網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

their opponents who looked upon life thoughtfully, began to feel that the theatre, with the immorality and indecency of many of the plays then in vogue, Theatrical was no place for them. It was abandoned to audiences. the thoughtless, to those who cared little for the character of a play so long as it amused them, and to those who had no dislike for looseness of manners and laxness of principles. Such was the audience to whom playwrights had begun to cater. In 1642 came war between the king and the people. In 1649 King Charles was beheaded, and until 1660 the Puritan party was in power.

68. Literature of the conflict. Aside from the work of the dramatists, whose business it was to gratify the taste of their audiences, what kind of writing would naturally be produced in such a time of conflict, when so many were becoming more and more thoughtful of matters of religious living and when the line between the Puritans and the followers of the court was being drawn more closely every year? We should look first for a meditative, critical spirit in literature; then for earnestly religious writings, both prose and poetry, from both Puritan and Churchman; and along with these a lighter, merrier strain from the courtier writers, not necessarily irreligious, but distinctly non-religious.

69. John Donne, 1573-1631. This is precisely what came to pass; but in this variety of literary productions there was hardly an author who was not influenced by the writings of a much admired preacher and poet named John Donne, the Dean of St. Paul's. His life covered the reign of James and two thirds of that of Elizabeth, but just when his poems were written is not known. They are noted for two qualities. One of these was so purely his own that no one could imitate it, the power to illuminate his subject with a sudden and

flashing thought. That is why stray lines of Donne's linger in the memory, such as

I long to talk with some old lover's ghost,

Who died before the god of love was born.

Unfortunately, it was the second quality which was so generally imitated. This was, not the flashing out of a thought, but the wrapping it up and concealing it so that it requires a distinct intellectual effort to find out what is meant; for instance, in the very poem just quoted are the lines:

But when an even flame two hearts did touch,
His [Love's] office was indulgently to fit
Actives to passives; correspondency
Only his subject was; it cannot be
Love, if I love who loves not me.

Of course one finally reasons it out that Donne means to say love should inspire love, that "I love" and "I am loved" should "fit;" but by that time the reader is inclined to agree with honest Ben Jonson, who declared that Donne "for not being understood would perish."

Sometimes, again, Donne conceals his thought in so complicated, far-fetched a simile that one has to stop and reason out its significance. He writes of two souls, his own and that of his beloved:

If they be two, they are two so

As stiff twin compasses are two;

Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show

To move, but doth if th' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,

Yet when the other far doth roam,

It leans and hearkens after it,

And grows erect as that comes home.

"Conceits."

These "conceits," as they were called, greatly influenced the poets of the age. There were also two other influences, that of Ben Jonson for carefulness of form and expression, and that of Spenser, still remembered, for beauty and sweetness and richness of imagery; but of these three influences, that of Donne was by far the strongest.

70. John Milton, 1608-1674. Of the poets who wrote between 1625 and 1660, John Milton stands for the poetry of medita

[graphic]

tion. He was born in 1608, the son of a wealthy Londoner. The father was anxious that his son should devote himself to literature; and when he saw how perfectly the boy's wishes harmonized with his own, he left him absolutely free to follow his own will. Less freedom in some respects might have been bet

JOHN MILTON
1608-1674

ter; for this boy of twelve with weak eyes and frequent headaches went to school daily, had also tutors at home, and made it his regular practice to study until midnight. He entered Cambridge at sixteen, not the ideal bookworm by any means, for he was so beautiful that he was nicknamed the "Lady of Christ's College."

While Milton was still a student, he wrote his Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, a most exquisite Christmas poem. The stanzas are perfect wherein his learning serves only for adornment and his mind is full

Hymn on

of Christ's

Nativity. 1629.

of the thought of the Christ Child; but some of those toward the end of the poem, which are a little the Morning weighed down by his learning, have less charm. This poem, one of Milton's earliest as it was, has a kind of unearthly sweetness of melody and clearness of vision. It seems to have come from another world; to have been written in a finer, rarer atmosphere. The feeling deepens on reading L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, the masque Comus, and Lycidas, all composed within six years after Milton left the university and while he was devoting himself to music and study at his father's country home. He was only twenty-nine when the last of these poems was written. The first two, whose titles may be translated "The Cheerful Man" and "The Thoughtful Man," are descriptions, not of nature, but of the way nature affects the poet when he is in different moods. It is interesting to compare Milton's work with that of earlier times. In L'Allegro he writes:

Mountains on whose barren breast

The labouring clouds do often rest:
Meadows trim with daisies pied;
Shallow brooks and rivers wide:
Towers and battlements it sees

Bosomed high in tufted trees.

Surrey loved nature, but this is the way he describes a similar scene:

Poems written between 1632 and 1638.

The mountains high and how they stand!

The valleys and the great main land!

The trees, the herbs, the towers strong,
The castles and the rivers long!

Poetry made noble progress in the century
that lay between the two writers.

L'Allegro and Il Penseroso reveal Milton himself. L'Allegro speaks of jest and laughter

and dancing and mirth; but Milton is not made mirthful, he is only an onlooker, he is never one of those who have

Come forth to play

On a sunshine holyday.

Shakespeare we admire and love; Milton we admire. Of the other poems, Comus is a masque which was presented at Ludlow Castle. Lycidas is an elegy in memory of a college friend. It follows the pastoral fashion, and the best way to enjoy it is to read it over and over until the "flock" and "shepherd" and "swain" no longer seem artificial and annoying; and then come appreciation and pleasure. Milton had ever the courage of his convictions. Even in Comus and Lycidas, a masque and an elegy, there are stern lines rebuking the evils of the times and the scandals of the church. It was easy to see on which side Milton would stand when the struggle broke out between the king and the Puritans.

71. Milton as a pamphleteer. When it was plain that war must come, Milton was travelling on the Continent, honored and admired wherever he went by the men of greatest distinction. He had planned a much longer stay; but "I thought it base to be travelling for amusement abroad while my fellow-citizens were striking a blow for freedom," he said, and forthwith he set off for England. War had not yet broken out, but this earnest Puritan began to write pamphlets against the Church of England and against the king. In his pamphlets of controversy he seizes any weapon that comes to hand; dignified rebuke, a whirlwind of denunciation, bitter sarcasm, or sheer insolence and railing, but never humor. In his prose he has small regard for form or even for the convenience of his readers; in his Areopagitica, a plea for freedom of the press, his sentences are over

« 上一頁繼續 »