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say, in that sense, beyond all men who have ever written in our tongue, and I believe in any other, Milton stands pre-eminent.
What is it that distinguishes the Hebrew poetry of Jeremiah, Moses, and David, from all other poetry -leaving out of the question for the moment its Divine inspiration? It is its suggestiveness-you never get to an end of it; you cannot by any possi. bility exhaust the depths of meaning in those sentences. You may translate this Hebrew poetry in the most barbarous way possible, if only you make it an exact translation ; you may be as prosaic as you will, but you cannot bring it down to prose; it remains immutable poetry. Of all the poetry in our tongue, incomparably the greatest is that which we read in our Bibles. It retains some noble flower which preserves all its beauty after it has lost its
I do not read very much of the poetry that is published in these times; old men I don't think do; but all I have read of it seems to be of this kind-take away the aroma, and the whole thing is gone! I think most men will agree with me that the poet-laureate himself-(I never met a lady in my life who was not somewhat idolatrous of the poetlaureate)—but even the poet-laureate himself depends so very much upon phrases and style as to be untranslateable. The poetry of the Scriptures may be said to bear some sort of analogy to the great works of Michael Angelo and Raffaelle, which in the coarsest and most colourless print that can be laid before you, are still full of sublimity. So, I say, Milton eminently possessed that ability. By Milton the wisest amongst us, the most learned, may measure himself; and in proportion as you find your appreciation of Milton increasing, and your perception of the gigantic mass of thought and knowledge there rising, so that the book becomes more and more intelligible, you are yourself rising; and in proportion as you feel yourself unable to make that discovery, depend upon it, I say it with a dogmatic confidence which I cannot now stop to apologise for -but depend upon it you are yourself sinking.
I will now venture to read some few of the passages which I conceive may give you some sort of notion of what is that poetry of which I have been speaking. The masque is thus opened by the attendant spirit
“ Before the starry threshold of Jove's court
My mansion is, where those immortal shapes
To such my errand is. Comas enters with his mad rout, and delivers himself after the fashion of this short and merry measure :
“The star, that bids the shepherd fold,
Now the top of heaven doth hold;
Come, knit hands, and beat the ground,
In a light fantastic round. The lady who is lost “in the blind mazes of the tangled wood," soliloquises of her loneliness in a strain of mingled fear and courage; using amongst other beautiful similes, that of the “sable cloud" with “silver lining,” which has so often been borrowed since by the minor poets. She presently sings a sweet song, hoping her brothers will hear her voice. Comus listening, exclaims :
“Can any mortal mixture of earth's mould
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment?
Comus speaks to the lady, and offers to conduct her to a low but loyal cottage, where she will be safe :Comus. “I know each lane, and every alley green,
Dingle or bushy dell, of this wild wood,
My daily walks and ancient neighbourhood."
“Shepherd, I take thy word,
The brothers, while in quest of their dear sister, converse of her danger, and the shield afforded by virtue and chastity. The elder brother exclaims :
Virtue could see to do what virtue would
She has a hidden strength.
But when lust,
Where no crude surfeit reigns." The rescue of the lady having been effected, the attendant spirit flies aloft, singing
"Mortals, that would follow me,
Love virtue; she alone is free:
Heaven itself would stoop to her.” My object in addressing you has been to awaken in the minds of some a love for poetry, and the culture of poetry. The life of every man is partly sensuous, partly spiritual, partly imaginative. In
our spiritual life we are taught that we to live by faith, not by sight; not by sight of the things of this world, because they are too gross, and too delusive
to be the legitimate guide of our steps; not by sight of the things of the world to come, because they are far above and beyond the reach of our mental vision; but by faith. Even so in our imagination, we live not by sight; not by dwelling among the sordid and utilitarian aspects of the things around us, but by faith in the beautiful, the sublime, and the relations which all things bear to the spirit within us, and to spirits superior to our own. If I may so use this theological term, I would say that by the exercise of faith in that ideal, or imaginative world, we may to a certain extent be weaned from the emptier vanities of the world, and from its coarser delights, and may acquire a thirst for delights yet more refined than those of the imagination itself. The imagination of man is among those awful gifts imparted to him by his Creator, that by means of them he may be trained up and educated to the exercise of those high spiritual powers, which are to be continually expanding and improving throughout the whole duration of the existence of the beatified spirits who stand ministrant before the Divine throne. Of all those to whom has been committed the office of disclosing to us the boundless resources and the purifying energy of a heart-inspired imagination, Milton is the noblest and the most exalted; and in respectfully directing your thoughts to the study of his works, I should be glad indeed to believe that I am leading you to the vestibule of the temple where others daily wait to assist, and partake of, and to direct your worship.