Imágenes de páginas


peculiarly distinguished by richness and sublimity of descrip

in framing a second, he would naturally wish to vary its effect; to make it rich in moral sentiment, and sublime in its mode of unfolding the highest wisdom that man can learn ; for this purpose it was neceffary to keep all the ornamental parts of the poem in due fubordination to the

preceptive. This delicate and difficult point is accomplished with such felicity, they are blended together with such exquisite harmony and mutual aid, that instead of arraigning the plan, we might rather doubt if any possible change could improve it; assuredly, there is no poem of epic form, where the sublimest moral instruction is so forcibly and abundantly united to poetical delight: the splendour of the poet does not blaze, indeed, so intensely as in his larger production ; here he resembles the Apollo of Ovid, softening his glory in fpeaking to his fon, and avoiding to dazzle the fancy, that he may descend into the heart. His dignity is not impaired by his tenderness. The Paradise Regained is a poem, that deserves to be particularly recommended to ardent and ingenuous youth, as it is admirably calculated to inspire that spirit of self-command, which is; as Milton esteemed it, the truest heroism, and the triumph of christianity.

It is not my intention to enter into a critical analysis of the beauties and the blemishes that are visible in the poetry of Milton, not only because Addison and Johnson have both written admirably on his greatest work, but because my most excellent friend, the poet (whose fpirit I efteem molt congenial to that of Milton) is engaged in such illuftration of his honoured predecessor ; I shall therefore con

fine myself to a single essay, detached from this narrative, under the title of “ Conjectures on the Origin of the Para-, dise Lost.”

I must not, however, omit to speak here, as I have engaged to do, of the character bestowed by Johnson on the principal performance of the poet;' the greatest part of that character is, perhaps, the most fplendid tribute that was ever paid by one powerful mind to another. , Aristotle, Longinus, and Quintilian, have not spoken of their favourite Homer with more magnificence of praise; yet the character, taken altogether, is a golden image, that has lower parts of iron and of clay. The critic seems to prepare a diadem of the richest jewels; he places them, most liberally, on the head of the poet; but in the moment of adjusting his radiant gift, he breathes upon it such a vapour of spleen, as almost annihilates its lustre.

After displaying, in the noblest manner, many of the peculiar excellencies in the poem, he says, “its, perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure; we read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburthened, and look elsewhere for recreation ; we desert our master, and seek for companions,”

Injurious as these remarks are to the poet, let us ascribe them, not to the virulence of intended detraction, but to the want of poetical sensibility in the critic; a want that may be sufficiently proved, by comparing this account of the effect produced by Paradise Lost on his own feelings with its effect on a spirit truly poetical. That enchanting poem, The Task, very happily furnishes such an illustration ; it is


[ocr errors]

thus that a mind attuned by nature to poetry describes the effect-in question, as produced even in childhood.

Then Milton had indeed a poet's charms
New to my taste; his Paradise surpassed
The strugg'ling efforts of my boyish tongue
To speak its excellence : I danc'd for joy."

But the little delight that Johnson confesses himself to have taken in the poetry of Milton was rather his misfortune than his fault; it merits pity more than reproach, as it partly arose from constitutional infelicity, and the very wide difference between the native turn of his mind and that of the poet : never were two spirits less. congenial, or two christian scholars, who differed more completely in their sentiments of poetry, politics, and religion." In temperament, as well as in opinions, they were the reverse. of each other; the one was fanguine to excess, the other melancholy in the extreme. Milton

Might fit in the centre and enjoy bright day;'

but Johnson,

Benighted walk'd under the mid-day fun; “ Himself was his own dungeon.”

Such was the great contrast between these two extraordinary men, that although they were both equally fincere in their attachment to christianity, and both distinguished by



noble intellectual exertions in the fervice of mankind, the critic was naturally disqualified from being a fair and a perfect judge of the poet. My regard for a departed and meritorious writer (of great powers, but constitutionally unhappy) is such, that I would rather ascribe to any cause, than to mere envious malignity, his outrages against the poetical glory of Milton, which, from the force and celebrity of the very admirable but too austere work that contains them, it becomes the duty of a more recent biographer to expose.

For example, when Johnson says that Milton “ no language, but formed a Babylonish dialect, harsh and barbarous," though it would be difficult to pronounce a critical censure more bitter or more injurious, we may impute it, not to a malevolent desire of depreciating the poet, but to a natural want of ear for that harmony, which the critic condemns as discord. On this article, the most harmonious of our bards has been very happily vindicated by men of science and taste. Dr. Foster and Lord Monboddo have shewn Milton to be one of the most consummate artificers of language, that ever gave either energy of grace to words; and Mr. Loft, in the preface to his recent edition of Paradise Lost, describes the majestic flow of his numbers with such truth and eloquence, as render ample justice to the insulted dignity of the poet.

The insult, grofs as it may be thought, loses much of its force when we recollect the inconsistency of the critic, who, though in his latter work he condemns the language of Milton as harsh and barbarous, had before observed, with

[ocr errors]


more truth, in the Rambler, that the poet « excelled as much in the lower as in the higher parts of his art, and that his skill in harmony was not less than his invention or his learning ;” but the praise as well as the censure of Johnson, on this article, could not be the result of perfect perception, for the monotony of his own blank verse, and some of his remarks in the Rambler on particular lines of Milton, are striking proofs, that although he was a melodious writer himself in the common measures of rhyme, and in dignified prose, yet he never entered with perfect intelligence and feeling into the musical graces of Miltonic composition ; he was, indeed, as far from enjoying the poet's ear for the varied modulations and extensive compass of metrical harmony, as he was from possessing the mild elegance of his manners, or the cheerful elevation of his mind.

There is a striking resemblance between the poetical and the moral character of Milton ; they were both the result of the finest dispositions for the attainment of excellence that nature could bestow, and of all the advantages that ardour and perseverance in ftudy and discipline could add, in a long course of years, to the beneficent prodigality of nature: even in infancy he discovered a passion for glory; in youth he was attached to temperance; and, arriving at manhood, he formed the magnanimous design of building a lofty name upon the most solid and secure foundation.

“ He

« AnteriorContinuar »