Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

matchless creations of Shakspeare, and the “magnificent sphereharmonies” of Milton. The latter, indeed, as it has been beautifully expressed, like the nightingale, sang his sublime song in the night: for not only was he deprived of the glad light of day, but the dark clouds of sorrow cast their added shadows on his pathway. Yet this noble man stood erect in his integrity and exemplary in his patience, amidst all adverse circumstances. Beautifully has he been likened to the bird of Paradise, which, Aying against the wind, best displays the splendour of its golden plumage; so the bard of Paradise, in his sublime excursions amid the beings of light, bursts upon us with a more supernal grandeur, as he emerges from the darkness with which he was environed. Gray thus refers to him,

as one

Who rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of ecstasy ;

The Secret of the abyss to spy
Who passed the flaming bounds of space

and time,-
The living throne, the sapphire's blaze,

Where angels tremble while they gaze!
He saw : but, blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.

Milton did not commence the composition of his grand epic until he was forty-seven years of age ; although he had matured its plan in his mind several years before. When he visited the Continent, , he met Galileo, then a prisoner of the Inquisition : he also became acquainted with Hugo Grotius. It is a curious fact, that Grotius had then written a tragedy of which the leading subject was the Fall of Man; and Milton's epic was formed out of the first draught of a tragedy to which he had given the title of Adam Unparadised. No evidence has been adduced, however, to prove that Milton borrowed his design from Grotius; or from Du Bartas' Divine Weekes, as has been by some persons supposed. One of his earliest compositions, the Hymn to the Nativity, was written when he was but

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

twenty-one years old ; yet it has been pronounced by critics as unsurpassed by any production of its class since the age of Pindar. Here is a splendid stanza :

No war, or battle's sound, was heard the world around;
The idle

spear

and shield were high uphung ;
The hooked chariot stood unstain'd with hostile blood;

The trumpet spake not to the armed throng ;
And kings sat still with awful

eye,
As if they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by.

How fine is that passage referring to the silencing of the heathen oracles :

The oracles are dumb; no voice or hideous hum
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving ;

Apollo from his shrine can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving ;

No nightly trance, or breathed spell,
Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.

The village of Horton is associated with the earlier portion of the poet's life; it was there that he wrote his Comus, Lycidas, and Il Penseroso. At Chalfont St. Giles he wrote his great epic. Fuseli thought the second book of Paradise Lost the grandest effort of the human mind we possess. How splendid is his Invocation to Lighthow touchingly it closes !

Thus with the year
Seasons return; but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
Or Aocks, or herds, or human face divine :
But cloud instead, and ever-during dark

Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair,
Presented with a universal blank
Of nature's works, to me expunged and razed,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.

*

According to Sir Egerton Brydges, Milton's sonnet on his loss of sight, is unequalled by any composition of its class in the language:

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent, which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest He returning, chide :

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied ?”
I fondly ask: but Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies—“God doth not need
Either man's work, or His own gifts ; who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best ; His state

Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest :
They also seive who only stand and wait !”

Il Penseroso abounds with striking passages ; such as the following, to Contemplation :

Come, pensive nun, devoit and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure,
All in a robe of darkest grain,
Flowing with majestic train,
And sable state of cypress lawn,
On thy decent shoulders drawn!

« AnteriorContinuar »