« ÎnapoiContinuați »
Mr. JOHN JONES was ballotted for, and duly elected an Ordinary Member.
Mr. R. M ANDREW exhibited three specimens of a remarkably large species of prawn, found on the west coast of Ireland, and bearing a similarity to the African species.
The Rev. Dr. HUME exhibited a mineral from the Coal Measures of Edinburgh, regarding the nature of which considerable doubt exists.
Mr. JOHN LEIGH CLARE exhibited, from the tertiary formations upon the south bank of the Tagus, near Lisbon, fossil specimens of "Panopaa Aldrovandi," &c.
The Rev. Dr. HUME offered some explanations on his Paper on "English Dialects," read at the last Ordinary Meeting.
Dr. WILLIAM IHNE read the first part of his Paper on "The Paradise Lost of Milton."
ROYAL INSTITUTION.-February 6, 1854.
JOSEPH DICKINSON, M.D., F.L.S., &c., PRESIDENT, in the Chair.
MR. WILLIAM BENNETT, Mr. WILLIAM REES, RORERT GEE, M.D., Mr. WILLIAM LIDDERDALE, Mr. F. D. FLETCHER, and Mr. F. PRANGE, were ballotted for, and duly elected Ordinary Members.
Mr. WILLIAM BURKE exhibited a Manuscript Work on Book-keeping: also in Manuscript, "The whole Art of Measuring, Practical Geometry, and Mensuration." Both works were very beautifully executed by Mr. J. T. Creighton.
Mr. THOMAS SANSOM, Secretary, exhibited fossil specimens of Catillus, or Inocenamus mytiloides, from the cretaceous or chalk system.
PROFESSOR GRIFFITH exhibited a series of fossils (including a specimen of Orthocera calamiteum ? ), from the Aberuddy Slate, a deep
Cambrian formation, in which very few fossils of any kind have ever been found.
Dr. W. IHNE concluded his Paper
ON THE PARADISE LOST OF MILTON.
"In the vast field of criticism on which we are now entering, innumerable reapers have already put their sickles. Yet the harvest is so abundant, that the negligent search of a straggling gleaner may be rewarded with a sheaf."
Macaulay's Essay on Milton.-Edin. Rev., 1825.
AN age is characterised not only by its literary productions, but also by the degree of esteem, in which it holds the productions of former times. The enthusiasm or the coldness shown to them indicates, like the rising or falling mercury, the condition of the intellectual atmosphere, and is a tolerably safe criterion of the prevailing spirit of the age. Shakspeare has gone through periods of comparative neglect and admiration, so have Homer and Dante, Horace, Virgil and Cicero, Voltaire and Rousseau, the Niebelungen and Wolfram von Eschenbach, in proportion as the character of their works was congenial with, or adverse to, successive ages. Shakspeare is now all-ruling, Milton is quite in the "dust and silence of the upper shelf." Perhaps our investigation into the composition and style of the "Paradise Lost" may help us to understand the causes, and to appreciate the justice of this extraordinary neglect.*
Before entering upon the detail of my investigation, I think it will be necessary to acknowledge and record my veneration for the nobleness of mind, the moral courage and the sublime genius of the blind poet. I do this to shield myself from the odium, to which a frank and unreserved criticism might otherwise expose me. I feel the force and bearing of what Dr. Johnson says in his life of Milton (p. 171): "What Englishman can take delight in transcribing passages, which, if they lessen the reputation of Milton, diminish in some degree the honour of our country?"
But the reputation of Milton is too firmly established, either to need any adventitious support and eulogium, or to suffer much, if at all, from the searching analysis of the critic. If, therefore, I shall be found to dwell chiefly on what appear to me to be blemishes, I trust I shall not, on that account, be ranked among the mean herd of
* Johnson, (Life of Milton, p. 173) already says:-"Paradise Lost' is one of those books which the reader admires, and lays down and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure."
detractors who feed and fatten on the body of a noble game, which they have hunted down. Nor would I, on the other side, be one of that abject crowd, who swell, without thought or reason, the general shout of applause or the condemnatory hiss.
It has been well remarked, that even in Milton's own lifetime, when he was poor, old, blind, and neglected, when his political enemies reigned triumphant, the "Paradise Lost" was received by the nation as a great work, and that the sale of 1,300 copies in two years, at that period, is a proof of great popularity.
The time immediately following produced Dryden's well known epigram:
"Three poets, iu three distant ages born,
The force of nature could no further go;
I cannot pause to criticise this dictum, which, to say the least, is far less correct than pointed. It reveals total ignorance of the relative merit of Homer, who is all nature, originality, and vigour, and of Virgil, who is all art, imitation, and elegance; and it certainly overshoots the mark by placing Milton above all the other poets, the world ever produced.
From that time Milton's fame was firmly established and generally acknowledged. But the foundation of a reasonable appreciation of the poet was laid by Addison, who first undertook to analyze and to demonstrate the beauties of the "Paradise Lost." But Addison was, I should almost be tempted to say, too amiable a critic. He practically followed the rule which he laid down, that "a true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, and to discover the concealed beauties of a writer." This is lowering the critic to the position of a paid advocate, instead of raising him to the dignity of an impartial judge. It is the genera! fault of editors, who are mostly too much in love with their authors to be just to him or others.
A greater proof of Milton's excellence than the praise of Addison is the disguised censure of Richard Bentley, the greatest of English and the greatest of European critics. Nay, the fact, that Bentley undertook to edit the "Paradise Lost," proves, that he considered Milton a worthy rival of the great poets of antiquity. But, in his critical annotations, Bentley very ingeniously and astutely, though perhaps not very honestly, exposes the blemishes of the poem, whilst pretending to extol the poet, and to purge his text from the interpolations and corruptions, which, as
he affects to believe, the incompetent hands of some over-zealous friend and editor introduced into the spotless original of the blind poet. Bentley's criticism, however, is only verbal and textual; he never rises to the contemplation of the poem as a whole; but his remarks are nevertheless highly interesting and instructive; they are invariably clever, sparkling with wit and ingenuity, and they indicate the finest tact for grammatical propriety and correctness of diction. His proposed alterations are, perhaps, not in a single instance real emendations of the text, i.e. restorations of the original reading, such as it must be supposed to have proceeded from the author's mind (and such alterations only have we a right and a duty to introduce into the text); they are, on the contrary, suggested improvements, such as a friend of the author would note on the margin of a proof sheet; and it must be owned, a great proportion of these suggestions are so happy and pleasing, that Milton, had he seen them, would no doubt have adopted them readily and thankfully.
Dr. Johnson's Life of Milton is a very able and useful performance. Johnson was not a blind idol-worshipper. He had his eyes open to see defects as well as merits; and he had the courage and good sense to qualify his praise, where he saw proper. Perhaps there is something of the rancour of party spirit in the judgment, which he passes on Milton the politician and the theologian; but of Milton the poet, he is, in spite of several exceptions that he takes, an honest and enthusiastic admirer. He speaks of the "Paradise Lost" as "a poem, which, considered with respect to design, may claim the first place, and, with respect to performance, the second among the productions of the human mind."
Milton's numerous editors and biographers and all the writers on English literature, as far as I am acquainted with them, express the same transcendent admiration. To name one for all-Macaulay, in that sparkling, though half juvenile treatise, which forms the first of his valuable contributions to the Edinburgh Review, expresses the same opinion: "We are sure," he says, "that the superiority of the 'Paradise Lost' to the Paradise Regained' is not more decided than the superiority of the Paradise Regained' to every poem, which has since made its appearance." Further on he says: "We hasten on to that extraordinary production, which the general suffrage of critics has placed in the highest class of human compositions."
But all the praise so generally and generously bestowed upon the bard of Paradise Lost" and "Regained" is summed up and expressed in what may be considered the general sentiment at present, viz. that in
the whole range of English poetry there is only one superior to him, and that one-Shakspeare.
Let us now turn to the examination of this wonderful work, the "Paradise Lost." A complete and exhausting critique I do not pretend to give. Such an undertaking would lead me far beyond the limits, to which I am bound in this place. I shall, therefore, but cursorily touch upon the subject matter of the poem, the plan and the mode of execution, and lastly, I shall enter more fully into the style and diction.
With reference to the subject matter of "Paradise Lost," I find, that the general opinion of critics commends it as the best, that could have been found. Mr. Hallam, (Literat. of Europe, IV., 24,) whom I select as their representative, says, "The subject of Paradise Lost' is the finest, that has ever been chosen for heroic poetry." He goes on to say, "that the Iliad' wants completeness, that the subject of the Odyssey' is hardly extensive enough for a legitimate epic, that the Aeneid' is spread over too long a space; that Tasso is superior both in choice and management of his subject to most of these." "Yet," he concludes, "the Fall of Man has a more general interest than the Crusade.”*
It is foreign to my plan to criticise Mr. Hallam's rash judgment of the "Iliad" and "Odyssey;" nor will I impugn the truth of his concluding sentence, "that the Fall of Man has a more general interest than the Crusades," or, (to generalize his isolated dictum into a theory,) than any event of local or merely partial historical consequences :—I allow this to be perfectly correct; but I deny, that a subject is adapted for an epic poem in proportion to the general interest it excites. It is true, that a subject, if generally interesting, secures for the work an attentive hearing, and can hardly fail to make it popular, but the fitness for an epic poem mainly depends upon other conditions and circumstances than either its religious, or national, or historical interest. The poet must not trade upon a popular idea, but he must be able to create interest, where none existed, and maintain it through the variations of political, social, and religious revolutions. The interest must be poetical. This constitutes its title to superiority; all other interest serves merely as a recommendation. The highest questions, which agitate the human mind, the inquiries into the attributes of the Deity, the nature of our soul, and our future state, must for ever possess for us the most thrilling interest; but are they therefore fit subjects for
* Johnson's Life of Milton, page 165:-" It is justly remarked by Addison, that this poem has, by the nature of its subject, the advantage above all others, that it is universally and perpetually interesting. All mankind will, through all ages, bear the same relation to Adam and to Eve, and must partake of that good and evil which extend to themselves