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in the state seem to have obtained him no luxuries, and few friends or acquaintance: no brother poets flocked round him; none praised him, though in the habit of flattering each other.
The poet, indeed, might have been employed more consistently with his sublime genius than in political and theological controversy. He lost nineteen precious years of his middle life in those irritating occupations, from the age of thirty-two to fifty-one : after that age, he occupied the remaining fourteen years of his life principally in poetry. His controversies had not sullied his imagination, nor affected the sanctity of his thoughts, language, or temper :-I mean, after these degrading labours ceased; for, while busy in them, they must have necessarily embittered his feelings and lowered his mind. It is melancholy to think how much of grand invention, which he might in those long years have put forth, has been lost to the world.
I do not say that the writings which during that period he did put forth have been entirely useless; but they were beneath Milton's best powers, and might probably have been executed by inferior talents. I here suppose them excellent in their department and unmixed with mischief; but this is more than can be conceded positively to them. The notions of republicanism are assuredly carried too far; and nothing can be more dangerous than to resist all authority, and call in question all ancient institutions.
If intellect is the grand glory of man, Milton
stands pre-eminent above all other human beings; above Homer, Virgil, Dante, Petrarch, Tasso, Spenser, and Shakspeare! To the highest grandeur of invention upon the sublimest subject he unites the greatest wisdom and learning, and the most perfect art. Almost all other poets sink into twinkling stars before him. What has issued from the French school of poetry seems to be the production of an inferior order of beings, and in this I include even our Dryden and Pope; for I cannot place these two famous men among the greatest poets : they may be among the first of a secondary class.
It is easy to select fine passages from minor poetical authors; but a great poet must be tried by his entirety,—by the uniform texture of his web.
Milton has a language of his own; I may say, invented by himself. It is somewhat hard, but it is all sinew : it is not vernacular, but has a latinized cast, which requires a little time to reconcile a reader to it. It is best fitted to convey his own magnificent ideas : its very learnedness impresses us with respect: it moves with a gigantic step: it does not flow, like Shakspeare's style, nor dance, like Spenser's. Now and then there are transpositions somewhat alien to the character of the English language, which is not well-calculated for transposition; but in Milton this is perhaps a merit, because his lines are pregnant with deep thought and sublime imagery, which require us to dwell upon them, and contemplate them
over and over. He ought never to be read rapidly: his is a style which no one ought to imitate till he is endowed with a soul like Milton's. His ingredients of learning are so worked into his original thoughts that they form a part of them; they are never patches.
One would wish to present to oneself the mental and moral character of Milton even from his childhood. Probably he was absorbed in himself, and by no means ductile; lonely in his pleasures, uncompanionable, and seemingly sullen; angry when interrupted in his books; satirical or contemptuous at frivolous conversation; contradictory when roused, and hardy when answered: estimated doubtfully by his father; sometimes praised; sometimes raising high expectations ; sometimes causing fear, and even anger and remonstrance.
Genius will never be dictated to; and few observers can distinguish this repugnance from an obstinate and dull indocility. They, on the contrary, who are quick to apprehend, but who have no ideas of their own, take things rapidly and without resistance.
One should like to imagine the difference of early character, habits, sentiments, pursuits, conduct and temper, between Milton and Gray; both sons of men following the same calling, both living in the bustle of the city, and both addicted to literary occupations. There was this primary difference, that Milton had a good father, and Gray a bad one.
Milton was probably more stern; Gray more tender and morbid : Milton more confident and aspiring; Gray more fearful and hopeless. Each loved books and learning, and each had an exquisite taste. Milton was more vigorous; Gray more nice. Both were imaginative and fond of romantic fiction; but Milton was more enterprising. Gray's fastidiousness impeded him; he was
A puny insect, shivering at a breeze. Milton was dauntless, defiant, and, when insulted, fierce; perhaps ferocious : nothing shook his selfreliance. Gray was driven back even by a frown.
The “ Elegiac Bard” might have done tenfold more than he did if he had been more courageous, but could never have done what Milton has done: he had not the same invention, nor the same natural sublimity. Milton was far the happier being, though he engaged in controversies which Gray's peaceful spirit would have avoided. Milton was a practical statesman; Gray would have been utterly unfit to engage in affairs of state.
Gray's spirits were partly broke by the unprincipled and brutal conduct of his father to his mother; but they were naturally low: his inborn sensitiveness amounted to disease. He seems to have been more delicate and precise in his classical scholarship, and more exact in all his knowledge; but it was not so mingled up with original thought, and therefore not so valuable : his memory was often mere memory, and therefore was exact. This did not arise from inability, but from timidity and indolence: he lived in the solemn
and monotonous cloisters of a college; he had nothing of the ordinary movements of life to excite him : all the faculties of his mind, therefore, except his memory, were often stagnant. The memory works best when the passions are least moved.
The dim misty grey hues of vacant despondence will chill the lips and palsy the voice. Who fears the ridicule or censure of men, but anticipates not the cheer of triumph, will want the sources of energy and enterprise. The blood must glow in the veins, and the heart must dance, to enable us to do great things.
We cannot doubt that this was the case with Milton: many noble passages regarding himself in his prose works prove it: he nursed glorious and holy hopes from his childhood. Afterwards, in the midst of the foulest calumnies, he was undaunted and undismayed. Even in the most perilous times, when the ban of proscription and the sword of death were hanging over his head, he conceived and partly composed his • Paradise Lost. He had a spring of soul which nothing could relax.
Magnanimity grows strong by opposition and difficulty; and when a difficulty is conquered, the energy is doubled: no one knows what powers are in him till he is pressed: when they come out from pressure, hope and confidence come with them. It is not till after we have been tried that we trust to ourselves : then we stand unmoved by the blast, and laugh at the storm. All genuine