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which a painter may have conceived respecting
the lachrymal glands, or the circulation of the
blood will affect the tears of his Niobe, or the
blushes of his Aurora. If Shakspeare had
written a book on the motives of human ac-
tions, it is by no means certain that it would
have been a good one. It is extremely impro-
bable that it would have contained half so
much able reasoning on the subject as is to be
found in the “Fable of the Bees.” But could
Mandeville have created an Iago Well as he
knew how to resolve characters into their ele-
ments, would he have been able to combine
those elements in such a manner as to make
up a man—a real, living, individual man

Perhaps no man can be a poet, or can even
enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness
of mind, if any thing which gives so much
pleasure ought to be called unsoundness. By
poetry we mean, not of course all writing in
verse, nor even all good writing in verse.
Our definition excludes many metrical compo-
sitions which, on other grounds, deserve the
highest praise. By poetry we mean, the art of
employing words in such a manner as to pro-
duce an illusion on the imagination: the art of
doing by means of words what the painter does
by means of colours. Thus the greatest of
poets has described it, in lines universally ad-
mired for the vigour and felicity of their dic-
tion, and still more valuable on account of the
just notion which they convey of the art in
which he excelled.

“As inlagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”
These are the fruits of the “fine frenzy” which
he ascribes to the poet—a fine frenzy doubtless,
but still a frenzy. Truth, indeed, is essential
to poetry; but it is the truth of madness. The
reasonings are just; but the premises are false.
After the first suppositions have been made,
every thing ought to be consistent; but those
first suppositions require a degree of credulity
which almost amounts to a partial and tempo-
rary derangement of the intellect. Hence, of
all people, children are the most imaginative.
They abandon themselves without reserve to
every illusion. Every image which is strongly
presented to their mental eye produces on
them the effect of reality. No man, whatever
his sensibility may be, is ever affected by
Hamlet or Lear, as a little girl is affected by
the story of poor Red Riding-hood. She knows
that it is all false, that wolves cannot speak,
that there are no wolves in England. Yet in
spite of her knowledge she believes; she
weeps, she trembles; she dares not go into a
dark room lest she should feel the teeth of the
monster at her throat. Such is the despotism
of the imagination over uncultivated minds.

In a rude state of society, men are children

with a greater variety of ideas. It is there-
fore in such a state of society that we may
expect to find the poetical temperament in its
highest perfection. In an enlightened age
there will be much intelligence, much science,

much philosophy, abundance of just classifica-
tion and subtle analysis, abundance of wit and
eloquence, abundance of verses, and even of |

good ones—but little poetry. Men will judge
and compare; but they will not create. They
will talk about the old poets, and comment on
them, and to a certain degree enjoy them.
But they will scarcely be able to conceive the
cffect which poetry produced on their ruder
ancestors, the agony, the ecstasy, the plenitude
of belief. The Greek Rhapsodists, according to
Plato, could not recite Homer without almost
falling into convulsions.” The Mohawk hardly
feels the scalping-knife while he shouts his
death-song. The power which the ancient
bards of Wales and Germany exercised over
their auditors seems to modern readers a!most
miraculous. Such feelings are very rare in a
civilized community, and most rare among
those who participate most in its improve-
ments. They linger longest among the pea-
santry.
Poetry produces an illusion on the eye of the
mind, as a magic lantern produces an illusion
on the eye of the body. And, as the magic
lantern acts best in a dark room, poetry effects
its purpose most completely in a dark age.
As the light of knowledge breaks in upon its
exhibitions, as the outlines of certainty be-
come more and more definite, and the shades
of probability more and more distinct, the
hues and lineaments of the phantoms which it
calls up grow fainter and fainter. We cannot
unite the incompatible advantages of reality
and deception, the clear discernment of tru’ll
and the exquisite enjoyment of fiction.
He who, in an enlightened and literary
society, aspires to be a great poet, must first
become a little child. He must take to pieces
the wholc web of his mind. He must unlearn
much of that knowledge which has perhaps
constituted hitherto his chief title of supe-
riority. His very talents will be a hinderance
to him. His difficulties will be proportioned
to his proficiency in the pursuits which are
fashionable among his contemporaries; and
that proficiency will in general be proportioned
to the vigour and activity of his mind. And
it is well, if, after all his sacrifices and exer-
tions, his works do not resemble a lisping
man, or a modern ruin. We have seen in our
own time, great talents, intense labour, and
long meditation, employed in this struggle
against the spirit of the age, and employed,
we will not say, absolutely in vain, but with
dubious success and feeble applause.
If these reasonings be just, no poet has
ever triumphed over greater difficulties than
Milton. He received a learned education.
He was a profound and elegant classical
scholar: he had studied all the mysteries of
Rabbinical literature: he was intimately ac-
quainted with every language of modern Eu-
rope, from which either pleasure or information
was then to be derived. He was perhaps the
only great poet of later times who has been
distinguished by the excellence of his Latin
verse. The genius of Petrarch was scarcely
of the first order; and his poems in the ancient
language, though much praised by those who
have never read them, are wretched com
positions. Cowley, with all his admirable wit

* See the Dialogue between Socrates and so

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and ingenuity, had little imagination; nor indeed do we think his classical diction comparable to that of Milton. The authority of Johnson is against us on this point. But Johnson had studied the bad writers of the middle ages till he had become utterly insensible to the Augustan elegance, and was as ill qualified to judge between two Latin styles as an habitual drunkard to set up for a winetaster. Versification in a dead language is an exotic, a far-fetched, costly, sickly imitation of that which elsewhere may be found in healthful and spontaneous perfection. The soils on which this rarity flourishes are in general as ill suited to the production of vigorous native poetry, as the flower-pots of a hot-house to the growth of oaks. That the author of the Paradise Lost should have written the Epistle to Manso, was truly wonderful. Never before were such marked originality and such exquisite mimicry found together. Indeed, in all the Latin poems of Milton, the artificial manner indispensable to such works is admirably preserved, while, at the same time, the richness of his fancy and the elevation of his sentiments give to them a peculiar charm, an air of nobleness and freedom, which distinguishes them from all other writings of the same class. They remind us of the amusements of those angelic warriors who composed the cohort of Gabriel: “About him exercised heroic games The unarmed youth of heaven. But o'er their heads Celestial armory, shield, helm, and spear. Hung bright, oth diamond flaming and with gold.” We cannot look upon the sportive exercises for which the genius of Milton ungirds itself, without catching a glimpse of the gorgeous and terrible panoply which it is accustomed to wear. The strength of his imagination triumphed over every obstacle. So intense and ardent was the fire of his mind, that it not only was not suffocated beneath the weight of its fuel, but penetrated the whole superincumbent mass with its own heat and radiance. It is not our intention to attempt any thing like a complete examination of the poetry of Milton. The public has long been agreed as to the merit of the most remarkable passages, the incomparable harmony of the numbers, and the excellence of that style which no rival has been able to equal, and no parodist to degrade, which displays in their highest perfection the idiomatic powers of the English tongue, and to which every ancient and every

modern language has contributed something of grace, of energy, or of music. In the vast field of criticism in which we are entering, innumerable reapers have already put their sickles. Yet the harvest is so abundant that the negligent search of a straggling gleaner may be rewarded with a sheaf. The most striking characteristic of the poetry of Milton is the extreme remoteness of the associations, by means of which it acts on the reader. Its effect is produced, not so much by what it expresses, as by what it suggests, not so much by the ideas which it directly

conveys, as by other ideas which are con

nected with them. He electrifies the mind through conductors. The most unimaginative man must understand the Iliad. Homer gives him no choice, and requires from him no exertion; but takes the whole upon himself, and sets his images in so clear a light that it is impossible to be blind to them. The works of Milton cannot be comprehended or enjoyed, unless the mind of the reader co-operate with that of the writer. He does not paint a finished picture, or play for a mere passive listener. He sketches, and leaves others to fill up the outline. He strikes the key-note, and expects his hearer to make out the melody. We often hear of the magical influence of poetry. The expression in general means nothing; but, applied to the writings of Milton, it is most appropriate. His poetry acts like an incantation. Its merit lies less in its obvious meaning than in its occult power. There would seem, at first sight, to be no more in his words than in other words. But they are words of enchantment; no sooner are they pronounced than the past is present, and the distant near. New forms of beauty start at once into existence, and all the burial places of the memory give up their dead. Change the structure of the sentence, substitute one synonyme for another, and the whole effect is destroyed. The spell loses its power; and he who should then hope to conjure with it, would find himself as much mistaken as Cassim in the Arabian tale, when he stood crying, “Open Wheat,” “Open Barley,” to the door which obeyed no sound but “Open Sesame !" The miserable failure of Dryden, in his attempt to rewrite some parts of the Paradise Lost, is a remarkable instance of this. In support of these observations we may remark, that scarcely any passages in the poems of Milton are more generally known, or more frequently repeated, than those which are little more than muster rolls of names. They are not always more appropriate or more melodious than other names. But they are charmed names. Every one of them is the first link in a long chain of associated ideas. Like the dwelling-place of our infancy revisited in manhood, like the song of our country heard in a strange land, they produce upon us an effect wholly independent of their intrinsic value. One transports us back to a remote period of history. Another places us among the moral scenery and manners of a distant country. A third evokes all the dear classical recollections of childhood, the schoolroom, the dog-eared Virgil, the holiday, and the prize. A fourth brings before us the

splendid phantoms of chivalrous romance,

the trophied lists, the embroidered housings, the quaint devices, the haunted forests, the enchanted gardens, the achievements of ena: moured knights, and the smiles of rescued princesses. In none of the works of Milton is his pectliar manner more happily displayed than in the Allegro and the Penseroso. It is impossible to conceive that the mechanism of language can be brought to a more exquisite degree of perfection. These poems differ from others as ottar of roses differs from ordinary rosewater, the close packed essence from the thin diluted mixture. They are indeed not so much poems, as collections of hints, from each of which the reader is to make out a poem for himself. Every epithet is a text for a canto. The Comus and the Samson Agonistes are works, which, though of very different merit, ofer some marked points of resemblance. They are both Lyric poems in the form of Plays. There are perhaps no two kinds of composition so essentially dissimilar as the drama and the ode. The business of the dramatist is to keep himself out of sight, and to let nothing appear but his characters. As scon as he attracts notice to his personal feelings, the illusion is broken. The effect is as unpleasant as that which is produced on the stage by the voice of a prompter, or the entrance of a scene-shifter. Hence it was that the tragedies of Byron were his least successful performances. They resemble those pasteboard pictures invented by the friend of children, Mr. Newberry, in which a single movable head goes around twenty different bodies; so that the same face looks out upon us successively, from the uniform of a hussar, the furs of a judge, and the rags of a beggar. In all the characters, patriots and tyrants, haters and lovers, the frown and sneer of Harold were discernible in an instant. But this species of egotism, though fatal to the drama, is the inspiration of the ode. It is the part of the lyric poe: to abandon himself, without reserve, to his own emotions. Between these hostile elements many great men have endeavoured to effect an amalgamation, but never with complete success. The Greek drama, on the model of which the Samson was written, sprung from the Ode. The dialogue was ingrafted on the chorus, and naturally partook of its character. The genius of the greatest of the Athenian dramatists cooperated with the circumstances under which

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tragedy made its first appearance. Eschylus,

was, head and heart, a lyric poet. In his time, the Greeks had far more intercourse with the East than in the days of Homer; and they had not yet acquired that immense superiority in

war, in science, and in the arts, which, in the

following generation, led them to treat the Asiatics with contempt. From the narrative of Herodotus, it should seem that they still looked up, with the veneration of disciples, to Egypt and Assyria. At this period, accordingly, it was natural that the literature of Greece should be tinctured with the Oriental style. And that style, we think, is clearly discernible in the works of Pindar and Eschylus. The latter often reminds us of the Hebrew writers. The book of Job, indeed, in conduct and diction, bears a considerable resenblance to some of his dramas. Considered as plays, his works are absurd.: considered as choruses, they are above all praise. If, for instance, we examine the address of Clytemnestra to Agamemnon on his return, or the description of the seven Argive chiefs, by the Principles of dramatic writing, we shall instantly condemn them as monstrous. But, if

we forget the characters, and think only of the

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surpassed in energy and magnificence. Sophocles made the Greek drama as dramatic as was consistent with its original form. His portraits of men have a sort of similarity; but it is the similarity not of a painting, but of a bas-relies. It suggests a resemblance; but it does not produce an illusion. Euripides attempted to carry ti.e. reform surther. But it was a task far beyond his powers, perhaps beyond any powers. Instead of correcting what was bad, he destroyed what was excellent. He substituted crutches for stilts, bad sei nons for good odes. Milton, it is well known, admired Curipides highly; much more highly than, in our opinion, he deserved. Indeed, the caresses, which this partiality leads him to bestow on “sad Electra's poet,” sometimes reminds us of the beautiful Queen of Fairy-land kissing the long ears of Bottom. At all events, there can be no doubt that this veneration for the Athenian, whether just or not, was injurious to the Samson Agonistes. Had he taken Æschylus for his model, he would have given himself up to the lyric inspiration, and poured out profusely all the treasures of his mind, without bestowing a thought on those dramatic proprieties which the nature of the work rendered it impossible to preserve. In the attempt to reconcile things in their own nature inconsistent, he has failed, as every one must have failed. We cannot identify ourselves with the characters, as in a good play. We cannot identify ourselves with the poet, as in a good ode. The conflicting ingredients, like an acid and an alkali mixed, neutralize each other. We are by no means insensible to the merits of this celebrated piece, to the severe dignity of the style, the graceful and pathetic solemnity of the opening speech, or the wild and barbaric melody which gives so striking an effect to the choral passages. But we think it, we confess, the least successful effort of the genius of Milton. The Comus is framed on the model of the Italian Masque, as the Samson is framed on the model of the Greek Tragedy. It is, certainly, the noblest performance of the kind which exists in any language. It is as far superior to the Faithful Shepherdess, as the Faithful Shepherdess is to the Aminta, or the Aminta to the Pastor Fido. It was well for Milton that he had here no Euripides to mislead him. He understood and loved the literature of modern Italy. But he did not feel for it the same veneration which he entertained for the remains of Athenian and Roman poetry, consecrated by so many lofty and endearing recollections. The faults, moreover, of his Italian predecessors were of a kind to which his mind had a deadly antipathy. He could stoop to a plain style, sometimes even to a bald stylé; but false brilliancy was his utter aver. sion. His Muse had no objection to a russet attire; but she turned with disgust from the finery of Guarini, as tawdry, and as paltry as the rags of a chimney-sweeper on May-day. Whatever ornaments she wears are of massive gold, not only dazzling to the sight, but capable of standing the severest test of the crucible.

poetry, we shall admit that it has never been Miten attended in the Comus to the distine

tion which he neglected in the Samson. He made it what it ought to be, essentially lyrical, and dramatic only in semblance. He has not attempted a fruitless struggle against a defect inherent in the nature of that species of composition; and he has, therefore, succeeded, wherever success was not impossible. The speeches must be read as majestic soliloquies; and he who so reads them will be enraptured with their eloquence, their sublimity, and their music. The interruptions of the dialogue, however, impose a constraint upon the writer, , and break the illusion of the reader. The finest passages are those which are lyric in form as well as in spirit. “I should much commend,” says the excellent Sir Henry Wotton, in a letter to Milton, “the tragical part, if the lyrical did not ravish me with a certain dorique delicacy in your songs and odes, whereunto, I most plainly consess to you, I have seen yet nothing parallel in our language.” The criticism was just. It is when Milton escapes from the shackles of the dialogue, when he is discharged from the labour of uniting two incongruous styles, when he is at liberty to indulge his choral raptures without reserve, that he rises even above himself. Then, like his own Good Genius, bursting from the earthly form and weeds of Thyrsis, he stands forth in celestial freedom and beauty; he seems to cry exultingly, “Now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I can run,” to skim the earth, to soar above the clouds, to bathe in the Elysian dew of the rainbow, and to inhale the balmy smells of nard and cassia, which the musky winds of the zephyr scatter through the cedared alleys of the Hesperides.” There are several of the minor poems of Milton on which we would willingly make a few remarks. Still more willingly would we enter into a detailed examination of that admirable poem, the Paradise Regained, which, strangely enough, is scarcely ever mentioned, except as an instance of the blindness of that parental affection which men of letters bear towards the offspring of their intellects. That Milton was mistaken in preferring this work, excellent as it is, to the Paradise Lost, we must readily admit. But we are sure that the superiority of the Paradise Lost to the Paradise Regained is not more decided than the superiority of the Paradise Regained to every em which has since made its appearance. ut our limits prevent us from discussing the point at length. We hasten on to that extraordinary production, which the general suffrage of critics has placed in the highest class of numan compositions. The only poem of modern times which can

,” “There eternal summer dwells, And west winds with musky wing, About the cedared alleys fling Nard and cassia's balmy smells: Iris there with humid bow Waters the odorotis banks, that blow Flowers of more mingled hue Than her pursled scarf can show, And drenches with Elysian dew, mortals, if your ears be true,) of hyacinths and roses, where young Adonis oft reposes, Waxing well of hia deep wound.”

be compared with the Paradise Lost, is the Divine Comedy. The subject of Milton, in some points, resembled that of Dante; but he has treated it in a widely different manner. We cannot, we think, better illustrate our opinion respecting our own great poet, than by contrasting him with the father of Tuscan literature. The poetry of Milton differs from that of Dante, as the hieroglyphics of Egypt differed from the picture-writing of Mexico. The images which Dante employs speak for themselves:—they stand simply for what they are. Those of Milton have a signification which is often discernible only to the initiated. Their value depends less on what they directly re.

present, than on what they remotely suggest

However strange, however grotesque, may be the appearance which Dante undertakes to describe, he never shrinks from describing it. He gives us the shape, the colour, the sound, the smell, the taste; he counts the numbers; he measures the size. His similes are the illustrations of a traveller. Unlike those of other poets, and especially of Milton, they are introduced in a plain, business-like manner; not for the sake of any beauty in the objects from which they are drawn, not for the sake of any ornament which they may impart to the poem, but simply in order to make the meaning of the writer as clear to the reader as it is to himself. The ruins of the precipice which led from the sixth to the seventh circle of hell, were like those of the rock which fell into the Adige on the south of Trent. The cataract of Phlegethon was like that of Aqua Cheta at the mo nastery of St. Benedict. The place where the heretics were confined in burning tombs resembled the vast cemetery of Arles' Now, let us compare with the exact details of Dante the dim intimations of Milton. We will cite a few examples. The English poet has never thought of taking the measure of Satan. He gives us merely a vague idea of vast bulk. In one passage the fiend lies stretched out, huge in length, floating many a rood, equal in size to the earth-born enemies of Jove, or to the sea-monster which the mariner mistakes for an island. When he addresses himself to battle against the guardian angels, he stands like Teneriffe or Atlas; his stature reaches the sky. Contrast with these descriptions the lines in which Dante has described the gigantic spectre of Nimrod. “His face seemed to me as long and as broad as the ball of St. Peter's at Rome; and his other limbs were in proportion; so that the bank, which concealed him from the waist downwards, nevertheless showed so much of him, ‘that three tall Germans would in vain have attempted to reach his hair.” We are sensible that we do no justice to the admirable style of the Florentine poet. But Mr. Cary's translation is not at hand, and our version, however rude, is sufficient to illustrate our meaning. Once more, compare the lazar-house, in the eleventh book of the Paradise Lost, with the last ward of Malebolge in Dante. Milton avoids the loathsome details, and takes refuge in indistinct, but solemn and tremendous imageryDespair hurrying from couch to couch, to mock the wretches with his attendance: Death shaking his dart over them, but in spite of supplications, delaying to strike. What says Dante? “There was such a moan there as there would be if all the sick, who, between July and September, are in the hospitals of Waldichiana, and of the Tuscan swamps, and of Sardinia, were in one pit together; and such a stench was issuing forth as is wont to issue from decayed limbs.” We will not take upon ourselves the invidieus office of settling precedency between two such writers. Each in his own department is incomparable; and each, we may remark, has, wisely or fortunately, taken a subject adapted to exhibit his peculiar talent to the greatest advantage. The Divine Comedy is a personal narrative. Dante is the eye-witness and earwitness of that which he relates. He is the very man who has heard the tormented spirits crying out for the second death; who has read the dusky characters on the portal, within which there is no hope; who has hidden his face from the terrors of the Gorgon; who has fled from the hooks and the seething pitch of Barbariccia and Diaghignazzo. His own hands have grasped the shaggy sides of Lucifer. His own feet have climbed the mountain of expiation. His own brow has been marked by the purifying angel. The reader would throw aside such a tale in incredulous disgust, unless it were told with the strongest air of veracity, with a sobriety even in its horrors, with the greatest precision and multiplicity in its details. The narrative of Milton in this respect differs from that of Dante, as the adventures of Amidas differ from those of Gulliver. The author of Amidas would have made his book ridiculous if he had introduced those minute particulars which give such a charm to the work of Swift, the nautical observations, the affected delicacy about names, the official documents transcribed at full length, and all the unmeaning gossip and scandal of the court, springing out of nothing, and tending to nothing. We are not shocked at being told that a man who lived, nobody knows when, saw many very strange sights, and we can easily abandon ourselves to the illusion of the romance. But when Lemuel Gulliver, surgeon, now actually resident at Rotherhithe, tells us of pigmies and giants, flying islands and philosophizing horses, nothing but such circumstantial touches could produce, for a single moment, a deception on the imagination. Of all the poets who have introduced into their works the agency of supernatural beings, Milton has succeeded best. Here Dante decidedly yields to him. And as this is a point on which many rash and ill-considered judgments have been pronounced, we feel inclined to dwell on it a little longer. The most fatal error which a poet can possibly commit in the management of his machinery, is that of attempting to philosophize too much. Milton has been often censured for ascribing to spirits many functions of which spirits must be incapable. But these objections, though sauctioned by eminent names, originate, we venture to say, in profound ignorance of the art of poetry. What is spirit? What are our own minds, the

portion of spirit with which we are best ac quainted 4 We observe certain phenomena. We cannot explain them into material causes. We therefore inser that there exists something which is not material. But of this something we have no idea. We can define it only by negatives. We can reason about it only by symbols. We use the word, but we have no image of the thing: and the business of poetry is with images, and not with words. The poet uses words indeed; but they are merely the instruments of his art, not its objects. They are the materials which he is to dispose in such a manner as to present a picture to the mental eye. And, if they are not so disposed, they are no more entitled to be called poetry, than a bale of canvass and a box of colours are to be called a painting. Logicians may reason about abstractions; but the great mass of mankind can never feel an interest in them. They must have images. The strong tendency of the multitude in all ages and nations to idolatry can be explained on no other principle. The first inhabitants of Greece, there is every reason to believe, worshipped one invisible Deity. But the necessity of having something more definite to adore produced, in a few centuries, the innumerable crowd of gods and goddesses. In like manner the ancient Persians thought it impious to exhibit the Creator under a human form. Yet even these transferred to the sun the worship which, speculatively, they considered due only to the Supreme mind. The history of the Jews is the record of a continual struggle between pure Theism, supported by the most terrible sanctions, and the strangely fascinating desire of having some visible and tangible object of adoration. Perhaps none of the secondary causes which Gibbon has assigned for the rapidity with which Christianity spread over the world, while Judaism scarcely ever acquired a proselyte, operated more powerfully than this feeling. God, the uncreated, the incomprehensible, the invisibie, attracted few worshippers. A philosopher might admire so noble a conception; but the crowd turned away in disgust from words which presented no image to their minds. It was before Deity, embodied in a human form, walking among men, partaking of their infirmities, leaning on their bosoms, weeping over their graves, slumbering in the manger, bleeding on the cross, that the prejudices of the Synagogue, and the doubts of the Academy, and the pride of the Portico, and the fasces of the lictor, and the swords of thirty legions, were humbled in the dust! Soon after Christianity had achieved its triumph, the principle which had assisted it began to corrupt. It became a new paganism Patron saints assumed the offices of household gods. St. George took the place of Mars. St. Elmo consoled the mariner for the loss of Castor and Pollux. The Virgin Mother and Cicilia succeeded to Venus and the Muses. The fascination of sex and loveliness was again joined to that of celestial dignity; and the homage of chivalry was blended with that of religion. Reformers have often made a stand against

|these feelings; but never with more than ap| parent and partial success. The men who de

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