leaving the thought to be as faulty as it would, and that it seldom extended beyond the couplet, often not beyond a single verse.

His serious poetry, therefore, at its best, is a succession of loosely strung epigrams, and no poet more often than he makes the second line of the couplet a mere trainbearer to the first. His more ambitious works may be defined as careless thinking carefully versified. Lessing was one of the first to see this, and accordingly he tells us that “ his great, I will not say greatest, merit lay in what we call the mechanic of poetry.”1 Lessing, with his usual insight, parenthetically qualifies his statement; for where Pope, as in the “ Rape of the Lock,” found a subject exactly level with his genius, he was able to make what, taken for all in all, is the most perfect poem in the language.

It will hardly be questioned that the man who writes what is still piquant and rememberable, a century and a quarter after his death, was a man of genius. But there are two modes of uttering such things as cleave to the memory of mankind. They may be said or sung. I do not think that Pope's verse anywhere sings, but it should seem that the abiding presence of fancy in his best work forbids his exclusion from the rank of poet. The atmos- . phere in which he habitually dwelt was an essentially prosaic one, the language habitual to him was that of conversation and society, so that he lacked the help of that fresher dialect which seems like inspiration in the elder poets. His range of associations was of that narrow kind which is always vulgar, whether it be found in the village or the court. Certainly he has not the force and majesty of Dryden in his better moods, but he has a grace, a finesse, an art of being pungent, a sensitiveness to impressions, that would incline us to rank him with Voltaire (whom in many ways he so much resembles), as an author with whom the gift of writing was primary, and that of verse secondary. No other poet that I remember ever wrote prose which is so purely prose as his ; and yet, in any impartial criticism, the “ Rape of the Lock” sets him even as a poet far above many men more largely endowed with poetic feeling and insight than he.

1 Briefe die neueste Litteratur betreffend, 1759, ii. Brief. See also his more elaborate criticism of the Essay on Man (Pope ein Metaphysiker), 1755.

A great deal must be allowed to Pope for the age in which he lived, and not a little, I think, for the influence of Swift. In his own province he still stands unapproachably alone. If to be the greatest satirist of individual men, rather than of human nature, if to be the highest expression which the life of the court and the ball-room has ever found

if to have added more phrases to our language than any other but Shakespeare, if to have charmed four generations make a man a great poet, - then he is one. He was the chief founder of an artificial style of writing, which in his hands was living and powerful, because he used it to express artificial modes of thinking and an artificial state of society. Measured by any high standard of imagination, he will be found wanting ; tried by any test of wit, he is unrivalled.

in verse,


[1872] If the biographies of literary men are to assume the bulk which Mr. Masson is giving to that of Milton, their authors should send a phial of elixir vitæ with the first volume, that a purchaser might have some valid assurance of surviving to see the last. Mr. Masson has already occupied thirteen hundred and seventy-eight pages in getting Milton to his thirty-fifth year, and an interval of eleven years stretches between the dates of the first and second instalments of his published labors. As Milton's literary life properly begins at twenty-one, with the “ Ode on the Nativity,” and as by far the more important part of it lies between the year at which we are arrived and his death at the age of sixty-six, we might seem to have the terms given us by which to make a rough reckoning of how soon we are likely to see land. But when we recollect the baffling character of the winds and currents we have already encountered, and the eddies that may at any time slip us back to the reformation in Scotland or the settlement of New England ; when we consider, moreover, that Milton's life overlapped the grand siècle of French literature, with its irresistible. temptations to digression and homily for a man of Mr. Masson's temperament, we may be pardoned if a sigh of doubt and discouragement escape us. We

1 The Life of John Milton: narrated in Connection with the Political, Ecclesiastical, and Literary History of his Time. By David Masson, M. A., LL. D., Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature in the University of Edinburgh. Vols. i., ii. 1638 16-13. London and New York: Macmillan & Co. 1871. 8vo. pp. xii, 608.

The Poetical Works of John Milton, edited, with Introduction, Notes, and an Essay on Milton's English, by David Masson, M. A., LL. D., Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature in the University of Edinburgh. 3 vols. 8vo. Macmillan & Co. 1874.

the secular leisures of Methuselah, and are thankful that his biography at least (if written in the same longeval proportion) is irrecoverably lost to us. What a subject would that have been for a person of Mr. Masson's spacious predilections! Even if he himself can count on patriarchal prorogations of existence, let him hang a print of the Countess of Desmond in his study to remind him of the ambushes which Fate lays for the toughest of us. For myself, I have not dared to climb a cherry-tree since I began to read his work. Even with the promise of a speedy third volume before me, I feel by no means sure of living to see Mary Powell back in her husband's house ; for it is just at this crisis that Mr. Masson, with the diabolical art of a practised serial writer, leaves us while he goes into an exhaustive account of the Westminster Assembly and the political and religious notions of the Massachusetts Puritans. One could not help thinking, after having got Milton fairly through college, that he was never more mistaken in his life than when he wrote,


How soon hath Time, that subtle thief of youth,

Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year ! ”

Or is it Mr. Masson who has scotched Time's wheels ?

It is plain from the Preface to the second volume that Mr. Masson himself has an uneasy consciousness that something is wrong, and that Milton ought somehow to be more than a mere incident of his own biography. He tells us that, “whatever may be thought by a hasty person looking in on the subject from the outside, no one can study the life of Milton as it ought to be studied without being obliged to study extensively and intimately the contemporary history of England, and even incidentally of Scotland and Ireland too. . . . Thus on the very compulsion, or at least the suasion, of the biography, a history grew on my hands. It was not in human nature to confine the historical inquiries, once they were in progress, within the precise limits of their demonstrable bearing on the biography, even had it been possible to determine these limits beforehand; and so the history assumed a coördinate importance with me, was pursued often for its own sake, and became, though always with a sense of organic relation to the biography, continuous in itself.” If a “hasty person" be one who thinks eleven years rather long to have his button held by a biographer ere he begin his next sentence, I take to myself the sting of Mr. Masson's covert sarcasm.

I confess with shame a pusillanimity that is apt to fag if a “ to be continued " do not redeem its promise before the lapse of

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