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awed by the dignity of his thoughts; but such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance, the reader feels himself 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 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 says 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 heroick 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, 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, metreor musick is no necessary adjunct: it is, however, by the musick 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 musick of the English heroick lines strikes the ear so faintly, that it is easily lost, unless all the syllables of every line cooperate together; this cooperation 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
The earl of Surrey translated two books of Virgil without rhyme; the second and the fourth. J. B.
readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. “Blank verse,” said an ingenious critick,“ seems to be verse only to the eye.”
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 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 epick 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 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 heroick poems, only because it is not the first.
F 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; more, 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 Brighto,
• 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 inferred from a subsequent passage, wherein the author laments that he had neither such an acquaintance 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 extravagance, and by his industry and application, reedi