« VorigeDoorgaan »
in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind, and criticism sinks in admiration.
Milton's style was not modified by his subject; what is shewn 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 says of Spenser, that he wrote no language, but has formed what Butler calls a Babylonish dialect, in itself harsh and barbarous, but inade by exaltea 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, beside our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse, particu. larly one tending to reconcile the nation to Ralegh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Ralegh 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
• The Earl of Surrey translated two books of Virgil without rhyme, the second and the fourth.-J. B.
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 lines 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
Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called the lapidary style; has nei. ther the easiness of prose, nor the melody of num. bers, 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 advantages 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 car pable 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 hinderance: he did not refuse admission to the thoughts or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them. From his contemporaries he neither courted nor received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour gained, no exchange of praise, nor solicitation of support.
His great works were performed under discountenance, and in blindness; but difficulties vanished at his touch; he was born for whatever is arduous; and his work is not the greatest of heroic poems, only because it is not the first.
Or the great Author of “Hudibras” there is a life
prefixed to the later editions of his poem, by an unknown writer, and therefore of disputable
authority; and some account is incidentally given by Wood, who confesses the uncertainty of his own narrative : inore however than they knew cannot now be learned, and nothing remains but to compare and copy them.
SAMUEL BUTLER was born in the parish of Strensham, in Worcestershire, according to his biographer, in 1612. This account Dr. Nash finds confirmed by the register. He was christened Feb. 14.
His father's condition is variously represented. Wood mentions him as competently wealthy ; but Mr. Longueville, the son of Butler's principal friend, says he was an honest farmer with some small estate, who made a shift to educate his son at the grammar-school of Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright,* from whose care he removed for a
+ These are the words of the author of the short account of Butler prefixed to “Hudibras,” which Dr. Johnson, notwithstanding what he says above, seems to have supposed was written by Mr. Longueville, the father, but the contrary is to be in. ferred from a subsequent passage, wherein the author laments that he had neither such an acquaint ance nor interest with Mr. Longueville, as to procure from him the golden remains of Butler there mentioned. He was probably led into the mistake by a note in the Biog. Brit. p. 1077, signifying that the son of this gentleman was living in 1736.
Of this friend and generous patron of Butler, Mr. William Longueville, I find an account, written by a person who was well acquainted with him, to this effect; viz. that he was a conveyancing lawyer, and a bencher of the Inner Temple, and had raised himself from a low beginning to very great eminence in that profession; that he was eloquent and learned, of spotless integrity ; that he supported an aged father who had ruined his fortunes by
short time to Cambridge; but, for want of money, was never made a member of any college. Wood leaves us rather doubtful whether he went to Cambridge or Oxford; but at last makes him pass six or seven years at Cambridge, without knowing in what hall or college; yet it can hardly be imagined that he lived so long in either university but as belonging to one louse or another; and it is still less likely that he could have so long inhabited a place of learning with so little distinction as to leave his residence uncertain. Dr. Nash has discovered that his father was owner of a house and a little land, worth about eight pounds a year, still called Butler's tenement,
Wood has his information from his brother, whose narrative placed him at Cambridge, in opposition to that of his neighbours, which sent him to Oxford. The brother seems the best authority, till, by confessing his inability to tell his hall or college, he gives reason to suspect that he was resolved to bestow on him an academical education; but durst not name a college, for fear of detection.
He was, for some time, according to the author of his Life, clerk to Mr. Jefferys, of Earl's Croomb, in Worcestershire, an eminent justice of the peace. In his service he had not only leisure for study, but for recreation; his amusements were music and painting: and the reward of his pencil was the friendship of the celebrated Cooper. Some
extravagance, and by his industry and application re-edified a ruined family; that he supported Butler, who, but for him, must literally have starved; and received from him, as a recompence, the papers called his " Remains.” Life of the Lord-keeper Guilford, p. 289.-These have since been given to the public by Mr. Thyer, of Manchester; and the originals are now in the hands of the Rev. Dr. Farmer, master of Emanuel College, Cambridge.--H.