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with which the Augustans were familiar, but they are not so common as to make any impression or have any influence. Besides, since rimed and unrimed poetry were so far apart, Miltonic characteristics when they occur in blank verse were probably derived from blank verse, that is, from the writings of Milton or his imitators; and what likelier source could there be than the widely-read and universally-admired, work which every one regarded as the model for all. unrimed poetry?
It must always be remembered that many earlier writers who are familiar enough to us, poets who have furnished inspiration and guidance to nearly every singer from Keats to Bridges, were in the eighteenth century either unknown or unregarded. Aside from Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton, most English writers before Dryden meant little or nothing to the contemporaries of Pope and Johnson.1 Chaucer and Donne they knew to some extent, but mainly as curiosities; Ben Jonson they talked about, and Beaumont and Fletcher they occasionally read; but the work of none of these men made much impression on them, for in order to exert an influence a poem must be both familiar and popular. Furthermore, much of the literature they really knew they made very little use of, for in Augustan times poetry ran in a narrow groove which few cared either to widen or to get out of. Writers did not seek the strange and unusual, they did not like novel effects. They had much to say of Homer and Pindar, but copied them very little; when it came to writing they followed one another or contemporary Frenchmen. Horace and Virgil, to be sure, they did admire and follow; but they did not imitate Pindar, they imitated Cowley's imitation of Pindar. True, during the latter half of the century interest in the life and literatures of earlier times and other peoples greatly increased; yet even then the models upon which poetry was written remained much the same, there was still the school of Pope, the school of Milton, the school of Spenser. The relative importance of these groups had changed, but there were no new names. Thomas Warton, for example, notwithstanding his familiarity with literature ranging from the twelfth century to the seventeenth, wrote verses little affected by any one who lived in this long period except Spenser. One might expect to find lyrics modelled after those of Carew, Suckling, or Herrick, sonnets that copied those of the Elizabethans, fantastic conceits from Donne, a new Canterbury tale, a medieval debate or romance. Instead, we have poems usually more romantic in subject and treatment than those of the Augustans, but still following the 1 See below, pp. 480-82.
same models and still scarcely touched by any work of Shakespeare's contemporaries or predecessors except the Faerie Queene.
Fortunately for our present purposes, the eighteenth-century writers show little of the complexity and subtlety of influence which mark more recent literature. If the broad knowledge, the eclectic tastes, the love of unusual effects, that belong to the nineteenth century had been equally characteristic of the eighteenth, the present study would have been vastly more difficult and its results far more vague, unsatisfactory, and inconclusive.
THE INFLUENCE BEFORE THOMSON, 1667–1726
It was thirteen years after the appearance of Paradise Lost before the publication of another poem without rime. Except for being in blank verse, this piece gives no evidence of Milton's influence, but five years later, in 1685, some lines which do show it appeared from the same pen. Milton was fortunate in his first follower, who was no other than the Earl of Roscommon, nephew of the Earl of Strafford. Roscommon was not only a person of rank, but a poet highly esteemed in Augustan circles; his life was written by Johnson and his verse appeared in all the great collections of English poetry published in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His reputation, however, always rested largely upon one work, a poetical Essay on Translated Verse (1684). This famous piece, though written in couplets, contains a strong plea for discarding rime, and in the second edition (1685) concludes with twenty-seven lines in acknowledged imitation of Paradise Lost. Here are the first ten:
Have we forgot how Raphaels Num'rous Prose
Led our exalted Souls through heavenly Camps,
And mark'd the ground where proud Apostate Thrones,
Defy'd Jehovah! Here, 'twixt Host and Host,
(A narrow but a dreadful Interval)
Portentous sight! before the Cloudy van,
Satan with vast and haughty Strides advanc'd,
Came tow'ring arm'd in Adamant and Gold.
There Bellowing Engines, with their fiery Tubes,
The contents and diction of this passage were undoubtedly derived from Paradise Lost, but the style was not, nor was the prosody, for in most of the lines one expects rime and is somewhat disturbed by its absence. This means that Roscommon had freed himself but slightly from the end-stopped lines, the regular, equal stresses, the few internal pauses (and most of those near the middle of the lines), which mark the heroic couplet.
1 This work, Horace's Art of Poetry (1680), was quoted on p. 79 above. The idea of discarding rime was undoubtedly derived from Paradise Lost.
On the other hand, Milton's unusual versification was what particularly attracted one of Roscommon's contemporaries, Samuel Say, and led him to some unusual ideas of prosody which he exemplified in blank-verse translations of four of Horace's epistles (1698) and later set forth in two essays, one On the Numbers of Paradise Lost. Most of Say's pieces are, like this passage, comparatively simple and natural in style:
Or in some Grove retir'd
Of what they always have; still heaping up
Occasionally, however, there will be a line as Miltonic as,
But if Behind
You loiter far, or strenuous run Before.
The early influence of Paradise Lost was, however, by no means limited to blank-verse poetry; it was, indeed, more obvious in the interminable rimed epics of Sir Richard Blackmore. Of this writer it may be said that few men of so little consequence have been abused by so many illustrious pens. Dryden, Pope, Swift, Gay, Garth, Sedley, Steele, and many lesser men each had his fling at the physician-poet, who long remained a target for the shafts of his literary brethren. As late as 1762 Robert Lloyd referred to his
Heroic poems without number,
Long, lifeless, leaden, lulling lumber,"
1 This essay, the earliest work of its kind (written in 1737), is published with one On the Harmony, Variety, and Power of Numbers, whether in Prose or Verse, and with some unrimed lyrics suggested by Milton's translations from Horace (see pp. 563-4 below), in Poems and Two Critical Essays (written in 1698, but not printed till 1745), 139-71, 95-136, 1–26.
2 To Thomas Godfrey (ib. 24).
3 Epistles of Horace, i. 2 (ib. 17). It was in 1698 that the astronomer, Walter Pope, published his Moral and Political Fables, done into Measured Prose intermixed with Ryme. I have not seen the work; but, according to Mr. Saintsbury (English Prosody, ii. 499), "the quality of its blank verse appears to be pretty accurately designated in the title," a remark that certainly applies to The Wish, which Pope issued the year before.
Many of these poetical tributes are quoted in Birkbeck Hill's notes to Johnson's life of Blackmore, or are referred to in the Dictionary of National Biography. An entire volume of satirical "Commendatory Verses" appeared in 1700 and was reprinted in 1702. The most amusing of the Blackmore squibs is Gay's rimed catalog of the works of "England's arch-poet" (Verses under the Picture of Blackmore), which is erroneously included among Swift's poems (cf. Pope to Jervas, Nov. 14, 1716).
' On Rhyme, in Poetical Works (1774), ii. 114. Cf. the elder Thomas Warton's Poems (1748), 20.
lines that contain more truth than satire, for Blackmore had neither inspiration nor taste, but jingled along with complete self-confidence in the monotonous jog-trot of an overworked cab-horse. He was capable not only of writing an epic with the title Eliza, but of putting into it lines like these:
The Spaniard's Nose receiv'd the Fauch ion's Edge,
The Blood that follow'd part distain'd his Breast,
A partial excuse for such deficiencies is to be found in the circumstances under which the poems were composed, their author being a busy, middle-aged London doctor, the physician to King William, with little time for literature. "For the greatest part," so he informed his readers, his first epic ". . . was written in Coffeehouses, and in passing up and down the Streets," because he had "little leisure elsewhere to apply to it." This work, Prince Arthur, an Heroick Poem in ten Books (1695), was followed by three others, King Arthur (1697) in twelve books, Eliza (1705) in ten, and Alfred (1723) in twelve, besides many pieces of a less heroic character, some in prose, some in verse. In the preface to King Arthur Blackmore terms Milton "a very Extraordinary Genius" and acknowledges having made "a few allusions" to some of his "Inventions," — a very modest confession of many unmistakable plagiarisms.
As a matter of fact, the first three epics (which differ little except in the names of the characters) are under a considerable debt to Paradise Lost, since they employ Satan and his followers, together with the archangels of heaven, for their supernatural machinery. The plan of each poem is much like that of the Aeneid. At the beginning, Satan, jealous of the prosperity of the hero (or the heroine), summons a council in hell and lays the matter before the peers. After various spirits have made speeches, it is agreed to send one of the number to stir up trouble for the principal character of the poem, who, however, by the aid of Uriel and other angels passes victoriously through all the plots and gory battles. These councils in hell form the most Miltonic feature of the epics, for, although there may be several of them in a single poem, the characteristics of the speakers and of their proposals are invariably taken almost without
1 Page 106.
2 King Arthur, p. v.
Ib. xiii. Blackmore praised Milton in his Nature of Man (Collection of Poems, 1718, p. 193; cf. Good, p. 63). His Pindaric Hymn to the Light of the World seems, particularly at the beginning, to attempt the lofty style and diction of Paradise Lost.