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Warton regarded the stanza of his beloved Spenser as “so injudiciously chosen” that it “led our author into many absurdities.” 1 It was not merely by chance that they ignored the song to David and the Poetical Sketches, for they wrote nothing of the same kind themselves. Curiosity and antiquarian interest were strongly developed in many of them, but the "renaissance of wonder," so marked in Blake, had not yet begun. It may be remembered that in 1798 Jane Austen made her Marianne, who represents excessive "sensibility," exclaim,
“To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!”
... But you would give him Cowper," objects Mrs. Dashwood. 'Nay, mamma," the young lady replies, "if he is not to be animated by Cowper!” 2
It was poetry like The Task, - quiet, contemplative descriptions of nature and country life,-or odes to abstractions, that the so-called romanticists of the eighteenth century enjoyed. For Christabel, the Solitary Reaper, The Cloud, and the Ode to a Nightingale they were not ready. They turned to Milton because to them, brought up under the neo-classic régime, his work seemed romantic in spirit and form and yet had the exquisite finish, the restraint, the reserve and impersonality, to which they were accustomed. It possessed for them the fascination of the strange without the shock of the inelegant, the thrill of adventure without its dangers and discomforts.
Milton's early pieces were thus peculiarly adapted to the awakening lyricism of the romantically-inclined classicists of the mideighteenth century. Allegro and Penseroso, the most popular of all, are easy, friendly, yet dignified poems which convey the charm of the out-of-doors and of life in the country with a simplicity, a freshness, and a joy that are entirely lacking in the pseudo-classic pastorals. Yet they are not Wordsworthian: they mention only the obvious things, and those but briefly. They warm our hearts by their references to familiar sights and sounds, – the smoke from the cottage chimney, the distant bell, the rooster and hens, the nut-brown ale, the walks under arching trees and along the brook; yet, though real, the poems are not realistic, though homelike and familiar, they
· Observations on the Fairy Queen (2d ed., 1762), i. 115, 114.
Sense and Sensibility, ch. iii; cf. ch. x.
are not personal. They give us pictures of the contemplative, scholarly leisure so attractive to the eighteenth century, and hints
Of turneys, and of trophies hung,
Of forests, and enchantments drear; but there is no romantic extravagance or excess, all is beautifully finished with delicate reserve and quiet loveliness. This is exactly what the poets of the time liked, what they sought to do in their own work. To realize this, one has only to recall two of the greatest and most admired short poems of the century, Gray's Elegy and Collins's Ode to Evening. Except for the melancholy tinge of the Elegy, which may be matched in Lycidas, the tone of these pieces is that of Milton's early poems; they have similar descriptions of nature and of country life, and are marked by the same quiet refinement and careful but unobtrusive finish. Is it any wonder, then, that classicists with romantic leanings who wished to write short reflective or descriptive pieces of a kind that had not recently been in vogue, took as models the newly-discovered minor poems of Milton?
THE INFLUENCE OF L'ALLEGRO
AND IL PENSEROSO
IF we are to follow the influence of Milton's shorter poems without confusion, we must not attempt to jump back and forth from one to another, from octosyllabics to Lycidas, from sonnets to Comus; we must separate the several types and study each by itself. The octosyllabics will naturally come first, since they were the first to make themselves felt, and in order
to trace their influence it will be necessary to have their salient characteristics clearly in mind. These are:
I. DOUBLETS. In form the two poems are parallel throughout, though diametrically opposed to each other in meaning.
2. TITLE. The titles are in Italian.
3. METER. The regular meter is iambic tetrameter; but fifty-six lines of Allegro and twenty-eight of Penseroso are, like the ninesyllable lines in Chaucer, without the initial unaccented foot, and thus may be regarded as catalectic iambics or trochaics.
4. CADENCE. There is a peculiar airy, lilting movement to the lines that distinguishes the poems from practically all other octosyllabics, including Milton's own Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester. This cadence, particularly tripping and delicate in Allegro, more subdued and gentle in Penseroso, is never heavy, jerky, or abrupt, never falls into the jog-trot of Swift or Butler.2
5. OPENING. The first ten lines differ from the rest in length and in rime-scheme. The old-numbered lines have six syllables each, the even ones ten. The rimes are a b bacddeec.
1 Some critics deny that these lines are iambic, on the ground that such pause as there is comes after the second syllable rather than after the first. This is true of some lines, but by no means of all.
? The impression appears to be general that the alternation of catalectic and normal lines is alone responsible for this cadence. Such alternation probably does help, but it will be found also in the Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester and in many other pieces which are entirely without this peculiar lilt. To me the secret of the tripping movement seems to lie in the choice of words that give to each metrical accent practically the same amount of stress, – for example, “quíps, and cránks, and wánton wlles." Such a choice practically implies the elimination of the slighted stresses that are almost universal in poetry, and, since a word can have but one strong accent, the elimination of long words. It is also necessary for the lilting effect that the unaccented syllables shall be such as are lightly and quickly pronounced. Spondees make a line heavy.
6. PERSONIFICATIONS. Personified abstractions, such as Melancholy, Mirth, Jest, Jollity, Contemplation, Peace, and many more, play an important part.
7. “HENCE.” An execrated personified quality (or qualities) is described by implication and bidden to flee.
8. “COME.” A desired personified quality is described and invoked.
9. MANNER. The manner in which the invoked quality is requested to come is mentioned: for example, "Keep thy wonted state.” Under this head may also be included the dress of the invoked quality, which is given only in Penseroso.
10. PARENTAGE. The parents of both the invoked and the execrated qualities are named and characterized.
11. BIRTH. The circumstances attending the courtship of the parents of the invoked quality and those incident on her own birth are detailed.
12. TRAIN. The invoked quality is asked to bring with her an attendant train of personified abstractions similar to herself. These companions are also characterized.
13. OCCUPATIONS. The occupations of the thoughtful and of the light-hearted man are given. The latter, for example, walks out into the country, watches the milkmaid and the mower, goes to the city, witnesses pageants, attends the theater, reads, listens to music, etc.
14. ENDING. The speaker desires to live with the invoked quality if she can furnish such pleasures as he has mentioned.
Must an eighteenth-century poet whose work shows a number of these characteristics necessarily have derived them from Milton? This question, it should be noted, is not equivalent to “Are these characteristics found in pre-Miltonic poetry?” but rather to “Are these characteristics found in pre-Miltonic poems which eighteenthcentury poets are likely to have known and copied?” The former query it is difficult to answer, the latter can be answered easily and emphatically, “No.” Aside from meter and personification, the features that have been enumerated were rare, and occurred only in pieces practically unknown and not likely to be imitated by the few who did know them. There was, of course, nothing new about iambic tetrameter: it was perhaps the commonest middle-English romance meter; it was used in Hudibras, and was a favorite verse-form of Swift and Gay. Yet it was not popular in the Augustan period any more than it is to-day; hence its vogue in the third quarter of the eighteenth century is almost certainly due to Milton. Personified
abstractions, too, are nearly as old as conscious thought and were no novelty in English poetry; they abound, for example, in Cowley. Poems devoted to such abstractions, like the middle-English Patience or Chaucer's Truth and Gentilesse, are frequently met with, and in a few of them the qualities are personified. But odes addressed to personified abstractions, which rioted through English verse of the later eighteenth century and of which Wordsworth's Ode to Duty is a survival, are rare before 1730. Their popularity was apparently not the gradual development that might be expected; for an examination of the miscellanies from 1673 to 1731 in the Harvard Library (some sixty volumes, including several thousand pieces) has failed to bring to light any poems of this kind except two that are manifestly based on Allegro or Penseroso. Not more than six of the whole number are concerned with abstract qualities. As there is no better way of getting at the poetical temper of the time than through its miscellanies. which vary greatly in character, this testimony seems to be conclusive, particularly as a search through the magazines shows that even so late as 1760 there were practically no poems addressed to abstractions.1
The use of such impersonal personified qualities is in keeping with the neo-classic fondness
for universal truths, with its preference for the general rather than the particular, for the abstract rather than the concrete. Yet abstractions seem, in a way, to have taken the place occupied in the earlier and more strictly neo-classic verse by Greek and Roman deities. The poems that employ them are distinguished from most other lyrics by a lack of individual experience or feeling, a defect that is largely responsible for their barrenness. Their vogue appears to have begun about 1742 with the elder Warton, Gray, and Collins, who wrote many of them; indeed, the first
; volumes of Collins and Joseph Warton contain little else. Other young poets, vaguely dissatisfied and half-consciously wishing for more lyric forms, turned eagerly to this one to furnish the wings for their flight. The fuel was, therefore, ready for the fire. The spark almost certainly came from Allegro and Penseroso, for the odes to personified qualities were under a very heavy debt to the structure, phraseology, and content of Milton's octosyllabics.
Without doubt all the rest of the “fourteen points” are to be found in earlier verse, and several of them presumably occur now
1 There were, of course, the comparatively few modelled on Allegro and Penseroso which are noted below in Bibliography II.
: "The proper substitute for this servile and unlawful use of mythology," says George Dyer (Poetics, 1812, ii. 148-9),“... is, in my opinion, personification, a modest use of which gives grace and dignity to poetry."