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been done; at once natural, vigorous, and new. We may imagine characters distinctly discriminated, moral, intellectual, generous, bold, enterprising, lofty; and we may put them into a progression of movements, wading through conflicting obstacles, and going forwards to some great end. We may borrow these from no history, nor derive much from observation—the whole may be invention; yet we may keep close to the probabilities of nature, but nature sublimed by virtue, and high inborn endowments.
This will free us from the servile task of copying from actual examples, which freezes the energies of the mind, and binds us down in chains to the earth; because we can always imagine more than we can find, and conceive ideal virtue higher than any which experience justifies. So of ideal beauty:—we can embody visions of fairness and purity, such as no individual ever possessed.
But to invent single characters is not so impracticable, as to make several so invented act their parts in one story, and have their respective qualities drawn out by the conflict. 'Hie labor, hoc opus est.' A short poem, delineating a single character, real or imaginary, does but little. Prior's 'Henry and Emma' goes a little farther, but the fable is not his own: he has merely given a modern versification to the dialogue. As far as it goes, it is very beautiful. Gray's 'Elegy' is a soliloquy, and not of an ideal person. Not one of Dryden's Fables is original.
It is remarked that the style of the 'Paradise Regained' is much less encumbered with allusions to abstruse learning than the 'Paradise Lost.' Different critics assign different reasons for this. It is probable that the poet was influenced by regard to the simple language of the New Testament: in previous parts of the Bible there is much more of poetical ornament and figurative richness.
It is probable also that the latter poem was written more hastily and less laboured. As to much imagery,—though a splendid charm, when just and grand, or beautiful,—it is not an essential of poetry. There may be invention, which is not in its strict sense imaginative: it may be purely intellectual and spiritual.
Of Milton's Juvenile Poems.
It appears, that Milton, from the first verses he composed, always tended to sacred subjects, and was always familiar with the style and images of the Scripture: he had early the idea of an epic poem; but his first productions were short and lyrical: in these the invention lay in the sentiments and language: he was always picturesque, and often sublime: his ' L'Allegro' and ' Il Penseroso' are almost entirely descriptive, though there is something of a distinct character in those descriptions, as applicable to different states of mind. Here he speaks mainly in his own person, and consonant to his own individual taste: I think, however, that there is less originality in these than in most of his other poems.
'Comus' is the invention of a beautiful fable, enriched with shadowy beings and visionary delights: every line and word is pure poetry, and the sentiments are as exquisite as the images. It is a composition which no pen but Milton's could have produced; though Shakspeare could have written many parts of it, yet with less regularity, and, of course, less philosophical thought and learning; less profundity and solemnity; but perhaps with more buoyancy and transparent flow.
'Lycidas' stands alone: Johnson says it has no passion; the passion results from the imaginative richness: the bursts of picturesque imagery give a melancholy rapture to a sensitive fancy. But Johnson had no fancy. It is like entering into an enchanted forest, where the wood-nymphs are mourning over their loves in strains of aerial music; or approaching a fairy island, where the sea-nymphs are singing melodious dirges from its promontories.
Johnson's censure of Milton for representing himself and Lycidas as shepherds would go to destroy all figurative language. A shepherd's, as long as poetry has been known, has been considered a poetical life: his conversance with the fields and open air, joined to his leisure, connects itself with all picturesque imagery. The Scriptures would have afforded the critic an authority which one should have supposed he would have respected; as, for instance, the beautiful adaptation of Addison, beginning
The Lord my pasture shall prepare,
But Johnson had an abhorrence of a rural abode: with him "the full tide of life was at CharingCross." He preferred the roll of the hackneycoach, and the cries of London, to the sound of the woodman's axe, the shepherd's halloo, and the echo of the deep-mouthed hounds ringing from some forest-slope; and the witticisms of aldermen in waistcoats of scarlet and gold, at the full-clad table of Thrale the brewer, to dreams by the side of murmuring rivers, or a book in some shade, with the greenery of nature at his feet.
It is not true that there is no grief in 'Lycidas;' but grief shows itself in different minds according as they are differently constructed. An imaginative mind does not grieve in the same way as a sterile one: it is not stunned; it expatiates abroad: it dwells on all the scenes in which it has been associated with the object of its loss.. If it is full of tears, those tears are gilded by hope: but Johnson looked to death only with a sullen gloom; he saw no bright emanations of joy playing in the skies: with him it was, that
Low, sullen sounds his grief beguiled.* Johnson prefers Cowley's 'Elegy on his friend W. Hervey,' on account of its plain unmetaphorical language. Why did he not mention that of Tickell on Addison, where he speaks of their walking and conversing in consecrated groves? The critic says there is no nature in 'Lycidas,' for there is no truth; no art, for there is nothing new. This I do not understand; a proper novelty is the result of genius, not of art. But the assertion that there is no novelty in this composition is not just: the imagery and the combinations are all new: raciness is one of its beautiful