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and finished gentleman, in what related to taste and
Strait mine eye hath caught new pleasures,
Hard by a cottage chimney smokes,
“ It was neither the proper season of the year, nor time of the day, to hear all the rural sounds, and see all the objects mentioned in this description ; but, by a pleasing concurrence of circumstances, we were saluted, upon our approach to the village, with the music of the mower and his scythe; we saw the ploughman intent upon his labour, and the milkmaid returning from her country employment.
*As we ascended the hill, the variety of beautiful objects, the agreeable stillness and natural simplicity of the whole scene, gave us the highest pleasure. We at length reached the spot whence Milton undoubtedly took most of his images : it is on the top of the hill, from which there is a most extensive prospect on all sides. The distant mountains that seemed to support the clouds, the villages and turrets, partly shaded with trees of the finest verdure, and partly raised above the groves that surrounded them ; the dark plains and meadows of a greyish colour, where the sheep were feeding at large; in short, the view of the streams and rivers—convinced us that there was not a single useless or idle word in the above-mentioned description, but that it was a most exact and lively representation of nature. Thus will this fine passage, which has always been admired for its elegance, receive an additional beauty from its exactness. After we had walked, with a kind of poetical enthusiasm, over this enchanted ground, we returned to the village.
“ The poet's house is close to the church ; the greatest part of it has been pulled down, and what remains belongs to an adjacent farm. I am informed that several papers, in Milton's own hand, were found by the gentleman who was last in possession of the estate. The tradition of his having lived there is current among the villagers : one of them showed us a ruinous wall that made part of his chamber, and I was much pleased with
another, who had forgotten the name of Milton, but recollected him by the title of The Poet.
“ It must not be omitted, that the groves near this village are famous for nightingales, which are so elegantly described in the Pensieroso. Most of the cottage windows are overgrown with sweet-briars, vines, and honeysuckles : and that Milton's habitation had the same rustic ornament, we may conclude from his description of the lark bidding him good-morrow,
Through the sweetbriar, or the vine,
Or the twisted eglantine: for it is evident that he meant a sort of honeysuckle by the eglantine, though that word is commonly used for the sweetbriar, which he could not mention twice in the same couplet.”
THE BATTLE OF CRESSY.
66 I REMEMBER,” said the Bachelor, in speaking of the military achievements of the English nation, “ I remember to have heard a remark once made which struck me at the time as having something in it of novelty; and yet, though I have often since turned and turned it over and over again in my mind, I have never been able to discover that it has any foundation in fact, or, in truth, any meaning at all. It was made in a party where the conversation was about the superior poetical circumstances of an
cient warfare compared with those of modern battle. • The poetry is not in the circumstances,' said one of the gentlemen, but in the more animated way in which our ancestors were accustomed to consider the details of bravery and adventure. Why our ancestors should have done so I cannot understand, nor do I believe they did ; but still there is no denying that the incidents of knightly enterprise belonging to their times possess a degree of interest which I doubt if it be possible to confer on the military exploits of any modern hero; and all this I conceive to be chiefly owing to the panoply and paraphernalia of their warfare affording scope for livelier sallies of fancy in description.”
“ Perhaps,” replied Egeria, after pondering some time, “ there is something in the observation, if we could but know what was passing in the gentleman's mind when he made it. In the battle-tales of antiquity there is a degree of vivacity arising from the narrations having been chiefly gathered from actors in the scenes, very different from the calm official formality of our gazette-accounts, which, though also from actors, are yet written, as it were, in a uniform and prescribed style. Buonaparte is almost the only modern who has stampt the impress of his own mind on the reports of his transactions. His bulletin, after his return from the Russian campaign, is quite poetical. Lord Nelson also, on one or two great occasions, broke out from the Whitehall-style, and betrayed the depth of his feelings.You should therefore bear in mind, that the tameness of modern history, with respect to military achievements, arises, beyond all doubt, from the official forms in which the information concerning them is conveyed.
“ As to the panoply and paraphernalia of ancient battles being more picturesque than those of modern warfare, I am not inclined to admit. The sea-fights of our own time have been immeasurably more magnificent, both in outline and detail, than any possible combustion that could arise among the galleys of the ancients; and if there was of old the sounding of shields, have we not added the thunder of cannon and bombs, and rockets too as frightful as comets, to say nothing of the explosion of mines and magazines ? The grandeur of the battles of the ancients and of our ancestors consists in the exertions of individual valour; every thing is particular, and the art of the poet in describing them lies in the interest with which he invests the enterprises of single warriors. But modern war is a superb generality—all is shrouded in smoke-each particular battle is a thunder-cloud, wherein one sees but the glancing of fires, and hears but the rattling of successive peals; the interest, therefore, of modern war in description must lie in something very different from those sort of minute details and individual exploits which constitute the charm and sublimity of Homeric battles. In the battle of Waterloo, it is not to be doubted that the men felt as proudly as ever their forefathers did at Cressy or at Agincourt; but it would not be easy to give an account of their disciplined fortitude that would possess the spirit and liveliness of Froissart's picture of the renowned field of Cressy. Look at Lord Berner's translation of the passage, and I think you will agree with me that it is not by such details that a modern battle is to be described.”