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up in the taste and spirit of the work, with the utmost advantage for seeing intimately its power and beauty.
But it would be great injustice to Milton to consider him as enjoying merely a critical reputation. It is the prerogative of this great man to stand at this hour foremost of all men in literary history, and so (shall we not say?) of all men, in the power to inspire. Virtue goes out of him into others. Leaving out of view the pretensions of our contemporaries (always an incalculable influence), we think no man can be named, whose mind still acts on the cultivated intellect of England and America with an energy comparable to that of Milton. As a poet, Shakspeare undoubtedly transcends, and far surpasses him in his popularity with foreign nations; but Shakspeare is a voice merely; who and what he was that sang, that sings, we know not. Milton stands erect, commanding, still visible as a man among men, and reads the laws of the moral sentiment to the newborn race. There is something pleasing in the affection with which we can regard a man who died a hundred and sixty years ago in the other hemisphere, who, in respect to personal relations, is to us as the wind, yet by an influence purely spiritual makes us jealous for his fame as for that of a near friend. He is identified in the mind with all select and holy images, with the supreme interests of the human race. If hereby we attain any more precision, we proceed to say, that we think no man in these later ages, and few men ever, possessed so great a conception of the manly character. Better than any other he has discharged the office of every great man, namely, to raise the idea of Man in the minds of his contemporaries and of posterity, to draw after nature a life of man, exhibiting such a composition of grace, of strength, and of virtue, as poet had not described nor hero lived. Human nature in these ages is indebted to him for its best portrait. Many philosophers in England, France, and Germany, have formally dedicated their study to this problem; and we think it impossible to recall one in those countries, who communicates the same vibration of hope, of self-reverence, of piety, of delight in beauty, which the name of Milton awakens. Lord Bacon, who has written much and with prodigious ability on this science, shrinks and falters before the absolute and uncourtly Puritan. Bacon's Essays are the portrait of an ambitious and profound calculator, — a great man of the vulgar
sort. Of the upper world of man's being they speak few and faint words. The man of Locke is virtuous without enthusiasm, and intelligent without poetry. Addison, Pope, Hume, and Johnson, students, with very unlike temper and success, of the same subject, cannot, taken together, make any pretension to the amount, or the quality, of Milton's inspirations. The man of Lord Chesterfield is unworthy to touch his garment's hem. Franklin's man is a frugal, inoffensive, thrifty citizen, but savours of nothing heroic. The genius of France has not, even in her best days, yet culminated in any one head, not in Rousseau, not in Pascal, not in Fenelon,― into such perception of all the attributes of humanity, as to entitle it to any rivalry in these lists. In Germany, the greatest writers are still too recent to institute a comparison; and yet we are tempted to say, that art and not life seems to be the end of their effort. But the idea of a purer existence than any he saw around him, to be realized in the life and conversation of men, inspired every act and every writing of John Milton. He defined the object of education to be, "to fit a man to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war." He declared, that "he who would aspire to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honorablest things, not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy." Nor is there in literature a more noble outline of a wise external education, than that which he drew up, at the age of thirty-six, in his Letter to Samuel Hartlib. The muscles, the nerves, and the flesh, with which this skeleton is to be filled up and covered, exist in his works and must be sought there.
For the delineation of this heroic image of man, Milton enjoyed singular advantages. Perfections of body and of mind are attributed to him by his biographers, that, if the anecdotes had come down from a greater distance of time, or had not been in part furnished or corroborated by political enemies, would lead us to suspect the portraits were ideal, like the Cyrus of Xenophon, the Telemachus of Fenelon, or the popular traditions of Alfred the Great.
Handsome to a proverb, he was called the lady of his college. Aubrey says, "This harmonical and ingenuous soul dwelt in a beautiful and well proportioned body." His manners and his carriage did him no injustice. Wood, his political opponent, relates, that "his deportment was affable, his gait erect and manly, bespeaking courage and undauntedness." Aubrey adds a sharp trait, that "he pronounced the letter R very hard, a certain sign of a satirical genius." He had the senses of a Greek. His eye was quick, and he was accounted an excellent master of his rapier. His ear for music was so acute, that he was not only enthusiastic in his love, but a skilful performer himself; and his voice, we are told, was delicately sweet and harmonious. that music shall make a part of a generous education.
With these keen perceptions, he naturally received a love of nature, and a rare susceptibility to impressions from external beauty. In the midst of London, he seems, like the creatures of the field and the forest, to have been tuned in concord with the order of the world; for, he believed, his poetic vein only flowed from the autumnal to the vernal equinox; and, in his essay on Education, he doubts whether, in the fine days of spring, any study can be accomplished by young men. "In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against nature, not to go out and see her riches and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth." His sensibility to impressions from beauty needs no proof from his history; it shines through every page. The form and the voice of Leonora Baroni seem to have captivated him in Rome, and to her he addressed his Italian sonnets and Latin epigrams.
To these endowments it must be added, that his address and his conversation were worthy of his fame. His house was resorted to by men of wit, and foreigners came to England, we are told, "to see the Lord Protector and Mr. Milton." In a letter to one of his foreign correspondents, Emeric Bigot, and in reply apparently to some compliment on his powers of conversation, he writes; "Many have been celebrated for their compositions, whose common conversation and intercourse have betrayed no marks of sublimity or genius. But, as far as possible, I aim to show myself equal in thought and speech to what I have written, if I have written any thing well."
These endowments received the benefit of a careful and happy discipline. His father's care, seconded by his own endeavour, introduced him to a profound skill in all the treasures of the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Italian tongues; and, to enlarge and enliven his elegant learning, he was sent into Italy, where he beheld the remains of ancient art, and the rival works of Raphael, Michael Angelo, and Correggio; where, also, he received social and academical honors from the learned and the great. In Paris, he became acquainted with Grotius; in Florence or Rome, with Galileo; and probably no traveller ever entered that country of history with better right to its hospitality, none upon whom its influences could have fallen more congenially.
Among the advantages of his foreign travel, Milton certainly did not count it the least, that it contributed to forge and polish that great weapon of which he acquired such extraordinary mastery, his power of language. His lore of foreign tongues added daily to his consummate skill in the use of his own. No individual writer has been an equal benefactor of the English tongue by showing its capabilities. Very early in life he became conscious that he had more to say to his fellow-men than they had fit words to embody. At nineteen years, in a college exercise, he addresses his native language, saying to it, that it would be his choice to leave trifles for a grave argument,
"Such as may make thee search thy coffers round,
How he before the thunderous throne doth lie."
Michael Angelo calls "him alone an artist, whose hands can execute what his mind has conceived." The world, no doubt, contains very many of that class of men whom Wordsworth denominates "silent poets,' " whose minds teem with images which they want words to clothe. But Milton's mind seems to have no thought or emotion which refused to be recorded. His mastery of his native tongue was more than to use it as well as any other; he cast it into new forms. He uttered in it things unheard before. Not imitating, but rivalling Shakspeare, he scattered, in tones of prolonged and delicate melody, his pastoral and romantic
fancies; then, soaring into unattempted strains, he made it capable of an unknown majesty, and bent it to express every trait of beauty, every shade of thought; and searched the kennel and jakes as well as the palaces of sound for the harsh discords of his polemic wrath. We may even apply to his performance on the instrument of language, his own description of music;
"notes, with many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out,
The hidden soul of harmony."
But, whilst Milton was conscious of possessing this intellectual voice, penetrating through ages, and propelling its melodious undulations forward through the coming world, he knew also, that this mastery of language was a secondary power, and he respected the mysterious source whence it had its spring; namely, clear conceptions, and a devoted heart. For me," he said, in his "Apology for Smectymnuus," "although I cannot say, that I am utterly untrained in those rules which best rhetoricians have given, or unacquainted with those examples which the prime authors of eloquence have written in any learned tongue, yet true eloquence I find to be none but the serious and hearty love of truth; and that whose mind soever is fully possessed with a fervent desire to know good things, and with the dearest charity to infuse the knowledge of them into others, when such a man would speak, his words, by what I can express, like so many nimble and airy servitors, trip about him at command, and in well-ordered files, as he would wish, fall aptly into their own places."
But, as basis or fountain of his rare physical and intellectual accomplishments, the man Milton was just and devout. He is rightly dear to mankind, because in him,— among so many perverse and partial men of genius, -in him humanity rights itself; the old eternal goodness finds a home in his breast, and for once shows itself beautiful. His gifts are subordinated to his moral sentiments. And his virtues are so graceful, that they seem rather talents than labors. Among so many contrivances as the world has seen to make holiness ugly, in Milton, at least, it was so pure a flame,