Part 3 out of 6
[Footnote 2: Act ii. sc. 3.]
Born at Salisbury, 1584.--Died, 1640.
With regard to Massinger, observe,
1. The vein of satire on the times; but this is not as in Shakspeare,
where the natures evolve themselves according to their incidental
disproportions, from excess, deficiency, or mislocation, of one or more
of the component elements; but is merely satire on what is attributed to
them by others.
2. His excellent metre--a better model for dramatists in general to
imitate than Shakspeare's,--even if a dramatic taste existed in the
frequenters of the stage, and could be gratified in the present size and
management, or rather mismanagement, of the two patent theatres. I do
not mean that Massinger's verse is superior to Shakspeare's or equal to
it. Far from it; but it is much more easily constructed and may be more
successfully adopted by writers in the present day. It is the nearest
approach to the language of real life at all compatible with a fixed
metre. In Massinger, as in all our poets before Dryden, in order to make
harmonious verse in the reading, it is absolutely necessary that the
meaning should be understood;--when the meaning is once seen, then the
harmony is perfect. Whereas in Pope and in most of the writers who
followed in his school, it is the mechanical metre which determines the
3. The impropriety, and indecorum of demeanour in his favourite
characters, as in Bertoldo in the Maid of Honour, who is a swaggerer,
talking to his sovereign what no sovereign could endure, and to
gentlemen what no gentleman would answer without pulling his nose.
4. Shakspeare's Ague-cheek, Osric, &c. are displayed through others, in
the course of social intercourse, by the mode of their performing some
office in which they are employed; but Massinger's 'Sylli' come forward
to declare themselves fools 'ad arbitrium auctoris,' and so the diction
always needs the 'subintelligitur' ('the man looks as if he thought so
and so,') expressed in the language of the satirist, and not in that of
the man himself:--
'Sylli.' You may, madam,
Perhaps, believe that I in this use art
To make you dote upon me, by exposing
My more than most rare features to your view;
But I, as I have ever done, deal simply,
A mark of sweet simplicity, ever noted
In the family of the Syllis. Therefore, lady,
Look not with too much contemplation on me;
If you do, you are in the suds.
'Maid of Honour', act i. sc. 2.
The author mixes his own feelings and judgments concerning the presumed
fool; but the man himself, till mad, fights up against them, and
betrays, by his attempts to modify them, that he is no fool at all, but
one gifted with activity and copiousness of thought, image and
expression, which belong not to a fool, but to a man of wit making
himself merry with his own character.
5. There is an utter want of preparation in the decisive acts of
Massinger's characters, as in Camiola and Aurelia in the Maid of Honour.
Why? Because the 'dramatis personae' were all planned each by itself.
Whereas in Shakspeare, the play is 'syngenesia;' each character has,
indeed, a life of its own, and is an 'individuum' of itself, but yet an
organ of the whole, as the heart in the human body. Shakspeare was a
great comparative anatomist.
Hence Massinger and all, indeed, but Shakspeare, take a dislike to their
own characters, and spite themselves upon them by making them talk like
fools or monsters; as Fulgentio in his visit to Camiola, (Act ii. sc.
2.) Hence too, in Massinger, the continued flings at kings, courtiers,
and all the favourites of fortune, like one who had enough of intellect
to see injustice in his own inferiority in the share of the good things
of life, but not genius enough to rise above it, and forget himself.
Beaumont and Fletcher have the same vice in the opposite pole, a
servility of sentiment and a spirit of partizanship with the monarchical
6. From the want of a guiding point in Massinger's characters, you never
know what they are about. In fact they have no character.
7. Note the faultiness of his soliloquies, with connectives and
arrangements, that have no other motive but the fear lest the audience
should not understand him.
8. A play of Massinger's produces no one single effect, whether arising
from the spirit of the whole, as in the As You Like It; or from any one
indisputably prominent character as Hamlet. It is just "which you like
9. The unnaturally irrational passions and strange whims of feeling
which Massinger delights to draw, deprive the reader of all sound
interest in the characters;--as in Mathias in the Picture, and in other
10. The comic scenes in Massinger not only do not harmonize with the
tragic, not only interrupt the feeling, but degrade the characters that
are to form any part in the action of the piece, so as to render them
unfit for any tragic interest. At least, they do not concern, or act
upon, or modify, the principal characters. As when a gentleman is
insulted by a mere blackguard,--it is the same as if any other accident
of nature had occurred, a pig run under his legs, or his horse thrown
him. There is no dramatic interest in it.
I like Massinger's comedies better than his tragedies, although where
the situation requires it, he often rises into the truly tragic and
pathetic. He excells in narration, and for the most part displays his
mere story with skill. But he is not a poet of high imagination; he is
like a Flemish painter, in whose delineations objects appear as they do
in nature, have the same force and truth, and produce the same effect
upon the spectator. But Shakspeare is beyond this;--he always by
metaphors and figures involves in the thing considered a universe of
past and possible experiences; he mingles earth, sea and air, gives a
soul to every thing, and at the same time that he inspires human
feelings, adds a dignity in his images to human nature itself:--
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye;
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchymy, &c.
'Note.'--Have I not over-rated Gifford's edition of Massinger?--Not,--if
I have, as but just is, main reference to the restitution of the text;
but yes, perhaps, if I were talking of the notes. These are more often
wrong than right. In the Maid of Honour, Act i. sc. 5. Astutio describes
Fulgentio as "A gentleman, yet no lord." Gifford supposes a
transposition of the press for "No gentleman, yet a lord." But this
would have no connection with what follows; and we have only to
recollect that "lord" means a lord of lands, to see that the after lines
are explanatory. He is a man of high birth, but no landed property;--as
to the former, he is a distant branch of the blood royal;--as to the
latter, his whole rent lies in a narrow compass, the king's ear! In the
same scene the text stands:
'Bert'. No! they are useful
For your 'imitation;'--I remember you, &c.;--
and Gifford condemns Mason's conjecture of 'initiation' as void of
meaning and harmony. Now my ear deceives me if 'initiation' be not the
right word. In fact,'imitation' is utterly impertinent to all that
follows. Bertoldo tells Antonio that he had been initiated in the
manners suited to the court by two or three sacred beauties, and that a
similar experience would be equally useful for his initiation into the
camp. Not a word of his imitation. Besides, I say the rhythm requires
'initiation,' and is lame as the verse now stands.
Born at Madrid, 1547;-Shakspeare, 1564; both put off mortality on the
same day, the 23rd of April, 1616,--the one in the sixty-ninth, the
other in the fifty-second, year of his life. The resemblance in their
physiognomies is striking, but with a predominance of acuteness in
Cervantes, and of reflection in Shakspeare, which is the specific
difference between the Spanish and English characters of mind.
I. The nature and eminence of Symbolical writing;--
II. Madness, and its different sorts, (considered without pretension to
To each of these, or at least to my own notions respecting them, I must
devote a few words of explanation, in order to render the after critique
on Don Quixote, the master work of Cervantes' and his country's genius
easily and throughout intelligible. This is not the least valuable,
though it may most often be felt by us both as the heaviest and least
entertaining portion of these critical disquisitions: for without it, I
must have foregone one at least of the two appropriate objects of a
Lecture, that of interesting you during its delivery, and of leaving
behind in your minds the germs of after-thought, and the materials for
future enjoyment. To have been assured by several of my intelligent
auditors that they have reperused Hamlet or Othello with increased
satisfaction in consequence of the new points of view in which I had
placed those characters--is the highest compliment I could receive or
desire; and should the address of this evening open out a new source of
pleasure, or enlarge the former in your perusal of Don Quixote, it will
compensate for the failure of any personal or temporary object.
I. The Symbolical cannot, perhaps, be better defined in distinction from
the Allegorical, than that it is always itself a part of that, of the
whole of which it is the representative.--"Here comes a sail,"--(that
is, a ship) is a symbolical expression. "Behold our lion!" when we speak
of some gallant soldier, is allegorical. Of most importance to our
present subject is this point, that the latter (the allegory) cannot be
other than spoken consciously;--whereas in the former (the symbol) it
is very possible that the general truth represented may be working
unconsciously in the writer's mind during the construction of the
symbol;--and it proves itself by being produced out of his own mind,--as
the Don Quixote out of the perfectly sane mind of Cervantes, and not by
outward observation, or historically. The advantage of symbolical
writing over allegory is, that it presumes no disjunction of faculties,
but simple predominance.
II. Madness may be divided as--
1. hypochondriasis; or, the man is out of his senses.
2. derangement of the understanding; or, the man is out of his wits.
3. loss of reason.
4. frenzy, or derangement of the sensations.
Cervantes's own preface to Don Quixote is a perfect model of the gentle,
every where intelligible, irony in the best essays of the Tatler and the
Spectator. Equally natural and easy, Cervantes is more spirited than
Addison; whilst he blends with the terseness of Swift, an exquisite flow
and music of style, and above all, contrasts with the latter by the
sweet temper of a superior mind, which saw the follies of mankind, and
was even at the moment suffering severely under hard mistreatment;
and yet seems every where to have but one thought as the undersong--
"Brethren! with all your faults I love you still!"--or as a mother that
chides the child she loves, with one hand holds up the rod, and with the
other wipes off each tear as it drops!
Don Quixote was neither fettered to the earth by want, nor holden in its
embraces by wealth;--of which, with the temperance natural to his
country, as a Spaniard, he had both far too little, and somewhat too
much, to be under any necessity of thinking about it. His age too,
fifty, may be well supposed to prevent his mind from being tempted out
of itself by any of the lower passions;--while his habits, as a very
early riser and a keen sportsman, were such as kept his spare body in
serviceable subjection to his will, and yet by the play of hope that
accompanies pursuit, not only permitted, but assisted, his fancy in
shaping what it would. Nor must we omit his meagerness and entire
featureliness, face and frame, which Cervantes gives us at once: "It is
said that his surname was 'Quixada' or 'Quesada,'" &c.--even in this
trifle showing an exquisite judgment;--just once insinuating the
association of 'lantern-jaws' into the reader's mind, yet not retaining
it obtrusively like the names in old farces and in the Pilgrim's
Progress,--but taking for the regular appellative one which had the no
meaning of a proper name in real life, and which yet was capable of
recalling a number of very different, but all pertinent, recollections,
as old armour, the precious metals hidden in the ore, &c. Don Quixote's
leanness and featureliness are happy exponents of the excess of the
formative or imaginative in him, contrasted with Sancho's plump
rotundity, and recipiency of external impression.
He has no knowledge of the sciences or scientific arts which give to the
meanest portions of matter an intellectual interest, and which enable
the mind to decypher in the world of the senses the invisible
agency--that alone, of which the world's phenomena are the effects and
manifestations,--and thus, as in a mirror, to contemplate its own
reflex, its life in the powers, its imagination in the symbolic forms,
its moral instincts in the final causes, and its reason in the laws of
material nature: but--estranged from all the motives to observation from
self-interest--the persons that surround him too few and too familiar to
enter into any connection with his thoughts, or to require any
adaptation of his conduct to their particular characters or relations to
himself--his judgment lies fallow, with nothing to excite, nothing to
employ it. Yet,--and here is the point, where genius even of the most
perfect kind, allotted but to few in the course of many ages, does not
preclude the necessity in part, and in part counterbalance the craving
by sanity of judgment, without which genius either cannot be, or cannot
at least manifest itself,--the dependency of our nature asks for some
confirmation from without, though it be only from the shadows of other
Too uninformed, and with too narrow a sphere of power and opportunity to
rise into the scientific artist, or to be himself a patron of art, and
with too deep a principle and too much innocence to become a mere
projector, Don Quixote has recourse to romances:--
His curiosity and extravagant fondness herein arrived at that pitch,
that he sold many acres of arable land to purchase books of
knight-errantry, and carried home all he could lay hands on of that
The more remote these romances were from the language of common life,
the more akin on that very account were they to the shapeless dreams and
strivings of his own mind;--a mind, which possessed not the highest
order of genius which lives in an atmosphere of power over mankind, but
that minor kind which, in its restlessness, seeks for a vivid
representative of its own wishes, and substitutes the movements of that
objective puppet for an exercise of actual power in and by itself. The
more wild and improbable these romances were, the more were they akin to
his will, which had been in the habit of acting as an unlimited monarch
over the creations of his fancy! Hence observe how the startling of the
remaining common sense, like a glimmering before its death, in the
notice of the impossible-improbable of Don Belianis, is dismissed by Don
Quixote as impertinent:--
'He had some doubt'  as to the dreadful wounds which Don Belianis
gave and received: for he imagined, that notwithstanding the most
expert surgeons had cured him, his face and whole body must still be
full of seams and scars. 'Nevertheless'  he commended in his author
the concluding his book with a promise of that unfinishable adventure!
Hence also his first intention to turn author; but who, with such a
restless struggle within him, could content himself with writing in a
remote village among apathists and ignorants? During his colloquies with
the village priest and the barber surgeon, in which the fervour of
critical controversy feeds the passion and gives reality to its
object--what more natural than that the mental striving should become an
eddy?--madness may perhaps be denned as the circling in a stream which
should be progressive and adaptive: Don Quixote grows at length to be a
man out of his wits; his understanding is deranged; and hence without
the least deviation from the truth of nature, without losing the least
trait of personal individuality, he becomes a substantial living
allegory, or personification of the reason and the moral sense, divested
of the judgment and the understanding. Sancho is the converse. He is the
common sense without reason or imagination; and Cervantes not only shows
the excellence and power of reason in, Don Quixote, but in both him and
Sancho the mischiefs resulting from a severance of the two main
constituents of sound intellectual and moral action. Put him and his
master together, and they form a perfect intellect; but they are
separated and without cement; and hence each having a need of the other
for its own completeness, each has at times a mastery over the other.
For the common sense, although it may see the practical inapplicability
of the dictates of the imagination or abstract reason, yet cannot help
submitting to them. These two characters possess the world, alternately
and interchangeably the cheater and the cheated. To impersonate them,
and to combine the permanent with the individual, is one of the highest
creations of genius, and has been achieved by Cervantes and Shakspeare,
Observations on particular passages,
(B. I. c. 1.)
But not altogether approving of his having broken it to pieces with so
much ease, to secure himself from the like danger for the future, he
made it over again, fencing it with small bars of iron within, in such
a manner, 'that he rested satisfied of its strength; and without
caring to make a fresh experiment on it, he approved and looked upon
it as a most excellent helmet.'
His not trying his improved scull-cap is an exquisite trait of human
character, founded on the oppugnancy of the soul in such a state to any
disturbance by doubt of its own broodings. Even the long deliberation
about his horse's name is full of meaning;--for in these day-dreams the
greater part of the history passes and is carried on in words, which
look forward to other words as what will be said of them.
Near the place where he lived, there dwelt a very comely country lass,
with whom he had formerly been in love; though, as it is supposed, she
never knew it, nor troubled herself about it.
The nascent love for the country lass, but without any attempt at
utterance, or an opportunity of knowing her, except as the hint--the
[Greek (transliterated): oti esti]--of the inward imagination, is
happily conceived in both parts;--first, as confirmative of the
shrinking back of the mind on itself, and its dread of having a
cherished image destroyed by its own judgment; and secondly, as showing
how necessarily love is the passion of novels. Novels are to love as
fairy tales to dreams. I never knew but two men of taste and feeling who
could not understand why I was delighted with the Arabian Nights' Tales,
and they were likewise the only persons in my knowledge who scarcely
remembered having ever dreamed. Magic and war--itself a magic--are the
day-dreams of childhood; love is the day-dream of youth and early
"Scarcely had ruddy Phoebus spread the golden tresses of his beauteous
hair over the face of the wide and spacious earth; and scarcely had
the little painted birds, with the sweet and mellifluous harmony of
their forked tongues, saluted the approach of rosy Aurora, who,
quitting the soft couch of her jealous husband, disclosed herself to
mortals through the gates of the Mauchegan horizon; when the renowned
Don Quixote," &c.
How happily already is the abstraction from the senses, from
observation, and the consequent confusion of the judgment, marked in
this description! The knight is describing objects immediate to his
senses and sensations without borrowing a single trait from either.
Would it be difficult to find parallel descriptions in Dryden's plays
and in those of his successors?
The host is here happily conceived as one who from his past life as a
sharper, was capable of entering into and humouring the knight, and so
perfectly in character, that he precludes a considerable source of
improbability in the future narrative, by enforcing upon Don Quixote the
necessity of taking money with him.
"Ho, there, whoever thou art, rash knight, that approachest to touch
the arms of the most valorous adventurer that ever girded sword," &c.
Don Quixote's high eulogiums on himself--"the most valorous
adventurer!"--but it is not himself that he has before him, but the idol
of his imagination, the imaginary being whom he is acting. And this,
that it is entirely a third person, excuses his heart from the otherwise
inevitable charge of selfish vanity; and so by madness itself he
preserves our esteem, and renders those actions natural by which he, the
first person, deserves it.
Andres and his master. The manner in which Don Quixote redressed this
wrong, is a picture of the true revolutionary passion in its first
honest state, while it is yet only a bewilderment of the understanding.
You have a benevolence limitless in its prayers, which are in fact
aspirations towards omnipotence; but between it and beneficence the
bridge of judgment--that is, of measurement of personal
power--intervenes, and must be passed. Otherwise you will be bruised by
the leap into the chasm, or be drowned in the revolutionary river, and
drag others with you to the same fate.
Merchants of Toledo.
When they were come so near as to be seen and heard, Don Quixote
raised his voice, and with arrogant air cried out: "Let the whole
world stand; if the whole world does not confess that there is not in
the whole world a damsel more beautiful than," &c.
Now mark the presumption which follows the self-complacency of the last
act! That was an honest attempt to redress a real wrong; this is an
arbitrary determination to enforce a Brissotine or Rousseau's ideal on
all his fellow creatures.
Let the whole world stand!
'If there had been any experience in proof of the excellence of our
code, where would be our superiority in this enlightened age?'
"No! the business is that without seeing her, you believe, confess,
affirm, swear, and maintain it; _and if not, I challenge you all to
Next see the persecution and fury excited by opposition however
moderate! The only words listened to are those, that without their
context and their conditionals, and transformed into positive
assertions, might give some shadow of excuse for the violence shown!
This rich story ends, to the compassion of the men in their senses, in a
sound rib-roasting of the idealist by the muleteer, the mob. And happy
for thee, poor knight! that the mob were against thee! For had they been
with thee, by the change of the moon and of them, thy head would have
(C. 5.) first part--The idealist recollects the causes that had been
accessary to the reverse and attempts to remove them--too late. He is
beaten and disgraced.
(C. 6.) This chapter on Don Quixote's library proves that the author did
not wish to destroy the romances, but to cause them to be read as
romances--that is, for their merits as poetry.
Among other things, Don Quixote told him, he should dispose himself to
go with him willingly;--for some time or other such an adventure might
present, that an island might be won, in the turn of a hand, and he be
left governor thereof.
At length the promises of the imaginative reason begin to act on the
plump, sensual, honest common sense accomplice,--but unhappily not in
the same person, and without the 'copula' of the judgment,--in hopes of
the substantial good things, of which the former contemplated only the
glory and the colours.
Sancho Panza went riding upon his ass, like any patriarch, with his
wallet and leathern bottle, and with a vehement desire to find himself
governor of the island which his master had promised him.
The first relief from regular labour is so pleasant to poor Sancho!
"I no gentleman! I swear by the great God, thou liest, as I am a
Christian. Biscainer by land, gentleman by sea, gentleman for the
devil, and thou liest: look then if thou hast any thing else to say."
This Biscainer is an excellent image of the prejudices and bigotry
provoked by the idealism of a speculator. This story happily detects the
trick which our imagination plays in the description of single combats:
only change the preconception of the magnificence of the combatants, and
all is gone.
(B. II. c. 2.)
"Be pleased, my lord Don Quixote, to bestow upon me the government of
that island," &c.
Sancho's eagerness for his government, the nascent lust of actual
democracy, or isocracy!
"But tell me, on your life, have you ever seen a more valorous knight
than I, upon the whole face of the known earth? Have you read in story
of any other, who has, or ever had, more bravery in assailing, more
breath in holding out, more dexterity in wounding, or more address in
giving a fall?"--"The truth is," answered Sancho, "that I never read
any history at all; for I can neither read nor write; but what I dare
affirm is, that I never served a bolder master," &c.
This appeal to Sancho, and Sancho's answer are exquisitely humorous. It
is impossible not to think of the French bulletins and proclamations.
Remark the necessity under which we are of being sympathized with, fly
as high into abstraction as we may, and how constantly the imagination
is recalled to the ground of our common humanity! And note a little
further on, the knight's easy vaunting of his balsam, and his quietly
deferring the making and application of it.
(C. 3.) The speech before the goatherds:
"Happy times and happy ages," &c. 
Note the rhythm of this, and the admirable beauty and wisdom of the
thoughts in themselves, but the total want of judgment in Don Quixote's
addressing them to such an audience.
(B. III. c. 3.) Don Quixote's balsam, and the vomiting and consequent
relief; an excellent hit at 'panacea nostrums', which cure the patient
by his being himself cured of the medicine by revolting nature.
"Peace! and have patience; the day will come," &c.
The perpetual promises of the imagination!
"Your Worship," said Sancho, "would make a better preacher than knight
Exactly so. This is the true moral.
The uncommon beauty of the description in the commencement of this
chapter. In truth, the whole of it seems to put all nature in its
heights and its humiliations, before us.
(Ib.) Sancho's story of the goats:
"Make account, he carried them all over," said Don Quixote, "and do
not be going and coming in this manner; for at this rate, you will not
have done carrying them over in a twelvemonth." "How many are passed
already?" said Sancho, &c.
Observe the happy contrast between the all-generalizing mind of the mad
knight, and Sancho's all-particularizing memory. How admirable a symbol
of the dependence of all 'copula' on the higher powers of the mind, with
the single exception of the succession in time and the accidental
relations of space. Men of mere common sense have no theory or means of
making one fact more important or prominent than the rest; if they lose
one link, all is lost. Compare Mrs. Quickly and the Tapster.  And
note also Sancho's good heart, when his master is about to leave him.
Don Quixote's conduct upon discovering the fulling-hammers, proves he
was meant to be in his senses. Nothing can be better conceived than his
fit of passion at Sancho's laughing, and his sophism of
self-justification by the courage he had shown.
Sancho is by this time cured, through experience, as far as his own
errors are concerned; yet still is he lured on by the unconquerable awe
of his master's superiority, even when he is cheating him.
The adventure of the Galley-slaves. I think this is the only passage of
moment in which Cervantes slips the mask of his hero, and speaks for
Don Quixote desired to have it, and bade him take the money, and keep
it for himself. Sancho kissed his hands for the favour, &c.
Observe Sancho's eagerness to avail himself of the permission of his
master, who, in the war sports of knight-errantry, had, without any
selfish dishonesty, overlooked the 'meum' and 'tuum.' Sancho's
selfishness is modified by his involuntary goodness of heart, and Don
Quixote's flighty goodness is debased by the involuntary or unconscious
selfishness of his vanity and self-applause.
Cardenio is the madman of passion, who meets and easily overthrows for
the moment the madman of imagination. And note the contagion of madness
of any kind, upon Don Quixote's interruption of Cardenio's story.
Perhaps the best specimen of Sancho's proverbializing is this:
"And I (Don Q.) say again, they lie, and will lie two hundred times
more, all who say, or think her so." "I neither say, nor think so,"
answered Sancho: "let those who say it, eat the lie, and swallow it
with their bread: whether they were guilty or no, they have given an
account to God before now: I come from my vineyard, I know nothing; I
am no friend to inquiring into other men's lives; 'for' he that buys
and lies shall find the lie left in his purse behind; 'besides,' naked
was I born, and naked I remain; I neither win nor lose; if they were
guilty, what is that to me? Many think to find bacon, where there is
not so much as a pin to hang it on: 'but' who can hedge in the cuckoo?
'Especially,' do they spare God himself?"
"And it is no great matter, if it be in another hand; for by what I
remember, Dulcinea can neither write nor read," &c.
The wonderful twilight of the mind! and mark Cervantes's courage in
daring to present it, and trust to a distant posterity for an
appreciation of its truth to nature.
(P. II. B. III. c. 9.)
Sancho's account of what he had seen on Clavileno is a counterpart in
his style to Don Quixote's adventures in the cave of Montesinos. This
last is the only impeachment of the knight's moral character; Cervantes
just gives one instance of the veracity failing before the strong
cravings of the imagination for something real and external; the picture
would not have been complete without this; and yet it is so well
managed, that the reader has no unpleasant sense of Don Quixote having
told a lie. It is evident that he hardly knows whether it was a dream or
not; and goes to the enchanter to inquire the real nature of the
[Footnote 1: 'Bien como quien se engendro en una carcel, donde toda
incomodidad tiene su assiento, y todo triste ruido hace su
habitacion.' Like one you may suppose born in a prison, where every
inconvenience keeps its residence, and every dismal sound its
habitation. Pref. Jarvis's Tr. Ed.]
[Footnote 2: 'No estaba muy bien con'. Ed.]
[Footnote 3: Pero con todo. Ed.]
[Footnote 4: 'Donde no, conmigo sois en batalla, gente descomunal!'
[Footnote 5: 'Dichosa edad y siglos dichosos aquellos, &c.' Ed.]
[Footnote 6: See the 'Friend', vol. iii. p. 138. Ed.]
SUMMARY ON CERVANTES.
A Castilian of refined manners; a gentleman, true to religion, and true
A scholar and a soldier, and fought under the banners of Don John of
Austria, at Lepanto, lost his arm and was captured.
Endured slavery not only with fortitude, but with mirth; and by the
superiority of nature, mastered and overawed his barbarian owner.
Finally ransomed, he resumed his native destiny, the awful task of
achieving fame; and for that reason died poor and a prisoner, while
nobles and kings over their goblets of gold gave relish to their
pleasures by the charms of his divine genius. He was the inventor of
novels for the Spaniards, and in his Persilis and Sigismunda, the
English may find the germ of their Robinson Crusoe.
The world was a drama to him. His own thoughts, in spite of poverty and
sickness, perpetuated for him the feelings of youth. He painted only
what he knew and had looked into, but he knew and had looked into much
indeed; and his imagination was ever at hand to adapt and modify the
world of his experience. Of delicious love he fabled, yet with stainless
ON THE DISTINCTIONS OF THE WITTY, THE DROLL, THE ODD, AND THE HUMOUROUS;
THE NATURE AND CONSTITUENTS OF HUMOUR;--RABELAIS--SWIFT--STERNE.
I. Perhaps the most important of our intellectual operations are those
of detecting the difference in similar, and the identity in dissimilar,
things. Out of the latter operation it is that wit arises; and it,
generically regarded, consists in presenting thoughts or images in an
unusual connection with each other, for the purpose of exciting pleasure
by the surprise. This connection may be real; and there is in fact a
scientific wit; though where the object, consciously entertained, is
truth, and not amusement, we commonly give it some higher name. But in
wit popularly understood, the connection may be, and for the most part
is, apparent only, and transitory; and this connection may be by
thoughts, or by words, or by images. The first is our Butler's especial
eminence; the second, Voltaire's; the third, which we oftener call
fancy, constitutes the larger and more peculiar part of the wit of
Shakspeare. You can scarcely turn to a single speech of Falstaff's
without finding instances of it. Nor does wit always cease to deserve
the name by being transient, or incapable of analysis. I may add that
the wit of thoughts belongs eminently to the Italians, that of words to
the French, and that of images to the English.
II. Where the laughable is its own end, and neither inference, nor moral
is intended, or where at least the writer would wish it so to appear,
there arises what we call drollery. The pure, unmixed, ludicrous or
laughable belongs exclusively to the understanding, and must be
presented under the form of the senses; it lies within the spheres of
the eye and the ear, and hence is allied to the fancy. It does not
appertain to the reason or the moral sense, and accordingly is alien to
the imagination. I think Aristotle has already excellently defined the
laughable,[Greek (transliterated): tho geloion], as consisting of, or
depending on, what is out of its proper time and place, yet without
danger or pain. Here th'impropriety'--[Greek (transliterated): tho
ahtopon]--is the positive qualification; the 'dangerlessness'--[Greek
(transliterated): tho akindunon]--the negative. Neither the understanding
without an object of the senses, as for example, a mere notional error,
or idiocy;--nor any external object, unless attributed to the
understanding, can produce the poetically laughable. Nay, even in
ridiculous positions of the body laughed at by the vulgar, there is a
subtle personification always going on, which acts on the, perhaps,
unconscious mind of the spectator as a symbol of intellectual character.
And hence arises the imperfect and awkward effect of comic stories of
animals; because although the understanding is satisfied in them, the
senses are not. Hence too, it is, that the true ludicrous is its own
end. When serious satire commences, or satire that is felt as serious,
however comically drest, free and genuine laughter ceases; it becomes
sardonic. This you experience in reading Young, and also not
unfrequently in Butler. The true comic is the blossom of the nettle.
III. When words or images are placed in unusual juxta-position rather
than connection, and are so placed merely because the juxta-position is
unusual--we have the odd or the grotesque; the occasional use of which
in the minor ornaments of architecture, is an interesting problem for a
student in the psychology of the Fine Arts.
IV. In the simply laughable there is a mere disproportion between a
definite act and a definite purpose or end, or a disproportion of the
end itself to the rank or circumstances of the definite person; but
humour is of more difficult description. I must try to define it in the
first place by its points of diversity from the former species. Humour
does not, like the different kinds of wit, which is impersonal, consist
wholly in the understanding and the senses. No combination of thoughts,
words, or images will of itself constitute humour, unless some
peculiarity of individual temperament and character be indicated
thereby, as the cause of the same. Compare the comedies of Congreve with
the Falstaff in Henry IV. or with Sterne's Corporal Trim, Uncle Toby,
and Mr. Shandy, or with some of Steele's charming papers in the Tatler,
and you will feel the difference better than I can express it. Thus
again, (to take an instance from the different works of the same
writer), in Smollett's Strap, his Lieutenant Bowling, his Morgan the
honest Welshman, and his Matthew Bramble, we have exquisite
humour,--while in his Peregrine Pickle we find an abundance of drollery,
which too often degenerates into mere oddity; in short, we feel that a
number of things are put together to counterfeit humour, but that there
is no growth from within. And this indeed is the origin of the word,
derived from the humoral pathology, and excellently described by Ben
So in every human body,
The choler, melancholy, phlegm, and blood,
By reason that they flow continually
In some one part, and are not continent,
Receive the name of humours. Now thus far
It may, by metaphor, apply itself
Unto the general disposition:
As when some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his effects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way,
This may be truly said to be a humour. 
Hence we may explain the congeniality of humour with pathos, so
exquisite in Sterne and Smollett, and hence also the tender feeling
which we always have for, and associate with, the humours or
hobby-horses of a man. First, we respect a humourist, because absence of
interested motive is the ground-work of the character, although the
imagination of an interest may exist in the individual himself, as if a
remarkably simple-hearted man should pride himself on his knowledge of
the world, and how well he can manage it:--and secondly, there always is
in a genuine humour an acknowledgement of the hollowness and farce of the
world, and its disproportion to the godlike within us. And it follows
immediately from this, that whenever particular acts have reference to
particular selfish motives, the humourous bursts into the indignant and
abhorring; whilst all follies not selfish are pardoned or palliated. The
danger of this habit, in respect of pure morality, is strongly
exemplified in Sterne.
This would be enough, and indeed less than this has passed, for a
sufficient account of humour, if we did not recollect that not every
predominance of character, even where not precluded by the moral sense,
as in criminal dispositions, constitutes what we mean by a humourist, or
the presentation of its produce, humour. What then is it? Is it
manifold? Or is there some one humorific point common to all that can be
called humourous?--I am not prepared to answer this fully, even if my
time permitted; but I think there is;--and that it consists in a certain
reference to the general and the universal, by which the finite great is
brought into identity with the little, or the little with the finite
great, so as to make both nothing in comparison with the infinite. The
little is made great, and the great little, in order to destroy both;
because all is equal in contrast with the infinite. "It is not without
reason, brother Toby, that learned men write dialogues on long
noses." I would suggest, therefore, that whenever a finite is
contemplated in reference to the infinite, whether consciously or
unconsciously, humour essentially arises. In the highest humour, at
least, there is always a reference to, and a connection with, some
general power not finite, in the form of some finite ridiculously
disproportionate in our feelings to that of which it is, nevertheless,
the representative, or by which it is to be displayed. Humourous
writers, therefore, as Sterne in particular, delight, after much
preparation, to end in nothing, or in a direct contradiction.
That there is some truth in this definition, or origination of humour,
is evident; for you cannot conceive a humourous man who does not give
some disproportionate generality, or even a universality to his
hobby-horse, as is the case with Mr. Shandy; or at least there is an
absence of any interest but what arises from the humour itself, as in my
Uncle Toby, and it is the idea of the soul, of its undefined capacity
and dignity, that gives the sting to any absorption of it by any one
pursuit, and this not in respect of the humourist as a mere member of
society for a particular, however mistaken, interest, but as a man.
The English humour is the most thoughtful, the Spanish the most
etherial--the most ideal--of modern literature. Amongst the classic
ancients there was little or no humour in the foregoing sense of the
term. Socrates, or Plato under his name, gives some notion of humour in
the Banquet, when he argues that tragedy and comedy rest upon the same
ground. But humour properly took its rise in the middle ages; and the
Devil, the Vice of the mysteries, incorporates the modern humour in its
elements. It is a spirit measured by disproportionate finites. The Devil
is not, indeed, perfectly humourous; but that is only because he is the
extreme of all humour.
[Footnote 1: Every Man Out Of His Humour. Prologue.]
[Footnote 2: Trist. Sh. Vol. iii. c. 37.]
Born at Chinon, 1483-4.--Died 1553.
One cannot help regretting that no friend of Rabelais, (and surely
friends he must have had), has left an authentic account of him. His
buffoonery was not merely Brutus' rough stick, which contained a rod of
gold; it was necessary as an amulet against the monks and bigots. Beyond
a doubt, he was among the deepest as well as boldest thinkers of his
age. Never was a more plausible, and seldom, I am persuaded, a less
appropriate line than the thousand times quoted,
Rabelais laughing in his easy chair--
of Mr. Pope. The caricature of his filth and zanyism proves how fully he
both knew and felt the danger in which he stood. I could write a
treatise in proof and praise of the morality and moral elevation of
Rabelais' work which would make the church stare and the conventicle
groan, and yet should be the truth and nothing but the truth. I class
Rabelais with the creative minds of the world, Shakspeare, Dante,
All Rabelais' personages are phantasmagoric allegories, but Panurge
above all. He is throughout the [Greek (transliterated):
panourgia],--the wisdom, that is, the cunning of the human animal,--the
understanding, as the faculty of means to purposes without ultimate
ends, in the most comprehensive sense, and including art, sensuous
fancy, and all the passions of the understanding. It is impossible to
read Rabelais without an admiration mixed with wonder at the depth and
extent of his learning, his multifarious knowledge, and original
observation beyond what books could in that age have supplied him with.
(B. III. c. 9.)
How Panurge asketh counsel of Pantagruel, whether he should marry, yea
Note this incomparable chapter. Pantagruel stands for the reason as
contradistinguished from the understanding and choice, that is, from
Panurge; and the humour consists in the latter asking advice of the
former on a subject in which the reason can only give the inevitable
conclusion, the syllogistic 'ergo', from the premisses provided by the
understanding itself, which puts each case so as of necessity to
predetermine the verdict thereon. This chapter, independently of the
allegory, is an exquisite satire on the spirit in which people commonly
[Footnote 1: No note remains of that part of this Lecture which treated
of Rabelais. This seems, therefore, a convenient place for the reception
of some remarks written by Mr. C. in Mr. Gillman's copy of Rabelais,
about the year 1825. See Table Talk, vol. i. p. 177. Ed.]
Born in Dublin, 1667.--Died 1745.
In Swift's writings there is a false misanthropy grounded upon an
exclusive contemplation of the vices and follies of mankind, and this
misanthropic tone is also disfigured or brutalized by his obtrusion of
physical dirt and coarseness. I think Gulliver's Travels the great work
of Swift. In the voyages to Lilliput and Brobdingnag he displays the
littleness and moral contemptibility of human nature; in that to the
Houyhnhnms he represents the disgusting spectacle of man with the
understanding only, without the reason or the moral feeling, and in his
horse he gives the misanthropic ideal of man--that is, a being virtuous
from rule and duty, but untouched by the principle of love.
[Footnote 1: From Mr. Green's note. Ed.]
Born at Clonmel, 1713.--Died 1768.
With regard to Sterne, and the charge of licentiousness which presses so
seriously upon his character as a writer, I would remark that there is a
sort of knowingness, the wit of which depends--1st, on the modesty it
gives pain to; or, 2dly, on the innocence and innocent ignorance over
which it triumphs; or, 3dly, on a certain oscillation in the
individual's own mind between the remaining good and the encroaching
evil of his nature--a sort of dallying with the devil--a fluxionary act
of combining courage and cowardice, as when a man snuffs a candle with
his fingers for the first time, or better still, perhaps, like that
trembling daring with which a child touches a hot tea urn, because it
has been forbidden; so that the mind has in its own white and black
angel the same or similar amusement, as may be supposed to take place
between an old debauchee and a prude,--she feeling resentment, on the
one hand, from a prudential anxiety to preserve appearances and have a
character, and, on the other, an inward sympathy with the enemy. We have
only to suppose society innocent, and then nine-tenths of this sort of
wit would be like a stone that falls in snow, making no sound because
exciting no resistance; the remainder rests on its being an offence
against the good manners of human nature itself.
This source, unworthy as it is, may doubtless be combined with wit,
drollery, fancy, and even humour, and we have only to regret the
misalliance; but that the latter are quite distinct from the former, may
be made evident by abstracting in our imagination the morality of the
characters of Mr. Shandy, my Uncle Toby, and Trim, which are all
antagonists to this spurious sort of wit, from the rest of Tristram
Shandy, and by supposing, instead of them, the presence of two or three
callous debauchees. The result will be pure disgust. Sterne cannot be
too severely censured for thus using the best dispositions of our nature
as the panders and condiments for the basest.
The excellencies of Sterne consist--
1. In bringing forward into distinct consciousness those minutiae of
thought and feeling which appear trifles, yet have an importance for the
moment, and which almost every man feels in one way or other. Thus is
produced the novelty of an individual peculiarity, together with the
interest of a something that belongs to our common nature. In short,
Sterne seizes happily on those points, in which every man is more or
less a humourist. And, indeed, to be a little more subtle, the
propensity to notice these things does itself constitute the humourist,
and the superadded power of so presenting them to men in general gives
us the man of humour. Hence the difference of the man of humour, the
effect of whose portraits does not depend on the felt presence of
himself, as a humourist, as in the instances of Cervantes and
Shakspeare--nay, of Rabelais too; and of the humourist, the effect of
whose works does very much depend on the sense of his own oddity, as in
Sterne's case, and perhaps Swift's; though Swift again would require a
2. In the traits of human nature, which so easily assume a particular
cast and colour from individual character. Hence this excellence and the
pathos connected with it quickly pass into humour, and form the ground
of it. See particularly the beautiful passage, so well known, of Uncle
Toby's catching and liberating the fly:
"Go,"--says he, one day at dinner, to an overgrown one which had
buzzed about his nose, and tormented him cruelly all dinner-time, and
which, after infinite attempts, he had caught at last, as it flew by
him;--"I'll not hurt thee," says my Uncle Toby, rising from his chair,
and going across the room, with the fly in his hand,--"I'll not hurt a
hair of thy head:--Go," says he, lifting up the sash, and opening his
hand as he spoke, to let it escape;--"go, poor devil, get thee gone,
why should I hurt thee? This world is surely wide enough to hold both
thee and me." (Vol. ii. ch. 12.)
Observe in this incident how individual character may be given by the
mere delicacy of presentation and elevation in degree of a common good
quality, humanity, which in itself would not be characteristic at all.
3. In Mr. Shandy's character,--the essence of which is a craving for
sympathy in exact proportion to the oddity and unsympathizability of
what he proposes;--this coupled with an instinctive desire to be at
least disputed with, or rather both in one, to dispute and yet to
agree--and holding as worst of all--to acquiesce without either
resistance or sympathy. This is charmingly, indeed, profoundly
conceived, and is psychologically and ethically true of all Mr.
Shandies. Note, too, how the contrasts of character, which are always
either balanced or remedied, increase the love between the brothers.
4. No writer is so happy as Sterne in the unexaggerated and truly
natural representation of that species of slander, which consists in
gossiping about our neighbours, as whetstones of our moral
discrimination; as if they were conscience-blocks which we used in our
apprenticeship, in order not to waste such precious materials as our own
consciences in the trimming and shaping of ourselves by
Alas o'day!--had Mrs. Shandy (poor gentlewoman!) had but her wish in
going up to town just to lie in and come down again; which, they say,
she begged and prayed for upon her bare knees, and which, in my
opinion, considering the fortune which Mr. Shandy got with her, was no
such mighty matter to have complied with, the lady and her babe might
both of them have been alive at this hour. (Vol. i. c. 18.)
5. When you have secured a man's likings and prejudices in your favour,
you may then safely appeal to his impartial judgment. In the following
passage not only is acute sense shrouded in wit, but a life and a
character are added which exalt the whole into the dramatic:--
"I see plainly, Sir, by your looks" (or as the case happened) my
father would say--"that you do not heartily subscribe to this opinion
of mine--which, to those," he would add, "who have not carefully
sifted it to the bottom,--I own has an air more of fancy than of solid
reasoning in it; and yet, my dear Sir, if I may presume to know your
character, I am morally assured, I should hazard little in stating a
case to you, not as a party in the dispute, but as a judge, and
trusting my appeal upon it to your good sense and candid disquisition
in this matter; you are a person free from as many narrow prejudices
of education as most men; and, if I may presume to penetrate farther
into you, of a liberality of genius above bearing down an opinion,
merely because it wants friends. Your son,--your dear son,--from whose
sweet and open temper you have so much to expect,--your Billy, Sir!--
would you, for the world, have called him JUDAS? Would you, my dear
Sir," he would say, laying his hand upon your breast, with the
genteelest address,--and in that soft and irresistible 'piano' of
voice which the nature of the 'argumentum ad hominem' absolutely
requires,--"Would you, Sir, if a 'Jew' of a godfather had proposed the
name for your child, and offered you his purse along with it, would
you have consented to such a desecration of him? O my God!" he would
say, looking up, "if I know your temper rightly, Sir, you are
incapable of it;--you would have trampled upon the offer;--you would
have thrown the temptation at the tempter's head with abhorrence. Your
greatness of mind in this action, which I admire, with that generous
contempt of money, which you show me in the whole transaction, is
really noble;--and what renders it more so, is the principle of
it;--the workings of a parent's love upon the truth and conviction of
this very hypothesis, namely, that were your son called Judas,--the
sordid and treacherous idea, so inseparable from the name, would have
accompanied him through life like his shadow, and in the end made a
miser and a rascal of him, in spite, Sir, of your example." (Vol. i.
6. There is great physiognomic tact in Sterne. See it particularly
displayed in his description of Dr. Slop, accompanied with all that
happiest use of drapery and attitude, which at once give reality by
individualizing and vividness by unusual, yet probable, combinations:--
Imagine to yourself a little squat, uncourtly figure of a Doctor Slop,
of about four feet and a half perpendicular height, with a breadth of
back, and a sesquipedality of belly, which might have done honour to a
serjeant in the horseguards. ... Imagine such a one;--for such I say,
were the outlines of Dr. Slop's figure, coming slowly along, foot by
foot, waddling through the dirt upon the 'vertebrae' of a little
diminutive pony, of a pretty colour--but of strength,--alack! scarce
able to have made an amble of it, under such a fardel, had the roads
been in an ambling condition;--they were not. Imagine to yourself
Obadiah mounted upon a strong monster of a coach-horse, pricked into a
full gallop, and making all practicable speed the adverse way. (Vol.
ii. c. 9.)
7. I think there is more humour in the single remark, which I have
quoted before--"Learned men, brother Toby, don't write dialogues upon
long noses for nothing!"--than in the whole Slawkenburghian tale that
follows, which is mere oddity interspersed with drollery.
8. Note Sterne's assertion of, and faith in, a moral good in the
characters of Trim, Toby, &c. as contrasted with the cold scepticism of
motives which is the stamp of the Jacobin spirit. Vol. v. c. 9.
9. You must bear in mind, in order to do justice to Rabelais and Sterne,
that by right of humoristic universality each part is essentially a
whole in itself. Hence the digressive spirit is not mere wantonness, but
in fact the very form and vehicle of their genius. The connection, such
as was needed, is given by the continuity of the characters.
Instances of different forms of wit, taken largely:
1. "Why are you reading romances at your age?"--"Why, I used to be fond
of history, but I have given it up,--it was so grossly improbable."
2. "Pray, sir, do it!--although you have promised me."
3. The Spartan mother's--
"Return with, or on, thy shield."
"My sword is too short!"--"Take a step forwarder."
4. The Gasconade:--
"I believe you, Sir! but you will excuse my repeating it on account of
my provincial accent."
5. Pasquil on Pope Urban, who had employed a committee to rip up the old
errors of his predecessors.
Some one placed a pair of spurs on the heels of the statue of St. Peter,
and a label from the opposite statue of St. Paul, on the same bridge;--
'St. Paul.' "Whither then are you bound?"
'St. Peter.' "I apprehend danger here;-they'll soon call me in
question for denying my Master."
'St. Paul.' "Nay, then, I had better be off too; for they'll question
me for having persecuted the Christians, before my conversion."
6. Speaking of the small German potentates, I dictated the
phrase,--'officious for equivalents.' This my amanuensis
wrote,--'fishing for elephants;'--which, as I observed at the time, was
a sort of Noah's angling, that could hardly have occurred, except at the
commencement of the Deluge.
Born in London, 1573.--Died, 1631.
With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots;
Rhyme's sturdy cripple, fancy's maze and clue,
Wit's forge and fire-blast, meaning's press and screw.
See lewdness and theology combin'd,--
A cynic and a sycophantic mind;
A fancy shar'd party per pale between
Death's heads and skeletons and Aretine!--
Not his peculiar defect or crime,
But the true current mintage of the time.
Such were the establish'd signs and tokens given
To mark a loyal churchman, sound and even,
Free from papistic and fanatic leaven.
The wit of Donne, the wit of Butler, the wit of Pope, the wit of
Congreve, the wit of Sheridan--how many disparate things are here
expressed by one and the same word, Wit!--Wonder-exciting vigour,
intenseness and peculiarity of thought, using at will the almost
boundless stores of a capacious memory, and exercised on subjects, where
we have no right to expect it--this is the wit of Donne! The four others
I am just in the mood to describe and inter-distinguish;--what a pity
that the marginal space will not let me!
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we--find two fitter hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west?
'Good-Morrow', v. 15, &c.
The sense is;--Our mutual loves may in many respects be fitly compared
to corresponding hemispheres; but as no simile squares ('nihil simile
est idem'), so here the simile fails, for there is nothing in our loves
that corresponds to the cold north, or the declining west, which in two
hemispheres must necessarily be supposed. But an ellipse of such length
will scarcely rescue the line from the charge of nonsense or a bull.
A misnomer. The title ought to be--
Whether both th' Indias of spice and 'mine', &c.
'Sun Rising', v. 17.
And see at night thy western land of 'mine', &c.
'Progress of the Soul', 1 Song, 2. st.
This use of the word mine specifically for mines of gold, silver, or
precious stones, is, I believe, peculiar to Donne.
[Footnote 1: Nothing remains of what was said on Donne in this Lecture.
Here, therefore, as in previous like instances, the gap is filled up
with some notes written by Mr. Coleridge in a volume of Chalmers's
'Poets', belonging to Mr. Gillman. Ed.]
[Footnote 2: The verses were added in pencil to the collection of
commendatory lines; No. I. is Mr. C.'s; the publication of No. II. I
trust the all-accomplished author will, under the circumstances, pardon.
Numerous and elaborate notes by Mr. Coleridge on Donne's Sermons are in
existence, and will be published hereafter. Ed.]
Born at Florence, 1265.--Died, 1321.
As I remarked in a former Lecture on a different subject (for subjects
the most diverse in literature have still their tangents), the Gothic
character, and its good and evil fruits, appeared less in Italy than in
any other part of European Christendom. There was accordingly much less
romance, as that word is commonly understood; or, perhaps, more truly
stated, there was romance instead of chivalry. In Italy, an earlier
imitation of, and a more evident and intentional blending with, the
Latin literature took place than elsewhere. The operation of the feudal
system, too, was incalculably weaker, of that singular chain of
independent interdependents, the principle of which was a confederacy
for the preservation of individual, consistently with general, freedom.
In short, Italy, in the time of Dante, was an afterbirth of eldest
Greece, a renewal or a reflex of the old Italy under its kings and first
Roman consuls, a net-work of free little republics, with the same
domestic feuds, civil wars, and party spirit,--the same vices and
virtues produced on a similarly narrow theatre,--the existing state of
things being, as in all small democracies, under the working and
direction of certain individuals, to whose will even the laws were
swayed;--whilst at the same time the singular spectacle was exhibited
amidst all this confusion of the flourishing of commerce, and the
protection and encouragement of letters and arts. Never was the
commercial spirit so well reconciled to the nobler principles of social
polity as in Florence. It tended there to union and permanence and
elevation,--not as the overbalance of it in England is now doing, to
dislocation, change and moral degradation. The intensest patriotism
reigned in these communities, but confined and attached exclusively to
the small locality of the patriot's birth and residence; whereas in the
true Gothic feudalism, country was nothing but the preservation of
personal independence. But then, on the other hand, as a counterbalance
to these disuniting elements, there was in Dante's Italy, as in Greece,
a much greater uniformity of religion common to all than amongst the
Upon these hints the history of the republican aeras of ancient Greece
and modern Italy ought to be written. There are three kinds or stages of
historic narrative: 1. that of the annalist or chronicler, who deals
merely in facts and events arranged in order of time, having no
principle of selection, no plan of arrangement, and whose work properly
constitutes a supplement to the poetical writings of romance or heroic
legends: 2. that of the writer who takes his stand on some moral point,
and selects a series of events for the express purpose of illustrating
it, and in whose hands the narrative of the selected events is modified
by the principle of selection;--as Thucydides, whose object was to
describe the evils of democratic and aristocratic partizanships;--or
Polybius, whose design was to show the social benefits resulting from
the triumph and grandeur of Rome, in public institutions and military
discipline;--or Tacitus, whose secret aim was to exhibit the pressure
and corruptions of despotism;--in all which writers and others like
them, the ground-object of the historian colours with artificial lights
the facts which he relates: 3. and which in idea is the grandest-the
most truly, founded in philosophy--there is the Herodotean history,
which is not composed with reference to any particular causes, but
attempts to describe human nature itself on a great scale as a portion
of the drama of providence, the free will of man resisting the destiny
of events,--for the individuals often succeeding against it, but for the
race always yielding to it, and in the resistance itself invariably
affording means towards the completion of the ultimate result. Mitford's
history is a good and useful work; but in his zeal against democratic
government, Mitford forgot, or never saw, that ancient Greece was not,
nor ought ever to be considered, a permanent thing, but that it existed,
in the disposition of providence, as a proclaimer of ideal truths, and
that everlasting proclamation being made, that its functions were
naturally at an end.
However, in the height of such a state of society in Italy, Dante was
born and flourished; and was himself eminently a picture of the age in
which he lived. But of more importance even than this, to a right
understanding of Dante, is the consideration that the scholastic
philosophy was then at its acme even in itself; but more especially in
Italy, where it never prevailed so exclusively as northward of the Alps.
It is impossible to understand the genius of Dante, and difficult to
understand his poem, without some knowledge of the characters, studies,
and writings of the schoolmen of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth
centuries. For Dante was the living link between religion and
philosophy; he philosophized the religion and christianized the
philosophy of Italy; and, in this poetic union of religion and
philosophy, he became the ground of transition into the mixed Platonism
and Aristotelianism of the Schools, under which, by numerous minute
articles of faith and ceremony, Christianity became a craft of
hair-splitting, and was ultimately degraded into a complete 'fetisch'
worship, divorced from philosophy, and made up of a faith without
thought, and a credulity directed by passion. Afterwards, indeed,
philosophy revived under condition of defending this very superstition;
and, in so doing, it necessarily led the way to its subversion, and that
in exact proportion to the influence of the philosophic schools. Hence
it did its work most completely in Germany, then in England, next in
France, then in Spain, least of all in Italy. We must, therefore, take
the poetry of Dante as christianized, but without the further Gothic
accession of proper chivalry. It was at a somewhat later period, that
the importations from the East, through the Venetian commerce and the
crusading armaments, exercised a peculiarly strong influence on Italy.
In studying Dante, therefore, we must consider carefully the differences
produced, first, by allegory being substituted for polytheism; and
secondly and mainly, by the opposition of Christianity to the spirit of
pagan Greece, which receiving the very names of its gods from Egypt,
soon deprived them of all that was universal. The Greeks changed the
ideas into finites, and these finites into 'anthropomorphi,' or forms of
men. Hence their religion, their poetry, nay, their very pictures,
became statuesque. With them the form was the end. The reverse of this
was the natural effect of Christianity; in which finites, even the human
form, must, in order to satisfy the mind, be brought into connexion
with, and be in fact symbolical of, the infinite; and must be considered
in some enduring, however shadowy and indistinct, point of view, as the
vehicle or representative of moral truth.
Hence resulted two great effects; a combination of poetry with doctrine,
and, by turning the mind inward on its own essence instead of letting it
act only on its outward circumstances and communities, a combination of
poetry with sentiment. And it is this inwardness or subjectivity, which
principally and most fundamentally distinguishes all the classic from
all the modern poetry. Compare the passage in the 'Iliad' (Z. vi.
119-236.) in which Diomed and Glaucus change arms,--
[Greek (transliterated): Cheiras t'allilon labetin kai pistosanto]
They took each other by the hand, and pledged friendship--
with the scene in 'Ariosto' (Orlando Furioso, c. i. st. 20-22.), where
Rinaldo and Ferrauto fight and afterwards make it up:--
Al Pagan la proposta non dispiacque:
Cosi fu differita la tenzone;
E tal tregua tra lor subito nacque,
Si l' odio e l' ira va in oblivione,
Che 'l Pagano al partir dalle fresche acque
Non lascio a piede il buon figliuol d' Amone:
Con preghi invita, e al fin lo toglie in groppa,
E per l' orme d' Angelica galoppa.
Here Homer would have left it. But the Christian poet has his own
feelings to express, and goes on:--
Oh gran bonta de' cavalieri antiqui!
Eran rivali, eran di fe diversi,
E si sentian degli aspri colpi iniqui
Per tutta la persona anco dolersi;
E pur per selve oscure e calli obbliqui
Insieme van senza sospetto aversi!
And here you will observe, that the reaction of Ariosto's own feelings
on the image or act is more fore-grounded (to use a painter's phrase)
than the image or act itself.
The two different modes in which the imagination is acted on by the
ancient and modern poetry, may be illustrated by the parallel effects
caused by the contemplation of the Greek or Roman-Greek architecture,
compared with the Gothic. In the Pantheon, the whole is perceived in a
perceived harmony with the parts which compose it; and generally you
will remember that where the parts preserve any distinct individuality,
there simple beauty, or beauty simply, arises; but where the parts melt
undistinguished into the whole, there majestic beauty, or majesty, is
the result. In York Minster, the parts, the grotesques, are in
themselves very sharply distinct and separate, and this distinction and
separation of the parts is counterbalanced only by the multitude and
variety of those parts, by which the attention is bewildered;--whilst
the whole, or that there is a whole produced, is altogether a feeling in
which the several thousand distinct impressions lose themselves as in a
universal solvent. Hence in a Gothic cathedral, as in a prospect from a
mountain's top, there is, indeed, a unity, an awful oneness;--but it is,
because all distinction evades the eye. And just such is the distinction
between the 'Antigone' of Sophocles and the 'Hamlet' of Shakespeare.
The 'Divina Commedia' is a system of moral, political, and theological
truths, with arbitrary personal exemplifications, which are not, in my
opinion, allegorical. I do not even feel convinced that the punishments
in the Inferno are strictly allegorical. I rather take them to have been
in Dante's mind 'quasi'-allegorical, or conceived in analogy to pure
I have said, that a combination of poetry with doctrines, is one of the
characteristics of the Christian muse; but I think Dante has not
succeeded in effecting this combination nearly so well as Milton.
This comparative failure of Dante, as also some other peculiarities of
his mind, in 'malam partem', must be immediately attributed to the state
of North Italy in his time, which is vividly represented in Dante's
life; a state of intense democratical partizanship, in which an
exaggerated importance was attached to individuals, and which whilst it
afforded a vast field for the intellect, opened also a boundless arena
for the passions, and in which envy, jealousy, hatred, and other
malignant feelings, could and did assume the form of patriotism, even to
the individual's own conscience.
All this common, and, as it were, natural partizanship, was aggravated
arid coloured by the Guelf and Ghibelline factions; and, in part
explanation of Dante's adherence to the latter, you must particularly
remark, that the Pope had recently territorialized his authority to a
great extent, and that this increase of territorial power in the church,
was by no means the same beneficial movement for the citizens of free
republics, as the parallel advance in other countries was for those who
groaned as vassals under the oppression of the circumjacent baronial
By way of preparation to a satisfactory perusal of the 'Divina
Commedia', I will now proceed to state what I consider to be Dante's
chief excellences as a poet. And I begin with:
I. Style--the vividness, logical connexion, strength and energy of which
cannot be surpassed. In this I think Dante superior to Milton; and his
style is accordingly more imitable than Milton's, and does to this day
exercise a greater influence on the literature of his country. You
cannot read Dante without feeling a gush of manliness of thought within
you. Dante was very sensible of his own excellence in this particular,
and speaks of poets as guardians of the vast armory of language, which
is the intermediate something between matter and spirit:--
Or se' tu quel Virgilio, e quella fonte,
Che spande di parlar si largo fiume?
Risposi lui con vergognosa fronte.
O degli altri poeti onore e lume,
Vagliami 'l lungo studio e 'l grande amore,
Che m' han fatto cercar lo tuo volume.
Tu se' lo mio maestro, e 'l mio autore:
_Tu se' solo colui, da cu' io tolsi
Lo bello stile, che m' ha fatto onore._
('Inf'. c. 1. v. 79.)
"And art thou then that Virgil, that well-spring,
From which such copious floods of eloquence
Have issued?" I, with front abash'd, replied:
"Glory and light of all the tuneful train!
May it avail me, that I long with zeal
Have sought thy volume, and with love immense
Have conn'd it o'er. My master, thou, and guide!
'Thou he from whom I have alone deriv'd
That style, which for its beauty into fame
(Cary. [his translation--text Ed.])
Indeed there was a passion and a miracle of words in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, after the long slumber of language in barbarism,
which gave an almost romantic character, a virtuous quality and power,
to what was read in a book, independently of the thoughts or images
contained in it. This feeling is very often perceptible in Dante.
II. The Images in Dante are not only taken from obvious nature, and are
all intelligible to all, but are ever conjoined with the universal
feeling received from nature, and therefore affect the general feelings
of all men. And in this respect, Dante's excellence is very great, and
may be contrasted with the idiosyncracies of some meritorious modern
poets, who attempt an eruditeness, the result of particular feelings.
Consider the simplicity, I may say plainness, of the following simile,
and how differently we should in all probability deal with it at the
Quale i fioretti dal notturno gelo
Chinati e chiusi, poi che 'l sol gl' imbianca,
Si drizzan tutti aperti in loro stelo,--
Fal mi fec' io di mia virtute stanca;
('Inf.' c. 2. v. 127.)
As florets, by the frosty air of night
Bent down and clos'd, when day has blanch'd their leaves,
Rise all unfolded on their spiry stems,--
So was my fainting vigour new restor'd.
III. Consider the wonderful profoundness of the whole third canto of the
'Inferno'; and especially of the inscription over Hell gate:
Per me si va, &c.--
which can only be explained by a meditation on the true nature of
religion; that is,--reason 'plus' the understanding. I say profoundness
rather than sublimity; for Dante does not so much elevate your thoughts
as send them down deeper. In this canto all the images are distinct, and
even vividly distinct; but there is a total impression of infinity; the
wholeness is not in vision or conception, but in an inner feeling of
totality, and absolute being.
IV. In picturesqueness, Dante is beyond all other poets, modern or
ancient, and more in the stern style of Pindar, than of any other.
Michel Angelo is said to have made a design for every page of the
'Divina Commedia'. As superexcellent in this respect, I would note the
conclusion of the third canto of the 'Inferno':
Ed ecco verso noi venir per nave
Un vecchio bianco per antico pelo
Gridando: guai a voi anime prave: &c. ...
(Ver. 82. &c.)
And lo! toward us in a bark
Comes on an old man, hoary white with eld,
Crying, "Woe to you wicked spirits!" ...
Caron dimonio con occhi di bragia
Loro accennando, tutte le raccoglie:
Batte col remo qualunque s' adagia.
Come d' autunno si levan le foglie
L' una appresso dell altra, infin che 'l ramo
Rende alia terra tutte le sue spoglie;
Similemente il mal seme d' Adamo,
Gittansi di quel lito ad una ad una
Per cenni, com' augel per suo richiamo.
(Ver. 100, &c.)
--Charon, demoniac form,
With eyes of burning coal, collects them all,
Beck'ning, and each that lingers, with his oar
Strikes. As fall off the light autumnal leaves,
One still another following, till the bough
Strews all its honours on the earth beneath;--
E'en in like manner Adam's evil brood
Cast themselves one by one down from the shore
Each at a beck, as falcon at his call.
And this passage, which I think admirably picturesque:
Ma poco valse, che l' ale al sospetto
Non potero avanzar: quegli ando sotto,
E quei drizzo, volando, suso il petto.
Non altrimenti l' anitra di botto,
Quando 'l falcon s' appressa, giu s' attuffa,
Ed ei ritorna su crucciato e rotto.
Irato Calcabrina della buffa,
Volando dietro gli tenne, invaghito,
Che quei campasse, per aver la zuffa:
E come 'l barattier fu disparito,
Cosi volse gli artigli al suo compagno,
E fu con lui sovra 'l fosso ghermito.
Ma l' altro fu bene sparvier grifagno
Ad artigliar ben lui, e amedue
Cadder nel mezzo del bollente stagno.
Lo caldo sghermidor subito fue:
Ma pero di levarsi era niente,
Si aveano inviscate l' ale sue.
('Infer.' c. xxii. ver. 127, &c.)
But little it avail'd: terror outstripp'd
His following flight: the other plung'd beneath,
And he with upward pinion rais'd his breast:
E'en thus the water-fowl, when she perceives
The falcon near, dives instant down, while he
Enrag'd and spent retires. That mockery
In Calcabrina fury stirr'd, who flew
After him, with desire of strife inflam'd;
And, for the barterer had 'scap'd, so turn'd
His talons on his comrade. O'er the dyke
In grapple close they join'd; but th' other prov'd
A goshawk, able to rend well his foe;
And in the boiling lake both fell. The heat
Was umpire soon between them, but in vain
To lift themselves they strove, so fast were glued
V. Very closely connected with this picturesqueness, is the topographic
reality of Dante's journey through Hell. You should note and dwell on
this as one of his great charms, and which gives a striking peculiarity
to his poetic power. He thus takes the thousand delusive forms of a
nature worse than chaos, having no reality but from the passions which
they excite, and compels them into the service of the permanent. Observe
the exceeding truth of these lines:
Noi ricidemmo 'l cerchio all' altra riva,
Sovr' una fonte che bolle, e riversa,
Per un fossato che da lei diriva.
L' acqua era buja molto piu che persa:
E noi in compagnia dell' onde bige
Entrammo giu per una via diversa.
Una palude fa, ch' ha nome Stige,
Questo tristo ruscel, quando e disceso
Al pie delle maligne piagge grige.
Ed io che di mirar mi stava inteso,--
Vidi genti fangose in quel pantano
Ignude tutte, e con sembiante offeso.
Questi si percotean non pur con mano,
Ma con la testa, e col petto, e co' piedi,
Troncandosi co' denti a brano a brano. ...
Cosi girammo della lorda pozza
Grand' arco tra la ripa secca e 'l mezzo,
Con gli occhi volti a chi del fango ingozza:
'Venimmo appi d' una torre al dassezzo'.
(C. vii. ver. 100 and 127.)
--We the circle cross'd
To the next steep, arriving at a well,
That boiling pours itself down to a foss
Sluic'd from its source. Far murkier was the wave
Than sablest grain: and we in company
Of th' inky waters, journeying by their side,
Enter'd, though by a different track, beneath.
Into a lake, the Stygian nam'd, expands
The dismal stream, when it hath reach'd the foot
Of the grey wither'd cliffs. Intent I stood
To gaze, and in the marish sunk, descried
A miry tribe, all naked, and with looks
Betok'ning rage. They with their hands alone
Struck not, but with the head, the breast, the feet,
Cutting each other piecemeal with their fangs. ...
Thus compass'd, we a segment widely stretch'd
Between the dry embankment and the cove
Of the loath'd pool, turning meanwhile our eyes
Downward on those who gulp'd its muddy lees;
_Nor stopp'd, till to a tower's low base we came._
VI. For Dante's power,--his absolute mastery over, although rare
exhibition of, the pathetic, I can do no more than refer to the passages
on Francesca di Rimini (Infer. C. v. ver. 73 to the end.) and on
Ugolino, (Infer. C. xxxiii. ver. 1. to 75.) They are so well known, and
rightly so admired, that it would be pedantry to analyze their
composition; but you will note that the first is the pathos of passion,
the second that of affection; and yet even in the first, you seem to
perceive that the lovers have sacrificed their passion to the cherishing
of a deep and rememberable impression.
VII. As to going into the endless subtle beauties of Dante, that is
impossible; but I cannot help citing the first triplet of the 29th canto
of the Inferno:
La molta gente e le diverse piaghe
Avean le luci m 'e s' inebriate,
Che dello stare a piangere eran vaghe.
So were mine eyes inebriate with the view
Of the vast multitude, whom various wounds
Disfigur'd, that they long'd to stay and weep.
Nor have I now room for any specific comparison of Dante with Milton.
But if I had, I would institute it upon the ground of the last canto of
the Inferno from the 1st to the 69th line, and from the 106th to the
end. And in this comparison I should notice Dante's occasional fault of
becoming grotesque from being too graphic without imagination; as in his
Lucifer compared with Milton's Satan. Indeed he is sometimes horrible
rather than terrible,--falling into the [Greek (transliteration):
misaeton] instead of the [Greek (transliteration): deinon] of
Longinus; in other words, many of his images excite bodily disgust,
and not moral fear. But here, as in other cases, you may perceive that
the faults of great authors are generally excellencies carried to an
[Footnote 1: Mr. Coleridge here notes: "I will, if I can, here make an
historical movement, and pay a proper compliment to Mr. Hallam."
[Footnote 2: Mr. Coleridge here notes: "Here to speak of Mr. Cary's
[Footnote 3: 'De Subl.' 1. ix.]
Born in London, 1608.--Died, 1674.
If we divide the period from the accession of Elizabeth to the
Protectorate of Cromwell into two unequal portions, the first ending
with the death of James I. the other comprehending the reign of Charles
and the brief glories of the Republic, we are forcibly struck with a
difference in the character of the illustrious actors, by whom each
period is rendered severally memorable. Or rather, the difference in the
characters of the great men in each period, leads us to make this
Eminent as the intellectual powers were that were displayed in both; yet
in the number of great men, in the various sorts of excellence, and not
merely in the variety but almost diversity of talents united in the same
individual, the age of Charles falls short of its predecessor; and the
stars of the Parliament, keen as their radiance was, in fulness and
richness of lustre, yield to the constellation at the court of
Elizabeth;--which can only be paralleled by Greece in her brightest
moment, when the titles of the poet, the philosopher, the historian, the
statesman and the general not seldom formed a garland round the same
head, as in the instances of our Sidneys and Raleighs. But then, on the
other hand, there was a vehemence of will, an enthusiasm of principle, a
depth and an earnestness of spirit, which the charms of individual fame
and personal aggrandisement could not pacify,--an aspiration after
reality, permanence, and general good,--in short, a moral grandeur in
the latter period, with which the low intrigues, Machiavellic maxims,
and selfish and servile ambition of the former, stand in painful
The causes of this it belongs not to the present occasion to detail at
length; but a mere allusion to the quick succession of revolutions in
religion, breeding a political indifference in the mass of men to
religion itself, the enormous increase of the royal power in consequence
of the humiliation of the nobility and the clergy--the transference of
the papal authority to the crown,--the unfixed state of Elizabeth's own
opinions, whose inclinations were as popish as her interests were
protestant--the controversial extravagance and practical imbecility of
her successor--will help to explain the former period; and the
persecutions that had given a life and soul-interest to the disputes so
imprudently fostered by James,--the ardour of a conscious increase of
power in the commons, and the greater austerity of manners and maxims,
the natural product and most formidable weapon of religious disputation,
not merely in conjunction, but in closest combination, with newly
awakened political and republican zeal, these perhaps account for the
character of the latter aera.
In the close of the former period, and during the bloom of the latter,
the poet Milton was educated and formed; and he survived the latter, and
all the fond hopes and aspirations which had been its life; and so in
evil days, standing as the representative of the combined excellence of
both periods, he produced the 'Paradise Lost as by an after-throe of
nature. "There are some persons (observes a divine, a contemporary of
Milton's) of whom the grace of God takes early hold, and the good spirit
inhabiting them, carries them on in an even constancy through innocence
into virtue, their Christianity bearing equal date with their manhood,
and reason and religion, like warp and woof, running together, make up
one web of a wise and exemplary life. This (he adds) is a most happy
case, wherever it happens; for, besides that there is no sweeter or more
lovely thing on earth than the early buds of piety, which drew from our
Saviour signal affection to the beloved disciple, it is better to have
no wound than to experience the most sovereign balsam, which, if it work
a cure, yet usually leaves a scar behind." Although it was and is my
intention to defer the consideration of Milton's own character to the
conclusion of this Lecture, yet I could not prevail on myself to
approach the Paradise Lost without impressing on your minds the
conditions under which such a work was in fact producible at all, the
original genius having been assumed as the immediate agent and efficient
cause; and these conditions I find in the character of the times and in
his own character. The age in which the foundations of his mind were
laid, was congenial to it as one golden era of profound erudition and
individual genius;--that in which the superstructure was carried up, was
no less favourable to it by a sternness of discipline and a show of
self-control, highly flattering to the imaginative dignity of an heir of
fame, and which won Milton over from the dear-loved delights of academic
groves and cathedral aisles to the anti-prelatic party. It acted on him,
too, no doubt, and modified his studies by a characteristic
controversial spirit, (his presentation of God is tinted with it)--a
spirit not less busy indeed in political than in theological and
ecclesiastical dispute, but carrying on the former almost always, more
or less, in the guise of the latter. And so far as Pope's censure  of
our poet,--that he makes God the Father a school divine--is just, we
must attribute it to the character of his age, from which the men of
genius, who escaped, escaped by a worse disease, the licentious
indifference of a Frenchified court.
Such was the 'nidus' or soil, which constituted, in the strict sense of
the word, the circumstances of Milton's mind. In his mind itself there
were purity and piety absolute; an imagination to which neither the past
nor the present were interesting, except as far as they called forth and
enlivened the great ideal, in which and for which he lived; a keen love
of truth, which, after many weary pursuits, found a harbour in a sublime
listening to the still voice in his own spirit, and as keen a love of
his country, which, after a disappointment still more depressive,
expanded and soared into a love of man as a probationer of immortality.
These were, these alone could be, the conditions under which such a work
as the Paradise Lost could be conceived and accomplished. By a life-long
study Milton had known--
What was of use to know,
What best to say could say, to do had done.
His actions to his words agreed, his words
To his large heart gave utterance due, his heart
Contain'd of good, wise, fair, the perfect shape;
and he left the imperishable total, as a bequest to the ages coming, in
the 'Paradise Lost'. 
Difficult as I shall find it to turn over these leaves without catching
some passage, which would tempt me to stop, I propose to consider,
1st, the general plan and arrangement of the work;
2ndly, the subject with its difficulties and advantages;
3rdly, the poet's object, the spirit in the letter, the [Greek
(transliterated): enthumion en muthps], the true school-divinity;
and lastly, the characteristic excellencies of the poem, in what they
consist, and by what means they were produced.
1. As to the plan and ordonnance of the Poem.
Compare it with the 'Iliad', many of the books of which might change
places without any injury to the thread of the story. Indeed, I doubt
the original existence of the 'Iliad' as one poem; it seems more probable
that it was put together about the time of the Pisistratidae. The
'Iliad'--and, more or less, all epic poems, the subjects of which are
taken from history--have no rounded conclusion; they remain, after all,
but single chapters from the volume of history, although they are
ornamental chapters. Consider the exquisite simplicity of the Paradise
Lost. It and it alone really possesses a beginning, a middle, and an
end; it has the totality of the poem as distinguished from the 'ab
ovo' birth and parentage, or straight line, of history.
2. As to the subject.
In Homer, the supposed importance of the subject, as the first effort of
confederated Greece, is an after-thought of the critics; and the
interest, such as it is, derived from the events themselves, as
distinguished from the manner of representing them, is very languid to
all but Greeks. It is a Greek poem. The superiority of the 'Paradise Lost'
is obvious in this respect, that the interest transcends the limits of a
nation. But we do not generally dwell on this excellence of the 'Paradise
Lost', because it seems attributable to Christianity itself;--yet in fact
the interest is wider than Christendom, and comprehends the Jewish and
Mohammedan worlds;--nay, still further, inasmuch as it represents the
origin of evil, and the combat of evil and good, it contains matter of
deep interest to all mankind, as forming the basis of all religion, and
the true occasion of all philosophy whatsoever.
The FALL of Man is the subject; Satan is the cause; man's blissful state
the immediate object of his enmity and attack; man is warned by an angel
who gives him an account of all that was requisite to be known, to make
the warning at once intelligible and awful; then the temptation ensues,
and the Fall; then the immediate sensible consequence; then the
consolation, wherein an angel presents a vision of the history of men
with the ultimate triumph of the Redeemer. Nothing is touched in this
vision but what is of general interest in religion; any thing else would
have been improper.
The inferiority of Klopstock's 'Messiah' is inexpressible. I admit the
prerogative of poetic feeling, and poetic faith; but I cannot suspend
the judgment even for a moment. A poem may in one sense be a dream, but
it must be a waking dream. In Milton you have a religious faith combined
with the moral nature; it is an efflux; you go along with it. In
Klopstock there is a wilfulness; he makes things so and so. The feigned
speeches and events in the 'Messiah' shock us like falsehoods; but nothing
of that sort is felt in the 'Paradise Lost', in which no particulars, at
least very few indeed, are touched which can come into collision or
juxta-position with recorded matter.
But notwithstanding the advantages in Milton's subject, there were
concomitant insuperable difficulties, and Milton has exhibited
marvellous skill in keeping most of them out of sight. High poetry is
the translation of reality into the ideal under the predicament of
succession of time only. The poet is an historian, upon condition of
moral power being the only force in the universe. The very grandeur of
his subject ministered a difficulty to Milton. The statement of a being
of high intellect, warring against the supreme Being, seems to
contradict the idea of a supreme Being. Milton precludes our feeling
this, as much as possible, by keeping the peculiar attributes of
divinity less in sight, making them to a certain extent allegorical
only. Again, poetry implies the language of excitement; yet how to
reconcile such language with God? Hence Milton confines the poetic
passion in God's speeches to the language of scripture; and once only
allows the 'passio vera', or 'quasi-humana' to appear, in the
passage, where the Father contemplates his own likeness in the Son
before the battle:--
Go then, thou Mightiest, in thy Father's might,
Ascend my chariot, guide the rapid wheels
That shake Heaven's basis, bring forth all my war,
My bow and thunder; my almighty arms
Gird on, and sword upon thy puissant thigh;
Pursue these sons of darkness, drive them out
From all Heaven's bounds into the utter deep:
There let them learn, as likes them, to despise
God and Messiah his anointed king.
(B. VI. v. 710.)
3. As to Milton's object:--
It was to justify the ways of God to man! The controversial spirit
observable in many parts of the poem, especially in God's speeches, is
immediately attributable to the great controversy of that age, the
origination of evil. The Arminians considered it a mere calamity. The
Calvinists took away all human will. Milton asserted the will, but
declared for the enslavement of the will out of an act of the will
itself. There are three powers in us, which distinguish us from the
beasts that perish;--1, reason; 2, the power of viewing universal truth;
and 3, the power of contracting universal truth into particulars.
Religion is the will in the reason, and love in the will.
The character of Satan is pride and sensual indulgence, finding in self
the sole motive of action. It is the character so often seen 'in
little' on the political stage. It exhibits all the restlessness,
temerity, and cunning which have marked the mighty hunters of mankind
from Nimrod to Napoleon. The common fascination of men is, that these
great men, as they are called, must act from some great motive. Milton
has carefully marked in his Satan the intense selfishness, the alcohol
of egotism, which would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. To
place this lust of self in opposition to denial of self or duty, and to
show what exertions it would make, and what pains endure to accomplish
its end, is Milton's particular object in the character of Satan. But
around this character he has thrown a singularity of daring, a grandeur
of sufferance, and a ruined splendour, which constitute the very height