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stanza of Spenser. We are perhaps indebted to this very necessity of finding out new forms of expression, and to the occasional faults to which it led, for a poetical language rich and varied and magnificent beyond all former, and almost all later, example. His versification is at once the most smooth and the most sounding in the language. It is a labyrinth of sweet sounds, in many a winding bout of linked sweetness long drawn out,' that would cloy by their very sweetness, but that the ear is constantly relieved and enchanted by their continued variety of modulation, dwelling on the pauses of the action, or flowing on in a fuller tide of harmony with the movement of the sentiment. It has not the bold dramatic transitions of Shakspeare's blank verse, nor the high-raised tone of Milton's; but it is the perfection of melting harmony dissolving the soul in pleasure, or holding it captive in the chains of suspense. Spenser was the poet of our waking dreams; and he has invented, not only a language, but a music of his own for them. The undulations are infinite, like those of the waves of the sea; but the effect is still the same, lulling the senses into a deep oblivion of the jarring noises of the world, from which we have no wish to be ever recalled.
ON SHAKSPEARE AND MILTON.
N looking back to the great works of genius in former times, we are sometimes disposed to wonder at the little progress which has since been made in poetry and in the arts of imitation in general. But this is perhaps a foolish wonder. Nothing can be more contrary to the fact than the supposition that in what we understand by the fine arts, as painting and poetry, relative perfection is only the result of repeated efforts in successive periods, and that what has been once well done, constantly leads to something better. What is mechanical, reducible to rule, or capable of demonstration, is progressive, and admits of gradual improvement; what is not mechanical, or definite, but depends on feeling, taste, and genius, very soon becomes stationary or retrograde, and loses more than it gains by transfusion. The contrary opinion is a vulgar error which has grown up, like many others, from transferring an analogy of one kind
to something quite distinct, without taking into the account the difference in the nature of the things, or attending to the difference of the results. For most persons, finding what wonderful advances have been made in biblical criticism, in chemistry, in mechanics, in geometry, astronomy, etc., i. e., in things depending on mere inquiry and experiment or on absolute demonstration, have been led hastily to conclude that there was a general tendency in the efforts of the human intellect to improve by repetition, and, in all other arts and institutions, to grow perfect and mature by time. We look back upon the theological creed of our ancestors 1 and their discoveries in natural philosophy with a smile of pity: science, and the arts connected with it, have all had their infancy, their youth and manhood, and seem to contain in them no principle of limitation or decay; and, inquiring no further about the matter, we infer, in the intoxication of our pride and the height of our self-congratulation, that the same progress has been made, and will continue to be made, in all other things which are the work
1 The High Churchmen of the present day cling, on the contrary, with singular tenacity to the 'theological creed of our ancestors,' without, perhaps, being aware of it. - ED.
The fact, however, stares plainly in the face that one would think the smallest reflection must suggest the truth and overturn our sanguine theories. The greatest poets, the ablest orators, the best painters, and the finest sculptors that the world ever saw, appeared soon after the birth of these arts, and lived in a state of society which was, in other was respects, comparatively barbarous. Those arts which depend on individual genius and incommunicable power have always leaped at once from infancy to manhood, from the first rude. dawn of invention to their meridian height and dazzling lustre, and have in general declined ever after. This is the peculiar distinction and privilege of each, of science and of art, of the one, never to attain its utmost limit of perfection; and of the other, to arrive at it almost at once. Homer, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, Dante, and Ariosto (Milton alone was of a later age, and not the worse for it); Raphael, Titian, Michael Angelo, Correggio, Cervantes, and Boccaccio; the Greek sculptors and tragedians, all lived near the beginning of their arts, perfected, and all but created them. These giant-sons of genius stand indeed upon the earth, but they tower above their fellows; and the long line of their successors, in differ
ent ages, does not interpose any object to obstruct their view or lessen their brightness. In strength and stature they are unrivalled; in grace and beauty they have not been surpassed. In after-ages and more refined periods (as they are called) great men have arisen, one by one, as it were by throes and at intervals, though in general the best of these cultivated and artificial minds were of an inferior order, as Tasso and Pope among poets, Guido and Vandyke among painters. But in the earlier stages of the arts, as soon as the first mechanical difficulties had been got over, and the language was sufficiently acquired, they rose by clusters and in constellations, never so to rise again!
The arts of painting and poetry are conversant with the world of thought within us and with the world of sense around us, - with what we know, and see, and feel intimately. They flow from the sacred shrine of our own breasts, and are kindled at the living lamp of Nature. But the pulse of the passions assuredly beat as high, the depths and soundings of the human heart were as well understood, three thousand or three hundred years ago, as they are at present; the face of Nature and the human face divine' shone as bright then as they have ever done. But it is their light, reflected