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Hence, all you vain delights,
Wherein you spend your folly ;
But only Melancholy,
A midnight bell, a parting groan ;
These are the sounds we feed upon :
Nothing's so dainty-sweet as lovely Melancholy. “ It would be, doubtless, in the opinion of all readers, going too far to say, that this song deserves as much notice as the Penseroso 'itself: but it so happens, that very little of the former can remain unnoticed, whenever the latter is praised. Of this song, the construction is, in the first place, to be admired: it divides into three parts : the first part displays the moral of melancholy; the second, the person or figure ; the third, the circumstance, that is, such things as increase or Hatter the disposition : nor is it surprising that Milton should be struck with the images and sentiments it affords, most of which are somewhere inserted in the « Il Penseroso.' It will not, however, be found to have contributed much to the construction of Milton's poem : the subjects they severally exhibit are very different: they are alike only, as shown under the same disposition of melancholy. Beaumont's is the melancholy of the swain; of the mind, that contemplates nature and man but in the grove and the cottage : Milton's is that of a scholar and philo. sopher ; of the intellect, that has ranged the mazes of science, and that decides upon vanity and happiness, from large intercourse with man, and upon extensive knowledge and experience. To say, therefore, that Milton was indebted to Beaumont's song for his ' Penseroso,' would be absurd : that it supplied some images to his poem will be readily allowed ; and that it would be difficult to find, throughout the 'Penseroso,' amidst all its variety, any more striking than what Beaumont's second stanza affords, may also be granted. Milton's poem is among those happy works of genius, which leave a reader no choice how his mind shall be affected." -“Cursory Remarks on some of the ancient English Poets, particularly Milton." Lond. printed, but not published, 1789, p. 114.
The date of these poems has not been ascertained ; but Mr. Hayley has observed, -“ It seems probable, that these two enchanting pictures of rural life, and of the diversified delights arising from a contemplative mind, were composed at Horton;" to which place Milton went to reside with his father in 1632, and where he continued at least five years.—Todd.
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS. When Milton's juvenile poems were revived into notice about the middle of the 1 last century, these two short lyrics became, I think, the most popular : they are very beautiful : but in my opinion far from the best of the poet's youthful productions : they have far less invention than “Comus” or “ Lycidas ;" and surely invention is the primary essential : they have more of fancy than invention, as those two words are in modern use distin uished from each other. Besides, it is clear that they were suggested by the poem prefixed to “ Burton's Anatomie of Melancholy," and a song in the Nice Valour” of Beaumont and Fletcher.
There is here no fable, which is absolutely necessary for prime poetry : the rural descriptions are fresh, forcible, picturesque, and most happily selected ; but still many of them seem to me much less original than those of “ Lycidas” and " Comus :” and though there is a certain degree of contemplative sentiment in them ail, it is not of so passionate or sublime a kind as in those other exquisite pieces, in which there is more of moral instruction and mingled intellect; and, in short, vastly more of spirituality.
The scenery of nature, animate and inanimate, derives its most intense interest from its connexion with our moral feelings and duties, and our ideal visions. If I am not mistaken, Gray thought this, when he spoke of merely descriptive poems. Gray's own stanza, in his “ Fragment on Vicissitude,” beginning
Yesterday the sullen year
Saw the snowy whirlwind fly ... perhaps the finest stanza in his poems, is a most striking example of this sublime combination.
I say, that these two admired lyrics of Milton have less of this combination than I could wish : they were written in the buoyancy and joyousness of youth, though the joyousness of the latter is pensive : all was yet hope with the poet ; none of the evils of life had yet come upon him: it was the joy of mental display and visionary glory; of a mind proudly displaying its own richness, and throwing from its treasures beams of light on all external objects : but it was the rapidity of a ferment too much in motion to allow it to wait long enough on particular topics ; therefore there was in these two productions less intensity than in most of the author's other poetry : he is here generally content to describe the surface of what he notices. His learned allusions abound, though not so much perhaps as in most of his other writings : these, however, are not the proofs of his genius, but only of his memory and industry.
I admit, that the choice of the imagery of these pieces could only have been made by a true poet, of nice discernment and brilliant fancy ; of a mind constantly occupied by contemplation, and skilful in making use of all those superstitions in which the visionary delight ; and that the whole are woven into one web of congenial associations, which make a beautiful and splendid constellation : still a large portion of the ingredients, taken separately, have been anticipated by other poets.
These remarks will probably draw forth the question, “ Whence then has arisen the superior popularity of these two compositions ?" I may now be forgiven for asserting, that popularity is a doubtful test of merit. One reason may be, that they are more easily understood ; that they are less laboured, and less deep : that they do not try and fatigue, either the heart or the intellect. The mass of the people like slight amusement, and subjects of easy apprehension : the greater part of Milton's poetry is too solemn and thought-working for their taste or their power.
In the sublime bard's latter poems,-in his epics and his drama,—and even in his early monody of “ Lycidas,' -—his rural images, though not more picturesque, nor perhaps, except in “ Lycidas," quite so fresh, yet derive a double force from their position ;—from the circumstances of the persons on whom they are represented as acting ;-as, for instance, on Adam, Eve, Satan, our Saviour, Samson, and on the mourners for the death of Lycidas.
When the description of scenery forms part of a fable, and is connected with the development of a story, the mind of the reader is already worked up into a state of sensitiveness and sympathy, which confers upon surrounding objects hues of augmented impression.
When Milton recalls to his mind those images with which he had been familiar in the society of his friend Lycidas, they awaken, from the accident of his death, affections and regrets which they never had done before. When Eve is about to be expelled from Paradise, how she grieves over her lost fowers and gardendelights ! How the “air of heaven, fresh-blowing," invigorates and charms Samson, when brought out from a close prison ! How affecting is the scene in the wilderness, when, after a night of tremendous tempest, our Saviour is cheered by a balmy morning of extreme brilliance !
These are what make fable necessary to constitute the highest poetry. I do not recollect that this has been sufficiently insisted upon by former critics : the want of it is assuredly experienced in Thomson's beautifully descriptive poem of “ the Seasons."
HENCE, loathed Melancholy,
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and s Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brooding darkness spreads his jeal
And the night-raven sings:
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell,
But come, thou goddess fair and free,
* These are airs, " that take the prison'd soul, and lap it in
* Mence, loathed Meluncholy,
Of Cerberus and blackest Midnight Erebus, not Cerberus, was the legitimate husband of Night. somnia, quos omnes Erebo et Nocte natos ferunt."-Cicero, Milton was too universal a scholar to be unacquainted with thi choly is here the creature of Milton's imagination, he had a rig he pleased, and to marry Night, the natural mother of Melai that would best serve to heighten the allegory.—T. WARTON.
b Jealous wings. Alluding to the watch which fowl keep when they are sittin
c In dark Cimmerian desert ever duell It should be remembered, that “Cimmeriæ tenebræ execration in the text is a translation of a passage in one of hi
_.Dignus qui Cimmeriis occlusus tenebris longam et perosai W," vol, ii. 527.-T. WARTON,
d Tro sister Graces. Meat and Drink, the two sisters of Mirth.– WARBURTON.
e Some sager sing. Because those who give to Mirth such gross companions as I less sage mythologists.- WARBURTON.
f Zephyr, with Aurora playing,
As he met her once a-Maying. The rhymes and imagery are from Jonson, in the Mask : house at Highgate. 1604.
See, who here is come a-Maying:
Why left we off our playing ? This song is sung by Zephyrus and Aurora, Milton's two T. WARTON.
There on beds of violets blue,
Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee
& And fresh-bloun roses wash'd in deu.
She looks as clear
h Quips, and cranks. A “quip
is a satirical joke, a smart repartee. By “cranks," a word yet unexplained, I think we are here to understand cross-purposes, or some other similar conceit of conversation, surprising the company by its intricacy, or embarrassing by its difficulty. Our author has “ cranks,” which his context explains, “Pr. W." i. 165 : “ To show us the ways of the Lord, straight and faithful as they are, not full of cranks and contradictions." -T. WARTON.
i TV reathed smiles. In a smile the features are “ wreathed," or curled, twisted, &c.—T. Warton.
| Come, and trip it as you go, &c.'
Come, and go,
k The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty. Dr. Newton supposes, that Liberty is here called the mountain-nymph, “because the people in mountainous countries have generally preserved their liberties longest, as the Britons formerly in Wales, and the inhabitants in the mountains of Switzerland at this day.” Milton's head was not so political on this occasion : warmed with the poetry of the Greeks, I rather believe that he thought of the Oreads of the Grecian mythology, whose wild haunts among the romantic mountains of Pisa are so beautifully described in Homer's “Hymn to Pan." The allusion is general, to inaccessible and uncultivated scenes of nature, such as mountainous situations afford, and which were best adapted to the free and uninterrupted range of the nymph Liberty. He compares Eve to an Oread, certainly without any reference to Wales or the Swiss cantons, in “ Paradise Lost,” b. ix. 387. See also “ El." v. 127 :Atque aliquam cupidus prædatur Oreada Faunus.-T. WARTON.
' In unreproved pleasures free. That is, blameless, innocent, not subject to reproof. See “ Paradise Lost," b. iv. 492.T. WARTON.
m To hear the lark begin his flight, &c. There is a peculiar propriety in “startle :" the lark's is a sudden shrill burst of song.
And singing, startle the dull night",
Through the high wood echoing shrill; Both in “ L'Allegro" and “ 11 Penseroso ” there seem to piece, and the other a night piece. Here, or with three or fo author begins to spend the day with mirth.—T. WARTON.
Startle the dull night. So in “King Henry V.” a. iv. Chorus :
Piercing the night's dull ear.-STEEVE • Through the sweet-briar, or the vin
Or the twisted eglantine. Sweet-briar and eglantine are the same plant : by the tw means the honeysuckle. All three are plants often growing house.-T. WARTON.
P The rear of Darkness thin. Darkness is a person above, v. 6: and in “ Paradise Lost," « Fa. Qu." 1. vii. 23 :
Where Darknesse he in deepest dongeon And in Manilius, i, 126:
mundumque enixa nitentem,
Fugit in infernas Caligo pulsa tenet But, if we take in the context, he seems to have here personil and Juliet,” a. ii. s. 3:
The grey-eyed Morn smiles on the frowning i
From forth day's pathway. For here too we have by implication Milton's " dappled dawn, in “Much Ado about Nothing," a. v. 8. 3 :
And look, the gentle day
Dapples the drowsy east with spots of g So also Drummond, “Sonnets,” edit, 1616 :
Sith, winter gone, the sunne in dapled
9 Rouse the slumbering morn. The same expression, as Mr. Bowle observes, occurs with th triplet of an obscure poet, John Habington, “ Castara," edit. 1
The nymphes with quivers shall adorne
With the shrill musicke of the horne.-T. WA I do not know why Warton calls William Habington, an obscure poct :" he was a very elegant one, and has latte notice and praise.
Milton was here indebted to Guarini, “Pastor Fido," wher roused," a, i. s. 1.-Todd.