Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

and the style of vision must express it. When Spenser writes, he dreams. We listen to the happy concerts of his aerial music, and the varying train of his fanciful apparitions unfolds like a vapour before our accommodating and dazzled gaze. When Dante writes, he is rapt; and his cries of anguish, his transports, the incoherent succession of his infernal or mystical phantoms, carry us with him into the invisible world which he describes. Ecstasy alone renders visible and credible the objects of ecstasy. If you tell us of the exploits of the Deity as you tell us of Cromwell's, in a grave and lofty tone, we do not see God; and as He constitutes the whole of your poem, we do not see anything. We conclude that you have accepted a tradition, that you adorn it with the fictions of your mind, that you are a preacher, not a prophet, a decorator, not a poet. We find that you sing of God as the vulgar pray to him, after a formula learnt, not from spontaneous emotion. Change your style, or, if you can, change your emotion. Try and discover in yourself the ancient fervour of psalmists and apostles, to recreate the divine legend, to feel over again the sublime motions by which the inspired and disturbed mind perceives God; then the grand lyric verse will roll on, laden with splendours. Thus roused, we shall not have to examine whether it be Adam or Messiah who speaks; we shall not have to demand that they shall be real, and constructed by the hand of a psychologist; we shall not trouble ourselves with their puerile or unlooked for actions; we shall be carried away, we shall share in your creative madness; we shall be drawn onward by the flow of bold images, or raised by the combination of gigantic metaphors; we shall be moved like Æschylus, when his thunder-stricken Prometheus hears the universal concert of streams, seas, forests, and created beings, lament with him, as David before Jehovah, for whom a thousand years are but as yesterday, who carriest them away as with a flood; in the morning they are like grass which groweth up."

But the age of metaphysical inspiration, long diverted, had not yet reappeared. Far in the past Dante was fading away; far in the future Goethe lay unrevealed. People saw not yet the pantheistic Faust, and the vague nature which absorbs all transformed existence in ber deep bosom ; they saw no longer the mystic paradise and immortal Love, whose ideal light envelopes souls redeemed. Protestantism had neither altered nor renewed divine nature; the guardian of an accepted creed and ancient tradition, it had only transformed ecclesiastical discipline

[ocr errors]

and the doctrine of grace. It had only called the Christian to personal salvation and secular liberty. It had only remodelled man, it had not re-created the Deity. It could not produce a divine epic, but a human epic. It could not sing the battles and works of God, but the temptations and salvation of the soul. At the time of Christ came the poems of cosmogony; at the time of Milton, the confessions of psychology. At the time of Christ each imagination produced a hierarchy of supernatural beings, and a history of the world; at the time of Milton, every heart recorded the series of its upliftings, and the history of grace. Learning and reflection led Milton to a metaphysical poem which was not the natural offspring of the age, whilst inspiration and ignorance revealed to Bunyan the psychological narrative which suited the age, and the great man's genius was feebler than the tinker's simplicity.

And why? Milton's poem, suppressing lyrical illusion, admitted critical inquiry. Free from enthusiasm we judge his characters; we demand that they shall be living, real, complete, harmonious, like those of a novel or a drama. No longer hearing odes, we would see objects and souls: we ask that Adam and Eve should act in conformity with their primitive nature; that God, Satan, and Messiah should act and feel in conformity with their superhuman nature. Shakspeare would barely have discharged the task ; Milton, the logician and reasoner, failed in it. He gives us correct solemn discourse, and gives us nothing more; his characters are speeches, and in their sentiments we find only heaps of puerilities and contradictions.

Adam and Eve, the first pair! I approach, and it seems as though I discovered the Adam and Eve of Raphael Sanzio, imitated by Milton, so his biographers tell us, glorious, strong, voluptuous children, naked in the light of heaven, motionless and absorbed before grand landscapes, with bright vacant eyes, with no more thought than the bull or the horse on the grass beside them. I listen, and I hear an English household, two reasoners of the period-Colonel Hutchinson and his wife. Heavens! dress them at once. Folk so cultivated should have invented before all a pair of trousers and modesty. What dialogues ! Dissertations capped by politeness, mutual sermons concluded by bows. What bows! Philosophical compliments and moral smiles. I yielded, says Eve,

"And from that time see
How beauty is excell'd by manly grace
And wisdom, which alone is truly fair.'1

Dear learned poet, you would have been better satisfied if one of your three wives had, as an apt pupil, uttered to you by way of conclusion the above solid theoretical maxim. They did utter it to you; this is a scene from your own household:

· Paradise Lost, book iv. v. 489.

"So spake our general mother; and, with eyes
Of conjugal attraction unreproved
And meek surrender, half-embracing lean'd
On our first father ; half her swelling breast
Naked met his, under the flowing gold
Of her loose tresses hid ; he, in delight
Both of her beauty and submissive charms,
Smiled with superiour love, . . . and press'd her matron lip

With kisses pure.'' This Adam entered Paradise via England. There he learned respectability, and there he studied moral speechifying. Let us hear this man before he has tasted of the tree of knowledge. A bachelor of arts, in his introductory address, could not utter more fitly and nobly a greater number of pithless sentences:

Fair consort, the hour
Of night, and all things now retired to rest,
Mind us of like repose ; since God hath set
Labour and rest, as day and night, to men
Successive ; and the timely dew of sleep,
Now falling with soft slumbrous weight, inclines
Our eyelids; other creatures all day long
Rove idle, unemploy'd, and less need rest:
Man hath his daily work of body or mind
Appointed, which declares his dignity,
And the regard of Heaven on all his ways;
While other animals unactive range,

And of their doings God takes no account.'? A very useful and excellent Puritanical exhortation! That is English virtue and morality; and at evening, in every family, it can be read to the children like the Bible. Adam is your true paterfamilias, with a vote, an M.P., an old Oxford man, consulted at need by his wife, dealing out to her with prudent measure the scientific explanations which she requires. This night, for instance, the poor lady had a bad dream, and Adam, in his trencher-cap, administers this learned psychological draught: 8

• Know, that in the soul
Are many lesser faculties that serve
Reason as chief ; among these Fancy next
Her office holds ; of all external things,
Which the five watchful senses represent,
She forms imaginations, aery shapes
Which Reason, joining or disjoining, frames
All what we affirm or what deny, and call
Our knowledge or opinion. ...

2 Ibid. v. 610-622. 3 It would be impossible that a man so learned, so argumentative, should spend his whole time in gardening and making up nosegays.

i Paradise Lost, book iv. v. 492-502.

Oft in her absence mimic fancy wakes
To imitate her ; but, misjoining shapes,
Wild work produces oft, and most in dreams;

Ill matching words and deeds long past or late.'1 Here was something to send Eve off to sleep again. Her husband, noting the effect, adds like an accredited casuist :

• Yet be not sad :
Evil into the mind of God or man
May come and go, so unapproved ; and leave

No spot or blame behind.'? We recognise the Protestant husband, his wife's confessor. Next day comes an angel on a visit. Adam tells Eve:

Go with speed,
And, what thy stores contain, bring forth, and pour
Abundance, fit to honour and receive
Our heavenly stranger . . . he
Beholding shall confess, that here on earth

God hath dispensed his bounties as in heaven.'3
Mark this becoming zeal of a hospitable lady. She goes in haste:

• What choice to choose for delicacy best ;
What order, so contrived as not to mix
Tastes, not well join'd, inelegant; but bring

Taste after taste upheld with kindliest change.'' She makes sweet wine, perry, creams; scatters flowers and leaves under the table. Good housewife! How many votes will she gain among the country squires, when Adam stands for Parliament! Adam belongs to the Opposition, is a Whig, a Puritan. He

"Walks forth ; without more train
Accompanied than with his own complete
Perfections : in himself was all his state;
More solemn than the tedious pomp that waits
On princes, when their rich retinue long
Of horses led, and grooms besmeared with gold,

Dazzles the crowd.'s The epic is changed into a political poem, and we have heard an epigram against power. The preliminary ceremonies are somewhat long; fortunately, the dishes being uncooked, no fear lest dinner cool. The angel, though ethereal, eats like a Lincolnshire farmer:

Nor seemingly
The angel, nor in mist, the common gloss
Of theologians ; but with keen dispatch
Of real hunger, and concoctive heat
To transubstantiate : what redounds, transpires
Through spirits with ease.'6

[ocr errors]

At table Eve listens to the angel's stories, then discreetly rises at dessert, when they are getting into politics. English ladies may learn by her example to perceive from their lords' faces when they are

entering on studious thoughts abstruse.' The sex does not mount so high. A wise lady prefers her husband's talk to that of strangers. · Her husband the relater she preferred.' Now Adam hears a little treatise on astronomy. He concludes, like a practical Englishman:

But to know
That which before us lies in daily life,
Is the prime wisdom: what is more, is fume,
Or emptiness, or fond impertinence;
And renders us, in things that most concern,

Unpractised, unprepared, and still to seek.'' The angel gone, Eve, dissatisfied with her garden, wishes to have it improved, and proposes to her husband to work in it, she on one side, he on the other. He says, with an approving smile:

'Nothing lovelier can be found In woman, than to study household good,

And good works in her husband to promote.' 3 But he fears for her, and would keep her at his side. She rebels with a little prick of proud vanity, like a young lady who mayn't go out by herself. She has lier way, goes, and eats the apple. Here interminable speeches come down on the reader, as numerous and cold as winter showers. The speeches of Parliament after Pride's Purge were hardly heavier. The serpent seduces Eve by a collection of arguments worthy of the punctilious Chillingworth, and then the syllogistic mist enters her poor brain :

His forbidding
Commends thee more, while it infers the good
By thee communicated, and our want:
For good unknown sure is not had ; or, had
And yet unknown, is as not had at all. ...

Such prohibitions bind not.'3
Eve is from Oxford too, has also learned law in the inns about the
Temple, and wears, like her husband, the doctor's trencher-cap.

The flow of dissertations never pauses; from Paradise it gets into heaven: neither heaven nor earth, nor hell itself, would swamp it.

Of all characters which man could bring upon the scene, God is the finest. The cosmogonies of peoples are sublime poems, and the artists' genius does not attain perfection until it is sustained by such conceptions. The Hindoo sacred poems, the Biblical prophecies, the Edda, the Olympus of Hesiod and Homer, the visions of Dante, are glowing flowers from which a whole civilisation blooms, and every emotion

1 Paradise Lost, book viii. v. 192-197. 3 Ibid. book ix. v. 232. 3 Ibid. v. 753-760.

« ElőzőTovább »