« PreviousContinue »
eloquence poured from his heart, bore down everything in its course, and surprised into a momentary sense of human feeling, the breathing corpses, the wire-moved puppets, the stuffed figures, the flexible machinery, the "deaf and dumb" things of a court.
CHARACTER OF PITT.
The Secretary stood alone. Modern degeneracy had not reached him. Original and unaccommodating, the features of his character had the hardihood of antiquity. His august mind overawed majesty itself. No state chicanery, no narrow system of vicious politics, no idle contest for ministerial victories, sunk him to the vulgar level of the great; but overbearing, persuasive, and impracticable, his object was England, his ambition was fame. Without dividing, he destroyed party; without corrupting, he made a venal age unanimous. France sunk beneath him. With one hand he smote the House of Bourbon, and wielded in the other the democracy of England. The sight of his mind was infinite; and his schemes were to affect, not England, not the present age only, but Europe and posterity. Wonderful were the means by which these schemes were accomplished; always seasonable, always adequate, the suggestions of an understanding animated by ardor, and enlightened by prophecy.
The ordinary feelings which make life amiable and indolent were unknown to him. No domestic difficulties, no domestic weakness reached him; but aloof from the sordid occurrences of life, and unsullied by its intercourse, he came occasionally into our system, to counsel, and to decide.
A character so exalted, so strenuous, so various, so authoritative, astonished a corrupt age, and the treasury trembled at the name of Pitt through all her classes of venality. Corruption imagined, indeed, that she had found defects in this statesman, and talked much of the inconsistency of his glory, and much of the ruin of his victories; but the history of his country, and the calamities of the enemy, answered and refuted her.
Nor were his political abilities his only talents. His eloquence was an era in the senate, peculiar and spontaneous, familiarly expressing gigantic sentiments and instructive wisdom; not like the torrent of Demosthenes, or the splendid conflagration of Tully; it resembled sometimes the thunder, and sometimes the music of the spheres. He did not conduct the understanding through the painful subtlety of argumentation; nor was he for ever on the rack of exertion; but rather lightened upon the subject, and reached the point by the flashings of the mind, which, like those of his eye, were felt, but could not be followed.
Upon the whole, there was in this man something that could create, subvert, or reform; an understanding, a spirit, and an eloquence, to summon mankind to society, or to break the bonds of slavery asunder, and to rule the wildness of free minds with unbounded authority; something that could establish or overwhelm empire, and strike a blow in the world that should resound through the universe.
EULOGIUM OF ANTOINETTE, THE LATE QUEEN OF FRANCE.
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just began to move in, glittering like the morning star; full of life, and splendor, and joy.
Oh! what a resolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate, without emotion, that elevation and that fall.
Little did I dream that, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fall upon her in a nation of gallant men — in a nation of men of honor and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult — but the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex — that proud submission—that dignified obedience—that subordination'of the heart, which keeps alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly spirit and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone — that sensibility of principle — that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound — which inspired courage, while it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched; and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness.
From this very imperfect view of the qualities of Milton's poetry, we hasten to his great work, Paradise Lost, perhaps the noblest monument of human genius. The two first books, by universal consent, stand pre-eminent in sublimity. Hell and Hell's king have a terrible harmony; and dilate into new grandeur and awfulness, the longer we contemplate them. From one element—"solid and liquid fire "— the poet has framed a world of horror and suffering, such as imagination had never traversed. But fiercer flames than those which encompass Satan, burn in his own soul. Revenge, exasperated pride, consuming wrath, ambition though fallen, yet unconquered by the thunders of the Omnipotent, and grasping still at the empire of the universe — these form a picture more sublime and terrible than Hell. Hell yields to the spirit which it imprisons. The intensity of its fires reveals the intenser passions and more vehement will of Satan; and the ruined Archangel gathers into himself the sublimity of the scene which surrounds him. This forms the tremendous interest of these wonderful books. We see mind triumphant over the most terrible powers of nature. We see unutterable agony subdued by energy of souL We have not indeed in Satan those bursts of passion, which rive the soul, as well as shatter the outward frame of Lear. But we hare a depth of passion which only an Archangel could manifest. The all-enduring, all-defying pride of Satan, assuming so majestically Hell's burning throne, and coveting the diadem, which scorched his thunder-blasted brow, is a creation requiring in its author almost the spiritual energy with which he invests the fallen seraph. Some have doubted whether the moral effect of such delineations of the storms and terrible workings of the soul, is good; whether the interest felt in a spirit so transcendently evil as Satan, favors our sympathies with virtue. But our interest fastens in this and like cases, on what is not evil. We gaze on Satan with an awe, not unmixed with mysterious pleasure, as on a miraculous manifestation of the power of mind. What chains us with a resistless spell in such a character, is spiritual might made visible by the racking pains which it overpowers. There is something kindling and enobling in the consciousness, however awakened, of the energy which resides in mind; and many a virtuous man has borrowed new strength from the force, constancy, and dauntless courage of evil agents.
Milton's description of Satan attests, in various ways, the power of his genius. Critics have often observed, that the great difficulty of his work was to reconcile the spiritual properties of his supernatural beings with the human modes of existence, which he was obliged to ascribe to them; and the difficulty is too great for any genius wholly to overcome; and we must acknowledge, that our enthusiasm is, in some parts of the poem, checked by a feeling of incongruity between the spiritual agent, and his sphere and mode of agency. But we are visited with no such chilling doubts and misgivings in the description of Satan in Hell. Imagination has here achieved its highest triumph, in imparting a character of reality and truth to its most daring creations. That world of horrors, though material, is yet so remote from our ordinary nature, that a spiritual
being, exiled from heaven, finds there an appropriate home. There is, too, an indefiniteness in the description of Satan's person, which incites, without shocking the imagination, and aids us to combine in our conception of him, the massiveness of a real form, with the vagueness of spiritual existence. To the production of this effect, much depends on the first impression given by the poet; for this is apt to follow us through the whole work; and here we think Milton eminently successful. The first glimpse of Satan is given us in the following lines, which, whilst too indefinite to provoke the scrutiny of the reason, fill the imagination of the reader with a form which can hardly he effaced.
"Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate,
Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
We have more which we should gladly say of the delineation of Satan; especially of the glimpses which are now and then given of his deep anguish and despair, and of the touches of better feelings which are skilfully thrown into the dark picture; both suited and designed to blend with our admiration, dread, and abhorrence, a measure of that sympathy and interest with.which every living, thinking being ought to be regarded, and without which all other feelings tend to sin and pain. But there is another topic which we cannot leave untouched. From Hell we flee to Paradise, a region as lovely as Hell is terrible; and which, to those who do not know the universality of true genius, will appear doubly wonderful, when considered as the creation of the same mind which had painted the infernal world.