Page images
PDF
EPUB

NORTH. Milton, who had unremittingly studied the classical Art of Poetry, and who brought into the service of his great and solemn undertaking all the resources of poetical Art, which prior ages had placed at his disposal, whose learning, from the literature of the world, gathered spoils to hang up in the vast and glorious temple which he dedicated-He might, without offence to the devout purpose of his own soul, borrow from the devotion of those old pagan worshippers the hint, and partially the form, of those exordial supplications.

SEWARD.
He opens the Paradise Lost with Two Invocations. Both implore aid.
But the aid asked in one and in the other is different in kind, as the Two
Powers, of whom the aid is asked, are also wholly different. Let us look at
these two Invocations in the order in which they stand.

“Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, heavenly Muse, that, on the sacred top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of chaos : or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flow'd
Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

And chiefly Thou, o Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st: Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like, sat'st brooding on the vast abyss,
And mad'st it pregnant: what in me is dark,
Illumine: what is low, raise and support;
That to the height of this great argument
I may assert eternal Providence,

And justify the ways of God to men." The First is taken, hint and form both, from Homer. Homer, girding up his strength to sing the war of confederated Greece against Troy and her confederates, makes over his own overpowering theme to a Spirit able to support the burden-to the Muse. Sing, Goddess, he begins, the Anger of Achilles.

NORTH. Even so Milton. After proposing in a few words the great argument of his Poem—that fatal first act of disobedience to the Creator, by which our First_Parents, along with His favour, forfeited Innocence, Bliss, Immortality, and Paradise, for themselves and their posterity, until the coming of the Saviour shall redeem the Sin and loss-he devolves his own task upon a Muse, whom he deems far higher than the Muse of his greatest predecessor, and whom he, to mark this superiority, addresses as the Heavenly Muse.

TALBOYS. She is the Muse who inspired on the summit now of Horeb, now of Sinai; when for forty years in retreat from his own people, yet under their Egyptian yoke, he kept the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro—the actual Shepherd who, from communing with God and commissioned by God, came down into Egypt again to be the Shepherd of his people and to lead out the flock of Israel.

SEWARD. She is the Muse who, when the Hebrew tribes were at length seated in the promised land—when Zion in the stead of Sinai was the chosen Mountain of God-inspired Psalmists and Prophets.

TALBOYS. And the reason is manifest for the distinguishing of Moses. For all critics of the style of the inspired Writers distinguish that of Moses from all the others, as antique, austere, grave, sublime, as if there were in him who conversed personally with God greater sanctity of style, even as his face shone when he came down from the Mount; as the whole character and office of Moses was held by the Hebrews, and is held, perhaps, by us, as lifting him above all other prophetic leaders.

He was the founder of the Nation, and the type of the Saviour.

Milton desires for his work, all qualities of style, as the variable subject shall require them. Not only the high rank of Moses as the author of the Pentateuch required that he should be named, but this in particular, that Moses was the historian of the Creation and Fall.

NORTH.

TALBOYS.

NORTH.

TALBOYS.

One might for a moment be tempted to confound the inspiration here meant with that highest inspiration which was vouchsafed in those holy places, and which we distinguish by the unequivocal name of revelation. But on reflection we perceive it not possible that Milton should have ascribed such an office to an Impersonation-those awful Communications which distinguished those persons chosen by the Almighty to be the vessels of his Will to the Children of Men. His revelations, we are instructed to believe, are immediately from himself.

Somebody said to me once that Milton's First Invocation to the Muse is oppressed with Mountains ; that it is as if he had shaken out what he had got under the head Mountains, in his Common-Place Book; and

NORTH. Somebody had better have held his tongue. No. They occur by natural association. He wants aid of the Muse who inspired Moses--I suppose, who sustained—that is, gave his style of the other writers in the Old Testament. To sappose her visiting Moses on either peak of the Sacred Hill where he had his divine communions, is obvious and inevitable, and, I hope, solemn and sublime too. To suppose her accompanying the migration of the Israelites, and as she had devoutly affected their Sacred Mountain of the Wilderness, also devontly affecting their Holy Mountain at the foot of which they built their Metropolis, is a spontaneous and unavoidable process of thought. Sinai and Sion represent, as if they contain embodied, the religion and history blended of the race. And if the divine Muse has two divine Hills, how can Milton help thinking of the quasi-divine Hill on which were gathered the nine quasi-divine Sisters ? Doubtless, three distinct Mountains in the first sixteen lines, if absolutely considered, may seem cumbrous and overwhelming. But accept them for what they are in the Invocation; the two first localisings of the one Muse, they are easy. Why should not her wing skim from peak to peak ? and Parnassus looms in the distance on the horizon.

SEWARD. A more urgent and trying question is, what does he invoke? We have a sort of biographical information respecting the Address to the Spirit. Milton did believe himself under its especial influences, and the Address is a direct and proper Prayer. But what is this Muse? To us the old Muses-whatever they may have been to the Greeks—are Impersonations, and nothing more, of powers in our own souls. If name attest nature, such is the muse of Milton—a power of his own soul-bat one which dwelt also in the soul of the great Hebrew shepherd. Say, for the sake of a determining notion, the power

SEWARD.

of the austere and simple religious sublime. A human power, but moved by contact of the soul with divine subjects. Perhaps I say too bluntly that those old Muses were mostly but impersonations of human powers. An abstruse, difficult, and solemn part of our existence is touched, implicated. We find when we are deeply moved that powers which slept in us awake ;-Powers which have before awaked, and fallen back in sleep ;-Powers, too, that have never before awaked.

NORTH. But what do we know of what is ultimate ? If there is a contact of our spirits with the universal Spirit, if there are to us divine communions, influences, how do we know when they begin and end ? It seems reverent and circumspect to view poetical inspiration as a human fact only, but we are not sure that it is not even more religious to believe that the unsuspected breath of Deity moves our souls in their higher and happier moments. Be they motions of our own souls, be there inferior influences mingled, those Muses were names for the powers upon this view—for the powers and mingled influences upon another. On the whole, I think that the distinction is here intended generally; and that the heavenly Muse represents the human soul exalted, or its powers ennobled by contact with illuminating and hidden influences-as the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, have each quite the style of their own humanity in writing under the governance of the Spirit.

I consider the free daring with which all Poets of the modern world, at least, have, for the uses of their Art, converted Powers and Agencies into imaginary beings. I consider the respects in which the Poet has need of

He wants aid if he is to penetrate into regions inaccessible to mortal foot or eye-if he is to disclose transactions veiled since the foundations of the world; but this aid the Muse cannot afford to the Christian Poet, and we shall presently see that he applies for it to a higher Source. But the Poet who undertakes to sing of Heaven and Earth, of Chaos and of Hell, who comprehends within his unbounded Song all orders of Being, from the Highest and Greatest to the Lowest and Least-all that are Good and all that are Evil, and all that are mixed of Good and Evil-and all transactions from the date, if we may safely so speak, when Time issued from the bosom of Eternity to the still distant date, when Time shall again merge in that Eternity out of which it arose, and be no more :-That Poet, if any, needs implore for a voice equal to his theme, a power of wing measured to the flight which he intends to soar; he needs for the very manner of representation which he is to use-for the very words in which he is to couch stupendous thoughts—for the very music in which his pealing words shall roll-aid, if aid can be had for supplication.

NORTH. Yes, Seward. We consider these things. We consider the laborious, learned, and solemn studies, by which we are told, by which Milton tells us, that he endeavoured to qualify himself for performing his great work, and I propose this account of this first Invocation, stripped of its Poetical garb. In the first place, that the subject of desire to the Poet—the thing askedis high, grave, reverend, sublime, fitted Style or Expression. As for the addressing, and the power of the wish, you may remember that, as we hear, employing human means, he assiduously read, or caused to be read, the profane, and his native, and the Sacred Writers—drawing thence his manner of poetical speech.

AID.

TALBOYS.

Heavenly" Muse is opposed to Olympian" Muse; as if “ Hebraic" to 4 Hellenic;" as if "Scriptural” to “ Classical ;" as if“Sacredto Profane ;" as if Muse of Zion to Muse of Pindus. Therefore we must ask — What Muse" ordinarily means ? We know what it meant in the mouth of a believing Greek. It meant a rcal person—a divine being of a lower Order. But Milton is a Christian—for whom those deities are no more. They are, in his eye, mere imaginations--air.

“ For Thou art heavenly! She (the Hellenic) an empty dream." And so already

“ The meaning, not the name, I call.” To wit, the Hellenic is to him a namemair.

SEWARD.

We must ask-What does, in ordinary Verse, not in sacred poetry, a Christian poet mean, when He names, and yet more when he invokes, the Muse—the Sacred Sisters nine ? And we are thrown upon recognising the widely-spread literary fact—not unattractive or quite unimportant that Christendom cherished this reminiscence of Heathendom; that, in fact, our poetry seems to rest for a part of its life upon this airy relic of a fled mythology-varied in all ways, Muse, Helicon, Hippocrene, &c. Greatest Poets, not poetasters, the inspired, not the imitative and servile- and at height of occasion. Thus Shakspeare

“O for a Muse of fire that would ascend
The highest heaven of invention !

A kingdom for a stage !” &c.
Spenser—at entering upon his vast Poem-

“Me all too mean the Sacred Muse areeds." And the master of good plain sense in verse, Pope, acknowledges the ineradicably rooted expression

“ Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.I put these together, because I doubt not but that Milton in choosing and guarding (just like Tasso) the word, looked this practice of Christian, or christened poets, full in the face; and spoke, founding upon it. Muse, to hismind inventing his Invocation, had three senses. Imaginary Deity of a de. parted belief-An Authoritative Name, thence retained with affection and pride by Poets of the Christian world-Or, something new, which might be. inade for his own peculiar purpose, or which Tasso had begun to make, undertaking a Poem after a sort sacred.

I cannot believe that the word which has held such fond place in the minds of great poets, and all poets, can have been a dry and bald imitation of antiqnity. Doubtless it had, and has, a living' meaning; answers to, and is answered by, something in their bosoms—the Name to which Shakspeare. and Spenser clung, and which Milton put by the side of the Holy Spirit and transplanted into Heaven.

Qar attention is first reflectively directed upon recognised Impersonations in Poetry. But we are very much accustomed to misunderstand the nature of Poetry; for we are much accustomed to look upon Poetry as an art of intellectual recreation, and nothing more. Only as a privileged Art-an Art privileged to think in a way of its own, and to entertain, for the sake of a delicate amusement and gratification, illusory thoughts which have never bad belief belonging to them. And meeting with Impersonations in poetry, we set down Impersonations amongst the illusory thoughts thus imagined and entertained for intellectual pleasure, and which have never been believed. It is a mistake altogether. Poetry has its foundation in a transient belief. Impersonations have held very durable belief amongst men. When we reflect and take upon us to become cognisant of our own intellectual acts, we are bound to become cognizant of these illusions—to know that they must have temporary belief-that they must not have permanent belief.

“Sing, Heavenly Muse." Milton redeems the boldness of adventurously transplanting from a Pagan Mythology into a Christian Poem, and thus

TALBOYS.

NORTH.

SEWARD.

NORTA.

imparts a consecration of his own to a Heathen word ; but the primitive cast and colouring remain, satisfying us that we must here understand an Imaginary Being

The Seventh Book again opens with an Invocation for aid, and again to the same person.

We find in the opening verses the personality attributed with increased distinctness, and with much increased boldness. A proper name is given, and a new imaginary person int ed, and a new and extraordinary joint action attributed to the Two.

“ Descend from Heaven, Urania—by that name

If rightly Thou art called-whose voice divine
Following, above the Olympian hill I soar,
Above the flight of Pegasean wing!
The meaning, not the name, I call : for Thou
Nor of the Muses nine, nor on the top
Of old Olympus dwell'st; but, heavenly born,
Before the hills appeared, or fountain flowed,
Thou with Eternal Wisdom didst converse ;
Wisdom thy sister, and with her didst play
In presence of the Almighty Father, pleased

With thy celestial song."
She is now named-Urania (The former title given her—“ Heavenly
Muse"—is equivalent.) But because one of the Nine Muses was named
Urania, he distinguishes-

“ The meaning, not the name, I call." She is described as conversing before the creation of this Universe, and playing with her Sister Wisdom, in the presence of God, who listens, pleased,

to her song.

In this bold and tender twofold Impersonation, I seem to understand this.

Wisdom is the Thought of God respectively to the connection of Causes and Effects in his Creation, or to the Laws which constitute and uphold its Order: considered as Useful.

This Thought is boldly separated from God, and impersonated as One Sister.

Urania is the Thought of God, relatively to the Order and Harmony of his Works :-considered as Beautiful.

When God sees that his Creation upon each day is “good,” (which expresion Milton is careful to repeat upon each day,) we must understand that he regards it in both respects.

The Invocation is, therefore, placed with a perfect propriety at the beginning of the Book which is occupied in describing the Creation.

For the meaning here attributed to Urania playing with Wisdom before the pleased Father, compare the passage where the dance of the Angels has been compared to the motions of the stars, and the Speaker, the Archangel Raphael, adds :

“And in their motions harmony divine
So smooths her charming tones, that God's own ear

Listens delighted.” Where the audible harmony of the spheres and the song of Urania seem to be as nearly as possible one and the same thing-namely, Music—which is The Beautiful in one of its kinds, used, with extremely profound and bold imagination, for expressing The Beautiful in all its kinds.

Who is it that, in presence of the Everlasting Throne, converses with her sister, Eternal Wisdom; plays with her-singing, the while, so that the awful Ear of Omnipotence bends from the Throne, listening and pleased ?

The majestical Invocation opens the Seventh Book of the Paradise Lost ; nd the Seventh Book of the Paradise Lost is occupied from beginning to end

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »