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And courage never to submit or yield,
And what is else not to be overcome,'' are features proper to the English character and to English literature, and you will find them later on in Byron's Lara and Conrad.
Around the fallen angel, as within him, all is great. Dante's hell is but a hall of tortures, whose cells, one below another, descend to the deepest wells. Milton's hell is vast and vague:
"A dungeon horrible on all sides round,
Of ancient pile.' 3
"As when heaven's fire
Stands on the blasted heath.''
In bulk as huge ... as ... that sea-beast
Invests the sea, and wished morn delays.'5. Spenser has discovered images just as fine, but he has not the tragic gravity which the idea of hell impresses on a Protestant. No poetic creation equals in horror and grandeur the spectacle that greeted Satan on leaving his dungeon:
"At last appear
On either side a formidable shape ;
Admired, not fear'd. 1 The heroic glow of the old soldier of the Civil Wars animates the infernal battle; and if one were to ask why Milton creates things greater than other men, I should answer, because he has a greater heart.
Hence the sublimity of his scenery. If I did not fear the paradox, I should say that this scenery was a school of virtue. Spenser is a smooth glass, which fills us with calm images. Shakspeare is a burning mirror, which overpowers us, one after another, with multiplied and dazzling visions. The one distracts, the other disturbs us. Milton raises our mind. The force of the objects which he describes passes into us; we become great by sympathy with their greatness. Such is the effect of his description of the Creation. The calm and creative command of the Messiah leaves its trace in the heart which listens to it, and we feel more vigour and moral health at the sight of this great work of wisdom and will
On heavenly ground they stood ; and from the shoro
i Paradise Lost, book ii. v. 643-678.
To journey through the aery gloom began,
As drops on dust conglobing from the dry.'' This is the primitive scenery; immense bare seas and mountains as Raphael Sanzio outlines them in the background of his biblical paintings. Milton embraces the general effects, and handles the whole as easily as his Jehovah.
Let us quit superhuman and fanciful spectacles. A simple sunset equals them. Milton peoples it with solemn allegories and regal figures, and the sublime is born in the poet, as just before it was born from the subject :
The sun, now fallen ...
And o'er the dark her silver mantle threw.''
• Hail, wedded love, mysterious law, true source
By thee adulterous lust was driven from men
Of father, son, and brother, first were known.'' He justifies it by the example of saints and patriarchs. He immolates before it bought love and court amours,' wanton women and harlots. We are a thousand miles from Shakspeare; and in this Protestant eulogy of the family tie, of lawful love, of domestic sweets,' of orderly piety and of home, we perceive a new literature and an altered time.
A strange great man, and a strange spectacle! He was born with the instinct of noble things; and this instinct, strengthened in him by solitary meditation, by accumulated knowledge, by stern logic, becomes changed into a body of maxims and beliefs which no temptation could dissolve, and no reverse shake. Thus fortified, he passes life as a combatant, as a poet, with courageous deeds and splendid dreams, heroic and rude, chimerical and impassioned, generous and calm, like every self-contained reasoner, like every enthusiast, insensible to experience and enamoured of the beautiful. Thrown by the chance of a revolution into politics and theology, he demands for others the liberty which his powerful reason requires, and strikes at the public fetters which impede his personal energy. By the force of his intellect, he is more capable than any one of accumulating science; by the force of his enthusiasm, he is more capable than any of experiencing hatred. Thus armed, he throws himself into controversy with all the clumsiness and barbarism of the time; but this proud logic displays its arguments with a marvellous breadth, and sustains its images with an unwonted majesty: this lofty imagination, after having spread over his prose an array of magnificent figures, carries him into a torrent of passion even to the height of the sublime or excited ode—a sort of archangel's song of adoration or vengeance. The chance of a throne preserved, then re-established, carries him, before the revolution took place, into pagan and moral poetry, after the revolution into Christian and moral verse. In both he aims at the sublime, and inspires admiration : because the sublime is the work of enthusiastic reason, and admiration is the enthusiasm of reason. In both, he arrives at his point by the accumulation of splendours, by the sustained fulness of poetic song, by the greatness of his allegories, the loftiness of his sentiments, the description of infinite objects and heroic emotions. In the first, a
of a stranger poetic illusion, he produces almost perfect odes and choruses. In the second, an epic writer and a Protestant, enslaved by a strict theology, robbed of the style which makes the supernatural
* Paradise Lost, book iv. v. 750-757.
visible, deprived of the dramatic sensibility which creates varied and living souls, he accumulates cold dissertations, transforms man and God into orthodox and vulgar machines, and only regains his genius in endowing Satan with his republican soul, in multiplying grand sceneries and colossal apparitions, in consecrating his poetry to the praise of religion and duty.
Placed, as it happened, between two ages, he participates in their two characters, as a stream which, flowing between two different soils, is tinged by their two hues. A poet and a Protestant, he receives from the closing age the free poetic afflatus, and from the opening age the severe political religion. He employed the one in the service of the other, and displayed the old inspiration in new subjects. In his works we recognise two Englands : one impassioned for the beautiful, devoted to the emotions of an unshackled sensibility and the fancies of pure imagination, with no law but the natural feelings, and no religion but natural belief; voluntarily pagan, often immoral; such as it is exhibited by Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Shakspeare, Spenser, and the superb harvest of poets which covered the ground for a space of fifty years : the other fortified by a practical religion, void of metaphysical invention, altogether political, with worship and law, attached to measured, sensible, useful, narrow opinions, praising the virtues of the family, armed and stiffened by a rigid morality, driven into prose, raised to the highest degree of power, wealth, and liberty. In this sense, this style and these ideas are monuments of history: they concentrate, recall, or anticipate the past and the future; and in the limits of a single work are found the events and the feelings of several centuries and of a whole nation."