Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

God, build up Christian churches, and lead these wanderers to the fold of Christ.

I frequently preach to many young persons who formerly attended Sabbath-schools in Great Britain ; and a reference to the Sabbath-schools, and to the prayers and tears of parents and relatives at home, make a deep impression on their minds. Many such young persons take care never to hear us preach, but are regardless of their souls' welfare ; some, through their sin and folly, are now buried in Australian graves, who might have been happy and useful at home. Disobedience to parentsintoxicating drinks-Sabbath profanation, and bad company -have brought thousands to an untimely end, and I fear, not a few, to eternal death.

Yours, very affectionately,

J. TOWNEND.

LETTERS TO THE YOUNG.

NO. XV.---THE POETRY OF MILTON. MY DEAR YOUNG FRIENDS,— It is with increasing interest and pleasure, that I sit down to write you this Fifteenth Letter. If Uncle Joseph's young friends feel half the interest in reading his epistles, that he feels in preparing them, I am sure that the “Magazine day” will be a very welcome one to them. I have felt special pleasure in preparing my letters on the Poetry of Milton, and I hope my dear young friends will feel anxious to hear a little more on the subject. You will remember that I was pointing out, in my last letter, some of the characteristics of Milton's poetry, when I suddenly stopped short—long as my letter was—for want of more space. I, however, promised to resume the subject. In my last, I spoke of the poetry of Milton as being remarkable for its consecratedness, its erudition, its sustained sublimity, and its beauty. I was giving you some specimens of the beautiful when my space-not my materials failed. I was forced to leave off, not for want of something

more to say, but for want of room. The beauties of Milton are sterling beauties. His genius instinctively rejected everything tawdry. ( Whatever ornaments she wears are of massive gold, not only dazzling to the sight, but capable of standing the severe test of the crucible.” I gave you, in my last letter, several short specimens of the beautiful

poem

“Paradise Lost ;" I wish I had room in this letter to multiply them, but I have not. I must, however, present you with a few extracts from Comus,” a most charming and delightful poem, composed when Milton was about twenty-five years of age. The plot of the Masque of Comus is said to have been suggested by the circumstance of Lady Alice Egerton, the youthful daughter of the Earl of Bridgwater, having, while travelling, been accidentally separated from her companions in the night, and having wandered for some time in a forest by herself. It was presented at Ludlow Castle, then the residence of the Lord President of Wales, and was acted by the Earl of Bridgwater's sons and daughters. It has been pronounced by the most able and fastidious critics, as one of the most excellent poems in any language. Of its exquisite beauty you may judge from the following extracts. Milton represents the lost lady as saying

O thievish night,
Why should'st thou, but for some felonious end,
In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars,
That nature hung in heaven, and fill’d their lamps
With everlasting oil, to give due light
To the misled and lonely traveller?

Again, she is represented as saying, while groping her way in the dark

Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err, there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her sable lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.

Milton represents Comus as saying, when, amid the darkness, he heard the plaintive voice of the lost lady

Can
any

mortal mixture of earth's mould
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment ?
Sure something holy lodges in that breast,
And with these raptures moves the vocal air
To testify his hidden residence.
How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence through the empty-vaulted night,
At every fall smoothing the raven-down

Of darkness, till it smiled ! You will remember, my young friends, that I present you with the above extracts, simply as specimens of poetic beauty.

I took it for a fairy vision
Of some gay creatures of the element
That in the colours of the rainbow live,

And play i’ the plighted clouds. The brothers, while anxiously searching in the dark and tangled wood for their lost sister, Milton represents as saying

Unmuffle, ye faint stars; and thou, fair moon,
That wont'st to love the traveller's benison,
Stoop thy pale visage through an amber cloud,
And disinherit chaos, that reigns here

In double night of darkness and of shades. I will only give you one more short passage illustrative of Milton's power of producing the beautiful. You must study the poem for yourselves. If you do so, your ideas will be vastly enlarged, and your taste both gratified and improved.

At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound
Rose like a steam of rich distillid perfumes,
And stole upon the air, that even silence
Was took ere she was 'ware, and wish'd she might

Deny her nature, and be never more
Still to be so displac'd. I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul
Under the ribs of death !

I shall here mention another characteristic of Milton's poetry, namely, its abounding throughout with the most elevated, holy, and divine sentiments. His was one of the loftiest, as well as purest, minds. The usual feature that shines most conspicuously in his life and writings is the rare, but most noble sentiment, of magnanimity. He was, says one,“ A man who, if he had been delegated as the representative of his species to one of the superior worlds, would have suggested a grand idea of the human race, as of beings affluent with moral and intellectual treasure, who were raised and distinguished in the universe as the favourites and heirs of heaven.” From his boyhood he had a most sacred regard for the claims of honour and holiness. He could not stoop to a mean action. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he carried about with him, and infused into his actions and writings, the lofty and noble principles that had become a part of himself-a sort of second nature. It would be an easy matter to fill pages with illustrative extracts pregnant with the loftiest and sublimest moral principles. Take the following from Comus as specimens, and remember they were written by a young man, not 25

years

of age

Virtue could see to do what virtue would
By her own radiant light, though sun and moon
Were in the flat sea sunk. And wisdom's self
Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude ;
Where, with her best nurse, contemplation,
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
That in the various bustle of resort
Were all-too ruffled, and sometimes impair’d.
He that has light within his own clear breast,
May sit i’ the centre, and enjoy bright day:
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts,

Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;

Himself is his own dungeon. The mind that produced such sentiments as these, derived its inspiration from a holy source. Milton's genius was never inspired by the god of wine ; for John Milton was a teetotaller. And the Temperance Society may well be proud of the adherence of England's greatest epic poet to the principles of abstinence from all that can intoxicate. Uncle Joseph wishes all his

young

friends would imitate John Milton in this respect-be teetotallers. Here, again, is another most noble passage

So dear to Heaven is saintly chastity,
That when a soul is found sincerely so,
A thousand liveried angels lackey her,
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt ;
And, in clear dream and solemn vision,
Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear;
Till oft converse with heavenly habitants,
Begin to cast a beam on the outward shape,
The unpolluted temple of the mind,
And turns it by degrees to the soul's essence,
Till all be made immortal.

How finely the following lines express Milton's early love of philosophy

How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets

Where no crude surfeit reigns. I cannot withhold from you the following elegant and inspiring lines, which Milton puts into the mouth of one of the brothers, who, in Comus, are anxiously in search of their lost sister

Against the threats
Of malice, or of sorcery, or that power
Which erring men call chance, this I hold firm:

« VorigeDoorgaan »