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Title: Milton
Author: Bailey, John Cann, 1864-1931
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Milton" ***

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MILTON


BY

JOHN BAILEY


AUTHOR OF "THE CLAIMS OF FRENCH POETRY,"
  "DR. JOHNSON AND HIS CIRCLE," ETC.



LONDON

WILLIAMS AND NORGATE



[Transcriber's note: Page numbers in this book are indicated by numbers
enclosed in curly braces, e.g. {99}.  They have been located where page
breaks occurred in the original book, in accordance with Project
only at the start of that section.]



First printed Spring 1915



CONTENTS


CHAP.

   I INTRODUCTORY  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    7
  II MILTON'S LIFE AND CHARACTER . . . . . . . . . . .   28
 III THE EARLIER POEMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   89
  IV _PARADISE LOST_ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  143
   V _PARADISE REGAINED_ AND _SAMSON AGONISTES_  . . .  190
     BIBLIOGRAPHY  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  250
     INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  254



  Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
  England hath need of thee; she is a fen
  Of stagnant waters: altar, sword and pen,
  Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
  Have forfeited their ancient English dower
  Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
  Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
  And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
  Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
  Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea;
  Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
  So didst thou travel on life's common way,
  In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
  The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
          WORDSWORTH.



  O Mighty-mouth'd inventor of harmonies,
  O skill'd to sing of Time or Eternity,
    God-gifted organ-voice of England,
      Milton, a name to resound for ages;
  Whose Titan angels, Gabriel, Abdiel,
  Starr'd from Jehovah's gorgeous armouries,
    Tower, as the deep-doomed empyrean
      Rings to the roar of an angel onset--
  Me rather all that bowery loneliness,
  The brooks of Eden mazily murmuring,
    And bloom profuse and cedar arches
      Charm, as a wanderer out in ocean,
  Where some refulgent sunset of India
  Streams o'er a rich ambrosial ocean isle,
    And crimson-hued the stately palm-woods
      Whisper in odorous heights of even.
          TENNYSON.



{7}

MILTON


CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTORY

When a man spends a day walking in hilly country he is often astonished
at the new shape taken on by a mountain when it is looked at from a new
point of view.  Sometimes the change is so great as to make it almost
unrecognizable.  He who has seen Snowdon from Capel-Curig is reluctant
to admit that what he sees from Llanberis is the same mountain: he who
has seen the Langdale Pikes from Glaramara is amazed at their beauty as
he gazes at them from the garden at Low Wood.  These are extreme cases.
But to a less degree every traveller among the mountains is
experiencing the same thing all day.  He finds the eternal hills the
most plastic of forms.  At each change in his own position there is a
change in the shape of a mountain under which he is passing.  He may
keep his eye fixed upon it but insensibly, as he watches, the long {8}
chain will become a vertical peak, the jagged precipice a round green
slope.

Much the same process goes on as the generations of men pass on their
way, with their eyes fixed, as they cannot help being, on the great
human heights of their own and earlier days.  Many of these look great
only when you are close to them.  At a little distance they are seen to
be small and soon they disappear altogether.  The true mountains remain
but they do not keep the same shape.  Each succeeding generation sees
the peaks of humanity from a new point of view which cannot be exactly
the same as that of its predecessor.  Each age reshapes for itself its
conception of art, of poetry, of religion, and of human life which
includes them all.  Of some of the masters in each of these worlds it
feels that they belong not to their own generation only but to all time
and so to itself.  It cannot be satisfied, therefore, with what its
predecessors have said about them.  It needs to see them again freshly
for itself, and put into words so far as it can its own attitude
towards them.

That is the excuse for the new books which will always be written every
few years about Hebrew Religion, or Greek Art, or the French
Revolution, or about such men as Plato, {9} St. Paul, Shakspeare,
Napoleon.  It is the excuse even for a much humbler thing, for the
addition of a volume on Milton to the Home University Library.  The
object of this Library is not, indeed, to say anything startlingly new
about the great men with whom it deals.  Rather the contrary, in fact:
for to say anything startlingly new about Shakspeare or Plato would
probably be merely to say what is absurd or false.  The main outlines
of these great figures have long been settled, and the man who writes a
book to prove that Shakspeare was not a great dramatist, or was an
exact and lucid writer, is wasting his own time and that of his
readers.  The mountain may change its aspect from hour to hour, but
when once we have ascertained that it is composed of granite, that
matter is settled, and there is no use in arguing that it is sandstone
or basalt.  The object of such volumes as those of this Library is no
vain assault on the secure judgment-seat of the world, no hopeless
appeal against the recorded and accepted decrees of time.  It is rather
to re-state those decrees in modern language and from the point of view
of our own day: to show, for instance, how Plato, though no longer for
us what he was for the Neo-Platonists, is {10} still for us the most
moving mind of the race that more than all others has moved the mind of
the world; how Milton, though no longer for us a convincing justifier
of the ways of God to men, is still a figure of transcendent interest,
the most lion-hearted, the loftiest-souled, of Englishmen, the one
consummate artist our race has produced, the only English man of
letters who in all that is known about him, his life, his character,
his poetry, shows something for which the only fit word is sublime.

There was much else beside, of course.  The sublime is very near the
terrible, and the terrible is often not very far removed from the
hateful.  Dante giving his "daily dreadful line" to the private and
public enemies with whom he grimly populates his hell is not exactly an
amiable or attractive figure.  Still less so is Milton in those prose
pamphlets in which he passes so rapidly, and to us so strangely, from
the heights of heaven to the gutter mud of scurrilous personalities.
This is a disease from which our more amiable age seems at last to have
delivered the world.  But Milton has at least the excuse of a long and
august tradition, from the days of Demosthenes, equally profuse of a
patriotism as lofty and of personalities as {11} base as Milton's, to
those of a whole line of the scholars of the Renaissance who lived with
the noblest literature of the world and wrote of each other in the
language of Billingsgate fishwives.  So the sublimity of his life is
wholly that of an irresistible will, set from the first on achieving
great deeds and victoriously achieving them in defiance of adverse men
and fates.  But this is quite compatible with qualities the reverse of
agreeable.  It is the business of sublimity to compel amazed
admiration, not to be a pleasant companion.  Milton rejoicing over the
tortures bishops will suffer in hell, Milton insulting Charles I,
Milton playing the tyrant to his daughters, none of these are pleasant
pictures.  But such incidents, if perhaps unusually grim in the case of
Milton, are apt to happen with Olympians.  Experience shows that it is
generally best to listen to their thunder from a certain distance.

Such limitations must not be ignored.  But neither must they be unduly
pressed.  The important thing about the sun is not its spots but its
light and heat.  No great poet in all history, with the possible
exception of Dante, has so much heat as Milton.  In prose and verse
alike he burns and glows with fire.  At its worst it is a fire of anger
and pride, at {12} its best a fire of faith in liberty, justice,
righteousness, God.  Of the highest of all fires, the white flame of
love, it has indeed little.  Milton had no Beatrice to teach him how to
show men the loveliness of the divine law, the beauty of holiness.  He
could describe the loss of Paradise and even its recovery, but its
eternal bliss, the bliss of those who live in the presence of

  l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle,

he could not describe.  To do that required one who had seen the Vita
Nuova before he saw the Inferno.  _In la sua volontade é nostra pace_.
So Dante thought: but not altogether so Milton.  It is not a difference
of theological opinion: it is a difference of temper.  For Dante the
"will of God" at once suggested both the apostolic and the apocalyptic
love, joy, peace, the supreme and ultimate beatific vision.  Bitter as
his life on earth had been, no man ever suffering more from evil days
and evil tongues, no man ever more bitterly conscious of living in an
evil and perverse generation, he had yet within him a perpetual
fountain of peace in the thought of God's will, and the faith that he
was daily advancing nearer to the light of heaven and the divine
presence.  Milton, a sincere believer in God {13} if man ever were,
must also at times have had his moments of beatific vision in which the
invisible peace of God became more real than the storms of earthly life
and the vileness of men.  Indeed, we see the traces of such moments in
the opening of _Comus_, in the concluding lines of _Lycidas_, in the
sustained ecstasy of _At a Solemn Music_.  But they appear to have been
only moments.  Milton was a lifelong Crusader who scarcely set foot in
the Holy Land.  The will of God meant for him not so much peace as war.
He is a prophet rather than a psalmist.  "Woe is me, my Mother, that
thou hast born me a man of strife and contention," he himself complains
in the _Reason of Church Government_.  He was not much over thirty when
he wrote those words: and they remained true of him to the end.  For
twenty years the strife was active and public; ever, in appearance at
least, more and more successful: then for the final fourteen it became
the impotent wrath of a caged and wounded lion.  Never for a moment did
his soul bow to the triumph of the idolaters: but neither could it
forget them, nor make any permanent escape into purer air.  _Paradise
Lost_, _Paradise Regained_ and _Samson_, especially the last, are all
plainly the works of a man conscious of {14} having been defeated by a
world which he could defy but could not forget.  Sublimely certain of
the righteousness of his cause, he has no abiding certainty of its
victory.  He hears too plainly the insulting voices of the sons of
Belial, and broods in proud and angry gloom over the ruin of all his
hopes, personal, political and ecclesiastical.  And as his religion was
a thing of intellect and conscience, not a thing of spiritual vision,
he cannot make for himself that mystical trans-valuation of all earthly
doings in the light of which the struggles of political and
ecclesiastical parties are seen as things temporary, trivial and of
little account.

Such are the limitations of Milton.  They are those of a man who lived
in the time of a great national struggle, deliberately chose his own
side in it, and from thenceforth saw nothing in the other but folly,
obstinacy and crime.  He has in him nothing whatever of the universal,
and universally sympathetic, insight of Shakspeare.  And he has paid
the price of his narrowness in the open dislike, or at best grudging
recognition, of that half of the world which is not Puritan and not
Republican, and still looks upon history, custom, law and loyalty with
very different eyes from his.  But those who exact that {15} penalty do
themselves at least as much injustice as they do Milton.  To deprive
ourselves of Milton because we are neither Puritan moralists nor Old
Testament politicians is an act of intellectual suicide.  The wise, as
the world goes on, may differ more and more from some of Milton's
opinions.  They can never escape the greatness either of the poet or of
the man.  Men's appreciation of Milton is almost in proportion to their
instinctive understanding of what greatness is.  Other poets, perhaps,
have things of greater beauty: none in English, none, perhaps, in any
language, fills us with a more exalting conviction of the greatness of
human life.  No man rises from an hour with Milton without feeling
ashamed of the triviality of his life and certain that he can, if he
will, make it less trivial.  It is impossible not to catch from him
some sense of the high issues, immediate and eternal, on which human
existence ought to be conscious that it hangs.  The world will be very
old before we can spare a man who can render us this service.  We have
no one in England who renders it so imperiously as Milton.

This part of his permanent claim upon our attention belongs to all that
we know of him, to everything in his life so far as it is recorded,
{16} even to his prose, where its appearances are occasional, as well
as to his verse, where it is continuous and omnipresent.  It is, of
course, in connection with the last that we are most conscious of it
and that it is most important.  After all, the rest would have been
unknown or forgotten if he had not been a great poet.  But it is not
merely by his force of mind and character, nor merely by the influence
they have upon us through the poetry, that he claims our attention
to-day.  Altogether independently of that, the study of Milton is of
immense and special value to Englishmen.  Except in poetry our English
contribution to the life of the arts in Europe has been comparatively
small.  That very Puritanism which had so much to do with the greatness
of Milton has also had much to do with the general failure of
Englishmen to produce fine art, or even to care about it, or so much as
recognize it when they see it.  Now Milton, Puritan as he was, was
always, and not least in his final Puritan phase, a supreme artist.
Poetry has been by far our greatest artistic achievement and he is by
far our greatest poetic artist.  No artist in any other field, no Inigo
Jones or Wren, no Purcell, no Reynolds or Turner, holds such
unquestioned eminence in any other art as he in his.  If {17} the world
asks us where to look for the genius of England, so far as it has ever
been expressed on paper, we point, of course, unhesitatingly to
Shakspeare.  But Shakspeare is as inferior to Milton in art as he is
superior in genius.  His genius will often, indeed, supply the place of
art; but the possession of powers that are above art is not the same
thing as being continuously and consciously a great artist.  We can all
think of many places in his works where for hundreds of lines the most
censorious criticism can scarcely wish a word changed; but we can also
think of many in which the least watchful cannot fail to wish much
changed and much omitted.  "Would he had blotted a thousand" is still a
true saying, and its truth known and felt by all but the blindest of
the idolaters of Shakspeare.  No one has ever uttered such a wish about
the poetry of Milton.  This is not the place to anticipate a discussion
of it which must come later.  But, in an introductory chapter which
aims at insisting upon the present and permanent importance of Milton,
it is in place to point out the immense value to the English race of
acquaintance with work so conscientiously perfect as Milton's.  English
writers on the whole have had a tendency to be rather slipshod in {18}
expression and rather indifferent to the finer harmonies of human
speech, whether as a thing of pure sound or as a thing of sounds which
have more than mere meaning, which have associations.  Milton as both a
lover of music and a scholar is never for a moment unconscious of
either.  It would scarcely be going too far to say that there is not a
word in his verse which owes its place solely to the fact that it
expresses his meaning.  All the words accepted by his instinctive or
deliberate choice were accepted because they provided him with the most
he could obtain of three qualities which he desired: the exact
expression of the meaning needed for the immediate purpose in hand, the
associations fittest to enhance or enrich that meaning, the rhythmical
or musical effect required for the verse.  The study of his verse is
one that never exhausts itself, so that the appreciation of it has been
called the last reward of consummate scholarship.  But the phrase does
Milton some injustice.  It is true that the scholar tastes again and
again in Milton some flavour of association or suggestion which is not
to be perceived by those who are not scholars, and it is also true that
he consciously understands what he is enjoying more than they possibly
can.  But neither Milton's nor any other {19} great art makes its main
appeal to learning.  What does that is not art at all but pedantry.
Those who have never read a line of the Greek and Latin poets certainly
miss many pleasures in reading Milton, but, if they have any ear for
poetry at all, they do not miss either the mind or the art of Milton.
The unconquerable will, the high soaring soul, are everywhere audibly
present: and so, even to those who have little reading and no knowledge
at all of matters of rhythm or metre, are the grave Dorian music, the
stately verses rolling in each after the other like great ocean waves
in eternal difference, in eternal sameness.  The ignorant ear hears and
rejoices, with a delight that passes understanding, as the ignorant eye
sees a fine drawing or a piece of Greek sculpture and without
understanding enjoys, learns, and unconsciously grows in keenness of
sight.  To live with Milton is necessarily to learn that the art of
poetry is no triviality, no mere amusement, but a high and grave thing,
a thing of the choicest discipline of phrase, the finest craftsmanship
of structure, the most nobly ordered music of sound.  The ordinary
reader may not be conscious of any such lessons: but he learns them
nevertheless.  And from no one else in English can he learn them so
well as from Milton.

{20} For these reasons, these and others, we must cling to our great
epic poet, Shelley's "third among the sons of light."  He is not easy
reading: the greatest seldom are: but as with all the greatest, each
new reading is not only easier than the last but fuller of matter for
thought, wonder and delight.  At each new reading, too, the things in
him that belonged to his own age, the Biblical literalism, the
theological prepossessions, the political partisanship, recede more and
more into the background and leave us freer to enjoy the things which
belong to all time.  And to all peoples.  Milton is, indeed, intensely
English and could not have been anything but an Englishman.  His
profound conviction of the greatness of moral issues, and his
passionate love of liberty, have both been characteristic of the
Englishmen of whom England is most proud.  Till lately too, at any
rate, we should have said that his fierce individualism, intellectual
and political, was English too.  But his mind and soul, stored with the
gathered riches of many languages and of an inward experience far too
intense to be confined by national limitations, reach out to a world
wider altogether than this island, wider even than Europe.  In _Samson
Agonistes_ it is hard to say who is more vividly present, the English
{21} politician, the Greek tragedian, or the Hebrew prophet.  And in
one sense _Paradise Lost_ is the most universal of all poems.  Indeed,
that word may be applied to it in its strictest meaning, for the field
of Milton's action is not Greece, or Italy, or England, or even the
whole earth; it is the universe itself.  That is one of its
difficulties: but it is also a source of the uplifting and enlarging
quality which is peculiarly Miltonic.  With him we are conscious of
treading no petty scene.  We have in some respects travelled far from
Milton's way both of stating and of solving his problem, but
nevertheless it is still with us to-day and always: the problem of
man's origin and destiny, of the ways of God to men.  And though Milton
is more hampered by literal belief in a particular theological legend
than the authors of the _Book of Job_ and the _Prometheus Vinctus_,
yet, like these, he shows that a great mind and soul will leave the
imprint of power and truth on the most incredible primitive story.  To
read his great poem, or indeed any of his poems, is to live for a while
in the presence of one of those royal souls, those natural kings of
men, whom Plato felt to be born to rule and inspire their fellows: and
the heroic temper of the man is in England less rare than the
consummate {22} perfection of art which has eternalized its utterance.
This is Milton: and, though we may be too weak to read him often, we
shall never be able to do without him, never think of him without an
added strength and exaltation of spirit.



{23}

CHAPTER II

MILTON'S LIFE AND CHARACTER

We know far more about Milton than about any other English poet born so
long ago.  There are three reasons for this.  One is that from his
earliest years he was very much interested in himself, was quite aware
that he was a man above the stature of ordinary men, and had the most
deliberate intention and expectation of doing great things.
Consequently he is not only, like most good poets, fond of bringing
more or less concealed autobiography into his poetry, but still more in
his prose works he inclines often to insert long passages about
himself, his studies, travels, projects, friends and character.  It is
these more than anything else which now keep those works alive: and,
coming from a man so proudly truthful as Milton evidently was, they are
of the greatest interest and value.  The second reason why we know so
much about him is that he played an active part in politics, a far more
certain way of {24} attracting contemporary attention in England than
writing _Hamlet_ or building St. Paul's Cathedral.  And the third is
that his life has been made the subject of perhaps the most minute and
elaborate biography in the language.  Mr. Masson's labours enable us to
know, if we choose, every fact, however insignificant, which the most
laborious investigation can discover, not only about Milton himself
but, one may almost say, about everybody who was ever for five minutes
in Milton's company.

From this mass of material, all that can be touched here is a few of
the most salient facts of the life and the most striking features of
the character.

Milton's life is naturally divided into three periods.  The first is
that of his education and early poems.  It extends from his birth in
1608 to his return from his foreign travels in 1639.  The second is
that of his political activity, and extends from 1639 to the
Restoration.  The third is that of _Paradise Lost_, _Paradise Regained_
and _Samson_.  It concludes with his death, on November 8, 1674.

Milton was born on December 9, 1608, at a house in Bread Street,
Cheapside.  The house is gone, but the street is a very short one, and
it is still pleasant to step out of the {25} roar of Cheapside into its
quietness, and think that there, on the left, close by, under the
shadow of Bow Church, was born the greatest poet to whom the greatest
city of the modern world has given birth.  London ought to hold fast to
the honour of Milton, for his honour is peculiarly hers.  He was not
only born a Londoner but lived in London nearly all his life.  And his
mind is throughout that of the citizen.  Neither agriculture nor sport
means much to him; and, much as he loves the sights and sounds of the
open country, his allusions to them are those of the delighted but
still wondering alien, not those of the native.  None is more often
quoted than the passage in the ninth book of _Paradise Lost_--

  "As one who, long in populous city pent,
  Where houses thick and sewers annoy the air,
  Forth issuing on a summer's morn, to breathe
  Among the pleasant villages and farms
  Adjoined, from each thing met conceives delight--
  The smell of grain, or tedded grass, or kine,
  Or dairy, each rural sight, each rural sound--
  If chance with nymph-like step fair virgin pass,
  What pleasing seemed for her now pleases more,
  She most, and in her look sums all delight."

{26} And the secret of its charm obviously lies partly in the note of a
personal experience.  Just in that way must Milton, as boy and man,
have often issued forth from the weariness of his studies and the noise
and confinement of the streets, for a walk among the open fields that
then lay so close at hand for the Londoner.  And perhaps, as the
inhabitants of towns often do, he took a pleasure in the very hedgerows
unknown to those who saw them every day.  The present Poet Laureate,
who has spent most of his life in the country, has asked a question to
which it is not easy for the countryman to give the answer he would
like--

  "Whose spirit leaps more high,
  Plucking the pale primrose,
  Than his whose feet must fly
  The pasture where it grows?"

If the town-dweller never attains to that mystical communion with the
secret soul of Nature which Wordsworth and such as Wordsworth owe to a
life spent in the "temple's inmost shrine," yet his eye, undulled by
familiarity, commonly sees more in trees and flowers than the eyes of
nearly all those who live every day among them.  At its highest
familiarity breeds intimacy, but more often what it breeds is
indifference.  A man who {27} reads the Bible for the first time in
middle life will never live inside it as some saints have lived; but he
will see much that is hidden from most of those who have been reading
it every day since they could read at all.

Milton remained in London, so far as we know, for the first sixteen
years of his life.  He was educated at St. Paul's School by a private
tutor, one Thomas Young, who was later a conspicuous Presbyterian
figure, and by his father, to whom he owed far more than to any one
except himself.  The elder John Milton was a remarkable man.  He had,
to begin with, deserted the religious views of his family and taken a
line of his own, a course which may not always indicate wisdom, but
always indicates force of character.  The poet's grandfather, who lived
in the Oxford country, had adhered very definitely to Roman Catholicism
and is said to have cast off his son for becoming a Protestant and
something of a Puritan.  The son went to London, set up in business as
a scrivener, that is, as something like a modern solicitor, and
prospered so much that by 1632 he was able to retire and live in the
country.  He had considerable musical talents, and his compositions are
found in collections of tunes to which such {28} men as Morley, Dowland
and Orlando Gibbons contributed.  His house was no doubt full of music,
as were, indeed, many others in that most musical of English centuries,
and it must have been primarily to him that the poet owed the intense
delight in music which appears in all his works.  No poet speaks of
music so often, and none in his poetry so often suggests that art.  The
untaught music of lark or nightingale he has not; but no poet has so
much of the music which is one of the most consciously elaborate of
those arts by which man expresses at once his senses, his mind and his
soul.

In the spring of 1625, just a month or two after the accession of the
king whose tragical fate was to be the original source of Milton's
European fame and very nearly the cause of his mounting a scaffold
himself, the future author of _Paradise Lost_ went into residence at
Cambridge where he remained for seven years.  The college that can
boast his name among its members is Christ's.  Unlike so many poets he
had a successful university career, took the ordinary degrees, and
evidently made an impression on his contemporaries.  No doubt the
strong natural bias to a studious life which he had from a child made
him apter for university discipline {29} than is usually the case with
genius.  From the beginning he had the passion of the student.  He says
of himself that from his twelfth year he scarce ever went to bed before
midnight; and Aubrey reports much the same and says that his father
"ordered the maid to sit up for him."  And his studies were in the main
the accepted studies of the time, not, like Shelley's, a defiance of
them.  All through his life he had a scholar's respect for learning,
and for the great tradition of literature which it is the true business
of scholarship to maintain.  Radical and rebel as he was in politics
and theology, contemptuous of law, custom and precedent, he was always
the exact opposite in his art.  There he never attempted the method of
the _tabula rasa_, or clean slate, which made his political pamphlets
so barren.  The greatest of all proofs of the strength of his
individuality is that it so entirely dominates the vast store of
learning and association with which his poetry is loaded.  Such a man
will at least give his university a chance; and, though Milton did not
in later life look back on Cambridge with great affection or respect,
there can be no doubt that the seven years he spent within the walls of
a college were far from useless to the poet who more than any other
{30} was to make learning serve the purposes of poetry.

So strong, self-reliant and proudly virtuous a nature was not likely to
be altogether popular either with the authorities or with his
companions.  Nor was he, at any rate at first.  He had some difference
with his tutor, had to leave Cambridge for a time, and is alleged, on
very doubtful evidence, to have been flogged.  But, whatever his fault
was, it was nothing that he was ashamed of, for he publicly alluded to
the affair in his Latin poems, and was never afraid to challenge
inquiry into his Cambridge career.  Nor did it injure him permanently
with the authorities.  He took his degrees at the earliest possible
dates, and ten years after he left Cambridge was able to write publicly
and gratefully of "the more than ordinary respect which I found, above
many of my equals, at the hands of those courteous and learned men, the
Fellows of that college wherein I spent some years: who, at my parting
after I had taken two degrees, as the manner is, signified many ways
how much better it would content them that I would stay: as by many
letters full of kindness and loving respect, both before that time and
long after, I was assured of their singular good affection towards me."
The {31} Fellows were no doubt clerical dons of the ordinary sort:
indeed, we know they were; but they could not have Milton among them
for seven years without discovering that he was something above the
ordinary undergraduate.  Wood, who died in 1695 and therefore writes as
a contemporary, says of Milton that while at Cambridge he was "esteemed
to be a virtuous and sober person yet not to be ignorant of his own
parts."  Such young men may not be popular, but if they have the real
thing in them they soon compel respect.  By the undergraduates Milton
was called "The Lady of Christ's."  And it is plain, from his own
references to this nickname in a Prolusion delivered in the college,
that he owed it not only to his fair complexion, short stature and
great personal beauty, but also to the purity, delicacy and refinement
of his manners.  He contemptuously asks the audience who had given him
the nickname whether the name of manhood was to be confined to those
who could drain great tankards of ale or to peasants whose hands were
hard with holding the plough.  He disdains the implied charge of
prudery, and indeed his language is what could not have been used by an
effeminate or a coward.  No braver man ever held a pen.  Wood says {32}
that "his deportment was affable, his gait erect, bespeaking courage
and undauntedness," and he himself tells us that "he did not neglect
daily practice with his sword," and that "when armed with it, as he
generally was, he was in the habit of thinking himself quite a match
for any one and of being perfectly at ease as to any injury that any
one could offer him."  Evidently he owed his title of "Lady" to no
weakness, but to a disgust at the coarse and barbarous amusements then
common at the universities.  He says of himself that he had no faculty
for "festivities and jests," as indeed was to be witnessed by all his
writings.  The witticisms, if such they can be called, which occur in
his poetry and oftener in his prose are akin to what are now called
practical jokes, that is jokes made by the bodies of those whose minds
are not capable of joking.  This was partly the common fault of an age
whose jests, as may be seen sometimes even in Shakspeare, appear to us
to alternate between the merely obvious, the merely verbal, and the
merely barbarous; but it was partly also the peculiar temperament of
Milton, whose sense of humour, like that of many learned and serious
men, was so sluggish that it could only be moved by a very violent
stimulus.  {33} But in the main with Milton there was no question of
jests, good or bad.  It is evident from his own proud confessions that
he was always intensely serious, at least from his Cambridge days,
always conscious of the greatness of life's issues, always uplifted
with the noblest sort of ambition.  He says of himself that, however he
might admire the art of Ovid and poets of Ovid's sort, he soon learnt
to dislike their morals and turned from them to the "sublime and pure
thoughts" of Petrarch and Dante.  And his "reasonings, together with a
certain niceness of nature, an honest haughtiness, and self-esteem
either of what I was or what I might be (which let envy call
pride) . . . kept me still above those low descents of mind beneath
which he must deject and plunge himself that can agree to saleable and
unlawful prostitutions."  And in repudiating an impudently false charge
against his own character he boldly announces a doctrine far above his
own age, one, indeed, to which ours has not yet attained.  "Having had
the doctrine of Holy Scripture unfolding these chaste and high
mysteries with timeliest care infused that 'the body is for the Lord
and the Lord for the body,' thus also I argued to myself,--that, if
unchastity in a woman, whom St. Paul terms the glory of man, be {34}
such a scandal and dishonour, then certainly in a man, who is both the
image and glory of God, it must, though commonly not so thought, be
much more deflowering and dishonourable. . . .  Thus large I have
purposely been that, if I have been justly taxed with this crime, it
may come upon me after all this my confession with a tenfold shame."

Such was the man from the first, severe with others and with himself,
conscious, almost from boyhood, in his own famous words, that "he who
would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable
things ought himself to be a true poem"; a somewhat strange figure, no
doubt, among the tavern-haunting undergraduates of the seventeenth
century, a stranger still to be honoured, a hundred and fifty years
later, in the rooms which then and now were remembered as his, by the
single act of drunkenness in the long and virtuous life of Wordsworth.
When he left the university in 1632 Milton had conquered respect,
though probably not popularity.  The tone of the sixth of the academic
Orations, which he delivered at Cambridge and allowed to be published
in his old age, shows that, being still aware that he was not popular,
he was surprised and pleased at the applause with which a previous
discourse of {35} his had been received and at the large gathering
which had crowded to hear the one he was delivering.  He says that
"nearly the whole flower of the university" was present; and, after
allowing for compliments, it is plain that only a man whose name
aroused expectations could draw an audience which could be so described
without obvious absurdity.

We may well then believe that there is no great exaggeration in his
nephew's statement, substantially confirmed as it is by other evidence,
that when Milton left Cambridge in 1632 he was already "loved and
admired by the whole university, particularly by the Fellows and most
ingenious persons of his House."  He had, as Wood says, "performed the
collegiate and academical exercises to the admiration of all."  The
power of his mind, the grave strength of his character, could not but
be plain to all who had come into close contact with him, and even for
those who had not he was a man who had distinction plainly written on
his face.  It is possible, even, that he was already known as a poet.
Before he left Cambridge he had written several of the poems which we
still read in his works: the beautiful stanzas _On the Death of a Fair
Infant_, so like and so unlike the early poems of Shakspeare, the noble
_Ode {36} on the Nativity_ begun probably on Christmas Day 1629, though
this is not certain; the pretty little _Song on May Morning_ which one
likes to fancy having been sung at some such Cambridge greeting of the
rising May Day sun as those which are still performed on Magdalen Tower
at Oxford; certainly the remarkable lines which are his tribute to
Shakspeare: certainly also the beautiful _Epitaph on the Marchioness of
Winchester_; and, to mention no more, the autobiographical sonnet on
attaining the age of twenty-three.  None of these except the lines on
Shakspeare are known to have been published before they appeared in the
volume of Milton's poems issued in 1645.  But the fact that those lines
were printed, though without Milton's name, among the commendatory
verses prefixed to the 1632 Folio Edition of Shakspeare, may imply that
Milton was already known as a young poet.  There is also a story that
the poem on the death of Lady Winchester was printed in a contemporary
Cambridge collection.  But whether this were so or not (and no such
volume is known to have existed), it seems almost certain that some of
Milton's poems would have got known by being passed about in manuscript
copies.  He himself from the first undervalued nothing he wrote, and
was {37} not afraid to say publicly, in his _Reason of Church
Government_, that, from his early youth, it had been found that,
"whether aught was imposed me by them that had the overlooking, or
betaken to of mine own choice in English or other tongue, prosing or
versing, but chiefly this latter, the style, by certain signs it had,
was likely to live."  He published these bold words in 1641, when he
had given no public proof at all of their truth.  Such a man was not
likely to be unwilling that his verses should be seen: and in
particular such poems as the epitaph on Lady Winchester, whose death
aroused much public interest, or the _Ode on the Nativity_, plainly
challenging the greatest of his predecessors by its high theme and
noble art, are almost sure to have got about and won him some fame.

He had earned distinction, then, and aroused expectation before the end
of his university career.  But what surprised his contemporaries was
that for the next seven or eight years he appeared to do little or
nothing to justify the one or fulfil the other.  Leaving Cambridge when
he was twenty-three, he entered no profession, but lived till he was
past twenty-nine in studious retirement at his father's country house
at Horton near Windsor.  His father, and other friends, very {38}
naturally remonstrated at this apparent inactivity.  To them all the
answer is the same.  He cannot now enter the Church, as he had
intended, because he would not "subscribe slave" and take oaths that he
could not keep.  He is not surrendering himself to "the endless delight
of speculation," or to the pleasure of "dreaming away his years in the
arms of studious retirement."  No; he has other things in view than
these: but for their performance he demands time for himself and
patience from his friends: his own thought is not of being early or
late but of being fit.  And the work for which he is preparing is in
his own mind a settled thing.  It is literature, poetry, and, in
particular, as will soon appear more definitely, a great poem to take
its place among the great poems of the world.

The writing of poetry has never been a recognized and seldom a
lucrative profession.  Most poets, like other artists, have had to face
family opposition and the danger of poverty in obeying their inward
call.  In this matter Milton is one of the great exceptions.  Many
poets have had fathers as rich as his, but it would not be easy to find
one who resigned himself so cheerfully to the prospect of having a
poetic son.  The elder Milton was, however, as we have seen, no
ordinary man.  His sense {39} of the value of the things of the mind
was almost as great as his faith in his son and far greater than his
ambition for his son's visible success in the eyes of the world.  He
had naturally hoped that that son's evident abilities would be
exhibited in the ordinary course in a recognized profession; and he
evidently made some protest against the apparently objectless studies
which, even after leaving Cambridge, Milton seemed to regard as his
sole business in life.  The record of this survives in the Latin poem
_Ad Patrem_ which is plainly a reply to some such remonstrance.  It is
an appeal, and one of very confident tone, to his father not to scorn
the Muses to whom he himself owes his own great musical gifts.  Why
should he, a musician, be astonished to find that his son is a poet?
Poetry more than any of man's other gifts is the proof of his divine
origin: music and poetry rank together; may it not be that he and his
father have divided between them the two great gifts of Apollo?

  "Dividuumque Deum genitorque puerque tenemus."

The poem rings with the scorn of wealth, from which one must suppose
that the old man of business had pointed out that the {40} scholar's
life was not usually lived under the smiles of Fortune.  How can you,
of all men, replies his son, ask me to care much for that?  You trained
me from the first for learning, not for the City or the Bar; the father
who had his son taught not only Latin, but Greek and Hebrew, French and
Italian, astronomy and physical science, cannot ask him to regard money
making as the object of life.  I have chosen a better part than that:
and you were the inspirer of my choice.  And I know that at heart you
agree with it and share it.

The poem is one of the most interesting of Milton's Latin poems, being
rather less affected than most of them by that artificiality of
classical allusion which is the bane of such productions.  So far as we
know, it was the last word on its subject.  From henceforth no one
questioned Milton's right to be a poet and himself.  If he ever
afterwards deserted his poetic vocation it was at what he believed to
be a still higher call.  For the present he lived on quietly at Horton,
near the Church where his mother's grave may still be seen; walking
often, as we may suppose, about that quietly beautiful country washed
by the Thames and crowned by Windsor Castle; and sometimes, as we know
from his own words, travelling the seventeen or eighteen miles to {41}
London to buy books or learn "anything new in Mathematics or in Music,
in which sciences I then delighted."  Some of these visits to London
evidently lasted days or weeks.

The interesting thing about these six years at Horton is that they are
the only part of his life during which the least rural of our poets
lived continuously in the country.  And perhaps we may say that they
bore their natural fruit; for it was while he was at Horton that Milton
wrote _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_, in which he touched rural life
and rural scenes with a freshness and directness which he never again
equalled.  And the most important of the other poems written during
these years, _Arcades_, _Comus_, and above all, _Lycidas_, show the
same influence.  _Arcades_ and _Comus_ point also to the effect of his
visits to London and the musical world: for both of these were written
for the music of his friend Henry Lawes, and probably at his
suggestion; and, written as they were for entertainments given by
members of the noble families of Stanley and Egerton, they show that
Milton's plan of life did not involve cutting himself off from the
great world, where they must have caused his name to be talked of.  His
life at Horton was evidently not that of a mere recluse, {42}
forgetting the world outside and forgotten by it.  _Arcades_ and
_Comus_, and still more the wonderful outburst _At a Solemn Music_, are
visible links with the cultivated circles of the town, as _Lycidas_,
which followed them in 1637 and was printed in 1638 at Cambridge with
other poems to the memory of Edward King, is a visible link with his
old university.

The mention of the poems of these years, the most delightful that
Milton was ever to write, show that the six years spent at Horton were
not entirely what he calls them, "a complete holiday spent in reading
over the Greek and Latin writers."  If he had never written another
line, he had written enough by the time he left Horton to give him a
place among the very greatest men who have practised the art of poetry
in England.  When he started abroad in 1638 he must have known, and his
father too, that his daring choice had already justified itself.  "You
ask what I am about, what I am thinking of," he writes to his friend
Diodati at the end of the Horton time; "why, with God's help, of
immortality."  It is the voice of a man who knows he has already done
great things but counts them as nothing compared with what he is to do
later on.

Man proposes.  In 1637 Milton was "pluming {43} his wings" for the very
mightiest of poetic flights, for such a poem as would give full scope
to his genius and place him among the great poets of the world.  But in
the result he actually wrote less poetry in the next twenty years than
he had written in the previous five: less in quantity and far less in
quality and importance.  The first interruption was the completion of
his elaborate education by a grand tour.  His generous father, who was
well-to-do rather than rich, had acquiesced in his not so far earning
one penny for himself, and was now prepared to provide him with about a
thousand pounds of our present money to enable him to go abroad for a
year or two in comfortable style and with the attendance of a servant.
Leaving England in the spring of 1638, he spent a few days in Paris,
where he was civilly entertained by the famous Grotius, then Swedish
Ambassador there, as well as by the English Ambassador, Lord Scudamore,
but soon moved south, entering Italy by Nice and Genoa and arriving at
Florence in August or September.  There he spent two months, and was
enthusiastically received by the various academies or clubs of men of
letters which then flourished in Florence, one of whose still existing
minute {44} books records that at its meeting on September the 16th a
certain John Milton, an Englishman, read to the members a Latin
hexameter poem showing great learning.  There also he paid his famous
visit to Galileo, now old and blind, and still a sort of nominal
prisoner of the Inquisition, for the sin, as Milton says in the
_Areopagitica_, of "thinking in Astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan
and Dominican licensers thought."  One may be sure that it was not
merely the interest of the new theory about the motion of the earth
which drew him back so often to that question in _Paradise Lost_.  The
blind astronomer, whose scientific heresies had placed him in some
danger of the thumbscrew, must have been a very near and moving memory
to the blind poet whose political and ecclesiastical heresies had so
nearly brought him to the gallows.

From Florence Milton went on to Rome, where his scholarly tastes
gratified themselves for two months in the study of what remained of
the ancient city.  The famous picture of Rome in _Paradise Regained_
may owe something to these weeks.  There, too, he was well received by
several of Rome's most distinguished scholars who paid him compliments
of Italian extravagance.  There, too, he heard the famous Leonora
Baroni {45} sing, and was so moved as to write three Latin epigrams in
her praise.  But it was at Naples, whither he passed on before winter,
that he made the acquaintance which, except that of Galileo, is the
most interesting his Italian tour brought him.  It was that of the
Neopolitan patrician, Giovanni Manso, who had been intimate with Tasso
and Marini and had been celebrated by Tasso in the _Gerusalemme
Conquistata_.  His courtesy to a foreigner was soon to procure him a
still greater honour; for before leaving Naples Milton addressed to him
a Latin poem thanking him for his kindness, speaking openly of his own
poetic ambitions and praying that, if he lives to write the great
Arthurian Epic which he was then planning, he may find such a friend as
Tasso found to welcome his poem, comfort his old age and cherish his
fame.  The only difficulty which separated Manso and Milton was that of
religion, where Milton's unguarded frankness embarrassed his host.  So,
when he abandoned his intended tour in Greece because he thought it
"base" to be "travelling abroad at case for intellectual culture while
his fellow-countrymen were fighting at home for liberty," he was warned
that the Jesuits at Rome had their eyes on him.  But he stayed there
two {46} months nevertheless, fearlessly keeping his resolution, not
indeed to introduce or invite religious controversy but, if questioned,
then, as he says, "whatsoever I should suffer to dissemble nothing."
By February he was again in Florence; and after visits to Bologna,
Ferrara and Venice, whence he characteristically shipped "a chest or
two of choice music books" for England, he crossed the Alps, spent a
week or two at Geneva and in France, and was at home by August 1639.

The elaborate education was now formally complete;  and what ordinary
men call practical life was at last to begin for Milton.  Now for the
first time he had an abode of his own, a lodging in St. Bride's, Fleet
Street, and soon afterwards a house in Aldersgate Street where he
settled with a young nephew whom he undertook to educate.  But the real
work which he had in view was that of a poet, not of a schoolmaster.
The high expectations which he knew he had excited among Italian men of
letters had reinforced those of his English friends; and he was now
more than ever inclined to follow that "inward prompting which now grew
daily upon me that by labour and intent study (which I take to be my
portion in this life), joined with the strong propensity of nature, I
might {47} perhaps leave something so written to aftertimes as they
should not willingly let it die."  So, as his extant notes show, he was
weighing a large number of subjects for the great poem, slowly settling
on a Biblical one, and indeed on that of the Fall of Man, and perhaps
writing some earliest lines of what we now know as _Paradise Lost_.

But in November 1640 occurred an event which governed Milton's life for
the next twenty years.  The Long Parliament met, and, from that time
forward till its final meeting in 1660 to dissolve itself and prepare
the way for Charles II, politics were the dominant interest of Milton's
mind.  It is his age of prose; during it he wrote very little verse of
any kind, and none of importance except the finer of his eighteen
Sonnets which nearly all belong to these years.  On the other hand,
most of his prose works were written between 1640 and 1660.  Of these
it is enough to say that they are perhaps the most curious of all
illustrations of the great things which a poet alone can bring to prose
and of the dangers which he runs in bringing them.  A poet of the
stature of Milton is ready at all times to catch all kinds of fire, not
only the fires of faith and zeal and enthusiasm, but also, as a rule,
those of a scorn {48} that knows no limit and a hatred that knows no
mercy.  Such a man needs a strongly made vessel to control his boiling
ardours.  Prose is not such a vessel: and they too often overflow from
it in extravagance and violence.  Poetry in all its severer forms
places a restraint upon the poet from which as the mood of art gains
upon him he has no desire to escape.  Law and limitation, willing
obedience to the prescribed conditions, are of the very essence of art.
And this is as true of the greatest of the arts as of any other.  It is
not merely that the poet accepts the bondage of rhymes, or stanzas, or
numbered syllables, as the painter accepts those of a flat canvas and
the sculptor those of bronze or marble; it is that they all alike
submit to the mood of art which is always universal and eternal as well
as individual and temporal and therefore disdains such crudities of
personal violence as are to be found everywhere in Milton's prose and
nowhere in his poetry.

But if a poet's prose has its inevitable disadvantages it has also some
great qualities which only a poet can supply.  In 1640 Milton plunged
into a great struggle in which his attitude throughout was that of an
angry and contemptuous partisan.  And his pamphlets exhibit all the
distortion of facts, {49} injustice to opponents, and narrowness of
view which are the inevitable if often unconscious vices of the man who
writes in the interest of a party.  But they also contain flights of
noble eloquence, in which, as in the passage about the City of London
in the _Areopagitica_, the soul of partisanship has undergone a fiery
purification and emerges free of all its grosser elements, a pure
essence of zeal and faith and spiritual vision.

The first stage of the struggle was largely ecclesiastical, and Milton
plunged into it with five pamphlets in 1641 and 1642, fiercely
demanding the abolition of Episcopacy and the establishment of a
Presbyterian system in England.  Fortunately for himself, as he was
soon to see, the views he advocated did not in the end prevail.  For
the next step he took in the way of pamphlet writing would assuredly
have got him into difficulties with any possible kind of ecclesiastical
jurisdiction, whether after the model of Laud or of Calvin.  It grew
out of the most important and disastrous event in the whole of his
private life.  In the spring of 1643 he went into Oxfordshire, from
which county his father had originally come, and, to the surprise of
his friends, who knew nothing of his intention, returned a married man.
His wife was one {50} Mary Powell, the daughter of a Justice of the
Peace at Forest Hill, near Oxford.  The Powell family owed the Milton
family five hundred pounds, which may have been the poet's introduction
to them.  If so, the marriage to which it led had the results that
might be expected from such a beginning.  The war had then already
begun, the King was at Oxford and the Powells were Cavaliers; so that
when Mrs. Milton, who had been accompanied to London by her relations,
was to be left alone with a husband of twice her age, and of severe
tastes, she shrank from the prospect, got away on a visit to her family
and did not return till 1645, by which time the King was ruined and
with him the Powells.

When Shelley deserted his wife he wrote to her asking her to come and
live with him and the lady who had supplanted her.  When Milton's wife
deserted him he wrote a series of pamphlets advocating divorce at the
will of the husband.  Such are the extravagances of those whose eyes
are so accustomed to a brighter light that when brought into that of
common day they see nothing, and make mistakes which are justly
ridiculous to the children of this world.  It is an old story: Plato's
philosopher in the cave, the saint in politics, the modern poet in the
world of war, {51} commerce, or industry: the eye that sees heaven
often blunders on earth.  Milton's divorce pamphlets, like nearly all
his controversial writings, have three fatal defects.  They are utterly
blind to the temper of those to whom they were addressed, to the
reasonable arguments of opponents, and to the practical difficulties
inherent in their proposals.  He argues that, as the law gives relief
to a man whose wife disappoints him of the physical end of marriage, it
is an outrage that he should have none when deprived of the social and
intellectual companionship which is its moral end.  But he takes no
note of the awkward fact that the dismissed wife is not and cannot be
in the same position as she was before her marriage.  Nor does he give
the wife any corresponding rights to get rid of her husband.  These,
and a hundred other difficulties all too visible to duller eyes, he
utterly ignores as he proceeds on his violent way of deliverance from
what he calls "imaginary and scarecrow sins."  Nothing is allowed to
stand in his path.  For instance, the awkward texts in the Bible, whose
authority he accepts, are given new interpretations with which it is to
be feared his temper had more to do than his knowledge of the meaning
of Greek words.  But {52} there is not a hint of his own case in all he
says, and it is not desertion that he discusses but incompatibility of
temper.  Masson even sees reason to think that he began the first
pamphlet before his wife left him, but when, no doubt, her unfitness to
be his wife was only too evident.  However all that may be, we can only
think with wondering pity of those summer weeks of 1643 and of the two
years which followed.  Everything in Milton's life and writings shows
him a man unusually susceptible to the attraction of women, one whose
love was of that strongest sort which is built on a chastity born not
of coldness but of purity and self-control.  Such a man, in such a
plight, with the added misery of knowing that he owed it to his own
rash folly, may be pardoned for forgetting the true bearing of his own
doctrine that laws are made for the "common lump of men."  Cases like
his are the real tragedies, the tragedies of life so much more bitter
than the more visible ones of death; and no thinking or feeling man
will lightly decide that they must remain unrelieved.  But neither
Milton nor any of his successors must look at the problem from his own
point of view alone.  Laws are made, and ought to be, as he himself
says, for the "lump of men"; and the wisdom or {53} unwisdom of
facilities for divorce must be judged, not merely by the relief they
afford in unhappy marriages, but also by the danger of disturbance they
produce in the far more numerous marriages which, though experiencing
their days of doubt or difficulty, are on the whole happy or at least
not unhappy.  Perhaps Milton himself might have hesitated if he could
have foreseen the consequences of an application of his theories.
Modern divorce laws have filled our newspapers with just that
"clamouring debate of utterless things" which he dreaded and abhorred,
while few will argue that they have increased the number of unions
which answer to his conception of "the true intent of marriage."

After all, Milton's own story illustrates the advantages of putting
delays and difficulties in the way of divorce.  According to his nephew
he had planned to act upon his principles and marry "a very handsome
and witty gentlewoman"; but the lady had more regard than he to the
world's opinion.  And she did Milton a service by her reluctance.  For
the rumour of her, helped by their own misfortunes, brought the Powells
to their senses; and with the help of Milton's friends they managed the
well-known scene at a room in St. Martin's the Grand, in which he was
{54} surprised by the sight of his wife on her knees before him.

        "Soon his heart relented
  Towards her, his life so late, and sole delight,
  Now at his feet submissive in distress."

So he glances back at the scene twenty years later when he was drawing
to the close of his great poem.  Meanwhile he received back his wife,
who bore him three daughters and died in 1653 or 1654.  He was to marry
again in 1656; but this second wife, the "espoused saint" of his
sonnet, lived little more than a year; and in 1663 he married his third
wife who long survived him.  But to return to the house in the
Barbican, to which he removed with his wife in 1645.  With him there
were also his father, two nephews and other boys whom it was his
principal occupation to teach.  It is somewhat surprising that he found
pupils, as his views on the divorce question had naturally caused
scandal in all quarters and received little support in any.  He could
now see that the Presbyterian Church discipline which he had advocated
so eagerly in his first pamphlets might have its inconveniences; the
elders of an English kirk would be no more merciful than his detested
bishops to such freedom of thought, speech and action as he now
demanded.  {55} From henceforth he is an Independent and more than an
Independent; for he was attached to no congregation, apparently
attended no church regularly, and maintained that profoundly religious
temper which is even more visible in his last works than in his first
without the support of any authority, creed or companionship in prayer.
With these views growing upon him it was natural that, when the
struggle came between the Presbyterian Parliament and the Independent
Army, he had no hesitation in supporting the Army; nor is it surprising
that such a man of no compromise as he had shown himself to be was
ready to come forward, even before the deed was done, with a defence of
the execution of Charles I.  It is in connection with that event that
his name first became known to all Europe and was soon so famous that
foreigners visiting England desired to see two men above all others,
Oliver Cromwell and John Milton.  This Milton, from henceforth a
European celebrity, was not the author of _Paradise Lost_ which was not
yet written, nor of his earlier poems which were little known in
England and quite unknown elsewhere.  He was the apologist of the
Regicides, the Foreign Secretary of the world-famed Protector.

{56}

For the next eleven years, from 1649 to 1660, Milton had a public and
official as well as a private life.  Charles was executed on January
30, 1649.  Within a few days after appeared Milton's _Tenure of Kings
and Magistrates_, largely written, of course, before the execution, and
justifying it and all the other proceedings of the Army without any
hesitation or compromise.  It has some breathings of the Miltonic
grandeur; but that is all.  For the rest it is a mere party polemic
written for the moment; and, as is the case with all pamphlets, the
very qualities which gave it its contemporary interest make it
unreadable to posterity.  Part of it is a sweeping assertion of the
inalienable right of the whole people to choose, judge and depose their
rulers; a democratic doctrine which a few years later, when England had
grown tired of the Army and the Puritans, he was to find as
inconvenient as he had already found his early advocacy of the
Presbyterian system in matters ecclesiastical.  For the moment,
however, the pamphlet made him a person of importance.  Such a man,
learned, eloquent, of high character, of visible sincerity, of utter
fearlessness, was not an ally to be despised by a Government which had
outraged public opinion at home and abroad.  Within a few {57} weeks he
was appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State;
and from henceforth till after the death of Cromwell he wrote the
weightiest of the vindications, remonstrances and authoritative demands
which the great Protector addressed to an astonished and overawed
Europe.  We can read them still.  Many are insignificant, dealing with
petty personal details; but the best, especially those that deal with
the universal cause of Protestantism and freedom, rise on spiritual
wings far above the language of diplomacy and officialism, letting us
hear the authentic voice of Milton preluding the thunders of Cromwell
and Blake.

But the first important work required of Milton belonged rather to the
man of letters than to the Foreign Secretary.  The horror aroused both
at home and abroad by the execution of Charles, already great enough in
itself to be very inconvenient to the Government, was greatly increased
by the publication of a book called _Eikon Basilike_ which purported to
be the work of the king himself and appeared immediately after his
death.  It is a kind of religious portrait of Charles, reporting his
spiritual meditations and containing a justification of his life.  Its
success was prodigious; fifty editions are said {58} to have appeared
within a year.  It was obviously necessary that some reply should be
attempted; and the task was naturally assigned to Milton, who published
his _Eikonoklastes_, or Image-Breaker, in October.  It is a mere
pamphlet, even more violent than the _Tenure of Kings_, not ashamed to
rake up such absurdities as the alleged poisoning of James I by
Buckingham, with the usual Miltonic inconsistencies, such as that which
denounces Charles for the crime of refusing his consent to bills passed
by Parliament and forgets that the Government on whose behalf he is
writing established itself by a forcible suppression of the
Parliamentary majority.  It survives now only by the curious passage in
it which tells us that William Shakspeare was "the closet companion" of
Charles I in the "solitudes" of the end of his life; and by the
puritanical allusion to the "vain amatorious poem of Sir Philip
Sidney's _Arcadia_" from which, however "full of worth and wit" in its
own kind, it was a disgrace to the king to borrow a prayer at so grave
an hour.  Perhaps as a mark of their approval of _Eikonoklastes_, the
Council of State gave Milton lodgings in Whitehall; and soon
afterwards, in January 1650, called upon him to reply to another
Royalist book which was making a {59} great stir.  The result was the
beginning of a political and personal controversy which lasted almost
as long as it was safe for Milton to write about politics at all.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries great scholars had a
position which they are never likely to occupy again.  In those
cosmopolitan days when an Italian governed France, and regiments and
even armies were often commanded by foreigners, the honour of
possessing a celebrated scholar was eagerly disputed not only by
universities, but by cities, sovereign states, and even kings.
Learning had then a market value in the world: for then, as always,
especially since the invention of printing, European opinion was worth
having on one's side; and in the days before journalism the practice
was to hire distinguished scholars to write to a political brief.
After the death of Charles I it was obviously the policy of Charles II
to secure support by a powerful indictment of the iniquity of the
rulers of the English Commonwealth.  For this purpose his advisers
obtained the services of a certain Claude de Saumaise, or, as he was
generally called, Salmasius.  This man, forgotten now except for
Milton, was then a scholar of such fame that his presence was disputed
between Oxford {60} and Venice, the French and the Dutch, between the
Pope who wanted him at Rome and Christina of Sweden who was soon to
persuade him to go to Stockholm.  So it is not altogether surprising
that Charles II was advised to pay him, and perhaps paid him, much more
than he could afford for writing a book called _Defensio Regia_, which
was to be before all Europe the public statement of the case against
the new rulers of England.  Milton spent a year in preparing his reply,
which came out in the beginning of 1651.  The _Pro Populo Anglicano
Defensio_ is now pleasanter reading for Milton's detractors than for
those who honour his name.  The unbridled insults which it heaps upon
Charles I and still more upon Salmasius, for whom its least offensive
titles are such as "blockhead," "liar" and "apostate," exceed even the
wide limits of abuse customary in these days.  _Corruptio optimi
pessima_: such a man as Milton, if he once descends to the bandying of
foul language, will beat the very bargemen themselves.  But what
astonished his contemporaries was not his violence but his courage.  An
unknown Englishman had dared to meet the giant of learning on his own
ground and had at least held his own.  It may have been partly as the
result of this {61} that Salmasius no longer found Holland a pleasant
place of residence and removed to Sweden.  A more certain result is
that the English David who had stood up to Goliath was from henceforth
a European celebrity.  With his usual proud courage he had put his own
name on the title-page of his book, challenging to himself both the
glories and the dangers that might come of it.  He was not to be
disappointed of either.

From henceforth he was in the thick of a violent controversy, which
made so much more noise than it deserved in its own day that it need
make none here.  Replies came out both to his _Eikonoklastes_ and to
his _Defensio_: new books grew out of the controversy; Milton's nephew
wrote on his behalf, and anonymous friends of Salmasius on his; the
adversaries of Milton no more spared his character than he had spared
theirs; a _Defensio Secunda_ from his own hand seemed necessary, and
appeared in 1654; and so with minor pamphlets and second editions we
get on to the end of the weary controversy, in which for contemporaries
there was perhaps some fire and light, but for us now little but smoke
and darkness of confusion.

Such was the work which was Milton's chief occupation during the
Commonwealth, to the {62} doing of which he deliberately sacrificed his
eyesight.  Within a year after the publication of his book against
Salmasius its foreseen result was complete.  From henceforth Milton was
dependent upon the eyes of others.  He was only forty-four when
overtaken by this calamity.  Yet his courage seems never to have failed
him.  "I argue not," he tells Cyriack Skinner in his sonnet--

  "Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
    Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer
  Right onward.  What supports me, dost thou ask?
    The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied
    In Liberty's defence, my noble task,
  Of which all Europe rings from side to side."


Whoever had begun to have doubts about the course taken in 1649 and
since, he had none; and no one had suffered more in defence of it.  The
other and greater sonnet on his blindness--

  "When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide"

shows him content if need be to take his place among those whose desire
to serve {63} God must find its peace in the thought that

  "They also serve who only stand and wait."

In the same spirit, perhaps, is the motto which he appended to his
signature in the album of a learned foreigner in 1651: "I am made
perfect in weakness."  But nothing of weakness, not even its
perfection, could ever come near Milton.  He played a greater part in
this world without his eyes than ever he had played with them.  Without
their help he did what prose could do towards justifying the ways of
England to Europe, and was very soon to do what verse could do towards
justifying the ways of God to men.  He cannot, perhaps, be said to have
succeeded in either, but one at least of the failures is a whole heaven
above what ordinary men call success.

A few words may be said of his attitude towards men and measures during
this political period of his life.  His unqualified and immediate
support of the King's execution had, of course, united him with the
Cromwellian party who had brought it about.  And his anti-Presbyterian
views carried him in the same direction.  So we are not surprised to
find that, when Cromwell got rid of the Parliament by military force
and soon {64} afterwards became Protector, Milton approved his action
and gladly continued to serve under him.  Nor was Milton the man to be
disturbed by the Protector's rapid dissolution of his first Parliament,
by the period of personal Government which followed, or by his angry
breach with his second Parliament.  Poets have seldom understood
politics, and Milton, the most political of poets, perhaps less than
any.  No man ever had less of that sense of law and custom, of the need
of continuity, which is the very centre and secret of politics.  Few
great statesmen have been able to maintain perfect consistency; but the
least consistent have generally been aware that there was something in
inconsistencies that needed explanation.  Milton never shows any
consciousness of the patent incongruity between his early exaltation of
the indefeasible rights of Parliaments and his support of the
Cromwellian attitude towards them: between his angry denunciation of
Charles I for presuming to retain the ancient right of the kings to
refuse their assent to Bills submitted to them and his approval of
Cromwell's dismissal of a Parliament for attempting to deny the same
right to the Protector: between the extreme doctrine of free printing
claimed in the _Areopagitica_ and the fact that its author {65} was
afterwards concerned in licensing books under a Government which
vigorously suppressed "seditious" publications.  But inconsistencies by
themselves are of little importance, particularly in revolutionary
times; they would be of none, in Milton's case, if he had ever admitted
that he had learnt from experience and consequently changed his mind.
But he never did.  Parliaments remained sacred when they were for
pulling down bishops, profane when they were for establishing
Presbyterianism, and utterly detestable when they were for restoring
Charles II.  The fact is, of course, that Milton, like most men of much
imagination and no political experience, saw a vision of certain things
in the value of which he believed with all his soul, and saw none of
the objections to them and none of the difficulties that stood in their
way.  At the very end, when the bonfires for Charles II were almost
lighted in the streets, he could publish _A Ready and Easy Way to
Establish a Free Commonwealth_; and the title he chose for that book
was typical of his whole attitude in all practical matters.  He had to
an extreme degree the man of vision's blindness to the all-important
fact that the mass of men would not have what he aims at if they {66}
could and could not if they would.  At least in a free country the
statesman knows that he has got to work through stupid people, with
their consent, and with regard to the measure of their capacities.  For
such men as Milton stupid people either do not exist or are to be
merely ignored.  That is his attitude all through.  Alike in the matter
of divorce and in the matter of education, in the ecclesiastical
problem and in the political, he was always eager to put forward a
"ready and easy way" which entirely ignored the nature of the human
material which was to walk in it.  He simply chose not to see that in
all these matters men had for centuries been walking in a way which was
not his, a way which had in fact by now diverged many miles from his;
and that they could not possibly, even if they would, transport
themselves in a moment, at a mere wave of his wand, across the
intervening bogs and forests which the lapse of years had rendered
impassable.  He never appears to have had a single glimpse of the truth
that the essential business of the statesman is to be always moving
from the past to the future without ever letting the bridge between
them break down.  The principal food of a political people is custom,
and to break the bridge is to cut off the only source {67} of its
supply.  The greatest proof that Cromwell was really a statesman and
not a mere political emergency man of unusual character and ability is
that in his last years he was evidently seeing more and more plainly
that the right metaphor for a statesman is taken from grafting and not
from "root and branch" operations.  It is clear that he had seen that
political branches may be pruned away but roots can very seldom be
safely disturbed; and that among the roots in English politics were a
hereditary Monarchy and an established Church.  Dynasty and formularies
might perhaps be safely changed; but the things themselves were of the
root, and the tree would not flourish if they were touched.  It is
characteristic of Milton that in both these matters he was strongly
opposed to the policy towards which Cromwell was feeling his way.  Ten
years had taught him nothing, and the death of Cromwell found him as
blind to political possibilities as the death of Charles I.

One would like to know something of the relations between the two
greatest men of the Commonwealth.  But there is little or nothing to
know.  It is plain that in most matters they must have been in close
agreement; and in a few, as in the business of the {68} Piedmont
massacres, the two great hearts must have beaten as one, while the
sword of Cromwell stood ready drawn behind the trumpet of Milton's
noble prose and nobler verse.  The only surviving act of personal
contact between them is to be found in Milton's sonnet; and that is a
public tribute with no suggestion of private intimacy in it.  Indeed,
as Masson has pointed out, it may easily be taken to mean more than it
really does; for it was not written because Milton could not keep
silence about his admiration of Cromwell, but rather, as its full title
shows, as a petition or appeal to Cromwell to save the nation from
parliamentary proposals for the setting up of a State Church and for
limiting the toleration of dissent from it.  The sonnet, then, proves
less than it has sometimes been made to prove; and in any case it
proves no intimacy.  Perhaps after all, in the case of Milton as in
that of most men who deal with public affairs, we are apt to exaggerate
the importance in their daily lives of these visible official
activities.  The world thinks it knows men who fight battles, or make
speeches, or write books; but it knows nothing of their private
thoughts or studies and still less of their private loves and joys and
sorrows which to themselves {69} and in truth are much the most real
part of their lives.  So with Milton during these years; his wife and
little children may have been, his second wife and such friends as
Cyriack Skinner and Henry Lawrence and Lady Ranelagh and the poet
Marvell certainly were, much greater realities to him in his daily
thoughts than either the hated Salmasius and Morus of the pamphlets or
the admired Cromwell of the sonnet.  The "weekly table" he is said to
have kept, at the expense of the State, for foreign ministers, must
have provided interesting talk; but the true Milton cannot have lived
in these gatherings so fully at the time or remembered them afterwards
so affectionately as those other more intimate parties of which he
gives us a picture in the two sonnets to Lawrence and Skinner which,
for lovers of poetry, look so pleasantly back to Horace and so
pleasantly forward to Cowper and Tennyson.

  "Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son,
  Now that the fields are dank, and ways are mire,
  Where shall we sometimes meet, and by the fire
  Help waste a sullen day, what may be won
  From the hard season gaining?  Time will run
{70}
  On smoother, till Favonius re-inspire
  The frozen earth, and clothe in fresh attire
  The lily and rose, that neither sowed nor spun.
  What neat repast shall feast us, light and choice,
  Of Attic taste, with wine, whence we may rise
  To hear the lute well touched, or artful voice
  Warble immortal notes and Tuscan air?
  He who of those delights can judge, and spare
  To interpose them oft, is not unwise."


This is his own graver and older parallel to what his nephew tells us
of his schoolmastering days when he would turn from "hard study and
spare diet" to "drop once a month or so into the society of some young
sparks of his acquaintance," and with them "would so far make bold with
his body as now and then to keep a gawdy day."  The sonnet shows that
the poet is still the poet of _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_, no narrow
fanatic, but a lover of company and the arts, and of the richness and
fulness of life.  Such occasions as that it describes must have been
oases in the desert of controversy and public business abroad and of
blindness and loneliness at home.  He did not live long in Whitehall,
{71} moving in 1652 to a house overlooking St. James's Park, near what
is now Queen Anne's Gate.  There his first wife died in 1653, or 1654,
and her short-lived successor too; there he lived during the remaining
years of the Commonwealth, working at his pamphlets and State papers,
even beginning _Paradise Lost_, with young friends to read to him,
write for him, lead their blind great man about in the Park or
elsewhere, till the catastrophe of 1660 arrived and it was no longer
safe for the defender of Regicide to be seen in the streets.

Why Milton was not hanged at the Restoration is still something of a
mystery.  His name must have been more hatefully known to the returning
exiles than that of any one except the dead Cromwell whose death did
not save his body from a grim ceremony at Tyburn.  He had not only
defended Charles I's execution before all Europe, and in a tone almost
of exultation, but he had pursued the whole Stuart family with
vituperation and contempt.  Even in the very last weeks, when the bells
were already almost ringing for Charles II, he had dared to raise his
voice against the "abjured and detested thraldom of kingship";
declaring that he would not be silent though he should but speak "to
trees and stones: and had none to cry to, but {72} with the prophet 'O
Earth, Earth, Earth!' to tell the very soil itself what her perverse
inhabitants are deaf to,"--a passage, if interpreted by its original
context, of awful imprecation upon Charles I.  A man so famous, so
utterly unrepentant, so defiant to the very end, seemed to challenge to
himself the gallows.  That his challenge would receive its natural
answer was the openly expressed opinion of his enemies.  No doubt it
was also the fear of his friends, who concealed him in Smithfield from
May till August 1660.  By the 24th of August the danger was over.  The
Act of Indemnity, which was a pardon to all political offenders not by
name excepted in it, became law on that day; and Milton's was not one
of the excepted names.  How was that managed?  There are various
stories; perhaps each has some truth in it; many influences may have
combined.  One is that he had saved Davenant in his danger some years
before and now the Cavalier poet in his turn saved the Puritan.  But
Davenant was not in Parliament, and the real work must have been done
by a group of friends who were.  The most important of them seem to
have been Annesley (afterwards Lord Anglesey), Sir Thomas Clarges, who
was Monk's brother-in-law, Monk's secretary Morrice, and the poet's
less powerful but {73} still more devoted friend Andrew Marvell.
Between them somehow they saved him, aided no doubt by the general pity
for a blind man, the general respect for his learning which found
expression even in that moment and even in Royalist pamphlets, and, one
may hope, by the knowledge of a few of them that this was a man of
genius from whom there might be great things yet to come.  The names of
those who thus made possible the greatest poem in the English language
deserve lasting record; and a word of gratitude may be added to
Clarendon and to Charles II for refraining from saying the easy and not
unnatural word which would have been instantly fatal to their old enemy.

The odd thing is that he was arrested after all.  There had been an
order of the House of Commons for his arrest and for the burning of his
books, possibly, as Masson thinks, obtained by his friends to make it
seem unnecessary to except him in the Indemnity Bill.  The books were
duly burnt, or such copies of them as came to the hands of the hangman;
and ultimately, at some uncertain date, Milton himself was got into the
custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms.  He was soon released, and the story
would not be worth relating but for a curious proof it gives of the
{74} obstinate courage of the poet.  The House ordered his release on
December 15; and one would have supposed that he would have been glad
to escape into obscurity and safety again on any terms.  But no; the
Sergeant-at-Arms demanded high fees which Milton thought unreasonable;
and even then, when he had almost felt the hangman's rope on his neck,
he would not be bullied by any man.  He refused to pay: and though the
Solicitor-General ominously remarked that he deserved hanging, his
friends got the fees referred to a committee and presumably reduced.
Before the beginning of 1661 he was definitely a free man to live his
final fourteen years of political defeat, isolation and silence, of
unparalleled poetic fertility, and, before the end, of acknowledged
poetic fame.

He did not return any more to the fashionable and therefore dangerous
neighbourhood of Whitehall, but lived the rest of his life in a
succession of houses in or near the city, ending in Artillery Walk,
Bunhill Fields, where he died.  His friends must for years have feared
that he might be attacked and perhaps murdered by some drunken Cavalier
revellers accidentally coming across the old regicide.  And in spite of
the Act of Indemnity he can hardly have felt absolutely comfortable on
{75} the side of the law when so late as 1664 his _Tenure of Kings_ was
denounced by the censor as still extant and an unfortunate printer was
hanged, drawn and quartered for issuing a sort of new version of it.
Misfortunes without and fears within might be the summing up, if not of
the poet's, at least of the man's life during these first years after
the Restoration.  To begin with, he was a much poorer man.  His salary
as Secretary was, of course, gone.  But besides that he had lost 2000
pounds, equal to about 7000 pounds now, which he had invested in
Commonwealth Securities, as well as some confiscated property he had
bought of the Chapter of Westminster; and he was soon to lose, at least
temporarily, the rent he received from his father's house in Bread
Street which was destroyed by the Fire of London.  Masson calculates
that he was left after the Restoration with an income about equal to
700 pounds of our money which his further losses and outlay on his
daughters had reduced to 300 pounds or 350 pounds before his death; not
quite poverty even at the end, but something very different from what
the eldest son of a rich man had been accustomed to.  A graver
misfortune was the gout which afflicted him for the rest of his life
and gave him so much pain that he made little of his blindness in {76}
comparison with it.  Worst of all was his unhappy relation to his
daughters.  That is the ugliest thing in the story of his life.  How
things might have gone with his son, if the baby boy had lived, one
does not know; but his oriental views of the moral and intellectual
inferiority of women, which doubled the dangers of their fascinations,
made him certain to be a despotic father to three motherless girls.
And so he was.  He had plenty of young men eager for the privilege of
reading to him: but of course they could not be always with him, and
the result was that dreadful picture which comes to us from his nephew,
no unfriendly witness, of the daughters "condemned to the performance
of reading and exactly pronouncing of all the languages of whatever
book he should at one time or other think fit to peruse; viz. the
Hebrew (and, I think, the Syriac), the Greek, the Latin, the Italian,
Spanish and French," none of which languages they understood.  Nor did
he show any desire that they should; saying grimly that one tongue was
enough for a woman.  History and fiction are alike full of the
tragedies that result from the blindness of extraordinary minds to
ordinary duties; and Milton's case is one of the saddest.  The
daughters cheated him and made away with {77} his books; he spoke of
them gravely and repeatedly as his "unkind children"; one of them is
even reported, on very good evidence, to have said, at his third
marriage in 1663, that "that was no news to hear of his wedding but, if
she could hear of his death, that was something."  At last it was
thought better that he and they should part; and they were put out, at
considerable expense to their father, to learn embroidery work and
other "curious and ingenious manufactures" for their living.  It is
pleasant to hear that the youngest, Deborah, who was visited by Addison
not long before he died, and received fifty guineas from Queen
Caroline, was "in a transport" of delight when shown a portrait of her
father, crying out "'Tis my father, 'tis my dear father, I see him;
'tis him; 'tis the very man! here, here!" as she pointed to some of the
features.  So one likes to be told, on her authority, that he was
delightful company and "the life of the conversation, full of
unaffected cheerfulness and civility" when he had his little parties of
friends.  And to us, if not to her, it is a pleasant story that she
could still repeat many lines from Homer, Euripides and Ovid, though
she said she did not understand Greek or Latin.  The wife of a
Spitalfields weaver must at last have felt {78} some pride in these
survivals of her childish drudgery, proof audible to all men, if to her
unintelligible, that she was the daughter of Mr. Milton, the great
scholar and poet.

No more need to be said of sorrow or failure.  The rest is a serene and
productive old age.  _Paradise Lost_ was published in 1667, _Paradise
Regained_ and _Samson_ in 1671.  Besides these there was, in 1673, a
new edition of his earlier poems reprinted, with additions from that of
1645; and many publications of prose works mostly written in earlier
years but never printed, such as his _History of Britain_, and little
books on Education, Logic and Grammar.  He kept up his strenuous life
of study and composition apparently to the end.  He is said to have got
up at four or five in the morning, and, after hearing a chapter or two
from the Hebrew Bible and breakfasting, to have passed the five hours
before his midday dinner dictating or having some book read to him.  In
the afternoon he would walk a little in his garden; all his life a
garden had been one of the things he would not do without.  Then music
and more private study carried him on to an Horatian supper of olives
or other "light things"; and so to a pipe of tobacco, a glass of water
and bed.  He drank but little wine, and that only with his meals.  {79}
Such a way of life deserved a healthful old age, which, but for that
healthy man's disease the gout, he had, and a death such as he had, so
easy as to be imperceptible to the bystanders.  That was on November 8,
1674.  Four days later his body was buried in the church of St. Giles,
Cripplegate, where his grave may still be seen; the funeral being
accompanied by "all his learned and great friends in London, not
without a concourse of the vulgar."

By that time the battle of his life had been won.  The astonishing
achievements of his last years had more than fulfilled the high promise
and proud words of his long distant youth.  Perhaps no seven years in
all literary history provide a finer record of poetic genius triumphing
over difficulties external and internal than these last seven of
Milton's life from 1667 to 1674.  They had their reward and not only
from posterity.  There is a still lingering delusion, based chiefly on
the five pounds paid for the first edition of _Paradise Lost_, that
Milton's greatness was little recognized in his lifetime.  The truth is
the exact reverse.  He had far more chance of hearing his own praises,
if he cared for that, than most of the great English poets: than Keats
and Shelley, for instance; than Wordsworth, {80} at least till he was
old; nay, in all probability than Shakspeare himself.  Which of them
heard the most popular poet of their day say of them anything at all
like Dryden's famous and generous "This man cuts us all out and the
ancients too"?  It is not even true that _Paradise Lost_ sold badly.
On the contrary, in a year and a half from the day of publication over
thirteen hundred copies had been sold, from which the author received
10 pounds and the publisher, it is believed, 50 pounds or 60 pounds.
He would be a sanguine publisher to-day who would be quite certain of
making in eighteen months the modern equivalent of this sum, say 180
pounds, out of a new epic, even if it were as great as Milton's.

But the money question was not of the first importance to Milton and is
of none to us.  The interesting thing is the almost immediate
recognition of the greatness of the poem.  Nothing in the world could
be more alien to the tone of the society and literature of the London
of Charles II than this long Biblical Puritan poem with its scarcely
veiled attacks on the revived Monarchy and Episcopacy and its entirely
unveiled attacks on the fashionable men of Belial.  Yet it was from the
very high priests of this society that the most unstinted praise came.
Of its professional men of {81} letters Dryden was already rapidly
advancing to the unquestioned primacy which was soon to be his, and to
remain his for his life; of its amateurs Lord Dorset had perhaps the
most brilliant reputation.  It was these two men who, more than any
others, made the town recognize the greatness of Milton.  Both were as
unlike Milton as men could be, and Dryden had just committed himself to
a strong championship of rhymed verse as against blank.  There is
nowhere a finer proof of the compelling power of great art upon those
who know it when they see it than the unbounded praise with which
Dryden at once saluted Milton.  The fact that his admiration at first
took the absurd form of turning Milton's epic into a "heroic opera" in
rhyme does not detract from the significance of his writing publicly
within a year of Milton's death that the blind old regicide's poem was
"one of the greatest, most noble and sublime which either this age or
nation has produced," and to this he was to add, thirteen years later,
the still bolder tribute of the well-known epigram about "three poets
in three distant ages born" which gives Milton a place above Homer and
Virgil.  The lines are in detail absurd; but their absurdity does not
destroy the fact that the intellectual life of England was never {82}
keener, or more eager to welcome talent in art or letters, than in the
reign of Charles II; and nothing is clearer proof of it than the
honours received by the rebel Milton from a Court composer like Henry
Lawes, a Court physician like Samuel Barrow, a statesman and minister
like Lord Anglesey, and a poet laureate like Dryden.

So we may think of him happily enough in these last years.  He had now
done the work which from his early manhood he had felt it was his task
in life to do.  When he was not much over thirty he had boldly written
in public of what his mind, "in the spacious circuits of her musing,
hath liberty to propose to herself, though of highest hope and hardest
attempting; whether that epic form whereof the two poems of Homer, and
those other two of Virgil and Tasso, are a diffuse and the book of Job
a brief model . . . or whether those dramatic constitutions, wherein
Sophocles and Euripides reign, shall be found more doctrinal and
exemplary to a nation."  For the moment nothing seemed to come of these
high words; but before he died not one only, but both of his dreams,
the drama as well as the epic, were accomplished facts.  _Paradise
Lost_, begun as a drama, had become the greatest of modern {83} epics;
and the abandoned drama had reappeared in _Samson_, not the greatest of
English tragedies, but the one which best recalls the peculiar
greatness of the drama of Greece.  Self-confident young men have always
been common enough, but there are two differences between them and
Milton: their performance falls far short of their promise instead of
exceeding it; and neither promise nor performance is marked by this
exalting and purifying sense of a thing divinely inspired and divinely
aided.  Such work can wait, as his did, being such as is "not to be
raised from the heat of youth or the vapours of wine; like that which
flows at waste from the pen of some vulgar amourist, or the trencher
fury of a rhyming parasite; nor to be obtained by the invocation of
dame memory and her siren daughters, but by devout prayer to that
eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and
sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch
and purify the lips of whom he pleases."

Now the task is done; and he can sit alone in his upstairs room in
Artillery Walk and thank God that in spite of blindness, private
sorrows and public disappointments, he had been enabled at last to bear
the witness of a work of immortal beauty to the high truth {84} that
had been in him even from a boy.  So it may have been in the graver
moments of solitude; while, as we know from several sources, there were
other times, when he would enjoy the companionship of friends and the
homage of learned strangers by whom we are told he was "much visited,
more than he did desire."  The picture suggested to us is that of a man
who at sixty-five, then a greater age than now, retained all his powers
of mind and much of the physical beauty which had been so remarkable in
his youth; who was gracious but somewhat reserved and dignified with
strangers; a delightful companion to friends and especially to younger
men; full of literature, especially of poetry, and with a memory that
enabled him to recite long passages from Homer and Virgil; above all,
an ardent lover of music, making a practice, so far as possible, of
hearing some, whether vocal or instrumental, every afternoon.  His ears
were eyes to him; and when he heard a lady sing finely he would say:
"Now will I swear this lady is handsome."  All kinds of music, and not
only the severer, were delightful to the "organ-voice of England."

That is not the least interesting thing about him.  The greatest of
England's Puritans {85} was also the greatest of her artists.  He had
nothing in him of the morbid scrupulosity which is such an inhuman
feature in French Jansenism and some of the English sects.  His was a
large nature which demanded a free expansion of life.  Lonely figure as
he is in our literary history, with no real predecessors or followers,
his mighty arch yet bridges the gulf between Elizabeth and the
Revolution, and is of nearer or less distant kin to Shakspeare than to
Pope.  His prose is the swan song of the old eloquence, as inspired and
as confused as an oracle.  To read it when it is at its best is to soar
on wings through the empyrean and despise Swift and Addison walking in
neat politeness on the pavement.  There as everywhere, in his verse, in
his character, in his mind, in his life, he has the strength and the
weakness of an aristocrat.  The youth who in his Cambridge days was
"esteemed a virtuous person yet not to be ignorant of his parts" did
not belie the opinion formed of him in either of those respects.  His
Republicanism was of the proud Roman sort, and at least as near
Coriolanus as Gracchus; a boundless faith in the State and a boundless
desire to spend and be spent in its service, a total and scornful
indifference to the opinions of all {86} those, though they might be
five-sixths of the nation, who did not desire to be served in the way
which he had decided to be for their good.  The modern way of deciding
matters of State by counting heads may very likely be the best of many
unsatisfactory ways of accomplishing a very difficult business; but it
has always been peculiarly exasperating to men of genius who see their
way plainly and cannot understand why a million blind men are to keep
them out of it.  Milton liked the voice of the majority well enough
when he could plead it against Charles I; but when he found it calling
for Charles II he treated it as a mere impertinent absurdity; the vain
babble of a "misguided and abused multitude" with whom wise men have
nothing to do except to keep them in their place.  And it is in the
latter attitude that he is most really himself.  His is, of course, an
aristocracy of mind and character, not of birth and wealth; but the
self-sufficient scorn which was almost a virtue in Aristotle's eyes,
and is in ours the besetting sin of even the noblest of aristocrats, is
too frequent a note in all his prose, and even in his poetry; and it is
sometimes poured out upon those who are fitter subjects for tenderness
than for contempt.  One can scarcely imagine a child {87} or an
ignorant man being quite at ease in Milton's company.

But these are the penalties that greatness has too often to pay for
being itself.  So long as we remain human beings and not divine, it
will be found hard to unite humility, ease of manner, and the glad
sufferance of fools with a mind struggling in a storm of sublime
thoughts, with powers that are and know themselves to be far above
those of ordinary men.  It will never be easy for men of supreme genius
to behave to their inferiors as if they were their equals.  But that is
not the side of Milton of which we ought to think most often now.  It
is more just as well as more merciful to him, and it is of more use to
ourselves, to fix our eyes on his strength, and not on the weakness
that more or less inevitably accompanied it.  The ancients admired
strength more than the moderns have, at least until lately.  But no one
can refuse to admire such strength as Milton's, so continuous, so
triumphant over exceptional obstacles, so disdainful of all petty or
personal ends.  There is a majesty about it to which one scarcely knows
any real parallel.  Strength implies purpose and art implies unity of
conception; the instinct of art was only less strong in Milton than the
resolute will; so that it {88} is not surprising that scarcely any life
has such unity as his.  It is itself a perfect work of art.  If we put
aside, as we may fairly, the partial political inconsistencies, the
rest is absolutely of one piece; a great building, nobly planned from
the beginning and nobly executed to the last harmonious detail of the
original design.  We men are, most of us, weak creatures who accomplish
but the tiniest fragments of even such poor designs as we make for our
lives.  There is something that uplifts us in the spectacle of the
triumphant completion of so great a plan as the life of Milton.  We are
exalted by the thought that, after all, we are of the same flesh and
blood, nay, even of the same breed, as this wonderful man.  To read the
_Paradise Lost_ is to realize, in the highest degree, how the poet's
imagination can impose a majestic order on the tumultuous confusion of
human speech and knowledge.  To read its author's life is to realize,
with equally exalting clearness, how a strong man's will can so
victoriously mould a world of adverse circumstances that affliction,
defeat--nay, even the threatening shadow of death itself--are made the
very instruments by which he becomes that which he has, from the
beginning of his years, chosen for himself to be.



{89}

CHAPTER III

THE EARLIER POEMS

We think to-day of Milton chiefly as the author of _Paradise Lost_, as
we think of Wren as the builder of St. Paul's.  And we are right.  When
a man has been the creator of the only very great building in the world
which bears upon it from the first stone to the last the mark of a
single mind, his other achievements, even though they include
Greenwich, Hampton Court, Trinity College Library, and some fifty
churches, inevitably fall into the background.  So when the world has
admitted that a poet has disputed the supreme palm of epic with Homer
and Virgil, it hardly cares to remember that he has also challenged all
rivals in such forms as the Pastoral Elegy, the Mask, and the Sonnet.
_De minimis non curat_ might be applied to such cases without any very
violent extravagance.  The first thought that must always rise to the
mind at the mention of Milton's name must be the stupendous achievement
of _Paradise Lost_.

Yet if Milton had been hanged at Tyburn {90} in 1660 he would still
unquestionably rank with the half-dozen greatest of the English poets.
Chaucer and Spenser would then have ranked after Shakspeare as higher
names than his: and possibly also Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley.  But
he could have feared no other rival: for Dryden is too much a mere man
of letters, Pope too much a mere wit, Byron too exclusively a
rhetorician, Tennyson too exclusively an artist, to rank with a man in
whom burned the divine fire of _Lycidas_ and the great Ode.  What would
Milton's fame have rested upon if he had not lived to write _Paradise
Lost_ and its two successors?  Upon the volume published in the year
1645, the year of Naseby, when people, one would have supposed, were
not thinking much of poetry, and those who were most likely to be doing
so were just those least inclined to look for it from John Milton, the
Puritan pamphleteer.  Yet in that little book was heard for the last
time the voice, now raised above itself, of the old poetry which the
Cavaliers and courtiers had loved.

No single volume has ever contained so much fine English verse by an
unknown or almost unknown poet.  It is true that _Lycidas_ and _Comus_
had been printed before, but _Comus_ had appeared anonymously and {91}
_Lycidas_ had been signed only with initials.  So that only friends, or
people behind the scenes in the literary world, could know anything of
Milton's poetry.  Nor does he seem to have been very anxious that they
should.  The other contributors to the volume in memory of Edward King
gave their names: the only signature to _Lycidas_ is J. M.  It was
Lawes the composer, not Milton the author, who published _Comus_ in
1637.  Milton's feelings about it are indicated by the motto on the
title page--

  "Eheu quid volui misero mihi! floribus Austrum
  Perditus--"

Quotations can often say for us what we cannot say for ourselves.  What
Virgil says for Milton is "Alas what is this that I have done? poor
fool that I am, could not I have kept my tender buds of verse a little
longer from the cutting blasts of public criticism?"  Yet no one knew
better than Milton that _Comus_ was incomparably the greatest of the
masks.  So in the sonnet on reaching the age of twenty-three he says
that his "late spring no bud or blossom shew'th."  Yet he had already
written the _Ode on the Nativity_, a performance sufficient, one would
have {92} thought, to give a young poet reasonable self-satisfaction in
what he had done, as well as confidence in what he would be able to do.
Nor was Milton in the ordinary sense, or perhaps in any, a humble man.
Of that false kind of humility, too often recommended from the pulpit,
which consists in a beautiful woman trying to suppose herself plain, or
an able man trying to be unaware of his ability, no man ever had less
than Milton.  Neither from himself nor from others did he ever conceal
the fact that he was a man of genius.  In his eyes no kind of untruth,
however specious, could be a virtue.  But of a finer humility, built on
truth, he was not without his share.  The truly humble man may be a
genius and may know it and may never affect to deny it: he may know
that he has done great things, far greater than have been done by the
men he sees around him: but he is not judging himself by the standard
of other men: he has another standard, that of "the perfect witness of
all-judging Jove," that of "as ever in my great Taskmaster's eye," and
of that he knows how very far he has fallen short.  Of this nobler
humility Milton had something all his life and in his youth much.  It
is this which reconciles the apparent inconsistency between his many
proud {93} confessions that he knows himself to be a man called to do
great things and his reluctance to let the world see what he had
already done: between his keeping _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ ten
years unpublished and his preserving and ultimately publishing almost
everything he had ever written, even to scraps of boyish and
undergraduate verse.  From one point of view his best was nothing: from
the other, more than equally true, the humblest line that had come from
his pen had received a passport to immortality.

What does the famous volume contain?  It opens with the noble _Ode on
the Nativity_, as if to give the discerning reader invincible proof in
the first twenty lines put before him that the proud words of the
publisher's preface were amply justified.  "Let the event guide itself
which way it will, I shall deserve of the age by bringing into the
light as true a birth as the Muses have brought forth since our famous
Spenser wrote; whose poems in these English ones are as rarely imitated
as sweetly excelled.  Reader, if thou art eagle-eyed to censure their
worth, I am not fearful to expose them to thy exactest perusal."  So
the preface ends: and then what follows is--

  "This is the month, and this the happy morn,
  Wherein the Son of Heaven's Eternal King,
{94}
  Of wedded maid and virgin mother born,
  Our great redemption from above did bring;
  For so the holy sages once did sing,
  That he our deadly forfeit should release,
  And with his Father work us a perpetual peace."

_Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo_.  No one had ever written
such English verse as this before: no one ever would again.  Here was a
poet, writing at the age of twenty-one, for whom it was evident that no
theme could be so high that he could not find it fit utterance.  Fit
and also peculiar to himself.  The peculiar Miltonic note which none of
his innumerable imitators have ever caught for more than a few lines,
which he himself never in all his works loses for more than a moment,
is instantly struck.  As Mr. Mackail has said, "there is not a square
inch of his poetry from first to last of which one could not
confidently say, 'This is Milton and no one else.'"  One may even go
further than Mr. Mackail.  For he seems to make an exception where
certainly none is needed.  He is justly insisting that one of the most
remarkable things about Milton is that, while English poetry spoke one
language in his youth and another in his age, he himself spoke neither.
His "accent and speech" alike in _Lycidas_ and in _Paradise Lost_ {95}
are his own, and in marked contrast to those of contemporary poets.
But here Mr. Mackail adds the qualification "if we exclude a few slight
juvenile pieces of his boyhood and those metrical versions of the
Psalms in which he elected not to be a poet."  He asserts, that is,
that neither in the Psalms nor in the "juvenile pieces" is Milton
characteristically himself and that in the Psalms he is not a poet at
all.  And no one will care to deny that many of the versions of the
Psalms have little Milton and less poetry in them.  But is this true of
all?  And in particular is it true of the paraphrase of Psalm cxxxvi.
which, with its companion version of Psalm cxiv. is the most "juvenile"
of all?  A boy of fifteen has not usually much power of "electing" to
be or not to be a poet.  But it can only be inadvertence on Mr.
Mackail's part that would deny that the boy Milton at that age, though
not a great poet, was already himself and, more than that, was already
promising what he was soon to perform.  Who, looking back from the
_Ode_ and _Comus_ and _Paradise Lost_, does not hear some preluding of
the authentic strain of Milton in

  "Who by his all-commanding might
  Did fill the new-made world with light"?

{96} Is it fanciful to note that we have here, no doubt in their barest
primitive form, two of Milton's life-long themes?  The Authorized
Version speaks of "him that made great lights": how Miltonically
transformed those words already are in the two quoted lines!  De
Quincey said that Milton was "not an author amongst authors, not a poet
amongst poets, but a power amongst powers."  However that may be, it is
certain that he, so occupied all his life with thinking and writing
about God, thought of God habitually as a power.  For him God is
Creator, Sovereign, Judge, much more often than Father: we hear from
Milton more of his might than of his love.  So at once here, at the age
of fifteen, he inserts into the Psalm he is paraphrasing that
characteristic phrase, so splendid and potent itself, so gladly
speaking of potency and splendour,

  "Who by his all-commanding might."

And, if power be one of the most frequent elements in the Miltonic
thought, what is more frequent than light in the Miltonic vision?  And
is not that substitution of "did fill the new-made world with light"
for the bare scientific statement of the original, a foretaste of the
Milton who, all his life, blind or seeing, felt {97} the joy and wonder
of light as no other man ever did?  Do we not rightly hear in it a note
that will soon be enriched into the "Light unsufferable" of the _Ode_,
the "endless morn of Light" of the _Solemn Music_, the "bosom bright of
blazing Majesty and Light" of the _Epitaph on Lady Winchester_, and,
not to multiply quotations, of the "Hail, holy Light" which opens the
great invocation of the third book of _Paradise Lost_?

It may be as well, before discussing the _Ode_ and the other contents
of the volume issued in 1645, to mention another poem which is of
earlier date than the _Ode_, though it was not printed till 1673: the
beautiful Spenserian lines _On the Death of a Fair Infant_.  They
afford the most real of the exceptions to the rule that Milton is
always from the beginning to the end unmistakably and solely himself.
In this poem he shows himself at the age of seventeen so soaked in
Spenser and Spenser's school that, when his baby niece dies and he sets
himself to make her an elegy, what he gives us is these graceful verses
conveying as much as a boy of seventeen can catch of the lovely elegiac
note of Spenser.

  "O noble Spirit: live there ever blessed
  The world's late wonder, and the heaven's new joy;
{98}
  Live ever there, and leave me here distressed
  With mortal cares and cumbrous world's annoy."

So sings Spenser of Sidney: and, though Milton is scarcely yet more the
equal of Spenser than his baby niece was of Sidney, it is a beautiful
echo of his master that he gives us in his

  "O fairest flower, no sooner blown but blasted,
  Soft silken primrose fading timelessly,"

and in

  "Yet can I not persuade me thou art dead,
  Or that thy corse corrupts in earth's dark womb,
  Or that thy beauties lie in wormy bed,
  Hid from the world in a low delvèd tomb."

The poem is full of the then fashionable conceits, which appear again a
little in the _Ode_, after which they are for ever put aside by
Milton's imaginative severity and high conception of poetry as a finer
sort of truth than prose, not a more ingenious kind of lying.  Once,
and perhaps once only, one hears in it the voice of the Milton of later
years--

  "Thereby to set the hearts of men on fire
  To scorn the sordid world, and unto Heaven aspire."


But with the _Ode_ the age of imitation is over for Milton and he
stands forward at once {99} as himself.  The soft graces, somewhat
lacking in outline, of the _Fair Infant_, are forgotten in the sonorous
strength of the _Ode_.  The half-hesitating whisper has become a strain
of mighty music; the uncertain hand has gained self-confidence so that
the design now shows the boldness and decision of a master.  At once,
in the second stanza, he is away to heaven, with a curious anticipation
of what was to occupy him so much thirty years later--

  "That glorious form, that light unsufferable,
  And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,
  Wherewith he wont at Heaven's high council-table
  To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
  He laid aside; and, here with us to be,
  Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
  And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay."


Milton's genius was universal, in the strict sense of the word, that
is, living in or occupied with the universe.  He is as supramundane in
his way as Shelley in his.  And no part of the universe was more real
to him than heaven, the abode of God and angels and spirits, the
original and ultimate home of his beloved music and light.  It is
noticeable that there is hardly a single poem of his--_L'Allegro_ and
_Samson_ are the only important ones--in {100} which he does not at one
point or other make his escape to heaven.  In most of them, as all
through this _Ode_ and the _Solemn Music_, in the conclusions of
_Lycidas_ and _Il Penseroso_, in the opening of _Comus_, this heavenly
flight provides passages of exceptional and peculiarly Miltonic beauty.
The fact is that, though little of a mystic, he was from the first
entirely of that temper, intellectually descended from Plato, morally
from Stoicism and Christianity but more from Stoicism, which cannot be
content to be "confined and pestered in this pinfold here," disdains
the "low-thoughted cares" of mere bodily and temporal life, and
habitually aspires to live the life of the mind and the spirit,

  "Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot
  Which men call Earth."


So here at once, in his first important poem, what in other hands might
have been a mere telling of the old human and earthly story of the
first Christmas night becomes in Milton's a vision of all time and all
space, with heaven in it, and the stars, and the music of the spheres,
and the great timeless scheme of redemption with which he was to have
so much to do later, with history, too, and literature, the false gods
of the Old Testament and of the Greek and Roman classics already {101}
anticipating the parts they were to play in _Paradise Lost_.

And note one other thing.  Milton is only twenty-one, but he is already
an incomparable artist.  The stanza had been so far the usual form for
lyrics, and he adopts it here for the first and last time.  But if he
accepts the instrument prescribed by tradition, with what a master's
hand this wonderful boy of twenty-one touches it, and to what
astonishing music!  It seems that the stanza itself is his own.  Every
one has felt the combination in it, as he manages it, of the romantic
movement and suggestion which he loved and renounced with the classical
strength which is the chief element in the final impression he made on
English poetry.  As yet the romantic quality is the stronger, and even
one of the mighty closing Alexandrines is dedicated to the lovely
Elizabethan fancy of the "yellow skirted fayes" who

  "Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze."

How such a line as that, or still more plainly the two which end the
most romantic stanza of all--

  "No nightly trance, or breathèd spell,
  Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell"
{102} found a rejoicing echo in Keats is obvious.  This, of course, has
often been noticed.  But has it ever been remarked that there are also
lines in the poem which might have been written by another
nineteenth-century poet of equal but very different genius?

  "The winds, with wonder whist,
  Smoothly the waters kissed,
  Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean;"--

should we be surprised to come upon these elemental loves and joys
heralding a new reign of justice and peace in the _Prometheus Unbound_?

But neither Keats nor Shelley, who both had their affinities to Milton,
had it in him to reach the concentrated Miltonic energy of such lines
as--

  "The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep,"

or--

  "Than his bright throne or burning axletree could bear."

Almost every one of these final Alexandrines, it is to be observed,
sums up the note of its stanza in a chord of majestic power.  They are
the most Miltonic lines in the poem; for it is precisely "majesty"
{103} which is the unique and essential Miltonic quality; and Dryden in
the famous epigram ought to have kept it for him and not given it to
Virgil, though by doing so he would have made his splendid compliment
impossible.

Among the poems that followed in the 1645 edition were the _Passion_, a
failure which Milton recognized as a failure and abandoned, but yet,
characteristically, did not refuse to publish; the _Epitaph on the
Marchioness of Winchester_, which, still youthful as it is and is seen
to be by the frigid and false antithesis of Queen and Marchioness with
which it ends, has yet very beautiful lines--

  "Gentle Lady, may thy grave
  Peace and quiet ever have!
  After this thy travail sore,
  Sweet rest seize thee evermore";

the famous lines on Shakspeare, contributed anonymously to the second
Folio; and the noble outburst of heavenly music which begins--

  "Blest pair of Sirens, pledges of Heaven's joy
  Sphere-born harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse."

{104} This was written some years later; and even after _Paradise Lost_
it may rank as the most daring and entirely successful of Milton's
long-sustained wheelings of musical flight.  The stanza no longer
provides him with space enough: and here his whole twenty-eight lines
are one continuous strain, with no break in them and scarcely any
pause, in ten-syllabled lines of boldly varied rhyme and accent.  His
task here is not so difficult as it was to be in _Paradise Lost_, for
he has rhyme to provide him with variety and he admits two verses of
six syllables among his twenty-eight; but already he is completely
master of the possibilities of the ten-syllable line, and can make it
yield as lavish a wealth of variety in unity as was later on to make
the great passages of _Paradise Lost_ an eternal amazement to lovers
and practisers of the art of verse.

  "Wed your divine sounds, and mixed power employ,
  Dead things with inbreathed sense able to pierce;
  And to our high-raised phantasy present
  That undisturbèd song of pure concent."

They are all the same line, and yet how different.  It is difficult to
believe that this is the same metre which Waller and Dryden {105} were
soon, amid universal applause, to file down into the smooth monotony
of--

  "Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
  And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
  Else why should he, with wealth and honour blest,
  Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?"


For Dryden, as still more for Pope and the school of Pope, the thing to
accomplish, so far as possible, is to prevent any of the natural
accents falling upon the third, fifth or other odd syllables; there is,
for instance, not one which does so in the first fifty lines of
_Absalom and Achitophel_ or of the _Epistle to Arbuthnot_.  The object
of Milton, on the contrary, is to vary the position of his accents to
the utmost possible extent compatible with the preservation of the
verse.  In these four lines his first accent falls on the first
syllable in the first two, probably on the fourth in the third, and on
the second in the last.  And the other accents are similarly varied in
place and, it may be added, in number.  In Milton's case the listener's
wonder is at the number and intricacy of the variations he can play
upon the theme of his verse; in Pope's it is at the amazing cleverness
with which it can be exactly repeated in {106} different words.
Milton's music, too, is continuous, not broken into couplets sharply
divided from each other.  His verses pass into each other as wave melts
into wave on the sea-shore; there is a constant breaking on the beach,
but which will break and which will glide imperceptibly into its
successor we cannot guess though we sit watching for an hour; the
sameness of rise and fall, crash and silence, is unbroken, yet no one
wave is exactly like its predecessor, no two successive minutes give
either eye or ear exactly the same experience.  So with Milton's verse;
even the ocean of _Paradise Lost_ has few or no waves of music of more
varied unity, of more continuous variety than such lines as--

  "As once we did, till disproportioned sin
  Jarred against Nature's chime and with harsh din
  Broke the fair music that all creatures made
  To their great Lord, whose love their motion swayed
  In perfect diapason whilst they stood
  In first obedience and their state of good."


The chief remaining minor poems of Milton are the _Allegro_ and
_Penseroso_, _Comus_, _Lycidas_ and the Sonnets.  The two first are
written {107} in those rhymed eight-syllable lines which he had already
used in part of his _Song on May Morning_.  Like that beautiful little
poem, they represent him in his simplest mood, the mood of the quiet
years at Horton, spent, more than any other part of his life, in the
open air, and among plain folk unlettered and unpolitical.  It is
natural enough, therefore, that they are the most popular as they are
the easiest of all his poems.  Their two titles, which mean The
Cheerful Man and The Thoughtful or Meditative Man, point to the two
moods from which they regard life.  Both moods are, of course,
described as they might actually be experienced by a highly cultivated
and serious man like Milton himself.  The gravity is the gravity of a
man of thought, not of a man of affairs; the pleasures are those of a
scholar and a poet, not those of a trifler, a sportsman, or a
sensualist.  Like all Milton's works they borrow freely from earlier
poets, remain entirely original and Miltonic, and are imitated only at
the peril of the imitator.  Any one who looks at the parallel passages
in Marlowe and Fletcher will see how very like they are and how very
little the likeness matters.  The poems stand alone; there is nothing
of quite the same kind in English.  {108} The least unlike pair of
poems is perhaps the two Spring Odes of the present Poet Laureate, than
whom no one has owed more to Milton or repaid the debt with more verse
which Milton would have been glad to inspire.  But Mr. Bridges has, of
course, avoided anything approaching a direct imitation; he has merely
used the hint of two contrasted poems on one subject, touching
inevitably, as Milton had touched, upon some of the opposite pleasures
of town and country, and bringing Milton's mood of cheerful gravity to
bear upon them both.

It is unnecessary to discuss in detail poems so well known.  But a few
words may be said.  Milton was never again to be so genial as he is
here.  Never again does he place himself so sympathetically close to
the daily tasks and pleasures of ordinary unimportant men and women.
After characteristically choosing the West Wind and the Dawn as
likelier parents of true mirth than any god of wine or sensual
pleasure, he will go on for once to call for the company of--

  "Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
  And Laughter holding both his sides";

he will cast a pleased eye on the birds and flowers and the
sunrise--the latter moving {109} him to the characteristic magnificence
which in this poem he has elsewhere forgone; he will recognize, with
the gratefulness of the tired student, the careless gladness in the
voices of ploughman and milkmaid, as he passes them in his early
morning walk.  Then he will give a glance to beauty which such as they
cannot see, or cannot be fully conscious of seeing--

  "Mountains on whose barren breast
  The labouring clouds do often rest";

will touch on the romance of old towers and poetic memories of which
they have only dimly heard, and look back at Thyrsis and Corydon and
all the pastoral poetry which such scenes recall to the scholar's
memory.  The next section of the poem is taken from a different world,
that of the merry England of the Middle Age with its ale and dances and
Faery Mab; while the final one carries us quite away from the rustics
to the town and the town's pleasures, pageantry and drama and
music--this last, as always, moving the poet to peculiar rapture, and
an answering music of verse--

  "The melting voice through mazes running,
  Untwisting all the chains that tie
  The hidden soul of harmony."


{110}

_Il Penseroso_ is the praise of Melancholy as _L'Allegro_ of Mirth.
But Milton was not a melancholy man in our sense of the word.  When
Keats declares that--

        "in the very temple of Delight
  Veiled Melancholy has her sovran shrine,"

he is interpreting a mood into which Milton could not even in
imagination enter, that of the intellectual sensualist who dreams his
life away and cannot act.  Milton was a man of action and character,
and his Melancholy, quite unlike this, is that of the Spirit in his own
_Comus_, who "began--

  "Wrapt in a pleasing fit of melancholy,
  To meditate my rural minstrelsy."

He hails her at once as a "Goddess sage and holy" and as a "Nun devout
and pure"; and it is evident from the first that her sorrows, so far as
she is sorrowful, are those of aspiring spirit, not those of
self-indulging and disappointed flesh.  Her life of quiet studies and
pleasures is self-chosen; there is a note of will and self-control in
the words in which the poet bids her call about her Peace and Quiet and
Spare Fast, Retired Leisure and Contemplation and Silence; and the
descriptions which follow of his walks {111} and studies and pleasures,
in town and country, by night and morning, are those of a man who has
deliberately shaped his life, and means so to live it that he shall
leave it without regret or shame and with the hope of passing from it
to a better.

Nor is it any mood of mere melancholy that has given us in this poem
such pleasant glimpses of his walks abroad and studies at home in these
Horton years.  He pays his tribute to Plato, the Greek tragedians and
the dramatists of Elizabethan and Jacobean England; and to his own two
most famous predecessors, Chaucer and Spenser; and we think of the
scholarly hours spent gravely and quietly but far from unhappily.  More
delightful still, with more beauty and more happiness in them, are the
poem's well-known landscapes--

        "the wandering moon,
  Riding near her highest noon,
  Like one that had been led astray
  Through the heaven's wide pathless way."

Perhaps no one again, till Shelley came, felt the vastness, the
pathlessness, of the heaven as Milton did.  Or, to come to earth again,
where does poetry set the ear more instantly and actively at the work
of imaginative {112} creation than in those finely suggestive lines
about the curfew--

  "Over some wide-watered shore,
  Swinging slow with sullen roar"?

And what of that woodland solitude at noon, with memories in it of so
many poets of Greece, Rome, Italy and England, the

        "shadows brown, that Sylvan loves,
  Of pine, or monumental oak,
  Where the rude axe with heavèd stroke
  Was never heard the Nymphs to daunt
  Or fright them from their hallowed haunt,"

which carries us on to perhaps the loveliest lines in all the _Paradise
Lost_--

        "In shadier bower,
  More sacred and sequestered, though but feigned,
  Pan or Sylvanus never slept, nor nymph
  Nor Faunus haunted."

There is in the two passages just the difference between the youth and
maturity of genius; but that is all.  So _Il Penseroso_ passes on its
delightful way, ending, of course, in music and heaven.

There, too, "before the starry threshold of Jove's court," the next of
these earlier works of Milton, the mask _Comus_, begins.  {113} It
strikes its high note at once in what an old lover of literature boldly
called "the finest opening of any theatrical piece ancient or modern."

  "Before the starry threshold of Jove's court
  My mansion is, where those immortal shapes
  Of bright aerial spirits live insphered
  In regions mild of calm and serene air,
  Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot
  Which men call Earth, and, with low-thoughted care,
  Confined and pestered in this pinfold here,
  Strive to keep up a frail and feverish being,
  Unmindful of the crown that Virtue gives,
  After this mortal change, to her true servants
  Amongst the enthroned gods on sainted seats."

That looks forward to _Paradise Lost_, not backward to the masks of the
previous generation of poets.  The "loud uplifted angel-trumpet" is
sounded in it, and we know that we have travelled a long way from the
trivial, superficial and often coarse entertainments which would have
been the models of _Comus_ if Milton had been the man to accept models
of any kind, least of all of such a kind.  Like them his mask was an
aristocratic entertainment, played to a noble {114} audience by the
scions of a great house.  But the resemblance scarcely goes further.
The older masks were mainly spectacles; magnificent spectacles indeed,
designed sometimes, as one may see in the Chatsworth Library, by such
artists as Inigo Jones and produced at immense expense; but just for
that reason addressed to the eye much more than to the ear, and
scarcely at all to the mind.  Even when written by such a man as Ben
Jonson, the words, except in the lyrics, are of almost no importance.
The business was to show a number of pretty scenes, and noble ladies,
and to give them a chance of exhibiting their clothes, and their
voices.  The last gave Jonson his chance; the fine Horatian workman
that he was could always produce a lyric that would fit any situation
and give some dignity to any trivial personage.  But the taint of
vanity and fashion, pomp and externality, inevitably clung to the whole
thing.  Too many personages were introduced, probably because in such
plays there were always a great many applicants for parts; and the
inevitable result was that in a short piece none of them had space to
develop any character or life.  But Milton knew, as the Greeks knew and
Shakspeare did not always, that in the few hours of a {115} stage
performance only a very few characters have time to develop themselves
in such a way as to interest and convince the hearer's imagination, and
that if there are many they never become more than a list of names.  So
he, who could not touch anything without giving it character, limits
his personages to four or five that they may at least be human beings
and not mere singers of songs or allegorical abstractions.  And, like
some of his predecessors, he takes an ethical theme, the praise and
power of Chastity.  Fletcher in _The Faithful Shepherdess_ had taken
the same; as Jonson had taken the praise of Temperance, which is also
partly Milton's subject, in _Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue_, in which a
grosser Comus is one of the characters.  But to get any parallel to the
power of conviction with which Milton handles it one has to go behind
Jonson, whose mask is an entirely superficial performance, and even
behind Fletcher, in whose _Shepherdess_ the many beautiful and moving
touches are lost in a crowd of characters and a wilderness of
artificial intrigue; one has to go back to the man whom Milton once
called his "original," to the author of the _Faerie Queen_.  No one but
Spenser could have anticipated the scene between Comus and the Lady,
where indeed {116} Milton, like Spenser in the bower of Acrasia, has
lavished such wealth upon his sinner that he has hardly been able to
give a due over-balance to his saint.  Yet she is no lay figure, and
one is not surprised that Comus should twice show his consciousness
that she has within her some holy, some more than mortal power.  Milton
has given her a song of such astonishing music that one wonders whether
the composer Lawes, for whom the whole was written, could touch it
without injury--

  "Sweet Echo, sweetest Nymph, that liv'st unseen
      Within thy airy shell
    By slow Meander's margent green,
  And in the violet-embroidered vale
    Where the love-lorn nightingale
  Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well;
  Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
    That likest thy Narcissus are?
      O, if thou have
    Hid them in some flowery cave,
      Tell me but where,
    Sweet Queen of Parley, Daughter of the Sphere!
    So mayst thou be translated to the skies,
  And give resounding grace to all Heaven's harmonies."

The lyrics were the chief beauty of the old masks, but the best of them
sink into {117} insignificance before such a masterpiece of art as
this.  Perhaps nothing in a modern language comes nearer to giving the
peculiar effect which is the glory of Pindar.  Of course there is in it
more of the fanciful, and more of the romantic, than there was in
Pindar; and its style is tenderer, prettier and perhaps altogether
smaller than his.  But the elaborate and intricate perfection of its
art and language, the way in which the intellect in it serves the
imagination, is exactly Pindar.  In any case it is certainly one of the
most entirely beautiful of English lyrics.  One listens with delight to
the musician working out his intricately beautiful theme; or is it
nearer the impression we get to say that we watch the skilful dancer
executing his elaborate figure?  In either case we await with sure
confidence the triumphant close.  The final couplet, by the way, and
particularly the great Alexandrine, is a curious anticipation of
Dryden's finest manner.  But the rest is a music Dryden's ear never
heard.  No wonder Comus cries--

  "Can any mortal mixture of earth's mould
  Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment?
  Sure something holy lodges in that breast,
  And with these raptures moves the vocal air
  To testify his hidden residence.
{118}
  How sweetly did they float upon the wings
  Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night,
  At every fall smoothing the raven down
  Of darkness till it smiled!"

The last lines show that Milton has not yet outgrown the Jacobean taste
for conceits.  So a little later on we find him writing that--

        "Silence
  Was took ere she was ware, and wished she might
  Deny her nature, and be never more
  Still to be so displaced";

a piece of intellectual trickery such as Shakspeare too often played
with, and Donne laboured at; and one of a special interest because we
see it again later transformed and purified in the famous passage of
_Paradise Lost_, in which "Silence was pleased" not only with the
stillness of evening, but also with the song of the bird whose "amorous
descant" alone interrupts it.  Yet even that seemed to Warton, the best
of Milton's early critics, a conceit unworthy of the poet.  So
difficult it is for "rational" criticism to see the distinction between
an intellectual extravagance and a flight of the imagination.

There are other things in _Comus_ beside conceits which recall
Shakspeare.  What can {119} be more exactly in his freshest youngest
manner than such a line as--

  "Love-darting eyes and tresses like the morn"?

And what can be closer to the note of the great Histories and Tragedies
than the Elder Brother's outburst of faith--

        "If this fail,
  The pillared firmament is rottenness,
  And earth's base built on stubble"?


I see no reason whatever to doubt, in spite of what has lately been
said by a modern critic and poet, that these speeches of the Brothers
and the Lady, rather than those of Comus, represent Milton's own
conception of life.  It is true, of course, that _Comus_ was one of
several masks performed as an aristocratic counterblast to the attack
of Prynne and the Puritans on all stage performances.  But that only
strengthens the proof of Milton's own leaning to a grave and temperate
mode of life.  Even when he writes a mask he will insist that it shall
be a thing of noble art and serious moral.  He was no narrow-minded
fanatic and will write a piece for great ladies to perform when asked
by his accomplished friend Lawes: but he is already {120} the man who
was later to denounce "court amours, Mix'd dance and wanton masque";
and if he writes a mask himself it will be to take the old "high-flown
commonplace" of the magic power of chastity and give it an entirely new
seriousness and beauty.  The notion of Mr. Newbolt that there were two
Miltons, one before and the other after the Civil War, and that the one
was "sincerely engaged on the side of liberal manners" while the other
was an ill-tempered enemy of civilization and the arts of life, is a
complete delusion.  The "Lady of Christ's" who was unpopular on account
of his severe chastity, was already a strict Puritan of the only sort
he ever became; and the author of _Paradise Lost_, as all the evidence
shows, was no morbid sectary but a lover of learning and music and
society.  Of course, no man goes unchanged through a great struggle
such as that to which Milton gave twenty years of life.  There is a
development, or a difference, call it what you will, between the Dante
who wrote the _Vita Nuova_ and him who wrote the _Divina Commedia_.
That could not but be; a body that had gone into exile and a soul that
had visited hell must leave their traces on a man.  But the essential
Dante remains one and the same all the while.  And {121} so does
Milton.  Nothing can be more certain than that the grave boy whose
gravity impressed all Cambridge, and had taken immortal shape in the
_Nativity Ode_ and the sonnet of the "great Taskmaster's eye" before he
was much past twenty, did not mean to hold up a drunken sensualist like
Comus as a model for youth.  He was not an ascetic, then or later; and
he was writing a dramatic poem; and, of course, had no difficulty in
giving Comus a fine speech about the follies of total abstinence which,
indeed, he loved no better than other monkeries.  The Lady, in reply,
as she is dramatically bound, over-exalts her "sage and serious
doctrine of Virginity" as Comus had overstated the case against it; but
what she praises is Temperance, not Abstinence.  Her virginity is that
of a free maiden, not that of a vowed nun, and there is nothing in it
to unfit her to play the part which, when Eve plays it, gives Milton
occasion for his well-known apostrophe to true love.  Nor is there any
inconsistency between his denunciation of "wanton masks" in that
passage, and his being the author of _Comus_.  His own mask was as
different as possible from those others, the common sort, in which he
saw the purveyors of "adulterous lust," and with which, now as then, he
would have nothing whatever {122} to do.  His "Lady" alone, even
without her brothers, makes that clear.  What she says may not be so
poetically attractive as the speech of Comus; but it has just the note
of exaltation which is heard in all Milton's great ethical and
spiritual outbursts, and plainly utters the other and stronger side of
his convictions.  The truth is that from the very beginning to the very
end of his life Milton had all the intensity of Puritanism, more than
all its angry contempt of vice, but nothing whatever of its uncivilized
narrow-mindedness.  A large part of the peculiar interest of his
character lies in the fact that he, almost alone of Englishmen, managed
to unite the strength of the Reformation with the breadth of the
Renaissance.  We have both in the lovely verses which are the Epilogue
of _Comus_; and if it begins with--

        "the gardens fair
  Of Hesperus, and his daughters three
  That sing about the golden tree:"

and the--

  "Beds of hyacinth and roses
  Where young Adonis oft reposes,
  Waxing well of his deep wound
  In slumber soft, and on the ground
  Sadly sits the Assyrian queen";

{123} it ends with the Stoic Puritan motto, "Love Virtue, she alone is
free."  And that these last six lines were no formal compliment to the
conventions is proved by the fact that Milton chose the final couplet--

        "if Virtue feeble were
  Heaven itself would stoop to her,"

as the motto he appended to his signature in the album of an Italian
Protestant at Geneva in 1639, adding the significant Latin which claims
the sentiment as utterly his own--

  "Caelum, non animum, muto dum trans mare curro."

These words we, looking back on his whole life, may fitly translate: "I
am always the same John Milton, whether in Rome, Geneva, or London,
whether I write _Comus_ or _Allegro_ or _Paradise Lost_."  For never
were unity and continuity of personality more complete than in Milton.

There remains _Lycidas_, in which Milton out-distances all previous
English elegy almost as easily as in _Comus_ he had out-distanced all
the earlier masks.  It stands with the great passages of _Paradise
Lost_ as the most consummate blending of scholarship and poetry in
Milton and therefore in English.  All {124} pastoral poetry is in it,
Theocritus and Virgil, Spenser and Sidney, Drayton and Drummond, with
memories, too, of Ovid and Shakspeare and the Bible; and yet it is pure
and undiluted Milton, with the signet of his peculiar mind and temper
stamped on its every phrase.  It was his contribution to a volume of
verses published at Cambridge in 1638 to the memory of Edward King, a
younger contemporary of his at Christ's who was drowned off the Welsh
coast in August 1637.  King was already a Fellow of his college, and
one of the most promising young clergymen of his day.  Milton had liked
and respected him, no doubt, but had certainly not been so intimate
with him as with young Charles Diodati who died almost exactly a year
later, and was lamented by his great friend in the _Epitaphium Damonis_
which is the finest of the Latin poems.  Those who read Latin will
enjoy its close parallelism with _Lycidas_ and its touches of a still
closer bond of affection, as that in which the poet contrasts the easy
friendships of birds and animals, soon won, soon lost and soon replaced
by others, with their hard rareness among men who scarcely find one
kindred spirit in a thousand, and too often lose that one by premature
fate before the fruit of {125} friendship has had time to ripen.  But
if the death of Diodati aroused the deeper sorrow in Milton, that of
King produced unquestionably the greater poem.  It is a common mistake
to think that to write a great elegy a man must have suffered a great
sorrow.  That is not the case.  Shelley wrote _Adonais_ about Keats
whom he knew very little; Spenser _Daphnaïda_ about a lady whom he did
not know at all.  It is not the actual experience of sorrow that the
elegiac poet needs; but the power of heart and imagination to conceive
it and the power of language to give it fit expression.  Moreover, the
poet's real subject is not the death of Keats or King or Mrs. Gorges:
it is the death of all who have been or will be loved in all the world,
and the sorrow of all the survivors, the tragic destiny of youth and
hope and fame, the doom of frailty and transience which has been
eternally pronounced on so many of the fairest gifts of Nature and all
the noblest works of man.

About _Lycidas_ criticism has less to say than to unsay.  Johnson's
notorious attack upon it is only the extremest instance of the futility
of applying to poetry the tests of prose and of the general incapacity
of that generation to apply any other.  Even {126} Warton, who really
loved these early poems of Milton and did so much to recall them to
public notice, could speak of him as appearing to have had "a very bad
ear"!  At such a time it was inevitable that the artificial absurdity
of pastoral poetry which is a prose fact should blind all but the
finest judges to the poetic fact that living spirit can animate every
form it finds prepared for its indwelling.  Johnson and the rest were
right in perceiving that pastoral elegy had very commonly been an
insincere affectation, a mere exercise in writing; the age into which
they were born denied them the ear that could hear the amazing music of
_Lycidas_, or perceive the sensuous, imaginative, spiritual intensity
which drowns its incongruities in a flood of poetic life.  There is a
still more important truth which that generation could not see.  Prose
aims at expressing facts directly, and sometimes succeeds.  That is
what Johnson liked, and practised himself with masterly success.  But
when he and his asked that poetry should do the same they were asking
that she should deny her nature.  She knows that her truth can only be
expressed or suggested by its imaginative equivalents.  It is with
poetry as with religion.  Religious truth stated directly becomes
philosophy or science, {127} conveying other elements of truth,
perhaps, but failing to convey the element which is specifically
religious; and therefore religion employs parable, ceremony, sacrament,
mystery, to express what scientifically exact prose cannot express.  So
poetry can neither deal directly with King's death or Milton's grief
nor be content with a subject which is a mere fact in time and space.
If it did, the effect produced would not be a poetic effect; the
experience of the reader would not be a poetic experience.  The poet
must transform or transcend the facts which have set his powers to
work; he must escape from them or rather lift them up with him
new-created into the world of the imagination; he must impose upon them
a new form, invented or accepted by himself, and in any case so heated
by his own fire of poetry that it can fuse and reshape the matter
submitted to it into that unity of beauty which is a work of art.  That
is what Milton does in _Lycidas_ by the help of the pastoral fiction;
and what he could not have done without it or some imaginative
substitute for it.

The truest criticism on his pastoralism is really that that mould was
too small and fragile to hold all he wanted to put into it.  The great
outburst of St. Peter, with its {128} scarcely disguised assault upon
the Laudian clergy, strains it almost to bursting.  Yet no one would
wish it away; for it adds a passage of Miltonic fire to what but for
Phoebus and St. Peter would be too plaintive to be fully characteristic
of Milton whose genius lay rather in strength than in tenderness.  Yet
perhaps we love _Lycidas_ all the more for giving us our almost
solitary glimpse of a Milton in whom the affections are more than the
will, and sorrow not sublimated into resolution.  Its modesty, too, is
astonishing.  He had already written the _Nativity Ode_, _Comus_ and
_Allegro_ and _Penseroso_, and yet he fancies himself still unripe for
poetry and is only forced by the "bitter constraint" of the death of
his friend to pluck the berries of his laurel which seem to him still
"harsh and crude"; for of course these allusions refer to his own
immaturity and not, as Todd thought, to that of his dead friend.  And
the presence of the same over-mastering emotion which compelled him to
begin is felt throughout.  There is no poem of his in which he appears
to make so complete a surrender to the changing moods of passion.  The
verses seem to follow his heart and fancy just where they choose to
lead.  We watch him as he thinks first of his friend's death and then
of the {129} duty of paying some poetic tribute to him; and so of his
own death and of some other poet of the future who may write of it and--

  "bid fair peace be to my sable shroud."

How natural it is in all its superficial unnaturalness!  The walks and
talks and verses made together at Cambridge so inevitably leading to
the "heavy change now thou art gone.  Now thou art gone and never must
return"; and the fancy, partly but not wholly a reminiscence of their
classical studies, that the trees and flowers which they had loved
together must now be sharing the survivor's grief; the reproach to
Nature and Nature's divinities following on the thought of Nature's
sympathy, and followed by the first of the two incomparable returns
upon himself which are among the chief beauties of the poem--

  "Ay me!  I fondly dream!
    'Had ye been there,' for what could that have done?"

And so to the vanity of earthly fame and the thought of another fame
which is not vanity.  Twice he seems to be going to escape out of the
world of pastoral, as he strikes his own trumpet note of confident
{130} faith and stern judgment; twice the unfailing instinct of art
calls him back and makes a beauty of what might have been a mere
incongruity--

  "Return, Alpheus; the dread voice is past,
  That shrunk thy streams: return, Sicilian Muse,
  And call the vales, and bid them hither cast
  Their bells and flowerets of a thousand hues."

The flowers come, in their amazing beauty, as poetry knows and names
them, not altogether after the order of nature; till the fine flight is
once more recalled to earth in that second return to the sad reality of
things which provides the most beautiful, and as the manuscript shows,
one of the most carefully elaborated passages in the whole--

  "Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,
  And daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
  To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.
  For so, to interpose a little ease,
  Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.
  Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
  Wash far away, where'er thy bones are hurled,
  Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
{131}
  Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
  Visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world."

The least critical reader, when he is told that the daffodil and
amaranthus lines were once in the reverse order, that the "frail
thoughts" were at first "sad," and the "shores" "floods," and above all
that the "whelming tide" was once a thing so insignificant as the
"humming tide," can judge for himself by what a succession of
inspirations a work of consummate art is produced.

There remain the sonnets, whose sufficient praise is given in an
immortal line of Wordsworth, while all that a fine critic had thought
or learnt about them is contained in the scholarly edition of Mark
Pattison.  Technically they are remarkable, like everything else of
Milton's, at once for their conservatism and their originality; while
their content has all his characteristic sincerity.  They occupy a most
important place in the history of the English sonnet, which had so far
been almost entirely given up to a single theme, that of the poet's
unhappy love, which had commonly little existence outside his verses.
The shadowy mistresses who emulated the glories of Beatrice and Laura
were even less substantial than they; and, though that could {132} not
hinder great poets from making fine poetry out of them, it was fatal to
the ordinary sonnetteer, and gave the sonnet a tradition of overblown
and insincere verbiage.  From all this Milton emancipated it and, as
Landor said, "gave the notes to glory."  To glory and to other things;
for not all his sonnets are consecrated to glory.  They deal with
various subjects; but each, whether its topic be his blindness, the
death of his wife, or the fame of Fairfax or Cromwell, is the product
of a personal experience of his own.  No one can read them through
without feeling that he gets from them a true knowledge of the man.  At
their weakest, as in that _To a Lady_, they convey, in the words of
Mark Pattison, "the sense that here is a true utterance of a great
soul."  The rather commonplace thought and language somehow do not
prevent the total effect from being impressive.  He entirely fails only
when he goes below the level of poetry altogether and repeats in verse
the angry scurrility of his divorce pamphlets.  And even there some
remnant of his artist's sense of the self-restraint of verse preserves
him from the worst degradations of his prose.  For the rest, they give
us his musical and scholarly tastes, his temperate pleasures and his
love of that sort of company which Shelley {133} confessed to
preferring, "such society as is quiet, wise and good"; they give us the
high ideal with which he became a poet, the high patriotism that drew
him into politics, and that sense, both for himself and for others, of
life as a thing to be lived in the presence and service of God which
was the eternally true part of his religion.  The four finest are those
on the Massacre in Piedmont, On his Blindness, On attaining the age of
twenty-three, and that addressed to Cromwell, which perhaps has the
finest touch of all in the pause which comes with such tremendous
effect after "And Worcester's laureate wreath."  But that to the memory
of his wife and "Captain or Colonel or Knight in Arms," the one
addressed to Lawrence and the first of those addressed to Skinner, come
very near the best; and the whole eight would be included by any good
judge in a collection of the fifty best English sonnets, to which
Milton would make a larger contribution than any one except, perhaps,
Wordsworth and Shakspeare.

And both of these poets, Shakspeare always and Wordsworth often, sinned
as Milton did not against the true genius of the sonnet.  No doubt they
had nearly all precedent with them, and their successors down to
Rossetti {134} and Meredith have followed in the same path.  But not
even Shakspeare and Petrarch can alter the fact that the genius of the
sonnet is solitary and self-contained.  A series of sonnets is an
artistic contradiction in terms.  There may be magnificent individual
sonnets in it which can stand alone, without reference to those that
precede or follow; and so far so good; but on the bulk of the series
there inevitably rests the taint of incompleteness.  They do not
explain themselves.  They are chapters not books, parts of a
composition and not the whole.  It is scarcely possible to doubt that,
fine as they may be, the effect they produce is not that of the finest
single sonnets, beginning and ending within their own limits.  Milton
may never have been under any special temptation to write a set of
consecutive sonnets; but it is in any case like his habitual submission
of all authority to his own judgment that he wrote sonnets and yet
defied the tradition of writing them as a continuous series, as he had
also disdained the amorous affectations which had been their
established subject.  But in this, as in everything else where art was
concerned, he was as much a conservative as a revolutionary.  And so
his scholarly interest in the Italian sonnet, and, we may be sure, his
consummate {135} critical judgment, made him set aside the various
sonnet forms adopted by Shakspeare, Spenser and other famous English
poets, and follow the original model of Petrarch more strictly than it
had been followed by any English poet of importance before him; for the
Petrarchan sonnets of Sidney, Constable and Drummond all end with the
unItalian concluding couplet.  But here again Milton's example has not
proved decisive.  Wordsworth did not always follow it, though he never
deserted it with success.  Keats began with it and gave it up for the
Shakspearean model with the concluding couplet.  But of him again, it
may be said that, while he only wrote three great sonnets and two of
them are Shakspearean, his single masterpiece is Petrarchan or
Miltonic.  Rossetti, on the other hand, has no Shakspearean sonnets,
and his finest are among the best proofs of how much a sonnet gains in
unity by the single pause between the eight lines and the six instead
of Shakspeare's fourfold division, and especially by the interlocking
of the rhymes in the second half of the sonnet as opposed to
Shakspeare's isolated and half-epigrammatic final couplet.

There can be little doubt, though attempts have been made to deny it,
that nothing but {136} the prestige of the greatest of all poetic names
has prevented the superiority of the Petrarchan model from being
universally recognized.  Shakspeare could do anything.  But the
greatness of his sonnets is due not to their form but simply to their
being his; and the fact that he could triumph over the defects of that
form ought not to make other people fancy that these defects do not
exist.  They do; and but for the courage and genius of Milton they
might have dominated the history of the English sonnet to this day.
That is part of our great debt to Milton.  He could not give the sonnet
the supple and insinuating sweetness with which Shakspeare often filled
it.  He had not got that in him, and perhaps it would scarcely have
proved tolerable except as part of a sequence in which it could be
balanced by sterner matter.  Nor, again, could he give it Shakspeare's
infinite tenderness, nor his sense of the world's brooding mystery.
But he could and did give it his own high spirit of courage, sincerity
and strength, and his own masterly cunning of craftsmanship.  And no
just reader of the greatest sonnets of the nineteenth century forgets
Milton's share in their greatness.  Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie has
lately remarked that it is in the _Prelude_ and _Excursion_ of {137}
Wordsworth that "more profoundly than anywhere out of Milton himself
Milton's spiritual legacy is employed."  The same thing may be as truly
said of Wordsworth's sonnets.  If, as he said, in Milton's hands "the
thing became a trumpet," there is no doubt that it remained one in his
own.  He is a greater master of the sonnet than Milton; the greatest on
the whole that England has known.  He used it far more freely than
Milton and for more varied purposes.  Perhaps it hardly afforded room
enough for one the peculiar note of whose genius was vastness.  It is
seldom possible to do justice to a quotation from _Paradise Lost_
without giving at least twenty lines.  The sense, and especially the
musical effect, is incomplete with less; for a Miltonic period is a
series of intellectual and rhythmical actions and reactions which
cannot be detached from each other without loss.  It is obvious that a
poet whose natural range is so great can hardly be fully himself in the
sonnet.  But Wordsworth had little of this spacious freedom of poetic
energy; to him--

        "'twas pastime to be bound
  Within the sonnet's scanty plot of ground."

And so he could use it for everything; for great events and also for
very small; not {138} exhausting great or small, but finding in each,
whatever it might be, some single aspect or quality which he could
touch to new power by that meditative tenderness of his to which Milton
was, to his great loss, an entire stranger.  The natural mysticism, for
instance, of such sonnets as, "It is a beauteous evening, calm and
free," or, "Earth has not anything to show more fair," is quite out of
Milton's reach.  In this and other ways Wordsworth could do much more
with the sonnet than Milton could.  But without Milton some of his very
greatest things would scarcely have been attempted.  All the sonnets
that utter his magnanimous patriotism, his dauntless passion for
English liberty, his burning sympathy with the oppressed, the "holy
glee" of his hatred of tyranny, are of the right lineage of Milton
himself.  One can almost hear Milton crying--

  "It is not to be thought of that the Flood
  Of British freedom, which to the open sea
  Of the world's praise from dark antiquity
  Hath flowed 'with pomp of waters unwithstood,'
  Roused though it be full often to a mood
  Which spurns the checks of salutary bands,
  That this most famous Stream in Bogs and Sands
  Should perish; and to evil and to good
  Be lost for ever."

{139} There and in the "Two Voices" and in the "Inland within a Hollow
Vale" and in the Toussaint l'Ouverture sonnet, and others, we cannot
fail to catch an echo of the poet who first "gave the sonnet's notes to
glory."  No one can count up all the things which have united in the
making of any poem, but among those which made these sonnets possible
must certainly be reckoned the Fairfax and Cromwell sonnets, and above
all the still more famous one on the Massacre in Piedmont.  The forces
which animated England to defy and defeat Napoleon were only partly
moral; but so far as they were that they found perfect expression
through only one voice, that of Wordsworth.  And there is no doubt as
to where he caught the note which he struck again to such high purpose.
He has told us himself--

  "Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour;
  England hath need of thee."

And, what seems stranger, he has now had in return a kind of reflected
influence upon Milton.  The total experience of a reader of poetry is a
thing of many actions and reactions, co-operating and intermingling
with each other.  And as we can hardly read Virgil or the Psalms now
without thinking of all {140} that has come of them, and reading some
of it back into the old words whose first creator could not foresee all
that would be found in them, so it is with Milton and Wordsworth.
There are many things in Milton which no Wordsworthian can now read
exactly as they were read in the seventeenth century.  Wordsworth's line

  "Thy Soul was like a Star and dwelt apart"

was strangely true of Milton as he lived in his own day.  But it is
less true now that his place is among the spiritual company of the
English poets and that Wordsworth stands by his side, or sits at his
feet.  That does not detract from his greatness.  Indeed, it adds to
it; for it is only the greater poets who thus transcend their own day
and cannot be read as if they belonged to it alone.  Read the great
sonnet on the Massacre--

  "Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
    Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
    Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
    When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones,
{141}
  Forget not; in thy book record their groans
    Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
    Slain by the bloody Piemontese, that rolled
    Mother with infant down the rocks.
      Their moans
  The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
    To heaven.  Their martyred blood and ashes sow
    O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
  The triple Tyrant; that from these may grow
    A hundredfold, who, having learnt thy way,
    Early may fly the Babylonian woe."

Is there not more in it than the Hebrew prophet or psalmist and the
English Puritan?  Is there not, for us now, something beside the past
of which Milton had read, and the present which he knew by experience?
Is there not an anticipation of another struggle against another
tyrant--nay, the creation of the very spirit in which that struggle was
to be faced?  So Milton influences Wordsworth and the England of
Wordsworth's day; and they in their turn inevitably influence our minds
as we read him.  There lies one part of the secret of his greatness; a
part which is seen at its highest in his sonnets.



{142}

CHAPTER IV

_PARADISE LOST_

_Paradise Lost_ is in several ways one of the most wonderful of the
works of man.  And not least in the circumstances of its composition.
The Restoration found Milton blind, and to blindness it added
disappointment, defeat, obscurity, and fear of the public or private
revenge of his victorious enemies.  Yet out of such a situation as this
the most indomitable will that ever inhabited the soul of a poet
produced three great poems, every one of which would have been enough
to give him a place among the poets who belong to the whole world.

The first and greatest of these was, of course, _Paradise Lost_.
Unlike many great poems, but like all the great epics of the world, it
obtained recognition at once.  It sold well for a work of its bulk and
seriousness, and it received the highest praise from those whose word
was and deserved to be law in questions of literature.  Throughout the
eighteenth {143} century its fame and popularity increased.  Literary
people read it because Dryden and Addison and all the established
authorities recommended it to them, and also because those of them
whose turn for literature was a reality found that these
recommendations were confirmed by their own experience.  But the poem
also appealed to another and a larger public.  To the serious world it
appeared to be a religious book and as such enjoyed the great advantage
of being thought fit to be read on the only day in the week on which
many people were accustomed to read at all.  This distinction grew in
importance with the progress of the Wesleyan revival and with it grew
the number of Milton's admirers.  When Sunday readers were tired of the
Bible they were apt to turn to _Paradise Lost_.  How many of them did
so is proved by the influence Milton has had on English religious
beliefs.  To this day if an ordinary man is asked to give his
recollections of the story of Adam and Eve he is sure to put Milton as
well as Genesis into them.  For instance, the Miltonic Satan is almost
sure to take the place of the scriptural serpent.  The influence Milton
has had is unfortunately also seen in less satisfactory ways.  He
claimed to justify the ways of God to men.  Perhaps he did so to his
own mind {144} which, in these questions, was curiously matter-of-fact,
literal, legal and unmystical.  He was determined to explain everything
and provide for all contingencies by his legal instrument of the
government of the world: and he did so after the cold fashion of a
lawyer defining rights on each side, and assuming that the stronger
party will exert his strength.  So far as his genius made his readers
accept his views of the relation between God and man it cannot be
denied that he did a great injury to English religious thought.
Everybody who stops to reflect now feels that the attitude of his God
to the rebel angels and to man is hard and unforgiving, below the
standard of any decent human morality, far below the Christian charity
of St. Paul.  The atmosphere of the poem when it deals with these
matters is often suggestive of a tyrant's attorney-general whose
business is to find plausible excuses for an arbitrary despot.  Milton
had his share in creating that bad sort of fear of God which is always
appearing as the thorn in the theological rose-bed of the eighteenth
century, and, later on, becomes the nightmare of the Evangelical
revival.  None of these conceptions, the capricious despot, the
remorseless creditor, the Judge whose {145} invariable sentence is hell
fire, have proved easy to get rid of: and part of their permanence may
be laid to the account of _Paradise Lost_.

But Milton, who is like the Bible in so many ways, is not least like it
in his happy unconsciousness of his own immorality.  The writer of the
story of Samuel and Agag, or that of Rebekah and Jacob, was perfectly
unaware that he was immoral: and so was Milton in _Paradise Lost_: and
so also and for that very reason were the majority of their readers.
Happily most of us when we read a book that makes for righteousness are
like children reading Shakspeare, who simply do not notice the things
that make their elders nervous.  It is not that we refuse the evil and
choose the good: we are quite unaware of the presence of the evil at
all.  No doubt that sometimes makes its influence the more powerful
because unperceived: and for this kind of subtle influence both Milton
and the Old Testament have to answer.  But with many happy natures an
escape is made by the process of selection: and, as they manage to
acquire the God-fearing righteousness of the Old Testament without its
ferocity, so they manage to receive from Milton his high emotional
consciousness of life as the glad and {146} free service of God and to
ignore altogether his intellectual description of it as a very
one-sided bargain with a very dangerous Potentate.

Nor must Milton be made, as he often is, to bear more blame in this
matter than he deserves.  Divine tyranny with hell as its sanction was
no invention of his.  The Catholic Church, as all her art shows, had
always made full use of it.  And the new horror of his own day, the
Calvinist predestination, he expressly and frequently repudiates.  The
free will of man is the very base of his system.  In it men may suffer,
as it seems to us, out of all proportion to their guilt; but at least
they suffer only for deeds done of their own free will.

But the true answer to the charge of corrupting English religious
thought so often brought against Milton is that while the harm he did
must be admitted it was far outweighed by the good.  It could not be
for nothing that generations of readers, as they turned over Milton's
pages, found themselves listening to the voice of a man to whom God's
presence was the most constant of realities, the most active of daily
and hourly influences: who, from his youth up, visibly glowed with an
ardent desire for the service of God and man: who, whatever his faults
were, had nothing {147} base or mean about him, habitually thought of
life as a thing to be lived on the heights, and by his exalted spirit
and unconquerable will enlarges for those who know him the whole
conception of what a human being may achieve.  It could not be for
nothing that on the topmost heights of English poetry stood a man who
could scarcely finish a single one of his poems without some soaring
ascent to heaven and heavenly things: whose most characteristic
utterances for himself are such lines as

  "Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven";

or--

  "As ever in my great Task-Master's eye:"

and for others as well as for himself such a hope as that which
concludes his _At a Solemn Music_--

  "O, may we soon again renew that song,
  And keep in tune with Heaven, till God ere long
  To his celestial concert us unite,
  To live with Him, and sing in endless morn of light!"

_Tu habe Deum prae oculis tuis_, says the author of _The Imitation_:
"Have thou God {148} before Thine eyes."  And so by his poetry and by
his life says Milton.  The influence of such a man, whatever the faults
of his intellectual creed, can hardly on the whole have been anything
but a good one, either on those who heard his living voice or on those
who for two hundred years have caught what they may of it from the
printed pages of his books.

So much it seemed worth while to say in defence of Milton whose sins in
these matters have always been exaggerated by his ecclesiastical and
political opponents.  But the effect, good or bad, which a great poem
produces on opinion is a mere by-product: its essential business is
nothing of that sort but the production in the minds of competent
readers of the pleasure proper to a great work of the imagination.  And
this is the criterion by which the _Paradise Lost_, like every other
work of the kind, must primarily be judged.

The poem, as we have it, is the long delayed result of an intention
formed in Milton's strangely ripe and resolute youth.  Before he was
thirty he spoke openly to his friends of writing a great poem which
was, as he shortly afterwards had no hesitation in telling the public,
to be of the sort that the world does not willingly let die.  At first
the subject was to have been the Arthurian legend which {149} poets of
all ages have found so fruitful.  But that was soon abandoned,
apparently for the reason that a little examination of the authorities
convinced the poet that it was not historically true.  This fact has a
literary as well as a biographical importance.  Great artist as Milton
was, he seems to have confused truth of art with truth of fact.  He
preferred a Biblical subject because it was his belief that every
statement in the Bible was literally true.  This belief, except from
the emotional fervour it inspired in him, was a positive disadvantage
to him as a poet.  It circumscribed his freedom of invention, it
compelled him to argue that the action of his drama as he found it was
already reasonable and probable instead of letting his imagination work
upon it and make it so; it made him aim too often at producing belief
instead of delight in his hearers.  This, of course, had obvious
drawbacks as soon as people ceased to regard the first chapters of
Genesis as a literal prose record of events which actually happened.
For a hundred and fifty years many people read the _Paradise Lost_ and
supposed themselves to be enjoying the poem when what they were really
enjoying was simply the pleasure of reading their own beliefs expressed
in magnificent verse.  In the same way many {150} religious people
imagine that they enjoy early Italian art when they in fact enjoy
nothing but its religious sentiment.  But neither art nor poetry can
live permanently on these extraneous supports.  So when less interest
came to be felt in Adam and Eve there were fewer readers for _Paradise
Lost_.  But the readers who were lost were not those that matter.  For
it is a complete mistake to say, as is sometimes said, that the fact
that the story of _Paradise Lost_ was once believed and now is so no
longer is fatal to the interest of the poem.  That is not so for the
right reader: or at least, so far as it is so, it is Milton's fault and
not that of his subject.  The _Aeneid_ loses no more by our disbelief
in the historical reality of Aeneas or Dido than _Othello_ loses by our
ignorance whether such a person ever existed.  The difficulty, so far
as there is one, is not that many readers disbelieve the story of
Milton's poem: it is that he himself passionately believed it.  If he
had been content with offering us his poem as an imaginative creation,
if he had not again and again insisted on its historical truth and
theological importance, no changes in the views of his readers, no
merely intellectual or historical criticism, could have touched him
more than they can Virgil.  As a poet he is {151} perfectly
invulnerable by any such attacks: it is only so far as he deserted
poetry for the pseudo-scientific matter-of-fact world of prose that he
fails and irritates us.  All the poetry of _Paradise Lost_ is as true
to-day as when it was first written: it is only the science and logic
and philosophy, in a word the prose, which has proved liable to decay.
There is always that difference between the works of the imagination
and those of the intellect.  A hundred theories about the Greek legends
of the Centaurs or the Amazons may establish themselves, have a vogue,
undergo criticism and finally be exploded as absurdities: that is the
common fate of intellectual products after they have done their work.
But the Centaurs of the Parthenon and the Amazons of the Mausoleum are
immortally independent of all changes of opinion.

This is the first disadvantage of the subject chosen by Milton, that he
believed in it too much.  The fact that he did so and thought its prose
truth all-important at once limited the freedom of his imagination and
diverted him from the single-minded pursuit of the proper end of
poetry.  He was evidently quite unaware of this drawback and it has
been little, if at all, noticed by his critics.  {152} On the other
hand, he was perfectly aware of what would appear to other people to be
the disadvantages involved in the choice of a subject so unlike those
of previous epics.  He speaks more than once of the novelty of this
theme, the best-known allusion being the beautiful introduction to Book
IX., in which he describes his subject, that of the human sin and the
divine anger

  "That brought into this World a world of woe,
  Sin and her shadow Death, and Misery,
  Death's harbinger:"

and contrasts it with those other sins and other angers on which Homer
and Virgil built their poems.  But he is not afraid of the contrast: he
thinks it is all to his own advantage--

  "Sad task! yet argument
  Not less but more heroic than the wrath
  Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued
  Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage
  Of Turnus for Lavinia disespoused;
  Or Neptune's ire or Juno's, that so long
  Perplexed the Greek, and Cytherea's son:
  If answerable style I can obtain
  Of my celestial Patroness who deigns
  Her nightly visitation unimplored,
  And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
  Easy my unpremeditated verse,
{153}
  Since first this subject for heroic song
  Pleased me, long choosing and beginning late,
  Not sedulous by nature to indite
  Wars, hitherto the only argument
  Heroic deemed--"

The whole passage is too long for quotation.  Indeed, as we have
already had occasion to notice, it is one of the difficulties of
discussing Milton that quotation is almost always compelled to do him
an injury by giving less than the whole of any one of those
long-sustained flights of music in which he rises and falls, turns to
the left hand or the right, as his imagination leads him, but always on
unflagging wings of undoubted and easy security.  But enough has been
quoted here to illustrate the poet's direct challenge of Homer and
Virgil in this matter of subject.  He was perfectly well aware that he
was making an entirely new departure, not only from the subject of the
ancients but also, as is shown by his detailed condemnation of "tilting
furniture, emblazoned shields" and the rest, from those of such poets
as Ariosto, Tasso and Spenser.  He did it deliberately, with open eyes.
And there is no doubt that he was at least partly right.  To this day
he and Dante, in their different ways, enjoy a common advantage {154}
over Homer, and still more over a poet mainly of fancy like Tasso, in
the fact that their subject, that of the meaning and destiny of human
life, is one in itself of profound and absorbing interest to all
thinking men and women.  Even if their treatment of it be in some parts
and for some people unsatisfying or irritating they at least have
started with that advantage.  A dangerous advantage because, as we have
seen in Milton's case and might also see in Dante's, tempting them to
go outside the pure business of their art; but still in itself an
advantage.  Milton was probably also right in feeling that the fighting
element in the old poets had been greatly overdone.  The most
interesting parts of the _Iliad_ for us to-day are not battles, but
such things as the parting of Hector and Andromache and the scene
between Priam and Achilles.  Where the fighting still moves us, as in
the case of Hector and Achilles, or Virgil's Turrus and Pallas, it is
mainly for the sake of an accompanying human and moral interest
altogether above its own.  The miscellaneous details of weapons and
wounds which evidently once gave so much pleasure are now equally
tedious to us whether it is Homer or Malory or Morris who narrates
them.  They can no longer give interest; they can only receive it {155}
from such intrinsic interest as may belong to the combatants.

So far Milton had some justification for preferring his own subject to
those of Homer and Virgil.  But, so far as we can judge, he was
entirely unconscious of its disadvantages: as well of those which it
shares with the _Iliad_ and _Aeneid_ as of those peculiar to itself.
Of the former, the most conspicuous is that inevitably involved in the
introduction of divine persons into the action.  Everybody feels that
Homer's gods constantly spoil the interest and probability of his
story, while very rarely enhancing its dignity.  One never understands
why they can do so much, and yet do no more, to affect the action.
Their interference is always irritating, generally immoral, and on the
whole ineffective.  Their omnipotence is occasional and irrational:
they are limited in the use of it by each other, and all alike, even
Zeus, are limited by a shadowy Law or Fate in the background.  Their
interventions only make the struggle seem unfair or unreal, and we are
glad to be rid of them.

Milton is still more deeply involved in the same difficulty.  All his
personages except two are superhuman.  It is his great disadvantage as
compared with Dante that the {156} main lines of his story are all
scriptural and therefore outside the influence of his invention, that
his actors are divine, angelic, or sinless beings, and therefore such
as can provide little of the uncertainty of issue or variety of temper
and experience which are the stuff of drama.  He is hampered by having
constantly to assert the true free will and responsibility of Satan for
his rebellion and of Adam for his disobedience, even to the extent of
putting argumentative soliloquies confessing it into their own mouths.
So far he succeeds: both are felt to be free in their fatal choice.
But the war in heaven can arouse no interest because its issue is
obviously foregone, and much of the action of the rebel angels
necessarily conflicts with the frequent statements that they can do
nothing except as permitted by their Conqueror.  At one moment they
know their powerlessness, at another they hope for revenge and victory.
These are grave difficulties which deprive large parts of the poem of
that illusion of probability or truth without which poetry cannot do
its proper work.  A further difficulty, from which ancient poets were
free, arises from the purely intellectual and spiritual nature of the
Christian God.  It is as if Homer had had to deal with the divine unity
of Plato instead of {157} with his family of loving, quarrelling,
fighting gods and goddesses.  A being who is Incomprehensible as well
as Almighty and Omniscient can hardly be an actor in a poem written for
human readers.  The gods in the _Iliad_ shock us because they are too
like ourselves: Milton's God may sometimes shock us too: but He is more
often in danger of fatiguing us by His utter remoteness from our
experience, by His dwelling not merely, not indeed so often as we could
wish, in clouds and darkness, but in a world of theological mysteries
which necessarily lose more in sublimity than they gain in clearness by
being perpetually discussed and explained.  Dante's poem is at least as
full as Milton's of obscure theological doctrines and attempts at their
explanation; but, either by virtue of the plan of the _Divina Commedia_
or by some finer instinct of reserve and reverence in the poet, we
never find ourselves in Dante as we do in Milton exercising our
critical faculties, whether we will or no, on the very words of God
Himself.  If we reject an argument as unconvincing or fallacious, it is
on Virgil or Statius, Beatrice or Thomas Aquinas, that we sit in
judgment.  The Divine Mind, intensely and constantly felt as its
presence is from the first canto of the poem to the last, is yet felt
always as from behind a {158} curtain which can never be raised for the
sight of mortal eyes.

Still, it must be admitted that, impossible as was the task of making
the Infinite and Eternal an actor and speaker in a human poem, Milton's
very failure in it is sublime.  His prodigious powers are nowhere more
wonderfully displayed than in trying to do what no one, not even
himself, could do.  The second half of his third book, for instance, is
far more interesting than the first, but it may well be doubted whether
the mere fact of his accomplishing the first at all is not a greater
proof of his poetic genius.  Nowhere does that unfailing certainty of
style, in which he has scarcely an equal among the poets of the whole
world, stand him in such astonishing stead as in these difficult
dialogues in heaven.

  "Father, thy word is passed, Man shall find grace;
  And shall Grace not find means, that finds her way,
  The speediest of thy wingèd messengers.
  To visit all thy creatures, and to all
  Comes unprevented, unimplored, unsought?
  Happy for Man, so coming;"

On the side of invention there is nothing remarkable; but, on the side
of art, what a {159} divine graciousness there is in its tone and
manner; what incomparable skill in the management of the verse!  Note
the quiet monosyllabic beginning, taking note, as it were, of the
decree of mercy, and then the expansion of it, the loving voice
pressing forward in freer movement as it confidently proclaims the
happy results that cannot fail to follow.  And observe the peculiarly
Miltonic interlacing of the whole, line leading to line and word to
word: the "grace" of the first line giving the key to the "grace" of
the second, the repeated "find" of the second line and the repeated
"all" of the fourth, the "comes" of the fifth line leading on to the
"coming" of the sixth.  To make a list of such details as these is not
to explain the effect which they produce; that is the secret of
Milton's genius.  So is that cunning variety in the rhythm of the
verses: three pauses in the first line, two in the second, only one in
the third: the principal pause after the sixth syllable in both the
first two lines, and yet the words and their accents so artfully varied
that not the slightest monotony is felt; the suggestion of easy flight
in the smooth unbroken movement of the third line--

  "The speediest of thy wingèd messengers."

{160} Milton knew that an utterance of this kind, in which the Bible
had anticipated him a hundred times, admitted of no novelty in itself;
and his reverence forbade him to give his invention free rein in these
high matters.  But what he could do he did.  The matter of the speech
he leaves as he found it; what the Son says every reader has heard
before: but after this manner he has not heard it.  In passing through
Milton's hands all has been transformed into a new birth by the
consummate craftsmanship of a supreme artist.

Thus the poet escapes, as far as it was possible to escape, from the
difficulties created for him by his acceptance of divine Persons as
actors in his drama.  But the escape could only be partial.  It is true
that as Johnson says, "whatever be done the poet is always great": but
greatness of style often struggles in vain against the incongruity of a
verbose and argumentative Deity.  Such gods as Virgil's Venus and Juno
may hurl rhetorical speeches at each other without much ill effect, but
we feel that it was a lack of the sense of mystery in Milton that kept
him from realizing that the one God, Creator, Father and Judge of all,
cannot with fitness debate or argue: He can only decree.  "Let thy
words be few"; that is even truer, we {161} instinctively feel, of
words put into His mouth than of words addressed to Him.  Milton's God
suffers even more than Shakspeare's Ghosts from a garrulity which
destroys the sense of the awe properly belonging to a supernatural
being; and the grim laughter of the Miltonic heaven is in its different
way even more fatal to that awe than the Jack-in-the-box appearances
and disappearances of the dead Hamlet and Banquo.

Such are some of the difficulties, in part overcome by the poet and in
part unperceived, inherent in the subject of _Paradise Lost_.  One
more, the greatest of all, remains.  Poetry is a human art and its
subject is human life.  In the story Milton set himself to tell there
are only two human figures; and how can they, living as they do in
isolated perfection and sinlessness, without children or friends,
without learning or art or business, without hopes or fears or
memories, without the experience of disease or the expectation of
death, and therefore without the joy, as we know it, of life and
health, how can they provide material for a poem that can interest
beings so utterly unlike them as ourselves?  The answer is twofold.  It
is partly that they do fail to provide that material.  The _Paradise
Lost_ has in fact far less of ordinary human life in {162} it, far less
variety of action, than the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_.  This was probably
unavoidable but it was probably also Milton's deliberate intention.  It
was not his nature to care much about the small doings of ordinary
people in everyday life.  The line which he most often repeats in
_Paradise Lost_ is the very opposite of those which are repeated so
often in the _Iliad_, verses of no noticeable poetic quality, just
doing their plain duty of linking two speeches or two paragraphs
together: such as--

_hos oi men toiauta pros allêlous agoreuon_

What Milton chooses for repetition is, on the other hand, one of his
stateliest lines, the magnificent--

  "Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers."

The choice is characteristic of the man.  His "natural port," as
Johnson well said, "is gigantic loftiness," and his end to "raise the
thoughts above sublunary cares or pleasures."  So it may well be that
this disadvantage of his subject did not weigh with him as much as it
would have done with most poets.  But he was not altogether blind to
it, and the amazing skill he shows in partly getting over it is the
other half of the answer to {163} the question asked just now.  His
action up to the moment of the Fall is the inhuman one of a few days in
hell, heaven, and a small sinless spot of earth: and the Fall does not
increase the number of actors.  Yet into the mouths of this tiny group
of persons Milton may be said to have brought all the history of the
world and all its geography, art, science and learning, the Jew, the
Christian and the Pagan, Greek philosophy and Roman politics, classical
myth, mediaeval romance, and even the contemporary life of his own
experience.  This is partly done, as Virgil had done it, by the way of
a prophecy of future ages: but to a much greater extent by the way of
similes which are more elaborate and learned in Milton than in any
poet.  By their assistance he gives rest to the imagination exhausted
by the sublimity of heaven and hell, bringing it home to its own
familiar earth, to scenes whose charm, unlike that of Eden or
Pandemonium, lies not, in the wonder their strangeness excites but in
the old habits, experiences and memories which they recall.  So, after
the strain of the great debate with which the second book opens, he
soothes us with the beautiful simile of the evening after storm--

  "Thus they their doubtful consultations dark
  Ended, rejoicing in their matchless Chief;
{164}
  As, when from mountain-tops the dusky clouds
  Ascending, while the North-wind sleeps, o'erspread
  Heaven's cheerful face, the louring element
  Scowls o'er the darkened landskip snow or shower,
  If chance the radiant sun, with farewell sweet,
  Extend his evening beam, the fields revive,
  The birds their notes renew, and bleating herds
  Attest their joy, that hill and valley rings."


Note how large and general it is.  Its method is the classical appeal
to universal knowledge and feeling, not the romantic method of
strangeness of sentiment and detailed particularity of truth.  Matthew
Arnold once recommended those who cannot read Greek or Latin to read
Milton as a far better key than any translation can be to the secret of
the greatness of the ancient poets.  This is the truth: and not only
for the reason on which Arnold laid just stress--the "sure and flawless
perfection of rhythm and diction" in which, as he truly says, Milton is
unique among English poets: but also for his classical habit of mind,
for his central sanity, for the sureness with which he makes his call
on the thoughts and emotions, not of eccentric {165} or exceptional
individuals, but of the men and women of all times and all nations.

Yet he can use his similes, as we said, to introduce the life of his
own day and still generally carry his classical manner with him.  So in
the following simile he begins with the Homeric wolf and ends with the
Roman and Laudian clergy.  Satan has leapt over the wall of Paradise:
and the simile begins--

        "As when a prowling wolf,
  Whom hunger drives to seek new haunt for prey,
  Watching where shepherds pen their flocks at eve
  In hurdled cotes amid the field secure,
  Leaps o'er the fence with ease into the fold:
  Or as a thief bent to unhoard the cash
  Of some rich burgher, whose substantial doors,
  Cross-barred and bolted fast, fear no assault,
  In at the window climbs, or o'er the tiles:
  So clomb this first grand Thief into God's fold:
  So since into his Church lewd hirelings climb."

The last line smacks perhaps more of the angry pamphleteer than fits
with classical sanity: but how admirably the London citizen's house
gives vivid reality to the beautiful remoteness of the wolf which
English shepherds had long forgotten to fear; how the recollection,
present to every reader's {166} mind, of that very same simile in the
Gospel of St. John, prepares the way for its religious application
here: how the attention is seized by that magnificent line of arresting
mono-syllables, each heavy with the sense of fate--

  "So clomb this first grand Thief into God's fold!"


It used to be said that Milton uses mono-syllables to express slowness
of action.  But that is notably not the case here.  And in the main it
seems that he uses them, as Shakspeare often did, for expressing the
solemnity of grave crisis, or for deep emotion, when anything fanciful,
ornate or verbose would be fatal to the simplicity, akin to silence,
which all men find fitting at great moments.  So Shakspeare makes Kent
say at Lear's death--

  "Vex not his ghost; O let him pass! he hates him
  That would upon the rack of this tough world
  Stretch him out longer."

And so Milton uses these tremendous mono-syllables, like a bell tolling
into the silence of midnight, to force our attention on the doom of all
the world that took its beginning when Satan entered Paradise--

{167}

  "So clomb this first grand Thief into God's fold."

So again, with less solemnity as befitting a less awful person but
still with arresting and delaying emphasis, he records the actual
eating of the fatal apple--

        "she plucked, she eat:
  Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat,
  Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe,
  That all was lost."

So he suspends the flow of the richest and most elaborate of his
similes by the slow-moving monosyllables of

        "which cost Ceres all that pain
  To seek her through the world:"

So he strikes the deepest note, beyond all politics, of his debate in
hell:

  "And that must end us; that must be our cure--
  To be no more:"

So again he closes the first Act of _Paradise Regained_ with a verse of
solitary awe--

  "And now wild beasts come forth the woods to roam."


{168}

But to return to the similes.  Milton uses them, as we have seen, to
introduce things familiar and contemporary into the remote and majestic
theme of his poem.  But he also uses them to introduce the whole world
into Eden, all later history into the beginning of the world, all the
varied glories of art and war, poetry and legend, with which his memory
was stored, into an action which was only partly human and provided no
scope at all for any human activities except of the most primitive
order.  So the palace of Hell is, he tells us, something far beyond the
magnificence of "Babylon, or great Alcairo"; and the army of rebel
angels far exceeds those

  "That fought at Thebes and Ilium, on each side
  Mixed with auxiliar gods; and what resounds
  In fable or romance of Uther's son,
  Begirt with British and Armoric knights;
  And all who since, baptized or infidel,
  Jousted in Aspramont or Montalban,
  Damasco, or Marocco or Trebisond,
  Or whom Biserta sent from Afric shore,
  When Charlemain with all his peerage fell
  By Fontarabbia."

So, in another of his returns to those tales and fancies of the Middle
Age which, in spite {169} of his intellectual and moral rejection of
their falsity, yet always moved him to unusual beauty of verse, he
compares the dwarfed rebels of Hell to the

        "faery 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."

So Eve at her gardening recalls Pales, or Pomona or

        "Ceres in her prime,
  Yet virgin of Proserpina from Jove."

And so, in an earlier book, the beauty of Paradise itself, too great to
be directly told, is, like the splendour of Pandemonium, conveyed to us
by the most perfect of those negative similes which, forced upon Milton
by the narrow bounds of his story, are perhaps the most distinctive of
all the glories of _Paradise Lost_.  It is too long to quote in full:
but a few lines may be given: and they must include the first four, one
of which has just {170} been quoted, verses of such amazing beauty
that, if Milton could be represented by four lines, these might well be
the chosen four--

        "Not that fair field
  Of Enna, where Proserpin gathering flowers.
  Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis
  Was gathered, which cost Ceres all that pain
  To seek her through the world; nor that sweet grove
  Of Daphne by Orontes, and the inspired
  Castalian spring, might with this Paradise
  Of Eden strive."


But it is time to leave Milton's similes, though similes play a more
important part in _Paradise Lost_ than in any other epic.  Indeed their
necessary absence is a great element in the comparative dulness of the
books given over to the discourses of Raphael and Michael.  A single
chapter in a little book of this kind can only deal with one or two
aspects of so great a subject as _Paradise Lost_.  That being so, it is
best, perhaps, to touch on points in which Milton stands pre-eminent or
unique.  The similes are one of these.  Another is the splendour of the
Miltonic speeches.  It is one of the defects of _Paradise Lost_ that
its actors are seldom soldiers whom all the ages agree to admire, and
often theologians whom all fear or dislike, or politicians whom all
obey {171} and despise.  Yet how magnificently Milton turns this
weakness into a strength!  His speeches have not the eternal humanity
of Homer's: but as oratory, above all as debating oratory, they have no
poetic rivals outside the drama.  The poet who had lived through the
Long Parliament and the trial of Strafford knew the art of speech as
Homer could not know it.  It may seem strange to us that the political
struggle of his day affected him so much more than the military; but
the fact is so.  Pym and Hampden are felt in _Paradise Lost_ far more
than Fairfax or Cromwell.  The speeches of the second book could only
have been written by the citizen of a free state who had lived through
a crisis in its fortunes.  Other speeches in the poem--that
incomparable one of Eve to Adam in the fourth book, "Sweet is the
breath of morn," those that pass between Eve and Adam after the Fall
and Adam's Job-like lament in the tenth book--have a purer human beauty
about them: but of the oratory of debate no poem in the world provides
a more magnificent display than the second book of _Paradise Lost_.
The debate is a real debate.  The opening of Moloch, "My sentence is
for open war," would be instantly effective in any Parliament in the
world.  It {172} rouses attention by its directness, it compels
adherence as only courage can.  To undo its effect Belial has to employ
the most subtle of all oratorical arts, that of accepting the arguments
which he dare not directly combat and then gradually turning them to
the confusion of their author.  So he and Mammon bring the assembly
completely round to the mood of ease and acquiescence.  Then follows
the tremendous figure of Beelzebub, an aged Chatham or Gladstone, who

        "in his rising seemed
  A pillar of state.  Deep on his front engraven
  Deliberation sat and public care;
  And princely counsel in his face yet shone,
  Majestic though in ruin.  Sage he stood,
  With Atlantean shoulders fit to bear
  The weight of mightiest monarchies; his look
  Drew audience and attention still as night,
  Or summer's noon-tide air."

Yet Milton's consciousness of the situation as it really would be is
such that Beelzebub does not dare to revive Moloch's defeated policy of
war.  To talk of fighting to cowed rebels who have just been taught the
too pleasant lesson of the folly of further resistance would have been
useless.  So he begins by telling them that the ease promised to them
is a delusion: they may submit, but submission {173} will never win
them peace, or deliver them from their victorious enemy.  Peace, then,
they cannot have; and must have war: but it need not be open or
dangerous: craft has its weapons as well as force: "what if we find
Some easier enterprise" than the perilous folly of assaulting heaven?

Such a sketch may just serve to show that the great debate is a living
thing in which we feel the temper of the audience submitting to the
successive orators and in its turn reacting upon them.  Another proof
of the actuality of Milton's oratory is the way in which it can be
quoted.

  "I give not Heaven for lost;"

  "Which, if not victory, is yet revenge:"

        "What though the field be lost?
  All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
  And study of revenge, immortal hate,
  And courage never to submit or yield,
  And what is else not to be overcome:"

        "what peace can we return
  But, to our power, hostility and hate?"

        "This would surpass
  Common revenge, and interrupt his joy
  In our confusion:"

{174}

        "Advise if this be worth
  Attempting, or to sit in darkness here
  Hatching vain empires:"

  "What reinforcement we may gain from hope,
  If not, what resolution from despair:"

        "on whom we send
  The weight of all and our last hope relies:"

        "This enterprise
  None shall partake with me."

All these have been or could well be hurled by contending
Parliamentarians across the table of the House of Commons, often with a
fine irony, the Miltonic magnificence emphasizing the pettiness of the
ordinary political squabbles.  But, of course, the theological
questions which are at the root of Milton's debate make many of the
arguments inapplicable to politics: indeed, what is probably the most
remembered passage in all the speeches has nothing to do with social or
political activities but draws its poignant interest from the secret
thoughts that visit the hearts of men when they are most alone--

  "And that must end us; that must be our cure,
  To be no more.  Sad cure! for who would lose,
  Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
{175}
  Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
  To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
  In the wide womb of uncreated Night,
  Devoid of sense and motion?"

Here we obviously go outside the dramatic probabilities: it is no
longer Belial who is speaking: it is the voice of a highly cultivated
and intellectual human being with all Greek thought behind him; it is,
in short, Milton himself.  The whole poem is full of such
autobiographical confessional passages, either indirect like this or
open and undisguised like the great introductions to the first, third,
seventh and ninth books.  This constant intervention of the poet in his
epic is one of the originalities of _Paradise Lost_, and certainly not
the least successful.  The passages which are due to it have been
criticized as irregularities or superfluities, but, as Johnson justly
asked, "superfluities so beautiful who would take away?"  Homer may be
said never to allow us to do more than guess obscurely at what he
himself was or thought or felt: so leaving room for the follies of the
criticism which supposes him to be a kind of limited company of poets.
Virgil spoke directly to his readers at least once in the _Aeneid_, in
the most magnificent, and {176} most magnificently fulfilled, of all
the poetic promises of eternal fame--

  "Fortunati ambo!  Si quid mea carmina possunt
  Nulla dies unquam memori vos eximet aevo
  Dum domus Aeneae Capitoli immobile saxum
  Accolet imperiumque pater Romanus habebit."

But it is less in such a direct intervention as this than in the whole
tone and temper of his poem that he reveals to us his delicate and
beautiful nature.  Milton confesses himself in both ways.  His high
seriousness, his proud and resolute will, his grave sadness at the
folly of mankind, are interwoven in the whole of his story.  Then in
the speeches he will often, as in this of Belial, forget altogether who
is speaking and where and when, forget Satan and Adam, Eden and Hell,
and make his human escape to his own time and country and to himself.
The extreme limitations of his subject made something of this kind
almost necessary.  When all had been done that simile and prophecy
could do to bring in the life of men and women as Milton's readers knew
it there still remained the difficulty that Adam and his angel visitors
must talk, and that before the Fall there was almost {177} nothing for
them to talk about.  So they constantly talk as if they had all history
behind them and the world's processes were to them, as to us, old and
familiar things.  "War seemed a civil game To this uproar," says
Raphael, as if he were fresh from reading Livy or Gibbon and had all
the wars of Europe and Asia in his memory.  Often Milton calls
attention, as it were, to his own inconsistencies, putting in an
apology like that of Michael when he talks to Adam about Hamath and
Hermon--

  "Things by their names I call though yet unnamed;"

but more often he leaves them unexplained, perhaps not even noticing
them himself.  These difficulties are seen at their worst in the very
earthly geography of heaven and its very unheavenly military
operations: and, interesting as the passages are, it is difficult to
forget the incongruity of Raphael and Adam discussing the Ptolemaic and
Copernican theories of the universe, or Adam moralizing on the
unhappiness of marriage as if he had studied the divorce reports or
gone through a course of modern novels.  Yet few and foolish are the
readers who can dwell on dramatic improbabilities when Adam {178} is
pouring out the bitter cry wrung from Milton by the still unforgotten
miseries of his first marriage--

        "Oh! why did God,
  Creator wise, that peopled highest Heaven
  With Spirits masculine, create at last
  This novelty on Earth, this fair defect
  Of Nature, and not fill the World at once
  With men as Angels, without feminine,
  Or find some other way to generate
  Mankind?  This mischief had not then befallen,
  And more that shall befall; innumerable
  Disturbances on Earth through female snares,
  And strait conjunction with this sex.  For either
  He never shall find out fit mate, but such
  As some misfortune brings him, or mistake;
  Or whom he wishes most shall seldom gain,
  Through her perverseness, but shall see her gained
  By a far worse, or, if she love, withheld
  By parents; or his happiest choice too late
  Shall meet, already linked and wedlock-bound
  To a fell adversary, his hate or shame;
  Which infinite calamity shall cause
  To human life, and household peace confound."

It is obvious that in all this we hear the poet's own voice.  But it is
scarcely fair to quote it without pointing out that it must {179} not
be taken alone.  The common notion that Milton's own melancholy
experience had made him a purblind misogynist is a complete mistake.
No one has praised marriage as he has.  The chastest of poets is as
little afraid as the Prayer Book of frank acceptance of the physical
facts which must commonly be the basis of its spiritual relation.  It
is the whole union for which he stands, of body, mind, and spirit.  He
puts into the mouth of this same Adam the most eloquent praise woman
ever received, culminating in

  "All higher Knowledge in her presence falls
  Degraded.  Wisdom in discourse with her
  Loses discountenanced, and like Folly shows;
  Authority and Reason on her wait,
  As one intended first, not after made
  Occasionally: and, to consummate all,
  Greatness of mind and nobleness their seat
  Build in her loveliest, and create an awe
  About her, as a guard angelic placed."

It is true that the reply of the Angel moderating these ardours is more
evidently Miltonic--

        "what transports thee so?
  An outside? fair no doubt and worthy well
  Thy cherishing, thy honouring, and thy love;
  Not thy subjection.  Weigh with her thyself;
  Then value.  Oft-times nothing profits more
  Than self-esteem, grounded on just and right."

{180} But, though in these last words Raphael entirely disappears in
Milton, the poet who could conceive the panegyric to which Raphael
replies, who could elsewhere make his hero say that he received "access
in every virtue" from the looks of Eve, had assuredly no low ideal of
what a woman may be.  Adam speaks for him when he praises love as

  "not the lowest end of human life;"

and he gives us a true corrective of the over-severe picture of Milton
which half-knowledge is apt to draw when he goes on to declare that

  "not to irksome toil, but to delight,
  He made us, and delight to reason joined."


But this is only one of many subjects on which Milton lets us hear his
own voice speaking through his characters.  We hear it when Satan cries
to Beelzebub--

  "Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable,
  Doing or suffering:"

when Raphael reports Nisroch as saying of pain and pleasure what may
well have been felt by the blind poet who owed his knowledge of
pleasure to memory only, while he knew {181} pain by the frequent
experience of one of the most painful of diseases--

        "sense of pleasure we may well
  Spare out of life, perhaps, and not repine,
  But live content, which is the calmest life;
  But pain is perfect misery, the worst
  Of evils, and, excessive, overturns
  All patience:"

we hear it when Adam, like a weary scholar, says that

        "not to know at large of things remote
  From use, obscure and subtle, but to know
  That which before us lies in daily life,
  Is the prime wisdom;"

when Raphael asks, like a Platonic philosopher,

        "what if Earth
  Be but the shadow of Heaven, and things therein
  Each to other like, more than on Earth is thought?"

when Adam, like a doubting Christian in an age of speculation,
hesitates for a moment about the efficacy of prayer--

        "that from us aught should ascend to Heaven
  So prevalent as to concern the mind
  Of God high-blest, or to incline his will,
  Hard to belief may seem:"

{182} and once more when Adam cries--

  "solitude sometimes is best society,"

as if he, like the blind Milton, was worn out by twenty years of
contending voices, and longed for the relief of silent and lonely
thought.

To the direct interventions of the poet there is less need to call
attention as, of course, no reader can miss them.  They are probably
the most universally admired passages of the poem.  Every reader who
deserves to read them at all finds himself unable to do so without
wishing to get them by heart.  They do not rival the daring splendour
of the scenes in hell: nor perhaps the suave and gracious perfection of
the evening scene in Paradise in the fourth book; nor can they, of
course, exhibit the dramatic power of the scene that precedes and still
more of those that follow the Fall.  But nothing in the whole poem
moves us so much.  It is not merely that Milton has exerted his whole
mastery of his art to make their every line and every word please the
ear, awaken the memory, stimulate the imagination, lift the whole
mental and emotional nature of the reader up to a height of being
unknown to its ordinary experience.  This he has {183} done in some
other parts of his poem.  But, fine as some of his dramatic touches
are, the essence of his genius was lyrical and not dramatic or
objective at all.  And so none of his characters, divine, diabolic or
human, will ever move us quite as he moves us himself.

Let us hear the most beautiful of all these confessions: and for once
let us indulge ourselves with the whole.  The themes that make up
Milton's great symphony ought in truth always to be given unbroken, if
only that were possible.  Indeed, there is a sense in which it may be
said that nothing less than the whole poem can do justice to a design
so majestic as that of _Paradise Lost_.  But in any case it is certain
that no fragment of a few lines can convey a full impression of the
rhythmical, intellectual, imaginative unity of the Miltonic paragraph
or section.  This is above all conspicuous in the great speeches and in
the elaborate introductions that precede the first, third, seventh and
ninth books.  Here is the greatest of the four; the most famous of
Milton's personal interventions in his poem, and one of the most
wonderful things he ever wrote.

  "Hail, holy Light, offspring of Heaven first-born!
  Or of the Eternal coeternal beam
{184}
  May I express thee unblamed?  Since God is light,
  And never but in unapproached light
  Dwelt from eternity; dwelt then in thee,
  Bright effluence of bright essence increate!
  Or hearest thou rather pure Ethereal stream,
  Whose fountain who shall tell?  Before the Sun,
  Before the Heavens, thou wert, and at the voice
  Of God, as with a mantle, didst invest
  The rising World of waters dark and deep,
  Won from the void and formless Infinite!
  Thee I revisit now with bolder wing,
  Escaped the Stygian pool, though long detained
  In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight,
  Through utter and through middle Darkness borne,
  With other notes than to the Orphean lyre,
  I sung of Chaos and eternal Night,
  Taught by the Heavenly Muse to venture down
  The dark descent, and up to re-ascend,
  Though hard and rare; thee I revisit safe,
  And feel thy sovran vital lamp; but thou
  Revisit'st not these eyes, that roll in vain
  To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
  So thick a drop serene hath quenched their orbs,
  Or dim suffusion veiled.  Yet not the more
  Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
{185}
  Clear spring, or shady grove, or sunny hill,
  Smit with the love of sacred song; but chief
  Thee, Sion, and the flowery brooks beneath,
  That wash thy hallowed feet, and warbling flow,
  Nightly I visit; nor sometimes forget
  Those other two equalled with me in fate,
  So were I equalled with them in renown,
  Blind Thamyris and blind Maeonides,
  And Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old:
  Then feed on thoughts that voluntary move
  Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful bird
  Sings darkling, and, in shadiest covert hid,
  Tunes her nocturnal note.  Thus with the year
  Seasons return; but not to me returns
  Day or the sweet approach of even or morn,
  Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
  Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
  But cloud instead and ever-during dark
  Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
  Cut off, and, for the book of knowledge fair,
  Presented with a universal blank
  Of Nature's works, to me expunged and rased,
  And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
  So much the rather thou, Celestial Light,
  Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
  Irradiate; there plant eyes; all mist from thence
  Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
  Of things invisible to mortal sight."

{186}

Not all the poetry of all the world can produce more than a few
passages that equal this in moving power.  Tears are not very far from
the eye that is passing over its page: tears in which sympathy plays a
smaller part than joy at the discovery that human words can be so
beautiful.  But if Milton moves us more by his own personality than by
that of any of his creations, it is still true that he is not so
entirely without dramatic power as has sometimes been alleged.  No one
would claim for him that he was one of the great narrative or dramatic
masters.  But his weakness on these sides is so obvious that there has
been a tendency to exaggerate it.  We notice the undramatic speeches of
Satan and Adam: we notice such things as Eve's dream in the fifth book
which, anticipating, as it does, so many of the details of her
temptation, renders her fall much less probable, and goes far to
destroy its interest when it occurs.  But we are slower to notice the
admirable dramatic management of such a scene as that between Eve and
the Serpent in the ninth book.  And yet how finely imagined it is, in
all its successive stages!  Satan, at first "stupidly good," overawed
at Eve's beauty and innocence; then, recovering his natural malice, and
beginning his attempt by appealing to {187} two things, curiosity and
the love of flattery, which have always been supposed especially
powerful with women; and Eve, taking no direct notice of his
compliments and in appearance surrendering only to the other bait of
novelty and surprise; "how cam'st thou speakable of mute?"  So the
scene begins.  Flattery has ensured the tempter a favourable reception;
curiosity gives him the chance of an apparently telling argument.  I
ate, he says, of the fruit of a certain tree and received from it
speech and reason.  But I have found nothing to satisfy my new-won
powers till I saw thee, whom I now desire to worship as the sovran of
creation.  She affects to rebuke the flattery, but naturally asks to be
shown the tree on which the wonderful fruit grows.  It of course turns
out to be the Forbidden Tree: and Eve mentions the prohibition as a
thing final and unquestionable.  He meets her refusal by giving a
sinister and plausible explanation of the prohibition.  Why did God
forbid her the fruit?  "Why, but to keep ye low and ignorant, His
worshippers?"  God, he suggests, knows too well that as the fruit had
raised the serpent from brute to human, so it would raise the woman
from human to divine.  Noon and hunger come to fortify his {188}
arguments; and, after a speech in which she adds one more of her own
drawn from the name, the Tree of Knowledge, given to the tree by God
Himself, she plucks and eats.  In the first ecstasy of pleasure she
luxuriates in joy and self-confidence.  Then she considers whether she
shall use her new powers to make herself the equal and even the
superior of Adam.  The prospect tempts her: but she is not quite free
from fear that the threatened punishment of death may after all descend
upon her.  And that suggests the picture of "Adam wedded to another
Eve," which brings her swiftly to the decision that Adam shall share
with her her fate, whichever it be, bliss or woe.  In this, as later in
her hasty proposal of suicide, Eve is a living and convincing human
figure.  To the stronger and wiser Adam it was harder to give life.
But what could be finer or truer than his instant repudiation of her
plausible tale--

  "How art thou lost! how on a sudden lost,
  Defaced, deflowered, and now to death devote!"

followed by his immediate resolution to die with her--

  "And me with thee hath ruined: for with thee
  Certain my resolution is to die.
  How can I live without thee?"

{189} The rest follows with equal probability.  Once resolved to unite
his lot with hers, he soon finds arguments to prove that that lot is
not likely after all to be so dreadful.  Having talked himself into the
surrender of his judgment he eats, and having eaten he goes at once all
lengths of extravagance, folly and sin.  Then comes the reaction and
the inevitable mutual reproaches; with the fine natural touch of Eve
upbraiding Adam for his weakness in yielding to her request and
granting her the freedom which had proved so fatal.  So the ninth book
closes.  When the story is resumed in the second half of the tenth book
we get the tremendous lamentation of Adam, so strangely undramatic in
its argumentative justification of his own punishment, so full of true
drama as well as of magnificent lyrical power in its cry of human
misery and despair.  Then follows the bitter attack upon Eve, as the
cause of all his woe: and the whole scene is concluded by her humble
and beautiful submission--

  "While yet we live, scarce one short hour perhaps,
  Between us two let there be peace:"

by their reconciliation, and by their quiet and resigned acceptance of
their common fate.

{190}

It was perhaps worth while to go through one act of Milton's drama in
this detail to give some idea of the skill which he has shown in
working up a few verses of Genesis into an elaborate story.  But no
detail, no fragmentary notes of any kind, even when they deal with
matters in which Milton was far stronger than he was on the side of
narrative or drama, can do much to exhibit the greatness of _Paradise
Lost_.  For that there is only one way, to read it.  And, as we said
just now, to read the whole.  It is true that you cannot read it for
the interest of the story as you can all the _Odyssey_, much of the
_Iliad_ and some of the _Aeneid_: but the poem is still a whole and you
need the whole to judge and understand it.  And even the weaker books,
the fifth, the seventh and twelfth, contain episodes, like the scene
between Abdiel and Satan and the incomparable conclusion of the whole
poem, which are among the last a wise reader would wish to miss.
Moreover, where the story is dullest it has things which give, perhaps,
the most astonishing proof of Milton's power of style.  It is true that
he does himself occasionally fall into the empty pomposity which
characterized his eighteenth-century imitators who fancied that big
words could turn prose into poetry.  So he talks of dried fruits as
"what by frugal {191} storing firmness gains To nourish, and
superfluous moist consumes."  But the thing most remarkable about this
is its extreme rarity.  Taking the poem as a whole, the mighty music
scarcely ceases: the majestic flight of the poet continues
uninterrupted: no contrary winds disturb it, no weariness brings it
flagging down to earth.  There is nothing, not even theological
disputes, out of which he cannot make fine verse, and occasionally
great poetry.  There is nothing, however great, that he cannot make his
own.  Just as Shakspeare took the noble prose of North's _Plutarch_,
and hardly altering a word made noble poetry of it, so Milton can take
the Bible.  "For now," says Job, "I should have lain still and been
quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest."  North could not
rise to the height of this.  But even this Milton will dare to lay his
hand upon: and, if even he cannot lift it any higher, only he could
have touched it at all without desecration.  "How glad," says Adam--

        "how glad would lay me down
  As in my mother's lap!  There I should rest,
  And sleep secure."

Or take a passage like that of the Son of God clothing Adam and Eve
after the Fall, where {192} many Biblical suggestions are gathered
together--

  "As when he washed his servants' feet, so now
  As father of his family he clad
  Their nakedness with skins of beasts, or slain,
  Or, as the snake, with youthful coat repaid;
  And thought not much to clothe his enemies."

The full appreciation of a passage like this, so very simple, so
apparently obvious, yet so entirely in the grand style which, whether
his subject stoops or soars, very rarely fails Milton, is not a thing
of one reading or of two.  Milton, the greatest artist of our language,
is naturally the most conspicuous instance of the law which applies to
all great art.  Only natures as rarely endowed with the receptive gift
as he was himself with the creative can fully appreciate his work at
the first reading.  Like all great works of the imagination it has
generally to train, sometimes almost to create, the faculties which are
to appreciate it aright.  This is particularly true in the case of
classical art, where the emotional appeal, though just as real, is much
less apparent because it is so much more controlled by intellectual
sanity.  Gothic {193} and Romantic art are commonly far more
instantaneous in the impression they make, perhaps because, according
to the ingenious suggestion of the Poet Laureate, they admit at once of
more daring flights of the imagination and of stronger realism than
classical art can bear.  But it may well be doubted whether the wonder
and delight which every man of the most modest aesthetic capacity owes
to them can in the end keep pace with the slower growing appreciation
of the universality and sanity of classical work.  But this is an old
dispute not likely to be settled this year or next.  Nor does it affect
the fact that all great work, even Romantic or Gothic, gains by time in
proportion to its greatness.  It is the only absolutely certain test of
greatness in art.  The instantly popular tune is unendurable in six
months, the instantly popular novel or poem is totally forgotten in a
year or two.  No one perceives the whole greatness of St. Paul's
Cathedral, or Sansovino's Library at Venice, or the music of Bach, or
the poetry of Milton, at the first sight or hearing.  No competent eye,
ear or mind fails to perceive more and more of it at each renewed
experience.  Whatever be the art, a picture, a piece of sculpture, a
book, the test is the same: the cheap, the sentimental, {194} the
sensational, the merely pretty, lose something, be it little or much,
at each renewal of acquaintance: the great work steadily gains.  To
this test _Paradise Lost_ can fearlessly appeal.  It is not meant for
idle hours or empty people.  It is not amusing in the lower sense of
the word.  It is not as exciting as it might well have been.  It is
probably true that, as Johnson said with his usual honesty, "No one
ever wished it longer than it is": yet there is equal truth in another
remark of his, "I cannot wish Milton's work other than it is," and in
the implied answer to his bold question, "What other author ever soared
so high or sustained his flight so long?"  The difficulty for Milton's
readers is that they do not easily soar, and still less easily sustain
their soaring.  The great gifts which Johnson brought to the criticism
of literature lay far more in common sense and in a profound insight
into human life than in any real turn for poetry.  Of that nearly every
one who to-day gives much time to reading poetry will probably have as
much as he.  Such people are sometimes mistakenly content with a single
reading of _Paradise Lost_.  They remember a few of its glories and the
rest of the poem they acquiesce in forgetting.  Let them put it to the
test to which lovers of music {195} put the Symphonies of Beethoven and
lovers of sculpture the remains of the Parthenon and the temple of the
Ephesian Artemis.  Let them give the little time required to read it
through every year, or every second year.  They will find more in it
the second time than they did the first, and much more the fifth or the
tenth time.  It will issue triumphantly from the trial: and before they
reach middle age they will know by their own personal experience, what
the best authorities have always told them, that this is one of those
rare works of human genius whose power and beauty may in sober truth be
called inexhaustible.



{196}

CHAPTER V

_PARADISE REGAINED_ AND _SAMSON AGONISTES_

_Paradise Regained_, like the _Odyssey_, the _Aeneid_ and the second
part of _Faust_, has been an inevitable victim of the human taste for
comparison.  It cannot fail to be compared with _Paradise Lost_ and
cannot fail to suffer by it.  The poets and critics have indeed been
kinder to it than the public.  Johnson said that if it had not been
written by Milton "it would receive universal praise."  Wordsworth
thought it "the most perfect in execution of anything written by
Milton."  But the great body of readers finds an epic with only two
main actors in it, and hardly anything that can be called a story, too
severe a demand upon its poetic taste.  And when unprofessional opinion
remains constant for several generations, as it has in this case, it is
never wise to ignore or defy it.  _Paradise Regained_ is a very bare
poem.  It has none of the splendours of its predecessor: no {197}
scenes in which we hear the full voice of that Milton

  "Whose Titan angels, Gabriel, Abdiel,
  Starr'd from Jehovah's gorgeous armouries,
    Tower, as the deep-domed empyrean
    Rings to the roar of an angel onset;"

nor yet any of those others which delighted Tennyson even more, the
scenes of Adam's

        "bowery loneliness,
  The brooks of Eden mazily murmuring,
  And bloom profuse and cedar arches."

It has no love, no sin, no quarrel, no reconciliation, no central
moment of tragic suspense, indeed no human action at all.  And Milton
has refrained almost absolutely from adorning it with the similes which
are among the chief glories of _Paradise Lost_.  It is, in fact, as
Mark Pattison has said, "probably the most unadorned poem extant in any
language."

At the very beginning of _Paradise Lost_ Milton had cast his eye on to
that second chapter in the Christian history of man without which the
first is a mere picture of despair.  His subject was to be man's first
disobedience and its results; death, woe and loss of Eden

        "till one greater Man
  Restore us and regain the blissful seat."

{198} Whether he then had any thought of attempting to deal with that
restoration we do not know.  Nor do we know what motives induced him to
choose the story of the Temptation in the Wilderness as the action in
which the new order of things was to be manifested.  Some critics have
been surprised that he did not take the Crucifixion or the
Resurrection.  And it is obvious that the first, with the Tree of
Calvary pointing back to the Tree in the Garden, would have afforded a
natural sequence to _Paradise Lost_.  Others have wondered that he did
not use the Descent into Hell in which the liberation of Satan's
captives would have followed on the story of how they fell into his
power.  And it is obvious that there were great poetic, and especially
Miltonic, possibilities in the theme of the victorious Son of God
entering the very kingdom in which the Satan of _Paradise Lost_ had
exercised such splendid rule, and setting free the saints and prophets
and kings of the Old Testament.  But it is possible, as Sir Walter
Raleigh has suggested, that Milton was no longer in the vein for
grandiose themes of external majesty and might such as this story would
have afforded.  "His interest was now centred rather in the sayings of
the wise than in the deeds of the mighty."  That {199} may be so:
though his _Samson_ which was yet to come is certainly not without its
mighty deeds.  But, whatever were his reasons for putting aside such
subjects as the Descent into Hell, it is not difficult to discover
several which he probably found decisive in inducing him to prefer the
Temptation to the Passion.  To begin with, he must have been conscious
of the immensely greater difficulty of handling the story of the
Passion in such a way that Christian readers could bear to read it.
Then, even more certainly operative on his mind was the fact that the
Passion is related to us in great detail, the Temptation in a few words
of mysterious import; so that the one leaves almost no freedom of
invention to the poet, while the other scarcely binds him at all.  Then
again there is the close parallelism between the temptation in the
Garden and the temptation in the Wilderness; and finally, most
important of all, the fact that the Temptation is the only event in the
life of Christ in which Satan plays a visible and important part.  A
poem that was to be a second part of _Paradise Lost_ could not do
without Satan; and in fact he is even more prominent in _Paradise
Regained_, where he is present throughout, than in its predecessor of
which there are several books which scarcely so {200} much as mention
him.  This was no doubt decisive.

So Milton chose the Temptation in the Wilderness as his subject, with
Satan once more as one of the two principal actors in his story.  But
the actor is even more changed than the story.  The Satan of the later
poem is no longer the splendid rebel of _Paradise Lost_.  _Paradise
Regained_ has in it no heavenly battles and its council of devils is a
mere shadow of the great parliament of hell.  It has, therefore, no
place either for the general of the infernal armies or for the Prime
Minister of the infernal Senate.  The magnificent figure who imposes
himself on the imagination--

  "Like Teneriffe or Atlas unremoved"--

becomes in it something far less impressive, a political theorist
instead of a statesman, a student of the balance of power instead of a
soldier, a casuistical disputant about culture and morals in place of a
devil venturing all for empire and revenge.  It is as if Alexander were
exchanged for Aristotle: almost as if St. George were replaced by Mr.
Worldly Wiseman.  The imagination is affected by the inevitable loss of
colour, and _Paradise Regained_ is the sufferer in fame and popularity.
It also suffers from the old difficulty {201} inherent in supernatural
personages which affects it even more than _Paradise Lost_.  The whole
action is a succession of Temptations.  The question how far such
attempts by a devil upon a Divine Being can afford any hope to the one
or any fear or danger to the other is a mystery of which the Church
itself scarcely claims to offer a full explanation.  Into the
theological difficulty this is not the place to enter.  It is only with
the corresponding poetic difficulty which we are concerned.  Just as in
_Paradise Lost_ it is impossible not to feel the unreality of the war
in heaven, so in _Paradise Regained_ it is impossible not to feel, in
spite of some inconsistency of language on the subject, that Satan
commonly knows who it is whom he is assailing and is known by Him in
return, and that consequently the whole action has for poetic purposes
a certain unreality.  He knows that Jesus is the Son of God; with a
right to the homage of all nature and the power to take all as His own.
He asks--

  "Hast thou not right to all created things?
  Owe not all creatures, by just right, to thee service?"

Yet he discusses with Him various very human methods of arriving at
power, just as {202} if He were subject to the same conditions as other
men who desire to rule or influence the world.  The consequence is
that, although the speeches contain much interesting thought and much
fine poetry, they are seldom or never dramatically convincing.  Our
Lord, in particular, instead of the gracious and winning figure of the
Gospels, becomes a kind of self-sufficient aristocratic moralist.  His
speeches, as Milton gives them, display rather the defiant virtue of
the Stoic, or the self-conscious righteousness of the Pharisee, than
the simple and loving charity of the Christian.  The weapon of moral
and intellectual contempt, so freely employed in them and so natural
both to Jew and to Greek, strikes to us a false and jarring note when
put into the mouth of Him who taught His disciples that the only way of
entry into His kingdom was that of being born again and becoming as
little children.

These are all serious drawbacks and they are not the only ones.  If
from one point of view Milton in _Paradise Regained_ is too little of a
Christian, from another he is too much.  One of the gravest
difficulties with which Christian apologists have always had to contend
is the entire indifference of the New Testament and, generally
speaking, of the {203} Church in all ages, especially the most devout,
not only to economic and material progress, but to all elements except
the ethical and spiritual in the higher civilization of humanity.  At
its friendliest the Church has hardly ever been willing to allow to
such things any inherent or independent importance of their own.  Those
who feel that they owe an incalculable debt to art and poetry and
philosophy and therefore to the Greeks, have inevitably found this
attitude a stumbling-block.  And they will always read with exceptional
surprise and indignation the narrow obscurantism of the speech which
Milton, scholar and artist as he was, is not ashamed to put into the
mouth of Christ in the fourth book.  He cannot himself have been a
victim of the shallow fallacy expressed in line 325 (he who reads gets
little benefit unless he brings judgment to his reading "and what he
brings what need he elsewhere seek?"); and his lifelong practice shows
that he did not think Greek poetry was

  "Thin-sown with aught of profit or delight."

Nor could he have seriously thought that the Hebrew prophets taught
"the solid rules of civil government," of which in fact they knew
nothing except on the moral side, better than the statesmen and
philosophers of Rome and {204} Athens.  The explanation is, perhaps,
partly that Milton was an Arian, and therefore felt at liberty to
emphasize the Jewish limitations of Christ: limitations the possibility
of which, as recent controversies have shown, even Athanasian opinion
has been forced to face.  But, in any case, in the _Paradise Regained_
stress is necessarily, for dramatic purposes, laid on the Hebrew and
Messianic character of Christ, and from that point of view it is not
unnatural to make Him the spokesman of Hebrew resistance to the
intellectual encroachments of Greece and Rome.  Another part of the
explanation is that the strong Biblical and Hebraic element in Milton's
character does seem to have increased in strength during his later
years.  It was far from getting exclusive possession even then, and all
the evidence shows that he was always the very opposite of the
narrow-minded Puritan fanatics of his day.  But his tendencies in that
direction would be exaggerated while he was occupied with a purely
Biblical subject.  And he may have thought, if he thought about the
question at all, that the contemptuous tone adopted about classical
culture in the speech of Christ was not only dramatically defensible,
but balanced by the far finer passage, evidently written from his {205}
heart, in which Satan exalts the glories of Athens.  It is, perhaps,
the most famous thing in the poem.

  "Look once more, ere we leave this specular mount,
  Westward, much nearer by south-west; behold
  Where on the Aegean shore a city stands,
  Built nobly, pure the air and light the soil--
  Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts
  And eloquence, native to famous wits
  Or hospitable, in her sweet recess,
  City or suburban, studious walks and shades.
  See there the olive-grove of Academe,
  Plato's retirement, where the Attic bird
  Trills her thick-warbled notes the summer long;
  There flow'ry hill Hymettus, with the sound
  Of bees' industrious murmur, oft invites
  To studious musing; there Ilissus rolls
  His whispering stream.  Within the walls then view
  The schools of ancient sages, his who bred
  Great Alexander to subdue the world,
  Lyceum there; and painted Stoa next.
  There thou shalt hear and learn the secret power
  Of harmony, in tones and numbers hit
  By voice or hand, and various-measured verse,
  Aeolian charms and Dorian lyric odes,
  And his who gave them breath, but higher sung,
{206}
  Blind Melesigenes, thence Homer called,
  Whose poem Phoebus challenged for his own.
  Thence what the lofty grave Tragedians taught
  In chorus or iambic, teachers best
  Of moral prudence, with delight received
  In brief sententious precepts, while they treat
  Of fate, and chance, and change in human life,
  High actions and high passions best describing."

It is plainly the very voice of the poet himself, and he may have felt
certain that we should so understand it.  But it is difficult not to
regret that it is the Devil who is made to pay Milton's great debt to
Athens and Christ who is made to repudiate it.

Yet, in spite of all this, in spite of its disdain of the obvious
attractions open to poetry, in spite of much in it that alienates the
sympathies of many, the _Paradise Regained_ has received very high
praise from the finest judges of English poetry.  Johnson and
Wordsworth have already been quoted, and to them may be added
Coleridge, who says of it that "in its kind it is the most perfect poem
extant," and Mr. Mackail, who has spoken of its "unique poetic
qualities."  Why have the poets and critics been so much {207} more
favourable to it than the public?  Perhaps because artists are always
inclined to value work in proportion to its difficulties.  Indeed, this
fallacy seems natural to all classes of men about their own work.
Gardeners in England tend to admire a man who grows indifferent oranges
more than a man who grows good strawberries.  It is like what Johnson
said of the preaching lady: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's
walking on his hinder legs.  It is not done well; but you are surprised
to find it done at all."  This tendency to let surprise sit in the seat
which belongs to judgment is greatly intensified by professional
knowledge.  The architect is apt to exaggerate the merit of a building
placed on a very awkward site, the artist to think a piece of very
difficult foreshortening more beautiful than it really is.  The public
may not be so good a judge either of the building or of the drawing:
but, knowing nothing of the technical difficulties, it at least forms
its judgment on the true criterion which is, of course, the value of
the product, not the surprisingness of its having been produced or the
difficulties overcome in its production.

Something of this kind may account for the fact that _Paradise
Regained_ has been more appreciated by the poets than by the public.
{208} The public finds it rather bare and dry and judges accordingly.
The poets know how infinitely hard a task it was that Milton set
himself, and find no praise too great for the man who did not fail in
it.  They see a poem of two thousand lines whose single subject is the
attempt of a devil who knows himself doomed to defeat to persuade a
divine Person who knows Himself assured of victory to be false to the
law of His being.  And into this barren theme they see art and nature,
ethics and politics, luxury and splendour and empire, cunningly
interwoven and

  "Eden raised in the waste Wilderness."

They see a style stripped of almost all ornament especially in the
speeches of our Lord: the poet deliberately walking always on the very
edge of the gulf of prose and yet always as one perfectly assured that
into that gulf his feet can never fall.  Here and there, as when we
come upon such lines as

  "I never liked thy talk, thy offers less,"

we are nervous as we watch: but the poet passes on his way serenely
unconscious of our fears, and in the very next speech is on the heights
of poetry with the great description {209} of Athens.  Once only,
perhaps, in the reply to Satan after the storm--

  "Me worse than wet thou find'st not,"

we feel that the cunningly maintained balance has failed and that the
limit has been passed which divides the severe from the grotesque.

The truth is that, if the narrowness of its subject and the austerity
of its style be admitted, _Paradise Regained_ is a poetic achievement
as great as it is surprising.  It cannot be _Paradise Lost_, of course,
and that is the fault for which it has not been forgiven.  And its fine
things are even less evident, much less evident, at a first reading
than those of _Paradise Lost_.  But Milton has left nothing more
Miltonic.  He did greater things but nothing in which he stands so
entirely alone.  There is no poem in English, perhaps none in any
language of the world, which exhibits to the same degree the inherent
power of style itself, in its naked essence, unassisted by any of its
visible accessories.  There are in it, of course, some passages of
characteristic splendour, the banquet in the wilderness, the vision of
Rome, and others; but a large part of the poem is as bare as the
mountains and, to the luxurious and conventional, as bleak and
forbidding.  Its grave Dorian music, scarcely {210} heard by the
sensual ear, is played by the mind to the spirit and by the spirit to
the mind.  Ever present as its art is, it is an art infinitely removed
from that to which all the world at once responds and surrenders.  It
is not at first seen to be art at all.  The verse which in truth dances
so cunningly appears to the uninitiated to stumble and halt.  The
music, which the common ear is so slow to catch, makes us think of
those Platonic mysteries of abstract number seen only in their
perfection by some godlike mathematician who lives rapt above sense and
matter in the contemplation of the Idea of Good.

But, if there is much in an art so consummate as Milton's which escapes
analysis, there are also elements which can be measured and weighed.
Here as in the _Paradise Lost_ students of metre can count and compare
his stresses and pauses, and set out some finite portion of the
infinite variety of rhythms which, even more needed here than in
_Paradise Lost_, sustain the poem in its difficult flight over so
apparently barren a country.  The art of the poet as distinct from the
musician is less difficult to trace.  An avowed sequel has to recall
its predecessor and yet not to recall it too much.  _Paradise Regained_
recalls _Paradise Lost_ by its central action, a {211} temptation, by
its council of devils, by its assembly of the heavenly host, by a
hundred echoes of phrase and circumstance.  But though the heavenly
host is itself unchanged, though it is still the old "full frequence
bright Of Angels" yet there is now no real council.  The Son, the only
spokesman who can address the Father, is no longer present, and even
the hymn of the angels gets no more than a vague description.  A
greater change has come over the infernal council: scarcely any longer
infernal, for their leader can now open his address to them with

  "O ancient Powers of Air and this wide World,"

and the meeting is held in mid air and no longer in hell.  Nor is any
rivalry attempted with the great debate of _Paradise Lost_: only enough
to awaken its memory in the reader and to enable the poet to find a
place in the second meeting for the most obvious of temptations which
yet reverence forbade him to introduce into the main action.  And note
how this contains at least one of those small dramatic touches for
which, except from Mr. Mackail, Milton has got too little credit.
Satan asks how he is to assail the new enemy: and Belial, who stands
for the sensualist man of the world, at once offers his suggestion.
{212} He is sure, as such men always are, that the lowest motive is
invariably the true mainspring and explanation of all human actions:
there is no beating about the bush with him: he is frank and cynical,
and begins at once without shame, apology or preface--

  "Set women in his eye and in his walk."

What could be more exactly in the downright manner affected by men of
his type in the world of to-day and every day?  And there are other
similar touches.  Then again the sequel recalls its predecessor when we
hear Satan strike the very note he struck so often in _Paradise Lost_--

  "'Tis true, I am that Spirit unfortunate,"

and when we see him fall in ruin at the awful end of the long debate--

  "Now shew thy progeny; if not to stand
  Cast thyself down; safely, if Son of God;
  For it is written: 'He will give command
  Concerning thee to his Angels: in their hands
  They shall uplift thee, lest at any time
  Thou chance to dash thy foot against a stone.'
  To whom thus Jesus: Also it is written
  'Tempt not the Lord thy God.'  He said, and stood:
  But Satan, smitten with amazement, fell."

{213}

Nor must it be supposed by those who have not read the _Paradise
Regained_ that the bareness of its style is invariable.  Most
conspicuous, for reasons of reverence no doubt, in the speeches of
Christ, it is far less marked in those of Satan and disappears
altogether in some of the descriptive passages.  Take, for instance,
the famous temptation of the banquet--

  "He spake no dream; for, as his words had end,
  Our Saviour, lifting up his eyes, beheld
  In ample space under the broadest shade,
  A table richly spread in regal mode,
  With dishes piled, and meats of noblest sort
  And savour; beasts of chase, or fowl of game,
  In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled,
  Grisamber-steamed; all fish from sea or shore
  Freshet or purling brook, of shell or fin,
  And exquisitest name, for which was drained
  Pontus, and Lucrine bay, and Afric coast.
  Alas, how simple, to these cates compared,
  Was that crude apple that diverted Eve!
  And at a stately sideboard, by the wine,
  That fragrant smell diffused, in order stood
  Tall stripling youths rich-clad, of fairer hue
  Than Ganymed or Hylas; distant more,
  Under the trees now tripped, now solemn stood,
  Nymphs of Diana's train, and Naiades
  With fruits and flowers from Amalthea's horn,
{214}
  And ladies of the Hesperides, that seemed
  Fairer than feigned of old, or fabled since
  Of faery damsels met in forest wide
  By knights of Logres, or of Lyones,
  Lancelot, or Pelleas, or Pellenore."

_Paradise Lost_ itself contains no more intricately beautiful passage
than this.  It is one of those things that have been the delight and
despair of poets ever since.  For all his disdain of the follies of the
Middle Age Milton can never touch the old romances, as Joseph Warton
well noted, without immediately rising into the most exquisite poetry:
and this reluctant homage of classical genius is the greatest tribute
ever paid to their undying fascination.

But of course such a passage as this is not typical of the poem: it is
one of its far-shining heights which cannot be altogether missed even
by eyes quite blind to the beauties of the lower country through which
_Paradise Regained_ takes the most part of its course.  Ordinarily the
poem is grave, plain and unadorned, engaged in the discussion of moral
problems which give little opportunity for the more obvious graces of
poetry.  The interest of the speeches which constitute the bulk of it
is threefold: technical, in the rhythmical or metrical skill by which
Milton sustains an {215} abstract discourse expressed in unadorned
language and keeps it at the level of high poetry; moral or
intellectual, the interest of the subjects discussed; and, the greatest
of all for many readers, autobiographical, the interest of the evidence
they afford of the poet's own thoughts and character.  All may be seen,
for instance, in such a confession as that of Satan in the first book--

  "Envy, they say, excites me, thus to gain
  Companions of my misery and woe!
  At first it may be; but, long since with woe
  Nearer acquainted, now I feel by proof
  That fellowship in pain divides not smart,
  Nor lightens aught each man's peculiar load."

There is scarcely a word in it that prose cannot use even to-day.  The
thought is one that might come from any moralist; there is nothing
daring or imaginative about it.  Yet out of this what poetry Milton has
made!  The personal emotion of it, the note of confession and
individual experience, has lifted it altogether above the level of the
cold maxims of the preacher who gives no sign of having suffered, or
sinned, or so much as lived, himself.  Then the art of it: so entirely
unperceived by the ordinary reader, so invincible in its effect upon
him.  The whole secret of it defies analysis: but a few ingredients can
{216} be detected.  There is comparatively little of Milton's favourite
alliteration: the tone of the passage is too quiet for the free use of
an artistic device so instantly visible.  But note the beautiful line--

  "Companions of my misery and woe"--

itself free flowing without a pause of any kind, so as to prepare the
better for the full pause both of sense and of rhythm which separates
it from what follows.  Then there is the vivid conversational "At first
it may be," and its pause, contrasting so finely with the next line
where the pause is also after the fifth syllable, but with a totally
different effect.  Note again the variety of rhythm which distinguishes
the last two lines.  Neither has any strong pause in it: and they might
so easily have been a monotonous repetition.  Is it fanciful to think
that, perhaps half unconsciously, Milton has suggested the quick stab
of pain or sorrow in the swift movement of the first: and that the
long-drawn rhythm of the second is meant to convey something of the
dull years of misery which so often follow?  Its first six syllables--

  "Nor lightens aught each man's,"

if given their full effect of sound, take perhaps half as long again to
read as the first six of the {217} preceding line.  In any case,
whatever was meant by it, the line is a most beautiful one in itself,
as well as full of one of the most moving of human things, a strong
man's confession that his strength does not always suffice him.

These obviously autobiographical passages are to be found all through
the poem.  There are the stately Roman embassies coming and going in
all their pomp: in which it is surely Cromwell's Foreign Secretary who
sees nothing but

  "tedious waste of time, to sit and hear
  So many hollow compliments and lies,
  Outlandish flatteries."

There is the old contempt of war and those who in virtue of their
victories

  "swell with pride, and must be titled Gods,"

and of the mob who praise and admire

        "they know not what,
  And know not whom, but as one leads the other;
  And what delight to be by such extolled,
  To live upon their tongues and be their talk?
  Of whom to be dispraised were no small praise,
  His lot who dares be singularly good."

There is the contempt of wealth--

  "Extol not riches then, the toil of fools,
  The wise man's cumbrance, if not snare;"

{218} a contempt which Milton shares with nearly all saints and heroes
and most philosophers; a little ungratefully, perhaps, as if forgetting
that, compared with the mass of men, he had himself always been rich,
and that what he owed to the toil of his father had not proved in his
case a snare or a cumbrance, but the necessary condition of the
learning and the leisure he had used so nobly.  Finally, to give no
more instances, there is the confession at once so personal and so
representative of the feeling of all men who have ever made the
smallest effort to live well--

  "Hard are the ways of truth, and rough to walk,
  Smooth on the tongue discoursed, pleasing to the ear,
  And tunable as sylvan pipe or song."

Who knows whether behind such words as these there lies the memory of
some rapturous vision of the new world of love as St. Paul saw it,
which had been cooled only too soon by humbling experience of the
difficulty of "bearing all things" when all things included Salmasius,
or an unthankful daughter?

This grave introspective note, present from the first in everything
written by Milton and far more conspicuous in _Paradise Regained_ than
in _Paradise Lost_, is felt still more in the {219} last of his works,
the drama _Samson Agonistes_.  It is in the Greek form with a Chorus:
and is as broodingly full as Aeschylus or Sophocles of the folly of man
and the uncertainty and sadness of human life; but Milton has added an
angry sternness of judgment on the one hand, and on the other an
assured faith in divine deliverance, both of which are rather Hebrew
than Greek.  Into this strange drama, so alien from all the literature
of his day, Milton has poured all the thoughts and emotions with which
the spectacle of his own life filled him.  All through it we hear a
faith that was strong but never blind battling with the spectacle of
the wickedness of men and the dark uncertainty of the ways of God.  The
Philistines have triumphed, lords sit "lordly in their wine" at
Whitehall, the Dagon of prelatism is once more enthroned throughout the
land, the saints are dispersed and forsaken, and he himself, who had as
he thought so signally borne his witness for God, sits blind and sad in
his lonely house, "to visitants a gaze Or pitied object," with no hope
left of high service to his country and no prospect but that of a
"contemptible old age obscure."  No doubt he did not always feel like
that, for the evidence shows him cheerful and friendly in company: and,
of {220} course, the picture has undergone the imaginative heightening
of art besides being coloured by the story of Samson, so much sadder
than Milton's own.  But the lonely hours of a blind man of genius who
has fought for a great cause and been utterly defeated must often be
full of the hopeless half-resigned and half-rebellious broodings in
which throughout _Samson_ we hear so plainly the voice of Milton
himself.

    "God of our fathers! what is Man,
  That thou towards him with hand so various--
  Or might I say contrarious?--
  Temper'st thy providence through his short course;
  Not evenly, as thou rulest
  The angelic orders and inferior creatures mute,
  Irrational and brute?
  Nor do I name of men the common rout,
  That wandering loose about
  Grow up and perish as the summer fly,
  Heads without name, no more remembered;
  But such as thou hast solemnly elected,
  With gifts and graces eminently adorned,
  To some great work, thy glory,
  And people's safety, which in part they effect:
  Yet toward these thus dignified thou oft,
  Amidst their highth of noon,
  Changest thy countenance and thy hand, with no regard
  Of highest favours past
  From thee on them, or them to thee of service."

{221} This is Milton undisguised speaking of and for himself.  And so
is the still sadder outburst in the very first speech of Samson--

  "O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
  Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
  Without all hope of day!
  O first-created beam, and thou great Word,
  'Let there be light, and light was over all';
  Why am I thus bereaved thy prime decree?
  The Sun to me is dark
  And silent as the Moon
  When she deserts the night,
  Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
  Since light so necessary is to life,
  And almost life itself, if it be true
  That light is in the soul,
  She all in every part, why was the sight
  To such a tender ball as the eye confined,
  So obvious and so easy to be quenched,
  And not, as feeling, through all parts diffused,
  That she might look at will through every pore?
  Then had I not been thus exiled from light,
  As in the land of darkness, yet in light,
  To live a life half dead, a living death,
  And buried; but, O yet more miserable!
  Myself my sepulchre, a moving grave;
  Buried, yet not exempt,
  By privilege of death and burial,
  From worst of other evils, pains, and wrongs,
  But made hereby obnoxious more
{222}
  To all the miseries of life,
  Life in captivity
  Among inhuman foes."


This sublime music in which the soul's emotion finds and obeys its own
law was scarcely audible to the age which followed Milton's death, when
poets had concentrated all their art on the effort to make both
language and metre as instantaneously intelligible as possible.  They
succeeded much better in the second task than in the first: for the
truth is that the exact meaning of a verse is much more often difficult
to ascertain in the case of Pope than in the case of Milton.  But no
one has ever doubted how to read aloud a line of Pope or Dryden.  And
this has obvious advantages and was, of course, at first a great source
of pleasure.  It made Pope's poetry the most immediately popular we
have ever had, as it still is the most effective for public quotation.
Almost everybody, as Mr. Bridges has said, "has a natural liking for
the common fundamental rhythms" and "it is only after long familiarity
with them that the ear grows dissatisfied and wishes them to be
broken."  But in poetry as in music the more cultivated the ear the
sooner it gets tired of being given too little to do: and as soon as
every warbler had Pope's {223} tune by heart critical readers began to
wish for something less obvious.  The ultimate result of that
dissatisfaction was the metrical experiments of Coleridge and the rich
harvest of varied rhythms and melody with which Shelley and Tennyson
and Swinburne enriched the nineteenth century.  And all this movement
had also, of course, a retrospective effect.  It may be true that, as
Mr. Bridges says, "there are very few persons indeed who take such a
natural delight in rhythm for its own sake that they can follow with
pleasure a learned rhythm which is very rich in variety, and the beauty
of which is its perpetual freedom to obey the sense and diction;" but
it could not fail to be the case that their number was increased by the
comparative sensitiveness to the more intricate music of words which
was inevitably produced in those who had learnt much Shelley or
Tennyson by heart.  And such people at once heard things in Milton
which were absolutely inaudible to the ears of Dr. Johnson's
generation.  The comparative subtlety, both in imagination and in form,
of the poetry of the nineteenth century made it impossible for poets to
compete with journalists for the attention of the big public as Pope
had done triumphantly; but as a set off against that loss it gave a far
{224} richer delight to those who were capable of that interaction of
the natural ear and the spiritual to which all great poetry makes its
appeal.  This led straight back to Milton who made that double appeal
as only a very few poets in all the world have ever made it.  And the
more poetry is studied and loved as the greatest of the arts, as the
medium through which that combination of the vision of genius with the
slow trained cunning of the craftsman, which is what great art is,
finds its most perfect expression, the more will men, or at least
Englishmen, return to Milton.  And especially, in some ways, to
_Samson_, where his art is at its boldest and freest, and where it
suffered longest from the indifference of dull ears.

A little book of this kind is not the place for a discussion of English
metre, or even, in any detail, of Milton's.  Those who wish to go into
such studies will find much of what they want in the Poet Laureate's
book on _Milton's Prosody_.  It is possible to disagree with some of
his proposed scansions of doubtful lines, but it is impossible not to
learn a great deal from suggestions as to the rhythmical effects
intended by Milton which come, as these do, from one who is himself a
master of rhythm and has never concealed the fact {225} that Milton's
was one of the schools in which he passed his apprenticeship.  So his
analysis, line by line, of the opening of the first chorus of _Samson_
will be a revelation to many of what they have, perhaps, never felt at
all, or felt only unconsciously without understanding anything of what
it was which they felt or why.  But even without such help no one whose
ear has had the smallest training can fail to notice some of the more
daring of Milton's metrical effects.  In the lines quoted above, for
instance, who can miss the triple stab of passionate agony in the
thrice repeated, strongly accented "dark, dark, dark"?  The most
careless reader cannot fail to be arrested by the line, though he may
not realize the means employed by Milton to enforce attention, the rare
six stresses in a ten-syllabled line, the still rarer effect of three
strongly stressed syllables following immediately upon one another, the
inversion of three out of the five stresses of the next line,
"irrecoverably dark" suggesting the spasmodic disorder of violent
grief.  These are certainly devices deliberately chosen for producing
the required effects.  And so, probably, are the more regular rhythm of
the words which express the calming aspiration up to the throne of God,
and the quiet {226} mono-syllabic simplicity of the divine utterance,
"Let there be light," which continues its softening influence over the
return in the following lines to his own sad conditions.  How smoothly
the complaint now goes: "The sun to me is dark And silent as the moon."
It is in comparison with the earlier abruptness as if he had gone
through something like the process of the psalmist, "until I went into
the sanctuary of God: then understood I" what had before been "too
painful for me."  Then there is the comparatively unmarked rhythm of
the intellectual argumentative passage which follows: till emotion
begins again to overwhelm reflection, and shows itself in the strong
alliteration of "light," "land," "light," "live," "life," "living," and
in the strong caesura after "buried," the more marked for coming so
early in the verse.

Such poor noting of technicalities as this gives, of course, no more of
the secret of Milton's wonderful poetry than anatomy gives of the power
and beauty of the human body.  But it has its interest and even its
use: provided that too much importance is not attributed to it and that
no one makes the mistake of the lady who, according to the story,
hopefully asked the painter what he mixed {227} his paints with, and
received the crushing reply, "With my brains, Madam."

_Samson Agonistes_ stands in marked contrast to its predecessor,
_Paradise Regained_.  And not only in being a drama.  Its intense
omnipresent emotion makes a still more important difference.  In
passing from one to the other we pass from the least to the most
emotional of Milton's works.  This would in any case have been a gain
for most readers: but the gain is made more important by the extreme
severity of Milton's final poetic manner.  A style which excludes
almost all ornament stands in especial need of the support of a visibly
felt emotion.  It has been said by a living writer that "when reason is
subsidiary to emotion verse is the right means of expression, and, when
emotion to reason, prose."  This is roughly true, though the poetry of
mere emotion is poor stuff.  The special faculty of the poet, as
Johnson well said, is that of joining music with reason.  That is to
say that the poet unites thought and feeling and gives them perfect
expression.  They are not distinct: they become in his hands a new
single life, a unity.  You cannot separate the emotion from the thought
in any great line of poetry.  When Wordsworth talks of the
"unimaginable touch of time," there is {228} plainly emotion as well as
thought and memory in his words: when Shelley cries in his despair--

  "Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar,
  Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
  No more--O never more!"

it is no mere cry of the heart: the mind is in it too: and neither in
him nor in Wordsworth can you get the two apart again after the poet
has joined them together.

Now, though in _Paradise Regained_ the intellect is not allowed, as in
much eighteenth-century poetry, to become so dominant as to make us
feel that prose and not verse was the proper medium for what the poet
had to say, yet it does play a greater part than it can commonly play
with safety, perhaps a greater part than it plays in any other English
poem of the first rank.  It is only Milton's unfailing gift of poetic
style which saves the situation.  He could do what Wordsworth could
not: conduct long discussions on abstract questions without descending
from the note of poetry to that of the lecture-room.  The gallant
explorer who fights his way through the _Prelude_ and the _Excursion_
wins, as he deserves, a great reward, and a greater still if he does it
a second time and a third, {229} when he has learnt that they both have
marshy valleys into which he need not twice descend.  But he has paid a
price for the lesson, paid it in the endurance of a great deal of solid
and heavy prose.  That is partly because Wordsworth often thinks
without feeling or imagining: he gives us his thought as it is in
itself, as a professor of moral philosophy gives it, without passing it
through the transforming processes of the emotions and the imagination.
These hardly fail Milton half a dozen times in all his poetry: and the
result is the difference between such lines as--

  "This is the genuine course, the aim, and end
  Of prescient reason; all conclusions else
  Are abject, vain, presumptuous, and perverse:"

and such as Milton writes when he is nearest to bare thinking--

        "Who therefore seeks in these
  True wisdom, finds her not, or by delusion
  Far worse, her false resemblance only meets,
  An empty cloud."

The difference is also partly due to what, indeed, is another side of
the same distinction; the fact that Wordsworth has not and Milton has a
constant possession of the great or grand style.  This is plain in such
passages as those just quoted: it is plainer still where the poets come
close to each other in {230} descriptive passages; as, for instance, in
Wordsworth's--

  "Negro ladies in white muslin gowns,"

and Milton's--

  "Dusk faces with white silken turbans wreathed;"

between which yawns an obviously impassable gulf.

Milton is sometimes harsh, crabbed, grim in expression as in thought:
but these things are not at all necessarily fatal to poetry as is the
cool and contented obviousness of Wordsworth's weak moments.  Milton is
occasionally contented in his own lofty fashion, but he is never cool,
and never less so than in _Samson_.  All through it he is face to face
with a tremendous issue in which he himself is supremely interested: he
is "enacting hell," to use Goethe's curious phrase, which fits Milton
so much better than it fits the serenity of Homer.  Twenty years before
he had written, in quite another connection, "No man knows hell like
him who converses most in heaven": and now in his old age he embodies
that tremendous truth in his last poem.  All his poems are intensely
emotional and personal: but none so much so as _Samson Agonistes_,
where he is fixing all eyes on the {231} tragedy of his own life.  The
parallel between Samson and Milton does not extend, of course, to all
the details.  But even of them many correspond, such as the blindness,
the disastrous marriage with "the daughter of an infidel," the old age
of a broken and defeated champion of God become a gazing-stock to
triumphant profanity.  But more than any special circumstance it is the
whole general position of Samson as a man dedicated from his birth to
the service of God, and gladly accepting the dedication, yet failing in
his task and apparently deserted by his God, which makes of him a type
in which Milton can see himself and the Cromwellian saints who lie
ground under the heels of the victorious Philistines of the
Restoration.  To him as to Samson the situation is one that makes
questionings on the dark and doubtful ways of God unavoidable: darker
to him even than to Samson: for he has no guilty memory of a supreme
act of folly to explain the divine desertion.

The action of the drama is extremely simple.  Samson is found enjoying
a brief respite from his punishment.  The day is a feast of Dagon, and
the Philistine "superstition" allows no work to be done on it.
Accordingly an attendant who is a mute person is leading {232} him to a
bank where he is accustomed to take what rest he is allowed and enjoy

  "The breath of heaven fresh blowing, pure and sweet
  With day-spring born;"

that sensation of delicate scents and cool breezes which, as Milton
knew only too well, mean so much more to the blind than to those who
can see.  Then his restless thoughts begin to crowd upon him--

  "Why was my breeding ordered and prescribed
  As of a person separate to God,
  Designed for great exploits?"

The whole passage belongs naturally enough to Samson: but obviously
here, as well as in the blindness, the poet is already thinking of
himself.  So again, when Samson proceeds to speak of being

        "exposed
  To daily fraud, contempt, abuse, and wrong,"

one can scarcely miss a reference to the daughters who purloined and
sold the blind father's books.  When the soliloquy draws to an end the
Chorus, men of his tribe, come to visit Samson.  Not even Milton ever
made the arrangement and sound of words do more to enforce their
meaning than he does in this wonderful opening chorus--

{233}

  "This, this is he; softly a while;
  Let us not break in upon him.
  O change beyond report, thought, or belief!"

They chant their inevitable wonder at the contrast between what Samson
was and what he is.

  "O mirror of our fickle state,
  Since man on earth, unparalleled!
  The rarer thy example stands,
  By how much from the top of wondrous glory,
  Strongest of mortal men,
  To lowest pitch of abject fortune thou art fallen."

No reader of Greek can fail to be reminded of more than one chorus in
the _Oedipus_ of Sophocles--

  _io geneai broton_
  _hôs hymas isa chai to mêden zôsas enarithmô--_

"Alas, ye generations of men, how utterly a thing of nought I count the
life ye have to live!  For what man is there who wins more of happiness
than just the seeming and after the semblance a falling away.  With thy
fate before mine eyes, unhappy Oedipus, I can call no earthly creature
blest."  Here and there, as in this passage, the parallel is very
close.  But Milton's genius is too great and self-reliant for mere
imitation.  He sometimes recalls the very words of Greek poets as he
{234} does those of the Bible: but that is not because he is
artificially imitating either, but because he has assimilated the
spirit of both and made them a part of himself.

The Chorus express their sympathy with Samson and he replies, bitterly
reproaching his own folly and that of the rulers of Judah who gave him
up to their enemies.  But human blindness will not ultimately defeat
the ways of God: and the Chorus sing their song of faith, in which
rhyme is called in to give its touch of impatient contempt at the folly
of the atheist.

  "Just are the ways of God,
  And justifiable to men;
  Unless there be who think not God at all.
  If any be, they walk obscure;
  For of such doctrine never was there school,
  But the heart of the fool,
  And no man therein doctor but himself."


So ends the first act or episode of the drama.  The second is the visit
of Samson's father Manoah, whose cry is--

  "Who would be now a father in my stead?"

He is trying to negotiate for his son's ransom: but Samson refuses, not
desiring life, desiring rather to pay the full penalty of his sin.  He
cannot share his father's hopes that God will give him back the sight
he so misused--

{235}

  "All otherwise to me my thoughts portend,
  That these dark orbs no more shall treat with light,
  Nor the other light of life continue long,
  But yield to double darkness nigh at hand:
  So much I feel my genial spirits droop,
  My hopes all flat; Nature within me seems
  In all her functions weary of herself;
  My race of glory run, and race of shame,
  And I shall shortly be with them that rest."

So Manoah leaves him, and in a noble lyric he laments over his greatest
sufferings, which are not those of the body but those of the mind--

        "which no cooling herb
  Or med'cinal liquor can assuage,
  Nor breath of vernal air from snowy Alp."


A choral song on the mysterious dealings of God closes this episode
which is followed by the most dramatically effective in the poem, that
of the visit of Dalila.  The moment the blind man is told that it is
"Dalila, thy wife," he cries--

  "My wife! my traitress! let her not come near me:"

and his reply to her offer of penitence, affection and help, begins
with the daringly expressive line--

  "Out, out, hyaena! these are thy wonted arts."

A long and telling debate follows, in which {236} Dalila makes very
good points, one of them recalling the scene in which Eve reproaches
Adam for indulging her instead of exercising his right to command and
control the weakness of her sex.  To this argument Dalila receives the
stern, characteristically Miltonic reply--

  "All wickedness is weakness: that plea, therefore
  With God or man will gain thee no remission,"

He refuses her intercession with the Philistine lords, forbids her even
to touch his hand;

  "Not for thy life, lest fierce remembrance wake
  My sudden rage to tear thee joint by joint,"

and drives her to remind him defiantly that, whatever he and his
Hebrews may say of her, she appeals to another tribunal of fame--

  "In Ecron, Gaza, Asdod, and in Gath,
  I shall be named among the famousest
  Of women, sung at solemn festivals,
  Living and dead recorded."

So she goes out, and the Chorus make Miltonic meditations on the
unhappiness of marriage and the divinely appointed subjection of women.

The next visitor is Harapha, the Philistine giant, who comes to taunt
Samson, and is defied by him to mortal combat.  This {237} episode is
perhaps the least interesting, but it advances the action by exhibiting
Samson's returning sense that God is still with him and will yet do
some great work through him.  It fitly leads to the chorus--

  "O, how comely it is, and how reviving
  To the spirits of just men long oppressed,
  When God into the hands of their deliverer
  Puts invincible might,
  To quell the mighty of the earth, the oppressor,
  The brute and boisterous force of violent men,
  Hardy and industrious to support
  Tyrannic power, but raging to pursue
  The righteous and all such as honour truth!"

In the next scene an officer comes to demand Samson's presence at the
feast of Dagon that he may entertain the Philistine lords with feats of
strength.  He at first dismisses the messenger with a contemptuous
refusal: but, with a premonition of the end which recalls Oedipus at
Colonus, he suddenly changes his mind--

        "I begin to feel
  Some rousing motions in me, which dispose
  To something extraordinary my thoughts.
  If there be aught of presage in the mind,
  This day will be remarkable in my life
  By some great act, or of my days the last."

{238}

  "Go, and the Holy One
  Of Israel be thy guide,"

sing the Chorus: and he leaves the scene, like Oedipus, to return no
more, but to be more felt in his absence than in his presence.  Manoah
re-enters to utter his further hopes of ransom, in which there is a
note of Sophoclean irony recalling the ignorant optimism of Oedipus in
the _Tyrannus_; and as he and the Chorus talk they hear at first a loud
shouting, apparently of triumph, and then another louder and more
terrible--

_Manoah._

  "O what noise!
  Mercy of Heaven! what hideous noise was that?
  Horribly loud, unlike the former shout."

_Chorus._

  "Noise call you it, or universal groan,
  As if the whole inhabitation perished?"

They dare not enter the city: and, as they speculate on what this great
event can be, a Hebrew spectator of the catastrophe comes up and, after
some brief exchange of question and answer exactly in the manner of the
Greek tragedians, tells the whole story at length.  The end has come.
Samson is dead, but death is swallowed up in victory: what has happened
is the last and most tremendous {239} triumph of the divinely chosen
hero whose death is more fatal to his country's enemies than even his
life had been.  There is nothing left to do but to close the drama, as
most Greek tragedies close, with a brief choral song of submission to
the divine governance of the world:

  "All is best, though we oft doubt
  What the unsearchable dispose
  Of Highest Wisdom brings about,
  And ever best found in the close.
  Oft He seems to hide his face,
  But unexpectedly returns,
  And to his faithful champion hath in place
  Bore witness gloriously; whence Gaza mourns,
  And all that band them to resist
  His uncontrollable intent.
  His servants He, with new acquist
  Of true experience from this great event,
  With peace and consolation hath dismissed,
  And calm of mind, all passion spent."


Such is Milton's drama: a thing worth dwelling on as entirely unique in
any modern language.  Some good judges have thought it the finest of
his works.  That will not be admitted if poetry is to be judged either
by universality of appeal or by extent and variety of range.
_L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ will always have far more readers: and
_Paradise Lost_ embraces an immeasurably {240} greater span of human
life.  But, if not the greatest, _Samson_ is probably for its own
audience the most moving of Milton's works.  It is not everybody who
has in him the grave emotions to which it appeals: but whoever has will
find them stirred by Samson as few other books in all the literature of
the world can stir them.

It is curious to think of Milton composing such a drama in the midst of
the theatrical revival of the Restoration.  Did ever poet set himself
in such opposition to the literary current of his day?  Dryden's
unbounded admiration for him is well known: but he understood the
genius of _Paradise Lost_ so little as to make an opera out of it, and
he must have understood even less of Samson.  The drama was then so
much the most fashionable form of literature that he may have felt that
in writing _The State of Innocence_ and its preface he was taking the
best means of directing public attention to _Paradise Lost_.  But he
would scarcely have tried to do the same for _Samson_.  He had wished,
perhaps, as Mr. Verrall has suggested, to write an epic and had failed
to do so: hence his profound reverence for the man who had not failed.
But he had written many dramas and here he had succeeded: he had
pleased both his {241} contemporaries and himself.  He would feel no
need there to take lessons from Milton.  Nor is he to be blamed.  He
and his fellow dramatists are justly criticized for many things, but
there is nothing to complain of in their unlikeness to Milton.  They
wrote for the stage.  He avowedly did not.  They wrote in the spirit of
the theatre of their day, with the object of providing themselves with
a little money and "the town" with a few hours of more or less
intellectual amusement.  He wrote out of his own mind and soul, not for
the entertainment of the idle folk of his own or any other day, but for
men who in all times and countries should prove capable of knowing a
great work when they saw it.  Besides, his contemporary dramatists
followed, quite legitimately, the theatrical traditions of England or
France: he the very different dramatic system of the Greeks.  His drama
is what Greek tragedies were, an act of religion.  It could take its
place quite naturally, as they did, as part of a great national
religious festival performed on a holy day.  It is like them in the
solemn music of its utterance: in its deep sense of the gravity of the
issues on which human life hangs.  It is like them also in technical
points such as the use of a Chorus to give expression to the {242}
spectator's emotions, the paucity of actors present on the stage at any
moment, the curious imitation, to be seen also in _Comus_, of the Greek
_stichomuthia_, in which a verbal passage of arms is conducted on the
principle of giving each speaker one line for his attack or retort.

There are, indeed, some fundamental differences.  They are important
enough to have led so great a critic as Professor Jebb to argue that
Milton's drama is too Hebrew to be Hellenic at all.  His point is that
Greek tragedy aims at producing an imaginative pleasure by arousing a
"sense, on the one hand, of the heroic in man; on the other hand, of a
superhuman controlling power"; and he asserts that this is not the
method adopted by Milton in _Samson_.  Samson is throughout a free man;
his misfortunes are the fruit of his own folly.  God is still on his
side and his death is a patriotic triumph, not, like the death of
Heracles, who resembles him in so many ways, merely the final proof of
the all-powerful malignity of fate.

No one will venture to differ from Jebb on such a question without a
sense of great temerity.  But perhaps the truth is that one who had
lived all his life, as Jebb had, in the closest intimacy with the Greek
drama, would be apt to feel small differences from {243} it too much
and broad resemblances too little.  To the shepherd all his sheep
differ from each other: the danger for him is to forget, what the
ignorant stranger sees, that they are also all very much alike.  So
Jebb is no doubt perfectly right in the distinction he makes: but he is
surely blinded by his own knowledge when he argues from it that _Samson
Agonistes_ "is a great poem and a noble drama; but neither as poem nor
as drama is it Hellenic."  Of that question comparative ignorance is
perhaps a better judge.  For it can still see that the broad division
which separates the world's drama into two kinds is a real thing, and
that Milton's drama belongs in spite of differences unquestionably to
the Greek kind and not to the other, both by its method and by its
spirit.  There can be no real doubt that it is far more like the
_Prometheus_ or the _Oedipus_ than it is like _Hamlet_ or _All for
Love_.  Probably no great tragedy of any sort can be made without that
sense of the contrast between man's will and the "superhuman
controlling power" of which Jebb speaks as peculiarly Greek.  Certainly
it is present in the greatest of Shakspeare's tragedies, and not seldom
finds open expression.  "There's a divinity that shapes our ends."

{244}

But the point is that in _Samson_, the note of which is always the
classical, never the mystical or romantic, this sense is present, not
in Shakspeare's way, but substantially in the Greek way.  The fact that
Samson is free and that his God is his friend does not prevent his
feeling just in the Greek way that God's ways are dark and inscrutable,
past man's finding out, and far above out of the reach of his control.
It does not prevent his being helpless as well as heroic, fully
conscious that all his strength leaves him still a weak child at the
absolute disposal of incomprehensible Omnipotence.  So the whole
atmosphere of the play, as well as its formal mould, will always recall
the Greek tragedies.  And rightly: the likenesses of every kind are far
greater than the differences.  The distinctions which led Jebb to
declare it was not Hellenic at all are far less important than the
kinship which made a still greater critic, the poet Goethe, declare
that it had "more of the antique spirit than any production of any
other modern poet."

A more obvious and perhaps more important difference than that on which
Jebb lays such stress is, of course, the fundamental one that the Greek
plays were written for performance and that many of them have {245}
elaborately contrived "plots."  No one supposes that _Samson_ would be
effective on the stage; but the modern dramatist who could make his
play as exciting to the spectator as the _Oedipus Tyrannus_ or
_Electra_ of Sophocles, or the _Hippolytus_ or _Medea_ of Euripides,
would assuredly be no ordinary playwright.  This Milton did not
attempt.  His drama resembles rather the earlier Greek tragedies where
the lyrical element is still the principal thing while the "plot" and
the persons who act its story play a comparatively subordinate part.
It is, at any rate in form, more like Aeschylus than Sophocles, and
more like the _Persae_ and the _Prometheus_ than the Oresteian Trilogy.
To the _Prometheus_, indeed, it bears particularly close and obvious
resemblances; for instance, both have a heroic and defiant prisoner as
their principal figure, and as their minor figures a succession of
friends and enemies who visit him.

However, literary parallels and precedents of this kind are perhaps
rather interesting than important.  Milton's greatness is his own.
Only the fact remains that, as it was of an order that need not fear to
measure itself with the Greeks and as he happened to put its dramatic
expression into a Greek form, he has given us something which comes far
{246} nearer to producing on us the particular impression of sublimity
made by the greatest Greek dramas than anything else in English or
perhaps in any modern language.  In English nothing worth mentioning of
the kind has been attempted, till in our own day the present Poet
Laureate wrote his _Prometheus the Fire-Giver_ and _Achilles in
Scyros_.  But, interesting and beautiful as these are, they make no
pretence to rival _Samson Agonistes_.  They are altogether on a smaller
scale of art, of thought, of emotion.

_Samson Agonistes_ is Milton's last word and on the whole his saddest.
Yet the final effect of great art is never sad.  The sense of greatness
transcends all pain.  In the preface of _Samson_ Milton alludes to
Aristotle's remark that it is the function of tragedy to effect through
pity and fear a proper purgation of these emotions.  Whatever be the
precise meaning of that famous and disputed sentence, there is no doubt
that Milton gives part of its general import truly enough when he
paraphrases it "to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind
of delight stirred up by reading or seeing those passions well
imitated."  And its application extends far beyond the mere field of
tragedy.  So far as other kinds of poetry, or indeed any of the arts,
deal with {247} subjects that arouse any of the deeper human emotions,
the law of purification by a kind of delight is one by which they stand
or fall.  A crucifixion which is merely painful, as many primitive
crucifixions are, or merely disgusting, as many later ones are, is so
far a failure.  It has not done the work art has to do.  Shakspeare
knew this well enough, though he very likely never thought about it.
The final word of his great tragedies is one of sorrow overpassed and
transformed.  "The rest is silence;" "Dost thou not see my baby at my
breast That sucks the nurse asleep?" "I have almost forgot the taste of
fears;" "My heart doth joy that yet in all my life I found no man but
he was true to me!"  This is the note always struck before the very end
comes.  And Milton, so unlike Shakspeare both as man and as artist, is
no less conspicuous than he in the strict observance of this practice.
All his poems, without exception, end in quietness and confidence.  The
beauty of the last lines of _Paradise Lost_, to which early critics
were so strangely blind, is now universally celebrated--

  "Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
  The world was all before them, where to choose
{248}
  Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
  They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
  Through Eden took their solitary way."

The storm and stress of day are over and are followed by the
passionless quiet of evening.  So in _Paradise Regained_.  A modern
poet would have been tempted to end at line 635, with a kind of
dramatic fall of the curtain--

        "on thy glorious work
  Now enter, and begin to save Mankind."

Not so Milton.  As after the most aweinspiring death known to
literature the _Oedipus Coloneus_ closes on the note of acquiescent
peace--

  "Come, cease lamentation, lift it up no more;
    for verily these things stand fast;"

so Milton ends the long debate of his poem, not with victory, but with
silence--

        "He, unobserved,
  Home to his mother's house private returned."

It is indeed just the opposite in one way of the conclusion of
_Paradise Lost_.  The man and woman who had fallen before the Tempter
had no home to return to: they must seek a new "place of rest"
elsewhere in the new world that was before them.  The Man who {249} had
vanquished him could go back quietly to the home of his childhood.  But
the contrast is external, the likeness essential.  For the first man as
well as the second there is an appointed place of rest and a Providence
to guide: the two poems can both end on the same note of that peace
which follows upon the right understanding of all great experiences.

This, which is only implied in his earlier poems, is almost expressly
set forth in the last of all Milton's words, the already quoted
conclusion of Samson--

  "His servants He, with new acquist
  Of true experience from this great event,
  With peace and consolation hath dismissed,
  And calm of mind, all passion spent."


Milton was a passionate man who lived in passionate times.  Neither his
passions nor those of the men of his day are of very much matter to us
now.  But the art in which he "spent" them, in which, that is to say,
he embodied, transcended and glorified them, till through it he and we
alike attain to consolation and calm, is an eternal possession not only
of the English race but of the whole world.



{250}

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The literature that in one way or another deals with Milton is, of
course, immense.  His name fills more than half of one of the volumes
of the great British Museum Catalogue, more than sixteen pages being
devoted to the single item of _Paradise Lost_.  They afford perhaps the
most striking of all proofs of the universality of his genius; for they
include translations into no fewer than eighteen languages, many of
which possess a large choice of versions.  Into more than a very small
fraction of such a vast field it is obviously impossible to enter here.
Only a few notes can be given, under the four headings of Poetry,
Prose, Biography and Criticism.


POETRY

Of the poetry, it may be worth saying, though MSS. hardly come within
the scope of a brief bibliography of this sort, that a manuscript,
mainly in the handwriting of Milton himself and containing many of his
early poems, is preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge.
The printed copies, of course, begin with those published in his own
lifetime.  They contain practically the whole of his poetry.  The most
important are the volume containing his early poems issued in 1645,
_Paradise Lost_ which first appeared in 1667, _Paradise Regained_ and
_Samson Agonistes_ which followed in 1671, and a re-issue in 1673, with
additions, of the volume of his minor poems already printed in 1646.
The first complete edition was _The Poetical Works of Mr. John Milton_,
issued by Jacob Tonson in 1695.

So much for the bare text.  Annotation naturally soon followed.  The
earliest commentator was Patrick Hume who published an edition of the
poems with notes on _Paradise Lost_ in 1695.  But the most famous,
though also least important, of Milton's early critics was the greatest
of English scholars, Richard Bentley, who in 1732 issued an edition of
_Paradise Lost_ in which whole passages were relegated to the margin as
the spurious interpolations of an imaginary editor.  Such a book is, of
course, merely a curiosity connecting two {251} great names.  The real
beginning in the work of editing Milton as a classic should be edited
was made by Thomas Newton, afterwards Bishop of Bristol, who in 1749
brought out an edition of _Paradise Lost_, "with Notes of Various
Authors," and followed it in 1752 with a similar volume including
_Paradise Regained_ and the minor poems.  Newton's work was often
reprinted, and remained the standard edition till it was superseded by
that of the Rev. H. J. Todd which first appeared in 1801.  The final
issue of Todd is that of 1826 in six volumes which, in spite of many
notes which are defective, many which are antiquated and some which are
superfluous, may still claim to be the best library edition of Milton.
Among the best of those which have appeared since are Thomas
Keightley's, published in 1859, which contains excellent notes, and
Prof. David Masson's, which is the work of the most learned and devoted
of all Milton's editors.  Both of these have the advantage of Todd in
some respects; Keightley in acuteness and penetration, Masson in
completeness of knowledge.  But no single editor's work can be a
perfect substitute for a _variorum_ edition like that of Todd, giving
the comments and suggestions of many different minds.  The most
complete edition of Masson's work is the final library one in three
volumes, 1890; there is also a convenient smaller issue, based on this,
but omitting some of its editorial matter.  It was last printed in
three volumes 1893.  It contains a Memoir, rather elaborate
Introductions to all the poems, an Essay on Milton's English and
Versification, and reduced Notes.

A text with Critical Notes by W. Aldis Wright was issued by the
Cambridge University Press in one volume, 1903.  The text of the
earliest printed editions of the several poems was reprinted in 1900 in
an edition prepared for the Clarendon Press by the Rev. H. C. Beeching.

It may be worth while adding that Milton's Latin and Italian poems were
translated by the poet Cowper and printed in 1808 by his biographer,
Hayley, in a beautiful quarto volume with designs by Flaxman.  These
translations are reprinted in the "Aldine" edition of Milton, 1826.
Masson has also given translations of most of them in his _Life of
Milton_ and in his 1890 library edition of the Poems.


PROSE

The Prose works were, of course, mostly issued as books or pamphlets in
Milton's lifetime.  They were collected by Toland in three volumes
_folio_, 1698.  There are several more modern editions; as that
published in 1806 in seven volumes {252} with a _Life_ by Charles
Symmons; that of Pickering, who included them in his fine eight-volume
edition.  _The Works of John Milton in Verse and Prose, Edited by John
Mitford, 1851_; and that in Bohn's Standard Library, in six volumes,
edited, with some notes of a somewhat controversial character, by J. A.
St. John, 1848.  The first volume of a new edition edited by Sir Sidney
Lee appeared in 1905.  One of the most curious of the prose works, the
_De Doctrina Christiana_ or _Treatise of Christian Doctrine_, was not
known till 1823, when it was discovered in the State Paper Office.  It
was edited, with an English translation, by the Rev. C. R. Sumner in
1825 and is included in Bohn's edition.


BIOGRAPHY

The earliest sources for the biography of Milton, outside his own
works, are the account given in the _Fasti Oxonienses_ of Anthony à
Wood, 1691, the _Brief Lives of John Aubrey_, and the Life prefixed by
the poet's nephew, Edward Phillips, to an edition of the _Letters of
State_, printed in 1694.  A very large number of _Lives of Milton_ have
been written since, based on these materials and those collected from a
few other sources.  The most famous and in some ways the best, in spite
of its unfairness, is that of Johnson, to be found in his _Lives of the
Poets_.  The best short modern Life is Mark Pattison's masterly, though
occasionally wilful, little book in the English Men of letters Series.
For the library and for students all other biographies have been
superseded by the great work of David Masson, who spared no labours to
investigate every smallest detail of the life of Milton and to place
the whole in the setting of an elaborate history of England in Milton's
day.  The value of the book is somewhat impaired by the very strong
Puritan and anti-Cavalier partisanship of the writer; and its style
suffers from an imitation of Carlyle.  But nothing can seriously
detract from the immense debt every student of Milton owes to the
author of this monumental biography which appeared in seven volumes,
1859-1894.

An interesting critical discussion of the various portraits
representing or alleged to represent Milton is prefixed to the
Catalogue of the Exhibition held at Christ's College Cambridge during
the Milton Tercentenary in 1908.  It is by Dr. G. C. Williamson.


CRITICISM

A poet at once so learned and so great as Milton inevitably invited
criticism.  The first and most generous of his critics {253} was his
great rival Dryden, who, in a few words of the preface to _The State of
Innocence_, published the year after Milton's death, led the note of
praise, which has been echoed ever since by speaking of _Paradise Lost_
as "one of the greatest, most noble and most sublime poems which either
this age or nation has produced."  The next great name in the list is
that of Addison, who contributed a series of papers on Milton to the
_Spectator_ in 1712.  Like all criticism except the work of the supreme
masters, they are written too exclusively from the point of view of
their own day to retain more than a small fraction of their value after
two hundred years have passed.  But they are of considerable historical
interest and may still be read with pleasure, like everything written
by Addison.  A less sympathetic but finer piece of work is the critical
part of Johnson's famous _Life_.  It is full of crudities of every
sort, such as the notorious remark that "no man could have fancied that
he read _Lycidas_ with pleasure had he not known the author"; and
perhaps nothing Johnson over wrote displayed more nakedly the narrow
limits of his appreciation of poetry.  But, in spite of all its
defects, it exhibits its writer's great gifts; and its absolute and
unshrinking sincerity, its half-reluctant utterance of some of the
truest praise ever spoken of Milton, its profound knowledge of the way
in which the human mind approaches both literature and life, will
always preserve it as one of the most interesting criticisms which
Milton has provoked.  Johnson's friend, Thomas Warton, in his edition
of the minor poems issued in 1785, led the way to an understanding of
much in Milton to which Johnson and his school were entirely blind.
This movement has continued ever since, and is seen in the immense
influence Milton had upon the poets of the nineteenth century,
especially upon Wordsworth and Keats; an influence of exactly the
opposite sort to that which he exercised with such disastrous effect
upon many poets of the century immediately succeeding his own.  It is
also seen in the finer intelligence of the critical studies of his
work.  These are far too many to mention here.  Among the best are
Hazlitt's Lecture on Shakspeare and Milton in his _Lectures on the
English Poets_; Matthew Arnold's speech at the unveiling of a Milton
memorial, printed in the second series of his _Essays in Criticism_;
Sir Walter Raleigh's volume, _Milton_, published in 1900, and _The
Epic_, by Lascelles Abercrombie, 1914, which is full of fine and
suggestive criticism of Milton.  _Milton's Prosody by Robert Bridges,
1901_, is the best study of the metre and scansion of Milton's later
poems, especially of _Paradise Lost_.



{254}

INDEX TO PRINCIPAL PERSONS, PLACES, AND WORKS MENTIONED

  Abercrombie, L., 136-7, 253
  _Absalom and Achitophel_, 105
  _Achilles in Scyros_, 246
  Addison, Joseph, 77, 253
  _Adonais_, 125
  _Ad Patrem_, 39-40.
  _Aeneid, The_, 150, 175, 196
  Aeschylus, 245
  À Kempis, Thomas, 147
  Aldersgate Street, 46
  _All for Love_, 243
  _Allegro, L'_, 41, 70, 93, 99, 106 _et sqq._, 123, 239
  Anglesey, Earl of, 72, 82
  Annesley, Arthur, 72
  Aquinas, Thomas, 157
  _Arbuthnot, Epistle to_, 105
  _Arcades_, 41, 42
  _Arcadia_, 58
  _Areopagitica_, 44, 49, 64
  Arianism, 204
  Ariosto, 153
  Aristotle, 86, 200
  Arnold Matthew, 164, 253
  Arthurian Epic (planned), 45, 148-9
  _At a Solemn Music_, 13, 42, 97, 100, 103, 147
  Athens, 205-6, 209
  Aubrey, John, 29, 252

  Barbican, the, 54
  Baroni, Leonora, 44-5
  Barrow, Samuel, 82
  Beeching, Rev. H. C., 251
  Bentley, Richard, 250
  Bibliography, 250-3
  Blake, Admiral, 57
  Bohn's Standard Library, 252
  Bow Church, 25
  Bread Street, 24, 75
  Bridges, Robert, 26, 108, 222, 223, 246, 253
  _Brief Lives_, 252
  Buckingham, Duke of, 58
  Byron, Lord, 90

  Cambridge, 28, 29, 30, 31-7, 39, 42, 85, 120, 121, 124, 250, 252
  Carlyle, Thomas, 262
  Caroline, Queen, 77
  Charles I, 11, 28, 58, 59, 60, 63, 64, 67, 71, 72, 86
  Charles II, 47, 60, 65, 71, 73, 82, 86
  Chaucer, Geoffrey, 90, 111
  Christina, Queen of Sweden, 60
  Christ's College, Cambridge, 28, 29, 120, 121, 124, 252
  Clarendon, Earl of, 73
  Clarges, Sir Thomas, 72
  Coleridge, S. T., 206
  _Comus_, 13, 41, 42, 95, 100, 110, 112-13 _et sqq._, 128, 242
  Constable, 135
  Coriolanus, 85
  Cowper, William, 69, 251
  Criticisms, 252-3
  Cromwell, Oliver, 55, 57, 63, 64, 67, 68, 69, 71, 133, 139, 176

  Dante, 10, 11-12, 33, 120, 153-7
  _Daphnaïda_, 125
  Davenant, William, 72
  _Defensio Regia_, 60, 61
  _Defensio Secunda_, 61
  De Quincey, Thomas, 96
  Diodati, Charles, 42, 124, 125
  _Divina Commedia, La_, 120, 157
  Divorce pamphlets, 50 _et sqq._
  _Doctrina Christiana, De_, 252
  Dorset, Earl of, 81
  Dowland, Robert, 28
  Drayton, Michael, 124
  Drummond, William, 124, 135
  Dryden, John, 80-2, 90, 103, 104-5, 117, 241, 253

  _Eikon Basilike_, the, 57-8
  _Eikonoklastes_, 58, 61
  _Electra, The_, 245
  Elizabeth, Queen, 85
  _English Men of Letters Series_, 252
  _Epic, The_, 253
  Epigrams, Latin, on La Baroni, 45
  _Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester_, 36, 37, 97, 103
  _Epitaphium Damonis_, 124
  _Essays in Criticism_, 253
  Euripides, 77, 82, 245
  _Excursion, The_, 136, 228-9

  _Faerie Queen, The_, 115
  Fairfax, General, 139, 171
  _Faithful Shepherdess, The_, 115
  _Fasti Oxonienses_, 252
  _Faust_, 196
  Fire of London, 75
  Flaxman, John, 251
  Fletcher, John, 107, 115
  Florence, 43, 44, 46
  France, 43, 46, 59

  Galileo, 44, 45
  _Gerusalemme Conquistata_ (Tasso), 45
  Gibbons, Orlando, 28
  Goethe, J. W. von, 230, 244
  Gorges, Mrs., 125
  Grotius, Hugo, 43

  _Hamlet_, 24, 243
  Hampden, John, 171
  Hayley, William, 251
  Hazlitt, William, 253
  _Hippolytus_, 245
  _History of Britain_, 78
  Homer, 77, 82, 84, 89, 152, 153, 155, 171, 230
  Horace, 69
  Horton, 37, 40, 41, 42, 111
  Hume, Patrick, 250

  _Iliad, The_, 154, 155, 157, 162
  _Imitation, The, of Christ_, 147-8
  Indemnity, Act of, 72, 73, 74
  Independent Army, The, 55, 56
  Italian travels, 43-6

  James I, 58
  Jebb, Prof., 242-3, 244
  _Job, Book of_, 21, 82
  Johnson, Dr. Samuel, 125, 126, 160, 162, 175, 194, 196, 206,
    207, 227, 252, 253
  Jones, Inigo, 16, 114
  Jonson, Ben, 114, 115

  Keats, John, 79, 90, 102, 110, 125, 253
  Keightley, Thomas, 251
  King, Edward, 42, 91, 124, 125, 127, 128-31

  Landor, Walter Savage, 132
  Lawes, Henry, 41, 82, 91, 116, 119
  Lawrence, Henry, 69-70, 133
  _Lectures on the English Poets_, 253
  Lee, Sir Sidney, 252
  _Letters of State_, 252
  Lives of Milton, 251, 252, 253
  _Lives of the Poets_, 252
  London, 25, 49; fire of, 75
  Long Parliament, 47, 63, 64, 171
  _Lycidas_, 13, 41, 42, 90, 91, 100, 106, 123 _et sqq._

  Mackail, J. W., 94-5, 206, 211
  Manso, Giovanni, 45
  Marini, 45
  Marlowe, Christopher, 107
  Marvell, Andrew, 69, 73
  Massacres in Piedmont, sonnets on, 68, 133, 139, 140-1
  Masson, D., 24, 52, 68, 73, 75, 251
  _Medea, The_, 245
  Meredith, George, 134
  _Milton_, 253
  _Milton's Prosody_, 224, 253
  Milton's relations:--
    Daughters, 11, 54, 69, 75-77, 218
      Deborah, 77-8
    Father, 27, 29, 37, 38-40, 42, 43, 49, 54, 75
    Infant son, 76
    Mother, 40
    Nephews, 46, 54, 61, 70, 252
    Wives--
      First, _see_ Powell, Mary.
      Second, 54, 69, 71
      Third, 54
  Mitford, John, 252
  Monk, General, 72
  Morley, Thomas, 28
  Morrice, --, 72
  Morus, 69

  Napoleon, 9, 139
  Newbolt, Henry, 120
  Newton, Thomas, 251

  _Ode on the Nativity_, 35-6, 37, 91, 93-4, 97, 98-103
  _Odyssey, The_, 162, 196
  _Oedipus Coloneus_, 237, 248
  _Oedipus Tyrannus_, 233, 238, 243
  _On Attaining the Age of Twenty-three_, sonnet, 91, 133
  _On His Blindness_, sonnet, 62-3, 133
  _On the Death of a Fair Infant_, 35, 97-9
  _Orations_, 34-5
  _Othello_, 150
  Ovid, 33, 77, 124

  Pamphlets, 49, 56, 69, 71
  _Paradise Lost_, 13, 24, 25, 28, 44, 47, 55, 71, 78, 79,
    80, 82, 88, 89, 90, 94, 95, 97, 101, 104, 106, 112, 113,
    118, 120, 123, 125, 137, 142 _et sqq._, 196, 197 _et sqq._,
    239, 240, 247, 248, 250, 251, 253
  _Paradise Regained_, 13, 24, 44, 78, 167, 196 _et sqq._,
    227, 248, 250, 251
  _Passion, The_, 103
  Pattison, Mark, 131, 132, 197, 252
  _Penseroso, Il_, 41, 70, 93, 100, 106 _et sqq._, 239
  _Persae, The_, 245
  Petrarch, 33, 134, 135
  Phillips, Edward, 252
  Pickering, William, 252
  Pindar, 117
  Plato, 8, 9-10, 21, 111, 156
  _Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue_, 115
  _Poems, editions of_, 250-1, 252
  _Poetical Works, The, of Mr. John Milton_, 250
  Pope, A., 85, 90, 91, 105, 222, 223
  Portraits, 252
  Powell family, 50, 53
  Powell, Mary, 50-4, 69, 71
  _Prelude, The_, 136, 228-9
  _Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio_, 60, 61
  _Prometheus the Fire-Giver_, 246
  _Prometheus Unbound_, 102
  _Prometheus Vinctus_, 21, 243, 245
  Prose Works, 47 _et sqq._, 251-2
  Psalms, the, 139-40; paraphrases of, 95
  Purcell, Henry, 16
  Pym, John, 171

  Raleigh, Sir Walter, 198, 253
  Ranelagh, Lady, 69
  _Ready and Easy Way A, to
    Establish a Free Commonwealth_, 65
  _Reason, The, of Church Government_, 13, 37
  Regicides, the, 55, 63, 71, 74
  Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 16
  Rome, 44, 209
  Rossetti, Dante G., 133, 135

  St. Brides', Fleet Street, 46
  St. Giles' Church, Cripplegate, 79
  St. John, J. A., 252
  St. Paul, 9, 144, 218
  St. Paul's Cathedral, 89, 193
  Salmasius, 59-62, 69, 218
  _Samson Agonistes_, 13, 20, 24, 78, 83, 99, 199, 219 _et sqq._, 250
  Sansovino's Library, Venice, 193
  Saumaise, _see_ Salmasius.
  Scudamore, Lord, 43
  Shakspeare, W., 9, 14, 17, 32, 35, 36, 80, 85, 90, 103, 114, 118,
    145, 166, 247; sonnets, 133-5, 253
  Shelley, P. B., 20, 29, 50, 79, 90, 99, 102, 111, 125, 228
  Shelley, Mrs. P. B., 50
  Sidney, Sir Philip, 58, 98, 124, 135
  Skinner, Cyriack, 62, 133
  Smithfield, 72
  _Song on May Morning_, 36, 107
  _Sonnets_, 47, 54, 62-3, 68, 69, 91, 106, 131 _et sqq._
  Sophocles, 82, 233, 245
  _Spectator, The_, 253
  Spenser, Edmund, 93, 97, 98, 111, 115, 116, 124, 125, 153
  _State, The, of Innocence_, 240, 253
  Statius, 157
  Strafford, Earl of, 171
  Sumner, Rev. C. R., 252
  Symmons, Charles, 252

  Tasso, Torquato, 45, 82, 153, 164
  Tennyson, Alfred, 69, 90, 197
  _Tenure of Kings and Magistrates_, 56, 58, 75
  Theocritus, 124
  Todd, Rev. H. J., 251
  Toland, John, 251
  Tonson, Jacob, 250
  _Treatise of Christian Doctrine_, 252
  Trinity College Library, 89, 250
  Turner, J. W. M., 16
  Tyburn, 71, 90

  Verrall, A. W., 240
  Virgil, 82, 84, 89, 91, 124, 139, 150, 152, 153, 155, 157, 163, 175
  _Vita Nuova, La_, 120

  Waller, Edmund, 104
  Warton, Joseph, 118, 126, 214
  Warton, Thomas, 253
  Whitehall, 58, 70, 74, 219
  Williamson, Dr. G. C., 252
  Winchester, Marchioness of, 36
  Windsor, 37
  Windsor Castle, 40
  Wood, Anthony à, 31, 35, 252
  Wordsworth, W., 26, 34, 79, 90, 131, 133, 135, 137, 140, 141,
    206, 227-30; sonnets, 137-41, 253
  _Works, The, of John Milton, in Prose and Verse_, 252
  Wren, Sir Christopher, 16, 89
  Wright, W. Aldis, 251

  Young, Thomas, 27





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