Obrázky na stránke

having exhausted the country, tries what " tower'd cities " will scenes of splendour, gay assemblies, and nuptial festivities ; bu tator, as, when the learned comedies of Jonson or the wild drau hibited, he attends the theatre ; the pensive man never loses hin the cloister, or frequents the cathedral. Milton probably had no

Both his characters delight in music; but he seems to think have obtained from Pluto a complete dismission of Eurydice; of cured only a conditional release. For the old age of Cheerfulnes but Melancholy he conducts with great dignity to the close of without levity, and his pensiveness without asperity. Throu images are properly selected, and nicely distinguished ; but the o not sufficiently discriminated : I know not whether the chara apart : no mirth can, indeed, be found in his melancholy; but meet some melancholy in his mirth. They are two noble efforts

Of these two exquisite little poems, I think it clear that t] which is owing to the subject. The mind delights most in these so delights most to paint them.-Hurd.

"L'Allegro ” and “ Il Penseroso" may be called the two fir English language : it is perhaps true, that the characters are n but this circumstance has been productive of greater excellence “No mirth indeed can be found in his melancholy, but I am a melancholy in his mirth.” Milton's is the dignity of mirth : bis fulness of gravity : the objects he selects in his “ L'Allegro" are naturally excite sadness : laughter and jollity are named only as exemplified : “Quips, and cranks, and wanton wiles," are en terms. There is specifically no mirth in contemplating a fine landscape, although it has flowery meads and flocks, wears a s contains, “russet lawns," "fallows gray," and “barren m “ labouring clouds;" its old turreted mansion, peeping from the t of solemn and romantic, perhaps melancholy reflection. Ma with delight to the “milkmaid singing blithe,"' to the “ mower to a distant peal of village-bells. He chose such illustrations : poetry and genuine description : even his most brilliant imag sober hues of philosophic meditation. It was impossible for the to be more cheerful, or to paint mirth with levity : that is, oth of the higher poetry. Both poems are the result of the same fee of thought.

Dr. Jobnson has remarked, that, in “ L'Allegro," “no part of from the pleasures of the bottle.” The truth is, that Milton m fulness of the philosopher or the student, the amusements of a on this principle he seems unwilling to allow that Mirth is the Venus, deities who preside over sensual gratifications; but n those more serious and sapient fablers, who suppose that her prop Aurora ; intimating, that his cheerful enjoyments are those of th kind, of early hours and rural pleasures. That critic does not a the spirit, or to have comprehended the meaning, of our author's

No man was ever so disqualified to turn puritan as Milton : professes himself to be highly pleased with the choral church-mu the painted windows and vaulted aisles of a venerable cathedral, w and with masques and pageantries. What very repugnant and ur afterwards adopt! He helped to subvert monarchy, to destroy sube distinctions of rank: but this scheme was totally inconsistent with with "throngs of knights and barons bold," with "store of ladie with lelonged to a court. Pomp, and feast, and revelry," th:mark and ansique pageantry," were anong the state and trappi or writor republicanism, he detested : his system of wor por todo miell, all that had ever any connexion with popery, PR YUN ***** pale " and the “high-embowed roof;" to rein

suppe tine wiemy the "pealing organ" and the “ rip darbe there obserta mere to be sacrificed to the cold

i no pleasures to the imagination.-



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS. The form of the sonnet was invented by the Italians. I have given an opinion of this sort of composition, and of the nature and degree of Milton's merit in this department, in my Life of the Poet. Some of these twenty-three short compositions may not perhaps be above mediocrity: some of them are vigorous, and concordant with the stern portion of the poet's genius : the major part appear to have been written when he was not in a poetical mood, but occupied with harsher studies.

The seventh Sonnet, “ On being arrived to the age of twenty-three,” (1634,) is very fine: it is pre-eminently interesting, as an early development of his own innate character, vowed to great undertakings, and grieved that his virtuous and sublime ambition had yet advanced no step in its own accomplishment. Here the language is simple, chaste, and smooth, and the numbers are not unmelodious.

The next, “When the Assault was intended to the City,” (1642,) shows that the poet had now conceived that firm opinion of his own genius and worth which never afterwards deserted him : he puts himself upon a par with Pindar and Euripides. Warton and Todd consider it one of Milton's best Sonnets : I do not exactly accede to that opinion.

There is more of poetical expression in the next, “ To a virtuous young Lady."

The tenth, “ To the Lady Margaret Ley,” daughter of James Ley, Earl of Marlborough, Lord President of the Council, has only that sort of merit which is derived from the just consciousness of the bard that his very mention of another with praise would confer immortality on that person.

The next Sonnet, on his own book, called " Tetrachordon," witten in a vein of ridicule, is not worthy of much notice : but the twelfth, on the same subject, has some fine lines on the distinction between liberty and licentiousness.

The praise of Henry Lawes, in the thirteenth Sonnet, draws its principal value from the fame of the panegyrist, and the interest we take in knowing the opinion of great men regarding those of their contemporaries, whose celebrity has passed down to our own times.

Several of the lines “ On the Memory of Mrs. Catharine Thomson,” are poetical, beautiful, and affecting.

The fifteenth, “To the Lord General Fairfax,” is generally and properly admired, as powerful, majestic, and historically valuable : it has a loftiness of sentiment and tone becoming the bold and enlightened bard.

The sixteenth Sonnet, “ To Cromwell," is the most nervous of all. Many will doubt whether Cromwell deserved these praises; but Milton's praise seems to have been sincere. The images and expressions are for the most part dignified, grand, and poetical : but Warton truly observes, that the close is an anticlimax.

The Sonnet which follows, “ To Sir Henry Vane, the younger,” is somewhat prosaic, involved, and barsh, though it has a rude strength. The character of Vane remains to this day somewhat doubtful : Warton's character of him is discriminative and sagacious.

The eighteenth Sonnet, “On the late Massacre in Piemont,” (1655,) is full of pathos, noble sentiment, and grand imagery; but the subject is almost too extensive for a sonnet.

The Sonnet “ On his Blindness" is to my taste next in interest to that “ On arriving at his twenty-third Year :" the sentiments and expressions are in all respects Miltonic.

Of the next, “ To Mr. Lawrence,” it has been truly observed, that it is perfectly Horatian. Lawrence was ancestor to the late Judge Lawrence, of the King's Bench. The twenty-first, “ To Cyriack Skinner,” is of the same character.

The next, “ To the Same," is of a higher tone : he here speaks of his blindness, and his fortitude under it.

The twenty-third, and last, is, “On his deceased Wife," his second wife the daughter of Captain Woodcock, about 1656 : it is in the form of a vision, and is very poetical and plaintive.

As to the Italian Sonnets, which follow the first, they have received the praises of the critics of that poetical country. Another English poet has latterly distinguished himself still more in the same way, Mr. Mathias, who resided the last twenty years at Naples, and died there in August, or the end of July, 1835..

I must confess that more poetry might have been introduced into these Sonnets than our immortal bard has effected : I think that they are not equal in sublimity to Dante ; and certainly have little similitude to the tenderness, harmony, and soft and plaintive imagery of Petrarch. Indeed, our language will scarcely admit the softness of the Italian tones: but Wordsworth has shown what rich and harmonious poetry the legitimate sonnet will admit even in our language; and the late lamented Mrs. Hemans has done the same, though in a different style. Charlotte Smith's Sonnets excel in a soft melancholy; and T. Warton's are rich in description, and classical in expressiont.

But Dyer's collection will prove that there are many good sonnets by several modern authors, as Edwards, Bamfylde, Bowles, Kirke White, Leyden : but one I must especially quote ; because it is by the last editor of Milton's poems, the Rev. Juhn Mitford, of Benhall, in Suffolk; a man of great genius, great learning, and great taste, and an excellent prose writer as well as poet. It comes from a pote to his “ Life of Milton,” p. xix.

GENOA, 1822.
Rise, Genoa, rise in beauty from the sea :

Old Doria's blood is flowing in thy reins:
Rise, peerless in thy beauty! what remains

Of thy old glory is enough for me!
Flow then, ye emerald waters, bright and free ;

And breathe, ye orange groves, along her plains;
Ye fountains, sparkle through her marble fanes ;

And hang aloft, thou rich and purple sky !
Hang up thy gorgeous canopy, thou sun!

Shine on her marble palaces, that gleam
Like silver in thy never-dying beam:
Think of the years of glory she has won.
She must not sink before her race is run,

Nor her long age of conquest seem a dream. In Milton's Sonnets there is nothing of the flow and excited temperament of “Lycidas:” the reiteration of the rhyme seems in general to embarrass and impede the author: the words are sometimes forced into their places : it seems as if the writer was resolved to rely solely on the strength or elevation of the thought : neither have they any imagination, except the last ; nor any rural pictures.

This is a less favourable view of these Sonnets than I have been accustomed hitherto to take; but it arises from a still more close and analytical dissection of them, or, perhaps, from a transient state of gloom and spleen in myself. I will never admit that the sonnet is not capable of every sort of sweetness and poetical spirit ; but its shortness is some impediment to the gradual elevation to grand or passionate strains : it has not

Ample room and verge enough. Though Milton's single images are commonly given with extraordinary compression, yet the multitude of them is inconsistent with the limits of the sonnet : the

* See “ Athenæum," August 22, 1835. † See Dyer's “Specimens of English Sonnets," 1833. This chronological and critical series of sonnets bas been selected in concurrence with the opinions which I ventured to express to the editor. It appears to me an instructive gradation of specimens, and ought to be studied by every lover of English poetry with great attention : it shows the progress of language and thought, and proves that the genuine character of poetry is always the same. How little difference is there between the language and sentiment and harmony of Shakspeare, and those of the present day! The high intellect and sensibility of human nature are always the same.

power of the web depends on its combination and extension. The poet scorns all prettiness or littleness: I do not wonder, therefore, that in these short compositions he has not hit the popular taste: I am rather surprised, that, fond as he was of the Italian poets, he did not here catch more of their manner ; at least, of the solemn and sombre inspiration of Dante, if not of the amatory tenderness of Petrarch.

Loftiness of understanding, and the resolution of a bold, virtuous, strong, and uncompromising heart, the bard had at all times ; they were inseparable from his nature: but I persevere in the conviction, that during that long period of his middle life, when he was engaged in political controversy and state affairs, the fire and tone of the Muse were suppressed, and partly forgotten. Mighty poet as he was, I am sure that he would have been still greater if he had never engaged in politics: these politics weighed down and stifled all the romantic predilections and golden arrays of his youthful taste and enthusiastic imagination: chivalry was his early delight, and how could chivalry and democracy co-exist ?

Such are the inconsistencies of the most highly endowed and greatest of men ! for what man has been greater or more virtuous than Milton? Though the idle pomps and riches of the world were not with him,-empty possessions which he scorned ; yet how much greater was he than kings and heroes! In his solitary study, working out his glorious fables by the midnight lamp, how infinitely more exalted than in his office of secretary ; or than if he had been performing the acts of Cromwell and Fairfax, the themes of his majestic Muse !



O NIGHTINGALE, that on yon bloomy spray

Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still;
Thou with fresh hope the lover's heart dost fill,

While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May á.
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of day,

First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill",
Portend success in love. O, if Jove's will

Have link'd that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate

Foretell my hopeless doom in some grove nig ;

As thou from year to year hast sung too late
For my relief, yet hadst no reason why :

Whether the Muse or Love call thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am 14.

[ocr errors]

Donna legiadra, il cui bel nome honora

L'herbosa val di Rheno, e il nobil varco ;
Bene è colui d'ogni valore scarco,
Qual tuo spirto gentil non innamora :

A While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
Because the nightingale is supposed to begin singing in April.-T. WARTON.

b First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill, &c. That is, if they happen to be heard before the cuckoo, it is lucky for the lover. Milton laments afterwards, that hitherto the nightingale had not preceded the cuckoo as she ought: had always sung too late, that is, after the cuckoo.-T. Warton.

c of their train am I. This sonnet has been commended rather more than it deserves : the nightingale is a common theme of poets, and has been often better sung.

[merged small][ocr errors]

Qual in colle aspro, al imbrunir di sera

L' avezza giovinetta pastorella
Va bagnando l'herbetta strana e bella

Che mal si spande a disusata spera
Fuor di sua natia alma primavera,

Cosi Amor meco insù la lingua snella
Desta il fior novo di strania favella,

Mentre io di te, vezzosamente altera,
Canto, dal mio buon popol non inteso

E'l bel Tamigi cangio col bel Arno.

Amor lo volse, ed io a l' altrui peso
Seppi ch' Amor cosa mai volse indarno.

Deh! foss' il mio cuor lento e 'l duro seno
A chi pianta dal ciel si buon terreno.


Ridonsi donne e giovani amorosi

M'accostandosi attorno, e perche scrivi,
Perche tu scrivi in lingua ignota e strana
Verseggiando d' amor, e come t' osi?
Dinne, se la tua speme sia mai vana,
E de pensieri lo miglior t' arrivi;
Cosi mi van burlando, altri rivi
Aliri lidi t' aspettan, ed altre onde
Nelle cui verdi sponde
Spuntati ad hor, ad hor a la tua chioma
L'immortal guiderdon d' eterne frondi
Perche alle spalle tue soverchia soma ?

Canzon dirotti, e tu per me rispondi
Dice mia Donna, e 'l suo dir, é il mio cuore
Questa e lingua di cui si vanta Amore.

a It is from Petrarch, that Milton mixes the canzone with the the canzone as the most perfect species of lyric composition, “D but, for the canzone, he allows more laxity than for the sonnet. is written on a grave or tragic subject, it is denominated canzon cantilena, as diminutive.—T. Warton.

« PredošláPokračovať »