Milton Versus Southey And Landor by Thomas De Quincey

Story type: Essay

This conversation is doubly interesting: interesting by its subject, interesting by its interlocutors; for the subject is Milton, whilst the interlocutors are Southey and Landor. If a British gentleman, when taking his pleasure in his well-armed yacht, descries, in some foreign waters, a noble vessel, from the Thames or the Clyde, riding peaceably at anchor–and soon after, two smart-looking clippers, with rakish masts, bearing down upon her in company–he slackens sail: his suspicions are slightly raised; they have not shown their teeth as yet, and perhaps all is right; but there can be no harm in looking a little closer; and, assuredly, if he finds any mischief in the wind against his countryman, he will show his teeth also; and, please the wind, will take up such a position as to rake both of these pirates by turns. The two dialogists are introduced walking out after breakfast, ‘each his Milton in his pocket;’ and says Southey, ‘Let us collect all the graver faults we can lay our hands upon, without a too minute and troublesome research;’–just so; there would be danger in that–help might put off from shore;–‘not,’ says he, ‘in the spirit of Johnson, but in our own.’ Johnson we may suppose, is some old ruffian well known upon that coast; and ‘faults‘ may be a flash term for what the Americans call ‘notions.’ A part of the cargo it clearly is; and one is not surprised to hear Landor, whilst assenting to the general plan of attack, suggesting in a whisper ‘that they should abase their eyes in reverence to so great a man, without absolutely closing them;’ which I take to mean–that, without trusting entirely to their boarders, or absolutely closing their ports, they should depress their guns and fire down into the hold, in respect of the vessel attacked standing so high out of the water. After such plain speaking, nobody can wonder much at the junior pirate (Landor) muttering, ‘It will be difficult for us always to refrain.’ Of course it will: refraining was no part of the business, I should fancy, taught by that same buccaneer, Johnson. There is mischief, you see, reader, singing in the air–‘miching malhecho’–and it is our business to watch it.

But, before coming to the main attack, I must suffer myself to be detained for a few moments by what Mr. L. premises upon the ‘moral’ of any great fable, and the relation which it bears, or should bear, to the solution of such a fable. Philosophic criticism is so far improved, that, at this day, few people, who have reflected at all upon such subjects, but are agreed as to one point: viz., that in metaphysical language the moral of an epos or a drama should be immanent, not transient; or, otherwise, that it should be vitally distributed through the whole organization of the tree, not gathered or secreted into a sort of red berry or racemus, pendent at the end of its boughs. This view Mr. Landor himself takes, as a general view; but, strange to say, by some Landorian perverseness, where there occurs a memorable exception to this rule (as in the ‘Paradise Lost’), in that case he insists upon the rule in its rigor– the rule, and nothing but the rule. Where, on the contrary, the rule does really and obviously take effect (as in the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’), there he insists upon an exceptional case. There is a moral, in his opinion, hanging like a tassel of gold bullion from the ‘Iliad;’–and what is it? Something so fantastic, that I decline to repeat it. As well might he have said, that the moral of ‘Othello’ was–‘Try Warren’s Blacking!‘ There is no moral, little or big, foul or fair, to the ‘Iliad.’ Up to the 17th book, the moral might seem dimly to be this–‘Gentlemen, keep the peace: you see what comes of quarrelling.’ But there this moral ceases; –there is now a break of guage: the narrow guage takes place after this; whilst up to this point, the broad guage–viz., the wrath of Achilles, growing out of his turn-up with Agamemnon–had carried us smoothly along without need to shift our luggage. There is no more quarrelling after Book 17, how then can there be any more moral from quarrelling? If you insist on my telling you what is the moral of the ‘Iliad,’ I insist upon your telling me what is the moral of a rattlesnake or the moral of a Niagara. I suppose the moral is–that you must get out of their way, if you mean to moralize much longer. The going-up (or anabasis) of the Greeks against Troy, was a fact; and a pretty dense fact; and, by accident, the very first in which all Greece had a common interest. It was a joint-stock concern–a representative expedition–whereas, previously there had been none; for even the Argonautic expedition, which is rather of the darkest, implied no confederation except amongst individuals. How could it? For the Argo is supposed to have measured only twenty-seven tons: how she would have been classed at Lloyd’s is hard to say, but certainly not as A 1. There was no state-cabin; everybody, demi-gods and all, pigged in the steerage amongst beans and bacon. Greece was naturally proud of having crossed the herring-pond, small as it was, in search of an entrenched enemy; proud also of having licked him ‘into Almighty smash;’ this was sufficient; or if an impertinent moralist sought for something more, doubtless the moral must have lain in the booty. A peach is the moral of a peach, and moral enough; but if a man will have something better–a moral within a moral–why, there is the peach-stone, and its kernel, out of which he may make ratafia, which seems to be the ultimate morality that can be extracted from a peach. Mr. Archdeacon Williams, indeed, of the Edinburgh Academy, has published an octavo opinion upon the case, which asserts that the moral of the Trojan war was (to borrow a phrase from children) tit for tat. It was a case of retaliation for crimes against Hellas, committed by Troy in an earlier generation. It may be so; Nemesis knows best. But this moral, if it concerns the total expedition to the Troad, cannot concern the ‘Iliad,’ which does not take up matters from so early a period, nor go on to the final catastrophe of Ilium.

Now, as to the ‘Paradise Lost,’ it happens that there is–whether there ought to be or not–a pure golden moral, distinctly announced, separately contemplated, and the very weightiest ever uttered by man or realized by fable. It is a moral rather for the drama of a world than for a human poem. And this moral is made the more prominent and memorable by the grandeur of its annunciation. The jewel is not more splendid in itself than in its setting. Excepting the well-known passage on Athenian oratory in the ‘Paradise Regained,’ there is none even in Milton where the metrical pomp is made so effectually to aid the pomp of the sentiment. Hearken to the way in which a roll of dactyles is made to settle, like the swell of the advancing tide, into the long thunder of billows breaking for leagues against the shore:

‘That to the height of this great argument
I may assert eternal Providence.’–

Hear what a motion, what a tumult, is given by the dactylic close to each of the introductory lines! And how massily is the whole locked up into the peace of heaven, as the aerial arch of a viaduct is locked up into tranquil stability by its key-stone, through the deep spondaic close,

‘And justify the ways of God to man.’

That is the moral of the Miltonic epos; and as much grander than any other moral formally illustrated by poets, as heaven is higher than earth.

But the most singular moral, which Mr. Landor anywhere discovers, is in his own poem of ‘Gebir.’ Whether he still adheres to it, does not appear from the present edition. But I remember distinctly, in the original edition, a Preface (now withdrawn) in which he made his acknowledgments to some book read at a Welsh Inn for the outline of the story; and as to the moral, he declared it to be an exposition of that most mysterious offence, Over-Colonization. Much I mused, in my youthful simplicity, upon this criminal novelty. What might it be? Could I, by mistake, have committed it myself? Was it a felony, or a misdemeanor?–liable to transportation, or only to fine and imprisonment? Neither in the Decemviral Tables, nor in the Code of Justinian, nor the maritime Code of Oleron, nor in the Canon Law, nor the Code Napoleon, nor our own Statutes at large, nor in Jeremy Bentham, had I read of such a crime as a possibility. Undoubtedly the vermin, locally called Squatters, [1] both in the wilds of America and Australia, who pre- occupy other men’s estates, have latterly illustrated the logical possibility of such an offence; but they were quite unknown at the era of Gebir. Even Dalica, who knew as much wickedness as most people, would have stared at this unheard of villany, and have asked, as eagerly as I did–‘What is it now? Let’s have a shy at it in Egypt.’ I, indeed, knew a case, but Dalica did not, of shocking over-colonization. It was the case, which even yet occurs on out-of-the-way roads, where a man, unjustly big, mounts into the inside of a stage-coach already sufficiently crowded. In streets and squares, where men could give him a wide berth, they had tolerated the injustice of his person; but now, in a chamber so confined, the length and breadth of his wickedness shines revealed to every eye. And if the coach should upset, which it would not be the less likely to do for having him on board, somebody or other (perhaps myself) must lie beneath this monster, like Enceladus under Mount Etna, calling upon Jove to come quickly with a few thunderbolts and destroy both man and mountain, both succubus and incubus, if no other relief offered. Meantime, the only case of over-colonization notorious to all Europe, is that which some German traveller (Riedesel, I think) has reported so eagerly, in ridicule of our supposed English credulity; viz.–the case of the foreign swindler, who advertised that he would get into a quart bottle, filled Drury Lane, pocketed the admission money, and decamped, protesting (in his adieus to the spectators) that’ it lacerated his heart to disappoint so many noble islanders; but that on his next visit he would make full reparation by getting into a vinegar cruet.’ Now, here certainly was a case of over- colonization, not perpetrated, but meditated. Yet, when one examines this case, the crime consisted by no means in doing it, but in not doing it; by no means in getting into the bottle, but in not getting into it. The foreign contractor would have been probably a very unhappy man, had he fulfilled his contract by over-colonizing the bottle, but he would have been decidedly a more virtuous man. He would have redeemed his pledge; and, if he had even died in the bottle, we should have honored him as a ‘vir bonus, cum mala fortuna compositus;’ as a man of honor matched in single duel with calamity, and also as the best of conjurers. Over- colonization, therefore, except in the one case of the stage-coach, is apparently no crime; and the offence of King Gebir, in my eyes, remains a mystery to this day.

What next solicits notice is in the nature of a digression: it is a kind of parenthesis on Wordsworth.

Landor.–When it was a matter of wonder how Keats, who was ignorant of Greek, could have written his “Hyperion,” Shelley, whom envy never touched, gave as a reason–“because he was a Greek.” Wordsworth, being asked his opinion of the same poem, called it, scoffingly, “a pretty piece of paganism;” yet he himself, in the best verses he ever wrote–and beautiful ones they are–reverts to the powerful influence of the “pagan creed.”‘

Here are nine lines exactly in the original type. Now, nine tailors are ranked, by great masters of algebra, as = one man; such is the received equation; or, as it is expressed, with more liveliness, in an old English drama, by a man who meets and quarrels with eighteen tailors–‘Come, hang it! I’ll fight you both.’ But, whatever be the algebraic ratio of tailors to men, it is clear that nine Landorian lines are not always equal to the delivery of one accurate truth, or to a successful conflict with three or four signal errors. Firstly–Shelley’s reason, if it ever was assigned, is irrelevant as regards any question that must have been intended. It could not have been meant to ask–Why was the ‘Hyperion’ so Grecian in its spirit? for it is anything but Grecian. We should praise it falsely to call it so; for the feeble, though elegant, mythology of Greece was incapable of breeding anything so deep as the mysterious portents that, in the ‘Hyperion,’ run before and accompany the passing away of divine immemorial dynasties. Nothing can be more impressive than the picture of Saturn in his palsy of affliction, and of the mighty goddess his grand-daughter, or than the secret signs of coming woe in the palace of Hyperion. These things grew from darker creeds than Greece had ever known since the elder traditions of Prometheus–creeds that sent down their sounding plummets into far deeper wells within the human spirit. What had been meant, by the question proposed to Shelley, was no doubt– How so young a man as Keats, not having had the advantage of a regular classical education, could have been so much at home in the details of the elder mythology? Tooke’s ‘Pantheon’ might have been obtained by favor of any English schoolboy, and Dumoustier’s ‘Lettres a Emile sur la Mythologie‘ by favor of very many young ladies; but these, according to my recollection of them, would hardly have sufficed. Spence’s ‘Polymetis,’ however, might have been had by favor of any good library; and the ‘Bibliotheca‘ of Apollodorus, who is the cock of the walk on this subject, might have been read by favor of a Latin translation, supposing Keats really unequal to the easy Greek text. There is no wonder in the case; nor, if there had been, would Shelley’s kind remark have solved it. The treatment of the facts must, in any case, have been due to Keats’s genius, so as to be the same whether he had studied Greek or not: the facts, apart from the treatment, must in any case have been had from a book. Secondly–Let Mr. Landor rely upon it –that Wordsworth never said the thing ascribed to him here as any formal judgment, or what Scottish law would call deliverance, upon the ‘Hyperion.’ As to what he might have said incidentally and collaterally; the meaning of words is so entirely affected by their position in a conversation–what followed, what went before–that five words dislocated from their context never would be received as evidence in the Queen’s Bench. The court which, of all others, least strictly weighs its rules of evidence, is the female tea-table; yet even that tribunal would require the deponent to strengthen his evidence, if he had only five detached words to produce. Wordsworth is a very proud man as he has good reason to be; and perhaps it was I myself, who once said in print of him–that it is not the correct way of speaking, to say that Wordsworth is as proud as Lucifer; but, inversely, to say of Lucifer that some people have conceived him to be as proud as Wordsworth. But, if proud, Wordsworth is not haughty, is not ostentatious, is not anxious for display, is not arrogant, and, least of all, is he capable of descending to envy. Who or what is it that he should be envious of? Does anybody suppose that Wordsworth would be jealous of Archimedes if he now walked upon earth, or Michael Angelo, or Milton? Nature does not repeat herself. Be assured she will never make a second Wordsworth. Any of us would be jealous of his own duplicate; and, if I had a doppelganger, who went about personating me, copying me, and pirating me, philosopher as I am, I might (if the Court of Chancery would not grant an injunction against him) be so far carried away by jealousy as to attempt the crime of murder upon his carcass; and no great matter as regards HIM. But it would be a sad thing for me to find myself hanged; and for what, I beseech you? for murdering a sham, that was either nobody at all, or oneself repeated once too often. But if you show to Wordsworth a man as great as himself, still that great man will not be much like Wordsworth–the great man will not be Wordsworth’s doppelganger. If not impar (as you say) he will be dispar; and why, then, should Wordsworth be jealous of him, unless he is jealous of the sun, and of Abd el Kader, and of Mr. Waghorn–all of whom carry off a great deal of any spare admiration which Europe has to dispose of. But suddenly it strikes me that we are all proud, every man of us; and I daresay with some reason for it, ‘be the same more or less.’ For I never came to know any man in my whole life intimately, who could not do something or other better than anybody else. The only man amongst us that is thoroughly free from pride, that you may at all seasons rely on as a pattern of humility, is the pickpocket. That man is so admirable in his temper, and so used to pocketing anything whatever which Providence sends in his way, that he will even pocket a kicking, or anything in that line of favors which you are pleased to bestow. The smallest donations are by him thankfully received, provided only that you, whilst half-blind with anger in kicking him round a figure of eight, like a dexterous skater, will but allow him (which is no more than fair) to have a second ‘shy’ at your pretty Indian pocket-handkerchief, so as to convince you, on cooler reflection, that he does not always miss. Thirdly–Mr. Landor leaves it doubtful what verses those are of Wordsworth’s which celebrate the power ‘of the Pagan creed;’ whether that sonnet in which Wordsworth wishes to exchange for glimpses of human life, then and in those circumstances, ‘forlorn,’ the sight

‘—-Of Proteus coming from the sea,
And hear old Triton wind his wreathed horn;’

whether this, or the passage on the Greek mythology in ‘The Excursion.’ Whichever he means, I am the last man to deny that it is beautiful, and especially if he means the latter. But it is no presumption to deny firmly Mr. Landor’s assertion, that these are ‘the best verses Wordsworth ever wrote.’ Bless the man!

‘There are a thousand such elsewhere,
As worthy of your wonder:’–

Elsewhere, I mean, in Wordsworth’s poems. In reality it is impossible that these should be the best; for even if, in the executive part, they were so, which is not the case, the very nature of the thought, of the feeling, and of the relation, which binds it to the general theme, and the nature of that theme itself, forbid the possibility of merits so high. The whole movement of the feeling is fanciful: it neither appeals to what is deepest in human sensibilities, nor is meant to do so. The result, indeed, serves only to show Mr. Landor’s slender acquaintance with Wordsworth. And what is worse than being slenderly acquainted, he is erroneously acquainted even with these two short breathings from the Wordsworthian shell. He mistakes the logic. Wordsworth does not celebrate any power at all in Paganism. Old Triton indeed! he’s little better, in respect of the terrific, than a mail-coach guard, nor half as good, if you allow the guard his official seat, a coal-black night, lamps blazing back upon his royal scarlet, and his blunderbuss correctly slung. Triton would not stay, I engage, for a second look at the old Portsmouth mail, as once I knew it. But, alas! better things than ever stood on Triton’s pins are now as little able to stand up for themselves, or to startle the silent fields in darkness, with the sudden flash of their glory–gone before it had fall come–as Triton is to play the Freyschutz chorus on his humbug of a horn. But the logic of Wordsworth is this–not that the Greek mythology is potent; on the contrary, that it is weaker than cowslip tea, and would not agitate the nerves of a hen sparrow; but that, weak as it is–nay, by means of that very weakness–it does but the better serve to measure the weakness of something which he thinks yet weaker–viz. the death-like torpor of London society in 1808, benumbed by conventional apathy and worldliness–

‘Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life.’

This seems a digression from Milton, who is properly the subject of this colloquy. But, luckily, it is not one of my sins. Mr. Landor is lord within the house of his own book; he pays all accounts whatever; and readers that have either a bill, or bill of exceptions, to tender against the concern, must draw upon him. To Milton he returns upon a very dangerous topic indeed–viz. the structure of his blank verse. I know of none that is so trying to a wary man’s nerves. You might as well tax Mozart with harshness in the divinest passages of ‘Don Giovanni,’ as Milton with any such offence against metrical science. Be assured, it is yourself that do not read with understanding, not Milton that by possibility can be found deaf to the demands of perfect harmony. You are tempted, after walking round a line threescore times, to exclaim at last– ‘Well, if the Fiend himself should rise up before me at this very moment, in this very study of mine, and say that no screw was loose in that line, then would I reply–‘Sir, with submission, you are—-.’ ‘What!’ suppose the Fiend suddenly to demand in thunder; ‘what am I?’ ‘Horribly wrong,’ you wish exceedingly to say; but, recollecting that some people are choleric in argument, you confine yourself to the polite answer-‘That, with deference to his better education, you conceive him to lie;’–that’s a bad word to drop your voice upon in talking with a fiend, and you hasten to add–‘under a slight, a very slight mistake.’ Ay, you might venture on that opinion with a fiend. But how if an angel should undertake the case? And angelic was the ear of Milton. Many are the prima facie anomalous lines in Milton; many are the suspicious lines, which in many a book I have seen many a critic peering into, with eyes made up for mischief, yet with a misgiving that all was not quite safe, very much like an old raven looking down a marrow-bone. In fact, such is the metrical skill of the man, and such the perfection of his metrical sensibility, that, on any attempt to take liberties with a passage of his, you feel as when coming, in a forest, upon what seems a dead lion; perhaps he may not be dead, but only sleeping; nay, perhaps he may not be sleeping, but only shamming. And you have a jealousy, as to Milton, even in the most flagrant case of almost palpable error, that, after all, there may be a plot in it. You may be put down with shame by some man reading the line otherwise, reading it with a different emphasis, a different caesura, or perhaps a different suspension of the voice, so as to bring out a new and self-justifying effect. It must be added, that, in reviewing Milton’s metre, it is quite necessary to have such books as ‘Nare’s English Orthoepy’ (in a late edition), and others of that class, lying on the table; because the accentuation of Milton’s age was, in many words, entirely different from ours. And Mr. Landor is not free from some suspicion of inattention as to this point. Over and above his accentual difference, the practice of our elder dramatists in the resolution of the final tion (which now is uniformly pronounced shon), will be found exceedingly important to the appreciation of a writer’s verse. Contribution, which now is necessarily pronounced as a word of four syllables, would then, in verse, have five, being read into con-tri-bu-ce-on. Many readers will recollect another word, which for years brought John Kemble into hot water with the pit of Drury Lane. It was the plural of the word ache. This is generally made a dissyllable by the Elizabethan dramatists; it occurs in the ‘Tempest.’ Prospero says–

‘I’ll fill thy bones with aches.’

What follows, which I do not remember literatim, is such metrically as to require two syllables for aches. But how, then, was this to be pronounced? Kemble thought akies would sound ludicrous; aitches therefore he called it: and always the pit howled like a famished menagerie, as they did also when he chose (and he constantly chose) to pronounce beard like bird. Many of these niceties must be known, before a critic can ever allow himself to believe that he is right in obelizing, or in marking with so much as a ? any verse whatever of Milton’s. And there are some of these niceties, I am satisfied, not even yet fully investigated.

It is, however, to be borne in mind, after all allowances and provisional reservations have been made that Bentley’s hypothesis (injudiciously as it was managed by that great scholar) has really a truth of fact to stand upon. Not only must Milton have composed his three greatest poems, the two ‘Paradises, and the ‘Samson,’ in a state of blindness–but subsequently, in the correction of the proofs, he must have suffered still more from this conflict with darkness and, consequently, from this dependence upon careless readers. This is Bentley’s case: as lawyers say: ‘My lord, that is my case.’ It is possible enough to write correctly in the dark, as I myself often do, when losing or missing my lucifers–which, like some elder lucifers, are always rebelliously straying into place where they can have no business. But it is quite impossible to correct a proof in the dark. At least, if there is such an art, it must be a section of the black art. Bentley gained from Pope that admirable epithet of slashing, [‘the ribbalds–from slashing Bentley down to piddling Theobalds,’ i.e. Tibbulds as it was pronounced], altogether from his edition of the ‘Paradise Lost.’ This the doctor founded on his own hypothesis as to the advantage taken of Milton’s blindness; and corresponding was the havoc which he made of the text. In fact, on the really just allegation that Milton must have used the services of an amanuensis; and the plausible one that this amanuensis, being often weary of his task, would be likely to neglect punctilious accuracy; and the most improbable allegation that this weary person would also be very conceited, and add much rubbish of his own; Bentley resigned himself luxuriously, without the whisper of a scruple, to his own sense of what was or was not poetic, which sense happened to be that of the adder for music. The deaf adder heareth not though the musician charm ever so wisely. No scholarship, which so far beyond other men Bentley had, could gain him the imaginative sensibility which, in a degree so far beyond average men, he wanted. Consequently, the world never before beheld such a scene of massacre as his ‘Paradise Lost’ exhibited. He laid himself down to his work of extermination like the brawniest of reapers going in steadily with his sickle, coat stripped off, and shirt sleeves tucked up, to deal with an acre of barley. One duty, and no other, rested upon his conscience; one voice he heard–Slash away, and hew down the rotten growths of this abominable amanuensis. The carnage was like that after a pitched battle. The very finest passages in every book of the poem were marked by italics, as dedicated to fire and slaughter. ‘Slashing Dick’ went through the whole forest, like a woodman marking with white paint the giant trees that must all come down in a month or so. And one naturally reverts to a passage in the poem itself, where God the Father is supposed to say to his Filial assessor on the heavenly throne, when marking the desolating progress of Sin and Death,–

‘See with what havoc these fell dogs advance
To ravage this fair world.’

But still this inhuman extravagance of Bentley, in following out his hypothesis, does not exonerate us from bearing in mind so much truth as that hypothesis really must have had, from the pitiable difficulties of the great poet’s situation.

My own opinion, therefore, upon the line, for instance, from ‘Paradise Regained,’ which Mr. Landor appears to have indicated for the reader’s amazement, viz.:–

‘As well might recommend
Such solitude before choicest society,’

is–that it escaped revision from some accident calling off the ear of Milton whilst in the act of having the proof read to him. Mr. Landor silently prints it in italics, without assigning his objection; but, of course that objection must be–that the line has one foot too much. It is an Alexandrine, such as Dryden scattered so profusely, without asking himself why; but which Milton never tolerates except in the choruses of the Samson.

Not difficult, if thou hearken to me‘–

is one of the lines which Mr. Landor thinks that ‘no authority will reconcile’ to our ears. I think otherwise. The caesura is meant to fall not with the comma after difficult , but after thou; and there is a most effective and grand suspension intended. It is Satan who speaks– Satan in the wilderness; and he marks, as he wishes to mark, the tremendous opposition of attitude between the two parties to the temptation.

‘Not difficult if thou—-‘

there let the reader pause, as if pulling up suddenly four horses in harness, and throwing them on their haunches–not difficult if thou (in some mysterious sense the son of God); and then, as with a burst of thunder, again giving the reins to your quadriga,

‘—-hearken to me:’

that is, to me, that am the Prince of the Air, and able to perform all my promises for those that hearken to any temptations.

Two lines are cited under the same ban of irreconcilability to our ears, but on a very different plea. The first of these lines is–

Launcelot, or Pellias, or Pellinore;

The other
‘Quintius, Fabricius, Curius, Regulus.

The reader will readily suppose that both are objected to as ‘roll-calls of proper names.’ Now, it is very true that nothing is more offensive to the mind than the practice of mechanically packing into metrical successions, as if packing a portmanteau, names without meaning or significance to the feelings. No man ever carried that atrocity so far as Boileau, a fact of which Mr. Landor is well aware; and slight is the sanction or excuse that can be drawn from him. But it must not be forgotten that Virgil, so scrupulous in finish of composition, committed this fault. I remember a passage ending

‘—-Noemonaque Prytaninque;’

but, having no Virgil within reach, I cannot at this moment quote it accurately. Homer, with more excuse, however, from the rudeness of his age, is a deadly offender in this way. But the cases from Milton are very different. Milton was incapable of the Homeric or Virgilian blemish. The objection to such rolling musketry of names is, that unless interspersed with epithets, or broken into irregular groups by brief circumstances of parentage, country, or romantic incident, they stand audaciously perking up their heads like lots in a catalogue, arrow-headed palisades, or young larches in a nursery ground, all occupying the same space, all drawn up in line, all mere iterations of each other. But in

Quintius, Fabricius, Curius, Regulus,

though certainly not a good line when insulated (better, however, in its connection with the entire succession of which it forms part), the apology is, that the massy weight of the separate characters enables them to stand like granite pillars or pyramids, proud of their self-supporting independency.

Mr. Landor makes one correction by a simple improvement in the punctuation, which has a very fine effect. Rarely has so large a result been distributed through a sentence by so slight a change. It is in the ‘Samson.’ Samson says, speaking of himself (as elsewhere) with that profound pathos, which to all hearts invests Milton’s own situation in the days of his old age, when he was composing that drama–

‘Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves.

Thus it is usually printed; that is, without a comma in the latter line; but, says Landor, ‘there ought to be commas after eyeless, after Gaza, after mill.’ And why? because thus ‘the grief of Samson is aggravated at every member of the sentence.’ He (like Milton) was–1. blind; 2. in a city of triumphant enemies; 3. working for daily bread; 4. herding with slaves; Samson literally, and Milton with those whom politically he regarded as such.

Mr. Landor is perfectly wrong, I must take the liberty of saying, when he demurs to the line in Paradise Regained:

From that placid aspect and meek regard,

on the ground that; ‘meek regard conveys no new idea to placid aspect.’ But aspect is the countenance of Christ when passive to the gaze of others: regard is the same countenance in active contemplation of those others whom he loves or pities. The placid aspect expresses, therefore, the divine rest; the meek regard expresses the divine benignity: the one is the self-absorption of the total Godhead, the other the eternal emanation of the Filial Godhead.

‘By what ingenuity,’ says Landor, ‘can we erect into a verse–

In the bosom of bliss, and light of light?‘”

Now really it is by my watch exactly three minutes too late for him to make that objection. The court cannot receive it now; for the line just this moment cited, the ink being hardly yet dry, is of the same identical structure. The usual iambic flow is disturbed in both lines by the very same ripple, viz., a trochee in the second foot, placid in the one line, bosom in the other. They are a sort of snags, such as lie in the current of the Mississippi. There, they do nothing but mischief. Here, when the lines are read in their entire nexus, the disturbance stretches forwards and backwards with good effect on the music. Besides, if it did not, one is willing to take a snag from Milton, but one does not altogether like being snagged by the Mississippi. One sees no particular reason for bearing it, if one only knew how to be revenged on a river.

But, of these metrical skirmishes, though full of importance to the impassioned text of a great poet (for mysterious is the life that connects all modes of passion with rhythmus), let us suppose the casual reader to have had enough. And now at closing for the sake of change, let us treat him to a harlequin trick upon another theme. Did the reader ever happen to see a sheriff’s officer arresting an honest gentleman, who was doing no manner of harm to gentle or simple, and immediately afterwards a second sheriff’s officer arresting the first–by which means that second officer merits for himself a place in history; for at the same moment he liberates a deserving creature (since an arrested officer cannot possibly bag his prisoner), and he also avenges the insult put upon that worthy man? Perhaps the reader did not ever see such a sight; and, growing personal, he asks me, in return, if I ever saw it. To say the truth, I never did; except once, in a too-flattering dream; and though I applauded so loudly as even to waken myself, and shouted ‘encore,’ yet all went for nothing; and I am still waiting for that splendid exemplification of retributive justice. But why? Why should it be a spectacle so uncommon? For surely those official arresters of men must want arresting at times as well as better people. At least, however, en attendant one may luxuriate in the vision of such a thing; and the reader shall now see such a vision rehearsed. He shall see Mr. Landor arresting Milton–Milton, of all men!– for a flaw in his Roman erudition; and then he shall see me instantly stepping up, tapping Mr. Landor on the shoulder, and saying, ‘Officer, you’re wanted;’ whilst to Milton I say, touching my hat, ‘Now, sir, be off; run for your life, whilst I hold his man in custody, lest he should fasten on you again.’

What Milton had said, speaking of the ‘watchful cherubim,’ was–

‘Four faces each Had, like a double Janus;’

Upon which Southey–but, of course, Landor, ventriloquizing through Southey–says, ‘Better left this to the imagination: double Januses are queer figures.’ Not at all. On the contrary, they became so common, that finally there were no other. Rome, in her days of childhood, contented herself with a two-faced Janus; but, about the time of the first or second Caesar, a very ancient statue of Janus was exhumed, which had four faces. Ever afterwards, this sacred resurgent statue became the model for any possible Janus that could show himself in good company. The quadrifrons Janus was now the orthodox Janus; and it would have been as much a sacrilege to rob him of any single face as to rob a king’s statue [2] of its horse. One thing may recall this to Mr. Landor’s memory. I think it was Nero, but certainly it was one of the first six Caesars, that built, or that finished, a magnificent temple to Janus; and each face was so managed as to point down an avenue leading to a separate market-place. Now, that there were four market-places, I will make oath before any Justice of the Peace. One was called the Forum Julium, one the Forum Augustum, a third the Forum Transitorium: what the fourth was called is best known to itself, for really I forget. But if anybody says that perhaps it was called the Forum Landorium, I am not the man to object; for few names have deserved such an honor more, whether from those that then looked forward into futurity with one face, or from our posterity that will look back into the vanishing past with another.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Squatters:–They are a sort of self-elected warming-pans. What we in England mean by the political term ‘warming-pans,’ are men who occupy, by consent, some official place, or Parliamentary seat, until the proper claimant is old enough in law to assume his rights. When the true man comes to bed, the warming-pan respectfully turns out. But these ultra-marine warming-pans wouldn’t turn out. They showed fight, and wouldn’t hear of the true man, even as a bed-fellow.

[2] A king’s statue:–Till very lately the etiquette of Europe was, that none but royal persons could have equestrian statues. Lord Hopetoun, the reader will object, is allowed to have a horse, in St. Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh. True, but observe that he is not allowed to mount him. The first person, so far as I remember, that, not being royal, has, in our island, seated himself comfortably in the saddle, is the Duke of Wellington.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *