ePub 版

sitory flashes and a meteoric power;-is depth, and energy of thought. No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotion, language. In Shakspeare's poems the creative power and the intellectual energy wrestle as in a war embrace. Each in its excess of strength seems to threaten the extinction of the other. At length in the drama they were reconciled, and fought each with its shield before the breast of the other. Or like two rapid streams, that, at their first meeting within narrow and rocky banks, mutually strive to repel each other and intermix reluctantly and in tumult; but soon finding a wider channel and more yielding shores, blend, and dilate, and flow on in one current and with one voice. The VENUS AND ADONIS did not perhaps allow the display of the deeper passions. But the story of Lucretia seems to favor and even demand their intensest workings. And yet we find in Shakspeare's management of the tale neither pathos, nor any other dramatic quality. There is the same minute and faithful imagery as in the former poem, in the same vivid colors, inspirited by the same impetuous vigor of thought, and diverging and contracting with the same activity of the assimilative and of the modifying faculties; and with yet a larger display, a yet wider range of knowledge and reflection; and lastly, with the same perfect dominion, often domination, over the whole world of language. What then shall we say? even this; that Shakspeare, no mere child of nature; no automaton of genius; no passive vehicle of inspiration possessed by the spirit, not possessing it; first studied patiently, meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge, become habitual and intuitive, wedded itself to his habitual feelings, and at length gave birth to that stupendous power, by which he stands alone, with no equal or second in his own class; to that power, which seated him on one of the two glory-smitten summits of the poetic mountain, with Milton as his compeer not rival. While the former darts himself forth, and passes into all the forms of human character and passion, the one Proteus of the fire and the flood; the other attracts all forms and things to himself, into the unity of his own ideal. All things and modes of action shape themselves anew in the being of Milton; while Shakspeare becomes all things, yet forever remaining him

self.* O what great men hast thou not produced, England, my country!-Truly indeed

We must be free or die, who speak the tongue,
Which Shakspeare spake; the faith and morals hold,
Which Milton held. In every thing we are sprung
Of earth's first blood, have titles manifold.†



CHRISTENDOM, from its first settlement on feudal rights, has been so far one great body, however imperfectly organized, that a similar spirit will be found in each period to have been acting

* ["Shakspeare's poetry is characterless, that is, it does not reflect the individual Shakspeare; but John Milton is in every line of the Paradise Lost." Table Talk, VI. p. 312.-Ed.]

[Mr. Wordsworth's P. W. iii. p. 190, edit. 1840.—Ed.]

[Mr. Wordsworth's noble Preface, often referred to in these pages, contains as high a tribute to

that mighty orb of song

The divine Milton

(to quote the author's words in another place) as one great poet could pay to another. (See also his three fine sonnets relating to Milton, Poet. Works, iii. pp. 188–90.) It would have been out of his way to speak of Milton's prose-though such prose as none but the author of Paradise Lost could have written. If matter is spiritus in coagulo' as some philosophers aver, this grand Miltonic prose may fancifully be called poësis in coagulo. Yet I think it is more truly and properly prose than the high-strained passages of Jeremy Taylor.

Dante is by some accounted a greater poet than Milton, as being a greater

"When Leibnitz calls matter the sleep-state of the monads, or when Hemsterhuis names it-den geronnenen Geist-curdled spirit,-there lies a meaning in these expressions, &c." Transsc. Id. p. 190. See also Lit. Remains, V. p. 221.

in all its members. The study of Shakspeare's poems-(I do not include his dramatic works, eminently as they too deserve that title)—led me to a more careful examination of the contemporary poets both in England and in other countries. But my attention was especially fixed on those of Italy, from the birth to philosopher; I think that he showed the philosopher in his poetry too much to be the best of poets, especially in the Paradiso. A poet should avoid science, which is ever in a process of change and development, and abide by the fixed and eternal; great part of that thirteenth century lore contained in Dante's poem is dead, and but for the poetic spices with which it is embalmed, and the swathe-bands of the poetic form in which it is preserved, would long since have been scattered abroad, like any unsepulchred dust and ashes. I am here speaking of physics and metaphysics: if wise reflections, just sentiments and deep moral and spiritual maxims are referred to in this comparison, then surely the English poet has greatly the advantage in thought and still more in expression. Philosophy in the song of Milton is better harmonized with poetry than in that of Dante; it is fused into the poetic mass by something accompanying it which appeals to the heart and moral being; or it is introduced obliquely, with a touch of tenderness, which brings it into unison with the human actions and passions of the poem, as in that beautiful passage,

Others apart sate on a hill retired-1

which seems so like a new voice of The Preacher, pathetically satirizing the efforts of man after speculative knowledge and insight. There is to be sure some fictitious or defunct astronomy and spherology in the great poem of Milton;2 but it is lightly touched on and imaginatively presented; compare the passages that treat of these subjects in the Paradise Lost, especially that noble speech of the Angel3 in the eighth book, with the first and second cantos of the Paradiso; surely the later poetry is to the earlier as "Hyperion to a Satyr," so far does it exceed in richness and poetic grace. Bizzarra Teologia! says a Commentator on a passage in the Purgatorio (C. iii. 1. 18). Bizzarra Filosofia may we say of that in the Paradiso (C. i. at the end), which begins finely, but ends with making specific gravity depend upon original sin; unless nothing but a fanciful flight is intended. What a pomp of philosophy, exclaims M. Merian, speaking of this passage,and all to usher in a foolery! 66 Every great poet is a profound philoso pher" that is, he sees deep into the life and soul of the things which are already known-and has a special mastery over them; but is not necessarily beyond his age in speculative science. Certainly this can not be predicated either of Dante or of Milton.

I own myself of the vulgar herd in greatly preferring the first to the other sections of Dante's Poem-nay even venture to think, that if it had

1 Par. Lost, b. ii. 1. 555-61.

Lines 39-178.

2 Ib. b. iii. l. 481, et seq.

the death of Shakspeare; that being the country in which the fine arts had been most sedulously, and hitherto most successfully cultivated. Abstracted from the degrees and peculiarities of individual genius, the properties common to the good writers of each period seem to establish one striking point of difference between the poetry of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and that of the not been both more striking than those two other parts in its general structure and more abundant in passages of power and of beauty, the Divina Commedia would never have been a famous poem at all. The mere plan of describing the unseen world in three divisions would not have made it so; there were Paradise Losts before Milton's which it would be time lost to read. Milton is finer in Hell than in Heaven, finest of all in his earthly Paradise, and Dante's Inferno is better than his Purgatorio or Paradiso, because he could put more of this earth into it,-conform it more to the only world the form of which he was acquainted with. Men can not make bricks without straw nor fine houses without bricks or stones, nor fine poems without sensuous material.

The Divina Commedia is more considerable in religion and ecclesiastical politics, I think,- -on which last head there was some accordance betwixt its author and Milton,-than for its philosophy; the highest conception of it is that of Mr. Carlyle, that it is "the soul of the Middle Ages rendered rhythmically visible"-the voice of "ten Christian centuries;"—"the Thought they lived by bodied forth in everlasting music." Its author is great, as Mr. C. observes, from "fiery emphasis," and intensity rather than from comprehensiveness or catholicity of spirit. His was "not a great Catholic-was even a narrow sectarian mind." If Mediævalism in Dante's day was a sectarian thing, cut off from thought expanding beyond it—then, when the torch had not been kindled in the hand of Des Cartes, and the revolt against the dominant Aristotelianism was yet to begin, what must it be now, when thought has been expanding during six more centuries, whilst It remains fixed, rigid-not lifeless as a mummy-but imprisoning the life it has with bands and cerements in a body of death!

But Dante's imagination was as mediaval as his theology and philosophy; hovering continually between the horrible sublime and the hideous grotesque, and sometimes saved only from the ridiculous by the chaste severity of a style which is the very Diana of poetical compositions. Witness, amongst a cloud of witnesses, his Minos, whom he has equipped with a tail long and lithe enough to go nine times round his body!-the wise conqueror and righteous judge is degraded into a worse monster than the Minotaur, in order that he may indicate every circle in a fantastic hell down to the ninth and last. How would Pindar have been horror stricken to see the Hero thus turned into a hideous automaton sign-post! In Dante's hands the demigod sinks into the beastman, while in those of Milton devils appear as deities, fit indeed to obtain adoration from the dazzled mind,-not frightful fiends but wicked angels-specious and seductive as they actually are to the human heart and imagination. Milton has borrowed from Dante, but how has he

present age. The remark may perhaps be extended to the sister art of painting. At least the latter will serve to illustrate the former. In the present age the poet-(I would wish to be understood as speaking generally, and without allusion to individual names)seems to propose to himself as his main object, and as that which is the most characteristic of his art, new and striking images; with multiplied his splendors, how nobly exchanged his "detestable horrors" for a pageantry of Hell that far exceeds the luminous pomp of his Paradise in sublimity and beauty!

We, who feel thus can enter into Mr. Carlyle's high notion of Dante's genius, yet own the justice of Mr. Landor's searching and severe criticism upon the products of it, though the two views appear dissimilar as day and night. The one displays the D. C. under a rich moonlight, which clothes its dreary flats and rugged hollows with sublime shadow; the other under a cold keen dawning daylight, which shows the whole landscape, but not its noblest countenance. Mr. C. so far idealizes his Hero Poet, that without keeping out of view his characteristic faults he, with a far finer economy, converts them into cognate virtues; the poet's stern, angry temper, for instance, appears through Mr. C.'s glorifying medium like earnest sincerity, religious severity, a spiritual sadness; and he contrasts his " implacable, grim-trenchant face" with his "soft ethereal soul" more beautifully perhaps than quite truthfully; for Dante's soul was not all softness. Indeed it escapes this powerful advocate that the heroic poet was bitter. Are the noblest minds embittered then by evil and calamity? Do they clothe themselves with cursing as with a garment, and forget that judgment as well as vengeance belongs to God? Dante's soul was full of pity, say other apologists, but he deemed it sinful to commiserate those whom God's justice had condemned. Justice forsooth-and how knew he whom God had condemnedthat He had sunk Brutus and Cassius into the nethermost pit, and doomed poor Pope Celestine to be wasp-stung to all eternity on the banks of Acheron? I deny not his pity or his piety; yet I say that thus to fabricate visions of divine wrath upon individuals was a bad sign both of his age and of himself—the sign of a violent and presumptuous spirit. Again, are the noblest minds moody and mournful as Dante is described to have been? Rather they

bate no jot

Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer
Right onward.

Thus did John Milton, whom with Mr. Landor I can not help honoring and admiring above any other poet of past times except Shakspeare. His indeed was what Mr. Carlyle ascribes to Johnson, “a gigantic calmness”—nay more, an almost angelic serenity and cheerfulness; to judge from the tone of his writings with which the tenor of his life seems to agree.—S. C.]

1 For a striking account of these " detestable horrors" see Mr. Leigh Hunt's Fancy and Imagination.



« 上一頁繼續 »