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eminent degree, the opposite qualities of tenderness
He who, with the power of heroic song, could stir the soul, as with the sound of a trumpet, knew also the “tender stops” of the pastoral flute; and the same hand that armed the rebellious legions, and built up the radiant domes of Pandemonium, mingled also the cup of enchantment in Comus, and strewed the flowers on the hearse of Lycidas.
But to Milton, far higher praise is due than mere genius, however mighty, can demand. He has brought the Muse to the aid of piety, and confuted, in every line of his noble epics, the assertion of Gibbon, that his powers were “ cramped by the system of our Religion, and never appeared to so great advantage as when he shook it a little off.” We may well glory, that
Piety has found
The Task. We can recall with delight, that “child-like Sage*,” who baptized philosophy in the Fountains of Peace, and that Judget, who waited in humble hope for the summons to a higher tribunal, and that illustrious Bard
Whose genius had angelic wings,
BLACKMORE AND NAT. LEE.
It may be assumed, as a critical axiom, that no man who, during his life-time has obtained a very large share of applause, is deserving of total oblivion. This is emphatically true of Cowley, of Herbert, of Crashaw, and even of Blackmore, who though, in general, writing quite bad enough for a physician, has, in one or two places, in defiance, 'as it were, of his nature, risen into true poetry. You will see my meaning in the description of Satan's journey :
From afar I did with wondrous joy descry at last Some streaks of light which darted on the waste, Pale beams that on the face of chaos lay; Mounting this way, I reached the lightsome sky, And saw the beauteous world before me lie. The fresh creation looked all charming, mild, And all the flowery face of Nature smiled. What odours, such as heavenly zephyrs blow, From the sweet mouth of the infant world did flow!
So again, we perceive a very uncommon ingenuity and beauty in the application of the legendary invasion of heaven by the giants, to the fervent and unceasing prayers of penitence, which are called,
The only giants that assail
How charming is this metaphor of the unhappy Lee; a name not to be mentioned without calling the tears to our eyes,
Speech is morning to the mind;
Duke of Guise.
MILTON AND DR. BAINBRIDGE.
It seems to me that a very probable explanation of Milton's disagreement with the master of his college, is contained in the following passage from the
Apology for Smectymnus. It alludes, you perceive, to some of those academic performances which were not at that time thought unbecoming the gravity of a university. “There, while they acted and overacted, among other scholars I was a spectator; they thought themselves gallant men, and I thought them fools; they made sport, and I laughed; they mispronounced, and I misliked ; and to make up the Atticism, they were out, and I hissed.” It is not the least singular circumstance connected with this passage, (which has not, I think, been quoted by any of the poet's biographers,) that it is almost a translation from Demosthenes' celebrated oration, De Corona.
HENRY SMYTH, THE SILVER-TONGUED PREACHER.
If the critical canon be adopted which defines eloquence to consist in a continuous flow of clear and beautiful thoughts, in harmonious and carefully arranged language, the divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, would, perhaps, be deemed inferior to their successors. They very rarely present us with a perfect whole. Their compositions are marked by the liveliest expression, but are often destitute of symmetry. Their power comes out in vivid bursts of sublimity, in flashes of indignant satire, in exhortations of overpowering enthusiasm.
You will observe, also, a dramatic spirit and liveliness of painting. Their sermons abound in, what we may call, effective situations. For examples of all these qualities, I would send you to the works of a writer who flourished in the Elizabethan reign; and who, for his eloquence, obtained the appellation of the silvertongued preacher. Two or three passages occur to me, which seem to be worthy of the highest reputation. The first is taken from a sermon, bearing the singular title of The Trumpet of the Soul sounding to Judgment; and refers to the few brief years in which wickedness is permitted to triumph—“When INIQUITY hath played her part,
VENGEANCE leaps upon the stage.
The black guard shall attend upon you, you shall eat at the table of Sorrow, and the crown of Death shall be upon your heads, and many glittering faces shall be looking upon you.” He has here dashed out with a few strokes of his pen, a picture of almost Miltonic grandeur. The next is of a different character :-“When God seeth an hypocrite, he will pull his vizard from his face, as Adam was stript of his fig-leaves, and show the anatomy of his heart, as though his life were written in his forehead.” Who has expressed the weakness of the flesh in stronger terms than these :-“ The kingdome of heaven is caught by violence; so soon as we rise in the morning, we go forth to fight with two mighty giants, the World and the Devil, and whom do we take with us but a traitor*?"
It has been well said, that if Plato had attempted to enforce the laws of his proposed republic, he must have begun by banishing himself. Deeply was his mind imbued with the elements of the truest poetry; and no one delighted more in the
* See Smyth's Sermons, 1593.