« 前へ次へ »
THE PARADISE REGAINED.
reasons,—its adaptation to the nature of its subject; a difference analogous, as has been remarked, to that between the style of the Old and New Testaments. The poem is entitled to a judgment by a positive standard, and thus only can justice be rendered to its admirable meditative imagination. There is a tradition that the poet himself always denied its inferiority to the “Paradise Lost.” I am strongly inclined to think that this meant that he resented what he knew was a senseless comparison of two poems intrinsically different. The “Paradise Regained ” gives no sanction to the opinion that it betrays a failure of the author's genius. It was an appropriation of his powers to a new and different kind of poetic creation.
The last of his poems was the “Samson Agonistes,”—an English drama in the severest classical form of the Greek tragedy. The student of Milton's poetry will read it with enthusiasm, were it only for its shadowing forth the author's own fortunes, his dearest hopes betrayed, and left, old and blind, among enemies. The poet was a man to bow without repining to his Maker's will, dark as that will might be; and I cannot help thinking that this tragic drama was an invention for him to relieve his overcharged heart,—to utter complaints,--to say more bitter things with the tongue of Samson than with his own. We can fancy it the voice of John Milton when the once indomitable but now captive Israelite breaks forth in that piteous and withal majestic utterance of a blind man's agony:
“Oh, dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse,
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.”
“ With peace and consolation hath dismiss'd,
Minor Poetry of the Sebenteenth Century.
CHARACTER OF THE TRANSITION FROM MILTON TO DRYDEN–THE RANK OF DRY
DEN AMONG THE POETS-ENGLISH IMAGINATION IN HIS AGE-INFLUENCE OP MILTON'S GENIUS UPON HIS CONTEMPORARIES AND SUCCESSORS -WORDSWORTH'S APOSTROPHE TO MILTON-DECLINE OF IMAGINATIVE ENERGY-METAPHYSICAL POETRY-DANIEL AND DRAYTON-DRAYTON'S POLYOLBION - LAMB'S NOTICE OF THIS POEM-DONNE AND COWLEY-THE SIN OF THIS SCHOOL OP POETRY-POETRY A SUBJECT FOR STUDIOUS THOUGHTFULNESS-DONNE'S “LECTURE"-CHARACTER OF COWLEY'S GENIUS-HIS PROSE ESSAYS_" THE COMPLAINT”-THE CONCEITS OF THE POETRY OF THIS PERIOD-HERBERT'S LINES ON VIRTUE; LIFE; PEACE-HERBERT'S SELF-CRITICISM-SACRED POETRY OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY-ROBERT HERRICK-HIS LITANY TO THE HOLY SPIRIT -THE MUSIC OF HIS VERSE-LITERARY INTEREST OF THE CIVIL WAR-LORD CHATHAM ON THE CHARACTER OF THIS STRUGGLE-THE PURITAN SYSTEM ADVERSE TO POETIC CULTURE-RICHARD LOVELACE_“TO ALTHEA, FROM PRISON" -GEORGE WITHER-HIS CHARACTER-HIS ADDRESS TO HIS MUSE-A TRIBUTE TO WITHER'S MEMORY.
no occasion for doubt in selecting the poets who may justly be deemed its representatives in different eras. The light of poetic inspiration first held on high by old Chaucer was given in succession to the giant hands of Spenser, of Shakspeare, and of Milton,-men of such might that no one ventures to question the supremacy
of them in his own age. We have moved on, turning over the annals of a dynasty of noble poets,—the noblest of their kind. Preserving the historical character of these lectures, I pass from the name of Milton to that of Dryden. But this is a transition not to be made without pausing to reflect on the changes that at that period were beginning to pass over the spirit of the English Muse. The transition is a transition of descent: it will bring us down into a lower region. We have been dwelling among the mountains, and have caught the voice of poetry carried on from one lofty peak to another; and, after listening to the solemn strains of the “Paradise Lost" echoing in the upper air, we hear the next sound, far away, rising up in the lowlands. Is it then at all surprising that I am approaching this period of English poetry with reluctance ? I find I am making excuses to myself for lingering a while longer in the high and pure atmosphere,-a sunny region full of life,
THE POETICAL RANK OF DRYDEX.
when the path I must follow leads precipitately down into a valley not wholly free from unwholesome shades and fogs obscuring the placid canopy of the blue sky.
The most indulgent criticism appropriates to Dryden no higher station than the first rank among the secondary English poets. His period is the last thirty years of the seventeenth century. The character of the literature was undergoing a great change. The spirit of the nation, too, was changing; and its poetry especially betrayed sympathy and suffering with the change, for it was losing much of its distinctive character. Public opinion and feeling were, by the operation of causes remaining to be noticed, abased and corrupted ; and poetry did not escape the contagion. The high moral tone of the Muse of the great earlier poets was lowered; and English imagination, parting with a portion of its native strength and simplicity, became at once a meaner and more mechanical thing. The change was not a sudden one; at least there had been indications of it at a much earlier period; and I propose, therefore, before closing the examination of the poetry of the seventeenth century with Dryden, to glance over the previous portions of that century, for the purpose of ascertaining what were the various manifestations of its literature, and especially those tending to form its fashion, at the close of that age. In this it will be necessary to notice some of the poets whom I passed by when I entered on the subject of my last lecture. It will be perceived that I am taking the liberty of deviating a little from the original prospectus of the course, in devoting one lecture (the present) to the minor poetry of the seventeenth century; it being my intention to appropriate the next lecture to the poetry of both Dryden and Pope, the times of the Restoration and of Queen Anne.
In taking a retrospect of the literary character and influence of any age, it is necessary to guard against falling into the error of supposing that an author whose fame has been realized by posterity possessed equal repute and authority in his own day. I selected, for instance, without hesitation, Milton, as the great poet of the middle of the seventeenth century; and yet the poetry of Milton was far from being the influential—the dominant-poetry of thuse times. Smaller stars were in the ascendant. When we come, therefore, to the transition from Milton to Dryden, the poetry of the latter differs so essentially from the former that one would be at fault in comprehending the change in so short a space of time, unless we turn to other poetry to discover in it some intimations of the poetic style with which the century closed. If
the genius of Milton had early gained the same hold it has since acquired over the thoughtful admiration of later times, English poetry never could have assumed so readily the guise it wore in the years immediately subsequent to the “Paradise Lost.” It seems strange, but, I believe, correct, when I say that I can discover no influence exerted by the great productions of Milton upon the character of his poetical contemporaries or immediate successors. Indeed, he lived and died with as little congeniality manifested by the world as ever served to sustain the heart of genius. Happily for the world of all ages, that heart had a better-sustaining power, in the sense of its own majesty, and its trust upon heavenly guardianship. Excepting a few true friends, such as the Republican poet Marvell and the kind-hearted Ellwood (a name which may be dear not only to his own Society of Friends, but to all that speak the English tongue, were it only for the happy prompting of the idea of “ Paradise Regained”),with the exception of a few like these, Milton earned no sympathies for the Muse of his later years,—the great years of his poetic career. His spirit was aloof from all their modes of thought and feeling; and, thus contemplating him, has Wordsworth finely apostrophized his illustrious predecessor, Milton :
• Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart;
The lowliest duties on herself did lay." The literary period of Dryden and those amidst whom he was preeminent was in no respect, that I can perceive, affected by the best poetry which had gone before. The current of poetry the public taste was floating on was like the slow—the regulated and artificial-stream of a canal; while at the same time, close beside it, the mighty river of Milton's genius was flowing at his own sweet will, copiously, impetuously, majestically, in its native channel and with its native tides. What were the poetic authorities where Milton's influence was unavailing—I shall endeavour to ascertain in this and the next lecture.
Before doing so, it will be necessary to discover the agencies which in the earlier part of the century had begun to give a direction to English poetry. The poetry which we have been contemplating in the previous lectures was eminently and gloriously imaginative. In all that proceeded from Spenser and Shakspeare and Milton, it was obvious that the controlling faculty was imagination; it was pure and high
poetry,--the product of the great characteristic of poetic genius,--that combination of fancy, judgment, meditation, and invention, which together constitute imagination in its most comprehensive form, and whose prime glory is its perpetual truth to nature. The great change that came over English poetry was the departure from nature, and the decline of imaginative energy.
The English nation, under the stirring influences of the Reformation, had become a deeply-thinking, reflective, and learned people. A philosophical condition of opinion prevailed; and, while those who combined with it an imaginative cast of mind would find all their hearts could desire on the pages of the great poets,-food for meditation and food for imagination in the storehouses of Spenser and Shakspeare,-there was another order of minds, to whom was supplied a poetry more congenial, for it showed an increased activity of the reasoning faculties and a diminished vigour of imagination. From this condition of public taste arose two schools of poetry. The first and best of these the philosophical poetry, as it has been styled, because it brought within the territory of poetry subjects usually left to the analytical processes of the understanding; such, for instance, as the immortality of the soul and its various functions. The second of these schools is that which has obtained inappropriately the title of the metaphysical poetry ;-inappropriately, because no one has yet discovered why it should be so called, and also because the epithet would aptly belong to the other species of poetry, called, somewhat ambiguously, the philosophical. In both of these, those qualities which are deemed the essential elements of poetical composition are either placed on a level with or made subordinate to other qualities of the mind. I have no wish to adopt so strict a creed as wholly to exclude argumentative poetry; but it is proper
to appreciate that it can never be elevated to the high order of inspiration, because it is addressed not to the imagination, or even to the fancy or the heart, but to the understanding.
There are two poets of the early part of the seventeenth century whom I cannot find in my heart to pass by in absolute silence-contemporaries of Spenser and Shakspeare,—Daniel and Drayton. The poems of the former are distinguished both for a purity and naturalness of diction and a tenderness of feeling and elevated thought which give them a high value. In the whole catalogue of English poets there is no one more right-minded, more right-hearted, than Samuel Daniel. The moral tone of his genius may be illustrated in such a passage as this description of what he calls “the concord of a well-tuned mind :"