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Oh! might a friend, endow'd like you by Heaven,
In terminating my notices of the Latin poetry of Milton with this his most admired effort, I pause in my narrative, to present the reader with Mr. Macaulay's admirable observations on this accomplishment, as possessed by the great bard.
“ Versification,” he says, “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 hothouse 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
Hung bright with 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
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."
WILTON CONTEMPLATES THE PRODUCTION OF AN EPIC POEM-VISITS
GALILEO-RETURNS TO ENGLAND-NOTICE OF DR. JOHNSON'S DIS-
To explain some of the allusions to early British history which the epistle to Manso contains, and to manifest the further development of the great idea in Milton's bosom, it is necessary to anticipate chronology, and to have recourse to his own description of his state of mind at this time, as given in his “ Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy,” published in 1641. “I must say, therefore,” he commences, “that after I had, for my first years, by the ceaseless diligence and care of my father (whom God recompense !) been exercised to the tongues, and some sciences, as my age would suffer, by sundry masters and teachers, both at home and at the schools, it was found that, whether aught was imposed by them that had the overlooking, or betaken to of mine own choice, in English, or other tongue, prosing, or versing, but chiefly by this latter, the style, by certain vital signs it had, was likely to live.” Then, having referred to his Italian encomiasts, he adds, “I began thus far to assent both to them and divers of my friends here at home, and not less to an inward prompting which now grew daily upon me, that by
labour and intense study, (which I take to be my portion in this life,) joined with the strong propensity of nature, I might, perhaps, leave something so written, to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die. These thoughts at once possessed me, and these other: that if I were certain to write as men buy leases, for three lives and downward, there ought no regard be sooner had than to God's glory, by the honour and instruction of my country. For which cause, and not only for that I knew it would be hard to arrive at the second rank among the Latins, I applied myself to that resolution, which Ariosto followed against the persuasions of Bembo, to fix all the industry and art I could unite to the adorning of my native tongue; not to make verbal curiosities the end, (that were a toilsome vanity,) but to be an interpreter and relater of the best and sagest things among mine own citizens throughout this island in the mother dialect. That what the greatest and choicest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old did for their country, I, in my proportion, with this over and above, of being a Christian, might do for mine ; not caring to be once named abroad, though perhaps I could attain to that, but content with these British islands as my world; whose fortune hath hitherto been, that if the Athenians, as some say, made their small deeds great and renowned by their eloquent writers, England hath had her noble achievements made small by the unskilful handling of monks and mechanics.
“ Time serves not now, and perhaps I might seem too profuse, to give any certain account of what the mind at home, in the spacious circuits of her musing, hath liberty to propose to herself, though of highest hope and hardest attempting; whether that epic form whereof the two poems of Homer, and those other two of Virgil and Tasso, are a diffuse, and the book of Job a brief model ; or whether the rules of Aristotle herein are strictly to be kept, or nature to be followed, which in them that know art, and use judg
ment, is no transgression, but an enriching of art: and, lastly, what king or knight, before the Conquest, might be chosen in whom to lay the pattern of a Christian hero. And as Tasso gave to a prince of Italy his choice, whether he would command him to write of Godfrey's expedition against the Infidels, or Belisarius against the Goths, or Charlemain against the Lombards ; if to the instinct of nature, and the emboldening of art aught may be trusted, and that there be nothing adverse in our climate, or the fate of this age, it haply would be no rashness, from an equal diligence and inclination, to present the like offer in our own ancient stories; or whether those dramatic constitutions, wherein Sophocles and Euripides reign, shall be found more doctrinal and exemplary to a nation. The Scripture also affords us a divine pastoral drama in the Song of Solomon, consisting of two persons, and a double chorus, as Origen rightly judges. And the Apocalypse of St. John is the majestic image of a high and stately tragedy, shutting up and intermingling her solemn scenes and acts with a seven-fold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies : and this my opinion, the grave authority of Pareus, commenting that book, is sufficient to confirm. Or if occasion shall lead, to imitate those magnific odes and hymns, wherein Pindarus and Callimachus are in most things worthy, some others in their frame judicious, in their matter most an end faulty. But those frequent songs throughout the law and prophets beyond all these, not in their divine argument alone, but in the very critical art of composition, may be easily made appear over all the kinds of lyric poesy to be incomparable. These abilities, wheresoever they be found, are the inspired gift of God rarely bestowed, but yet to some (though most abuse) in every nation, and are of power, beside the office of a pulpit, to inbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtue and public civility, to allay the perturbations of the mind, and set the affections in right tune; to celebrate in glorious and lofty hymns the