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MILTON. (ACGUST, 1825.)
in which it has been found. But what
ever the adventures of the manuscript Joannis Miltoni, Angli, de Doctrina Chris. may have been, no doubt can exist that tiana libri duo posthumi. A Treatise on it is a genuine relic of the great poet Christian Doctrine, compiled from the Holy Scriptures alcne. By Joux MILTON, Mr. Sumner, who was commanded translated from the Original by Charles by his Majesty to edite and translate R. Sumner, M.A. &c. &c. 1825.
the treatise, has acquitted himself of TOWARDS the close of the year 1823, his task in a manner honourable to his Mr. Lemon, deputy keeper of the state talents and to his character. His verpapers, in the course of his rescarches sion is not indeed very easy or elegant ; among the presses of his office, met but it is entitled to the praise of clearwith a large Latin manuscript. With ness and fidelity. His notes abound it were found corrected copies of the with interesting quotations, and have foreign despatches written by Milton the rare merit of really elucidating the while he filled the office of Secretary, text. The preface is evidently tho and several papers relating to the Po- work of a sensible and candid man, firm pish Trials and the Rye-house Plot. in his own religious opinions, and toleThe whole was wrapped up in an en- rant towards those of others. velope, superscribed To Mr. Skinner, The book itself will not add much Merchant. On examination, the large to the fame of Milton. It is, like all manuscript proved to be the long lost his Latin works, well written, though Essay on the Doctrines of Christianity, not exactly in the style of the prize which, according to Wood and Toland, essays of Oxford and Cambridge. Milton finished after die Restoration, There is no claborate imitation of and deposited with Cyriac Skinner. classical antiquity, no scrupulous purity, Skinner, it is well known, held the none of the ceremonial cleanness which same political opinions with his illus- characterises the diction of our acatrious friend. It is therefore probable, demical Pharisees. The author does as Dr. Lemon conjectures, that he not attempt to polish and brighten his may have fallen under the suspicions composition into the Ciceronian gloss of the government during that perse- and brilliancy. Ile docs not in short cution of the Whigs which followed sacrifice sense and spirit to pedantic the dissolution of the Oxford parlia- refinements. The nature of his subject ment, and that, in consequence of a compelled him to use many words general seizure of his papers, this work « That would have made Quintilian stare may have been brought to the office and gasp."
But he writes with as much case and of the interest, transient as it may be, freedom as if Latin were his mother which this work has excited. Tho tongue ; and, where he is least happy, dextcrous Capuchins never choose to his failure seems to arise from the care- preach on the life and miracles of a lessness of a native, not from the igno- saint, until they have awakened the derance of a foreigner. We may apply votional feelings of their auditors by to him what Denham with great felicity exhibiting some relic of him, a thread says of Cowley. He wears the garb, of his garment, a lock of his hair, or a but not the clothes of the ancients. drop of his blood. On the same prin
Throughout the volume are discern- ciple, we intend to take advantage of ible the traces of a powerful and inde- the late interesting discovery, and, pendent mind, emancipated from the while this memorial of a great and good influence of authority, and devoted to man is still in the hands of all, to say the search of truth. Milton professes something of his moral and intellectual to form his system from the Bible alone; qualities. Nor, we are convinced, will and his digest of scriptural texts is cer- the severest of our readers blame us tainly among the best that have ap- if, on an occasion like the present, we peared. But he is not always so happy turn for a short time from the topics in his inferences as in his citations. of the day, to commemorate, in all
Some of the heterodox doctrines love and reverence, the genius and virwhich he avows seemed to have ex- tues of John Milton, the poet, the cited considerable amazement, parti- statesman, the philosopher, the glory of cularly his Arianism, and his theory English literature, the champion and on the subject of polygamy. Yet we the martyr of English liberty. can scarcely conceive that any person It is by his poetry that Milton is best could have read the Paradise Lost with- known; and it is of his poetry that we out suspecting him of the former; nor wish first to speak. By the general do we think that any reader, acquainted suffrage of the civilised world, his place with the history of his life, ought to be has been assigned among the greatest much startled at the latter. The opi- masters of the art. His detractors, how. nions which he has expressed respect- ever, though outvoted, have not been ing the nature of the Deity, the eternity silenced. There are many critics, and of matter, and the observation of the some of great name, who contrive in Sabbath, might, we think, have caused the samo breath to extol the poems and more just surprise.
to decry the poet. The works they acBut we will not go into the discus- knowledge, considered in themselves, sion of these points. The book, were may be classed among the noblest proit far more orthodox or far more here- ductions of the human mind. But they tical than it is, would not much edify will not allow the author to rank with or corrupt the present generation. The those great men who, born in the inmen of our time are not to be con- fancy of civilisation, supplied, by their verted or perverted by quartos. A few own powers, the want of instruction, more days, and this essay will follow and, though destitute of models themthe Defensio Populi to the dust and selves, bequcathed to posterity models silence of the upper shelf. The name which defy imitation. Milton, it is said, of its author, and the remarkable cir- inherited what his predecessors created; cumstances attending its publication, he lived in an enlightened age ; he rewill secure to it a certain degree of ceived a finished education, and we must attention. For a month or two it will therefore, if we would form a just esti. occupy a few minutes of chat in every mateofhis powers,make large deductions drawing-room, and a few columns in in consideration of these advantages, every magazine; and it will tlien, to We venture to say, on the contrary, borrow the elegant language of the paradoxical as the remark may appear, play-bills, be withdrawn to make room that no poet has ever had to struggle for the forthcoming novelties.
with more unfavourable circumstances We wish however to avail ourselves than Milton. He doubted, as he has himself owned, whicther he had not been years to mathematics, learn more than born“ an age too late.” For this no- the great Newton knew after half a tion Johnson has thought fit to make century of study and meditation. him the butt of much clumsy ridicule. But it is not thus with music, with The poet, we believe, understood the painting, or with sculpture. Still less pature of his art better than the critic. is it thus with poetry. The progress He knew that his poetical genius de- of refinement rarely supplies these arts rived no advantage from the civilisa- with better objects of imitation. It may tion which surrounded him, or from the indeed improve the instruments which learning which he had acquired ; and are necessary to the mechanical opera. he looked back with something like tions of the musician, the sculptor, and regret to the ruder age of simple words the painter. But language, the maand vivid impressions.
chine of the poet, is best fitted for his We think that, as civilisation ad- purpose in its rudest state. Nations, vances, poetry almost necessarily de- like individuals, first perceive, and then clines. Therefore, though we fervently abstract. They advance from particuadmire those great works of imagina. Iar images to general terms. Hence tion which have appeared in dark ages, the vocabulary of an enlightened society we do not admire them the more be- is philosophical, that of a half-civilised cause they have appeared in dark ages. people is poetical. On the contrary, we hold that the most This change in the language of men wonderful and splendid proof of genius is partly the cause and partly the effect is a great poem produced in a civilised of a corresponding change in the nature age. We cannot understand why those of their intellectual operations, of a who believe in that most orthodox change by which science gains and article of literary faith, that the earliest poetry loses. Generalisation is necespoets are generally the best, should sary to the advancement of knowledge; wonder at the rule as if it were the but particularity is indispensible to the exception. Surely the uniformity of creations of the imagination. In prothe phænomenon indicates a corre- portion as men know more and think sponding uniformity in the cause. more, they look less at individuals and
The fact is, that common observers more at classes. They therefore make reason from the progress of the expe- better theories and worse poems. They rimental sciences to that of the imitative give us vague phrases mstead of images, arts. The improvement of the former and personified qualities instead of men. is gradual and slow. Ages are spent They may be better able to analyse in collecting materials, ages more in human nature than their predecessors. separating and combining them. Even But analysis is not the business of the when a system has been formed, there poet. His office is to portray, not to is still something to add, to alter, or to dissect. He may believe in a moral reject. Every generation enjoys the sense, like Shaftesbury; he may refer use of a vast hoard bequeathed to it all human actions to self-interest, like by antiquity, and transmits that hoard, Helvetius; or he may never think about augmented by fresh acquisitions, to the matter at all. His creed on such future ages. In these pursuits, there subjects will no more influence his fore, the first speculators lic under great poetry, properly so called, than the disadvantages, and, even when they notions which a painter may have confail, are entitled to praise. Their ceived respecting the lacrymal glands, pupils, with far inferior intellectual or the circulation of the blood will affect powers, specdily surpass them in actual the tears of his Niobe, or the blushes attainments. Every girl who has read of his Aurora. If Shakespeare had Mrs. Marcet's little dialogues on Poli- written a book on the motives of human tical Economy could tcach Montague actions, it is by no means certain that
It is or Walpole many lessons in finance. it would have been a good one. Any intelligent man may now, by rc- extremely improbable that it would solutely applying himself for a few have contained half so much able rea