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As that the Walls, worn thin, permit the
mind To look out thorough, and his frailty find.
Here we see, not simply that Life is going to break through the infirm and much-worn habitation, but that the Mind looks through and finds his frailty, that it discovers, that Life will soon make his escape. I might add, : that the four first lines are of the nature of the Paraphrase, considered in the last article: And that the expression of the others is too much the same to be original. But we are not yet come to the head of expression. And I choose to confine myself to the single point of view we have before us. . .
Daniel's improvement, then, looks like the artifice of a man that would outdo his Master. Though he fails in the attempt: for his ingenuity betrays him into a false thought. The mind, looking through, does not find its own frailty, but the frailty of the building it inhabits. However, I have endeavoured to rectify this mistake in my explanation.
The truth is, Daniel was not a man to improve upon Shakespear. But now comes a writer, that knew his business much better.
He chuses to employ this well-worn image, of rather to alter it a little and then employ it, for the conveyance of a very new fancy. If the mind could look through a thin body, much more one that was cracked and battered. And if it be for looking through at all, he will have it look to good purpose, and find, not its frailty only, but much other useful knowledge.
The lines are Mr. Waller's, and in the best manner of that very refined writer. . Stronger by weakness, wiser, men become As they draw near to their eternal home.
The Soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd, · Lets in new light thro' chinks that time has
2. After all, these conceits, I doubt, are not much to your taste. The instance I am going to give, will afford you more pleasure. Is there a passage in Milton you read with more admiration, than this in the Penseroso ?.
Entice the dewy-feather'd sleep;
. Would you think it possible now that the ground-work of this fine imagery should be laid in a passage of Ben Jonson? Yet so we read, or seem to read, in his Vision of Delight.
Break, Phant'sy, from thy cave of cloud,
To all the senses here,
Or musick in their ear.
It is a delicate matter to analyze such passages as these; which, how exquisite soever in the poetry, when estimated by the fine phrenzy of a Genius, hardly look like sense when given in plain prose. But if you give me leave to take them in pieces, I will do it, at least, with reverence. We find then, that Fancy is here employed in one of her nicest operations, the production of a duy-dream; which both poets represent as an airy form, or forms streaming in the air, gently falling on the eye-lids of her entranced votary. So far their imagery agrees. But now comes the mark of imitation I would point out to you. Milton carries the idea still further, and improves
finely upon it, in the conception as well as expression. Jonson evokes fancy out of her cave of cloud, those cells of the mind, as it were, in which during her intervals of rest, and when unemploy'd, fancy lies hid; and bids her, like a Magician, create this stream of forms. All this is just and truly poetical. But Milton goes further. He employs the dewyfeather'd sleep as his Minister in this machinery. And the mysterious day-dream is seen waving at his wings in airy stream. Jonson would have Fancy immediately produce this Dream. Milton more poetically, because in more distinct and particular imagery, represents Fancy as doing her work by means of sleep; that soft composure of the mind abm stracted from outward objects, in which it yields to these phantastic impressions.
You see then a wonderful improvement in this addition to the original thought. And the notion of dreams waving at the wings of sleep is, by the way, further justified by what Virgil feigns of their sticking or rather fluttering on the leaves of his magic tree in the infernal regions. But it is curious to observe how this improvement itself arose from hints suggested by his original. From Jonson's dream, falling, like sleep upon their eyes, Milton took
his feather'd sleep, which he impersonates so properly ; And from Phant'sy's spreading her purple wings, a circumstance, not so immediately connected with Jonson's design of creating of airy forms á stream, he catched the idea of Sleep spreading her wings, and to good purpose, since the airy stream of forms was to wave at them..
However, Jonson's image is, in itself, incomparable. It is taken from a winged insect breaking out of its Aurelia state, its cave of cloud, as it is finely called : Not unlike that of Mr. Pope, So spins the Silk-worm small its slender store, And labours till it clouds itself all o'er...
iv. Dunc. v. 253. And nothing can be juster than this allusion. For the ancients always pictured Fancy and HUMAN-LOVE with Insect's wings.
XIV. Thus then, whether the poet prevaricates, enlarges, or adds, still we frequently find some latent circumstance, attending his management, that convicts him of Imitation, Nay, he is not safe even when he denies himself these liberties; I mean when he ondy glances at his original. “ For, in this case,