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master-pieces, whose equals are not to be found in the whole compass of the living languages, nor perhaps
of the poet's delight in praise, he seems to have utterly disregarded fame. He left his writings to the false and garbled copies of the theatre. It is not known that he even cared whether they ever passed to posterity. He retired from active life-from the pleasures of general society, which he must have been eininently capable of enjoying—and from authorship, a still severer sacrifice,—while he was yet in the prime of years, and gave himself up to the quiet obscurity of the country, without allowing us room for a suspicion that he ever regretted his abandonment of the world.
No man ever seems to have been so signally unconscious of what mighty things he was doing, or of the vast space that he must fill in the eyes of the future. And this unconsciousness, the rarest distinction
premacy; for it must have proceeded from either the creative facility that made all effort trivial, or the still nobler faculty, that sense of excellence, which makes all that genius can do feeble and dim, to the vivid and splendid form of perfection perpetually glowing before the mind
Milton's* genius was equal to his theme, and his theme comprehended the loftiest, loveliest, and most solemn subjects that touch the heart or elevate the Duderstanding of man. We live at too remote a period to discover how far his powers may have been excited or trained by his time. But the characteristic of the poetic mind is, to be impressed by all influences, to be laying up its treasures from every event and vicissitude, to be gathering its materials of future brilliancy and power from the highest and lowest sources, from the visible and the invisible, till it coerces those vaporous and unformed things into shape, and lifts them up for the admiration of the world, with the buoyancy and radiance of a cloud painted by the sun. The stern superstitions of the republicans, the military array of the land, the vast prayer-meetings, and the fierce and gloomy assemblages, whether for war, council, or worship, are to be traced in Milton ; and the most unrivalled fragments of the · Paradise Lost,' may be due to his having lived in the midst of an age of public confusion, of sorrow and of slaughter.
Milton was the most learned of poets. Learning oppresses the nerveless mind, but invigorates the powerful one. The celestial armour of the Greek hern,
Born in London, 1608, diod 1674.
which let in death to his feeble friend, only gave celestial speed and lightness to the limbs of the chosen champion. But the true wonder is, the faculty by which Milton assimilates his diversified knowledge and makes the most remote subservient to his theme. His scholarship is gathered from all times and all languages; and he sits in the midst of this various and magnificent treasure from the thousand provinces of wisdom, with the majesty of a Persian king.
ma by the Puritans, and its corruption by the French taste of Charles II. and his court. He was the first who tried the powers of the language in satire to any striking extent: and his knowledge of life, and his masculine and masterly use of English, placed him at the summit of political poets, a rank which has never been lowered. No English poet wrote more volumi. nously, and none retained a more uncontested superiority during life. By a singular fortune, his vigour and fame increased to the verge of the grave.
A rapid succession of Poets followed, of whom Pope relains the pre-eminence. His animation and poig. nancy made him the favourite of the higher ranks; a favour which seldom embodies itself with the permanent
• Born, 163), died 1700
Man,' however founded on an erroneous system, has the great preservative qualities that send down authorship to remote times. Its dignity, force, and grandeur fix it on the throne of didactic poetry. Pope's compliance with habits, then sanctioned by the first names of society, has humiliated his inuse. But no man will desire to extinguish the good for the sake of the evil;
of Pope, we may wisely forget that he ever wrote an unworthy line.
It is not the purpose of this rapid sketch to more than allude to subsequent writers. Our own age has produced individuals, whose ability will be honoured to the latest period of the language. But the genuine praise of the Poet rests with posterity : and of those noble ornaments of our country, and it can possess none nobler, happily all survive, with the exception of Keats, Wolfe, and the mightier name of Byron.
Keats died at an early age, probably long before his powers were matured ; but not till he had given promise of excellence in his peculiar style. His versification was chiefly formed on the model of
rich and delicate conception of the beauty of our language
Wolfe's fame chiefly rests on a fine poem to the . memory of Sir John Moore.
Lord Byron's merits and defects, as a poet, have been largely attributed to the personal temperament that accounts for, and palliates, his personal career. The constitutional irritability which embittered his days, probably gave birth to the pride, sternness, and misanthrophy of his style, its love of the darker passions, and its sullen and angry views of human life. But the error was often nobly redeemed by the outbreak of a noble mind, by touches of the finest feeling; flashes of sunshine through the gloom ; vistas of the rosiest beauty, through a mental wilderness that seemed to have been bared and blackened in the very wrath of nature.
Like all men of rank, he had temptations to contend with, that severely try man. Fortune, flattering com. panionship, and foreign life, were his natural perils ; and we can only lament that, when a few years more might have given him back to his country, with his fine faculties devoted to her service, and cheered by true views of human life, his career was closed. His moral system as a poet is founded on the double error, that great crimes imply great qualities; and, that virtue is a slavery. Both maxims palpably untrue; for crime is so much within human means, that the most stu