes on the North-East passage, the sea-beast leviathan, Xerxes' Hellespontic bridge, the gryphon pursuing the Arimaspian, the madness of Alcides in Oeta, the rape of Proserpine, and a hundred more reminiscences of the ancient world.
Even the great events of ancient history seemed to him at times too familiar, too little elevated and remote to furnish a resting-place for a song that intended "no middle flight." He transforms his proper names, both to make them more melodious, and to make them more unfamiliar to the ear. No praise is too high for his art and skill in this matter. An example may be found in those four lines—the earliest that have the full Miltonic resonance—describing the fate of Lycidas, carried by the tide southward to the Cornish coast:—
Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied, Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old, Where the great Vision of the guarded mount Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold.
"Bellerus" seems to be a name of Milton's coinage. He had written "Corineus," and probably disliked the sound, for in this case it can hardly have been that the name was too familiar. Both reasons concurred in prompting the allusion to Pharaoh and his Egyptian squadrons as—
Busiris and his Memphian chivalry.
One would think "Italy" a pleasant enough sound, and "Vulcan" a good enough name for poetry. Neither was musical enough for Milton; both perhaps had associations too numerous, familiar, and misleading. Vulcan is mentioned, by that name, in Comus; but in Paradise Lost, where the story of his fall from Heaven is told, and the architect of Pandemonium is identified with him, both names, "Italy" and "Vulcan," are heightened and improved:—
In Ausonian land Men called him Mulciber.
"Hephaistos," the name dear to moderns, could have found no place in Milton's works, unless it had been put in a description of the God's smithy, or, perhaps, in the sonnet where are pilloried those harsh-sounding Presbyterian names:—
Collkitto, or Macdonnel, or Galasp.
Milton's use of proper names is a measure of his poetic genius. He does not forego it even in the lyric. Was there ever so learned a lyric as that beginning "Sabrina fair"—with its rich stores of marine mythology? History, not philosophy, was the source that he drew on for his splendours; and history, according to Milton, had, since the Fall of Man, furnished nothing but fainter and weaker repetitions of those stupendous events which filled the early theatre of universal space.
His epic catalogues, which are few in number, show the same predominant interest in history and geography. The story of the Creation gave him an excellent opportunity of enumerating the kinds and properties of birds, beasts, fishes, and reptiles, plants and trees, after the manner of Chaucer and Spenser. This opportunity he refuses, or, at any rate, turns to but small account. His general descriptions are highly picturesque, but he spends little time on enumeration and detail. Of vegetables, only the vine, the gourd, and the corn are mentioned by name; of the inhabitants of the sea only the seal, the dolphin, and the whale. Natural knowledge, although he made a fair place for it in his scheme of education, was not one of his dearer studies. It was enough for him, as for Raphael, that Adam knew the natures of the beasts, and gave them appropriate names. The mere mention, on the other hand, of historic and geographic names rouses all the poet in him. The splendid roll-call of the devils, in the First Book of Paradise Lost, and the only less splendid enumeration, in the Eleventh Book, of the Kingdoms of the Earth, shown to Adam in vision, are a standing testimony to his powers. Compared with these, the list of human diseases and maladies in the Eleventh Book, suggested perhaps by Du Bartas, is rehearsed in a slighter and more perfunctory fashion.
One last point in Milton's treatment must not be left unnoticed. Much adverse criticism has been spent on his allegorical figures of Sin and Death. There is good classical precedent for the introduction of such personified abstractions among the actors of a drama; and, seeing that the introduction of sin and death into the world was the chief effect of his main action, Milton no doubt felt that this too must be handled in right epic fashion, and must not be left to be added to the theme as a kind of embroidery of moral philosophy. In no other way could he have treated the topic half so effectively. There is enough of his philosophy in Milton's Heaven to damp our desire for more of it on his Earth or in his Hell. And when once we have given him license to deal only in persons, we are amply rewarded. His management of the poetic figure of personification is superb. It is a figure difficult to handle, and generally fails of effect through falling into one of two extremes. Either the quality, or the person, is forgotten. The figures in the Romaunt of the Rose are good examples of the one type, of the minute materialistic personifications of the Middle Ages, pictorial rather than literary in essence, like the illuminated figures in a psalter. The feeble abstractions that people Gray's Odes, where, as Coleridge remarked, the personification depends wholly on the use of an initial capital, are examples of the other. Neither has the art of combining the vastness and vagueness of the abstract with the precise and definite conception of a person, as is done in the great figure of Religion drawn by Lucretius, as is done also in those other figures—the only creations of English poetry which approach the Latin in grandeur—the horrible phantoms of Sin and Death.
These, then, here outlined slightly and imperfectly, are some of the most noteworthy features of Milton's style. By the measured roll of his verse, and the artful distribution of stress and pause to avoid monotony and to lift the successive lines in a climax; by the deliberate and choice character of his diction, and his wealth of vaguely emotional epithets; by the intuition which taught him to use no figures that do not heighten the majesty, and no names that do not help the music of his poem; by the vivid outlines of the concrete imaginations that he imposes on us for real, and the cloudy brilliance that he weaves for them out of all great historical memories, and all far-reaching abstract conceptions, he attained to a finished style of perhaps a more consistent and unflagging elevation than is to be found elsewhere in literature. There is nothing to put beside him. "His natural port," says Johnson, "is gigantick loftiness." And Landor: "After I have been reading the Paradise Lost, I can take up no other poet with satisfaction. I seem to have left the music of Handel for the music of the streets, or, at best, for drums and fifes." The secret of the style is lost; and no poet, since Milton's day, has recaptured the solemnity and beauty of the large utterance of Gabriel, or Belial, or Satan.
The success of Paradise Lost, when it was published in 1667, was immediate and startling. Some of the poet's biographers have shed tears over the ten pounds that was all Milton ever received for his greatest work; others, magnanimously renouncing the world on his behalf, have rejoiced in the smallness of the sum paid him for a priceless work. Lament and heroics are both out of place. London was a small town, and it may well be doubted whether any modern provincial town of the same size would buy up in eighteen months thirteen hundred copies of a poem so serious and difficult and novel as Paradise Lost. Moreover, before the close of the century, six editions had appeared, three of them in folio, and so—judged by the number of editions—Milton's epic had outrun Shakespeare's plays in popularity. The folio edition of 1695, with notes and elucidations by one Patrick Hume, a Scottish scholar, appeared fourteen years before Nicholas Rowe produced the first critical edition of Shakespeare. The literary world quickly came to the opinion expressed by Dryden in the year of Milton's death, that the Paradise Lost was "one of the greatest, most noble, and most sublime poems which either this age or nation has produced." Barely twenty years later the editors of the Athenian Mercury were asked to determine "Whether Milton and Waller were not the best English Poets; and which the better of the two?" Their verdict, reflecting, no doubt, the average opinion of the time, ran thus: "They were both excellent in their kind, and exceeded each other, and all besides. Milton was the fullest and loftiest; Waller the neatest and most correct poet we ever had." Long before Addison wrote the papers on Paradise Lost in the Spectator, Milton had received full recognition in the literary handbooks of that age. Langbaine, in his Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691), takes notice of Dryden's debts to Samson Agonistes, and, with an effort to be just, remarks of Milton:—" Had his Principles been as good as his Parts, he had been an Excellent Person." Sir Thomas Pope Blount, in his De Re Poetica (1694), and Bysshe in his Art of English Poetry (1702), bear witness, in their several ways, to Milton's great and assured fame. Indeed, Thomas Rymer, of Gray's Inn, Esquire, who in 1677 had sneered at "that Paradise Lost of Milton's which some are pleased to call a Poem," and William Winstanley, who, in the Lives of the Most Famous English Poets (1687), had remarked of Milton that "his Fame is gone out like a Candle in a Snuff, and his Memory will always stink," were almost alone among the voices of their time. They were still under the influence of the old political prejudice, but they did battle for a doomed opinion, and, among judges not illiterate, they are the poet's last detractors.
The singular thing to note is that the eighteenth century, which broke with almost every other seventeenth-century poet before Dryden, did not break with Milton. "Who now reads Cowley?" Pope asked: Cowley, whose works ran through so many editions that no modern reprint has been called for. If he had asked, "Who now reads Milton?" the answer must have been, "Every writer of English verse"; and so it has continued from the time of Milton's death to the present day. The choice of blank verse for Paradise Lost established that metre in formidable rivalry to the heroic couplet, so that it became the usual metre for long poems of a reflective or descriptive cast. Professed imitations of Milton's verse were many; among them, Addison's Translation of a Story out of the Third Aeneid, Broome's experiment in the translation of the Eleventh Odyssey, Fenton's fragments of two books of the Iliad, and Christopher Pitt's paraphrase of Psalm cxxxix. In the first year of the eighteenth century John Philips showed, in his Splendid Shilling, how the style of Milton might be applied, for the purposes of burlesque, to humble subjects, a lesson which he further illustrated, with no ostensible comic intent, in his later poems, Cyder and Blenheim. Gay, in Wine, a Poem, Somerville in The Chase, Armstrong in The Oeconomy of Love and The Art of Preserving Health, Christopher Smart in The Hop-Garden, Dyer in The Fleece, and Grainger in The Sugar-Cane, all followed where Philips' Cyder had led, and multiplied year by year what may be called the technical and industrial applications of Milton's style. Among the many other blank verse poems produced during the middle part of the century it is enough to name Thomson's Seasons; Blair's Grave; Glover's Leonidas; Shenstone's Economy, The Ruined Abbey, and Love and Honour; Young's Night Thoughts; Akenside's Pleasures of the Imagination; Thomas Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy; Mallet's The Excursion, and Amyntor and Theodora; Cooper's The Power of Harmony; and Lyttelton's Blenheim. The influence of Milton is not equally apparent in all of these, but in none is it wholly wanting; in most it is visible on every page. The mere invocation often tells a tale. Thus Akenside:—
Thou chief, Poetic Spirit, from the banks Of Avon, whence thy holy fingers cull Fresh flowers and dews to sprinkle on the turf Where Shakespeare lies, be present. And with thee Let Fiction come; on her aerial wings Wafting ten thousand colours.
The quotation need not be prolonged; even while he commemorates Shakespeare, Akenside goes to Milton for his material, and plays a feeble variation on the Miltonic phrase:—
In his right hand Grasping ten thousand thunders.
Minerva, thee to my adventurous lyre Assistant I invoke, that means to sing Blenheim, proud monument of British fame Thy glorious work!
"The building, not the field, I sing," he might have added, for Philips had already chanted the battle of Blenheim in like Miltonic fashion. Thus, again, the worthy Grainger, flattest of agricultural bards:—
Spirit of Inspiration, that did'st lead Th' Ascrean poet to the sacred mount, And taught'st him all the precepts of the swain; Descend from Heaven, and guide my trembling steps To Fame's eternal dome, where Maro reigns; Where pastoral Dyer, where Pomona's bard, And Smart and Somervile in varying strains, Their sylvan lore convey: O may I join This choral band, and from their precepts learn To deck my theme, which though to song unknown, Is most momentous to my country's weal!
Grainger frequently echoes Milton; and in the passage where he addresses the Avon, at Bristol, he pays a more explicit tribute:—
Though not to you, young Shakespeare, Fancy's child, All-rudely warbled his first woodland notes; * * * * * On you reclined, another tuned his pipe, Whom all the Muses emulously love, And in whose strains your praises shall endure While to Sabrina speeds your healing stream.
Better and more striking instances of the Miltonic spell laid on blank verse are easily to be found for the seeking. But since it is the omnipresence of this Miltonic influence that is asserted, passages like these, which catch the eye on any chance page of eighteenth-century blank verse, and are representative of hundreds more, suffice for the purpose.
There has been a tendency among recent historians of English literature to group together the poets who, like Dyer in Grongar Hill, and Thomas Warton in The Pleasures of Melancholy, echo the strains of Milton's early poems, and to name them "Miltonics," precursors of the Romantic Revival. No doubt there is a marked difference between Milton's earlier manner and his later; not a few of his lovers, if they were forced to choose, would readily give up the three major poems to save the five best of the minor. But it is going far to appropriate the name of "Miltonic" to imitators of the earlier poems. Perhaps the study of L'Allegro and Il Penseroso and Comus helped forward the Romantic Revival; but the chief influence of Milton on the development of English poetry was not this. It was natural enough that those who had been taught from childhood to read and admire Paradise Lost should find relief and novelty in the freer and more spontaneous music of these youthful poems. But the truth is that before ever he abetted the escape, he helped to forge the fetters; that Milton, as much as any other single writer, was responsible for the wide and potent sway of the classical convention.
Above all, he may fairly be called the inventor and, by the irony of fate, the promulgator of that "poetic diction" which, in the time of its deformity and decay, Wordsworth sought to destroy. Johnson attributes the invention to Dryden. "There was therefore," he says, "before the time of Dryden no poetical diction, no system of words, at once refined from the grossness of domestick use, and free from the harshness of terms appropriated to particular arts. Words too familiar or too remote defeat the purpose of a poet."
There is no need to quarrel with this account, if we are careful to understand exactly what Johnson means. Dryden, he says in effect, wrote plain, well-bred English; he eschewed technical terms, shunned the florid licenses of the Elizabethans, and yet, in his more studied verse, never dropped into the town-gallant vein of some of his contemporaries, the slang of Butler or Lestrange. Johnson, it should be remembered, thought the diction of Lycidas "harsh," and it is plain enough from many of his utterances that he ranged Milton with the poets who use words and phrases "too remote" from the language of natural intercourse. He was a devoted adherent of the school of Dryden and Pope; in the Lives of the Poets he loses no opportunity of expressing his contempt for blank verse; he was only too likely to exalt the influence of his masters on the poets of his own time, and to ignore the influence of Milton. Since handbooks of literature are commonly formed by a process of attrition from such works as Johnson's Lives, his opinions on a point like this persist in epidemic fashion; they are detached from their authority, and repeated so often that at last they become orthodox. But no ignoring of Milton can alter the fact that English verse went Milton-mad during the earlier half of the eighteenth century. Miltonic cadences became a kind of patter, and the diction that Milton had invented for the rendering of his colossal imaginations was applied indifferently to all subjects—to apple-growing, sugar-boiling, the drainage of the Bedford level, the breeding of negroes, and the distempers of sheep. Milton's shadowy grandeur, his avoidance of plain concrete terms, his manner of linking adjective with substantive, were all necessary to him for the describing of his strange world; but these habits became a mere vicious trick of absurd periphrasis and purposeless vagueness when they were carried by his imitators into the description of common and familiar objects. A reader making his first acquaintance with Thomson's Seasons might suppose that the poem was written for a wager, to prove that country life may be described, and nothing called by its name. The philosophic pride of the eighteenth century was tickled by the use of general terms in description; the chosen periphrases are always more comprehensive than the names that they replace. When Thomson, for instance, speaks of "the feathered nations" or of "the glossy kind," it is only by the context that we are saved from supposing him to allude, in the one case to Red Indians, in the other to moles. And these are but two of some dozen devices for escaping from the flat vulgarity of calling birds by that name.
Milton himself, it must be admitted, is not wholly free from blame. The elevation and vagueness of his diction, which were a mere necessity to him in the treatment of large parts of his subject, are yet maintained by him in the description of things comparatively familiar. When Sin is described as "rolling her bestial train" towards the gates of Hell, the diction is faultless; when the serpent (as yet an innocent reptile in Paradise),
Insinuating, wove with Gordian twine His braided train,
it is impossible to cavil; but when Raphael, in conversation with Adam, describes the formation of the banks—
where rivers now Stream, and perpetual draw their humid train,
criticism is less at ease. We feel that we are drawing near to the "poetic diction" of the eighteenth century. Eve's tears are called
precious drops that ready stood Each in their crystal sluice,
but the description is saved by the lines that immediately precede, where Milton says the word, and thereby shows that he is not seeking idle periphrasis:—
But silently a gentle tear let fall From either eye, and wiped them with her hair.
His constant preference for words of Latin origin certainly brings Milton near at times to the poetic diction banned by Wordsworth. "Vernal bloom" for "spring flowers," "humid bow" for "rainbow," the description of the brooks rolling—
With mazy error under pendent shades,
the use of phrases like "nitrous powder" or "smutty grain" for "gunpowder," and "optic glass" or "optic tube" for the telescope or "perspective," are instances of the approximation. A certain number of these circuitous phrases are justified by considerations of dramatic propriety. When Raphael describes the artillery used in Heaven, he speaks of cannon balls as "iron globes" and "balls of missive ruin," and calls the linstock the "incentive reed pernicious," thereby perhaps drawing attention to the strange character of the new invention. No such reason can be invoked for his justification when he tells how the sun receives from earth
his alimental recompense In humid exhalations;
still less when, speaking of food, with which he confesses himself to be familiar, he calls it "corporal nutriment."
But the chief sinner is Adam. If the evil passions of the rebel Angels invented the pun, it was the pomposity of our father Adam that first brought "poetic diction" into vogue. When the curse has fallen in Eden he makes a long speech for the comfort of Eve, in the course of which he alludes to "the graceful locks of these fair spreading trees," speaks of the sun as "this diurnal star," and, studying protection against the newly experienced cold, advises—
how we his gathered beams Reflected may with matter sere foment, Or by collision of two bodies grind The air attrite to fire;
—for all the world as if he were a man of science lecturing to some Philosophic Institute on the customs of savages.
If, then, the term "poetic diction" is to be used as Wordsworth used it, Johnson's account of its origin must be amended. There was little or no poetic diction, of the kind condemned by Wordsworth, before the time of Milton. In the Elizabethan age all diction was free to poetry, and was freely used. Drawing on his accumulated stores of literary reminiscence, and using them for his own special purpose, Milton invented "poetic diction," and bore a main part in the founding of the English school of poetry which is called "Classical." His diction is called "poetic," because it was absolutely fitted to his purpose, which could have been conceived only by the loftiest poetic genius. His style was admired, misunderstood, and imitated for a century. The diction of his imitators is called "poetic," because, for the most part, they believed that dull nonsense and trading platitudes could be made into poetry by a borrowed system of diction.
Even the best poets of the age are not freer than the rest from the baneful Miltonic infection. Coleridge found the source of "our pseudo-poetic diction" in Pope's Homer. But Pope was from boyhood a sedulous student of Milton, and a frequent borrower. The mock-heroics of the Dunciad are stilted on Miltonic phrases; and in the translation of Homer, above all, reminiscences of Milton abound. In most of them Milton's phraseology is weakened and misapplied. Two instances among many may serve. When Vulcan, in the First Iliad, warns Juno against rousing the anger of Jove, he adds:—
Once in your cause I felt his matchless might, Hurled headlong downward from th' ethereal height.
The word "flaming" in Milton's splendid line did not suit Pope's purpose—so it disappears, and with it half the glory of the original. In place of it, to eke out the syllables, he inserts the idle, if not foolish, substitute "downward." This is the art of sinking in poetry. Again, Ulysses, narrating his adventures, in the Ninth Odyssey, remarks:—
In vain Calypso long constrained my stay, With sweet, reluctant, amorous delay.
The whole line, so beautiful when it describes the modesty of Eve, in its new context becomes stark nonsense. It is Ulysses who is "reluctant," and Calypso who is "amorous." The misuse of Milton's line makes the situation comic.
James Thomson (to take another example) with a genuine thin vein of originality, too often conceals it under Miltonic lendings. The trail of Paradise Lost runs all through The Seasons. In such a description as this of the Moon in Autumn there is a cluster of reminiscences:—
Meanwhile the Moon Full-orbed and breaking through the scattered clouds, Shows her broad visage in the crimsoned east. Turned to the Sun direct, her spotted disk, Where mountains rise, umbrageous dales descend, And caverns deep, as optic tube descries, A smaller Earth, gives all his blaze again, Void of its flame, and sheds a softer day.
Thomson could not resist the attractions of Milton's stately Latin vocabulary. Where Milton describes how, in Paradise—
the flowery lap Of some irriguous valley spread her store;
Thomson follows with—
See where the winding vale its lavish stores Irriguous spreads.
Where Milton describes how Satan, wounded by Michael—
writhed him to and fro convolved,
Thomson follows with a description of the Spring meadows, where
the sportive lambs This way and that convolved, in friskful glee Their frolics play.
The lambs emulating Satan are a kind of epitome and emblem of those descriptive poets of the eighteenth century who took Milton for their model.
But perhaps the best example of all is Gray, whose work is full of Miltonic reminiscence. He frequently borrows; and, like Pope, almost always spoils in the borrowing. Thus what Milton writes of the nightingale—
She all night long her amorous descant sung,—
is echoed by Gray in the Sonnet on the Death of Richard West:—
The birds in vain their amorous descant join.
Now a "descant" is a variation imposed upon a plain-song. The word exactly describes the song of the nightingale; but the addition of the verb "join" robs it of all meaning. Again, the passage in the Second Book of Paradise Lost where Moloch describes the pains of Hell—
when the scourge Inexorably, and the torturing hour Calls us to penance,—
lingered in Gray's memory when he addressed Adversity—
Whose iron scourge and torturing hour The bad affright, afflict the best.
The "torturing hour" in Gray's line becomes one of the chance possessions of Adversity, suspended from her belt with the rest of her trinkets. Observe how the word "hour" has been emptied of its meaning. It affrights one class of persons, and afflicts another, which anything that is "torturing" might easily do. In Milton the most awful property of Time is indicated; the hour "calls—inexorably." Here, then, in two cases, is plagiarism, which may be defined as unblest theft—the theft of what you do not want, and cannot use.
In these and many other passages of eighteenth-century verse it may be seen how literary reminiscence sometimes strangles poetry; and how a great man suffers at the hands of his disciples and admirers. The thing has happened so often that it ceases to cause surprise; were not Lydgate and Occleve pupils (save the mark!) of Chaucer? And yet it remains a paradox that Milton's, of all styles in the world, unapproachable in its loftiness, invented by a temper of the most burning zeal and the profoundest gravity for the treatment of a subject wildly intractable by ordinary methods, should have been chosen by a generation of philosophical organ-grinders as the fittest pattern for their professional melodies; and that a system of diction employed by a blind man for the description of an imaginary world should have been borrowed by landscape-gardeners and travelling pedlars for the setting forth of their works and their wares.
In the meantime, while Dryden and Milton both had their schools, most of our seventeenth-century poetry fell into an almost complete oblivion. Dryden's satiric, and Milton's epic strains engrossed attention, and shaped the verses of an age. But the seventeenth century was extraordinarily wealthy in poetic kinds quite distinct from these: in metaphysic, and mysticism, in devotional ecstasy, and love-lyric, and romance. The English genius in poetry is essentially metaphysical and romantic. Milton was neither. He could not have excelled in any of these kinds; nor have come near to Suckling, or Crashaw, or Vaughan, or Herrick, or Marvell, in their proper realms. It is a permissible indulgence, therefore, in taking leave of Milton, to turn from the Paradise Lost for a moment, and, escaping from the solid materialism of the heroic and epic strain, to find passion once more among the Court lyrists, and spiritual insight among the retired mystics, to find Religion and Love, and the humility that has access to both. A profound humility, impossible to Milton, inspired Vaughan when he wrote such a verse as this:—
There is in God, some say, A deep but dazzling darkness; as men here Say it is late and dusky, because they See not all clear. O for that night! where I in him Might live invisible and dim!
There is a natural vision, and there is a spiritual vision; the spiritual belongs to Vaughan, not to Milton. If Milton persuades us to a willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, Vaughan thrills us with a sense of vivid reality. His Ascension Day is a thing seen, as if it were a memory of yesterday:—
The day-star smiles, and light, with thee deceast, Now shines in all the chambers of the East. What stirs, what posting intercourse and mirth Of Saints and Angels glorifie the earth! What sighs, what whispers, busie stops and stays; Private and holy talk fill all the ways! They pass as at the last great day, and run In their white robes to seek the risen Sun; I see them, hear them, mark their haste, and move Amongst them, with them, wing'd with faith and love.
To the intensity of his aspiration and hushed expectance the world seems only a turbulent passing pageant, or a hard wayfaring, suffered in a dream:—
Who stays Here long must passe O'er dark hills, swift streames, and steep ways As smooth as glasse.
Or a brief sickness:—
So for this night I linger here, And, full of tossings to and fro, Expect still when thou wilt appear, That I may get me up and go.
His eyes are fixed on the shining lights that beckon him; the world is full of voices, but its sights and sounds appeal to him in vain; the beauties that surround him are things of naught—
Glorious deceptions, gilded mists, False joyes, phantastick flights.
In the distance before him there shines
An air of glory Whose light doth trample on my days; My days, which are at best but dull and hoary, Meer glimmering and decays;
and he lifts up his voice in passionate desire for the ultimate deliverance:—
Ah! what time will it come? When shall that crie The Bridegroome's comming! fill the sky? Shall it in the evening run, When our words and works are done? Or will thy all-surprising light Break at midnight?
He broods over it till nothing else is present to him in the night-watches:—
I saw Eternity the other night Like a great ring of calm and endless light.
The history of the struggles and corruption of mankind may close at any moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at a signal given:—
All's in deep sleep and night; thick darkness lyes And hatcheth o'er thy people— But hark! what trumpet's that, what angel cries Arise! Thrust in thy sickle!
Here is a religious poet indeed, a visionary, a mystic, and a Christian; none of which names can be truly applied to Milton. And if we wish to find Love enjoying his just supremacy in poetry, we cannot do better than seek him among the lyrists of the Court of Charles II. Milton, self-sufficient and censorious, denies the name of love to these songs of the sons of Belial. Love, he says, reigns and revels in Eden, not
in court amours, Mixed dance, or wanton mask, or midnight ball, Or serenate, which the starved lover sings To his proud fair, best quitted with disdain.
Yet for the quick and fresh spirit of love in the poetry of that time we must go to the sons of Belial. There is a pathetic passage in one of Milton's divorce pamphlets, where, speaking of the unhappy choices in marriage to which "soberest and best governed men" are liable, he remarks:—"It is not strange though many, who have spent their youth chastely, are in some things not so quick-sighted while they haste too eagerly to light the nuptial torch; nor is it therefore that for a modest error a man should forfeit so great a happiness, and no charitable means to release him, since they who have lived most loosely, by reason of their bold accustoming, prove most successful in their matches, because their wild affections, unsettling at will, have been as so many divorces to teach them experience."
The wild affections, unsettling at will, wrote better love-songs than the steadfast principles of the sober and well-governed. Roystering libertines like Sir Charles Sedley were more edifying lovers than the austere husbands of Mary Powell and of Eve. Milton would have despised and detested the pleasure-seeking philosophy of Sedley:—
Let us then ply those joys we have, 'Tis vain to think beyond the grave; Out of our reach the Gods have laid Of Time to come th' event, And laugh to see the Fools afraid Of what the Knaves invent.
But the self-abandonment and the passion of two or three of Sedley's songs are out of Milton's reach:—
Not Celia that I juster am, Or better than the rest, For I would change each hour like them, Were not my heart at rest.
But I am ty'd to very thee By every thought I have, Thy face I only care to see, Thy heart I only crave.
All that in woman is ador'd In thy dear self I find, For the whole sex can but afford The handsome and the kind.
Why should I then seek further store, And still make love anew; When change itself can give no more, 'Tis easie to be true.
It is like a cup of cold water after the didactic endearments of Adam, and his repeated apostrophe:
Daughter of God and Man, immortal Eve— For such thou art, from sin and blame entire.
Then there was John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. He was drunk for five years on end,—so his biographer, who had it from his own lips, alleges—and he died at the age of thirty-two. Like Sedley, he professes no virtues, and holds no far-reaching views. But what a delicate turn of personal affection he gives to the expression of his careless creed:—
The time that is to come is not, How can it then be mine? The present moment's all my lot, And that, as fast as it is got, Phyllis, is only thine.
Then talk not of inconstancy, False hearts, and broken vows If I by miracle can be This live-long minute true to thee, 'Tis all that Heaven allows.
Rochester's best love-poetry reaches the topmost pinnacle of achievement in that kind. None has ever been written more movingly beautiful than this:—
When, wearied with a world of woe, To thy safe bosom I retire, Where love and peace and truth does flow, May I contented there expire!
Lest, once more wandering from that heaven, I fall on some base heart unblest— Faithless to thee, false, unforgiven— And lose my everlasting rest!
Or than that other piece (too beautiful and too intense to be cited as a sudden illustration of a thesis) beginning—
Why dost thou shade thy lovely face? O why Does that eclipsing hand of thine deny The sunshine of the Sun's enlivening eye?
The wind bloweth where it listeth; the wandering fire of song touches the hearts and lips of whom it will. Milton built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a great trench about the altar, and he put the wood in order, and loaded the altar with rich exotic offerings, cassia and nard, odorous gums and balm, and fruit burnished with golden rind. But the fire from Heaven descended on the hastily piled altars of the sons of Belial, and left Milton's gorgeous altar cold.
His fame is now old-established and settled, so there is no place left for the eloquence of the memorialist, or the studied praises of the pleader. I have tried to understand Milton; and have already praised him as well as I know how, with no stinted admiration, I trust, and certainly with no merely superstitious reverence. If I must round my discourse by repeating something that I have already said or suggested, it shall be this—that as he stands far aloof from his contemporaries, so in the succession of great figures that mark for us the centuries of our literature he is seen once more singular and a stranger. We bred Shakespeare in our Midlands; he was nourished from the soil that still grows our daily bread. But Milton was an alien conqueror. The crowd of native-born Puritans, who sometimes (not without many searchings of heart and sharp misgivings) attempt to claim him for their leader, have no title in him. It is a proof of his dominating power, and no credit to their intelligence, that they accept him as their representative. His influence on the destinies and history of our literature might be compared to the achievement of Napoleon while he was winning the victories that changed the map of Europe. He could not change the character of a people, nor perpetuate his dynasty. But nothing is as it would have been without him. Our literature is as hospitable as the Hindoo pantheon; the great revolutionary has won a place even in our creed. And the writer has this advantage, at least, over the conqueror and legislator, that he has bequeathed to us not maps, nor laws, but poems, whose beauty, like the World's unwithered countenance, is bright as at the day of their creation.
[For the following Index I am indebted to the kindness of three of my pupils, Miss F. Marston, Miss E. L. Morice, and Miss D. E. Yates.]
Abdiel, 72, 138-39, 156, 211 Abstract terms, Milton's use of, 227-31 Adam, 32, 35, 54, 64, 82-4, 87, 92, 95-6, 105, 112, 115, 122, 141-45, 148-50, 154-57, 160, 207, 222, 237, 248-50, 261 Adamo, 95 Addison, Joseph, 157-58, 206, 218, 242 AEneid, Virgil's, 158 Akenside, Mark, 243 Allegorical figures, Milton's, 237-38 Amyntor and Theodora, Mallet's, 243 Andreini, 95-7, 104, 106 Angelo, Michael, 88 Animadversions on the Remonstrant's Defence against Smectymnuus, 217 Apology for Smectymnuus, 16, 69, 71, 74 Arbuthnot, John, 218 Areopagitica, 43, 46, 48, 49, 52, 56-7, 65, 76, 180 Arianism, 86 Ariosto, 171 Armstrong, John, 242 Art of English Poetry, Bysshe's, 241 Art of Preserving Health, The, Armstrong's, 242 Arthurian Legend, 23, 60, 89-90 Ascension Day, Vaughan's, 257 Athanasian Creed, 86 Athenian Mercury, 240 Augustine, Saint, 112
Bacon, Francis, 1, 198 Barclay, John, 57 Baxter, Richard, 20-21 Beaumont, Francis, 218 Beaumont, Joseph, 176 Beelzebub, 140 Belial, 140, 211-12, 239, 259 Bembo, Pietro, 46 Bentley, Richard, 157-58 Biron, Tragedy of, Chapman's, 204 Blair, Robert, 243 Blenheim, Lyttelton's, 243 Blenheim, Philips's, 242 Blount, Sir Thomas Pope, 241 Bodley, Sir Thomas, 17 Boileau, Nicolas, 178 Book of Sports, 25 Bossu, Charles, 158 Boyd, Zachary, 175 Brice, Thomas, 173 Broome, William, 242 Bunyan, John, 147, 155 Burke, Edmund, 40, 47, 77, 134 Burnet, Dr. Thomas, 84 Butler, Samuel, 44, 72, 246 Byron, George Gordon, Lord, 233 Bysshe, 241
Caedmon, 106 Cambridge, Milton at, 13 Camden, William, 61 Carew, Thomas, 197 Catalogues, Milton's Epic, 236 Catullus, 206 Chapman, George, 204, 218 Charlemagne, 60 Charles I., 23 Charles II., Court of, 26, 259 Chase, The, Somerville's, 242 Chaucer, Geoffrey, 145, 236, 255 Chesterfield, Lord, 133 Christian Doctrine, Treatise of, 43, 113, 140 Church of England, 17, 19-21, 24, 34 City Match, The, Mayne's, 189 Classic School, 220, 226 Cleveland, John, 72 Clovis, Saint-Sorlin's, 178-79, 205 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 127, 151, 173, 214, 238, 251 Comus, 28, 93, 162-63, 182, 184, 191, 199, 235, 245 Congreve, William, 147, 225 Cooper, John Gilbert, 243 Coriolanus, Shakespeare's, 122 Court lyrists, 259-63 Cowley, Abraham, 72, 177, 206, 219, 231, 242 Crabbe, George, 223 Crashaw, Richard, 106, 256 Cromwell, Oliver, 62-3, 65, 135 Cyder, Philips's, 242 Cynthia, Hymn to, Jonson's, 185 Dalila, 51, 149, 209-10 Daniel, Samuel, 218 Davenant, William, 177, 180, 206, 219 Davideis, Cowley's, 177-78, 231 De Re Poetica, Blount's, 241 Death of a Fair Infant, On the, 181-82 Defence of the People of England, 47, 74, 131 Defence of the People of England, Second, 34, 47, 63 Dekker, John, 218 Denham, John, 206, 219 De Quincey, Thomas, 82, 103, 120, 192 Dialogue between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure, Marvell's, 162 Discourse of Satire, Dryden's, 202, 205 Divine Institutes of Lactantius, 101 Divine Weekes and Workes, Du Bartas's, 18 Divorce Pamphlets, 16, 19, 48, 52, 54, 69, 75, 248, 259 Donne, John, 181, 183 Dramatists, influence of, on Milton, 15-16, 185-87 Drayton, Michael, 27, 174, 218 Dryden, John, 10, 17, 133, 180, 202, 203, 206-208, 219, 240-41, 246-47, 256 Du Bartas, Guillaume, 18, 237 Dunciad, Pope's, 251 Dyer, John, 242, 245
Ecclesiastical Pamphlets, 49 Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker's, 103 Economy, Shenstone's, 243 Economy of Love, The, Armstrong's, 242 Education, Of, 48-9 Eighteenth-century poetry, 233; influence of Milton on, 241 seq. Eikonoklastes, 16, 67 Elizabethan Poetry, 116, 173-75, 186-87; Milton's relation to, 15, 16, 218-20 Ellwood, Thomas, 161, 163 English Dramatick Poets, Account of the, Langbaine's, 241 Epic catalogues, Milton's, 236 Etherege, George, 190 Eve,27, 54, 83, 87, 92, 96, 112, 121-22, 142-50, 154-59, 160, 204, 206-207, 222, 249-50, 260 Excursion, The, Mallet's, 243
Faerie Queene, Spenser's, 199-200 Fenton, Elijah, 242 Fleece, The, Dyer's, 242 Fletcher, Giles, 106 Fletcher, Phineas, 106 Ford, John, 117
Gabriel, 72, 129, 135, 154, 239 Galileo, 100 Gay, John, 242 Gibbon, Edward, 138 Glover, Richard, 243 Godwin, William, 185 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 133 Gondibert, Davenant's, 177 Gorboduc, Sackville's, 196 Grainger, James, 242, 244 Grave, The, Blair's, 243 Gray, Thomas, 238, 253-55 Grongar Hill, Dyer's, 245
Hall, John, 71 Hamlet, Shakespeare's, 142 Hampton Court Conference, 17 Handel, 239 Harmonie of the Church, Drayton's, 174 Hazlitt, William, 198 Herbert, George, 174 Herodotus, 100 Herrick, Robert, 21, 256 Hervey, Lord, 203 History of Britain, 60, 143 Hobbes, Thomas, 58, 219 Homer, 171, 206, 220, 234 Homer, Pope's, 251 Hop Garden, The, Smart's, 242 Horace, 202 Horton, 22 Howard, Sir Robert, 180 Hume, Patrick, 240 Hyperion, Keats's, 227
Idylls of the King, Tennyson's, 193 Iliad, The, 242 Il Penseroso, 22, 62, 184-85, 195, 245
Johnson, Samuel, 22, 31, 35, 57-8, 127, 149, 175, 216, 224-25, 229-30, 239, 246-47, 251 Jonson, Ben, 18, 27, 185-86, 198, 218-19 Juvenal, 202
Keats, John, 227 King, Edward, 34 Knox, John, 142
Lactantius, 101-102 L'Allegro, 22, 24-5, 27, 195, 245 Lamb, Charles, 198 Landor, Walter Savage, 137, 212-13, 239 Langbaine, Gerard, 241 Latinisms, Milton's, 208-10 Laud, Archbishop, 21, 23 Laudian movement, 91 Lawrence, Henry, 8 Lear, King, Shakespeare's, 223-24 Leonidas, Glover's, 243 Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, 224 Lestrange, Sir Roger, 246 Licensing Act, 6 Lives of the Most Famous English Poets, Winstanley's, 241 Lives of the Poets, Johnson's, 247 Love and Honour, Shenstone's, 243 Lucretius, 238 Lycidas, 23-4, 33, 57, 63, 213, 235, 246 Lydgate, John, 255 Lyttelton, Lord, 243
Macbeth, Shakespeare's, 16, 118, 122, 229 Mackenzie, Sir George, 206 Malherbe, Chretien Guillaume de, 205 Mallet, David, 243 Mammon, 140, 172 Manoa, 51 Manso, 88 Marlowe, Christopher, 190 Marot, Clement, 173 Marvell, Andrew, 67, 73, 162, 256 Masson, Professor David, 133 Meredith, George, 118 Metaphors, Milton's use of, 13-14, 213, 234 Michael, 97, 129, 135, 156-57, 167, 253 "Miltonics," the, 245 Miracle plays, 101 Moloch, 140, 254 Monstrous Regiment of Women, Knox's, 142 Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de, 57 Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brede et de, 62 More, Henry, 227 More, Sir Thomas, 57, 69 Morus, Alexander, 70 Moryson, Fynes, 15
Nativity, Ode on the Morning of Christ's, 181, 199 Nicodemus, Apocryphal Gospel of, 164 Night Thoughts, Young's, 243 Nightingale, Sonnet to the, 30
Occleve, Thomas, 255 Odes, Gray's, 238 Olaus Magnus, 100 Old Wives' Tale, Peele's, 185 Original Poems, Dr. Joseph Beaumont's, 176 Ovid, 206, 208
Paradise Lost, 28, 32, 45, 52, 58, 72-3, 79, 81 seq., 122-24, 127, 133, 140, 143, 150, 153, 158-64, 168, 176, 179, 188, 191, 195, 206, 208, 210, 213-14, 217, 223-24, 235, 237, 239-42, 245, 252, 254, 256 Characters of, 132-69 Chronology of, 110-11 Cosmography of, 107-10 Criticisms of, by Addison, 157-58 Bentley, 157 Coleridge, 127, 151, 173 De Quincey, 82, 103, 120, 192 Dryden, 240 Johnson, 127, 149, 175 Landor, 137, 212-13, 239 Pattison, 83, 101 Pope, 141 Voltaire, 84 Descriptive scenes in, 120-22, 155-58, 225-26 Sources of, 18, 95, 106 Theme of, 81-9, 91-4, 97-106, 127-28 Theology of, 85-7, 126-27, 128-32 Verse of, 179 seq., 191-98 Paradise Regained, 86, 120, 146-47, 158-59, 161, 163, 211, 228 Parker, Samuel, 67 Parliament, the Long, 56, 140 Passion, The, 181 Pattison, Mark, 54, 83, 101 Peele, George, 185, 190 Philips, John, 242, 244 Phillips, Edward, 160 Phillips, Lives of Edward and John, Godwin's, 185 Philosophical poetry, 227 Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan's, 156 Pitt, Christopher, 242 Platonick Song of the Soul, More's, 227 Pleasures of the Imagination, Akenside's, 243 Pleasures of Melancholy, The, Warton's, 243, 245 Plutarch, 59 Poetics, Boileau's, 178 Pope, Alexander, 141, 203, 242, 247, 251-52, 254 Powell, Mary, 7, 54, 142, 260 Power of Harmony, The, Cooper's, 243 Prelatical controversy, 70 Proper names, poetical use of, by Milton, 235-36 Prynne, William, 147 Psyche, Beaumont's, 176 Puns, Milton's, 210-12 Puritanism, Milton's, 28-31, 92, 145, 162, 263
Quakerism, 29, 61 Quarles, Francis, 147
Rape of the Lock, The, Pope's, 232 Raphael, 97, 111, 115, 130, 144, 146, 202, 208, 228, 237, 248-49 Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty, 50 Reformation in England, Of, 42, 62, 91 Rehearsal Transposed, The, Marvell's, 67 Religious poetry, 173-77 Renaissance, the, 19, 59, 74, 173 Republicanism, 66 Restoration, the, 26, 35-8, 68 Richard II., Shakespeare's, 187 Richard III., Shakespeare's, 16 Rogers, Samuel, 214 Romanticism, 55, 220, 226, 229, 233, 245 Romaunt of the Rose, 238 Rowe, Nicholas, 240 Ruined Abbey, The, Shenstone's, 243 Rymer, Thomas, 241
Salmasius, 49, 69, 70, 71 Samson Agonistes, 26, 29, 37, 50-1, 79, 143, 146, 158-59, 162, 167, 168, 195-96, 203, 208-10, 241 Satan, 28, 60, 72, 85, 94, 102, 105, 109, 110-11, 129, 130, 132-39, 146, 152, 158, 160, 167, 211-12, 228, 239, 253 Seasons, The, Thomson's, 243, 248, 252 Sedley, Sir Charles, 260 Sejanus, Ben Jonson's, 220 Selden, Thomas, 56 Seneca, 189 Seventeenth-century poetry, 175-77, 256-62; Milton's relation to, 218-20 Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of, 203 Shakespeare, Lines on, Milton's, 182 Shakespeare, William, 3, 4, 5, 7, 15, 18, 19, 22, 25, 116, 118, 171, 175, 190, 198, 214, 217, 218, 220, 223, 225, 230, 231, 240, 243, 263 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 233 Shenstone, William, 243 Shirley, James, 219 Short View of the Stage, Collier's, 147 Sidney, Sir Philip, 174 Simile, Milton's use of, 234 Simmons, Samuel, 180 Smart, Christopher, 242 Somerville, William, 242 Sophocles, 70 Southwell, Robert, 174 Spectator, The, Addison's, 241 Spenser, Edmund, 17, 18, 106, 181, 200, 206, 236 Splendid Shilling, The, Philips's, 242 Spratt, Thomas, 219 Steele, Richard, 206, 218 Sternhold, Thomas, 173 Stoicism, 29, 145, 163 Strafford, Earl of, 23 Suckling, Sir John, 147, 188, 256 Sugar Cane, The, Grainger's, 242 Swift, Jonathan, 218 Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 93 Sylvester, Thomas, 18, 106 Synod of Dort, 17
Tale of Two Swannes, A, 179 Talmud, The, 87 Tatler, The, Steele's, 206 Tears of Peace, Chapman's, 204 Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, 193 Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 41 Thomson, James, 243, 248, 252-53 Tillotson, John, 219 Translation of the Eleventh Odyssey, Broome's, 242 Translation of a Story out of the Third AEneid, Addison's, 242 Tudor state system, the, 57
Vacation Exercise, At a, 181 Vaughan, Henry, 256-60 Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare's, 148 Virgil, 171, 202-203, 206-207 Voiture, 205 Voltaire, 84 Vondel, Joost van den, 106
Waller, Edmund, 206, 219, 240-41 Warton, Thomas, 243, 245 West, Sonnet on the Death of Richard, Gray's, 254 Westminster Assembly of Divines, 140 Wilmot, John, Earl of Rochester, 261-62 Wine, a Poem, Gay's, 242 Winstanley, William, 241 Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's, 25, 144 Wither, George, 195 Wood, Anthony a, 173 Wordsworth, William, 214, 246, 249, 251 Wotton, Sir Henry, 199
Young, Thomas, 12, 243