Page images

true elevation and dignity. Instead of applying it, like his predecessors, to love meditations, expressive of fictitious or real affection, he made it the instrument of conveying most important moral, patriotic, and religious sentiments.

The following is a sonnet of Milton, who died in 1675. It was addressed to


“Lady, that in the prime of earliest youth

Wisely hast shunn'd the broad way and the green,
And with those few art eminently seen,

That labor up the hill of heav'nly truth,
The better part with Mary and with Ruth

Chosen thou hast; and they, that overween,
And at thy growing virtues fret their spleen,

No anger find in thee, but pity and ruth.
Thy care is fix'd, and zealously attends

To fill thy od'rous lamp with deeds of light,

And hope that reaps not shame. Therefore be sure
Thou, when the bridegroom with his feastful friends,

Passes to bliss at the mid hour of night,
Hast gain'd thy entrance, Virgin wise and pure."

It will be seen, that he combined with his rhymes much of the freedom and force of blank verse. He never allows the absence of good strong sense nor the presence of unmeaning or useless words in order to make out the rhyme.

By printing his sonnets compactly without separating the stanzas from each other Milton carried on his sentences, as he found desirable, from stanza to stanza, frequently without any close at the end of a stanza, sometimes just beginning near the end. In this case the separation of the stanzas by spaces would evidently be absurd. Read the last five lines of his sonnet to Cromwell:

[merged small][ocr errors]

Here, in the method of separating the stanzas by wider spaces in printing, the phrase “new foes arise” would have been separated from the line which follows, with which it is so intimately connected,—the head line of the last triplet.


The author may here be allowed to say,' that in his judgment in the whole compass of English poetry there are no sonnets equal to a few of Milton's, numbered 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 19, 22 and 23. If any one would know, whether Milton's meditations brought out sentiments worthy of utterance, and whether he knew how to utter them with the melody of rhyme and at the same time with the unshackled freedom and energy of blank verse, I leave with him for his refreshment the following lines from his sonnet on his own Blindness :

“ Doth God exact day-labor, light denied ?".

I fondly ask: But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need

Either man's work, or his own gifts; who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: his state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,

And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve, who only stand and wait.”

More recently Wordsworth, who died in 1850, aged 80, has followed Milton in his application of this form of poetry to higher subjects than that to which it was applied by Petrarch. A very great fault however is his abolishing Milton's method of designating the stanzas and thus showing the places of the rhymes, the pleasures of which are gone if their places are not easily found. He wrote 282 sonnets : he wrote too many; and they are often diffuse and languid. The following is one of his sonnets : it is on the Pastoral Character.

A genial hearth, a hospitable board,
And a refined rusticity belong
To the neat mansion, where, his Flock among,
The learned Pastor dwells, their watchful Lord.
Though meek and patient as a sheathed sword,
Though pride's least lurking thought appear a wrong
To human kind; though peace be on his tongue,
Gentleness in his heart; can earth afford
Such genuine state, pre-eminence so free,
As when, array'd in Obrist's authority,
He from the pulpit lifts his awful hand;
Conjures, implores, and labors all he can
For re-subjecting to divine command
The stubborn spirit of rebellious man?"



The readers of poetry ought to feel much indebted to Mr. Wordsworth for his remarks in regard to the language of poetry, and in regard to the value of enkindled emotions. In his judgment, there ought not to be a distinct poetic diction, separate from the language of good prose; the poet should aim at good sense and intelligible diction, using the language of men, abandoning large portion of phrases and figures of speech, which from father to son have long been regarded as the common inheritance of poets," and even abstaining from many good expressions, which bad poets have so foolishly and perpetually repeated, as to render them disgusting. As illustrating his meaning, he quotes from a sonnet of Gray;

“In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
And reddening Phæbus lifts his golden fire:

birds in vain their amorous descants join,
Or cheerful fields resume their green attire:
These ears, alas ! for other notes repine."


Here this false diction destroys the value of every line.

The other remark of Mr. Wordsworth is this ;—"all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of good feelings.” Perhaps it might be also said, that in addition to sensibility and impassioned expression there should be chosen, for the highest poetry, subjects of moral dignity and religious interest, having a close bearing on human welfare not only for a moment but for perpetuity.


Sonnet 1. The name of WASHINGTON is in the heart of all Americans. Fifty years ago, that is in 1809, in the first edition of the American Biographical Dictionary, I devoted nearly 20 pages to a memoir of Washington. It may be a convenience to the reader of this little book to have here collected the dates as to the leading events of his life. He was born at Bridges Creek, Westmoreland county, Virginia, Feb. 22, 1732; and died suddenly, after an illness of one day by an inflammation of the windpipe, Dec. 14, 1799, nearly 68 years old. He was in early life a major and colonel of the Virginia troops employed against the French on the Ohio in 1754 and 1755; and was subsequently commander in chief. About 1758 he married Mrs. Custis, a wealthy widow, whom he greatly loved. As a planter he had 9,000 acres of land under his management, and nearly 1,000 slaves in his employment, living at Mount Vernon, which was the estate of his deceased older brother Lawrence: his father's name was Augustine: his great grandfather came from the north of England about 1657.—He was appointed by congress commander in chief at the commencement of the war in 1775 ; and at the close resigned his commission Dec. 1783.

In 1789 he was chosen the first president of the United States for 4 years and then re-chosen, continuing in office till 1797, when he was succeeded by John Adams. By his last will he directed, that on the death of Mrs. Washington (who died May 22, 1802,) his slaves should be emancipated. As the ladies of Virginia, with the aid of ladies of other States, have purchased Mount Vernon in reverence to the name of Washington, will they not honor him if they manage it without obtruding upon it any slave labor ?-Gen. Washington was a constant attendant on public worship in an episcopal church, which he principally supported. It is believed, that he every day had his hour of retirement for private devotion.

Sonnet 2. In looking from my eastern window a few evenings since (Dec. 12th,) I was struck with the magnificent appearance of the heavens,—the moon just rising in full effulgence, preceded a few degrees by the splendid planet Jupiter, while still higher and more at the south was the unequalled constellation Orion, with an uncounted multitude of stars planted thick in the sky. Jupiter is 1400 times larger than the earth, being 90,000 miles in diameter : he revolves on his axis in ten hours, so that a body on his surface flies around at the rate of 27,000 miles per hour, or 27 times faster than a body on the earth. It has four satellites. Can it be imagined, that this huge planet is not furnished with rational inhabitants, like this diminutive earth? And what reason can be assigned why all the planets and all the stars should not be inhabited by rational beings ? Who can fix the limits to God's creation? As light flies 192,000 miles every second, who can say, that the light from the most distant star has yet reached the earth since the star was created ? With what reverence and awe, with what love and trust and spirit of obedience should Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, be regarded ?

Sonnet 3. Wm. H. Prescott, the distinguished historian, died at Boston of the paralysis after a few hours' illness Jan. 28, 1859, aged 62 years. Knowing that he was about to die, it was his remarkable request, that in his coffin he might lie for a time with his face uncovered in his library, surrounded by his ch ed Books. From his library he was carried to his grave Jan. 31st. The next evening the Historical Society of Massachusetts held a meeting in honor of his memory. Mr. Winthrop, the president, Mr. Ticknor who introduced some resolutions, and others made speeches on the occasion, which were published. As a humble associate member of the society I would not neglect to mention the following apposite and interesting fact, that Petrarch, the inventor of the Italian sonetto, was found dead in his library with his head resting on a book. He died of apoplexy July 18, 1374, aged 74.-Milton's memorable words in relation to books ought never to be forgotten :-"Many a man lives a burden to the earth ; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, imbalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”—But the book of books is God's Book, which infinitely transcends all others in value, except as they borrow truth from its pages, for it

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »