Imágenes de páginas

deur of the naked figure; they convey to us the ideas of sculpture. As an instance, take the following:

'He soon

Saw within ken a glorious angel stand,

The same whom John saw also in the sun:
His back was turned, but not his brightness hid;
Of beaming sunny rays, a golden tiar

Circled his head, nor less his locks behind

Illustrious on his shoulders fledge with wings
Lay waving round; on some great charge employed
He seemed, or fixed in cogitation deep.

Glad was the Spirit impure, as now in hope
To find who might direct his wandering flight
To Paradise, the happy seat of Man,
His journey's end and our beginning woe.
But first he casts to change his proper shape,
Which else might work him danger or delay:
And now a stripling cherub he appears,
Not of the prime, yet such as in his face
Youth smiled celestial, and to every limb
Suitable grace diffused, so well he feigned;
Under a coronet his flowing hair

In curls on either cheek played, wings he wore
Of many a coloured plume sprinkled with gold,
His habit fit for speed succinct, and held
Before his decent steps a silver wand.'

The figures introduced here have all the elegance and precision of a Greek statue, ― glossy and empurpled, tinged with golden light, and musical as the strings of Memnon's harp.

Again, nothing can be more magnificent than the portrait of Beelzebub,

'With Atlantean shoulders fit to bear

The weight of mightiest monarchies.'


Or the comparison of Satan, as he lay floating many a rood,' to 'that sea-beast,

'Leviathan, which God of all his works

Created hugest that swim th' ocean-stream!'

What a force of imagination is there in this last expression! What an idea it conveys of the size of that hugest of created beings, as if it shrunk up the ocean to a stream, and took up the sea in its nostrils as a very little thing! Force of style is one of Milton's greatest excellences. Hence, perhaps, he stimulates us more in the reading, and less afterwards. The way to defend Milton against all impugners is to take down the book and read it.

Milton's blank verse is the only blank verse in the language (except Shakspeare's) that deserves the name of verse. Dr. Johnson, who had modelled his ideas of versification on the regular sing-song of Pope, condemns the Paradise Lost as harsh and unequal. I shall not pretend to say that this is not sometimes the case; for where a degree of excellence beyond

the mechanical rules of art is attempted, the poet must sometimes fail. But I imagine that there are more perfect examples in Milton of musical expression, or of an adaptation of the sound and movement of the verse to the meaning of the passage, than in all our other writers, whether of rhyme or blank verse, put together (with the exception already mentioned). Spenser is the most harmonious of our stanza-writers, as Dryden is the most sounding and varied of our rhymists. But in neither is there anything like the same ear for music, the same power of approximating the varieties of poetical to those of musical rhythm, as there is in our great epic poet. The sound of his lines is moulded into the expression of the sentiment, almost of the very image. They rise or fall, pause or hurry rapidly on, with exquisite art, but without the least trick or affectation, as the occasion seems to require.

The following are some of the finest instances:

'His hand was known

In Heaven by many a towred structure high..

Nor was his name unheard or unador'd

In ancient Greece; and in Ausonian land

Men called himn Mulciber; and how he fell

From Heaven, they fabled, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o'er the crystal battlements; from morn

To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
A summer's day; and with the setting sun
Dropt from the zenith like a falling star,

On Lemnos, th' Ægean isle: thus they relate,

'But chief the spacious hall

Thick swarmed, both on the ground and in the air,
Brushed with the hiss of rustling wings. As bees
In spring-time, when the sun with Taurus rides,
Pour forth their populous youth about the hive
In clusters; they among fresh dews and flowers
Fly to and fro, or on the smoothed plank,
The suburb of their straw-built citadel,
New rubbed with balm, expatiate and confer
Their state affairs. So thick the airy crowd
Swarmed, and were straitened; till the signal given,
Behold a wonder! They but now who seemed
In bigness to surpass earth's giant sons,
Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room
Throng numberless, like that Pygmean race
Beyond the Indian mount, or fairy elves,
Whose midnight revels, by a forest side
Or fountain, some belated peasant sees,

Or dreams he sees, while overhead the moon

Sits arbitress, and nearer to the earth

Wheels her pale course; they on their mirth and dance

Intent, with jocund music charm his ear;

At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds.'

I can only give another instance, though I have some difficulty in leaving off:

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'Round he surveys, and well might, where he stood
So high above the circling canopy

Of night's extended shade; from eastern point
Of Libra to the fleecy star that bears
Andromeda far off Atlantic seas

Beyond th' horizon; then from pole to pole
He views in breadth, and without longer pause
Down right into the World's first region throws
His flight precipitant, and winds with ease
Through the pure marble air his oblique way
Amongst innumerable stars, that shone

Stars distant, but nigh hand seemed other worlds,
Or other worlds they seemed, or happy isles,' etc.

The verse, in this exquisitely modulated passage, floats up and down as if it had itself wings. Milton has himself given us the theory of his versification,

'Such as the meeting soul may pierce,
In notes with many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out.'

Dr. Johnson and Pope would have converted his vaulting Pegasus into a rocking-horse. Read any other blank verse but Milton's, Thomson's, Young's, Cowper's, Wordsworth's, - and it will be found, from the want of the same insight into the hidden soul of harmony,' to be mere lumbering prose.

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To proceed to a consideration of the merits of Paradise Lost, in the most essential point

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