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the state of affairs as regards all of Milton's early poems. Furthermore, between 1728 and 1730 Pope referred to the "famous Allegro and Penseroso," and the Grub-Street Journal praised the latter poem while sneering at Dennis's adaptation of a line from it. In 1735 appeared Hughes's new conclusion for what his editor termed "Mr. Milton's Incomparable Poem, entitled, Il Penseroso." Readers of the Gentleman's Magazine for April, 1737, would have come upon the phrase, "Or, as Milton elegantly expresses it, Music was married to Poetry." During the same month they might have witnessed Paul Rolli's opera Sabrina, based upon Comus, and at about the same time might have seen an elaborate performance of Milton's Song on May Morning, which in 1740 was printed in a collection of songs and cantatas. It was about 1738 that Say praised Lycidas,5 and probably a year or so earlier that Warburton declared Comus to be one of Milton's "three perfect pieces" and the companion poems "certainly master-pieces in their kind." In 1739 Richard Barton put on the title-page of his Farrago ten lines from Penseroso, while in 1740 the Gentleman's Magazine printed Browne's eclogue as "the best Imitation" of Lycidas, and Francis Peck brought out his Memoirs of Milton, in which are numerous references to the minor poems. A circumstance that may have awakened interest in the early as well as the later writings was the placing of a bust of the poet in Westminster Abbey in 1737.
More important than any of these things, however, was the presentation of Comus at Drury Lane the next year. The masque was given, not as Milton wrote it, but with additional dances and songs (one of them, significantly enough, being twenty-six lines from the beginning of Allegro), for which the celebrated Dr. Thomas Arne wrote the music. As thus adapted, it was an immediate success. "Every Night that it has been perform'd," we are told, "the Audience have receiv'd it with the utmost Satisfaction and Delight." 8 Four editions of this arrangement of the masque (by John Dalton) were printed in 1738 and two more by 1741; and in abbreviated, debased versions (made in 1772 by George Colman and 1815 by Thomas J. Dibdin, and constantly changed through the introduction of new songs and dances) it enlisted the services of the chief English
1 Spence's Anecdotes (ed. Singer, 1820), 21; Memoirs of the Society of Grub-Street, no. 5 (Feb. 5, 1730).
2 Poems (1735), vol. i, p. lviii.
3 vii. 195; cf. Allegro, 136-7.
See p. 28 above.
See pp. 426-7 above.
Letter to Thomas Birch, Nov. 24, 1737, Nichols's Illustrations, ii. 79, 81.
8 Universal Spectator, March 25, 1738, quoted in Gent. Mag., viii. 152.
actors and actresses until 1843.1 Yet the writer who gave an account of the first production thought it necessary to tell his readers that the work was "a Pastoral kind of Poem" and was "wrote by Milton." 2
Too much time has perhaps been taken up with these quotations and figures, yet they throw light on a matter of considerable interest and importance. What the eighteenth century thought of Lycidas, for example, is in itself of no particular significance; the question becomes important only because Lycidas is a touchstone of poetic appreciation. The gradual awakening to the beauty of Milton's minor poems meant the passing of the monopoly which translations, pastorals, satires, and other forms of "wit" had held in the field of verse. It meant the quickening of the imagination, the renaissance of the lyric, and the bringing back into English poetry of the color, music, fragrance, and freedom which spell romanticism.
There is, however, no need of following the career of the 1645 volume through the remarkable vogue which lasted until the end of the century and affected almost every writer of lyrics between Gray and Keats, for this later popularity has already been touched upon and will receive abundant illustration in the chapters that follow. Instead, we may well ask ourselves how the rapid shift from ignorance and indifference to widespread enthusiasm is to be explained if it is not due to Handel's oratorio. How is it that men, unacquainted with one another and living in different parts of England, began about the same time to pay attention to the poems?
Aside from chance and the natural increase in the number of admirers, the explanation is to be found principally in the change which was coming over English thought and life and which in literature was marked by the passing of the dominance of Pope and his school. Not that pseudo-classicism was dead in England; on the contrary, at least fifty years of robust health lay ahead of it. But the extreme form, as manifested by Pope, Swift, Addison, and their contemporaries, had lost its hold on English poetry. Pope's last work (except for the fourth book of The Dunciad) appeared in 1738, when the mind of Swift was well-nigh gone and Arbuthnot, Gay, Congreve, Prior, Addison, and Parnell had been dead from three to twenty years. The great figures that had ruled English taste and dominated English literature for half a century were no more; younger men were coming to the front with tastes and ideals of their own. They
1 A full account of the stage history of Comus is given by Mr. Thaler (North Carolina Studies, xvii. 289-308), who notes "one or more" productions almost every year down to 1820, with 11 in 1760, 21 in 1777, 10 in 1780, 15 in 1815 (a gorgeous spectacle, with a company of fifty), 18 in 1842, and 11 in 1843 (with Macready in the title-rôle). 2 Same as note 8 on p. 432 above.
also were classicists, but of a broader, less rigorous type than Pope or Addison, and by natural development and the strength they derived from one another they came in time to have many points of difference from the poets who had immediately preceded them. The most marked of these differences lay in their abandonment of the couplet and their preference for the stanzaic, octosyllabic, true Pindaric, and sonnet verse-forms. Mason, for instance, until he was nearly fifty, when his taste seems to have changed, had used the heroic couplet but twice; Collins employed it only twice in his earliest works, Gray devoted less than one page in thirteen to it,1 Joseph Warton but one in twenty, and his brother Thomas about one in five. Yet the father of the Wartons, though an imitator of Milton and Spenser as well as a writer of runic odes, had been sufficiently of the earlier generation to use it in over a third of his work.
The rapidity with which the public taste thus swung away from the favorite meter of the neo-classicists is shown in the differences between the earlier and the later volumes of Dodsley's Collection of Poems. In the first three volumes (published in 1748) there are 57 pages devoted to blank verse, 132 to octosyllabics, 205 to stanzas, and 404, or nearly half, to couplets; in the last three (the fourth published in 1755, the fifth and sixth in 1758) 73 pages are given to blank verse, 146 to octosyllabics, 427 to stanzas, and 246 (practically a quarter) to couplets. It will be noticed that in the ten-year interval the stanzaic poems have exchanged places with those in couplets. If either of these sets of figures be compared with those derived from typical miscellanies of the beginning of the century, it will be seen how great a change was coming over English meter. In the New Miscellany of Original Poems edited by Charles Gildon (1701) blank verse has 9 pages, octosyllabics have 11, stanzas 29, and couplets 204; in the Poetical Miscellanies edited by Steele (1714) blank verse has 2, octosyllabics have 12, stanzas 26, and couplets 217, in each case fully three-quarters of the volume being taken up by couplets.
Coincident with this change in meter, and springing from the same cause, came the passing of the long poem. Until the close of
1 That is, in his original poems. His translations from Statius, Tasso, Propertius, and Dante, which he never published, are all in heroic couplets.
2 These figures take no account of the fourteen sonnets in volume ii and the two in volume iv, of the epigrams in volumes ii and v, of pieces in anapestic tetrameter couplets, or of irregular or dramatic works that do not fall into any of the classes named. If we count the number of poems rather than the number of pages they occupy, we shall likewise find that blank-verse and octosyllabic poetry gained greatly in popularity; for in the first three volumes there are 7 poems in blank verse, 34 in octosyllabics, 77 in stanzas, and 83 in couplets; in the last three, 18 in blank verse, 58 in octosyllabics, 173 in stanzas, and 69 in couplets.
the century, when Mason in his old age produced three poems of length, the men of the new school had written only five pieces longer than Penseroso, and Gray, Collins, and the elder Warton never published any that are so long.1 The younger men were weary of satires and arguments in verse: they wanted songs, they sought in poetry not reason but imagination. It is surprising, too, to find how clearly some of them realized and expressed their wants. Joseph Warton prefaced the Odes which he published in 1746 with the declaration:
The Public has been so much accustom'd of late to didactic Poetry alone, and Essays on moral Subjects, that any work where the imagination is much indulged, will perhaps not be relished or regarded. The author therefore of these pieces is in some pain least certain austere critics should think them too fanciful and descriptive. But as he is convinced that the fashion of moralizing in verse has been carried too far, and as he looks upon Invention and Imagination to be the chief faculties of a Poet, so he will be happy if the following Odes may be look'd upon as an attempt to bring back Poetry into its right channel.2
Similarly, in the preface to a volume of 1761 Richard Shepherd tells his readers that the ode, the favorite species of verse with the new school, “is built intirely upon Fancy, and Ease and Simplicity of Diction are its peculiar Characteristicks."
When men held these ideas regarding reason and imagination in verse, it is not strange that the dominant influence in poetry passed from Pope to Spenser and Milton. We have seen that there is good reason for thinking Spenser attracted by no means so many readers as Milton; it might also be shown that his influence was practically confined to the Faerie Queene and did not affect his admirers so profoundly as that of the later poet did his. At any rate, no characteristic of the men of the new school is more marked than their admiration for Milton. They praised him, imitated each of his poems in turn, borrowed words, phrases, or lines from him, and were so saturated with his works that many of their imitations and borrow
1 Collins's Ode on the Popular Superstitions of Scotland, which is forty-six lines longer, was not printed until 1788, many years after his death.
: Warton's discursive Essay on Pope (1756–82) is an examination of the poetry of Pope and his contemporaries in the light of these principles. The gist of it is expressed in the dedication: "In that species of poetry wherein POPE excelled, he is superior to all mankind: and I only say, that this species of poetry is not the most excellent one of the art." "A stroke of passion," he remarked in his Reflections on Didactic Poetry (appended to his translation of Virgil, 1753), "is worth a hundred of the most lively and glowing descriptions. Men love to be moved, much better than to be instructed."
They have, accordingly, come to be spoken of as "the Miltonic group," an unfortunate designation, since they were in reality less Miltonic than Philips, Thomson, Cowper, and others.
ings were undoubtedly unconscious. Large numbers of their verbal pilferings are from Paradise Lost, a circumstance which should be a sufficient answer to the charge that they did not care for the epic. As a matter of fact, the popularity of the octosyllabics and the monody received no little help from the much greater vogue of the loftier work. Few unrimed poems, to be sure, were written by the new school. Collins composed none, Gray but one (a translation), the three Wartons and Mason only fourteen altogether, and most of those less than one hundred lines in length; but their neglect of blank verse was due to a preference for lyric measures and for short pieces in which the epic meter is less likely to be used. The widespread enthusiasm for Milton's early productions and the frequent use made of them seem strange to most of us, who enjoy the poems, but without rapture or thought of imitating them. In 1740, however, they swam like a new planet into the ken of those who were tired of gazing upon the more familiar constellations. The star, to be sure, was old, older than those they had been gazing upon, but it was new to them and possessed the strangeness in which lies much of the fascination of beauty.
The vogue of the poems was also due in no small measure to their being peculiarly adapted to the transitional character of the times. So much emphasis has been laid on the romanticism of the poets of the mid-eighteenth century that their fundamental classicism is apt to be overlooked. They unquestionably grew more romantic, but their classicism was so dyed in the grain that it could not be washed out, and colored almost every poem they wrote. It is vain to listen for notes which
Charm magic casements, opening on the foam
one hears only "Philomela's voice." Of revolt there was very little. Conventionality continued to abound, propriety and decorum were always observed, and the personal note was rarely struck. Yet these men did have romantic yearnings; they seem, indeed, to have wanted to be romanticists but to have lacked the courage or not to have known how. They were interested in romantic things ruins, superstitions, Gothic architecture, early Celtic and Germanic poetry, and other remains of the picturesque past; they liked suggestions of the strange and the mysterious, but for full-fledged romanticism they were not ready. Most Elizabethan literature, including Shakespeare's sonnets, left the greater part of them indifferent, and even