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GENERAL AND MISCELLANEOUS OBSERVATIONS.
I NOW come to general observations on the poet's character and genius : of these I have already intermixed some in the course of the narrative : if I recur to any of the same opinions and reflections, although in other words, I must crave the reader's indulgence.
Of this “greatest of great men” the private traits and whole life were congenial to his poetry. Men of narrow feelings will say that his political writings contradict this congeniality. His politics were, no doubt, violent and fierce; but it cannot be doubted that they were conscientious. He lived at a crisis of extraordinary public agitation, when all the principles of government were moved to their very foundations, and when there was a general desire to commence institutions de novo.
In his early poems there are occasional passages which show his taste for monarchical and aristocratic manners; for the pomp of the state and the church; for the glories of chivalry and the feudal system; for the halls of “knights and barons
bold;" for the music and the solemn gloom of magnificent cathedrals :
the high-embowed roof,
Milton's imagination was not at all suited to the cold and dry hypocrisy of a Puritan; but his gigantic mind gave him a temper that spurned at all authority. This was his characteristic through life : it showed itself in every thought and every action, both public and private, from his earliest youth ; except that he did not appear to rebel against parental authority; for nothing is more beautiful than his mild and tender expostulation to his father, in that exquisite Latin address which has been quoted.
His great poems require such a stretch of mind in the reader, as to be almost painful. The most amazing copiousness of learning is sublimated into all his conceptions and descriptions. His learning never oppressed his imagination; and his imagination never obliterated or dimmed his learning : but even these would not have done, without the addition of a great heart and a pure and lofty mind.
That mind was given up to study and meditation from his boyhood till his death: he had no
taste for the vulgar pleasures of life; he was all spiritual. But he loved fame enthusiastically, and was ready to engage in the great affairs of public business; and when he did engage, performed his part with industry, skill, and courage. Courage, indeed, mingled, in a prominent degree, among his many other mighty and splendid qualities.
Who is equal to analyse a mind so rich, so powerful, so exquisite ?
I do not think that tenderness was his characteristic; and he was, above all other men, unyielding. His softer sensibilities were rather reflective than instantaneous: his sentiments came from his imagination, rather than his imagination from his sentiments.
The vast fruits of his mind always resulted from complex ingredients ; though they were so amalgamated, that with him they became simple in their effects. It is impossible now to trace the processes of his intellect. We cannot tell what he would have been without study; but we know that he must have been great under any circumstances, though his greatness might have been of a different kind.
He made whatever he gathered from others his own; he only used it as an ingredient for his own combinations.
His earliest study seems to have been the holy writings: they first fed his fancy with the imagery of eastern poetry; and no where could he have found so sublime a nutriment. But what is any
nutriment to him who cannot taste, digest, and be nourished ? It depends not upon the force and excellence of what is conveyed; but upon the power of the recipient: it is, almost all, inborn genius, though it may be under the influence of some small modification from discipline.
However great and wonderful Milton was, there were some points in which both Spenser and Shakspeare exceeded him; because in those points nature had been more favourable to them. Probably both Spenser and Shakspeare were more ductile to the world. Milton was stern, solitary, unbending, contemptuous, proud, yet unostentatious. With his disposition and taste, he was little observant of the minor manners and characters of society: he was always thoughtful, inflexible, and abstracted. Loftiness of musing was the sphere in which he lived: his books were his companions ; his imagination surrounded him with another and a spiritual world.
Providence has endowed us with the power to conceive what is more magnificent and more beautiful than that which the material world exhibits. We know not why — it is among the mysteries of the Almighty.
If he who nurses these spiritualities is at the same time a materialist in action, then we may doubt the good of them : but assuredly Milton was not guilty of this inconsistency. Read all his earnest and eloquent professions of innocence; and who can hesitate to give credit to them? His controversial opponents have attempted to throw
dirt upon him, but have not succeeded. He provoked the most bitter hostility; yet no immorality could be fastened upon him.
Allowing the poet to have been harsh and choleric, yet the sanctity of his disposition and character appears to me demonstrative. I can reconcile this with his severe politics, though those seem, certainly, not very merciful.
Superficial minds, affecting the tone of wisdom, hold out that the gifts of the Muse are incompatible with serious business. Milton, the greatest of poets, affords a crushing answer to this. In the flower of his manhood, and through middle age, he was a statist, and active man of executive affairs in a crisis of unexampled difficulty and danger. His controversial writings, both in politics and divinity, are solid, vigorous, original, and practical; and yet he could return at last to the highest flights of the Muse, undamped and undimmed.
The lesson of his life is one of the most instructive that biography affords : it shows what various and dissimilar powers may be united in the same person, and what a grandeur of moral principles may actuate the human heart; but at the same time it shows how little all these combined talents and virtues can secure the due respect and regard of contemporaries. It is absurd to deny that Milton was neglected during his life, and that his unworldlimindedness let the meanest of the people mount over his head. He lived poor, and for the most part in obscurity. Even high employments