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Ending on the rustling leaves,
Entice the dewy-feather'd Sleep; by aërial performers.” Never were fine imagery and fine imagination so marred, mutilated, and impoverished by a cold, unfeeling and imperfect representation ! To say nothing, that he confounds two descriptions. -T. WARTON.
If he had gone out in a morning of rain and wind, and laid himself down by some murmuring stream, he would have subjected himself to that modern plague, the cholera : but the poet says that it was not till “the sun began to fling his flaring beams," that he went forth to groves and sylvan scenery. Thus it is that Johnson is commonly vague, and full of pompous and empty sounds, when he attempts to describe ; yet on such loose descriptions have his fond eulogists given him credit for poetical imagination. Warton saw this with disgust, and here speaks out. How often must the nice and exquisite classical scholarship of this accomplished and genuine critic have been revolted by the rude pedant's coarse and unfeeling pomposity !
8 Stiu. i. e. gentle, as this word was once commonly understood.-TODD.
h With minute drops from of the eaves. A natural little circumstance, calculated to impress a pleasing melancholy : and which reminds one of a similar image in a poet who abounds in natural little circumstances. Speaking of a gentle spring-shower, “'Tis scarce to patter heard,” says Thomson, “Spring,” ver. 176.-Jos. WARTON.
He means, by “minute drops from off the eaves,” not small drops, but minute drops, such as drop at intervals, by minutes, for the shower was now over: as we say, minute guns, and minute bells. In "L'Allegro,” the lark bade good-morrow at the poet's window, through sweet-briars, honey-suckles, and vines, spreading, as we have seen, over the walls of the house : now, their leaves are dropping-wet with a morning-shower.--T. WARTON.
i Day's garish eye. The "garish eye” is the glaring eye, of Day. So, in “Rom. and Jul.” a. Üï. g. 4, as Dr. Newton has observed, “the garish sun. It is a favourite word with Drayton, who applies it, in the sense of fine, gaudy, to “fields," in his “Owle,” 1604; and to "flowers,” in his “Nymph.” v. 1630; whence perhaps the garish columbine” of Milton.—TODD.
i While the bee, &c. So Virgil, “Ecl.” i. 56 :
Hyblæis apibus florem depasta salicti
Sæpe levi somnum suadebit inire susurro. On the hill Hymettus, the haunt of learning, the bee is made to invite to meditation, with great elegance and propriety, “Paradise Regained,” iv. 247, &c. Compare also Drayton's “Owle,” 1604.-T. WARTON.
And let some strange mysterious Dream k
But let my due feet never fail
* And let some strange mysterious Dream, &c. I do not exactly understand the whole of the context. Is the Dream to wave at Sleep's wings ? Dr. Newton will have “wave" to be a verb neuter; and very justly, as the passage now stands. But let us strike out "at," and make "wave' active :
Let some strange mysterious Dream
Wave his wings, in aery stream, &c. “Let some fantastic Dream put the wings of Sleep in motion, which shall be displayed, or expanded, in an airy or soft stream of visionary imagery, gently falling or settling on my eyelids." Or“his" may refer to Dream, and not to Sleep, with much the same sense.-T. WARTON.
There seems to me no difficulty in the passage. “Wave” is here, as Newton says, a verb neuter. The dream is to wave at the wings of Sleep, in a "display of lively portraiture."
1 And as I wake, sweet musick breathe
Above, about, or underneath. This wonderful music, particularly the subterraneous, proceeding from an invisible cause, and whispered to the pious ear alone by some guardian spirit or the genius of the wood, was probably suggested to Milton's imagination by some of the machineries of the Masks under the contrivance of Inigo Jones. -T. WARTON.
m Cloysters pale. Perhaps "the studious cloyster's pale.” Pale, enclosure. Milton is fond of the singular number. In the next line follows, as in apposition,“the high-embowed roof.”—T. WARTON,
I believe this passage is seldom printed so as to convey the meaning of the poet, viz. the pale or enclosure of the cloister. - DUNSTER.
Dr. Symmons, in his account of Milton's Life, violently objects to this interpretation, which he considers to be very tame and unpoetical.—TODD.
I believe “pale” to be an adjective, and to mean sombre.
The reader is apt to suppose that Milton's allusion is to the cloisters of St. Paul's cathedral, which his feet might duly and daily pace, when a scholar of the celebrated school adjacent. The said cloisters were the boast of the country, as we learn from Stowe's “Survey of London," 4to. 1598, p. 264:-"About this cloyster was artificially and richly painted the Dance of Machabray, or Dance of Death, commonly called the Dance of St. Paul's; the like whereof was painted about St. Innocent's cloyster at Paris. The metres or poesie of this daunce were translated out of French into English by John Lidgate, monk of Bury, and with the picture of Death leading all estates, painted round the cloister.”
But we are obliged to dispel so pleasing a delusion:-“In the year 1549, on the 10th of April, the chapel of Becket, by commandment of the Duke of Somerset, was begun to be pulled down, with the whole cloister, the Daunce of Death, the tombs and monuments; so that nothing thereof was left but the bare plot of ground, which is since converted (says Stowe) into a garden for the petty canons.” So that the “cloister's pale,” i. e. boundary, only was still to be traversed in Milton's time.
We learn from Hume, that this desecration was to supply stones for the erection of the protector's palace in the Strand, called Somerset-house. (Hist. anno 1549.) It was fearfully expiated in 1552.-J. B.
High-embowed. Highly-vaulted, arcuatus, arched.-TODD.
And storied o windows richly dight,
And may at last my weary age
These pleasures, Melancholy, give,
o Storied. Storied, or painted with stories, that is, histories. In barbarous latinity, storia is sometimes used for historia. One of the arguments used by the Puritans for breaking the painted glass in church windows, was because, by darkening the church, it obscured the new light of the gospel. --T. WARTON.
P And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage. It should be remarked, that Milton wishes to die in the character of the melancholy man.-T. WARTON.
9 And every herb that sips the dew. It seems probable that Milton was a student in botany; for he speaks with great pleasure of the hopes he had formed of being assisted in this study by his friend Charles Deodate, who was a physician. See “Epitaph. Damon.” v. 150.-T. Warton.
Of “L'Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” I believe, opinion is uniform ; every man that reads them, reads them with pleasure. The author's design is not, what Theobald has remarked, merely to show how objects derive their colours from the mind, by representing the operation of the same things upon the gay and the melancholy temper, or upon the same man as he is differently disposed; but rather how, among the successive variety of appearances, every disposition of mind takes hold on those by which it may be gratified.
The cheerful man hears the lark in the morning; the pensive man hears the nightingale in the evening : the cheerful man sees the cock strut, and hears the horn and hounds echo in the wood; then walks, “not unseen,” to observe the glory of the rising sun, or listen to the singing milk-maid, and view the labours of the ploughman and the mower ; then casts his eyes about him over scenes of smiling plenty, and looks up to the distant tower, the residence of some fair inhabitant : thus he pursues rural gaiety through a day of labour or of play, and delights himself at night with the fanciful narratives of superstitious ignorance. The pensive man, at one time, walks "unseen” to muse at midnight; and, at another, hears the solemn curfew : if the weather drives him home, he sits in a room lighted only by "glowing embers ;” or by a lonely lamp outwatches the north star, to discover the habitation of separate souls ; and varies the shades of meditation, by contemplating the magnificent or pathetic scenes of tragic and epic poetry. When the morning comes, a morning gloomy with rain and wind, he falls asleep by some murmuring water, and with melancholy enthusiasm expects some dream of prognostication, or some music played by aërial performers.
Both Mirth and Melancholy are solitary, silent inhabitants of the breast, that neither receive nor transmit communication ; no mention is therefore made of a philosophical friend, or of a pleasant companion. The seriousness does not arise from any participation of calamity, nor the gaiety from the pleasures of the bottle. The man of cheerfulness,
having exhausted the country, tries what “tower'd cities” will afford, and mingles with scenes of splendour, gay assemblies, and nuptial festivities; but he mingles a mere spectator, as, when the learned comedies of Jonson or the wild dramas of Shakspeare are exhibited, he attends the theatre; the pensive man never loses himself in crowds, but walks the cloister, or frequents the cathedral. Milton probably had not yet forsaken the church.
Both his characters delight in music; but he seems to think that cheerful notes would have obtained from Pluto a complete dismission of Eurydice; of whom solemn sounds procured only a conditional release. For the old age of Cheerfulness he makes no provision; but Melancholy he conducts with great dignity to the close of life : his cheerfulness is without levity, and his pensiveness without asperity. Through these two poems the images are properly selected, and nicely distinguished; but the colours of the diction seem not sufficiently discriminated; I know not whether the characters are kept sufficiently apart: no mirth can, indeed, be found in his melancholy; but I am afraid that I always meet some melancholy in his mirth. They are two noble efforts of imagination.-JOHNSON.
Of these two exquisite little poems, I think it clear that the last is the most taking; which is owing to the subject. The mind delights most in these solemn images, and a genius delights most to paint them.-HURD.
“L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” may be called the two first descriptive poems in the English language : it is perhaps true, that the characters are not sufficiently kept apart : but this circumstance has been productive of greater excellences. It has been remarked, “No mirth indeed can be found in his melancholy, but I am afraid I always meet some melancholy in his mirth.” Milton's is the dignity of mirth : his cheerfulness is the cheerfulness of gravity : the objects he selects in his “L’Allegro" are so far gay, as they do not naturally excite sadness : laughter and jollity are named only as personifications, and never exemplified : “Quips and cranks, and wanton wiles," are enumerated only in general terms. There is specifically no mirth in contemplating a fine landscape; and even his landscape, although it has flowery meads and flocks, wears a shade of pensiveness; and contains, “russet lawns,” “fallows gray,” and “barren mountains," overhung with “labouring clouds;" its old turreted mansion, peeping from the trees, awakens only a train of solemn and romantic, perhaps melancholy reflection. Many a pensive man listens with delight to the “milkmaid singing blithe,” to the “mower whetting his scythe,” and to a distant peal of village-bells. He chose such illustrations as minister matter for new poetry and genuine description : even his most brilliant imagery is mellowed with the sober hues of philosophic meditation. It was impossible for the author of “Il Penseroso" to be more cheerful, or to paint mirth with levity : that is, otherwise than in the colours of the higher poetry. Both poems are the result of the same feelings, and the same habits of thought.
Dr. Johnson has remarked, that, in “L'Allegro,” “no part of the gaiety is made to arise from the pleasures of the bottle.” The truth is, that Milton means to describe the cheerfulness of the philosopher or the student, the amusements of a contemplative mind; and on this principle he seems unwilling to allow that Mirth is the offspring of Bacchus and Venus, deities who preside over sensual gratifications; but rather adopts the fiction of those more serious and sapient fablers, who suppose that her proper parents are Zephyr and Aurora; intimating, that his cheerful enjoyments are those of the temperate and innocent kind, of early hours and rural pleasures. That critic does not appear to have entered into the spirit, or to have comprehended the meaning, of our author's "Allegro.”
No man was ever so disqualified to turn Puritan as Milton : in both these poems, he professes himself to be highly pleased with the choral church-music, with Gothic cloisters, the painted windows and vaulted aisles of a venerable cathedral, with tilts and tournaments, and with masques and pageantries. What very repugnant and unpoetical principles did he afterwards adopt! He helped to subvert monarchy, to destroy.subordination, and to level all distinctions of rank : but this scheme was totally inconsistent with the splendours of society, with “throngs of knights and barons bold," with "store of ladies," and "high triumphs,” which belonged to a court. “Pomp, and feast, and revelry,” the show of Hymen, “with mask and antique pageantry,” were among the state and trappings of nobility, which, as an advocate for republicanism, he detested : his system of worship, which renounced all outward solemnity, all that had ever any connexion with popery, tended to overthrow the “studious cloisters pale," and the "high-embowed roof;" to remove the storied windows richly dight,” and to silence the "pealing organ” and the “fullvoiced quire.” The delights arising from these objects were to be sacrificed tothe cold and philosophical spirit of Calvinism, which furnished no pleasures to the imagination. T. WARTON.
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," written 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 harsh, 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 Piedmont,” (1655,) is full of pathos, noble sentiment, and grand imagery; but the subject is almost too exten. sive 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.