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Clouds of affection from our younger eyes
The soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed,
HENRY VAUGHAN (1614–1695) published in 1651, a volume of miscellaneous poems, chiefly of a religious nature, and evincing considerable strength and originality of thought. He has never attained much celebrity, even among the minor poets. The following piece has been much admired both for its truth and beauty.
EARLY RISING AND PRAYER.
When first thy eyes unveil, give thy soul leave
Yet never sleep the sun up; prayer should
Walk with thy fellow-creatures; note the hush And whisperings amongst them. Not a spring Or leaf but hath his morning hymn; each bush And oak doth know I AM. Canst thou not sing? O leave thy cares and follies! Go this way, And thou art sure to prosper all the day.
Serve God before the world; let him not go
When the world's up, and every swarm abroad,
Mil'ron is more praised than read. This is easily accounted for. Neither the genius of the author, nor the nature of his subject, is such as to make it possible for Paradise Lost ever to become what
be called a popular book. To appreciate the lofty magnificence of his ideas, or the exquisite harmony of his numbers, requires a degree of intellectual culture, and a general elevation and compass of thought vouchsafed to few. The same may be said indeed of every great work of genius. There is in every play of Shakspeare a height and a depth, a fullness and intensity of meaning, into which none may enter but that “ fit audience though few” whose voice alone gives real perpetuity to fame. But in addition to those high qualities which make the perusal of his plays a source of pleasure that increases just in proportion as a man increases in knowledge and taste, and which are fully understood only by those who partake in some measure of his own lofty spirit, Shakspeare has the advantage of other qualities which have always made, and will always make, him the idol of the many. His plays were written for immediate popular effect. His language is that of the common people. He addresses himself directly to the common understanding. His plot is full of the incidents and passions of common life. The consequence is, he is read by all classes, young and old, and on the same 14 *
principle that they read Robinson Crusoe or Pilgrim's Progress. Now Paradise Lost has nothing of this. As a mere tale, it is seldom read by children, and by grown people never. Some read it as a matter of duty. Not a few read it for shame not to have done so. As a general rule, however, the readers of Milton are those only whose hearts by nature or education have been attuned thereto. Hence it is that his name is on the lips of every body, while very few comparatively really understand or care about him. He is known to the multitude, just as Bacon and Locke are, as one whom competent judges have declared to be possessed of transcendent genius, and whose great work“ posterity will not willingly let die,” though it is not and can never be essentially popular. In one word, while Milton will be universally known, Shakspeare will be universally read.
In Paradise Lost there is a uniform stateliness and majesty of style, as befits the subject. This very excellence, however, is one source of injustice to the author. The reader of Byron is often suddenly precipitated from the third heaven of poetical sublimity down to the commonest prose that could be found in a newspaper advertisement; and again perhaps in the very next stanza, is carried as far and as suddenly in the opposite direction. The effect of these rapid transitions upon the mind of the reader is like that made upon the mind of a traveller in contemplating a lofty mountain from the bottom of an adjoining valley. The contrast heightens the effect. The reader of Milton on the other hand travels over an elevated region of table land, from which even Chimborazo would be but an ordinary mountain.
No writer of English Poetry has cultivated so successfully the harmony of numbers. He seems to have been by nature remarkably alive to the power of music. Whenever in his poems the subject of music is mentioned, it is wonderful to see how he is always carried away with it, as by a sudden fit of inspiration. It is no doubt owing to this constitutional temperament, and that wonderfully delicate ear which was its result, that his poems are almost faultless models of harmonious sound.
Milton was a man of great erudition, and his learning everywhere appears in his works, though not in the way of pedantry. He was a stern republican in his principles, and one of the most effective political writers under the Commonwealth. His despatches, as Latin secretary under Cromwell, were much admired.
The events of his life are not numerous, and are well known. He was born in London, in 1608, and was educated with great care. He was sent first to St. Paul's School, London - afterwards, at the age of seventeen, to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he continued for seven years. In 1632, he retired from the University, having taken the degree of Master of Arts, and having highly distinguished himself by his classical attainments. At the age of twenty-one, and while still a member of the University, he wrote his Hymn on the Nativity, almost any one verse of which is sufficient to indicate a new era in poetry. The few years immediately succeeding his University career were spent in the country. During this happy period of his life, he wrote Arcades, Comus, Lycidas, L'Allegro, and I l'enseroso. In 1638, at the age of thirty,