« PreviousContinue »
molishe: 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. 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 imaginations. This is the real explanation of the indistinctness and inconsistency with which he has often been reproached. Dr. Johnson acknowledges, that it was absolutely necessary for him to clothe his spirits with material forms. “But,” says he, “he should have secured the consistency of his system, by keeping immateriality out of sight, and seducing the reader to drop it from his thoughts.” This is easily said; but what if he could not seduce the reader to drop it from his thoughts? What if the contrary opinion had taken so full a posses on of the minds of men, as to leave no room even for the quasi-belief which poetry requires? Such we suspect to have been the case. It was impossible for the poet to adopt altogether the material or the immaterial system. He therefore took his stand on the debatable ground. He left the whole in ambiguity. He has doubtless by so doing laid himself open to the charge of inconsistency. But, though philosophically in the wrong, we cannot but believe that he was poetically in the right. This task, which almost any other writer would have found impracticable, was easy to him. The peculiar art which he possessed of communicating his meaning circuitously, through a long succession of associated ideas, and of intimating more than he expressed, enabled him to disguise those incongruities which he could not avoid. Poetry, which relates to the beings of another wcrld, ought to be at once mysterious and icturesque. That of Milton is so. That of ante 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 utmidst accuracy of description necessary. Still it is a fault. His supernatural agents excite
an interest; but it is not the interest which is
proper to supernatural agents. We feel that we could talk with his ghosts and demons, without any emotions of unearthly awe. We could, like Don Juan, ask them to supper, and eat heartily in their company His angels are good men with wings. His devils are spiteful, ugly executioners. His dead men are merely living men in strange situations. The scene which passes between the poet and Facinata is justly celebrated. Still, Facinata in the burning tomb is exactly what Facinala would have been at an auto da fé. Nothing can be more touching than the first interview of Dante and Beatrice. Yet what is it, but a lovely woman chiding, with sweet austere composure, the lover for whese affections she is grateful, but whose vices she reprobates? The feelings which give the passage its charm would suit the streets of Florence, as well as the summit of the Mount of Purgatory. The Spirits of Milton are unlike those of almost all other writers. His fiends, in particular, are wonderful creations. They are not metaphysical abstractions. They are not wicked men. They are not ugly beasts. They have no horns, no tails, none of the fee-fawfum of Tasso and Klopstock. They have just enough in common with human nature to be intelligible to human beings. Their characters are, like their forms, marked by a certain dim resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated to gigantic dimensions and veiled in mysterious gloom. Perhaps the gods and demons of Æschylus may best bear a comparison with the angels and devils of Milton. The style of the Athenian had, as we have remarked, something of the vagueness and tenor of the Oriental character; and the same peculiarity may be traced in his mythology. It has nothing of the amenity and elegance which we generally find in the superstitions of Greece. All is rugged, barbaric, and colossal. His legends seem to harmonize less with the fragrant groves and graceful porticos, in which his countrymen paid their vows to the God of Light and Goddess of Desire, than with those huge and grotesque labyrinths of eternal granite, in which Egypt enshrined her mystic Osiris, or in which Hindostan still bows down to her seven-headed idols. His favourite gods are those of the elder generations,—the sons of heaven and earth, compared with whom Jupiter himself was a stripling and an upstart, the gigantic Titans and the inexorable Furies. Foremost among his creations of this class stands Prometheus, half siend, half redeemer, the friend 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 A. patience 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 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 energies, requiring no support from any thing extermal, nor even from hope itself! 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 exsing the nakedness and sores of their minds. et it would be difficult to name two writers whose works have been more completely, though undesignedly, coloured by their personal feelings. The character of Milton was peculiarly distinguished by lostiness 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 3an 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 contemptuous 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 iover; 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 |liant enamel of Petrarch in the swle
o 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! Wenal 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 herd—which could be compared to nothing so fitly as to the rabble of Comus, grotesque monsters, 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 despondency 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 disturu 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! 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 quiet 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 under. valued 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 ". They eye as his diary would have been.
are simple but majestic records of the feelings is good; but it breaks off at the most interestof the poet; as little tricked out for the public ing_crisis of the struggle. The performance
A victory, of Ludlow is very foolish and violent; and
an expected attack upon the city, a momentary most of the later writers who have espoused fit of depression or exultation, a jest thrown the same cause, Oldmixon, for instance, and out against one of his books, a dream, which Catherine Macaulay, have, to say the least.
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 he most memorable eras in the history of man-Ind; at the very crisis of the great conflict •etween Oromasdes and Arimanes—liberty •nd despotism, reason and prejudice. That treat 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 prociaimed 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! 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 boen more discussed, and is less understood, than any event in English history. The Roundheads laboured under the disadvantage of which the lion in the fable complained so 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 eneunirs. The best book, on their side of the question, is the charming memoir of Mrs. IIuchinson. May's History of the Parliament
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 resistance 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 creasure, 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, however, we waive. We will concede that Charles was a good protestant; but we say that his protestantism does not make the slightest distinction between his case and that of James. 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 abuset. In every venerable precedent, they pass by what is essential, and take only what is accidental : they keep out of sight what is beneficial, and hold up to public imitation all that is defective. If, in any part of any great example, there be anything unsound, these flesh-flies detect it with an unerring instinct, and dart upon it with a ravenous delight. They cannot always prevent the advocates of a good measure from compassing their end; but they feel, with their prototype, that
*Their labours must be to pervert that end, And out of good still to find means of evil.”
To the blessings which England has derived from the Revolution these people are utterly insensible. The expulsion of a tyrant, the solemn recognition of popular rights, liberty, security, toleration, all go for nothing with them. One sect there was, which, from unfortunate temporary causes, it was thought necessary to keep under close restraint. One part of the empire there was so unhappily circumstanced, that at that time its misery was necessary to our happiness, and its slavery to our freedom! These are the parts of the Revolution which the politicians of whom we speak love to contemplate, and which seem to them, not indeed to vindicate, but in some degree to palliate the good which it has produced. Talk to them of Naples, of Spain, or of South America. They stand forth, zealots for the doctrine of Divine Right, which has now come back to us, like a. thief from transportation, under the alias of Legitimacy. But mention the miseries of Ireland! Then William is a hero. Then Somérs and Shrewsbury are great men. Then the Revolution is a glorious era! The very same persons, who, in this country, never omit an opportunity of reviving every wretched Jacobite slander respecting the whigs of that period, have no sooner crossed St. George's channel, than they begin to fill their bumpers to the glorious and immortal memory. They may truly boast that they look not at men but measures. So that evil be done, they care not who does it—the arbitrary Charles or the liberal William, Ferdinand the catholic or Frederick the protestant! On such occasions their deadliest opponents may reckon upon their candid construction. The bold assertions of these people have of late impressed a large portion of the public with an opinion that James II, was expelled simply because he was a catholic, and that the Revolution was essentially a protestant revolution. But this certainly was not the case. Nor can any person, who has acquired more knowledge of the history of those times than is to be found in Goldsmith's Abridgment, believe that, if James had held his own religious opinions without wishing to make proselytes; or if, wishing even to make proselytes, he had conented himself with exerting only his cons--ational influence for that purpose, the Prince of Orange would ever have been invited over. Our ancestors, we suppose, knew their own meaning. And, if we may believe them, their hestility was primarily not to popery, but to tyranny. They did not drive out a tyrant because he was a catholic; but they excluded
catholics from the crown, because they thought them likely to be tyrants. The ground on which they, in their famous resolution, declared the throne vacant, was this, “that James had broken the fundamental laws of the kingdom.” Every man, therefore, who approves of the Revolution of 1688, must hold that the breach of fundamental laws on the part of the sovereign justifies resistance. The question then is this: Had Charles I. broken the fundamental laws of England 1 No person can answer in the negative, unless he refuses credit, not merely to all the accusations brought against Charles by his opponents, but to the narratives of the warmest royalists, and to the confessions of the king himself. If there be any historian of any party who has related the events of that reign, the conduct of Charles, from his accession to the meeting of the Long Parliament, had been a continued course of oppression and treachery. Let those who applaud the Revolution and condemn the rebellion, mention one act of James II., to which a parallel is not to be found in the history of his father. Let them lay their fingers on a single article in the Declaration of Right, presented by the two Houses to William and Mary, which Charles is not acknowledged to have violated. He had, according to the testimony of his own friends, usurped the functions of the legislature, raised taxes without the consent of parliament, and quartered troops on the people in the most illegal and vexatious manner. Not a single session of parliament had passed without some unconstitional attack on the freedom of debate. The right of petition was grossly violated. Arbitrary judgments, exorbitant fines, and unwarranted imprisonments, were grievances of daily and hourly occurrence. If these things do not justify resistance, the Revolution was treason; if they do, the Great Rebellion was laudable. But, it is said, why not adopt milder mea sures? Why, after the king had consented to so many reforms, and renounced so many oppressive prerogatives, did the parliament continue to rise in their demands, at the risk of provoking a civil war? The ship-money had been given up. The star-chamber had been abolished. Provision had been made for the frequent convocation and secure deliberation. of parliaments. Why not pursue an end confessedly good, by peaceable and regular means? We recur again to the analogy of the Revolution. Why was James driven from the throne Why was he not retained upon conditions He too had offered to call a free parliament, and to submit to its decision all the matters in dispute. Yet we praise our forefathers, who preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, a dynasty of strangers, twenty years of foreign and intestine war, a standing army, and a national debt, to the rule, however restricted, of a tried and proved tyrant. The Long Parliament acted on the same principle, and is enti. tled to the same praise. They could not trust the king. He had no doubt passed salutary laws. But what assurance had they that he woul." not break them? He had renounced oppres sive prerogatives. But where was the secoy that he would not resume them? Thev * * deal with a man whom no tie could bond, a man who made and broke promises with equal facisity, a man whose honour had been a hundred times 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. Put 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. For more than ten years, the people had seen the rights, which were theirs by a double claim, by immemorial inheritance and by recent purchase, infringed by the perfidious king who had recognised them. At length circumstances compelled Charles to summon another parliament; another chance was given them for liberty. Were they to throw it away as they had thrown away the former? Were they again to be cozened by le Roi le reutz Were they again to advance their money on pledges, which had been forfeited over and over again?, Were they to lay a second Petition of Right at the foot of the throne, to grant another lavish aid in exchange for another unmeaning ceremony, and then take their departure, till, after ten years' more of fraud and oppression, their prince should again require a supply, and again repay it with a perjury? 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 themselves 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 1 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 fisteen years of persecution., tyranny, and falsehood. We charge him with having broken his coromation oath—and we are told that he kept his marriage-vow! We accuse him of having given up nis people to the merciless inflictions of the most 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 the morning! It is to such considerations as these, together with his Vandyke dress, his handsome face, and his peaked beard, that he owes, we verily believe, most of his popularity with the present generation. 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. We cannot refrain from adding a few words respecting a topic on which the defenders of Charles are fond of dwelling. If, they say, he governed his people ill, he at least governed them after the example of his predecessors. If he violated their privileges, it was because those privileges had not been accurately defined. No act of oppression has ever been imputed to him which has not a parallel in the annals of the Tudors. This point Hume has laboured with an art which is as discreditable in an historical work as it would be admirable in a forensic address. The answer is short, clear, and decisive. Charles had assented to the Petition of Right. He had renounced the oppressive powers said to have been exercised by his predecessors, and he had renounced them for money. He was not entitled to set up his antiquated claims against his own recent release. 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 stauing 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 of which public commotions necessarily gave birth. They bewail the unmerited fate of Strafford. They execrate the lawless violence of the army. They laugh at the scriptural names of the preachers. Major-generals sleec. 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 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 off. spring 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 seep.