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Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIII by John Lord

Part 4 out of 6

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barracks, and he betters the instruction. He finds two counties groping
to bring coal, or flour, or fish, from the place of production to the
place of consumption, and he hits on a railroad. Every master has found
his materials collected, and his power lay in his sympathy with his
people and in his love of the materials he wrought in. What an economy
of power! and what a compensation for the shortness of life! All is
done to his hand. The world has brought him thus far on his way. The
human race has gone out before him, sunk the hills, filled the hollows,
and bridged the rivers. Men, nations, poets, artisans, women, all have
worked for him, and he enters into their labors. Choose any other thing,
out of the line of tendency, out of the national feeling and history,
and he would have all to do for himself: his powers would be expended in
the first preparations. Great genial power, one would almost say,
consists in not being original at all; in being altogether receptive, in
letting the world do all, and suffering the spirit of the hour to pass
unobstructed through the mind.

Shakspeare's youth fell in a time when the English people were
importunate for dramatic entertainments. The court took offence easily
at political allusions and attempted to suppress them. The Puritans, a
growing and energetic party, and the religious among the Anglican
church, would suppress them. But the people wanted them. Inn-yards,
houses without roofs, and extemporaneous enclosures at country fairs
were the ready theatres of strolling players. The people had tasted this
new joy; and, as we could not hope to suppress newspapers now,--no, not
by the strongest party,--neither then could king, prelate, or puritan,
alone or united, suppress an organ which was ballad, epic, newspaper,
caucus, lecture, Punch and library, at the same time. Probably king,
prelate, and puritan all found their own account in it. It had become,
by all causes, a national interest,--by no means conspicuous, so that
some great scholar would have thought of treating it in an English
history,--but not a whit less considerable because it was cheap and of
no account, like a baker's-shop. The best proof of its vitality is the
crowd of writers which suddenly broke into this field: Kyd, Marlow,
Greene, Jonson, Chapman, Dekker, Webster, Heywood, Middleton, Peele,
Ford, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher.

The secure possession, by the stage, of the public mind, is of the first
importance to the poet who works for it. He loses no time in idle
experiments. Here is audience and expectation prepared. In the case of
Shakspeare there is much more. At the time when he left Stratford and
went up to London, a great body of stage-plays of all dates and writers
existed in manuscript and were in turn produced on the boards. Here is
the Tale of Troy, which the audience will bear hearing some part of,
every week; the Death of Julius Caesar, and other stories out of
Plutarch, which they never tire of; a shelf full of English history,
from the chronicles of Brut and Arthur down to the royal Henries, which
men hear eagerly; and a string of doleful tragedies, merry Italian
tales, and Spanish voyages, which all the London 'prentices know. All
the mass has been treated, with more or less skill, by every playwright,
and the prompter has the soiled and tattered manuscripts. It is now no
longer possible to say who wrote them first. They have been the property
of the Theatre so long, and so many rising geniuses have enlarged or
altered them, inserting a speech or a whole scene, or adding a song,
that no man can any longer claim copyright in this work of numbers.
Happily, no man wishes to. They are not yet desired in that way. We have
few readers, many spectators and hearers. They had best lie where
they are.

Shakspeare, in common with his comrades, esteemed the mass of old plays
waste stock, in which any experiment could be freely tried. Had the
_prestige_ which hedges about a modern tragedy existed, nothing could
have been done. The rude warm blood of the living England circulated in
the play, as in street-ballads, and gave body which he wanted to his
airy and majestic fancy. The poet needs a ground in popular tradition on
which he may work, and which, again, may restrain his art within the due
temperance. It holds him to the people, supplies a foundation for his
edifice, and in furnishing so much work done to his hand, leaves him at
leisure and in full strength for the audacities of his imagination. In
short, the poet owes to his legend what sculpture owed to the temple.
Sculpture in Egypt and in Greece grew up in subordination to
architecture. It was the ornament of the temple wall: at first a rude
relief carved on pediments, then the relief became bolder and a head or
arm was projected from the wall; the groups being still arranged with
reference to the building, which serves also as a frame to hold the
figures; and when at last the greatest freedom of style and treatment
was reached, the prevailing genius of architecture still enforced a
certain calmness and continence in the statue. As soon as the statue was
begun for itself, and with no reference to the temple or palace, the art
began to decline: freak, extravagance, and exhibition took the place of
the old temperance. This balance-wheel, which the sculptor found in
architecture, the perilous irritability of poetic talent found in the
accumulated dramatic materials to which the people were already wonted,
and which had a certain excellence which no single genius, however
extraordinary, could hope to create.

In point of fact it appears that Shakspeare did owe debts in all
directions, and was able to use whatever he found, and the amount of
indebtedness may be inferred from Malone's laborious computations in
regard to the First, Second, and Third parts of Henry VI., in which,
"out of 6,043 lines, 1,771 were written by some author preceding
Shakspeare, 2,373 by him, on the foundations laid by his predecessors,
and 1,899 were entirely his own." And the proceeding investigation
hardly leaves a single drama of his absolute invention. Malone's
sentence is an important piece of external history. In Henry VIII. I
think I see plainly the cropping out of the original rock on which his
own finer stratum was laid. The first play was written by a superior,
thoughtful man, with a vicious ear. I can mark his lines, and know well
their cadence. See Wolsey's soliloquy, and the following scene with
Cromwell, where, instead of the metre of Shakspeare, whose secret is
that the thought constructs the tune, so that reading for the sense will
best bring out the rhythm,--here the lines are constructed on a given
tune, and the verse has even a trace of pulpit eloquence. But the play
contains through all its length unmistakable traits of Shakspeare's
hand, and some passages, as the account of the coronation, are like
autographs. What is odd, the compliment to Queen Elizabeth is in the
bad rhythm.

Shakespeare knew that tradition supplies a better fable than any
invention can. If he lost any credit of design, he augmented his
resources; and, at that day, our petulant demand for originality was not
so much pressed. There was no literature for the million. The universal
reading, the cheap press, were unknown. A great poet who appears in
illiterate times, absorbs into his sphere all the light which is
anywhere radiating. Every intellectual jewel, every flower of sentiment
it is his fine office to bring to his people; and he comes to value his
memory equally with his invention. He is therefore little solicitous
whence his thoughts have been derived; whether through translation,
whether through tradition, whether by travel in distant countries,
whether by inspiration; from whatever source, they are equally welcome
to his uncritical audience. Nay, he borrows very near home. Other men
say wise things as well as he; only they say a good many foolish things,
and do not know when they have spoken wisely. He knows the sparkle of
the true stone, and puts it in high place, wherever he finds it. Such is
the happy position of Homer perhaps; of Chaucer, of Saadi. They felt
that all wit was their wit. And they are librarians and
historiographers, as well as poets. Each romancer was heir and dispenser
of all the hundred tales of the world,--

"Presenting Thebes' and Pelops' line
And the tale of Troy divine."

The influence of Chaucer is conspicuous in all our early literature; and
more recently not only Pope and Dryden have been beholden to him, but,
in the whole society of English writers, a large unacknowledged debt is
easily traced. One is charmed with the opulence which feeds so many
pensioners. But Chaucer is a huge borrower. Chaucer, it seems, drew
continually, through Lydgate and Caxton, from Guido di Colonna, whose
Latin romance of the Trojan war was in turn a compilation from Bares
Phrygius, Ovid and Statius. Then Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the Provencal
poets are his benefactors; the Romaunt of the Rose is only judicious
translation from William of Lorris and John of Meung; Troilus and
Creseide, from Lollius of Urbino; The Cock and the Fox, from the _Lais_
of Marie; The House of Fame, from the French or Italian; and poor Gower
he uses as if he were only a brick-kiln or stone-quarry out of which to
build his house. He steals by this apology,--that what he takes has no
worth where he finds it and the greatest where he leaves it. It has come
to be practically a sort of rule in literature, that a man having once
shown himself capable of original writing, is entitled thenceforth to
steal from the writings of others at discretion. Thought is the property
of him who can entertain it and of him who can adequately place it. A
certain awkwardness marks the use of borrowed thoughts; but as soon as
we have learned what to do with them they become our own.

Thus all originality is relative. Every thinker is retrospective. The
learned member of the legislature, at Westminster or at Washington,
speaks and votes for thousands. Show us the constituency, and the now
invisible channels by which the senator is made aware of their wishes;
the crowd of practical and knowing men, who, by correspondence or
conversation, are feeding him with evidence, anecdotes, and estimates,
and it will bereave his fine attitudes and resistance of something of
their impressiveness. As Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Webster vote, so Locke
and Rousseau think, for thousands; and so there were fountains all
around Homer, Manu, Saadi, or Milton, from which they drew; friends,
lovers, books, traditions, proverbs,--all perished--which, if seen,
would go to reduce the wonder. Did the bard speak with authority? Did he
feel himself overmatched by any companion? The appeal is to the
consciousness of the writer. Is there at last in his breast a Delphi
whereof to ask concerning any thought or thing, whether it be verily so,
yea or nay? and to have answer, and to rely on that? All the debts which
such a man could contract to other wit would never disturb his
consciousness of originality; for the ministrations of books and of
other minds are a whiff of smoke to that most private reality with which
he has conversed.

It is easy to see that what is best written or done by genius in the
world, was no man's work, but came by wide social labor, when a thousand
wrought like one, sharing the same impulse. Our English Bible is a
wonderful specimen of the strength and music of the English language.
But it was not made by one man, or at one time; but centuries and
churches brought it to perfection. There never was a time when there was
not some translation existing. The Liturgy, admired for its energy and
pathos, is an anthology of the piety of ages and nations, a translation
of the prayers and forms of the Catholic church,--these collected, too,
in long periods, from the prayers and meditations of every saint and
sacred writer all over the world. Grotius makes the like remark in
respect to the Lord's Prayer, that the single clauses of which it is
composed were already in use in the time of Christ, in the Rabbinical
forms. He picked out the grains of gold. The nervous language of the
Common Law, the impressive forms of our courts and the precision and
substantial truth of the legal distinctions, are the contribution of all
the sharp-sighted, strong-minded men who have lived in the countries
where these laws govern. The translation of Plutarch gets its excellence
by being translation on translation. There never was a time when there
was none. All the truly idiomatic and national phrases are kept, and all
others successively picked out and thrown away. Something like the same
process had gone on, long before, with the originals of these books. The
world takes liberties with world-books. Vedas, Aesop's Fables, Pilpay,
Arabian Nights, Cid, Iliad, Robin Hood, Scottish Minstrelsy, are not the
work of single men. In the composition of such works the time thinks,
the market thinks, the mason, the carpenter, the merchant, the farmer,
the fop, all think for us. Every book supplies its time with one good
word; every municipal law, every trade, every folly of the day; and the
generic catholic genius who is not afraid or ashamed to owe his
originality to the originality of all, stands with the next age as the
recorder and embodiment of his own.

We have to thank the researches of antiquaries, and the Shakspeare
Society, for ascertaining the steps of the English drama, from the
Mysteries celebrated in churches and by churchmen, and the final
detachment from the church, and the completion of secular plays, from
Ferrex and Porrex, and Gammer Gurton's Needle, down to the possession of
the stage by the very pieces which Shakspeare altered, remodelled, and
finally made his own. Elated with success and piqued by the growing
interest of the problem, they have left no bookstall unsearched, no
chest in a garret unopened, no file of old yellow accounts to decompose
in damp and worms, so keen was the hope to discover whether the boy
Shakspeare poached or not, whether he held horses at the theatre door,
whether he kept school, and why he left in his will only his second-best
bed to Anne Hathaway, his wife.

There is something touching in the madness with which the passing age
mischooses the object on which all candles shine and all eyes are
turned; the care with which it registers every trifle touching Queen
Elizabeth and King James, and the Essexes, Leicesters, Burleighs, and
Buckinghams; and lets pass without a single valuable note the founder of
another dynasty, which alone will cause the Tudor dynasty to be
remembered,--the man who carries the Saxon race in him by the
inspiration which feeds him, and on whose thoughts the foremost people
of the world are now for some ages to be nourished, and minds to receive
this and not another bias. A popular player;--nobody suspected he was
the poet of the human race; and the secret was kept as faithfully from
poets and intellectual men as from courtiers and frivolous people.
Bacon, who took the inventory of the human understanding for his times,
never mentioned his name. Ben Jonson, though we have strained his few
words of regard and panegyric, had no suspicion of the elastic fame
whose first vibrations he was attempting. He no doubt thought the praise
he has conceded to him generous, and esteemed himself, out of all
question, the better poet of the two.

If it need wit to know wit, according to the proverb, Shakspeare's time
should be capable of recognizing it. Sir Henry Wotton was born four
years after Shakspeare, and died twenty-three years after him; and I
find, among his correspondents and acquaintances, the following persons:
Theodore Beza, Isaac Casaubon, Sir Philip Sidney, the Earl of Essex,
Lord Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Milton, Sir Henry Vane, Isaac
Walton, Dr. Donne, Abraham Cowley, Bellarmine, Charles Cotton, John
Pym, John Hales, Kepler, Vieta, Albericus Gentilis, Paul Sarpi,
Arminius; with all of whom exists some token of his having communicated,
without enumerating many others whom doubtless he saw,--Shakspeare,
Spenser, Jonson, Beaumont, Massinger, the two Herberts, Marlow, Chapman
and the rest. Since the constellation of great men who appeared in
Greece in the time of Pericles, there was never any such society;--yet
their genius failed them to find out the best head in the universe. Our
poet's mask was impenetrable. You cannot see the mountain near. It took
a century to make it suspected; and not until two centuries had passed,
after his death, did any criticism which we think adequate begin to
appear. It was not possible to write the history of Shakspeare till now;
for he is the father of German literature: it was with the introduction
of Shakspeare into German, by Lessing, and the translation of his works
by Wieland and Schlegel, that the rapid burst of German literature was
most intimately connected. It was not until the nineteenth century,
whose speculative genius is a sort of living Hamlet, that the tragedy of
Hamlet could find such wondering readers. Now, literature, philosophy,
and thought, are Shakspearized. His mind is the horizon beyond which, at
present, we do not see. Our ears are educated to music by his rhythm.
Coleridge and Goethe are the only critics who have expressed our
convictions with any adequate fidelity: but there is in all cultivated
minds a silent appreciation of his superlative power and beauty, which,
like Christianity, qualifies the period.

The Shakspeare Society have inquired in all directions, advertised the
missing facts, offered money for any information that will lead to
proof,--and with what result? Beside some important illustration of the
history of the English stage, to which I have adverted, they have
gleaned a few facts touching the property, and dealings in regard to
property, of the poet. It appears that from year to year he owned a
larger share in the Blackfriars' Theatre: its wardrobe and other
appurtenances were his: that he bought an estate in his native village
with his earnings as writer and shareholder; that he lived in the best
house in Stratford; was intrusted by his neighbors with their
commissions in London, as of borrowing money, and the like; that he was
a veritable farmer. About the time when he was writing Macbeth, he sues
Philip Rogers, in the Borough-court of Stratford, for thirty-five
shillings, ten pence, for corn delivered to him at different times; and
in all respects appears as a good husband, with no reputation for
eccentricity or excess. He was a good-natured sort of man, an actor and
shareholder in the theatre, not in any striking manner distinguished
from other actors and managers. I admit the importance of this
information. It was well worth the pains that have been taken to
procure it.

But whatever scraps of information concerning his condition these
researches may have rescued, they can shed no light upon that infinite
invention which is the concealed magnet of his attraction for us. We are
very clumsy writers of history. We tell the chronicle of parentage,
birth, birthplace, schooling, schoolmates, earning of money, marriage,
publication of books, celebrity, death; and when we have come to an end
of this gossip no ray of relation appears between it and the
goddess-born; and it seems as if, had we dipped at random into the
"Modern Plutarch," and read any other life there, it would have fitted
the poems as well. It is the essence of poetry to spring, like the
rainbow daughter of Wonder, from the invisible, to abolish the past and
refuse all history. Malone, Warburton, Dyce, and Collier, have wasted
their oil. The famed theatres, Covent Garden, Drury Lane, the Park, and
Tremont have vainly assisted. Betterton, Garrick, Kemble, Kean, and
Macready dedicate their lives to this genius; him they crown, elucidate,
obey, and express. The genius knows them not. The recitation begins; one
golden word leaps out immortal from all this painted pedantry and
sweetly torments us with invitations to its own inaccessible homes. I
remember I went once to see the Hamlet of a famed performer, the pride
of the English stage; and all I then heard and all I now remember of the
tragedian was that in which the tragedian had no part; simply Hamlet's
question to the ghost:--

"What may this mean,
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon?"

That imagination which dilates the closet he writes in to the world's
dimension, crowds it with agents in rank and order, as quickly reduces
the big reality to be the glimpses of the moon. These tricks of his
magic spoil for us the illusions of the green-room. Can any biography
shed light on the localities into which the Midsummer Night's Dream
admits me? Did Shakspeare confide to any notary or parish recorder,
sacristan, or surrogate in Stratford, the genesis of that delicate
creation? The forest of Arden, the nimble air of Scone Castle, the
moonlight of Portia's villa, "the antres vast and desarts idle" of
Othello's captivity,--where is the third cousin, or grand-nephew, the
chancellor's file of accounts, or private letter, that has kept one word
of those transcendent secrets? In fine, in this drama, as in all great
works of art,--in the Cyclopaean architecture of Egypt and India, in the
Phidian sculpture, the Gothic minsters, the Italian painting, the
Ballads of Spain and Scotland,--the Genius draws up the ladder after
him, when the creative age goes up to heaven, and gives way to a new
age, which sees the works and asks in vain for a history.

Shakspeare is the only biographer of Shakspeare; and even he can tell
nothing, except to the Shakspeare in us,--that is, to our most
apprehensive and sympathetic hour. He cannot step from off his tripod
and give us anecdotes of his inspirations. Read the antique documents
extricated, analysed and compared by the assiduous Dyce and Collier; and
now read one of these skyey sentences,--aerolites,--which seem to have
fallen out of heaven, and which not your experience but the man within
the breast has accepted as words of fate, and tell me if they match--if
the former account in any manner for the latter; or which gives the most
historical insight into the man.

Hence, though our external history is so meagre, yet, with Shakspeare
for biographer, instead of Aubrey and Rowe, we have really the
information which is material; that which describes character and
fortune; that which, if we were about to meet the man and deal with him,
would most import us to know. We have his recorded convictions on those
questions which knock for answer at every heart,--on life and death, on
love, on wealth and poverty, on the prizes of life and the ways whereby
we come at them; on the characters of men, and the influences, occult
and open, which affect their fortunes; and on those mysterious and
demoniacal powers which defy our science and which yet interweave their
malice and their gift in our brightest hours. Who ever read the volume
of the Sonnets without finding that the poet had there revealed, under
masks that are no masks to the intelligent, the lore of friendship and
of love; the confusion of sentiments in the most susceptible, and, at
the same time, the most intellectual of men? What trait of his private
mind has he hidden in his dramas? One can discern, in his ample pictures
of the gentleman and the king, what forms and humanities pleased him;
his delight in troops of friends, in large hospitality, in cheerful
giving. Let Timon, let Warwick, let Antonio the merchant answer for his
great heart. So far from Shakspeare's being the least known, he is the
one person, in all modern history, known to us. What point of morals, of
manners, of economy, of philosophy, of religion, of taste, of the
conduct of life, has he not settled? What mystery has he not signified
his knowledge of? What office, or function, or district of man's work
has he not remembered? What king has he not taught state, as Talma
taught Napoleon? What maiden has not found him finer than her delicacy?
What lover has he not outloved? What sage has he not outseen? What
gentleman has he not instructed in the rudeness of his behavior?

Some able and appreciating critics think no criticism on Shakspeare
valuable that does not rest purely on the dramatic merit; that he is
falsely judged as poet and philosopher. I think as highly as these
critics of his dramatic merit, but still think it secondary. He was a
full man, who liked to talk; a brain exhaling thoughts and images,
which, seeking vent, found the drama next at hand. Had he been less, we
should have had to consider how well he filled his place, how good a
dramatist he was,--and he is the best in the world. But it turns out
that what he has to say is of that weight as to withdraw some attention
from the vehicle; and he is like some saint whose history is to be
rendered into all languages, into verse and prose, into songs and
pictures, and cut up into proverbs; so that the occasion which gave the
saint's meaning the form of a conversation, or of a prayer, or of a code
of laws, is immaterial compared with the universality of its
application. So it fares with the wise Shakspeare and his book of life.
He wrote the airs for all our modern music; he wrote the text of modern
life; the text of manners; he drew the man of England and Europe, the
father of the man in America; he drew the man, and described the day,
and what is done in it; he read the hearts of men and women, their
probity, and their second thought and wiles; the wiles of innocence, and
the transitions by which virtues and vices slide into their contraries;
he could divide the mother's part from the father's part in the face of
the child, or draw the fine demarcations of freedom and of fate; he
knew the laws of repression which make the police of nature; and all the
sweets and all the terrors of human lot lay in his mind as truly but as
softly as the landscape lies on the eye. And the importance of this
wisdom of life sinks the form, as of Drama or Epic, out of notice. 'T is
like making a question concerning the paper on which a king's message
is written.

Shakspeare is as much out of the category of eminent authors, as he is
out of the crowd. He is inconceivably wise; the others, conceivably. A
good reader can, in a sort, nestle into Plato's brain and think from
thence; but not into Shakspeare's. We are still out of doors. For
executive faculty, for creation, Shakspeare is unique. No man can
imagine it better. He was the farthest reach of subtlety compatible with
an individual self,--the subtilest of authors, and only just within the
possibility of authorship. With this wisdom of life is the equal
endowment of imaginative and of lyric power. He clothed the creatures of
his legend with form and sentiments as if they were people who had lived
under his roof; and few real men have left such distinct characters as
these fictions. And they spoke in language as sweet as it was fit. Yet
his talents never seduced him into an ostentation, nor did he harp on
one string. An omnipresent humanity co-ordinates all his faculties. Give
a man of talents a story to tell, and his partiality will presently
appear. He has certain observations, opinions, topics, which have some
accidental prominence, and which he disposes all to exhibit. He crams
this part and starves that other part, consulting not the fitness of the
thing, but his fitness and strength. But Shakspeare has no peculiarity,
no importunate topic; but all is duly given; no veins, no curiosities;
no cow-painter, no bird-fancier, no mannerist is he; he has no
discoverable egotism: the great he tells greatly; the small,
subordinately. He is wise without emphasis or assertion; he is strong,
as nature is strong, who lifts the land into mountain slopes without
effort and by the same rule as she floats a bubble in the air, and likes
as well to do the one as the other. This makes that equality of power in
farce, tragedy, narrative, and love-songs; a merit so incessant that
each reader is incredulous of the perception of other readers.

This power of expression, or of transferring the inmost truth of things
into music and verse, makes him the type of the poet and has added a new
problem to metaphysics. This is that which throws him into natural
history, as a main production of the globe, and as announcing new eras
and ameliorations. Things were mirrored in his poetry without loss or
blur: he could paint the fine with precision, the great with compass,
the tragic and the comic indifferently and without any distortion or
favor. He carried his powerful execution into minute details, to a hair
point, finishes an eyelash or a dimple as firmly as he draws a mountain;
and yet these, like nature's, will bear the scrutiny of the solar

In short, he is the chief example to prove that more or less of
production, more or fewer pictures, is a thing indifferent. He had the
power to make one picture. Daguerre learned how to let one flower etch
its image on his plate of iodine, and then proceeds at leisure to etch a
million. There are always objects; but there was never representation.
Here is perfect representation, at last; and now let the world of
figures sit for their portraits. No recipe can be given for the making
of a Shakspeare; but the possibility of the translation of things into
song is demonstrated.

His lyric power lies in the genius of the piece. The sonnets, though
their excellence is lost in the splendor of the dramas, are as
inimitable as they; and it is not a merit of lines, but a total merit of
the piece; like the tone of voice of some incomparable person, so is
this a speech of poetic beings, and any clause as unproducible now as a
whole poem.

Though the speeches in the plays, and single lines, have a beauty which
tempts the ear to pause on them for their euphuism, yet the sentence is
so loaded with meaning and so linked with its foregoers and followers,
that the logician is satisfied. His means are as admirable as his ends;
every subordinate invention, by which he helps himself to connect some
irreconcilable opposites, is a poem too. He is not reduced to dismount
and walk because his horses are running off with him in some distant
direction: he always rides.

The finest poetry was first experience; but the thought has suffered a
transformation since it was an experience. Cultivated men often attain a
good degree of skill in writing verses; but it is easy to read, through
their poems, their personal history: any one acquainted with the parties
can name every figure; this is Andrew and that is Rachel. The sense thus
remains prosaic. It is a caterpillar with wings, and not yet a
butterfly. In the poet's mind the fact has gone quite over into the new
element of thought, and has lost all that is exuvial. This generosity
abides with Shakspeare. We say, from the truth and closeness of his
pictures, that he knows the lesson by heart. Yet there is not a trace
of egotism.

One more royal trait properly belongs to the poet. I mean his
cheerfulness, without which no man can be a poet,--for beauty is his
aim. He loves virtue, not for its obligation but for its grace: he
delights in the world, in man, in woman, for the lovely light that
sparkles from them. Beauty, the spirit of joy and hilarity, he sheds
over the universe. Epicurus relates that poetry hath such charms that a
lover might forsake his mistress to partake of them. And the true bards
have been noted for their firm and cheerful temper. Homer lies in
sunshine; Chaucer is glad and erect; and Saadi says, "It was rumored
abroad that I was penitent; but what had I to do with repentance?" Not
less sovereign and cheerful,--much more sovereign and cheerful, is the
tone of Shakspeare. His name suggests joy and emancipation to the heart
of men. If he should appear in any company of human souls, who would not
march in his troop? He touches nothing that does not borrow health and
longevity from his festal style.

And now, how stands the account of man with this bard and benefactor,
when, in solitude, shutting our ears to the reverberations of his fame,
we seek to strike the balance? Solitude has austere lessons; it can
teach us to spare both heroes and poets; and it weighs Shakspeare also,
and finds him to share the halfness and imperfection of humanity.

Shakspeare, Homer, Dante, Chaucer, saw the splendor of meaning that
plays over the visible world; knew that a tree had another use than for
apples, and corn another than for meal, and the ball of the earth, than
for tillage and roads: that these things bore a second and finer harvest
to the mind, being emblems of its thoughts, and conveying in all their
natural history a certain mute commentary on human life. Shakspeare
employed them as colors to compose his picture. He rested in their
beauty; and never took the step which seemed inevitable to such genius,
namely, to explore the virtue which resides in these symbols and imparts
this power:--what is that which they themselves say? He converted the
elements which waited on his command, into entertainments. He was master
of the revels to mankind. Is it not as if one should have, through
majestic powers of science, the comets given into his hand, or the
planets and their moons, and should draw them from their orbits to glare
with the municipal fireworks on a holiday night, and advertise in all
towns, "Very superior pyrotechny this evening"? Are the agents of
nature, and the power to understand them, worth no more than a street
serenade, or the breath of a cigar? One remembers again the trumpet-text
in the Koran,--"The heavens and the earth and all that is between them,
think ye we have created them in jest?" As long as the question is of
talent and mental power, the world of men has not his equal to show. But
when the question is, to life and its materials and its auxiliaries, how
does it profit me? What does it signify? It is but a Twelfth Night, or
Midsummer Night's Dream, or Winter Evening's Tale: what signifies
another picture more or less? The Egyptian verdict of the Shakspeare
Societies comes to mind; that he was a jovial actor and manager. I
cannot marry this fact to his verse. Other admirable men have led lives
in some sort of keeping with their thought; but this man, in wide
contrast. Had he been less, had he reached only the common measure of
great authors, of Bacon, Milton, Tasso, Cervantes, we might leave the
fact in the twilight of human fate: but that this man of men, he who
gave to the science of mind a new and larger subject than had ever
existed, and planted the standard of humanity some furlongs forward into
Chaos,--that he should not be wise for himself;--it must even go into
the world's history that the best poet led an obscure and profane life,
using his genius for the public amusement.

Well, other men, priest and prophet, Israelite, German and Swede, beheld
the same objects: they also saw through them that which was contained.
And to what purpose? The beauty straightway vanished; they read
commandments, all-excluding mountainous duty; an obligation, a sadness,
as of piled mountains, fell on them, and life became ghastly, joyless, a
pilgrim's progress, a probation, beleaguered round with doleful
histories of Adam's fall and curse behind us; with doomsdays and
purgatorial and penal fires before us; and the heart of the seer and the
heart of the listener sank in them.

It must be conceded that these are half-views of half-men. The world
still wants its poet-priest, a reconciler, who shall not trifle, with
Shakspeare the player, nor shall grope in graves, with Swedenborg the
mourner; but who shall see, speak, and act, with equal inspiration. For
knowledge will brighten the sunshine; right is more beautiful than
private affection; and love is compatible with universal wisdom.




Toward the close of the year 1823, Mr. Lemon, deputy keeper of the
state-papers, in the course of his researches among the presses of his
office, met with a large Latin manuscript. With it were found corrected
copies of the foreign despatches written by Milton while he filled the
office of secretary, and several papers relating to the Popish Trials
and the Rye-house Plot. The whole was wrapped up in an envelope,
subscribed _To Mr. Skinner, Merchant_. On examination, the large
manuscript proved to be the long lost essay on the doctrines of
Christianity, which, according to Wood and Toland, Milton finished after
the Restoration, and deposited with Cyriac Skinner. Skinner, it is well
known, held the same political opinions with his illustrious friend. It
is therefore probable, as Mr. Lemon conjectures, that he may have fallen
under the suspicions of the Government during that persecution of the
Whigs which followed the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, and that,
in consequence of a general seizure of his papers, this work may have
been brought to the office in which it has been found. But whatever the
adventures of the manuscript may have been, no doubt can exist that it
is a genuine relic of the great poet....

[Footnote 4: _Joannis Miltoni, Angli, de Doctrina Christiana libri duo
posthumi_. A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, compiled from the Holy
Scriptures alone. By JOHN MILTON, translated from the Original by
Charles R. Sumner, M.A., etc., etc.: 1825. From the _Edinburgh Review_,
August, 1825; slightly abridged.]

The book itself will not add much to the fame of Milton.... Were it far
more orthodox or far more heretical than it is, it would not much edify
or corrupt the present generation. The men of our time are not to be
converted or perverted by quartos. A few more days, and this essay will
follow the _Defensio Populi_ to the dust and silence of the upper shelf.
The name of its author, and the remarkable circumstances attending its
publication, will secure to it a certain degree of attention. For a
month or two it will occupy a few minutes of chat in every drawing-room,
and a few columns in every magazine; and it will then, to borrow the
elegant language of the play-bills, be withdrawn, to make room for the
forthcoming novelties.

We wish, however, to avail ourselves of the interest, transient as it
may be, which this work has excited. The dexterous Capuchins never
choose to preach on the life and miracles of a saint till they have
awakened the devotional feelings of their auditors by exhibiting some
relic of him--a thread of his garment, a lock of his hair, or a drop of
his blood. On the same principle, we intend to take advantage of the
late interesting discovery, and, while this memorial of a great and good
man is still in the hands of all, to say something of his moral and
intellectual qualities. Nor, we are convinced, will the severest of our
readers blame us if, on an occasion like the present, we turn for a
short time from the topics of the day to commemorate, in all love and
reverence, the genius and virtues of John Milton, the poet, the
statesman, the philosopher, the glory of English literature, the
champion and the martyr of English liberty.

It is by his poetry that Milton is best known; and it is of his poetry
that we wish first to speak. By the general suffrage of the civilized
world, his place has been assigned among the greatest masters of the
art. His detractors, however, though outvoted, have not been silenced.
There are many critics, and some of great name, who contrive in the same
breath to extol the poems and to decry the poet. The works, they
acknowledge, considered in themselves, may be classed among the noblest
productions of the human mind. But they will not allow the author to
rank with those great men who, born in the infancy of civilization,
supplied, by their own powers, the want of instruction, and, though
destitute of models themselves, bequeathed to posterity models which
defy imitation. Milton, it is said, inherited what his predecessors
created; he lived in an enlightened age; he received a finished
education; and we must therefore, if we would form a just estimate of
his powers, make large deductions in consideration of these advantages.

We venture to say, on the contrary, paradoxical as the remark may
appear, that no poet has ever had to struggle with more unfavorable
circumstances than Milton. He doubted, as he has himself owned, whether
he had not been born "an age too late." For this notion Johnson has
thought fit to make him the butt of much clumsy ridicule. The poet, we
believe, understood the nature of his art better than the critic. He
knew that his poetical genius derived no advantage from the civilization
which surrounded him, or from the learning which he had acquired; and he
looked back with something like regret to the ruder age of simple words
and vivid impressions.

We think that, as civilization advances, poetry almost necessarily
declines. Therefore, though we fervently admire those great works of
imagination which have appeared in dark ages, we do not admire them the
more because they have appeared in dark ages. On the contrary, we hold
that the most wonderful and splendid proof of genius is a great poem
produced in a civilized age. We cannot understand why those who believe
in that most orthodox article of literary faith, that the earliest
poets are generally the best, should wonder at the rule as if it were
the exception. Surely the uniformity of the phenomenon indicates a
corresponding uniformity in the cause.

The fact is, that common observers reason from the progress of the
experimental sciences to that of the imitative arts. The improvement of
the former is gradual and slow. Ages are spent in collecting materials,
ages more in separating and combining them. Even when a system has been
formed, there is still something to add, to alter, or to reject. Every
generation enjoys the use of a vast hoard bequeathed to it by antiquity,
and transmits that hoard, augmented by fresh acquisitions, to future
ages. In these pursuits, therefore, the first speculators lie under
great disadvantages, and, even when they fail, are entitled to praise.
Their pupils, with far inferior intellectual powers, speedily surpass
them in actual attainments. Every girl who has read Mrs. Marcet's little
dialogues on political economy could teach Montague or Walpole many
lessons in finance. Any intelligent man may now, by resolutely applying
himself for a few years to mathematics, learn more than the great Newton
knew after half a century of study and meditation.

But it is not thus with music, with painting, or with sculpture. Still
less is it thus with poetry. The progress of refinement rarely supplies
these arts with better objects of imitation. It may indeed improve the
instruments which are necessary to the mechanical operations of the
musician, the sculptor, and the painter. But language, the machine of
the poet, is best fitted for his purpose in its rudest state. Nations,
like individuals, first perceive, and then abstract. They advance from
particular images to general terms. Hence the vocabulary of an
enlightened society is philosophical, that of a half-civilized people
is poetical.

This change in the language of men is partly the cause and partly the
effect of a corresponding change in the nature of their intellectual
operations, of a change by which science gains and poetry loses.
Generalization is necessary to the advancement of knowledge; but
particularity is indispensable to the creations of the imagination. In
proportion as men know more and think more, they look less at
individuals and more at classes. They therefore make better theories and
worse poems. They give us vague phrases instead of images, and
personified qualities instead of men. They may be better able to analyze
human nature than their predecessors. But analysis is not the business
of the poet. His office is to portray, not to dissect. He may believe in
a moral sense, like Shaftesbury; he may refer all human actions to
self-interest, like Helvetius; or he may never think about the matter at
all. His creed on such subjects will no more influence his poetry,
properly so called, than the notions which a painter may have conceived
respecting the lachrymal glands, or the circulation of the blood, will
affect the tears of his Niobe, or the blushes of his Aurora. If
Shakespeare had written a book on the motives of human actions, it is by
no means certain that it would have been a good one. It is extremely
improbable that it would have contained half so much able reasoning on
the subject as is to be found in the Fable of the Bees. But could
Mandeville have created an Iago? Well as he knew how to resolve
characters into their elements, would he have been able to combine those
elements in such a manner as to make up a man--a real, living,
individual man?

Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a
certain unsoundness of mind, if anything which gives so much pleasure
ought to be called unsoundness. By poetry we mean not all writing in
verse, nor even all good writing in verse. Our definition excludes many
metrical compositions which, on other grounds, deserve the highest
praise. By poetry we mean the art of employing words in such a manner as
to produce an illusion on the imagination, the art of doing by means of
words what the painter does by means of colors. Thus the greatest of
poets has described it, in lines universally admired for the vigor and
felicity of their diction, and still more valuable on account of the
just notion which they convey of the art in which he excelled:--

"As imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."

These are the fruits of the "fine frenzy" which he ascribes to the
poet--a fine frenzy, doubtless, but still a frenzy. Truth, indeed, is
essential to poetry; but it is the truth of madness. The reasonings are
just; but the premises are false. After the first suppositions have been
made, everything ought to be consistent; but those first suppositions
require a degree of credulity which almost amounts to a partial and
temporary derangement of the intellect. Hence of all people children are
the most imaginative. They abandon themselves without reserve to every
illusion. Every image which is strongly presented to their mental eye
produces on them the effect of reality. No man, whatever his sensibility
may be, is ever affected by Hamlet or Lear as a little girl is affected
by the story of poor Red Riding-hood. She knows that it is all false,
that wolves cannot speak, that there are no wolves in England. Yet, in
spite of her knowledge, she believes; she weeps; she trembles; she dares
not go into a dark room lest she should feel the teeth of the monster
at her throat. Such is the despotism of the imagination over
uncultivated minds.

In a rude state of society, men are children with a greater variety of
ideas. It is therefore in such a state of society that we may expect to
find the poetical temperament in its highest perfection. In an
enlightened age there will be much intelligence, much science, much
philosophy, abundance of just classification and subtle analysis,
abundance of wit and eloquence, abundance of verses, and even of good
ones; but little poetry. Men will judge and compare; but they will not
create. They will talk about the old poets, and comment on them, and to
a certain degree enjoy them. But they will scarcely be able to conceive
the effect which poetry produced on their ruder ancestors, the agony,
the ecstasy, the plenitude of belief. The Greek rhapsodists, according
to Plato, could scarce recite Homer without falling into convulsions.
The Mohawk hardly feels the scalping-knife while he shouts his
death-song. The power which the ancient bards of Wales and Germany
exercised over their auditors seems to modern readers almost miraculous.
Such feelings are very rare in a civilized community, and most rare
among those who participate most in its improvements. They linger
longest among the peasantry.

Poetry produces an illusion on the eye of the mind, as a magic lantern
produces an illusion on the eye of the body. And, as the magic lantern
acts best in a dark room, poetry effects its purpose most completely in
a dark age. As the light of knowledge breaks in upon its exhibitions, as
the outlines of certainty become more and more definite, and the shades
of probability more and more distinct, the hues and lineaments of the
phantoms which the poet calls up grow fainter and fainter. We cannot
unite the incompatible advantages of reality and deception, the clear
discernment of truth and the exquisite enjoyment of fiction.

He who, in an enlightened and literary society, aspires to be a great
poet, must first become a little child. He must take to pieces the whole
web of his mind. He must unlearn much of that knowledge which has,
perhaps, constituted hitherto his chief title to superiority. His very
talents will be a hinderance to him. His difficulties will be
proportioned to his proficiency in the pursuits which are fashionable
among his contemporaries; and that proficiency will in general be
proportioned to the vigor and activity of his mind. And it is well if,
after all his sacrifices and exertions, his works do not resemble a
lisping man or a modern ruin. We have seen in our own time great
talents, intense labor, and long meditation employed in this struggle
against the spirit of the age, and employed, we will not say absolutely
in vain, but with dubious success and feeble applause.

If these reasonings be just, no poet has ever triumphed over greater
difficulties than Milton. He received a learned education: he was a
profound and elegant classical scholar: he had studied all the mysteries
of rabbinical literature: he was intimately acquainted with every
language in modern Europe from which either pleasure or information was
then to be derived. He was perhaps the only poet of later times who has
been distinguished by the excellence of his Latin verse. The genius of
Petrarch was scarcely of the first order; and his poems in the ancient
language, though much praised by those who have never read them, are
wretched compositions. Cowley, with all his admirable wit and ingenuity,
had little imagination: nor, indeed, do we think his classical diction
comparable to that of Milton. The authority of Johnson is against us on
this point. But Johnson had studied the bad writers of the Middle Ages
till he had become utterly insensible to the Augustan elegance, and was
as ill-qualified to judge between two Latin styles as an habitual
drunkard to set up for a wine-taster.

Versification in a dead language is an exotic, a far-fetched, costly,
sickly imitation of that which elsewhere may be found in healthful and
spontaneous perfection. The soils on which this rarity flourishes are in
general as ill-suited to the production of vigorous native poetry as the
flower-pots of a hot-house to the growth of oaks. That the author of
the Paradise Lost should have written the epistle to Manso was truly
wonderful. Never before were such marked originality and such exquisite
mimicry found together. Indeed, in all the Latin poems of Milton the
artificial manner indispensable to such works is admirably preserved,
while, at the same time, his genius gives to them a peculiar charm, an
air of nobleness and freedom, which distinguishes them from all other
writings of the same class. They remind us of the amusements of those
angelic warriors who composed the cohort of Gabriel:--

"About him exercised heroic games
The unarmed youth of heaven. But o'er their heads
Celestial armory, shield, helm, and spear,
Hung high, with diamond flaming and with gold."

We cannot look upon the sportive exercises for which the genius of
Milton ungirds itself without catching a glimpse of the gorgeous and
terrible panoply which it is accustomed to wear. The strength of his
imagination triumphed over every obstacle. So intense and ardent was the
fire of his mind, that it not only was not suffocated beneath the weight
of fuel, but penetrated the whole superincumbent mass with its own heat
and radiance.

It is not our intention to attempt anything like a complete examination
of the poetry of Milton. The public has long been agreed as to the
merit of the most remarkable passages, the incomparable harmony of the
numbers, and the excellence of that style which no rival has been able
to equal and no parodist to degrade; which displays in their highest
perfection the idiomatic powers of the English tongue, and to which
every ancient and every modern language has contributed something of
grace, of energy, or of music. In the vast field of criticism on which
we are entering, innumerable reapers have already put their sickles. Yet
the harvest is so abundant that the negligent search of a straggling
gleaner may be rewarded with a sheaf.

The most striking characteristic of the poetry of Milton is the extreme
remoteness of the associations by means of which it acts on the reader.
Its effect is produced, not so much by what it expresses, as by what it
suggests; not so much by the ideas which it directly conveys, as by
other ideas which are connected with them. He electrifies the mind
through conductors. The most unimaginative man must understand the
Iliad. Homer gives him no choice, and requires from him no exertion, but
takes the whole upon himself, and sets the images in so clear a light
that it is impossible to be blind to them. The works of Milton cannot be
comprehended or enjoyed unless the mind of the reader co-operate with
that of the writer. He does not paint a finished picture, or play for a
mere passive listener. He sketches, and leaves others to fill up the
outline. He strikes the key-note, and expects his hearer to make out
the melody.

We often hear of the magical influence of poetry. The expression in
general means nothing; but, applied to the writings of Milton, it is
most appropriate. His poetry acts like an incantation. Its merit lies
less in its obvious meaning than in its occult power. There would seem,
at first sight, to be no more in his words than in other words. But they
are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced, than the past
is present and the distant near. New forms of beauty start at once into
existence, and all the burial-places of the memory give up their dead.
Change the structure of the sentence; substitute one synonyme for
another, and the whole effect is destroyed. The spell loses its power;
and he who should then hope to conjure with it would find himself as
much mistaken as Cassim in the Arabian tale, when he stood crying "Open
Wheat," "Open Barley," to the door that obeyed no sound but "Open
Sesame." The miserable failure of Dryden in his attempt to translate
into his own diction some parts of the Paradise Lost is a remarkable
instance of this.

In support of these observations, we may remark that scarcely any
passages in the poems of Milton are more generally known or more
frequently repeated than those which are little more than muster-rolls
of names. They are not always more appropriate or more melodious than
other names. But they are charmed names. Every one of them is the first
link in a long chain of associated ideas. Like the dwelling-place of our
infancy revisited in manhood, like the song of our country heard in a
strange land, they produce upon us an effect wholly independent of their
intrinsic value. One transports us back to a remote period of history.
Another places us among the novel scenes and manners of a distant
region. A third evokes all the dear classical recollections of
childhood, the school-room, the dog-eared Virgil, the holiday, and the
prize. A fourth brings before us the splendid phantoms of chivalrous
romance, the trophied lists, the embroidered housings, the quaint
devices, the haunted forests, the enchanted gardens, the achievements of
enamoured knights, and the smiles of rescued princesses.

In none of the works of Milton is his peculiar manner more happily
displayed than in the Allegro and the Penseroso. It is impossible to
conceive that the mechanism of language can be brought to a more
exquisite degree of perfection. These poems differ from others as ottar
of roses differs from ordinary rose-water, the close-packed essence from
the thin, diluted mixture. They are, indeed, not so much poems as
collections of hints, from each of which the reader is to make out a
poem for himself. Every epithet is a text for a stanza.

The Comus and the Samson Agonistes are works which, though of very
different merit, offer some marked points of resemblance. Both are lyric
poems in the form of plays. There are perhaps no two kinds of
composition so essentially dissimilar as the drama and the ode. The
business of the dramatist is to keep himself out of sight, and to let
nothing appear but his characters. As soon as he attracts notice to his
personal feelings, the illusion is broken. The effect is as unpleasant
as that which is produced on the stage by the voice of a prompter or the
entrance of a scene-shifter. Hence it was that the tragedies of Byron
were his least successful performances. They resemble those pasteboard
pictures invented by the friend of children, Mr. Newbery, in which a
single movable head goes round twenty different bodies, so that the same
face looks out upon us successively, from the uniform of a hussar, the
furs of a judge, and the rags of a beggar. In all the characters,
patriots and tyrants, haters and lovers, the frown and sneer of Harold
were discernible in an instant. But this species of egotism, though
fatal to the drama, is the inspiration of the ode. It is the part of the
lyric poet to abandon himself, without reserve, to his own emotions.

Between these hostile elements many great men have endeavored to effect
an amalgamation, but never with complete success. The Greek drama, on
the model of which the Samson was written, sprang from the ode. The
dialogue was ingrafted on the chorus, and naturally partook of its
character. The genius of the greatest of the Athenian dramatists
co-operated with the circumstances under which tragedy made its first
appearance. Aeschylus was, head and heart, a lyric poet. In his time,
the Greeks had far more intercourse with the East than in the days of
Homer; and they had not yet acquired that immense superiority in war, in
science, and in the arts, which, in the following generation, led them
to treat the Asiatics with contempt. From the narrative of Herodotus it
should seem that they still looked up, with the veneration of disciples,
to Egypt and Assyria. At this period, accordingly, it was natural that
the literature of Greece should be tinctured with the Oriental style.
And that style, we think, is discernible in the works of Pindar and
Aeschylus. The latter often reminds us of the Hebrew writers. The Book
of Job, indeed, in conduct and diction, bears a considerable resemblance
to some of his dramas. Considered as plays, his works are absurd;
considered as choruses they are above all praise. If, for instance, we
examine the address of Clytemnestra to Agamemnon on his return, or the
description of the seven Argive chiefs, by the principles of dramatic
writing, we shall instantly condemn them as monstrous. But if we forget
the characters, and think only of the poetry, we shall admit that it
has never been surpassed in energy and magnificence. Sophocles made the
Greek drama as dramatic as was consistent with its original form. His
portraits of men have a sort of similarity; but it is the similarity,
not of a painting, but of a bass-relief. It suggests a resemblance; but
it does not produce an illusion. Euripides attempted to carry the reform
further. But it was a task far beyond his powers, perhaps beyond any
powers. Instead of correcting what was bad, he destroyed what was
excellent. He substituted crutches for stilts, bad sermons for
good odes.

Milton, it is well known, admired Euripides highly, much more highly
than, in our opinion, Euripides deserved. Indeed, the caresses which
this partiality leads our countryman to bestow on "sad Electra's poet"
sometimes remind us of the beautiful Queen of Fairy-land kissing the
long ears of Bottom. At all events, there can be no doubt that this
veneration for the Athenian, whether just or not, was injurious to the
Samson Agonistes. Had Milton taken Aeschylus for his model, he would
have given himself up to the lyric inspiration, and poured out profusely
all the treasures of his mind, without bestowing a thought on those
dramatic properties which the nature of the work rendered it impossible
to preserve. In the attempt to reconcile things in their own nature
inconsistent he has failed, as every one else must have failed. We
cannot identify ourselves with the characters, as in a good play. We
cannot identify ourselves with the poet, as in a good ode. The
conflicting ingredients, like an acid and an alkali mixed, neutralize
each other. We are by no means insensible to the merits of this
celebrated piece, to the severe dignity of the style, the graceful and
pathetic solemnity of the opening speech, or the wild and barbaric
melody which gives so striking an effect to the choral passages. But we
think it, we confess, the least successful effort of the genius
of Milton.

The Comus is framed on the model of the Italian Masque, as the Samson is
framed on the model of the Greek Tragedy. It is certainly the noblest
performance of the kind which exists in any language. It is as far
superior to The Faithful Shepherdess, as The Faithful Shepherdess is to
the Aminta, or the Aminta to the Pastor Fido. It was well for Milton
that he had here no Euripides to mislead him. He understood and loved
the literature of modern Italy. But he did not feel for it the same
veneration which he entertained for the remains of Athenian and Roman
poetry, consecrated by so many lofty and endearing recollections. The
faults, moreover, of his Italian predecessors were of a kind to which
his mind had a deadly antipathy. He could stoop to a plain style,
sometimes even to a bald style; but false brilliancy was his utter
aversion. His muse had no objection to a russet attire; but she turned
with disgust from the finery of Guarini, as tawdry and as paltry as the
rags of a chimney-sweeper on May-day. Whatever ornaments she wears are
of massive gold, not only dazzling to the sight, but capable of standing
the severest test of the crucible.

Milton attended in the Comus to the distinction which he afterward
neglected in the Samson. He made his Masque what it ought to be,
essentially lyrical, and dramatic only in semblance. He has not
attempted a fruitless struggle against a defect inherent in the nature
of that species of composition; and he has therefore succeeded, wherever
success was not impossible. The speeches must be read as majestic
soliloquies; and he who so reads them will be enraptured with their
eloquence, their sublimity, and their music. The interruptions of the
dialogue, however, impose a constraint upon the writer, and break the
illusion of the reader. The finest passages are those which are lyric in
form as well as in spirit. "I should much commend," says the excellent
Sir Henry Wotton in a letter to Milton, "the tragical part if the
lyrical did not ravish me with a certain Dorique delicacy in your songs
and odes, whereunto, I must plainly confess to you, I have seen yet
nothing parallel in our language." The criticism was just. It is when
Milton escapes from the shackles of the dialogue, when he is discharged
from the labor of uniting two incongruous styles, when he is at liberty
to indulge his choral raptures without reserve, that he rises even
above himself. Then, like his own good Genius bursting from the earthly
form and weeds of Thyrsis, he stands forth in celestial freedom and
beauty; he seems to cry exultingly,

"Now my task is smoothly done,
I can fly or I can run,"

to skim the earth, to soar above the clouds, to bathe in the Elysian dew
of the rainbow, and to inhale the balmy smells of nard and cassia, which
the musky winds of the zephyr scatter through the cedared alleys of the

There are several of the minor poems of Milton on which we would
willingly make a few remarks. Still more willingly would we enter into a
detailed examination of that admirable poem, the Paradise Regained,
which, strangely enough, is scarcely ever mentioned except as an
instance of the blindness of the parental affection which men of letters
bear toward the offspring of their intellects. That Milton was mistaken
in preferring this work, excellent as it is, to the Paradise Lost, we
readily admit. But we are sure that the superiority of the Paradise Lost
to the Paradise Regained is not more decided than the superiority of the
Paradise Regained to every poem which has since made its appearance. Our
limits, however, prevent us from discussing the point at length. We
hasten on to that extraordinary production which the general suffrage of
critics has placed in the highest class of human compositions.

The only poem of modern times which can be compared with the Paradise
Lost is the Divine Comedy. The subject of Milton, in some points,
resembled that of Dante; but he has treated it in a widely different
manner. We cannot, we think, better illustrate our opinion respecting
our own great poet than by contrasting him with the father of Tuscan

The poetry of Milton differs from that of Dante as the hieroglyphics of
Egypt differed from the picture-writing of Mexico. The images which
Dante employs speak for themselves; they stand simply for what they are.
Those of Milton have a signification which is often discernible only to
the initiated. Their value depends less on what they directly represent
than on what they remotely suggest. However strange, however grotesque,
may be the appearance which Dante undertakes to describe, he never
shrinks from describing it. He gives us the shape, the color, the sound,
the smell, the taste; he counts the numbers; he measures the size. His
similes are the illustrations of a traveller. Unlike those of other
poets, and especially of Milton, they are introduced in a plain,
business-like manner; not for the sake of any beauty in the objects from
which they are drawn; not for the sake of any ornament which they may
impart to the poem; but simply in order to make the meaning of the
writer as clear to the reader as it is to himself. The ruins of the
precipice which led from the sixth to the seventh circle of hell were
like those of the rock which fell into the Adige on the south of Trent.
The cataract of Phlegethon was like that of Aqua Cheta at the Monastery
of St. Benedict. The place where the heretics were confined in burning
tombs resembled the vast cemetery of Arles.

Now let us compare with the exact details of Dante the dim intimations
of Milton. We will cite a few examples. The English poet has never
thought of taking the measure of Satan. He gives us merely a vague idea
of vast bulk. In one passage the fiend lies stretched out huge in
length, floating many a rood, equal in size to the earth-born enemies of
Jove, or to the sea-monster which the mariner mistakes for an island.
When he addresses himself to battle against the guardian angels he
stands like Teneriffe or Atlas: his stature reaches the sky. Contrast
with these descriptions the lines in which Dante has described the
gigantic spectre of Nimrod. "His face seemed to me as long and as broad
as the ball of St. Peter's at Rome; and his other limbs were in
proportion; so that the bank, which concealed him from the waist
downwards, nevertheless showed so much of him that three tall Germans
would in vain have attempted to reach to his hair." We are sensible
that we do no justice to the admirable style of the Florentine poet. But
Mr. Cary's translation is not at hand; and our version, however rude, is
sufficient to illustrate our meaning.

Once more, compare the lazar-house in the eleventh book of the Paradise
Lost with the last ward of Malebolge in Dante. Milton avoids the
loathsome details, and takes refuge in indistinct but solemn and
tremendous imagery--Despair hurrying from couch to couch to mock the
wretches with his attendance, Death shaking his dart over them, but, in
spite of supplications, delaying to strike. What says Dante? "There was
such a moan there as there would be if all the sick who, between July
and September, are in the hospitals of Valdichiana, and of the Tuscan
swamps, and of Sardinia, were in one pit together; and such a stench was
issuing forth as is wont to issue from decayed limbs."

We will not take upon ourselves the invidious office of settling
precedency between two such writers. Each in his own department is
incomparable; and each, we may remark, has wisely, or fortunately, taken
a subject adapted to exhibit his peculiar talent to the greatest
advantage. The Divine Comedy is a personal narrative. Dante is the
eye-witness and ear-witness of that which he relates. He is the very man
who has heard the tormented spirits crying out for the second death,
who has read the dusky characters on the portal within which there is no
hope, who has hidden his face from the terrors of the Gorgon, who has
fled from the hooks and the seething pitch of Barbariccia and
Draghignazzo. His own hands have grasped the shaggy sides of Lucifer.
His own feet have climbed the mountain of expiation. His own brow has
been marked by the purifying angel. The reader would throw aside such a
tale in incredulous disgust, unless it were told with the strongest air
of veracity, with a sobriety even in its horrors, with the greatest
precision and multiplicity in its details. The narrative of Milton in
this respect differs from that of Dante as the adventures of Amadis
differ from those of Gulliver. The author of Amadis would have made his
book ridiculous if he had introduced those minute particulars which give
such a charm to the work of Swift, the nautical observations, the
affected delicacy about names, the official documents transcribed at
full length, and all the unmeaning gossip and scandal of the court,
springing out of nothing, and tending to nothing. We are not shocked at
being told that a man who lived, nobody knows when, saw many very
strange sights, and we can easily abandon ourselves to the illusion of
the romance. But when Lemuel Gulliver, surgeon, resident at Rotherhithe,
tells us of pigmies and giants, flying islands, and philosophizing
horses, nothing but such circumstantial touches could produce for a
single moment a deception on the imagination.

Of all the poets who have introduced into their works the agency of
supernatural beings, Milton has succeeded best. Here Dante decidedly
yields to him; and as this is a point on which many rash and
ill-considered judgments have been pronounced, we feel inclined to dwell
on it a little longer. The most fatal error which a poet can possibly
commit in the management of his machinery is that of attempting to
philosophize too much. Milton has been often censured for ascribing to
spirits many functions of which spirits must be incapable. But these
objections, though sanctioned by eminent names, originate, we venture to
say, in profound ignorance of the art of poetry.

What is spirit? What are our own minds, the portion of spirit with which
we are best acquainted? We observe certain phenomena. We cannot explain
them into material causes. We therefore infer that there exists
something which is not material. But of this something we have no idea.
We can define it only by negatives. We can reason about it only by
symbols. We use the word, but we have no image of the thing; and the
business of poetry is with images, and not with words. The poet uses
words, indeed; but they are merely the instruments of his art, not its
objects. They are the materials which he is to dispose in such a manner
as to present a picture to the mental eye. And if they are not so
disposed, they are no more entitled to be called poetry than a bale of
canvas and a box of colors to be called a painting.

Logicians may reason about abstractions. But the great mass of men must
have images. The strong tendency of the multitude in all ages and
nations to idolatry can be explained on no other principle. The first
inhabitants of Greece, there is reason to believe, worshipped one
invisible Deity. But the necessity of having something more definite to
adore produced, in a few centuries, the innumerable crowd of gods and
goddesses. In like manner the ancient Persians thought it impious to
exhibit the creator under a human form. Yet even these transferred to
the sun the worship which, in speculation, they considered due only to
the Supreme Mind. The history of the Jews is the record of a continued
struggle between pure Theism, supported by the most terrible sanctions,
and the strangely fascinating desire of having some visible and tangible
object of adoration. Perhaps none of the secondary causes which Gibbon
has assigned for the rapidity with which Christianity spread over the
world, while Judaism scarcely ever acquired a proselyte, operated more
powerfully than this feeling. God, the uncreated, the incomprehensible,
the invisible, attracted few worshippers. A philosopher might admire so
noble a conception; but the crowd turned away in disgust from words
which presented no image to their minds. It was before Deity embodied in
a human form, walking among men, partaking of their infirmities, leaning
on their bosoms, weeping over their graves, slumbering in the manger,
bleeding on the cross, that the prejudices of the Synagogue, and the
doubts of the Academy, and the pride of the Portico, and the fasces of
the Lictor, and the swords of thirty legions, were humbled in the dust.
Soon after Christianity had achieved its triumph, the principle which
had assisted it began to corrupt it. It became a new paganism. Patron
saints assumed the offices of household gods. St. George took the place
of Mars. St. Elmo consoled the mariner for the loss of Castor and
Pollux. The Virgin Mother and Cecilia succeeded to Venus and Muses. The
fascination of sex and loveliness was again joined to that of celestial
dignity; and the homage of chivalry was blended with that of religion.
Reformers have often made a stand against these feelings; but never with
more than apparent and partial success. The men who demolished the
images in cathedrals have not always been able to demolish those which
were enshrined in their minds. It would not be difficult to show that in
politics the same rule holds good. Doctrines, we are afraid, must
generally be embodied before they can excite a strong public feeling.
The multitude is more easily interested for the most unmeaning badge, or
the most insignificant name, than for the most important principle.

From these considerations, we infer that no poet who should affect that
metaphysical accuracy for the want of which Milton has been blamed would
escape a disgraceful failure. Still, however, there was another extreme
which, though far less dangerous, was also to be avoided. The
imaginations of men are in a great measure under the control of their
opinions. The most exquisite art of poetical coloring can produce no
illusion when it is employed to represent that which is at once
perceived to be incongruous and absurd. Milton wrote in an age of
philosophers and theologians. It was necessary, therefore, for him to
abstain from giving such a shock to their understandings as might break
the charm which it was his object to throw over their imaginations. This
is the real explanation of the indistinctness and inconsistency with
which he has often been reproached. Dr. Johnson acknowledges that it was
absolutely necessary that the spirit should be clothed with material
forms. "But," says he, "the poet should have secured the consistency of
his system by keeping immateriality out of sight, and seducing the
reader to drop it from his thoughts." This is easily said; but what if
Milton could not seduce his readers to drop immateriality from their
thoughts? What if the contrary opinion had taken so full a possession
of the minds of men as to leave no room even for the half-belief which
poetry requires? Such we suspect to have been the case. It was
impossible for the poet to adopt altogether the material or the
immaterial system. He therefore took his stand on the debatable ground.
He left the whole in ambiguity. He has doubtless, by so doing, laid
himself open to the charge of inconsistency. But, though philosophically
in the wrong, we cannot but believe that he was poetically in the right.
This task, which almost any other writer would have found impracticable,
was easy to him. The peculiar art which he possessed of communicating
his meaning circuitously through a long succession of associated ideas,
and of intimating more than he expressed, enabled him to disguise those
incongruities which he could not avoid.

Poetry which relates to the beings of another world ought to be at once
mysterious and picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of Dante is
picturesque, indeed, beyond any that ever was written. Its effect
approaches to that produced by the pencil or the chisel. But it is
picturesque to the exclusion of all mystery. This is a fault on the
right side, a fault inseparable from the plan of Dante's poem, which, as
we have already observed, rendered the utmost accuracy of description
necessary. Still it is a fault. The supernatural agents excite an
interest; but it is not the interest which is proper to supernatural
agents. We feel that we could talk to the ghosts and demons without any
emotion of unearthly awe. We could, like Don Juan, ask them to supper,
and eat heartily in their company. Dante's angels are good men with
wings. His devils are spiteful, ugly executioners. His dead men are
merely living men in strange situations. The scene which passes between
the poet and Farinata is justly celebrated. Still, Farinata in the
burning tomb is exactly what Farinata would have been at an
_auto-da-fe_. Nothing can be more touching than the first interview of
Dante and Beatrice. Yet what is it but a lovely woman chiding, with
sweet, austere composure, the lover for whose affection she is grateful,
but whose vices she reprobates? The feelings which give the passage its
charm would suit the streets of Florence as well as the summit of the
Mount of Purgatory.

The spirits of Milton are unlike those of almost all other writers. His
fiends, in particular, are wonderful creations. They are not
metaphysical abstractions. They are not wicked men. They are not ugly
beasts. They have no horns, no tails, none of the fee-faw-fum of Tasso
and Klopstock. They have just enough in common with human nature to be
intelligible to human beings. Their characters are, like their forms,
marked by a certain dim resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated to
gigantic dimensions, and veiled in mysterious gloom.

Perhaps the gods and demons of Aeschylus may best bear a comparison with
the angels and devils of Milton. The style of the Athenian had, as we
have remarked, something of the Oriental character; and the same
peculiarity may be traced in his mythology. It has nothing of the
amenity and elegance which we generally find in the superstitions of
Greece. All is rugged, barbaric, and colossal. The legends of Aeschylus
seem to harmonize less with the fragrant groves and graceful porticos in
which his countrymen paid their vows to the God of Light and Goddess of
Desire than with those huge and grotesque labyrinths of eternal granite
in which Egypt enshrined her mystic Osiris, or in which Hindostan still
bows down to her seven-headed idols. His favorite gods are those of the
elder generation, the sons of heaven and earth, compared with whom
Jupiter himself was a stripling and an upstart, the gigantic Titans, and
the inexorable Furies. Foremost among his creations of this class
stands Prometheus, half fiend, half redeemer, the friend of man, the
sullen and implacable enemy of heaven. Prometheus bears undoubtedly a
considerable resemblance to the Satan of Milton. In both we find the
same impatience of control, the same ferocity, the same unconquerable
pride. In both characters also are mingled, though in very different
proportions, some kind and generous feelings. Prometheus, however, is
hardly superhuman enough. He talks too much of his chains and his uneasy
posture; he is rather too much depressed and agitated. His resolution
seems to depend on the knowledge which he possesses that he holds the
fate of his torturer in his hands, and that the hour of his release will
surely come. But Satan is a creature of another sphere. The might of his
intellectual nature is victorious over the extremity of pain. Amidst
agonies which cannot be conceived without horror, he deliberates,
resolves, and even exults. Against the sword of Michael, against the
thunder of Jehovah, against the flaming lake, and the marl burning with
solid fire, against the prospect of an eternity of unintermitted misery,
his spirit bears up unbroken, resting on its own innate energies,
requiring no support from anything external, nor even from hope itself.

To return for a moment to the parallel which we have been attempting to
draw between Milton and Dante, we would add that the poetry of these
great men has in a considerable degree taken its character from their
moral qualities. They are not egotists. They rarely obtrude their
idiosyncrasies on their readers. They have nothing in common with those
modern beggars for fame who extort a pittance from the compassion of the
inexperienced by exposing the nakedness and sores of their minds. Yet
it would be difficult to name two writers whose works have been more
completely, though undesignedly, colored by their personal feelings.

The character of Milton was peculiarly distinguished by loftiness of
spirit; that of Dante by intensity of feeling. In every line of the
Divine Comedy we discern the asperity which is produced by pride
struggling with misery. There is perhaps no work in the world so deeply
and uniformly sorrowful. The melancholy of Dante was no fantastic
caprice. It was not, as far as at this distance of time can be judged,
the effect of external circumstances. It was from within. Neither love
nor glory, neither the conflicts of earth nor the hope of heaven, could
dispel it. It turned every consolation and every pleasure into its own
nature. It resembled that noxious Sardinian soil of which the intense
bitterness is said to have been perceptible even in its honey. His mind
was, in the noble language of the Hebrew poet, "a land of darkness, as
darkness itself, and where the light was as darkness." The gloom of his
character discolors all the passions of men, and all the face of nature,
and tinges with its own livid hue the flowers of Paradise and the
glories of the eternal throne. All the portraits of him are singularly
characteristic. No person can look on the features, noble even to
ruggedness--the dark furrows of the cheek, the haggard and woful stare
of the eye the sullen and contemptuous curve of the lip--and doubt that
they belong to a man too proud and too sensitive to be happy.

Milton was, like Dante, a statesman and a lover; and, like Dante, he had
been unfortunate in ambition and in love. He had survived his health and
his sight, the comforts of his home, and the prosperity of his party. Of
the great men by whom he had been distinguished at his entrance into
life, some had been taken away from the evil to come; some had carried
into foreign climates their unconquerable hatred of oppression; some
were pining in dungeons; and some had poured forth their blood on
scaffolds. Venal and licentious scribblers, with just sufficient talent
to clothe the thoughts of a pander in the style of a bellman, were now
the favorite writers of the Sovereign and of the public. It was a
loathsome herd, which could be compared to nothing so fitly as to the
rabble of Comus, grotesque monsters, half bestial, half human, dropping
with wine, bloated with gluttony, and reeling in obscene dances. Amidst
these that fair Muse was placed, like the chaste lady of the Masque,
lofty, spotless, and serene, to be chattered at, and pointed at, and
grinned at, by the whole rout of Satyrs and Goblins. If ever despondency
and asperity could be excused in any man, they might have been excused
in Milton. But the strength of his mind overcame every calamity.
Neither blindness, nor gout, nor age, nor penury, nor domestic
afflictions, nor political disappointments, nor abuse, nor proscription,
nor neglect had power to disturb his sedate and majestic patience. His
spirits do not seem to have been high, but they were singularly equable.
His temper was serious, perhaps stern; but it was a temper which no
sufferings could render sullen or fretful. Such as it was when, on the
eve of great events, he returned from his travels, in the prime of
health and manly beauty, loaded with literary distinctions, and glowing
with patriotic hopes, such it continued to be when, after having
experienced every calamity which is incident to our nature, old, poor,
sightless, and disgraced, he retired to his hovel to die.

Hence it was that, though he wrote the Paradise Lost at a time of life
when images of beauty and tenderness are in general beginning to fade,
even from those minds in which they have not been effaced by anxiety and
disappointment, he adorned it with all that is most lovely and
delightful in the physical and in the moral world. Neither Theocritus
nor Ariosto had a finer or a more healthful sense of the pleasantness of
external objects, or loved better to luxuriate amidst sunbeams and
flowers, the songs of nightingales, the juice of summer fruits, and the
coolness of shady fountains. His conception of love unites all the
voluptuousness of the Oriental harem, and all the gallantry of the
chivalric tournament with all the pure and quiet affection of an English
fireside. His poetry reminds us of the miracles of Alpine scenery. Nooks
and dells, beautiful as fairyland, are embosomed in its most rugged and
gigantic elevations. The roses and myrtles bloom unchilled on the verge
of the avalanche.

Traces, indeed, of the peculiar character of Milton may be found in all
his works; but it is most strongly displayed in the Sonnets. Those
remarkable poems have been undervalued by critics who have not
understood their nature. They have no epigrammatic point. There is none
of the ingenuity of Filicaja in the thought, none of the hard and
brilliant enamel of Petrarch in the style. They are simple but majestic
records of the feelings of the poet; as little tricked out for the
public eye as his diary would have been. A victory, an expected attack
upon the city, a momentary fit of depression or exultation, a jest
thrown out against one of his books, a dream which for a short time
restored to him that beautiful face over which the grave had closed
forever, led him to musings, which, without effort, shaped themselves
into verse. The unity of sentiment and severity of style which
characterize these little pieces remind us of the Greek Anthology, or
perhaps still more of the Collects of the English Liturgy. The noble
poem on the massacres of Piedmont is strictly a collect in verse.

The Sonnets are more or less striking, according as the occasions which
gave birth to them are more or less interesting. But they are, almost
without exception, dignified by a sobriety and greatness of mind to
which we know not where to look for a parallel. It would, indeed, be
scarcely safe to draw any decided inferences as to the character of a
writer from passages directly egotistical. But the qualities which we
have ascribed to Milton, though perhaps most strongly marked in those
parts of his works which treat of his personal feelings, are
distinguishable in every page, and impart to all his writings, prose and
poetry, English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family likeness.

His public conduct was such as was to be expected from a man of spirit
so high and of an intellect so powerful. He lived at one of the most
memorable eras in the history of mankind, at the very crisis of the
great conflict between Oromasdes and Arimanes, liberty and despotism,
reason and prejudice. That great battle was fought for no single
generation, for no single land. The destinies of the human race were
staked on the same cast with the freedom of the English people. Then
were first proclaimed those mighty principles which have since worked
their way into the depths of the American forests, which have roused
Greece from the slavery and degradation of two thousand years, and
which, from one end of Europe to the other, have kindled an
unquenchable fire in the hearts of the oppressed, and loosed the knees
of the oppressors with an unwonted fear.

Of those principles, then struggling for their infant existence, Milton
was the most devoted and eloquent literary champion. We need not say how
much we admire his public conduct. But we cannot disguise from ourselves
that a large portion of his countrymen still think it unjustifiable. The
civil war, indeed, has been more discussed, and is less understood, than
any event in English history. The friends of liberty labored under the
disadvantage of which the lion in the fable complained so bitterly.
Though they were the conquerors, their enemies were the painters. As a
body, the Roundheads had done their utmost to decry and ruin
literature; and literature was even with them, as, in the long run, it
always is with its enemies. The best book on their side of the question
is the charming narrative of Mrs. Hutchinson. May's History of the
Parliament is good; but it breaks off at the most interesting crisis of
the struggle. The performance of Ludlow is foolish and violent; and most
of the later writers who have espoused the same cause--Oldmixon, for
instance, and Catherine Macaulay--have, to say the least, been more
distinguished by zeal than either by candor or by skill. On the other
side are the most authoritative and the most popular historical works in
our language, that of Clarendon, and that of Hume. The former is not
only ably written and full of valuable information, but has also an air
of dignity and sincerity which makes even the prejudices and errors with
which it abounds respectable. Hume, from whose fascinating narrative the
great mass of the reading public are still contented to take their
opinions, hated religion so much that he hated liberty for having been
allied with religion, and has pleaded the cause of tyranny with the
dexterity of an advocate while affecting the impartiality of a judge.

The public conduct of Milton must be approved or condemned according as
the resistance of the people to Charles the First shall appear to be
justifiable or criminal....

Every man who approves of the Revolution of 1688 [which dethroned James
II., son of Charles I., on the ground that he "had broken the
fundamental laws of the kingdom," and enthroned William of Orange in his
stead], must hold that the breach of fundamental laws on the part of the
sovereign justifies resistance. The question, then, is this: Had Charles
the First broken the fundamental laws of England?

No person can answer in the negative, unless he refuses credit, not
merely to all the accusations brought against Charles by his opponents,
but to the narratives of the warmest Royalists, and to the confessions
of the king himself. If there be any truth in any historian of any
party who has related the events of that reign, the conduct of Charles,
from his accession to the meeting of the Long Parliament, had been a
continued course of oppression and treachery. Let those who applaud the
Revolution and condemn the Rebellion mention one act of James the Second
to which a parallel is not to be found in the history of his father. Let
them lay their fingers on a single article in the Declaration of Right,
presented by the two Houses to William and Mary, which Charles is not
acknowledged to have violated. He had, according to the testimony of his
own friends, usurped the functions of the legislature, raised taxes
without the consent of Parliament, and quartered troops on the people in
the most illegal and vexatious manner. Not a single session of
Parliament had passed without some unconstitutional attack on the
freedom of debate; the right of petition was grossly violated; arbitrary
judgments, exorbitant fines, and unwarranted imprisonments were
grievances of daily occurrence. If these things do not justify
resistance, the Revolution was treason; if they do, the Great Rebellion
was laudable.

But, it is said, why not adopt milder measures? Why, after the king had
consented to so many reforms, and renounced so many oppressive
prerogatives, did the Parliament continue to rise in their demands at
the risk of provoking a civil war? The ship-money had been given up.
The Star-chamber had been abolished. Provision had been made for the
frequent convocation and secure deliberation of parliaments. Why not
pursue an end confessedly good by peaceable and regular means? We recur
again to the analogy of the Revolution. Why was James driven from the
throne? Why was he not retained upon conditions? He too had offered to
call a free parliament, and to submit to its decision all the matters in
dispute. Yet we are in the habit of praising our forefathers, who
preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, a dynasty of strangers,
twenty years of foreign and intestine war, a standing army, and a
national debt, to the rule, however restricted, of a tried and proved
tyrant. The Long Parliament acted on the same principle, and is entitled
to the same praise. They could not trust the king. He had, no doubt,
passed salutary laws; but what assurance was there that he would not
break them? He had renounced oppressive prerogatives; but where was the
security that he would not resume them? The nation had to deal with a
man whom no tie could bind, a man who made and broke promises with equal
facility, a man whose honor had been a hundred times pawned, and
never redeemed.

Here, indeed, the Long Parliament stands on still stronger ground than
the Convention of 1688. No action of James can be compared to the
conduct of Charles with respect to the Petition of Right. The Lords and
Commons present him with a bill in which the constitutional limits of
his power are marked out. He hesitates; he evades; at last he bargains
to give his assent for five subsidies. The bill receives his solemn
assent; the subsidies are voted; but no sooner is the tyrant relieved
than he returns at once to all the arbitrary measures which he had bound
himself to abandon, and violates all the clauses of the very act which
he had been paid to pass.

For more than ten years the people had seen the rights which were theirs
by a double claim, by immemorial inheritance and by recent purchase,
infringed by the perfidious king who had recognized them. At length
circumstances compelled Charles to summon another Parliament; another
chance was given to our fathers: were they to throw it away as they had
thrown away the former? Were they again to be cozened by _le Roi le
veut_? Were they again to advance their money on pledges which had been
forfeited over and over again? Were they to lay a second Petition of
Right at the foot of the throne, to grant another lavish aid in exchange
for another unmeaning ceremony, and then to take their departure, till,
after ten years more of fraud and oppression, their prince should again
require a supply, and again repay it with a perjury? They were compelled
to choose whether they would trust a tyrant or conquer him. We think
that they chose wisely and nobly.

The advocates of Charles, like the advocates of other malefactors
against whom overwhelming evidence is produced, generally decline all
controversy about the facts, and content themselves with calling
testimony to character. He had so many private virtues! And had James
the Second no private virtues? Was Oliver Cromwell, his bitterest
enemies themselves being judges, destitute of private virtues? And what,
after all, are the virtues ascribed to Charles? A religious zeal, not
more sincere than that of his son, and fully as weak and narrow-minded,
and a few of the ordinary household decencies which half the tombstones
in England claim for those who lie beneath them. A good father! A good
husband! Ample apologies indeed for fifteen years of persecution,
tyranny, and falsehood!

We charge him with having broken his coronation oath; and we are told
that he kept his marriage vow! We accuse him of having given up his
people to the merciless inflictions of the most hot-headed and
hard-hearted of prelates; and the defence is, that he took his little
son on his knee and kissed him! We censure him for having violated the
articles of the Petition of Right, after having, for good and valuable
consideration, promised to observe them; and we are informed that he
was accustomed to hear prayers at six o'clock in the morning! It is to
such considerations as these, together with his Vandyke dress, his
handsome face, and his peaked beard, that he owes, we verily believe,
most of his popularity with the present generation.

For ourselves, we own that we do not understand the common phrase, a
good man, but a bad king. We can as easily conceive a good man and an
unnatural father, or a good man and a treacherous friend. We cannot, in
estimating the character of an individual, leave out of our
consideration his conduct in the most important of all human relations;
and if in that relation we find him to have been selfish, cruel, and
deceitful, we shall take the liberty to call him a bad man, in spite of
all his temperance at table, and all his regularity at chapel.

We cannot refrain from adding a few words respecting a topic on which
the defenders of Charles are fond of dwelling. If, they say, he governed
his people ill, he at least governed them after the example of his
predecessors. If he violated their privileges, it was because their
privileges had not been accurately defined. No act of oppression has
ever been imputed to him which has not a parallel in the annals of the
Tudors. This point Hume has labored, with an art which is as
discreditable in a historical work as it would be admirable in a
forensic address. The answer is short, clear, and decisive. Charles had
assented to the Petition of Right. He had renounced the oppressive
powers said to have been exercised by his predecessors, and he had
renounced them for money. He was not entitled to set up his antiquated
claims against his own recent release.

These arguments are so obvious that it may seem superfluous to dwell
upon them. But those who have observed how much the events of that time
are misrepresented and misunderstood will not blame us for stating the
case simply. It is a case of which the simplest statement is the

The enemies of the Parliament, indeed, rarely choose to take issue on
the great points of the question. They content themselves with exposing
some of the crimes and follies to which public commotions necessarily
give birth. They bewail the unmerited fate of Strafford. They execrate
the lawless violence of the army. They laugh at the Scriptural names of
the preachers. Major-generals fleecing their districts; soldiers
revelling on the spoils of a ruined peasantry; upstarts, enriched by the
public plunder, taking possession of the hospitable firesides and
hereditary trees of the old gentry; boys smashing the beautiful windows
of cathedrals; Quakers riding naked through the market-place;
Fifth-monarchy-men shouting for King Jesus; agitators lecturing from the
tops of tubs on the fate of Agag; all these, they tell us, were the
offspring of the Great Rebellion.

Be it so. We are not careful to answer in this matter. These charges,
were they infinitely more important, would not alter our opinion of an
event which alone has made us to differ from the slaves who crouch
beneath despotic sceptres. Many evils, no doubt, were produced by the
civil war. They were the price of our liberty. Has the acquisition been
worth the sacrifice? It is the nature of the devil of tyranny to tear
and rend the body which he leaves. Are the miseries of continued
possession less horrible than the struggles of the tremendous exorcism?

If it were possible that a people brought up under an intolerant and
arbitrary system could subvert that system without acts of cruelty and
folly, half the objections to despotic power would be removed. We
should, in that case, be compelled to acknowledge that it at least
produces no pernicious effects on the intellectual and moral character
of a nation. We deplore the outrages which accompany revolutions. But
the more violent the outrages, the more assured we feel that a
revolution was necessary. The violence of these outrages will always be
proportioned to the ferocity and ignorance of the people; and the
ferocity and ignorance of the people will be proportioned to the
oppression and degradation under which they have been accustomed to
live. Thus it was in our civil war. The heads of the Church and State
reaped only that which they had sown. The Government had prohibited free
discussion; it had done its best to keep the people unacquainted with
their duties and their rights. The retribution was just and natural. If
our rulers suffered from popular ignorance, it was because they had
themselves taken away the key of knowledge. If they were assailed with
blind fury, it was because they had exacted an equally blind submission.

It is the character of such revolutions that we always see the worst of
them at first. Till men have been some time free, they know not how to
use their freedom. The natives of wine countries are generally sober. In
climates where wine is a rarity intemperance abounds. A newly liberated
people may be compared to a Northern army encamped on the Rhine or the
Xeres. It is said that when soldiers in such a situation find themselves
able to indulge without restraint in such a rare and expensive luxury,
nothing is to be seen but intoxication. Soon, however, plenty teaches
discretion; and, after wine has been for a few months their daily fare,
they become more temperate than they had ever been in their own country.
In the same manner, the final and permanent fruits of liberty are
wisdom, moderation, and mercy. Its immediate effects are often atrocious
crimes, conflicting errors, scepticism on points the most clear,
dogmatism on points the most mysterious. It is just at this crisis that
its enemies love to exhibit it. They pull down the scaffolding from the
half-finished edifice; they point to the flying dust, the falling
bricks, the comfortless rooms, the frightful irregularity of the whole
appearance; and then ask in scorn where the promised splendor and
comfort is to be found. If such miserable sophisms were to prevail,
there would never be a good house or a good government in the world.

Ariosto tells a pretty story of a fairy, who, by some mysterious law of
her nature, was condemned to appear at certain seasons in the form of a
foul and poisonous snake. Those who injured her during the period of her
disguise were forever excluded from participation in the blessings which
she bestowed. But to those who, in spite of her loathsome aspect, pitied
and protected her, she afterwards revealed herself in the beautiful and
celestial form which was natural to her, accompanied their steps,
granted all their wishes, filled their houses with wealth, made them
happy in love and victorious in war. Such a spirit is Liberty. At times
she takes the form of a hateful reptile. She grovels, she hisses, she
stings. But woe to those who in disgust shall venture to crush her! And
happy are those who, having dared to receive her in her degraded and
frightful shape, shall at length be rewarded by her in the time of her
beauty and her glory!

There is only one cure for the evils which newly acquired freedom
produces; and that cure is freedom. When a prisoner first leaves his
cell he cannot bear the light of day; he is unable to discriminate
colors or recognize faces. But the remedy is, not to remand him into his
dungeon, but to accustom him to the rays of the sun. The blaze of truth
and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have become
half-blind in the house of bondage. But let them gaze on, and they will
soon be able to bear it. In a few years men learn to reason. The extreme
violence of opinions subsides. Hostile theories correct each other. The
scattered elements of truth cease to contend, and begin to coalesce; and
at length a system of justice and order is educed out of the chaos.

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a
self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are
fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old
story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to
swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in
slavery, they may indeed wait forever.

Therefore it is that we decidedly approve of the conduct of Milton and
the other wise and good men who, in spite of much that was ridiculous
and hateful in the conduct of their associates, stood by the cause of
public liberty. We are not aware that the poet has been charged with
personal participation in any of the blamable excesses of that time. The
favorite topic of his enemies is the line of conduct which he pursued
with regard to the execution of the King. Of that celebrated proceeding
we by no means approve. Still, we must say, in justice to the many
eminent persons who, concurred in it, and in justice, more particularly,
to the eminent person who defended it, that nothing can be more absurd
than the imputations which, for the last hundred and sixty years, it has
been the fashion to cast upon the Regicides....

We disapprove, we repeat, of the execution of Charles; not because the
constitution exempts the king from responsibility, for we know that all
such maxims, however excellent, have their exceptions; nor because we
feel any peculiar interest in his character, for we think that his
sentence describes him with perfect justice as "a tyrant, a traitor, a
murderer, and a public enemy;" but because we are convinced that the
measure was most injurious to the cause of freedom. He whom it removed
was a captive and a hostage: his heir, to whom the allegiance of every
Royalist was instantly transferred, was at large. The Presbyterians
could never have been perfectly reconciled to the father: they had no
such rooted enmity to the son. The great body of the people, also,
contemplated that proceeding with feelings which, however unreasonable,
no government could safely venture to outrage.

But though we think the conduct of the Regicides blamable, that of
Milton appears to us in a very different light. The deed was done. It
could not be undone. The evil was incurred; and the object was to render
it as small as possible. We censure the chiefs of the army for not
yielding to the popular opinion; but we cannot censure Milton for
wishing to change that opinion. The very feeling which would have
restrained us from committing the act would have led us, after it had
been committed, to defend it against the ravings of servility and
superstition. For the sake of public liberty, we wish that the thing had
not been done, while the people disapproved of it. But, for the sake of
public liberty, we should also have wished the people to approve of it
when it was done....

We wish to add a few words relative to another subject on which the
enemies of Milton delight to dwell,--his conduct during the
administration of the Protector. That an enthusiastic votary of liberty
should accept office under a military usurper seems, no doubt, at first
sight, extraordinary. But all the circumstances in which the country was
then placed were extraordinary. The ambition of Oliver was of no vulgar
kind. He never seems to have coveted despotic power. He at first fought
sincerely and manfully for the Parliament, and never deserted it till
it had deserted its duty. If he dissolved it by force, it was not till
he found that the few members who remained after so many deaths,
secessions, and expulsions, were desirous to appropriate to themselves a
power which they held only in trust, and to inflict upon England the
curse of a Venetian oligarchy. But even when thus placed by violence at
the head of affairs, he did not assume unlimited power. He gave the
country a constitution far more perfect than any which had at that time
been known in the world. He reformed the representative system in a
manner which has extorted praise even from Lord Clarendon. For himself
he demanded indeed the first place in the commonwealth; but with powers
scarcely so great as those of a Dutch stadtholder, or an American
president. He gave the Parliament a voice in the appointment of
ministers, and left to it the whole legislative authority, not even
reserving to himself a veto on its enactments; and he did not require
that the chief magistracy should be hereditary in his family. Thus far,
we think, if the circumstances of the time and the opportunities which
he had of aggrandizing himself be fairly considered, he will not lose by
comparison with Washington or Bolivar. Had his moderation been met by
corresponding moderation, there is no reason to think that he would have
overstepped the line which he had traced for himself. But when he found
that his parliaments questioned the authority under which they met, and
that he was in danger of being deprived of the restricted power which
was absolutely necessary to his personal safety, then, it must be
acknowledged, he adopted a more arbitrary policy.

Yet, though we believe that the intentions of Cromwell were at first
honest, though we believe that he was driven from the noble course which
he had marked out for himself by the almost irresistible force of
circumstances, though we admire, in common with all men of all parties,
the ability and energy of his splendid administration, we are not
pleading for arbitrary and lawless power, even in his hands. We know
that a good constitution is infinitely better than the best despot. But
we suspect that, at the time of which we speak, the violence of
religious and political enmities rendered a stable and happy settlement
next to impossible. The choice lay, not between Cromwell and liberty,
but between Cromwell and the Stuarts. That Milton chose well, no man can
doubt who fairly compares the events of the protectorate with those of
the thirty years which succeeded it, the darkest and most disgraceful in
the English annals. Cromwell was evidently laying, though in an
irregular manner, the foundations of an admirable system. Never before
had religious liberty and the freedom of discussion been enjoyed in a
greater degree. Never had the national honor been better upheld abroad,
or the seat of justice better filled at home. And it was rarely that any
opposition which stopped short of open rebellion provoked the resentment
of the liberal and magnanimous usurper. The institutions which he had
established, as set down in the Instrument of Government, and the Humble
Petition and Advice, were excellent. His practice, it is true, too often
departed from the theory of these institutions. But had he lived a few
years longer, it is probable that his institutions would have survived
him, and that his arbitrary practice would have died with him. His power
had not been consecrated by ancient prejudices. It was upheld only by
his great personal qualities. Little, therefore, was to be dreaded from
a second protector, unless he were also a second Oliver Cromwell. The
events which followed his decease are the most complete vindication of
those who exerted themselves to uphold his authority. His death
dissolved the whole frame of society. The army rose against the
Parliament, the different corps of the army against each other. Sect
raved against sect. Party plotted against party. The Presbyterians, in
their eagerness to be revenged on the Independents, sacrificed their own
liberty, and deserted all their old principles. Without casting one
glance on the past, or requiring one stipulation for the future, they
threw down their freedom at the feet of the most frivolous and heartless
of tyrants.

Then came those days, never to be recalled without a blush, the days of
servitude without loyalty and sensuality without love, of dwarfish
talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow
minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot, and the slave. The King
cringed to his rival that he might trample on his people, sank into a
viceroy of France, and pocketed, with complacent infamy, her degrading
insults and her more degrading gold. The caresses of harlots and the
jests of buffoons regulated the policy of the State. The government had
just ability enough to deceive, and just religion enough to persecute.
The principles of liberty were the scoff of every grinning courtier, and
the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean. In every high place,
worship was paid to Charles and James, Belial and Moloch; and England
propitiated those obscene and cruel idols with the blood of her best and
bravest children. Crime succeeded to crime, and disgrace to disgrace,
till the race accursed of God and man was a second time driven forth, to
wander on the face of the earth, and to be a by-word and a shaking of
the head to the nations.

Most of the remarks which we have hitherto made on the public character
of Milton apply to him only as one of a large body. We shall proceed to
notice some of the peculiarities which distinguished him from his
contemporaries. And, for that purpose, it is necessary to take a short
survey of the parties into which the political world was at that time
divided. We must premise that our observations are intended to apply
only to those who adhered, from a sincere preference, to one or to the
other side. In days of public commotion, every faction, like an Oriental
army, is attended by a crowd of camp-followers, a useless and heartless
rabble, who prowl round its line of march in the hope of picking up
something under its protection, but desert it in the day of battle, and
often join to exterminate it after a defeat. England, at the time of
which we are treating, abounded with fickle and selfish politicians, who
transferred their support to every government as it rose; who kissed the
hand of the king in 1640, and spat in his face in 1649; who shouted with
equal glee when Cromwell was inaugurated at Westminster Hall and when he
was dug up to be hanged at Tyburn; who dined on calves' heads, or stuck
up oak-branches, as circumstances altered, without the slightest shame
or repugnance. These we leave out of the account. We take our estimate
of parties from those who really deserve to be called partisans.

We would speak first of the Puritans, the most remarkable body of men,
perhaps, which the world has ever produced. The odious and ridiculous
parts of their character lie on the surface. He that runs may read them;
nor have there been wanting attentive and malicious observers to point
them out. For many years after the Restoration they were the theme of
unmeasured invective and derision. They were exposed to the utmost
licentiousness of the press and of the stage, at the time when the press
and the stage were most licentious. They were not men of letters; they
were, as a body, unpopular; they could not defend themselves; and the
public would not take them under its protection. They were therefore
abandoned, without reserve, to the tender mercies of the satirists and
dramatists. The ostentatious simplicity of their dress, their sour
aspect, their nasal twang, their stiff posture, their long graces, their
Hebrew names, the Scriptural phrases which they introduced on every
occasion, their contempt of human learning, their detestation of polite
amusements, were indeed fair game for the laughers. But it is not from
the laughers alone that the philosophy of history is to be learned. And
he who approaches this subject should carefully guard against the
influence of that potent ridicule which has already misled so many
excellent writers.

"Ecco il fonte del riso, ed ecco il rio
Che mortali perigli in se contiene:
Hor qui tener a fren nostro desio,
Ed esser cauti molto a noi conviene."

Those who roused the people to resistance; who directed their measures
through a long series of eventful years; who formed, out of the most
unpromising materials, the finest army that Europe had ever seen; who
trampled down King, Church, and Aristocracy; who, in the short intervals
of domestic sedition and rebellion, made the name of England terrible to
every nation on the face of the earth--were no vulgar fanatics. Most of
their absurdities were mere external badges, like the signs of
freemasonry or the dresses of friars. We regret that these badges were
not more attractive. We regret that a body to whose courage and talents
mankind has owed inestimable obligations had not the lofty elegance
which distinguished some of the adherents of Charles the First, or the
easy good-breeding for which the court of Charles the Second was
celebrated. But, if we must make our choice, we shall, like Bassanio in
the play, turn from the specious caskets which contain only the Death's
head and the Fool's head, and fix on the plain leaden chest which
conceals the treasure.

The Puritans were men whose minds had derived a peculiar character from
the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests. Not
content with acknowledging, in general terms, an overruling Providence,
they habitually ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being for
whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection nothing was too
minute. To know him, to serve him, to enjoy him, was with them the
great end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonious
homage which other sects substituted for the pure worship of the soul.
Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an
obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on his intolerable brightness,
and to commune with him face to face. Hence originated their contempt
for terrestrial distinctions. The difference between the greatest and
the meanest of mankind seemed to vanish when compared with the boundless
interval which separated the whole race from him on whom their own eyes
were constantly fixed. They recognized no title to superiority but his
favor; and, confident of that favor, they despised all the
accomplishments and all the dignities of the world. If they were
unacquainted with the works of philosophers and poets, they were deeply
read in the oracles of God. If their names were not found in the
registers of heralds, they were recorded in the Book of Life. If their
steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of menials, legions of
ministering angels had charge over them. Their palaces were houses not
made with hands; their diadems crowns of glory which should never fade
away. On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests, they looked
down with contempt; for they esteemed themselves rich in a more precious
treasure, and eloquent in a more sublime language, nobles by the right
of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier
hand. The very meanest of them was a being to whose fate a mysterious
and terrible importance belonged; on whose slightest action the spirits
of light and darkness looked with anxious interest; who had been
destined, before heaven and earth were created, to enjoy a felicity
which should continue when heaven and earth should have passed away.
Events which short-sighted politicians ascribed to earthly causes had
been ordained on his account. For his sake empires had risen, and
flourished, and decayed. For his sake the Almighty had proclaimed his
will by the pen of the evangelist and the harp of the prophet. He had
been wrested by no common deliverer from the grasp of no common foe. He
had been ransomed by the sweat of no vulgar agony by the blood of no
earthly sacrifice. It was for him that the sun had been darkened, that
the rocks had been rent, that the dead had risen, that all nature had
shuddered at the sufferings of her expiring God.

Thus the Puritan was made up of two different men, the one all
self-abasement, penitence, gratitude, passion, the other proud, calm,
inflexible, sagacious. He prostrated himself in the dust before his
Maker; but he set his foot on the neck of his king. In his devotional
retirement, he prayed with convulsions, and groans, and tears. He was
half maddened by glorious or terrible illusions. He heard the lyres of
angels or the tempting whispers of fiends. He caught a gleam of the
Beatific Vision, or woke screaming from dreams of everlasting fire. Like
Vane, he thought himself intrusted with the sceptre of the millennial
year. Like Fleetwood, he cried in the bitterness of his soul that God
had hid his face from him. But when he took his seat in the council, or
girt on his sword for war, these tempestuous workings of the soul had
left no perceptible trace behind them. People who saw nothing of the
godly but their uncouth visages, and heard nothing from them but their
groans and their whining hymns, might laugh at them. But those had
little reason to laugh who encountered them in the hall of debate or on
the field of battle. These fanatics brought to civil and military
affairs a coolness of judgment and an immutability of purpose which some
writers have thought inconsistent with their religious zeal, but which
were in fact the necessary effects of it. The intensity of their
feelings on one subject made them tranquil on every other. One
overpowering sentiment had subjected to itself pity and hatred, ambition
and fear. Death had lost its terrors and pleasure its charms. They had
their smiles and their tears, their raptures and their sorrows, but not
for the things of this world. Enthusiasm had made them stoics, had
cleared their minds from every vulgar passion and prejudice, and raised
them above the influence of danger and of corruption. It sometimes might
lead them to pursue unwise ends, but never to choose unwise means. They
went through the world, like Sir Artegal's iron man Talus with his
flail, crushing and trampling down oppressors, mingling with human
beings, but having neither part nor lot in human infirmities; insensible
to fatigue, to pleasure, and to pain; not to be pierced by any weapon,
not to be withstood by any barrier.

Such we believe to have been the character of the Puritans. We perceive
the absurdity of their manners. We dislike the sullen gloom of their
domestic habits. We acknowledge that the tone of their minds was often
injured by straining after things too high for mortal reach; and we know
that, in spite of their hatred of popery, they too often fell into the
worst vices of that bad system, intolerance and extravagant austerity,
that they had their anchorites and their crusades, their Dunstans and
their De Montforts, their Dominics and their Escobars. Yet, when all
circumstances are taken into consideration, we do not hesitate to
pronounce them a brave, a wise, an honest, and a useful body.

The Puritans espoused the cause of civil liberty mainly because it was
the cause of religion. There was another party, by no means numerous,
but distinguished by learning and ability, which acted with them on very
different principles. We speak of those whom Cromwell was accustomed to
call the Heathens, men who were, in the phraseology of that time,
doubting Thomases or careless Gallios with regard to religious
subjects, but passionate worshippers of freedom. Heated by the study of
ancient literature, they set up their country as their idol, and
proposed to themselves the heroes of Plutarch as their examples. They
seem to have borne some resemblance to the Brissotines of the French
Revolution. But it is not very easy to draw the line of distinction
between them and their devout associates, whose tone and manner they
sometimes found it convenient to affect, and sometimes, it is probable,
imperceptibly adopted.

We now come to the Royalists. We shall attempt to speak of them, as we
have spoken of their antagonists, with perfect candor. We shall not
charge upon a whole party the profligacy and baseness of the horse-boys,
gamblers, and bravoes, whom the hope of license and plunder attracted
from the dens of Whitefriars to the standard of Charles, and who
disgraced their associates by excesses which, under the stricter
discipline of the Parliamentary armies, were never tolerated. We will
select a more favorable specimen. Thinking as we do that the cause of
the king was the cause of bigotry and tyranny, we yet cannot refrain
from looking with complacency on the character of the honest old
Cavaliers. We feel a national pride in comparing them with the
instruments which the despots of other countries are compelled to
employ, with the mutes who throng their antechambers, and the
Janizaries who mount guard at their gates. Our Royalist countrymen were
not heartless, dangling courtiers, bowing at every step, and simpering
at every word. They were not mere machines for destruction, dressed up
in uniforms, caned into skill, intoxicated into valor, defending without
love, destroying without hatred. There was a freedom in their
subserviency, a nobleness in their very degradation. The sentiment of
individual independence was strong within them. They were indeed misled,
but by no base or selfish motive. Compassion and romantic honor, the
prejudices of childhood, and the venerable names of history, threw over
them a spell potent as that of Duessa; and, like the Red Cross Knight,
they thought that they were doing battle for an injured beauty, while
they defended a false and loathsome sorceress. In truth, they scarcely
entered at all into the merits of the political question. It was not for
a treacherous king or an intolerant church that they fought, but for the
old banner which had waved in so many battles over the heads of their
fathers, and for the altars at which they had received the hands of
their brides. Though nothing could be more erroneous than their
political opinions, they possessed, in a far greater degree than their
adversaries, those qualities which are the grace of private life. With
many of the vices of the Round Table, they had also many of its virtues,
courtesy, generosity, veracity, tenderness, and respect for women. They
had far more both of profound and of polite learning than the Puritans.

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