Page images
PDF
EPUB

and constancy, with such richness of gifts.

We cannot speak worthily of the books before us. They have

been, as they will be, our friends and teachers, but to express

had been three volumes, instead of two clumsy ones, with that detestably

narrow inner margin of which we have heretofore complained. But we trust the work is in such a shape that it will lie

on the table of all poor students who are ever to be scł.lars, and be tho good angel, the Ithuriel warner of many a youth at the parting of the ways. Who chooses that way which the feet of Milton never forsook, will find in him a never failing authority for the indissoluble union between perinanent strength and purity. May many, born and bred amid the corruptions of a false world till the heart is on the verge of a desolate scepticism and the good genius preparing to fly, be led to recall him and make him at home forever by such passages as we have read this beautiful bright September morning, in the • A pology for Smectymnuus.' We chanced happily upon them, as we were

some sad narrations of daily life, and others who need the same consolation, will no doubt detect them in a short inter. course with the volumes.

Mr. Griswold thus closes his “ Biographical Introduction :”— ".On Sunday, the eighth day of November, 1674, one month before conpleting his sixty-sixth year, John Milton died. He was the greatest of all buman beings: the noblest and the ennobler of mankind. He has steadily grown in the world's reverence, and his fame will still increase with the lajse of gee."

The absolute of this superlative pleases us, even if we do bolieve that there are four or five names on the scroll of history which may be placed beside that of Milton. We love hero-wor. ship, where the hero is, indeed, worthy the honors of a demi-god. And, if Milton be not absolutely the greatest of human beings, it is hard to name one who combines so many features of God's own image, ideal grandeur, a life of spotless virtue, neroio endeavour

with any justice what they are 10 us, or our idea of wlini they are to the world at large--to make any estimate of the vast fund of pure gold they contain and allow for the residuum of local and partial judgment and human frailty—to examine the bearings of various essays on the past and present with even thai degree of thought and justice of which we are capable, would be a work of months. It would be to us a careful, a solemn, a sacrc,i task, and not in anywise to be undertaken in the columns of a daily paper. Beside, who can think of Milton without the feeling which he himself expresses ?

“He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereaster in laudable things, ought himself to be a true pocm; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honorablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy."

pondering

[ocr errors]

We shall, then, content ourselves with stating three reasons which at this moment occur to us why these Essays of Milton deserve to be sought and studied beyond any other volumes of English prose : 1st. He draws us to a central point whither converge

the

rays of sacred and profane, ancient and modern Literature. Those who sit at his feet obtain every hour glimpses in all directions. The constant perception of principles, richness in illustrations and fullness of knowledge, make him the greatest Master we have in the way of giving clues and impulses. His plan tempts even very timid students to hope they may thread tho mighty maze of the Past. This fullness of knowledge only a genius masculine and divine like his could animate. He says, in a letter 10 Diodati, written as late as his thirtieth year: “It is well known, and you well know, that I am naturally slow in writing and adverse to write." Indeed his passion for acquisition preceded long and lar outwent, in the first part of his prime, the need of creation or wpression, and, probably, no era less grand and fervent than his

own could have made him still more the genius than the scholar. But lio was fortunate in an epoch fitted to develop him to his full stature-an epoch rich alike in thought, action and passion, in great results and still greater beginnings. There was fire enough to briwg ihe immense materials he had collected into a state of fusion. Still his original bias infects the pupil, and this Master Inalcs us thirst for Learning no less than for Life.

2d. He affords the highest exercise at once to the poetic and reflective faculties. Before us move sublime presences, the types of whole regions of creation : God, man, and elementary spirits in inultitudinous glory are present to our consciousness. But meanwhile every detail is grasped and examined, and strong duily interests mark out for us a wide and plain path on the earth - a wide and plain path, but one in which it requires the most varied and strenuous application of our energics to follow the rapid and vigorous course of our guide. No one can read the Essays without feeling that the glow which follows is no inere nervous exaltation, vo result of electricity from another mind under which he could remain passive, but a thorough and wholesoine animation of his own powers. We seek to know, to act, and to be what is possible to Man.

3d. Mr. Griswold justly and wisely observes :—“Milton is more emphatically American than any author who has lived in the United States.” He is so because in him is expressed so much of the primitive vitality of that thought from which Ameri. oa is born, though at present disposed to forswear her lineage in so many ways. He is the purity of Puritanism. He understood the nature of liberty, of justice-what is required for the unim. peded action of conscience-what constitutes true marriage, and the scope of a manly education. He is one of the Fathers of this Age, of that new Idea which agitates the sleep of Europe, and of which America, if awake to the design of Heaven and her own

duty, would become the principal exponent. But the Father is still far beyond the understanding of his child.

His ideas of marriage, as expressed in the treatises on Divorce, are high and pure. He aims at a marriage of souls. If he in. cline too much to the prerogative of his own sex, it was from that mannishness, almost the same with boorishness, that is evident in men of the greatest and richest natures, who have never known the refining influence of happy, mutual love, as the best woinen evince narrowness and poverty under the same privation. In every line we see how much Milton required the benefit of the thousand decencies that daily flow" from such a relation, and how greatly he would have been the gainer by it, both as mau and as genius. In his mind lay originally the fairest ideal of woman ; lo sce it realized would have “finished his education.” His commonwealth could only have grown from the perfecting of individual men. The private means to such an end he rather hints than states in the short essay to Education. They are such as we are gradually learning to prize. Healthful diet, varied bodily exercises, to which we no longer need give the martial aim he proposed, fit the rnind for studies which are by him ar. ranged in a large, plastic and natural method.

Among the prophetic features of his system we may mention the place given to Agriculture and Music :

"The next step would be to the authors on agriculturo-Cato, Varro and Columella-for tho matter is most easy; and if the languago be difficult so much the better; it is not a difficulty above their years. And hero will be an occasion of inciting, and enabling them hereafter to improve the tillago of their country, to recover their bad svil, and to remedy the wasto that is made of good; for this was one of Hercules' praises."

How wise, too, his directions as to interspersing the study with travel and personal observation of important objects. We must have methods of our own, but the hints we might borrow frora his short essay of Milton's are endless.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »