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And Worcester's laureat wreath. Yet much remains
The most spirited and impassioned of them all, and the most inspired with a sort of prophetic fury, is the one, entitled On the late Massacre in Piedmont.
“ Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughter'd saints, whose bones Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold; Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old, When all our fathers worshipp'd stocks and stones, Forget not: in thy book record their groans Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that roll'd Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they To Heav'n. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway The triple Tyrant; that from these may grow A hundred fold, who having learn'd thy way Early may fly the Babylonian woe." * In the Nineteenth Sonnet, which is also On his blindness, we see the jealous watchfulness of his mind over the use of his high gifts, and the beautiful manner in which he satisfies himself that virtuous thoughts and intentions are not the least acceptable offering to the Almighty.
“ When I consider how my light is spent
Those to Mr. Henry Lawes on his Airs, and to Mr. Lawrence, can never be enough admired. They breathe the very soul of music and friendship. Both have a tender, thoughtful grace; and for their lightness, with a certain melancholy complaining intermixed, might be stolen from the harp of Æolus. The last is the picture of a day spent in social retirement and elegant relaxation from severer studies. We sit with the poet at table and hear his familiar senti-. ments from his own lips afterwards.
“ Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son,
From the hard season gaining? Time will run
In the last, On his deceased Wife, the allusion to Alcestis is beautiful, and shews how the poet's mind raised and refined his thoughts by exquisite classical conceptions, and how these again were enriched by a passionate reference to actual feelings and images. It is this rare union that gives such voluptuous dignity and touching purity to Milton's delineation of the female character.
“ Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shined
There could not have been a greater mistake or a more unjust piece of criticism than to suppose that Milton only shone on great subjects; and that on ordinary occasions and in familiar life, his mind was unwieldy, averse to the cultivation of grace and elegance, and unsusceptible of harmless pleasures. The whole tenour of his smaller compositions contradicts this opinion, which however they have been cited to confirm. The notion first got abroad from the bitterness (or vehemence) of his controversial writings, and has been kept up since with little meaning and with less truth. His Letters to Donatus and others are not more remarkable for the display of a scholastic enthusiasm, than for that of the most amiable dispositions. They are “ severe in youthful virtue unreproved." There is a passage in his proseworks (the Treatise on Education) which shews, I think, his extreme openness and proneness to pleasing outward impressions in a striking point of view. “ But to return to our own institute," he says, “ besides these constant exercises at home, there is another opportunity of gaining experience to be won from pleasure itself abroad. In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against nature, not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with Heaven and earth. I should not therefore be a persuader to them of studying much then, but to ride out in companies with prudent and well staid guides, to all quarters of the land,” &c. Many other passages might be quoted, in which the poet breaks through the ground-work of prose, as it were, by natural fecundity and a genial, unrestrained sense of delight. To suppose that a poet is not easily accessible to pleasure, or that he does not take an interest in individual objects and feelings, is to suppose that he is no poet; and proceeds on the false theory, which has been so often applied to poetry and the Fine Arts, that the whole is not made up of the particulars. If our author, according to Dr. Johnson's account of him, could only have treated epic, high-sounding subjects, he would not have been what he was, but another Sir Richard Blackmore.--I may conclude with observing, that I have often wished that Milton had lived to see the Revolution of 1688. This would