« PreviousContinue »
and then in the same piece; yet it is safe to say that very few English or American poets of to-day are familiar with any poems except Milton's written before 1700 which have these features. If this be true of the twentieth century, how much truer must it be of the eighteenth, a period notorious for its ignorance of preceding literature! Only an antiquary of the time is likely to have known any poems similar to Allegro. "But," some one objects, "at least two of the leading poets of the time, Gray and Thomas Warton, were very learned in the field of letters, and Collins and Joseph Warton had no little interest in antiquarian matters." True enough; but even if these men were familiar, as they probably were, with the lines by Burton, Fletcher, and Marston which are thought to have influenced Milton in composing his octosyllabics, if they had come upon the delicate, lilting octosyllabics of Wither's Shepherd's Hunting, or had read the chorus in Kyd's translation of Garnier's Cornelia, or had noticed the personifications tripping lightly through Cowley's tetrameter, yet, saturated as they were with Milton, would they have been likely in their own writing to turn from their favorite author to copy a neglected minor poet? To-day this might be done, for we seek the unusual and the out-of-the-way, we cherish the element of strangeness in beauty; but eighteenth-century bards did not.
The influence of Milton's octosyllabics was at first confined to an occasional phrase, a few lines, or a stanza, and throughout the century many pieces were affected no more deeply than this. Yet along with these poems there came, before a great while, to be others in which the influence was not external and occasional but structural and vital, poems cut, so to speak, after the Allegro-Penseroso pattern. Halfway between such imitations and the merely phrasal borrowings (early instances of which have already been given 3) stands the work of John Hughes. Though Swift and Pope agreed that Hughes among the mediocribus," he is of considerable interest to a student of the lyric awakening. He was very fond of music, played himself, and composed a large number of cantatas and other poems for music, as well as one of the first operas given in English. Scattered through these pieces are brief songs (written in short lines and obviously intended to be sung), which, though otherwise uninteresting, show an attempt to be lyric. These facts, together with the love for nature and descriptive poetry and the preference for 1 Eclogue iv.
2 IV. ii. 188-95. Mr. H. M. Ayres called my attention to this chorus.
4 Letter from Swift to Pope, Sept. 3, 1735; and one from Pope to Swift, Sept. or Nov., 1735.
country life apparent in his work,' make Hughes seem like one of the Gray-Collins-Warton group born out of due time. He certainly possessed in common with these men a love for Spenser, whom he edited, and for Milton, whom he imitated. As early as 1697 he began a poem with this obvious borrowing from the opening of Allegro:
Hence slavish Fear! thy Stygian Wings display!
Thou ugly Fiend of Hell, away!
Wrapp'd in thick Clouds, and Shades of Night,
There brood on Guilt, fix there a loath'd Embrace,
And propagate vain Terrors, Frights,
Dreams, Goblins, and imagin'd Sprights,
Thy visionary Tribe, thy black and monstrous Race.
These lines are from one of Hughes's two paraphrases of odes of Horace, each of which begins with a stanza not in the original but derived from Milton. In his Court of Neptune (1699), moreover, he has the phrase "your little Tridents wield," and in his Ode in Praise of Musick (1703) the line "Let the deep-mouth'd Organ blow." Hughes also wrote a "Supplement and Conclusion" to Penseroso, and two octosyllabics which recall Milton's poems in that meter. One, A Thought in a Garden, written in 1704, begins:
Delightful Mansion! Blest Retreat!
Here Contemplation prunes her Wings,
The other, The Picture, is closer to Allegro:
Queen of Fancy! hither bring
1 See his essay On Descriptions in Poetry (Poems, 1735, ii. 329–35), and his poem A Letter to a Friend in the Country (ib. i. 111-13), both written before 1720.
2 Horace, Book i, Ode xxii (ib. i. 113).
3 Poems, i. 35 (cf. Comus, 27), 165 (cf. Penseroso, 161).
4 Cf. Comus, 377-8; and the sonnet to the nightingale, 4.
' For Hughes's other references to Milton, see his Poems, i. 250, and ii. 91, 317-18, 333-4; his edition of Spenser (1715), vol. i. pp. xxvii, xxx, xxxvii, xxxix, xli, lxviii, lxxvii, ci, cx; and cf. p. 422 above.
Far greater powers than Hughes possessed were displayed by the accomplished Latinist, pleasing poet, and intimate friend of Pope, Swift, and Gay, Thomas Parnell. One of Parnell's several octosyllabics is a Hymn to Contentment (1714), which has a Miltonic lilt quite unlike the cadence of the others:
Lovely, lasting Peace of Mind!
Sweet Delight of human kind!
To crown the Fav'rites of the Sky. . . .
To lay thy meek, contented Head?...
Of Pomp and State, to meet thee there. . . .
Lovely, lasting Peace appear!
This World it self, if thou art here,
Is once again with Eden bless'd,
And Man contains it in his Breast.
More use of the structure of Allegro is made in his Health, an Eclogue, which is written in heroic couplets:
Come, Country Goddess, come, nor thou suffice,
Much of the dull Pindaric Ode for the New Year MDCCXVI, in which Nicholas Rowe flattered the king, is in lines of four feet, and, besides other borrowings from Milton's companion poems, contains this passage:
Hence then with ev'ry anxious Care!
Begone pale Envy, and thou cold Despair!
Where Deceit and Treason dwell. . . .
In 1718 William Hinchliffe published in his Poems, Amorous, Moral, and Divine, some four hundred octosyllabic lines entitled The Seasons, divided into four poems, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. The movement of Hinchliffe's lines reminds one of Allegro,
1 Parnell's Hermit, which is also in heroic couplets, has the phrase "the dappled Morn arose" (line 149, cf. Allegro, 44), and the lines,
Now sunk the Sun; the closing Hour of Day
(lines 43-4, cf. P. L., iv. 598-9, 609).
as do the personified abstractions, the description of their attire, and the pictures of nature; but the similarity is principally metrical, as will be seen from these, the most Miltonic passages in the poem: And now sweet Flora doth appear,
The Nymph for ever young and fair.
O'er the smooth Lawns and yellow Meads. . . .
She's call'd the Nut-brown Maid of Jove. . . .
In one Hand golden Ears of Corn,
The Allegro-Penseroso structure is combined with decidedly Miltonic blank verse in the Invocation of Health which Henry Baker, a naturalist of importance who married Defoe's daughter, published in 1723. Baker describes "lovely Hygeia," and then invokes her in the grand style:
Vouchsafe thy presence! nor yet leave behind
Smiling good nature, hearty cheerfulness. . .
Most of the piece, however, is given over to "Disease (thine opposite)" and her "dire train" of personifications.
It may be remembered that William Broome, the translator of a third of Pope's Odyssey and author of all the notes, also turned parts of Homer into the style and meter of Paradise Lost.3 In the dull tetrameter ode, Melancholy, that he composed in 1723 on the death of his daughter he made some use of the companion poems:
1 Pages 45, 47, 49, 50. Summer, like Allegro, ends with a reference to the rescue of Eurydice by Orpheus. My attention was called to the poem by C. A. Moore's Predecessor of Thomson's Seasons (Modern Language Notes, 1919, xxxiv. 278–81). Cibber (Lives, 1753, v. 25-6) prints a lyric of Hinchliffe's, The Invitation, which ends thus:
Haste, nymph, nor let me sigh in vain,
Each grace attends on thee...
For love and truth are of thy train. . . .
2 Anthologia Hibernica (Dublin, 1793), i. 226. The phrase "her baleful eyes around Rolling" is from Paradise Lost (i. 56); and so are "unwieldy . . . A bulk enormous" (cf. P. L., vii. 410-11) and "monsters dire! Centaurs, chimeras, gorgons" (cf. P.L., ii. 625-8).
See above, pp. 106-7. For the lines Broome borrowed from Lycidas, see above, p. 426.
Adieu vain Mirth, and noisy Joys! . . .
With solemn Pace, demure, and slow.
The Hymn on Solitude which Thomson wrote the year he began The Seasons is simple, natural, and in one part charming. Unfortunately these, its most Miltonic lines, are not the best:
Hail, mildly pleasing Solitude,
Companion of the wise and good...
The debt to Allegro is equally marked in the brief lyric, “Come, gentle god of soft desire," that Thomson sent to the Gentleman's Magazine in 1736.1
But, when it comes to pleasing octosyllabics, the almost-forgotten bard of the Fleece, John Dyer, whose blank verse is a none-toosuccessful copy of The Seasons, far outstrips Thomson and all his contemporaries. His Country Walk, to be sure, is in no way remarkable, though it contains such pleasant lines as,
I am resolv'd, this charming Day,
In the open Field to stray,
And have no Roof above my Head,
But that whereon the Gods do tread.
But Grongar Hill is as delightful in its fresh love of nature as in its lilting meter:
Grass and flowers Quiet treads,
On the meads, and mountain-heads...
Within the groves of Grongar Hill.
Rarely did the eighteenth century moralize so charmingly as in the passage,
1 For the numerous phrases from Milton's minor poems in Thomson's other works (some of them composed before either of these), see below, Appendix A.