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his earlier years without delicacy of choice. In his youth he studied late at night; but afterwards changed his hours, and rested in bed from nine to four in the summer, and five in winter. The course of his day was best known after he was blind. When he first rose, he heard a chapter in the Hebrew Bible, and then studied till twelve; then took some exercise for an hour; then dined; then played on the organ, and sung, or heard another sing; then studied to six; then entertained his visitors till eight; then supped; and, after a pipe of tobacco and a glass of water, went to bed. He composed much in the morning, and dictated in the day, sitting obliquely in an elbowchair, with his leg thrown over the arm.
Every one knows that Milton was a republican, and an eager opponent of Episcopacy; and, thirty years ago, a Latin treatise was discovered and published, with a translation by the present Archbishop of Canterbury, which shews that, latterly at Jeast, on the subject of the Saviour's Godhead, his views were essentially Arian. In this treatise, however, as in “ Paradise Lost,” the vicarious and atoning character of the Saviour's sacrifice is asserted fully and unequivocally; and, considering how frequently he had committed himself to Trinitarian sentiments in his earlier works, and how constantly he was reappearing in print down to the last year of his life, it is rather remarkable that he himself should never have published any retractation of his well-known early sentiments.
Music, opulence, and sublimity strike us as the three grand characteristics of Milton's poetry. Inheriting an exquisite ear, and cradled in the midst of melody, it seemed as if his whole soul had from the first been set to " a solemn music.” There are poets like Coleridge, Southey, Edgar Allan Poe, who have shewn a mechanical mastery over English vocables not inferior to Milton's own; but with Milton there is more than verbal harmony. It is the hidden man of the heart who sings,
* Johnson's " Lives of the Poets." - Art. Milton.
and the verse, with its majestic cadence, is a mere accompaniment to the minstrelsy within. Hence,
“Chief of organic numbers !
Old scholar of the spheres !
There is a spell in this sphery music which holds us like an immortal mystery, and will not let us go; and after it the greatest feats of artificial rhythm are a mere sounding brass or tinkling cymbal
It may be doubted whether any other poet knew so much. Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian were all familiar languages; and in some of them we know how great was his mastery. Latin he wrote as it is seldom written since there ceased to be Romans; and, lured into the Tuscan by its own beauty and his lover-like enthusiasm for its literature, he became such an adept that he was consulted regarding the niceties of their tongue by the Academy Della Crusca. And with all the treasures which these languages unlocked, and with those which he had amassed in foreign travel and in subsequent intercourse with superior minds, not only stored in his memory but dissolved in his imagination, he poured forth a stream of thought which charms the reader by its beauty, whilst it startles him by its magical allusions to all that he has ever known, and to much that he had long forgotten. As has been observed by Mr Macaulay—and it is one of the acutest remarks in his glowing eulogy—“ The most striking characteristic of the poetry of Milton is the extreme remoteness of the associations by means of which it acts on the reader. Its effect is produced, not so much by what it expresses, as by what it suggests; not so much by the ideas which it directly conveys, as by other ideas which are connected with them. He
electrifies the mind through conductors. The most unimaginative man must understand the 'Iliad.' Homer gives him no choice, and requires from him no exertion, but takes the whole
upon himself, and sets his images in so clear a light that it is impossible to be blind to them. The works of Milton cannot be comprehended or enjoyed, unless the mind of the reader co-operate with that of the writer. He does not paint a finished picture, or play for a mere passive listener. He sketches, and leaves others to fill up the outline. He strikes the key-note, and expects the hearer to make out the melody.... His poetry acts like an incantation. Its merit lies less in its obvious meaning than in its occult power. There would seem, at first sight, to be no more in his words than in other words. But they are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced than the past is present, and the distant near. New forms of beauty start at once into existence, and all the burialplaces of the memory give up their dead."*
The ultimate key, however, to Milton's poetic mastery is the one thus indicated by the most profound and affectionate of Milton's critics :-"Poetry seems to us the divinest of all arts; for it is the breathing or expression of that principle or sentiment which is deepest and sublimest in human nature; we mean, of that thirst or aspiration to which no mind is wholly a stranger, for something purer and lovelier, something more powerful, lofty, and thrilling than ordinary and real life affords. No doctrine is more common among Christians than that of man's immortality; but it is not so generally understood that the germs or principles of his whole future being are now wrapped up in his soul as the rudiments of the future plant in the seed. As a necessary result of this constitution, the soul, possessed and moved by those mighty though infant energies, is perpetually stretching beyond what is present and visible, struggling against the bounds of its earthly prison-house, and
* Edinburgh Review, vol. xlii. (1825), p. 313.
THE CREATIVE FACULTY.
seeking relief and joy in imaginings of unseen and ideal being. This view of our nature, which has never been fully developed, and which goes further towards explaining the contradictions of human life than all others, carries us to the foundations and sources of poetry.
In an intellectual nature, framed for progress and for higher modes of being, there must be creative energies, powers of original and ever-growing thought; and poetry is the form in which these energies are chiefly manifested. It is the glorious prerogative of this art, that it
makes all things new' for the gratification of a divine instinct. It indeed finds its elements in what it actually sees and experiences in the worlds of matter and mind, but it combines and blends these into new forms, and according to new affinities; breaks down, if we may so say, the distinctions and bonds of nature ; imparts to material objects life, and sentiment, and emotion, and invests the mind with the powers and splendours of the outward creation ; describes the surrounding universe in the colours which the passions throw over it, and depicts the soul in those modes of repose or agitation, of tenderness or sublime emotion, which manifest its thirst for a more powerful and joyful existence. To a man of a literal and prosaic character, the mind may seem lawless in these workings; but it observes higher laws than it transgresses, the laws of the immortal intellect; it is trying and developing its best faculties; and, in the objects which it describes or in the emotions which it awakens, anticipates those states of progressive power, splendour, beauty, and happiness for which it was created."*
Here, assuredly, is where Milton's great strength lies-- he is strong in the sense-surmounting, time-transcending faculty. We are entranced by his music; we are startled by the flashes of selfrevealing intuition which his universal knowledge enables him ever and anon to dart into our minds; but we become his unresisting captives whenever he spreads his immortal pinions,
* Dr Channing "On the Character and Writings of Milton.”
and bears us up to regions where we ourselves could not have risen, but where in such a grasp we feel it an awful joy to hover.
Yes, Milton is perhaps the sublimest among the sons of men; but it is quite possible that, had his sublimity been somewhat relieved by homely and everyday attributes, he would have passed through the house of his pilgrimage more cheerfully, and in after times might have numbered—if not more worshippers of his genius—more readers of his peerless work. Less soaring, less seraphic, we could not wish to see him; but we sometimes wish to see him fold his wings, and come walking towards our tent, if he should not even sit under the oak and rest a while. We would like sometimes to forget the angel in the man. Perhaps, could he have so far forgotten himself, Mary Powell would not have been seized, a few weeks after their marriage, with such a longing for the home of her girlhood as actually to run away; and the daughters, to whom he dictated the tale of “ Paradise,” might not have shewn such an undutiful impatience to hurry through the task and get back to their embroidery. At all events, a few softer moments and kindlier outbursts would have gratified many a reader. Shakspeare is occasionally as sublime as Milton; but in virtue of his genial humour he is every one's acquaintance, and he is always thought of with a large amount of human fond
To many the Shakspearian genius looks like Etna, a fiery mountain, with flowery skirts and a merry vintage at its feet; whilst the genius of Milton, sequestered from his kind, and flaming upwards towards heaven, might rather be imaged by the great Antarctic volcano, which, tall as Etna, is destined never to be trodden by man—an altar ever burning on an Alp of virgin snow.