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his power to produce some work of immortality. Accordingly, after having repeatedly removed from place to place, he finally settled in a house in Artillery-walk, leading to Burnhill fields, where he passed the remainder of his eventful life.
In 1665, Milton finished Paradise Lost, and having placed it into the hands of Mr. Ellwood, a quaker gentleman, who was in the habit of visiting him, in order to obtain his opinion of the work, the latter, when he returned it, kindly said, "Thou hast said much of 'Paradise Lost,' what hast thou to say of Paradise Found?" This hint led to the composition of Paradise Regained, which was soon after followed by Sampson Agonistes, the last of his poetic performances.
Milton died in the month of November, 1674, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, and was buried, at his own request, by the side of his father. A monument was afterward erected for him in Westminster Abbey.
Milton is represented to have been symmetrically beautiful, so that while at the university, he was called 'the lady of Cambridge.' His picture of Adam, some have therefore supposed, was drawn from himself.
In contemplating the genius of Milton, one of the first thoughts that occurs to the mind, is the remarkable circumstances under which it was matured. The stormy and turbulent times in which he lived, while they would have oppressed ordinary powers, were such as only contributed to give additional energy to an order of mind like his own. Indeed it is evident that such times are more favorable to poetry, than those which are more quiet and peaceful. The muse catches fire and inspiration from the storm, and genius rides upon the whirlwind, while, perhaps, it would only slumber during the calm. Chaucer wrote amid the irritation and fury excited by the progress of the Reformation-Spenser and Shakspeare, while the nation was contending for its very existence against the power of Spain; and it was during the political and religious frenzy of the Revolution,' that Milton stored his mind with those sublime imaginings which afterwards expanded into that vast masterpiece of human genius- Paradise Lost.'
There can, indeed, be but little doubt, that when this illustrious poet, a man so accomplished both in mind and manners, joined the Parliamentary party, he made many sacrifices of both taste and feeling, for what he considered the cause of civil and religious liberty.
We have already noticed the circumstances under which ‘L'Allegro,' 'I Penseroso,' 'Comus,' and 'Lycidas' were written, and have also mentioned their peculiar character, and the height to which they would have raised the poet's celebrity, had he written nothing else. We have also alluded to the manner in which his mind was occupied during the time he served as Latin Secretary to the council of state; and perhaps the very intensity with which his mind dwelt upon the one great object that he was then contemplating, may account for that apparent want of variety and versatility with which some critics have been inclined to charge him; but while in these partic
ulars, some other poets may have surpassed him, in intensity of style and thought, in unity of purpose, and in the power and grandeur with which he piles up the single monument of genius, to which his mind is, for the time, devoted, he has been by no other poet, even approached. His harp may, indeed, have but one string, but that is such an one as none but his own fingers know how to touch.
'Paradise Lost' has few inequalities, and fewer blemishes-it seems like a work not taken up and continued at intervals, but one continuous effort, lasting perhaps for years, but never remitted, elaborated with the highest degree of polish, yet with all the marks of ease and simplicity in its composition, conceivable.
To begin with the least of Milton's merits-what author ever knew how to
Untwist all the links that tie
The hidden soul of harmony,
as he did? Whence came this knowledge? Upon what rules or system did he proceed in building up his magnificent stanza?-and what has become of the discovery which he made?—for it has evidently not been preserved by any of his successors.
There is comparatively no blank verse in the language worthy of the name-real verse, not measured prose, but the legitimate medium for the expression of the thoughts and feelings of poetry, beyond the volumes of Milton.
With all his varied excellencies, however, the peculiar and distinguishing feature of his poetry, is its sublimity. The sublime is reached by other poets, when they excel themselves, and hover amid unusual brightness, but it is Milton's native reign:—when he descends, he descends to meet the greatness of others; when he soars, it is to reach heights unattainable by any but himself. The first two books of Paradise Lost, are one continuous effort of unmitigated sublimity-no spot-no blemish-no inequality-no falling off from beginning to end; and then how wonderfully fine is the contrast when the third book opens with that inimitable pathetic address to Light, in which the poet alludes, with a pardonable egotism to the calamity, under which he himself is suffering
Hail, holy light! offspring of Heaven first-born,
Or of the Eternal, co-eternal beam,
May I express thee unblamed! since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from Eternity, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
But because Milton is universally admitted to excel in sublimity, therefore some critics have chosen to deny him pathos. This, however, we feel bound to regard as that cant of criticism which will insist that the faults of every writer must balance his excellencies, and which delights in nothing but antithesis. Thus Shakspeare, we are gravely told, is a great but an
genius, Jonson is a powerful but rough and coarse writer-and Milton is a sublime, but not a pathetic poet; whereas the plain truth, obvious to all who take the time to examine, is, that Shakspeare is not an irregular genius, that Jonson is not a rough or coarse writer, that Milton is a pathetic poet, and a writer of powerful, and even tremendous pathos.
To sustain this last assertion, we need only direct our attention to Adam's lament after the fall-to Eve's farewell to Paradise, or to Satan, when about to address his adherents, and endeavoring to assume the tone and aspect of a God, bursting involuntarily into tears—
'Tears such as angels weep,'
as the remembrance of the height from which he has fallen, forces itself upon his memory, and compels this evidence of his weakness.
Milton's descriptive powers, also, are of the highest order. paints landscape or history, the pencil of a master is equally exhibited. The burning lake the bowers of Paradise-angels and demons-humanity and Deity, are portrayed with unerring fidelity and truth. We need but to instance his description of Death, to justify this remark.
The other shape
If shape it might be called, that shape had none,
Or substance might be called, that shadow seemed,
Fierce as ten furies, terrible as Hell;
And shook a deadly dart. What seemed his head
Indeed such is the genius of Milton, that we can scarcely find a fitting comparison for it. When he sets the Deity in arms, when he marshals myriads of indignant spirits in battle array against Omnipotence; when he paints the bliss of Heaven, and the horrors of Hell, he reminds us of the power and sublimity of Michael Angelo. When he shows us our first parents, sinless, artless, and endowed with God-like beauty
Adam the goodliest man of men since born,
he exhibits all the grace and beauty of Raphael. When he paints the happy fields of Paradise, where nature played at will, her virgin fancies, he seems to have caught the pencil of Claude Lorraine; and when we listen to the solemn and majestic flow of his verse, and the ear dwells upon the rich harmony of his periods, we are reminded of another art, and feel that neither Mozart nor Handel could produce music so soul-stirring as that of Milton. But we must here forbear; for this wondrous genius is like Niagara's mighty cataract—the more we contemplate it, the more overwhelming the contemplation becomes.
To select suitable illustrations, therefore, from the writings of such a poet,
is an exceedingly difficult task; for where every thing is of the first order of excellence, it is almost impossible to say which shall be preferred. We would for this reason recommend to all who may hear or read these remarks, not to rest satisfied with the scanty specimens which our limited space will here allow us to introduce, but for their own satisfaction and instruction, to have immediate recourse to the entire poems themselves.
The following beautiful extract is from the Hymn on the Nativity---8 poem which we have not hitherto noticed:--
HYMN ON THE NATIVITY.
It was the winter wild,
While the heaven-born child
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Had doff'd her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour.
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air,
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow;
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly vail of maiden white to throw;
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.
But he, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-ey'd Peace;
She, crown'd with olive green, came softly sliding
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
No war or battle sound,
Was heard the world around:
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
Unstain'd with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
And kings sat still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sov'reign lord was by.
But peaceful was the night,
Wherein the Prince of Light
His reign of peace on earth began:
The winds, with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kiss'd,
Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
The stars, with deep amaze,
Stand fix'd in steadfast gaze,
Bending one way their precious influence; And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer that often warn'd them thence;
But in their glimmering orbs did glow,
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
And the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The sun himself withheld his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame.
As his inferior flame
The new-enlightened world no more should need; He saw a greater sun appear
Than his bright throne, or burning axletree could bear.
The shepherds on the lawn
Or ere the point of dawn,
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row;
Full little thought they then
That the mighty Pan
Was kindly come to live with them below;
Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep.
When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet,
As never was by mortal finger strook,
Answering the stringed noise,
As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air, such pleasure loath to lose,
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close.
Nature that heard such sound,
Beneath the hollow round
Of Cynthia's seat, the airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won,
To think her part was done,
And that her reign had here its last fulfilling;
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all Heaven and Earth in happier union.
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
That with long beams the shamefac'd night array'd; The helm'd cherubim
And sworded seraphim,
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings display'd, Harping in loud and solemn choir,
With unexpressive notes, to Heaven's new-born heir.
Such music, as 'tis said,
Before was never made,
But when of old the sons of morning sung,'