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and even a full display of the whole edifice. The embosomed battlements, and the spreading top of the tall grove, on which they reflect a reciprocal charm, still farther interest the fancy from the novelty of combination; while just enough of the towering structure is shown to make an accompaniment to the tufted expanse of venerable verdure, and to compose a picturesque association. With respect to their rural residence, there was a coyness in our gothic ancestors : modern seats are seldom so deeply ambushed : they disclose all their glories at once; and never excite expectation by concealment, by gradual approaches, and by interrupted appearances.”
At line 131, the poet alludes to a stage worthy of his presence :
Then to the well-trod stage anon,
Warble his native wood-notes wild. Milton had not yet gone such extravagant lengths in puritanism, as to join with his reforming brethren in condemning the stage.
By “ trim gardens” (Il Pens. 1. 50), Milton means those gardens of elaborate artifice and extravagance, of which Bacon has given a description ; some of which I still remember in existence, in my own boyhood, sixty years ago. There was a sort of magnificence and variety about them, in some respects more interesting than modern barewess. I often wish them back ;--the terraces, the slopes, the wilderness-walks, the mazes, the alleys, the garden-plots, the gravel-walks, the bowers, the summer-houses, the bowling-greens, have been too rudely and indiscriminately swept away. Where the poet says, line 109,
Or call up him who left half-told
The story of Cambuscan bold, he expresses his admiration of Chaucer, “ the father of English poetry,” says Warton, “ who is here distinguished by a story remarkable for the wildness of its invention; and hence Milton seems to make a very pertinent and natural transition to Spenser, whose • Faëry Queene, although it externally professes to treat of tournaments and the trophies of knightly valour, of forests drear and terrific enchantments, is yet allegorical, and contains a remote meaning concealed under the veil of a fabulous story and of a typical narrative, which is not immediately perceived. Spenser sings in sage and solemn tunes, with respect to his morality, and the dignity of his stanza. In the mean time, it is to be remembered that there were other great bards, and of the romantic class, who sang in such tunes, and who mean more than meets the ear. Both Tasso and Ariosto pretend to an allegorical and mysterious meaning; and Tasso's enchanted forest, the most conspicuous fiction of the kind, might have been here intended. Berni allows that his incantations, giants, magic gardens, monsters, and other romantic imageries, may amuse the ignorant, but that the intelligent have more penetration. Orl. Inam. 1. 1. c. xxv.
Ma voi ch'avete gl' intelletti sani,
“ One is surprised,” continues Warton, “ that Milton should have delighted in romances : the images of feudal and royal life which those books afford, agreed not at all with his system. A passage should here be cited from our author's • Apology for Smectymnus :'-"I may tell you whither my younger feet wandered : I betook me among those lofty fables and romances which recount in solemn cantos the deeds of knighthood,' &c. The extraordinary and most imaginative, but inconsistent poet, exclaims, line 155,
But let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloisters pale, &c. Being educated at St. Paul's school, contiguous to the church, he thus became impressed with an early reverence for the solemnities of the ancient ecclesiastical architecture, - its vaults, shrines, ailes, pillars, and painted glass, rendered yet more awful by the accompaniment of the choral service.”
It is unnecessary to copy the opinion which Johnson gives of · L'Allegro' and · Il Penseroso,' because it is in every one's hands. Johnson yet allows that “ they are two noble efforts of imagination." --- They would be noble for a common poet; but not comparatively for Milton : I cannot allow them that high invention which belongs to the bard of Paradise Lost.' Warton criticises Johnson's comment with a just severity:-“Never,” says he, “ were fine imagery and fine imagination so marred, mutilated, and impoverished by a cold, unfeeling, and imperfect representation.”
-"No part of · L'Allegro,'” says Johnson, “ is made to arise from the pleasures of the bottle.” What sad vulgarity! Who could suspect that Milton would write a Bacchanalian song ?
It seems to me that these two poems are much more valuable for their development of Milton's studies and amusements, than for their poetry, by proving his love of nature,—of books,—of solitude,—of contemplation,-of all that is beautiful, and all that is romantic,—than for those bold figures, and that glorious fiction, which were his power and his chief delight. Observation and an accurate copy of the external appearances of nature do not make the highest poetry: to copy always restrains the imagination.
When we make things after our own fashion, we have the ascendency over them : it is better to deal with the invisible world than with the visible; but we ought to associate them together : mere description is always imperfect : all the grandeur of natural scenery will not avail, unless by its tendency to operate on the human mind. This is the spell of Gray's poetry : this makes the charm of Collins' · Ode to Evening :' this is the magic of the poetical part of Cowley's · Essays :' all those parts of Shakspeare's dramas which break into pure poetry, are of this cast. It is a charm, which, to my apprehension, was scarce ever reached by Dryden or Pope: Byron repeatedly reached it; sometimes he was extravagant: Wordsworth absolutely deals in it. All impression on the mind is nothing, unless the mind throws back its own colours upon it.
All the labour and all the art in the world will do nothing for poetry : they may draw copiously and freely from a cistern which they have previously filled with borrowed water ; but the water will be stale, vapid, and good for nothing.
I have said the more on these two lyrics of Milton, because they are so much more universal favourites than some of his diviner compositions. The greater part of the images are within every one's observance ; but this is not, I think, a high merit: the poet's eyes should “ give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” Here the images, for the most part, are such as actually exist bodily: the touches upon their most picturesque features are, indeed, exquisite; and here and there are passages of aërial music unknown to common ears: but then the want of dignity, of the “long-resounding pace” in the versification, lessens the magic. The whole is written lightly, and upon the surface : the poet skims away, just touches with his wings, and goes on : he does not here rise in slow and majestic dignity to the sun; hovering sometimes on his mighty pinions, and seeming to hang over the earth, as if his eye was penetrating into its depths; and then, as if with an angel's power, again darting into the upper regions of the sky.
I can scarcely suppose that these two pieces cost Milton any labour, or time, or strong exercise of mind : each of them might easily have been produced by him in a few hours : but there is an abstraction of mind, a visionary enthusiasm, which requires a very different sort of nursing :