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a drama can be praised in which the intermediate parts have neither cause nor consequence, neither hasten nor retard the catastrophe. In this tragedy are, however, many particular beauties, many just sentiments and striking lines; but it wants that power of attracting the attention which a well connected plan produces. Milton would not have excelled in dramatic writing; he knew human nature only in the gross, and had never studied the shades of character, nor the combinations of concurring, or the perplexity of contending passions. He had read much, and knew what books could teach; but had mingled little in the world, and was deficient in the knowledge which experience must confer. Through all his greater works there prevails an uniform peculiarity of diction, a mode and cast of expression which bears little resemblance to that of any former writer, and which is so far removed from common use, that an unlearned reader, when he first opens his book, finds himself surprised by a new language: This novelty has been, by those who can find nothing wrong in Milton, imputed to his laborious endeavours after words suitable to the grandeur of his ideas. Our language, says Addison, sunk under him. But the truth is, that both in prose and verse, he had formed his style by a perverse and pedantic primciple. He was desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. This in all his prose is discovered and condemned; for there judgment operates freely, neither softened by the beauty, nor awed by the dignity of his thoughts; but such is the power of his poetry, that his call is obeyed without resistance, the reader feels himself in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind, and criticism sinks in admiration. Milton’s style was not modified by his subject; what is shown with greater extent in Paradise Lost, may be found in Comus. One source of his peculiarity was his familiarity with the Tuscan poets; the disposition of his words is, I think, frequently Italian; perhaps sometimes combined with other tongues. Of him, at last, may be said what Jonson says of Spenser, that he wrote no language, but has formed what Butler calis a Babylonish dialect, in itself harsh and barbarous, but made by exalted genius, and extensive learning, the vehicle of so much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in Whatever be the faults of his diction, he cannot want the praise of copiousness and variety; he was master of his language in its full extent; and has selected the melodious words with such diligence, that from his book alone the art of English: poetry might be learned. * After his diction, something must be said of his versification. The measure, he says, is the English heroic verse without rhyme. Of this mode he had many examples among the Italians, and some in his own country. The earl of Surrey is said to have translated one of Virgil's books without rhyme; and, beside our tragedies, a few short poems had appeared in blank verse ; particularly one tending to reconcile the nation to Raleigh's wild attempt upon Guiana, and probably written by Raleigh himself. These petty performances cannot be supposed to have much influenced Milton, who more probably took his hint from Trisino's Italia Liberata ; and finding blank verse easier than rhyme, was desirous of persuading himself that it is better. Rhyme, he says, and says truly, is no necessary adjunct of true foetry. But perhaps, of poetry, as a mental operation, metre or music is no necessary adjunct; it is however by the music of metre that poetry has been discriminated in all languages; and, in languages melodiously constructed with a due proportion of long and short syllables, metre is sufficient. But one language cannot communicate its rules to another; where metre is scanty and imperfect, some help is necessary. The music of the English heroic line strikes the ear so faintly, that it is easily lost, un
its deformity. V or, . I. 17
less all the syllables of every line co-operate together; this co
operation can be only obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another, as a distinct system of sounds; and this distinctness is obtained and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses, so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few skilful and happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end or begin. Blank verse, said an ingenious critic, seems to be verse only to the eye. Poetry may subsist without rhyme, but English poetry will not often please; nor can rhyme ever be safely spared but where the subject is able to support itself. Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called the laidary style ; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers, and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alleges as precedents, not one is popular; what reason could urge in its defence, has been confuted by the ear. But, whatever be the advantage of rhyme, I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer; for I cannot wish his work to be other than it is ; yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing, may write blank verse; but those that hope only to please, must condescend to rhyme. The highest praise of genius is original invention. Milton cannot be said to have contrived the structure of an epic poem, and therefore owes reverence to that vigour and amplitude of mind, to which all generations must be indebted for the art of poetical narration, for the texture of the fable, the variation of incidents. the interposition of dialogue, and all the stratagems that surprise and enchain attention. But, of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hinderance; he did not refuse admission to the thoughts or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them. From his contemporaries he neither courted nor received support; there is in his writings nothing by which the pride of other authors might be gratified, or favour gained; no exchange of praise, nor solicitation of support. His great works were performed under discountenance, and in blindness, but difficulties vanished at his touch ; he was born for whatever is arduous; and his work is not the greatest of heroic poems, only because it is not the first.
OF the great author of Hudibras there is a life prefixed to the later editions of his poem, by an unknown writer, and therefore of disputable authority; and some account is incidentally given by Wood, who confesses the uncertainty of his own narrative ; more however than they knew cannot now be learned, and nothing remains but to compare and copy them. SAMUEL ButleR was born in the parish of Strensham in Worcestershire, according to his biographer, in 1612. This account Dr. Nash finds confirmed by the register. He was christened, Feb. 14. His father's condition is variously represented. Wood men. tions him as competently wealthy; but Mr. Longueville, the son of Butler's principal friend, says he was an honest farmer with Some small estate, who made a shift to educate his son at the grammar school of Worcester, under Mr. Henry Bright,” from
* These are the words of the author of the short account of Butler, prefixed to Hudibras, which Dr. Johnson, notwithstanding what he says above, seems to have supposed was written by Mr. Longueville, the father; but the contrary is to be inferred from a subsequent passage, wherein the author laments that he had neither such an acquaintance nor interest with Mr. Longueville as to procure from him the golden remains of Butler there mentioned. He was probably led into the mistake by a note in the Biog. Brit. p. 1077, signifying that the son of this gentleman was living in 1736.
Of this friend and generous patron of Butler, Mr. William Longueville, I find an account, written by a person who was well acquainted with him, to this effect; viz. that he was a conveyancing lawyer, and a bencher of the inner temple, and had raised himself from a low beginning to very great eminence in that profession; that he was eloquent and learned, of spotless integrity; that he supported an aged father who had ruined his fortunes by extravagance, and by his industry and application re-edified a ruined family ; that he supported Butler, who, but for him, must literally have starved; and received from him as a recompense the papers called his remains. Life of the lord keeper Guilford, p. 289. These have since been given to the public by Mr. Thyer of Manchester; and the originals are now in the hands of the Rev. Dr. Farmer, master of Emanuel college, Cambridge. H.