Page images

and that he wrote in the preface to Cain, "Since I was twenty I have never read Milton; but I had read him so frequently before, that this may make little difference." The most important effect of these repeated readings lies in the entire conception of the supernatural parts of Cain,-the character of Lucifer, the picture of hell, and the vague grandeur and immensity of the unknown worlds which are shown to the rebellious mortal. Something of this will be felt in the following passage, in which as usual the similarity to Paradise Lost is heightened by the Miltonic diction and lessened by the loose-jointed flabbiness of Byron's blank verse:

How silent and how vast are these dim worlds!

For they seem more than one, and yet more peopled
Than the huge brilliant luminous orbs which swung
So thickly in the upper air, that I

Had deem'd them rather the bright populace

Of some all unimaginable Heaven,

Than things to be inhabited themselves,

But that on drawing near them I beheld

Their swelling into palpable immensity.1

The appeal which Milton's Satan had for Burns, Blake, Shelley, and Byron has not been felt in the same force by the less romantic and revolutionary poets of later times. To be sure, the oncepopular Festus (1839), which Philip James Bailey began as an imitation of Goethe but made increasingly Miltonic in style and diction through extensive additions, has a Lucifer who recalls the hero of


1 Cain, II. ii. 1–9. The following passages from Cain recall lines in Paradise Lost: If he has made,

[blocks in formation]

But let him [God]

Sit on his vast and solitary throne

Creating worlds, to make eternity

Less burthensome to his immense existence
And unparticipated solitude;

Let him crowd orb on orb: he is alone

(I. i. 147–52; cf. 471–7, and P. L., viii. 364–5, 404−7);

All the stars of heaven,

The deep blue moon of night, lit by an orb
Which looks a spirit, or a spirit's world

The hues of twilight- the Sun's gorgeous coming

His setting indescribable...

The forest shade, the green bough, the bird's voice...

All these are nothing, to my eyes and heart,

Like Adah's face (II. ii. 255-68; cf. P. L., iv. 641–56).

Manfred also was probably somewhat influenced by Paradise Lost. Note especially II. ii. 185-8, III. iv. 336-8, 389–92 (cf. P. L., i. 600-603, 252-5).

Paradise Lost in certain scenes near the end.1 Indirectly Milton may also be somewhat responsible for the conception of Satan in Meredith's splendid sonnet Lucifer in Starlight (1883), George Santayana's nobly-conceived and finely-executed "theological tragedy" Lucifer (1899), and similar works. Decidedly inferior to these poems but interesting because of its date, 1915, and its frank plagiarism is the Armageddon of Stephen Phillips. The prolog and epilog of this "modern epic drama" are laid in hell, and the first rising of the curtain discloses a kind of pandemonic council with Satan on "a shadowy throne," whence he rules with despotic sway. In the addresses of Beelzebub, Moloch, and Belial that follow, each fallen angel preserves the character given him in Paradise Lost, and the lines Belial speaks even have the old deferential oily style. As in Milton, the sentiments of this sensuous, ease-loving spirit are delivered immediately after Moloch's eulogy on war, to which they are somewhat opposed. He begins thus:

O Lords, I scarcely know, if now I rise
In order, to address this full conclave,
I, Lord of Lies; nor would I seem to slight
The ancient, grand prerogative of Force.

If the style of the poem owes anything to Paradise Lost, it is in these lines:

Spirit, to me alone inferior.

Inaction is the bread of mutiny.

But the main field and region of grand war

Disputed lies, an indecisive plain.

Splendid is Force, but solitary, falls

And self-defeated, unrelieved by lies.

1 Note particularly section L of the fiftieth-anniversary edition, and compare A. D. McKillop's thesis (Harvard, 1920), The Spasmodic School in Victorian Poetry. Bailey's Angel World, The Mystic, and Spiritual Legend are, in diction and in the extensive use of strange proper nouns, astonishingly Miltonic for poems published so late as 1850 and 1855.




THE influence of Paradise Lost upon its early admirers and upon the principal later writers who were affected by it has now been studied in considerable detail. In order that the reader might understand the method of determining this influence and be able to test for himself the validity of the conclusions reached, numerous passages have been quoted and long lists of words, phrases, references, and borrowings have been introduced. Dull as much of this matter is, its importance in the present connection, together with the significance of the authors studied, has, it is to be hoped, given a certain interest to many a tedious page. To continue this process, however, through John Duncan's dreary Essay on Happiness, W. H. Drummond's dull Pleasures of Benevolence, or the anonymous stupid Wisdom, through the twenty-five books of Cottle's absurd Cambria or the thirty of Glover's unreadable Athenaid, were to plant brambles in the thorny path of learning. The limits both of patience and of space require that only the more important of these minor works be considered at all, and they but briefly; for, even after the hundreds of still-born or forgotten short pieces have been passed over, there remains a mass of blank verse that looms before us like a huge purgatorial mountain. Few of the works that enter into this pile can be made to take on any of the fascination of romance if they are to keep much of their own character; yet, by arranging the poems according to types and following the development of each type, we may learn not a little literary history and gain some much-needed insight into what our forefathers thought and liked. In the following chapters, accordingly, the longer of the remaining poems that show the influence of Paradise Lost will be studied along with other pieces that belong to the same class.

Obviously, no sharp line can be drawn between philosophical, religious, technical, reflective, and descriptive poems. Intellectual speculation, religious emotion, comment on human life, and description of natural scenery abound in all literature and sometimes form the most significant parts of works into which they are introduced incidentally; yet if we ask ourselves whether a work is primarily concerned with religious teaching, technical instruction, or philo

sophical speculation, we can usually determine under what class it falls. To continue this separating process, however, so as to collect all the philosophical, didactic, technical, or descriptive passages of any length to be found in the poetry of the time, would be an interminable task that would defeat its own end. This has not been attempted, but it is hoped that no important poem or part of a poem has been overlooked.



On the whole, the most interesting of all the forgotten verse of this neglected century, the most readable and from the standpoint of literary development the most significant, is to be found among descriptive poems. These include, it should be observed, the greatest unrimed pieces of the period, The Seasons, The Task, and The Prelude; and in them may be traced the course of two of the more notable movements in modern life and literature, the development of the love of nature and of the power to express that love in poetry. These two things we commonly think of as synonymous, and thus do serious injustice to our earlier writers. Yet we know that even to-day, when nature-worship has become a fad, there are many mute, inglorious Wordsworths, as well as writers who give very inadequate expression to their love of the out-of-doors. How much more difficult must the writing of descriptive verse have been at a time when the leading poets of the day could find no better words for the miracle of spring than "Blushing Flora paints th' enamelled ground"!1

There is no warrant for thinking that, because an author employs conventional phraseology and a turgid style, he does not feel the beauties of which he writes. Who would guess from the poems alone the intense love of nature which lay behind Wordsworth's Descriptive Sketches and the odes of Gray? Yet much had been done before these men wrote. Wordsworth, like Burns, was the culmination of a long line of development, of unconscious divergence from accepted forms, of experimentation, failure, and partial success. What would either of them have done had he been born a century earlier? What might The Seasons have been had it come at the end instead of the beginning of its century? The world will never be sufficiently grateful for the forgotten men who drained bogs, felled trees, removed stumps and boulders, ploughed, harrowed, and fertilized the soil, to add new fields to the pleasant land of poesie, - fields which Wordsworth, Shelley, and Tennyson found ready for their use. If we keep in mind the great cause which these unknown men were helping to advance, if we look for it behind what they said to what they prob1 Pope, Windsor Forest, 38; Thomson, Lines on Marlefield, 20.

« PreviousContinue »