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THE POWER OF DIMNESS.
The Adam and Eve of “ Paradise Lost" are beautiful creations of poetic fancy, founding on Bible truth. They are true man and woman-not poetic ideals which are never realized in human life.
And what grand conceptions, painted as only true genius can paint, are those dreadful impersonations of Sin and Death, that bar the Arch-fiend's way at Hell's nine-fold gates! Dimness is here again a wonderful power in the poet's hand. The King of Terrors is thus described in the Second Book :
“ The other shape,-
The likeness of a kingly crown had on." There are in this fearful image only three points on which the mind can fasten,—the colour, black-a dreadful dart—the likeness of a kingly crown: all else is shapeless cloud.
The verse in which this noblest of English poems is written, flows on with a deep and solemn current, not broken, as the blankverse of a dramatist must be, into various alternations of rapid and of pool-quick, brilliant dialogue, and smooth, extended soliloquy or speech—but holding the even tenor of its way amid scenes of surpassing terror and delight, changing its music and its hue as it rolls upon its onward course. Awful though its tone is, when the glare of the fiery gulf falls red upon its stream, or the noise of battling angels shakes its shores, it breathes the sweetest pastoral melody as it glides on through the green and flowery borders of sinless Eden.
Paradise Regained, a shorter epic in four books, owed its origin to Ellwood's suggestion at Chalfont. It describes in most expressive verse the temptation and the triumph of our Saviour, and is said to have been preferred by the poet himself to his grander work. Yet it must be reckoned “inferior both in style and interest to its great predecessor, although the authorship of so fine a poem would have made the fame of a meaner bard.
Samson Agonistes is a dramatic poem, cast in the mould of the old Greek tragedies, for which Milton had a deep admiring love. It has, like the Greek plays, a chorus taking part in the dialogue. Samson's captivity, and the revenge he took upon his idolatrous oppressors, form the argument of the drama. It was the last great sun-burst of Milton's splendid poetic genius. Such a theme possessed an irresistible attraction for the mind of an intellectual and imaginative Samson, himself smitten with blindness, and fallen in his evil days amid a revelling and blasphemous crowd, that jibed with ceaseless scorn at the venerable Puritan, whose grey eyes rolled in vain to seek the light of heaven.
Sonnets.—Many of Milton's sonnets are very fine. One of the noblest is that burst of righteous indignation evoked by the massacre of the Waldenses. Cromwell and Milton felt alike in this momentous affair: while the Lord Protector threatened the thunder of English cannon, the Latin Secretary launched the thunders of his English verse against the cruel Piedmontese.
The Areopagitica is Milton's greatest prose work. Never las the grand theme of a free press been handled with greater eloquence or power. Here we see how true a figure is that fine image by which Macaulay characterizes Milton's prose, -"A perfect field of cloth of gold, stiff with gorgeous embroidery.”
SATAN TO BEELZEBUB.
(PARADISE LOST, BOOK I.)
SPECIMENS OF MILTON'S VERSE.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
(PARADISE LOST, BOOK III.)
SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT, born in 1605 at Oxford, where his father kept a tavern, became laureate on the death of Ben Jonson. He was a keen Royalist, and in the Civil War suffered many changes of fortune. While an exile in France he wrote part of the tedious heroic poem Gondibert, which is the chief work now associated with his name. During the Commonwealth, while on board a ship bound for Virginia, he was arrested by the sailors of the Parliament, and confined at Cowes and in the Tower. Milton is thought to have aided in obtaining his release; and Davenant, we are told, repaid the kindness, when the Restoration changed the fortunes of the poets. Resuming his old occupation, the management of a theatre, Davenant spent his last years in peace, and died in 1668.
EDMUND WALLER, born in 1605, is one of the brilliant, courtly, superficial poets, who flourished under the rule of our two Kings Charles. The rich and well-born youth was a member of Parliament at eighteen. At first he took the popular side, but in the Civil War, being detected in a Royalist plot, he suffered imprisonment and fine. After a sojourn in France, he came home to celebrate in verse the glory of Cromwell; and not long afterwards, in a poem of inferior merit, to welcome the returning Stuart king. He then sat for Hastings, for various other places in successive parliaments, and at eighty years of age for a Cornish borough. He died and was buried in 1687 at Beaconsfield, where, little
LOVELACE AND COWLEY.
more than a century later, the body of the great Edmund Burke was laid in the grave. Waller's verses are smooth, elegant, and polished; but they are little more. His speeches in Parliament were, in general, excellent and telling.
HENRY VAUGHAN, born in Brecknockshire in 1614, was first a lawyer and then a physician. His chief merit lies in his Sacred Poetry. But, with much deep feeling, it has all the faults of the Metaphysical school, many of them in an exaggerated form.
SIR JOHN DENHAM, the author of Cooper's Hill, was born in 1615 at Dublin, the son of the Chief Baron of Exchequer in Ireland. At Oxford he became acquainted with the most brilliant and dissolute of the young Cavaliers, and with these he afterwards gambled away the fortune left him by his father. “Cooper's Hill” is a descriptive poem, varied by the thoughts suggested by such striking objects in the landscape as the Thames, Windsor Forest, and the flats of Runnymede. It is a good specimen of local poetry. Like all the Royalist party, he rose in fortune and favour at the Restoration, becoming then a surveyor of royal buildings and a Knight of the Bath. He died in 1668. A gedy, the Sophy, founded on incidents in Turkish life, was also written by him.
RICHARD LOVELACE, born in a knightly mansion in 1618, was the most unhappy of the Cavalier poets. For his gallant struggles in the cause of his king, he suffered imprisonment, during which he collected and published his Odes and Songs. The marriage of his sweetheart with another,—she thought that he had died of his wounds in France,-broke his hopes and his heart; and through the years of the Commonwealth he continued to sink, until in 1658 he died, a ragged and consumptive beggar, in an alley near Shoe Lane. His poetry resembles Herrick's, but with less sparkle and more conceit.
ABRAHAM COWLEY, born in London in 1618, was the son of a stationer in Cheapside. He became a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Like Pope, he wrote poems in early boyhood, and published a volume when only thirteen. His Royalist principles caused him to be expelled from Cambridge; and, after some time