« PreviousContinue »
molished the images in cathedrals have not always been able to demolish those which were enshrined in their minds. It would not be difficult to show, that in politics the same rule holds good. Doctrines, we are afraid, must generally be embodied before they can excite strong public feeling. The multitude is more easily interested for the most unmeaning badge, or the most insignificant name, than for the most important principle.
proper to supernatural agents. We feel that
The Spirits of Milton are unlike those of
From these considerations, we infer, that no poet who should affect that metaphysical accuracy for the want of which Milton has been blamed, would escape a disgraceful failure. Still, however, there was another extreme, which, though far less dangerous, was also to be avoided. The imaginations of men are in a great measure under the control of their opinions. The most exquisite art of a poetical colouring can produce no illusion when it is employed to represent that which is at once perceived to be incongruous and absurd. Milton wrote in an age of philosophers and theologians. It was necessary therefore for him to abstain from giving such a shock to their understandings, as might break the charm which it was his object to throw over their imagina-fum of Tasso and Klopstock. They have just tions. This is the real explanation of the enough in common with human nature to be indistinctness and inconsistency with which intelligible to human beings. Their characters he has often been reproached. Dr. Johnson are, like their forms, marked by a certain dim acknowledges, that it was absolutely neces- resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated sary for him to clothe his spirits with ma- to gigantic dimensions and veiled in mysteterial forms. "But," says he, "he should rious gloom. have secured the consistency of his system, Perhaps the gods and demons of Eschylus by keeping immateriality out of sight, and se- may best bear a comparison with the angels ducing the reader to drop it from his thoughts." and devils of Milton. The style of the Athe This is easily said; but what if he could not nían had, as we have remarked, something of seduce the reader to drop it from his thoughts? the vagueness and tenor of the Oriental chaWhat if the contrary opinion had taken so full racter; and the same peculiarity may be traced a possession of the minds of men, as to leave in his mythology. It has nothing of the ameno room even for the quasi-belief which poetry nity and elegance which we generally find in requires? Such we suspect to have been the the superstitions of Greece. All is rugged, case. It was impossible for the poet to adopt barbaric, and colossal. His legends seem to altogether the material or the immaterial sys-harmonize less with the fragrant groves and tem. He therefore took his stand on the graceful porticos, in which his countrymen debatable ground. He left the whole in am- paid their vows to the God of Light and Godbiguity. He has doubtless by so doing laid dess of Desire, than with those huge and grohimself open to the charge of inconsistency. tesque labyrinths of eternal granite, in which But, though philosophically in the wrong, we Egypt enshrined her mystic Osiris, or in which cannot but believe that he was poetically in Hindostan still bows down to her seven-headed the right. This task, which almost any other idols. His favourite gods are those of the writer would have found impracticable, was elder generations, the sons of heaven and easy to him. The peculiar art which he pos- earth, compared with whom Jupiter himself sessed of communicating his meaning circuit- was a stripling and an upstart, the gigantic ously, through a long succession of associated Titans and the inexorable Furies. Foremost ideas, and of intimating more than he ex-among his creations of this class stands Propressed, enabled him to disguise those incon- metheus, half fiend, half redeemer, the friend gruities which he could not avoid. of man, the sullen and implacable enemy of heaven. He bears undoubtedly a considerable resemblance to the Satan of Milton. In both we find the same impatience of control, the same ferocity, the same unconquerable pride. In both characters also are mingled, though in very different proportions, some kind and generous feelings. Prometheus, however, is hardly superhuman enough. He talks too much of his chains and his uneasy posture. He is rather too much depressed and agitated. His resolution seems to depend on the knowledge which he possesses, that he holds the fate of his torturer in his hands, and that the hour
Poetry, which relates to the beings of another world, ought to be at once mysterious and picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of Dante is picturesque, indeed, beyond any that was ever written. Its effect approaches to that produced by the pencil or the chisel. But it is picturesque to the exclusion of all mystery. This is a fault indeed on the right side, a fault inseparable from the plan of his poem, which, as we have already observed, rendered the utmost accuracy of description necessary. Still it is a fault. His supernatural agents excite an interest; but it is not the interest which is
forth their blood on scaffolds. That hateful proscription, facetiously termed the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion, had set a mark on the poor, blind, deserted poet, and held him up by name to the hatred of a profligate court and an inconstant people! Venal and licentious scribblers, with just sufficient talent to clothe the thoughts of a pander in the style of a bellman, were now the favourite writers of the sovereign and the public. It was a loathsome
To return for a moment to the parallel which we have been attempting to draw between Milton and Dante, we would add, that the poetry of these great men has in a considerable degree taken its character from their moral qualities. They are not egotists. They rarely obtrude their idiosyncrasies on their readers. They have nothing in common with those modern beggars for fame, who extort a pittance from the compassion of the inexperienced, by exposing the nakedness and sores of their minds. Yet it would be difficult to name two writers whose works have been more completely, though undesignedly, coloured by their personal feelings.
of his release will surely come. But Satan is a creature of another sphere. The might of his intellectual nature is victorious over the extremity of pain. Amidst agonies which cannot be conceived without horror, he deliberates, resolves, and even exults. Against the sword of Michael, against the thunder of Jehovah, against the flaming lake and the marl burning with solid fire, against the prospect of an eternity of unintermittent misery, his spirit bears up unbroken, resting on its own innate ener-herd-which could be compared to nothing so gies, requiring no support from any thing ex- fitly as to the rabble of Comus, grotesque monternal, nor even from hope itself! sters, half bestial, half human, dropping with wine, bloated with gluttony, and reeling in obscene dances. Amidst these his Muse was placed, like the chaste lady of the Masque, lofty, spotless, and serene-to be chatted at, and pointed at, and grinned at, by the whole rabble of Satyrs and Goblins. If ever despond. ency and asperity could be excused in any man, it might have been excused in Milton. But the strength of his mind overcame every calamity. Neither blindness, nor gout, nor age, nor penury, nor domestic afflictions, nor political disappointments, nor abuse, nor proscription, nor neglect, had power to disturb his sedate and majestic patience. His spirits do not seem to have been high, but they were singularly equable. His temper was serious, perhaps stern; but it was a temper which no sufferings could render sullen or fretful. Such as it was, when, on the eve of great events, he returned from his travels, in the prime of health and manly beauty, loaded with literary distinctions and glowing with patriotic hopes, such it continued to be-when, after having experienced every calamity which is incident to our nature, old, poor, sightless, and disgraced, he retired to his hovel to die!
The character of Milton was peculiarly distinguished by loftiness of thought; that of Dante by intensity of feeling. In every line of the Divine Comedy we discern the asperity which is produced by pride struggling with misery. There is perhaps no work in the world so deeply and uniformly sorrowful. The melancholy of Dante was no fantastic caprice. It was not, as far as at this distance of time can be judged, the effect of external circumstances. It was from within. Neither love nor glory, neither the conflicts of the earth nor the hope of heaven could dispel it. It twined every consolation and every pleasure into its own nature. It resembled that noxious Sardinian soil of which the intense bitterness is said to have been perceptible even in its honey. His mind was, in the noble language of the Hebrew poet, "a land of darkness, as darkness itself, and where the light was as darkness!" The gloom of his character discolours all the passions of men and all the face of nature, and tinges with its own livid hue the flowers of Paradise and the glories of the Eternal Throne! All the portraits of him are singularly characteristic. No person can look on the features, noble even to ruggedness, the dark furrows of the cheek, the haggard and woful stare of the eye, the sullen and contemp-quiet tuous curve of the lip, and doubt that they belonged to a man too proud and too sensitive to be happy.
Milton was, like Dante, a statesman and a lover; and, like Dante, he had been unfortunate in ambition and in love. He had survived his health and his sight, the comforts of his home and the prosperity of his party. Of the great men, by whom he had been distinguished at his entrance into life, some had been taken away from the evil to come; some had carried into foreign climates their unconquerable hatred of oppression; some were pining in dungeons; and some had poured VOL. I.-2
Hence it was, that though he wrote the Paradise Lost at a time of life when images of beauty and tenderness are in general beginning to fade, even from those minds in which they have not been effaced by anxiety and disappointment, he adorned it with all that is most lovely and delightful in the physical and in the moral world. Neither Theocritus nor Ariosto had a finer or a more healthful sense of the pleasantness of external objects, or loved better to luxuriate amidst sunbeams and flowers, the songs of nightingales, the juice of summer fruits, and the coolness of shady fountains. His conception of love unites all the voluptuousness of the Oriental harem, and all the gallantry of the chivalric tournament, with all the pure and affection of an English fireside. His poetry reminds us of the miracles of Alpine scenery. Nooks and dells, beautiful as fairyland, are embosomed in its most rugged and gigantic elevations. The roses and myrtles bloom unchilled on the verge of the avalanche.
Traces, indeed, of the peculiar character of Milton may be found in all his works; but it is most strongly displayed in the Sonnets. Those remarkable poems have been undervalued by critics, who have not understood their nature. They have no epigrammatic point. There is none of the ingenuity of Fili caji in the thought, none of the hard and brilliant enamel of Petrarch in the style. They
are simple but majestic records of the feelings of the poet; as little tricked out for the public eye as his diary would have been. A victory, an expected attack upon the city, a momentary fit of depression or exultation, a jest thrown out against one of his books, a dream, which for a short time restored to him that beautiful face over which the grave had closed forever, led him to musings which, without effort, shaped themselves into verse. The unity of sentiment and severity of style, which characterize these little pieces, remind us of the Greek Anthology; or perhaps still more of the Collects of the English Liturgy-the noble poem on the Massacres of Piedmont is strictly a collect in verse.
The Sonnets are more or less striking, according as the occasions which gave birth to them are more or less interesting. But they are, almost without exception, dignified by a sobriety and greatness of mind to which we know not where to look for a parallel. It would indeed be scarcely safe to draw any decided inferences, as to the character of a writer, from passages directly egotistical. But the qualities which we have ascribed to Milton, though perhaps most strongly marked in those parts of his works which treat of his personal feelings, are distinguishable in every page, and impart to all his writings, prose and poetry, English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family likeness.
His public conduct was such as was to be expected from a man of a spirit so high, and an intellect so powerful. He lived at one of the most memorable eras in the history of manhind; at the very crisis of the great conflict between Oromasdes and Arimanes-liberty and despotism, reason and prejudice. That great battle was fought for no single generation, for no single land. The destinies of the human race were staked on the same cast with the freedom of the English people. Then were first proclaimed those mighty principles, which have since worked their way into the depths of the American forests, which have roused Greece from the slavery and degradation of two thousand years, and which, from one end of Europe to the other, have kindled an unquenchable fire in the hearts of the oppressed, and loosed the knees of the oppressors with a strange and unwonted fear!
is good; but it breaks off at the most interesting crisis of the struggle. The performance of Ludlow is very foolish and violent; and most of the later writers who have espoused the same cause, Oldmixon, for instance, and Catherine Macaulay, have, to say the least. been more distinguished by zeal than either by candour or by skill. On the other side are the most authoritative and the most popular historical works in our language, that of Clarendon, and that of Hume. The former is not only ably written and full of valuable information, but has also an air of dignity and sincerity which makes even the prejudices and errors with which it abounds respectable. Hume, from whose fascinating narrative the great mass of the reading public are still contented to take their opinions, hated religion so much, that he hated liberty for having been allied with religion-and has pleaded the cause of tyranny with the dexterity of an advocate, while affecting the impartiality of a judge.
The public conduct of Milton must be approved or condemned, according as the resist ance of the people to Charles I. shall appear to be justifiable or criminal. We shall therefore make no apology for dedicating a few pages to the discussion of that interesting and most important question. We shall not argue it on general grounds, we shall not recur to those primary principles from which the claim of any government to the obedience of its subjects is to be deduced; it is a vantageground to which we are entitled; but we will relinquish it. We are, on this point, so confident of superiority, that we have no objection to imitate the ostentatious generosity of those ancient knights, who vowed to joust without helmet or shield against all enemies, and to give their antagonist the advantage of sun and wind. We will take the naked, constitutional question. We confidently affirm, that every reason, which can be urged in favour of the Revolution of 1688, may be urged with at least equal force in favour of what is called the great rebellion.
In one respect only, we think, can the warmest admirers of Charles venture to say that he was a better sovereign than his son. He was not, in name and profession, a papist; we say in name and profession, because both Charles himself and his miserable creature, Laud, while they abjured the innocent badges of popery, retained all its worst vices, a complete subjection of reason to authority, a weak preference of form to substance, a childish passion for mummeries, an idolatrous veneration for the priestly character, and, above all, a stupid and ferocious intolerance. This, how
Of those principles, then struggling for their infant existence, Milton was the most devoted and eloquent literary champion. We need not say how much we admire his public conduct. But we cannot disguise from ourselves, that a large portion of his countrymen still think it unjustifiable. The civil war, indeed, has been more discussed, and is less under-ever, we waive. We will concede that Charles stood, than any event in English history. The was a good protestant; but we say that his Roundheads laboured under the disadvantage protestantism does not make the slightest disof which the lion in the fable complained so tinction between his case and that of James. bitterly. Though they were the conquerors, their enemies were the painters. As a body, they had done their utmost to decry and ruin literature; and literature was even with them, as, in the long run, it always is with its enemies. The best book, on their side of the question, is the charming memoir of Mrs. Hucbinson. May's History of the Parliament
The principles of the Revolution have often been grossly misrepresented, and never more than in the course of the present year. There is a certain class of men, who, while they profess to hold in reverence the great names and great actions of former times, never look at them for any other purpose than in order to find in them some excuse for existing abuses.
In every venerable precedent, they pass by catholics from the crown, because they thought
No person can answer in the negative, unless he refuses credit, not merely to all the accusations brought against Charles by his To the blessings' which England has de- opponents, but to the narratives of the warmest rived from the Revolution these people are royalists, and to the confessions of the king utterly insensible. The expulsion of a tyrant, himself. If there be any historian of any party the solemn recognition of popular rights, who has related the events of that reign, the liberty, security, toleration, all go for nothing conduct of Charles, from his accession to the with them. One sect there was, which, from meeting of the Long Parliament, had been a unfortunate temporary causes, it was thought continued course of oppression and treachery. necessary to keep under close restraint. One Let those who applaud the Revolution and conpart of the empire there was so unhappily cir-demn the rebellion, mention one act of James cumstanced, that at that time its misery was II., to which a parallel is not to be found in the necessary to our happiness, and its slavery to history of his father. Let them lay their finour freedom! These are the parts of the Re- gers on a single article in the Declaration of volution which the politicians of whom we Right, presented by the two Houses to William speak love to contemplate, and which seem to and Mary, which Charles is not acknowledged them, not indeed to vindicate, but in some de- to have violated. He had, according to the gree to palliate the good which it has produced. testimony of his own friends, usurped the Talk to them of Naples, of Spain, or of South functions of the legislature, raised taxes without America. They stand forth, zealots for the the consent of parliament, and quartered doctrine of Divine Right, which has now come troops on the people in the most illegal and back to us, like a thief from transportation, vexatious manner. Not a single session of under the alias of Legitimacy. But mention parliament had passed without some unconstithe miseries of Ireland! Then William is a tional attack on the freedom of debate. The hero. Then Somers and Shrewsbury are great right of petition was grossly violated. Arbimen. Then the Revolution is a glorious era! trary judgments, exorbitant fines, and unwarThe very same persons, who, in this country, ranted imprisonments, were grievances of daily never omit an opportunity of reviving every and hourly occurrence. If these things do not wretched Jacobite slander respecting the whigs justify resistance, the Revolution was treason; of that period, have no sooner crossed St. if they do, the Great Rebellion was laudable. George's channel, than they begin to fill their bumpers to the glorious and immortal memory.sures? Why, after the king had consented to They may truly boast that they look not at men so many reforms, and renounced so many opbut measures. So that evil be done, they care pressive prerogatives, did the parliament connot who does it-the arbitrary Charles or the tinue to rise in their demands, at the risk of liberal William, Ferdinand the catholic or provoking a civil war? The ship-money had Frederick the protestant! On such occasions been given up. The star-chamber had been their deadliest opponents may reckon upon abolished. Provision had been made for the their candid construction. The bold assertions frequent convocation and secure deliberation of these people have of late impressed a large of parliaments. Why not pursue an end conportion of the public with an opinion that fessedly good, by peaceable and regular means? James II. was expelled simply because he was We recur again to the analogy of the Revolua catholic, and that the Revolution was essen- tion. Why was James driven from the throne! tially a protestant revolution. Why was he not retained upon conditions? But this certainly was not the case. Nor He too had offered to call a free parliament, can any person, who has acquired more know- and to submit to its decision all the matters in ledge of the history of those times than is to be dispute. Yet we praise our forefathers, who found in Goldsmith's Abridgment, believe that, preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, if James had held his own religious opinions a dynasty of strangers, twenty years of foreign without wishing to make proselytes; or if, and intestine war, a standing army, and a nawishing even to make proselytes, he had con- tional debt, to the rule, however restricted, of a tented himself with exerting only his constitu- tried and proved tyrant. The Long Parlia tional influence for that purpose, the Prince ofment acted on the same principle, and is entiOrange would ever have been invited over. tled to the same praise. They could not trust Our ancestors, we suppose, knew their own the king. He had no doubt passed salutary laws. meaning. And, if we may believe them, their But what assurance had they that he would hostility was primarily not to popery, but to not break them? He had renounced opprestyranny. They did not drive out a tyrant be- sive prerogatives. But where was the security cause he was a catholic; but they excluded that he would not resume them? They had to
But, it is said, why not adopt milder mea
"Their labours must be to pervert that end,
deal with a man whom no tie could bind, a man who made and broke promises with equal facility, a man whose honour had been a hundred Limes pawned-and never redeemed.
Here, indeed, the Long Parliament stands on still stronger ground than the Convention of 1688. No action of James can be compared for wickedness and impudence to the conduct of Charles with respect to the Petition of Right. The lords and commons present him with a bill in which the constitutional limits of his power are marked out. He hesitates; he evades; at last he bargains to give his assent, for five subsidies. The bill receives his solemn assent. The subsidies are voted. But no sooner is the tyrant relieved, than he returns at once to all the arbitrary measures which he had bound himself to abandon, and violates all the clauses of the very act which he had been paid to pass.
We cannot refrain from adding a few words For more than ten years, the people had respecting a topic on which the defenders of seen the rights, which were theirs by a double Charles are fond of dwelling. If, they say, he claim, by immemorial inheritance and by re- governed his people ill, he at least governed cent purchase, infringed by the perfidious king them after the example of his predecessors. If who had recognised them. At length circum- he violated their privileges, it was because those stances compelled Charles to summon another privileges had not been accurately defined. No parliament; another chance was given them act of oppression has ever been imputed to for liberty. Were they to throw it away as him which has not a parallel in the annals of they had thrown away the former? Were the Tudors. This point Hume has laboured they again to be cozened by le Roi le veut? with an art which is as discreditable in an hisWere they again to advance their money on torical work as it would be admirable in a pledges, which had been forfeited over and forensic address. The answer is short, clear, over again? Were they to lay a second Peti- and decisive. Charles had assented to the tion of Right at the foot of the throne, to grant Petition of Right. He had renounced the opanother lavish aid in exchange for another un-pressive powers said to have been exercised meaning ceremony, and then take their de- by his predecessors, and he had renounced parture, till, after ten years' more of fraud and them for money. He was not entitled to set oppression, their prince should again require up his antiquated claims against his own rea supply, and again repay it with a perjury? cent release. They were compelled to choose whether they would trust a tyrant or conquer him. We think that they chose wisely and nobly.
The advocates of Charles, like the advocates of other malefactors against whom overwhelming evidence is produced, generally decline all controversy about the facts, and content them-] selves with calling testimony to character. He had so many private virtues! And had James II. no private virtues? Was even Oliver Cromwell, his bitterest enemies themselves being judges, destitute of private virtues? And what, after all, are the virtues ascribed to Charles? A religious zeal, not more sincere than that of his son, and fully as weak and narrow-minded, and a few of the ordinary household decencies, which half the tombstones in England claim for those who lie beneath them. A good father! A good husband! --Ample apologies indeed for fifteen years of persecution, tyranny, and falsehood.
We charge him with having broken his ronation oath—and we are told that he kept his marriage-vow! We accuse him of having given up his people to the merciless inflictions of the inost hot-headed and hard-hearted of prelates-and the defence is, that he took his little son on his knee and kissed him! We censure him for having violated the articles of the Petition of Right, after having, for good and valuable consideration, promised to observe them—and we are informed that he was
accustomed to hear prayers at six o'clock in
For ourselves, we own that we do not understand the common phrase—a good man, but a bad king. We can as easily conceive a good man and an unnatural father, or a good man and a treacherous friend. We cannot, in estimating the character of an individual, leave out of our consideration his conduct in the most important of all human relations. And if in that relation we find him to have been selfish, cruel, and deceitful, we shall take the liberty to call him a bad man, in spite of all his temperance at table, and all his regularity at chapel.
These arguments are so obvious that it may seem superfluous to dwell upon them. But those who have observed how much the events of that time are misrepresented and misunderstood, will not blame us for stating the case simply. It is a case of which the simplest statement is the strongest.
The enemies of the parliament, indeed, rarely choose to take issue on the great points of the question. They content themselves with exposing some of the crimes and follies which public commotions necessarily ga birth. They bewail the unmerited fate Strafford. They execrate the lawless violence of the army. They laugh at the scriptural names of the preachers. Major-generals fleec ing their districts; soldiers revelling on the spoils of a ruined peasantry; upstarts, enriched by the public plunder, taking possession of the hospitable firesides and hereditary trees of the old gentry; boys smashing the beautiful co-windows of cathedrals; Quakers riding naked through the market-place; Fifth-monarchymen shouting for King Jesus; agitators lecturing from the tops of tubs on the fate of Agag;-all these, they tell us, were the offspring of the Great Rebellion.
Be it so. We are not careful to answer in this matter. These charges, were they infinitely more important, would not alter our opinion of an event, which alone has made us to differ from the slaves who crouch beneath the scep