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way down to Aldersgate here, to peep up the entry where I live, and so have an exact notion of my whereabouts ? There has been plague in the neighborhood certainly; and I hope Jane Yates had my doorstep tidy for the visit.” Does Milton, answering Hall's innuendo that he was courting the graces of a rich widow, tell us that he would rather “choose a virgin of mean fortunes honestly bred ” ? Mr. Masson forthwith breaks forth in a paroxysm of what we suppose to be picturesqueness in this wise : “ What have we here? Surely nothing less, if we choose so to construe it, than a marriage advertisement! Ho, all ye virgins of England (widows need not apply), here is an opportunity such as seldom occurs : a bachelor, unattached ; age, thirty-three years and three or four months ; height [Milton, by the way, would have said highth] middle or a little less; personal appearance unusually handsome, with fair complexion and light auburn hair ; circumstances independent; tastes intellectual and decidedly musical; principles Root-andBranch! Was there already any young maiden in whose bosom, had such an advertisement come in her way, it would have raised a conscious flutter?
a If so, did she live near Oxford ?” If there is anything worse than an unimaginative man trying to write imaginatively, it is a heavy man when he fancies he is being facetious. He tramples out the last spark of cheerfulness with the broad damp foot of a hippopotamus.
I am no advocate of what is called the dignity of history, when it means, as it too often does, that
dulness has a right of sanctuary in gravity. Too well do I recall the sorrows of my youth, when I was shipped in search of knowledge on the long Johnsonian swell of the last century, favorable to anything but the calm digestion of historic truth. I had even then an uneasy suspicion, which has ripened into certainty, that thoughts were never draped in long skirts like babies, if they were strong enough to go alone. But surely there should be such a thing as good taste, above all a sense of self-respect, in the historian himself, that should not allow him to play any tricks with the dignity of his subject. A halo of sacredness has hitherto invested the figure of Milton, and our image of him has dwelt securely in ideal remoteness from the vulgarities of life. No diaries, no private letters, remain to give the idle curiosity of after-times the right to force itself on the hallowed seclusion of his reserve. That a man whose familiar epistles were written in the language of Cicero, whose sense of personal dignity was so great that, when called on in self-defence to speak of himself, he always does it with an epical stateliness of phrase, and whose self-respect even in youth was so profound that it resembles the reverence paid by other men to a far-off and idealized character, - that he
should be treated in this off-hand familiar fashion by his biographer seems to us a kind of desecration, a violation of good manners no less than of the laws of biographic art. Milton is the last man in the world to be slapped on the back with impunity. Better the surly injustice of Johnson than such presumptuous friendship as this. Let the seventeenth century, at least, be kept sacred from the insupportable foot of the interviewer!
But Mr. Masson, in his desire to be (shall I say) idiomatic, can do something worse than what has been hitherto quoted. He can be even vulgar. Discussing the motives of Milton's first marriage, he says, “ Did he come seeking his £500, and did
, Mrs. Powell heave a daughter at him ?” We have heard of a woman throwing herself at a man's head, and the image is a somewhat violent one; but what is this to Mr. Masson's improvement on it? It has been sometimes affirmed that the fitness of an image may be tested by trying whether a picture could be made of it or not. Mr. Masson has certainly offered a new and striking subject to the historical school of British art. A little further on, speaking of Mary Powell, he says, “ We have no portrait of her, nor any account of her appearance; but on the usual rule of the elective affinities of opposites, Milton being fair, we will vote her to have been dark-haired.” I need say
. nothing of the good taste of this sentence, but its absurdity is heightened by the fact that Mr. Masson himself had left us in doubt whether the match was one of convenience or inclination. I know not how it may be with other readers, but for myself I feel inclined to resent this hail-fellow-wellmet manner with its jaunty we will vote." In some cases, Mr. Masson's indecorums in respect of style may possibly be accounted for as attempts at humor by one who has an imperfect notion of its
ingredients. In such experiments, to judge by the effect, the pensive element of the compound enters in too large an excess over the hilarious. Whether I have hit upon the true explanation, or whether the cause lie not rather in a besetting velleity of the picturesque and vivid, I shall leave the reader to judge by an example or two. In the manuscript copy of Milton's sonnet in which he claims for his own house the immunity which the memory of Pindar and Euripides secured for other walls, the title had originally been, “ On his Door when the City expected an Assault.” Milton has drawn a line through this and substituted “When the Assault was intended to the City.” Mr. Masson fancies “a mood of jest or semi-jest in the whole affair"; but we think rather that Milton's quiet assumption of equality with two such famous poets was as seriously characteristic as Dante's ranking himself sesto tra cotanto senno. Mr. Masson takes advantage of the obliterated title to imagine one of Prince Rupert's troopers entering the poet's study and finding some of his “ Anti-Episcopal pamphlets that had been left lying about inadvertently. Oho!' the Cavalier Captain might then have said, ' Pindar and Euripides are all very well, by G-! I've been at college myself ; and when I meet a gentleman and scholar, I hope I know how to treat him; but neither Pindar nor Euripides ever wrote pamphlets against the Church of England, by G-! It won't do, Mr. Milton!'” This, it may be supposed, is Mr. Masson's way of being funny and dramatic at the same time. Good taste is shocked
with this barbarous dissonance. Could not the Muse defend her son ? Again, when Charles I., at Edinburgh, in the autumn and winter of 1641, fills the vacant English sees, we are told, “It was more than an insult; it was a sarcasm! It was as if the King, while giving Alexander Henderson his hand to kiss, had winked his royal eye over that reverend Presbyter's back!” Now one can conceive Charles II. winking when he took the Solemn League and Covenant, but never his father under any circumstances. He may have been, and I believe he was, a bad king, but surely we may take Marvell's word for it, that
“He nothing common did or mean,”
upon any of the “memorable scenes ” of his life. The image is therefore out of all imaginative keeping, and vulgarizes the chief personage in a grand historical tragedy, who, if not a great, was at least a decorous actor. But Mr. Masson can do worse than this. Speaking of a Mrs. Katherine Chidley, who wrote in defence of the Independents against Thomas Edwards, he says, “ People wondered who this she-Brownist, Katherine Chidley, was, and did not quite lose their interest in her when they found that she was an oldish woman, and a member of some hole-and-corner congregation in London. Indeed, she put her nails into Mr. Edwards with some effect.” Why did he not say at once, after the good old fashion, that she “set her ten commandments in his face”? In another place he speaks of “Satan standing with his staff around