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breath with continued couplets. Nor doth alternate rime by any lowliness of cadence make the sound less heroic, but rather adapt it to a plain and stately composing of music; and the brevity of the stanza renders it less subtle to the composer, and more easy to the singer, which in stilo recitativo, when the story is long, is chiefly requisite. And this was indeed (if I shall not betray vanity in my confession) the reason that prevailed most towards my choice of this stanza, and my division of the main work into cantos, every canto including a sufficient accomplishment of some worthy design or action, for I had so much heat, which you, sir, may call pride, as to presume they might (like the works of Homer ere they were joyned together and made a volume by the Athenian king) be sung at village-feasts; though not to monarchs after victory, nor to armies before battle. For so (as an inspiration of glory into the one, and of valour into the other) did Homer's spirit, long after his body's rest, wander in music about Greece." Hobbes, by the way, acknowledged this statement by assuring Davenant that "but for the clamour of the multitude, that hide their envy of the present under a reverence of antiquity, I should say further that it would last as long as the Iliad or the Æneid."
When all is said, we find a precedent for the use of this measure in Sir John Davies's "Nosce Teipsum" (1599), although in this older poem the sense runs over from one stanza into a second or third. Wyatt had also employed it in his poem, "The Lover Describeth his being taken with Sight of his Love," as had the Earl of Oxford in 1576, in a poem prefixed to Bedingfield's Cardanus. Dryden made use of it in his stanzas on the "Death of Oliver Cromwell" (1658), and, after also trying the couplet, in his "Annus Mirabilis" (1666). After that time, however, he kept to the couplet, save, of course, in his
odes. So that Waller had the satisfaction of living to see the measures that he introduced become the prevailing form.
V. I have to this point tried to give a sketch of the change in the poetical forms, and to show the different steps in this change. The question now suggests itself: Why was the change made? In what way was it possible that the age should be deaf to the majesty of Milton's line and prefer Cowley, Waller, and the playwrights? But when could Milton be a popular poet? Even now, when his place is secured among the greatest of writers, we read him, if we read him at all, at some time from a sense of duty, and then most of us return to him only fitfully, as indeed we do to most great writers. And then, when Milton wrote his finest poems, he was the lonely singer of a fallen cause, and Puritanism meant to his contemporaries a narrow theology, a bigoted view of human life, and the unsoundest political principles. We see that Milton was one of the last of the great poets, and that he was great because, with his magnificent poetical equipment, he represented a great principle of national life; and this has always been part of the inspiration of the greatest poets. Homer is the poet of remote antiquity; Eschylus and Sophocles of Greece in her prime; Vergil, of imperial Rome; Dante, of the Middle Ages; Chaucer, of awakening England; Shakspere of England in a time of vigor and enthusiasm ; Milton, of Puritanism; Goethe, of Germany; and-it seems to me-it is their quality as representatives which so much outweighs literary performance of no matter what degree of excellence. Puritanism was inspired by some of the most marked traits of the English character, and Milton brought to its service very complete training. Puritanism flourished and died, though it made a deep mark on both England and America, and left Bunyan's
prose* and Milton's poetry to show how important a part it had played in English history; and it showed, too, in Milton's faults how narrowing it was.
Milton's fame was something which depended a good deal on politics. After 1688 the Liberals admired him,
* It would be interesting to study the gradual growth of Bunyan's fame in the last two hundred years. The popularity of the "Pilgrim's Progress" was always acknowledged, but it was frequently spoken of as a book suitable only for the populace. Dr. Young, "Sat." V. iii. 147, speaking of a newly married couple :
"With the fourth sun a warm dispute arose
On Durfey's poesy and Bunyan's prose."
D'Urfey's poetry was notoriously beneath contempt.
John Dunton (for whom vide infra), in a talk with the librarian of Harvard College, said, “Nor must I omit amongst these great names [Tillotson, Jeremy Taylor, Baxter, Mrs. Katharine Phillips, Mrs. Behn-for Dunton's taste was catholic-and Mrs. Rowe], to mention that of Mr. John Bunyan, who, though a man of very ordinary education, yet was a man of great natural parts, and as well known for an author throughout England as any I have mentioned, by the many books he has published, of which the 'Pilgrim's Progress' bears away the bell" (vide his "Letters from New England" (Boston, 1867), p. 159).
Swift, in A Letter to a Young Clergyman :" "I have been better entertained, and more informed, by a few pages in the Pilgrim's Progress,' than by a long discourse on the will and the intellect, and simple or complex ideas."
Sterne, "Tristram Shandy," i. chap. iv.: "My life and opinions . . . will be no less read than the 'Pilgrim's Progress' itself."
Vide Knox, "Essays," No. 92: "Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress' has given as much pleasure among the English vulgar as the 'Quixote' of Cervantes."
Dr. Johnson said it was the only uninspired book, except " Don Quixote," which the reader ever wished were longer.
Cowper apologizes for referring to him;
"I name thee not lest so despised a name,
Should move a sneer at thy deserved fame."-Tirocinium.
It is only in this century, since the Romantic revival, that the prejudice against its simplicity and mediæval origin has been removed,
and even a hundred years later Johnson, who was a hot Tory, attacked him in his "Lives of the Poets.”* Of Milton's influence we shall have occasion to speak later. We can, to be sure, find compliments to him in some of the writings of the time of the Restoration, but most of the authors neglected him, although I fancy that his popularity in this country among people of moderate taste in poetry proves that in England he was read by the survivors of the Puritans. Then, too, his harmonious rhythm inspired, as we shall see, a great deal of tumid blank verse. The real interest of the nation went with its contemporary writers, and in the race for popularity modernness is always tolerably sure to outrun antiquity, and Milton soon appeared like a stranded classic. The edition of 1688, the publication of which was almost a political move, did much to redeem the neglect from which Milton's fame had been suffering.
Even now we are repelled by the tedious theology and the classical form of the "Paradise Lost." How must they have seemed when the modern spirit had the additional charm of novelty?
The Elizabethan poets wrote under the inspiration of a strong feeling. As this decayed, men sought first to make it good by fierce language. Take, for example, these lines from Davenant's "Albovine," as a specimen of the hero's method of courtship:
"Fill me a bowl with negro's blood, congealed
I'll swallow tar to celebrate her health."
Evidently language of this sort contains signs of decay,
*The political bias was long-lived. Clough, writing from Oxford, in 1838, says: "It is difficult here even to obtain assent to Milton's greatness as a poet... Were it not for the happy notion that a man's poetry is not at all affected by his opinions, . . . I fear the 'Paradise Lost' would be utterly unsalable, except for waste paper in the university" (i. 80).
and must soon give place to something different. The courtiers, who could endure declamation of that sort, said that Milton's harmonies sounded like the rumbling of a wheelbarrow ;* they were equally deaf to the charm of the old lyrics, and put into short lines a vast number of feeble sentiments. The songs of the Restoration ask for but little attention. We may find in Waller a few excellent lyrics, as well as such poems as "The Lady who can Sleep when she pleases," "Of a Tree Cut in Paper;" in Roscommon, lines "On the Death of a Lady's Dog," and a "Song on a Young Lady who Sung Finely, and was Afraid of a Cold." Rochester, too, wrote some verses which are marked with some slight ingenuity, but since we are now following mainly the broader streams of literature, we may leave for the present this side-current.
The brief examination that we have given will be sufficient to show us that the outlook for literature after the Restoration was a very dreary one. We have but touched upon the drama, but outside of that we have seen the decadence of the greatest inspiration, the neglect of real genius, and the appearance of a prosaic period. The problem that lay before the writers of that day was a complicated one. Literature, as I have tried to point out, had broken loose from the people, and had to seek support from the court until a public of readers should be found—or, rather, should be made. A proper understanding of the absence of a reading public is necessary for understanding the literature of the last century.
* Vide Johnson's "Life of J. Philips."
† Yet when shall we find anything new? Joseph Hall says in his "Satires" (1598):
"Should Bandel's throstle die without a song?
Or Adamantius, my dog, be laid along,
Down in some ditch without his exequies,
Or epitaphs, or mournful elegies ?"