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The Milton of our Forefathers.--D’Israeli. Biography.-His life lies buried in obscurity and fable. We obtain our first glimpses of him as a peasant, on some of the abbey lands of Whitby, who, though his sun was already declining, had never dreamed that he was a sublime poet. A marvellous incident — according to the taste and manner of the age explains his literary history:
Once, sitting with his companions over the ale-cup, while they sang in turn the praises of war or beauty, when the circling "Wood of Joy’ passed to him, he rose and went out with a sad heart, for he alone --all unskilled — was unable to weave his thoughts into verse. Wearied and desponding, he lay down to rest in a stall of oxen, of which he was the appointed night-guard. As he slept, an angel appeared to him and said: “Cadmon, sing some song to me!' The herdsman urged that he was mute and unmusical. “Nevertheless, thou shalt sing !’ retorted the benignant stranger. “What shall I sing?' rejoined the minstrel who had never sung. 'Sing the origin of things!' His imprisoned intellect was unlocked, and he listened to the wonder of his own voice through eighteen lines of “Let us praise God, maker of heaven and earth.' In the morning he remembered the lines, flew to the town-reeve' to announce his dream, told how, in one memorable night - incapable even of reading his own Saxon, after a whole life spent without ever surmising himself to be poetical — he had become a poet, and desired to use his gift for the instruction of the people in the Heavenly Word, Good Abbess Hilda in turn received him, heard him recite, was favorably impressed with his rare talents, gave him an exercise to test his new-found skill, then welcomed him, with all his goods, into the monastery; the brethren read to him, from Genesis to Revelations, wrote down his oracular sayings, and committed them to memory; so winsome, so divine, were his song and his verse. Day by day, piece by piece, the poem grew, till he had turned various parts of Sacred Writ into English poetry. Severed from the cares of
Herre, from Saxon gerefa, denotes a magistrate or officer: obsolete except in compounds, as shire-reeve (now written sherit").
the active world, in the deep calm of monastic seclusion, he lived and wrought, living for the Unseen alone, and undisturbed by either anxiety or doubt. One of the aspects, is this, in which the monastic period of literature appears eminently beautiful,-freedom from the turmoil and impatience, the vanity and pride, of modern literary life. Slowly wasted by disease, he died in 680, near the hour of midnight, peacefully,
‘Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.' Here, to the inquisitive who would go on knocking, the door is closed. Over the outer history of the man, the accidental circumstances of his life, oblivion 'blindly scattereth her poppy.' Of more worth is the inner history of genius. The Dreamer lives in his dream.
Writings.—The Paraphrase, containing, besides other portions of the Bible, the story of the Creation, the Revolt, the Fall, the Flood, and the Exodus. The sole manuscript is of the tenth century; disappearing from visible existence, it was accidentally discovered in the seventeenth, and first published in 1655, a thousand years after its composition.
Filled with the grandeur of his subject, in words of such majesty as were never uttered of human heroes or Scandinavian gods, he sounds the key-note of a new poetic strain:
Most right is it that we, heaven's Guard,
Righteous and mighty!' A concrete of exclamations from a strong, barbarous heart; a song of a servant of Odin, tonsured now, and clad in the habiliments of a monk. Then follow the rebellion of Satan, the expulsion of the angels, and their confinement in the fiery gulf. The Hebrew Tempter, transformed by the German sense of might of individual manhood, becomes a republican, disdainful of vassalage to God:
6 "Wherefore," he said, 5 shall I toil?
Serve Him, bend to Him thus in vassalage?
The two religions, Christian and pagan, so like, mingle their incongruities, images, and legends. The patriarchs are earls; Abraham is 'a guardian of bracelets' (wealth); the sons of Reuben are vikings (sea-pirates); the Ethiopians are “a people brown with the hot coals of heaven’; God is the " Blithe-hearted King,' the Overlord, ruler of his thanes with an iron hand:
*Stern of mood He was; He gript them in His wrath; with hostile hands He gript them, and crushed them in His grasp.'
For three nights and days' the Fiend, with his comrades, fell headlong from the skies down to “the swart hell, a land void of light and full of fame."
“There they have at even, immeasurably long, each of all the fiends, a renewal of fire with sulphur charged; but cometh ere dawn the eastern wind-frost, bitter cold,
ever fire or dart.'
In the 'torture-house' lies the Apostate in chains, proud, fearless, self-conscious, and indomitable, like the Northern warriors; 'the haughty king, who of angels erst was brightest, fairest in heaven, beloved of his Master; so beauteous was his form, he was like to the light stars.'' Overcome, shall he be subdued ?
Within him boiled his thoughts about his heart;
? See Paradise Lost, I and V, for remarkable resemblances.
? Mine times the space that measures day and night
3 Yet from these flames
+ The bitter change
From beds of raging fire to starve in ice.-Ibid.
5 His form had not yet lost
Less than archangel ruined.- Paradise Losi.
His countenance as the morning star that guides
We must not, but to Him must cede our realm.
But to him who has lost everything, vengeance is left. Indissolubly bound, he dispatches an associate to wreak his ire on the innocent pair in Eden. The emissary was 'prompt in arms; he had a crafty soul; this chief set his helmet on his head; he many speeches knew of guileful words; wheeled up from thence, he departed through the doors of hell,'* flinging aside the flames with the bravery of his sovereign. Adam is invincible, but Eve is ensnared; ‘for to her,' we are assured, “a weaker mind had the Creator assigned;' “yet'— let us treat her tenderly — did she it through faithful mind; she knew not that hence so many ills, sinful woes, must follow to mankind.' A theme fitter for the historian or translator; too domestic for the barbarian poet's vigor and sublimity. Tumult, murder, combat and death are needed to swell into flame the native instinct. When, later on, he describes the flight of the Israelites, the strong breast heaves, and he shouts, incapable of restraining his passion:
"They preferred their arms; the war advanced; bucklers glittered, trumpets blared, standards rattled; ... around them screamed the fowls of war; the ravens sang, greedy of battle, dewy-feathered; over the bodies of the host - dark choosers of the slain the wolves sang their horrid even-song.' With full zest, while the blood mounts in blinding currents to his eyes, he recounts the destruction of Pharaoh and his host;
1 See Paradise Lost, I and IV, for singular correspondences.
The infernal doors that on their hinges grate
• The folk was afrighted, the flood-dread seized on their sad souls; ocean wailed with death, the mountain heights were with blood besteamed, the sea foamed with gore, crying was in the waves, the water full of weapons, a death-mist rose; the Egyptians were turned back; trembling they fled, they felt fear; would that host gladly find their homes; their vaunt grew sadder; against them, as a cloud, rose the fell rolling of the waves; there came not any of that host to home, but from behind enclosed them fate with thc ware. Where wave e'er lay, the sea raged. Their might was merged, the streams stood, the storm rose high to heaven; the loudest arm-cry the hostile uttered; the air above was thickened with dying voices. ... Ocean raged, drew itself up on high, the storms rose, the corpses rolled.' Verily, the heathen fire has not burned out, nor the heathen imagery dropped out of memory and power. The old faith and the new coëxist and combine. When the monks read to him the opening of Genesis —“And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God moved over the waters'— he is reminded of his ancestral cosmogony as preserved in the Edda, and the coloring of those ancient dreams clings to his description:
"There had not as yet, save cavern-shade, ought been; but this wide abyss stood deep and dím, strange to its Lord, idle and useless; on which looked with his eyes the king firm of mind, and beheld those places void of joys; saw the dark cloud lower in eternal night, swart under heaven, dark and waste, until this worldly creation, through the word, existed of the Glory-King. . . The earth as yet was not green with grass; ocean cover'd, swart in eternal night, far and wide the dusky ways.' The Cædmonian poem, it is probable, is one of the many attempts of the monkish recluse to familiarize the people with the miraculous and religious narratives of Scripture by a paraphrase in the vernacular idiom. Of the two books composing it, only the first is continuous; the second is fragmentary. Perhaps the discordances are no greater than we should expect in a manuscript text passing from generation to generation; perhaps they indicate that the paraphrase, interrupted at intervals, was resumed by some successor, as idling monks at a subsequent period were often the continuators of voluminous romances. Its new mythology will frame the miracle-play. Milton, finding his originals in the Puritans, as Cadmon in the Vikings, will adopt it in his epic, assisted in the development of his thought by all the resources of Latin culture and civilization.
Style.--Iterative, vivid, harsh, curt, emphatic, ejaculative; as in all true Saxon poetry, whose genuine type is the war-song, where the verses fall like sword-strokes in the thick of battle,
Rank.-Nature in her first poverty, displaying the primitive force of the self-taught. A type of the grandeur, depth, and