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composition that depends entirely on expression; and this the French and artificial style gladly dispenses with, as it lays no particular stress on any thing except vague, general commonplaces. Warton's Sonnets are undoubtedly exquisite; both in style and matter: they are poetical and philosophical effusions of
delightful sentiment; but the thoughts, though fine and deeply felt, are not, like Milton's subjects, identified completely with the writer, and so far want a more individual interest. Mr. Wordsworth's are also finely conceived and highsounding Sonnets. They mouth it well, and are said to be sacred to Liberty. Brutus's exclamation, “Oh Virtue, I thought thee a substance, but I find thee a shadow," was not considered as a compliment, but as a bitter sarcasm. The beauty of Milton's Sonnets is their sincerity, the spirit of poetical patriotism which they breathe.
Either Milton's or the living bard's are defective in this respect. There is no Sonnet of Milton's on the Restoration of Charles II. There is no Sonnet of Mr. Wordsworth’s, corresponding to that of “ the poet blind and bold,” On the late Massacre in Piedmont. It would be no niggard praise to Mr. Wordsworth to grant that he was either half the man or half the poet that Milton was. He has not his high and various imagination, nor
his deep and fixed principle. Milton did not worship the rising sun, nor turn his back on a losing and fallen cause.
.« Such recantation had no charms for him !"
Mr. Southey has thought proper to put the author of Paradise Lost into his late Heaven, on the understood condition that he is “ no longer to kings and to hierarchs hostile.” In his life-time, he gave no sign of such an alteration; and it is rather presumptuous in the poetlaureate to pursue the deceased antagonist of Salmasius into the other world to compliment him with his own infirmity of purpose. It is a wonder he did not add in a note that Milton called him aside to whisper in his ear that he preferred the new English hexameters to his own blank verse!
Our first of poets was one of our first of men. He was an eminent instance to prove that a poet, is not another name for the slave of fashion; as is the case with painters and musicians—things without an opinion—and who merely aspire to make up the pageant and shew of the day. There are persons in common life who have that eager curiosity and restless admiration of bustle and splendour, that sooner than not be admitted on great occasions of
feasting and luxurious display, they will go in the character of livery-servants to stand behind the chairs of the great. There are others who can so little bear to be left for any length of time out of the grand carnival and masquerade of pride and folly, that they will gain admittance to it at the expense of their characters as well as of a change of dress. Milton was not one of these. He had too much of the ideal faculty in his composition, a lofty contemplative principle, and consciousness of inward power and worth, to be tempted by such idle baits. We have plenty of chaunting and chiming in among some modern writers with the triumphs over their own views and principles; but none of a patient resignation to defeat, sustaining and nourishing itself with the thought of the justice of their cause, and with firm-fixed rectitude. I do not pretend to defend the tone of Milton's political writings (which was borrowed from the style of controversial divinity) or to say that he was right in the part he took :-I say that he was consistent in it, and did not convict himself of error: he was consistent in it in spite of danger and obloquy, “ on evil days though fallen, and evil tongues," and therefore his character has the salt of honesty about it. It does not offend in the nostrils of posterity. He had taken his part boldly and stood to it manfully, and submitted to the change of times with pious fortitude, building his consolations on the resources of his own mind and the recollection of the past, instead of endeavouring to make himself a retreat for the time to come. As an instance of this, we may take one of the best and most admired of these Sonnets, that addressed to Cyriac Skinner, on his own blindness.
Cyriac, this three years' day, these eyes, though clear,
Nothing can exceed the mild, subdued tone of this Sonnet, nor the striking grandeur of the concluding thought. It is curious to remark what seems to be a trait of character in the two first lines. From Milton's care to inform the reader that “his eyes were still clear to out
ward view of spot or blemish,” it would be thought that he had not yet given up all regard to personal appearance; a feeling to which his singular beauty at an earlier age might be supposed naturally enough to lead.-Of the political or (what may be called) his State-Sonnets, those to Cromwell, to Fairfax, and to the younger Vane, are full of exalted praise and dignified advice. They are neither familiar nor servile. The writer knows what is due to power and to fame. He feels the true, unassumed equality of greatness. He pays the full tribute of admiration for great acts atchieved, and suggests becoming occasion to deserve higher praise. That to Cromwell is a proof how completely our poet maintained the erectness of his understanding and spirit in his intercourse with men in power. It is such a compliment as a poet might pay to a conqueror and head of the state, without the possibility of self-degradation.
“ Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud,