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rather a duty than a pleasure; it is one of those books which the reader admires, and lays down and forgets to take up again." To one excellence of Milton, however, the great critic, whom I have cited, is blind. Milton was a great admirer of the beauties of nature, though he proclaims his ignorance of natural science, in a passage in the Allegro....
"Or the twisted eglantine,"
where he undoubtedly confounds the sweetbriar with the woodbine. Still he was an admirer of nature, and in his System of Education, recommends, in the strongest terms, the study of natural philosophy, and natural history. Indeed I know nothing which tends more to expand the mind, and also to afford it rest and complacency in the vexatious turmoils of human life. All that
proceeds from the hand of God is good; much that comes from the exertions of man partakes of that frailty and depravity of which he is the natural heir. But the great critic and moralist whom I have just quoted (Dr. Johnson), was somewhat limited in his views. maxim was....
"The proper study of mankind is man."
He therefore could not relish many of the beauties of Milton, which depend upon allusions to the works of
We then assign to Milton all the excellencies of a regular plot or fable. We allow that he is admirable in his delineation of character, except that he fails (as every human intellect must fail) in depicting the Supreme Majesty; but we must allow that he has preserved the unity of action, and has finished his catastrophe with inimitable pathos and effect; and we must also allow that the exuberance of his genius has protracted the action much longer than was consistent with the laws of epic poetry, or the reader's patience. Had
the Paradise Lost been comprised in six books instead of twenty-four, no poem, ancient or modern, could have been brought into competition with it.
If I thus presume to censure the plan and arrangement of this extraordinary poem, let me do it justice in a point of view where I cannot apprehend opposition. It is a Thesaurus of poetical beauties. The thoughts, the figures, the language, the verse, are unrivalled. Dryden and Gray, I might perhaps add Pope, have profited largely from the happy combinations, and the bold application of language to be found in this poem. Even Shakspeare himself seldom dared to deviate from the universal idiom; but Milton taught us the full force of the English language; he even enriched it. His poems would furnish a vocabulary copious enough for every purpose of rhetorical or poetical composition. His imagination was so active, his knowledge was so unbounded, that every line is replete with curious information, with striking sentiment, or with poetical fancy. At the same time he draws a picture as no other man could have drawn it....Not to speak of his delineation of Satan, and the other characters in the infernal regions; not to instance the soft and tender description of the state of our first parents; can any thing equal the pathos and beauty of that passage which relates their expulsion from Paradise?
Whatever may be his faults, great is the praise of that man, to whom even the fastidiousness of criticism must assign the laurelled crown as the first lyric, and the first epic poet, of perhaps the most exalted nation in science and in literature on the face of the earth.
I cannot help observing, that the whole fabric of Paradise Lost, except the mere naked narrative of the Fall, is founded upon the most slender authority imaginable, two or three short, obscure, and ill-understood passages, chiefly in the Epistle of St. Jude; and yet it forms at present a part of our popular theology. Our grandsires, and even perhaps many grave Doctors of Divinity, would exclaim against the impiety of that
man who would dare to question a syllable of the authenticity of all that he has related, of the war in heaven, of the state of the rebellious spirits, &c. &c. This is a new proof of the preponderancy of Milton's genius, as well as of his popularity.
LETTER XXXII. .
ON THE USES OF CLASSICAL LEARNING.
MY DEAR JOHN,
I CANNOT better close a correspondence which has had so much reference to the classical writers, than by a short view of the uses and advantages of classical learning. The substance of what I shall advance on this subject was published some years ago in one of the volumes of the Memoirs of the Manchester Philosophi`cal and Literary Society; but as that work is, I believe, out of print, and not likely to be reprinted, you will not be sorry to see what were then my sentiments on this important topic.
The study of ancient languages, the Greek and Latin at least, and of what are usually termed the classical authors in those languages, has, for some centuries, constituted a branch of liberal education, in every refined nation in this quarter of the globe. It appears, indeed, no more than a just tribute to the labours of antiquity, that posterity should not ungratefully consign them to unmerited oblivion; nor even content itself with contemplating that imperfect copy of their features, which a translation exhibits. It is a curiosity natural to the human mind, a becoming pride, to wish as intimate an acquaintance as possible with the illustrious dead; to hold, in a manner, a friendly conversation with them, in their own language, and in their own peculiar style.
If these, however, were the only reasons for the cultivation of classical literature, though they might interest the philosopher, and the man of taste, still we could not in justice allow them that universal cogency, which is necessary to sanction a general practice. There must be other motives to warrant the hardship, which H h
is imposed on almost every well-born youth, of consuming in severe study several of the most gay and delightful years of life, and of encountering hardships, which nothing but an object of some importance can justify.
Without wishing to appear a lover of paradox, I cannot dissemble that I do not in my own mind allow much force to the maxim which insists on the absolute necessity of classical learning in what are called the professions. I confess, I think it a most pernicious pedantry, which would involve in any kind of mystery those sciences which are most essential to human happiness. The Christian world has been no gainer either as to piety or morals by speculative divinity; all that is necessary to mankind in theology ought to be, and I doubt not is, plain and easy to be comprehended by every capacity. What! shall none but Greek and Latin scholars be permitted to employ their reason on the most necessary topics? Admitting that there ought to be men in the Christian church who should be able to read the holy scriptures in their original languages, to correct mistranslations, to compare and collate manuscripts, and to detect errors of every kind; must every plain country clergyman be an adept in languages, which cannot afford him the least assistance in instructing and informing the poor and illiterate flock, which is committed to his care?....He cannot preach in Latin; the plainest and least pedantic style is that which will be most beneficial to his hearers; nay, the formality of college manners, or the unyielding spirit of literary arrogance, are perhaps qualities, more directly than others, calculated to obstruct or to frustrate his pious labours.
In medicine, I am sure, the use of a dead language has impeded rather than advanced science. Who will pretend to allege that the modern practitioner is obliged to have recourse to the ancients for the principles of his art? The English language, if we include the translations from foreign authors, contains a body of medicine, ample and voluminous enough to engage the attention of most practitioners, and to furnish them with