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of Carlyle's keen insight into character, but he always contrives to be suggestive, and often deeply so. Lowell's essays are the essays of a scholar, and an accomplished man of letters. Whitman, whose work as a prose writer has never been recognised, shares with Carlyle the gift of divination. In the fewest words, often rugged and always touched with obvious spontaneity, he contrives to get to the heart of his theme. His tribute to Carlyle, among a thousand similar tributes from the whole realm of literature, takes precedence of almost all by its vital truth, its uncalculated and fine sincerity. Parkman is another American writer to whom his country has done scant justice. Living under physical conditions which for a man less brave would have made a literary life impossible, Parkman made himself the one great American historian, who found in the development of civilisation in America, a theme not less thrilling and romantic than that afforded by the greatest episodes of European history. There is certainly no historian of his own nation who has written prose so pictorial, or so finely coloured; and the qualities which make his histories so remarkable are found also in his essays. In his essay on James Fenimore Cooper, he says, "Of all American writers Cooper is the most original, the most thoroughly national. His genius drew aliment from the soil where God had planted it, and rose to a vigorous growth, rough and gnarled, but strong as a mountain cedar. His volumes are a faithful mirror of that rude Trans-Atlantic nature which, to European eyes, appears so strange and new. The sea and the forest have been the scenes of his countrymen's most conspicuous achievements; it is on the sea and in the forest that Cooper is most thoroughly at home. Their spirit inspires him, their images were graven on his heart; and the men whom their embrace haş nurtured, the sailor, the hunter, the pioneer, move and act upon his pages with all the truth and energy of real life.” This striking tribute to Cooper applies equally to Parkman. Alone among all American writers of history, Parkman owes nothing to European suggestion, and is the most loyal to his race and country.
Sir John Skelton, whose fine description of the trial and death of Montrose is included in this section, was a writer who never attained national fame. Under the nom-deplume of Shirley he was a regular contributor of essays and reviews to Frazer's Magazine and the Guardian, a shortlived Edinburgh periodical. He was a Scotch advocate, a close friend of Froude's, and an authority upon the history of Mary Stuart; a man of wide culture and remarkable literary gifts. The inclusion of his essay on Montrose among the great examples of the biographic essay, is justified by its singular merit; but it serves also to illustrate the degree of excellence frequently attained by nineteenthcentury writers who expected nothing from their exertions but the kind of reputation which is enjoyed by the able reviewer or magazine contributor. Such men frequently do work that in an earlier age would have won extended fame; if they are not found upon Parnassus it is only because they toiled in a crowded field, and that they contested for the prize with giants.
THE PLACE OF MILTON AS A POET2
Milton would not have excelled in dramatic writing; he knew human nature only in the gross, and had never studied the shades of character, nor the combinations of
1 From The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets,
concurring, nor the perplexity of contending passions. He had read much, and knew what books could teach, but had mingled little in the world, and was deficient in the knowledge which experience must confer.
Through all his greater works there prevails a uniform peculiarity of diction, a mode and cast of expression which bears little resemblance to that of any former writer, and which is so far removed from common use, that an unlearned reader, when he first opens his book finds himself surprised by new language.
This novelty has been, by those who can find nothing wrong in Milton, imputed to his laborious endeavours after words suitable to the grandeur of his ideas. Our language, says Addison, sunk under him. But the truth is, that, both in prose and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedantic principle. He was desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all his prose is discovered and condemned; for there judgment operates freely, neither softened by the beauty, nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts: but such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance, the reader finds himself in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind, and criticism sinks in admiration.
Milton's style was modified by his subject; what is shown with greater extent in Paradise Lost may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets: the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian, perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last, may be said what Jonson said of Spenser, that he wrote no language, but has formed what Butler calls a Babylonish dialect, in itself harsh and barbarous, but made, by exalted genius and extensive learning, the vehicle of so much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in its deformity.
Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety: he was master of his language in its full extent, and has selected the melodious words with such diligence, that from his book alone the Art of English Poetry might be learned.
After his diction, something must be said of his versification. The measure, he says, is the English heroic verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many examples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The Earl of Surrey is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme; and, besides our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particularly one tending to reconcile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trissino's Italia Liberata, and, finding blank verse easier than rhyme was desirous of persuading himself that it is better.
Rhyme, he says, and says truly, is no necessary adjunct of true poetry But, perhaps, of poetry as a mental operation, metre or music, is no necessary adjunct; it is, however, by the music of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all languages; and in languages melodiously constructed with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot communicate its rules to another: where metre is scanty and imperfect, some help is necessary. The music of the English heroic line strikes the ear so faintly that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together: this co-operation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another, as a distinct system of sounds and this distinctness is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much boasted
by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few skilful and happy readers of Milton who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. Blank verse, said an ingenious critic, seems to be verse only
to the eye.
Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; nor can rhyme be safely spared but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called lapidary style; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alleges as precedents, not one is popular; what reason could urge in its defence has been confuted by the ear.
But, whatever be the advantage of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer, for I cannot wish his work to be other than it is; yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing, may write blank verse; but those that hope only to please, must condescend to rhyme.
The highest praise of genius is original invention. Milton cannot be said to have contrived the structure of an epic poem, and therefore owes reverence to that vigour and amplitude of mind to which all generations must be indebted for the art of poetical narration, for the texture of the fable, the variation of incidents, the interposition of dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance: he did not refuse admission to the thoughts or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek