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struck in his honor, and published a study of his versification,' was also a “devoted Whig”; and so was William Roscoe, who praised and imitated Milton. Accordingly, when we find a man of literary tastes, like the elder Nicholas Hardinge, described as a “determined and zealous Whig,” we are pretty certain to learn that he was also a "a great admirer of Milton." 3 The feelings of all such lovers of liberty are epitomized in Hollis's manuscript note regarding Milton's coat of arms: “Those arms ... are now in the possession of T. H., & mind him often of Milton & great Actions!” 4
As the century waned and the love of independence grew, bringing with it revolt and unrest of various kinds, there were many
who were inspired, not only by the “great actions” of the “Milton of the commonwealth,” but by
the unconquerable will ...
And courage never to submit or yield which flame in the speeches and deeds of his arch-rebel. “Give me a spirit,” exclaimed Burns, “like my favourite hero, Milton's Satan," and then proceeded to quote four lines beginning “Hail, horrors! hail,” which he and many another had doubtless often declaimed to the winds or to tavern companions. Shelley also, attracted by Satan's “courage, and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force," reminded his readers that “the sacred Milton was, let it ever be remembered, a republican and a bold inquirer into
a morals and religion.” 6
It will be observed that Shelley here connects Milton not only with political but with religious liberty, and in the eighteenth century a great many did the same. Almost all of those who have been mentioned as enthusiasts over Milton and liberty were also liberals in religion, and in many instances were actively engaged in the fight for religious freedom. These men found inspiration not only in the character of Satan but in the life of the poet, in his anti-episcopal
1 Letters concerning Poetical Translations, and Virgil's and Millon's Arts of Verse (1739). Benson also gave prizes “at all our great schools” for the best verses on Milton (Warton's edition of the minor poems, 1785, p. 368 n.). 2 See below, p. 268, n. 5.
3 Nichols's Illustrations, iii. 6-7. 4 Written in the margin of page lxxvii of the Harvard copy of the 1753 Birch-Baron edition of Milton's prose. On page 62 of the same book Hollis wrote, “Reader, observe, reverence this the genuine, full character, of the matchless John Milton!”
5 Letter to James Smith, June 11, 1787. Cf. a letter to William Nicol, June 18, 1787: “I have bought a pocket Milton, which I carry perpetually about with me, in order to study the sentiments - the dauntless magnanimity, the intrepid, unyielding inde
pendence, the desperate daring, and noble defiance of hardship, in that great personage, SATAN."
6 Preface to Prometheus Unbound.
pamphlets, and in such sonnets as On the New Forcers of Conscience and To Cromwell. With most of them Milton's words and example had more weight, and could be used more effectively in influencing others, because of his reputation for piety. Conservatives are, however, more numerous than liberals, and some men Warburton, Johnson, and Thomas Warton, for example — were prejudiced against the poet's character and prose writings by their dislike of his religious and political activities. “Milton's moral character as a member of society,” said Warburton, “was certainly the most corrupt of any man's of that age”; yet in the same letter he wrote, “He is the author of three perfect pieces of poetry.”] It is surprising that persons of such strong prejudices were able to retain their admiration or, as in Thomas Warton's case, their enthusiasm for the verse of a man whom as a man some of them cordially disliked. The strength of Milton's hold upon the public is shown in his ability to rouse the enthusiastic devotion of the radicals and at the same time keep the admiration of the conservatives.
1 Undated letter to Thomas Birch, Europ. Mag., xi. 439 (1787).
BLANK VERSE AND RIME
“THIS neglect then of rime," we read in the note prefixed to Paradise Lost,“. . . is to be esteemed an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem.” It was this manifestation of Milton's passion for freedom that attracted far the most attention in the eighteenth century. To us blank verse is an old story, we accept it without question and without enthusiasm; but in Pope's day it was a subject over which men waxed either dithyrambic or violent. No feature of the wildness and irregularity of Paradise Lost was so disturbing, pleasantly or otherwise, as its verse. As the laureate Whitehead sang,
Some hate all RHIME; some seriously deplore
That MILTON wants that one enchantment more.! One poet was moved to "disgust” by rime, whereas many others were of Johnson's opinion that blank verse “seems to be verse only to the eye,” and “has neither the easiness of prose nor the melody of numbers." 3
As might be suspected from the Doctor's partisanship, the movement towards freedom in verse found much the same advocates and opponents as that towards freedom in political and religious matters. It was the progressives or radicals against the conservatives: the one class, dissatisfied with the limitations of contemporary life and poetry, building largely upon theories and hopes, the other, intrenched behind the solid accomplishments of the present and the immediate past, finding literature and life passing comfortable as they were; the one stressing freedom, breadth, and imaginative suggestiveness as the essentials of poetry, the other emphasizing finish,
· Charge to the Poets (1762), in Plays and Poems, 1774, ii. 298.
2 Robert Andrews (or Robert Colvill?), Eidyllia (Edin., 1757), 9. As early as 1713 "Jingle” was criticized in Tate's Monitor (no. 17, April 6-10) for “always carrying something of Littleness along with it.”
3 “Milton," in Lives (ed. Hill), i. 193; Johnson quotes the first phrase from a Mr. Locke. Aaron Hill thought blank verse fit for nothing but the brawls of “Faction": see the last half of his Cleon to Lycidas (Works, 2d ed., iv. 295–308), which appears to be the “poem in praise of blank verse" to which Joseph Warton refers in his Essay on Pope, 1782, ü. 192 n. (cf. Modern Language Notes, xxxvi. 247-8).
elegance, and intellectual keenness. Yet these classes were by no means sharply defined or invariably antagonistic; for Gray and some others who admired Milton and agreed with the liberals on most points were opposed to blank verse, whereas many followers of Pope were friendly to it.
As to the relative popularity of blank verse and rime, the evidence is abundant but unfortunately conflicting. Two utterances towards the close of the seventeenth century indicate that unrimed poetry was at that time enjoying some vogue as a novelty, and so late as 1764 Goldsmith wrote in the dedication to The Traveller that his poem had “neither abuse, party, nor blank verse to support it.” On the other hand, William Mason was "well aware, that by choosing to write blank verse” in 1772 he “should not court popularity,” because he “perceived it was growing much out of vogue”; 2 and the Swan of Lichfield felt that she was unfashionable in thinking unrimed poetry "much the superior vehicle for the effusions of genius." 3 "It is become a fashion,” affirmed W. H. Roberts in 1774, to think that poetry, and blank verse, are inconsistent;4 or, as Vicesimus Knox, with his eye on Johnson, expressed it, “It is sufficient, in the idea of many, to condemn a poem, that it is written in blank verse.” 5 Already, in 1770, the Critical Review had asserted with the finality which is the heritage of such publications, “That good rhime, where it can be properly used, is preferable to good blank verse, is now no longer questioned by critics of true taste.” 6 Yet
1 Samuel Woodford, in the preface to his Paraphrase upon the Canticles (1679), prophesied that “in the next (age), even Our now cry'd-up Blank Verse will look . unfashionable"; and Samuel Wesley, in the preface to his Life of our Lord (1693), said that he was "of a different opinion from most others” in not liking blank verse.
• Preface to his English Garden, in Works (1811), i. 206. The preface was written in 1782.
* Letlers, ii. 237 (Feb. 7, 1789).
5 “On the Prevailing Taste in Poetry” (Essays, 2d ed., 1779, no. 127). William Benson, who admired Milton as strongly as he disliked blank verse (see pp. 41-2 above), said that, if Paradise Lost had been in rime,"upon the whole it would have been a more agreeable Poem to the Generality of Readers” (Letters concerning Poetical Translations, 1739, p. 61); but I have found no one who agreed with him except Samuel Woodford (see above, p. 12, 1.4), and Thomas Shipman, who declared (“To Roger L'Estrange,” Henry III of France, 1678, prefatory), “Miltons Paradice is a work noble, strong and fanciful, but had his humour of contradiction soften’d it into his own sweet Rhime, what a Poem had it been!”
. xxix. 435 (misunderstood by Good, p. 230). Yet in 1800 the same review said that a translator of Lucretius “perhaps would have acted more wisely in employing blank verse. ... It is more tractable in the discussion of philosophical subjects,” declared the reviewer, "and admits a greater variety and beauty of cadence" (new arr., xxviii. 260).
these opinions really represent little more than the prejudices of individuals or the attitude of a small circle; for, judging by them alone, one would conclude that blank verse was popular in the late seventeenth century and lost ground steadily in the eighteenth, whereas the reverse is obviously the truth. Such remarks do, however, confirm the impression, received from other sources, that the general public preferred rime, a preference further indicated by the publication of five rimed paraphrases of parts of Paradise Lost, and by versions of Shakespeare, Spenser, and Blair's Grave "reduced to couplets." Yet here also there is evidence on the other side, for in 1774 the first canto of the Faerie Queene was “attempted in blank verse,” and within ten years was republished with the next three cantos. Undoubtedly, however, most readers liked rime, as they do to-day, - no one writes advertisements in blank verse, - and,
other things being equal, preferred rimed poetry.
But other things were not equal, they seldom are. Augustan poetry, and in particular that composed in couplets, had never been really popular, and by the time Pope ceased writing the men who reached the people and affected literature vitally were making little
use of it. On the other hand, after the first quarter of the century Y the poems most widely and enthusiastically read were those in blank
verse. Not until Scott and Byron swept the public off its feet did any rimed work of length gain a hold upon the people equal to that of The Seasons, Night Thoughts, The Grave, Pleasures of Imagination, and The Task. These, with Paradise Lost, were the poems most read; obviously, then, it is only when a critic restricts himself to such literature as seems to him most significant that he can speak of the heroic couplet as “the normal and habitual form in which poetry,
1 Furthermore, all of James Hervey's prose “Meditations and Contemplations” and one of Young's “moral contemplations” were published in blank verse by Thomas Newcomb between 1757 and 1764; and the same service was done for Elizabeth Rowe's Devout Exercises of the Heart by Edward Smyth in 1800(?) and for Ossian by Anthony Davidson in 1812(?). In the eighteenth century The Seasons was probably more popular than any
other poem; and The Grave (1743), which reached a so-called sixteenth edition in 1986, was reprinted, alone or in collections, at least twenty-nine times more by 1825. Somervile's Chace (1735, twelve editions by 1800) and Glover's Leonidas (1737, eleven editions by 1810) were also among the more widely-read poems of the time. It was these works that the Eclectic Review had in mind when, in commenting on Sir William Drummond's expectation that his Odin (1817) would fail because he had written in blank verse, it remarked confidently, at a time when everybody was reading Scott and Byron: “It would, however, be paying the public taste a bad compliment, to imagine that it can prefer the jingling and Hudibrastic rhymes in which our poetical romances, or romantic poems, have been lately written, to that stately and varied march of rhythm, in which our language peculiarly finds itself at ease, and which has been chosen by all our finest poets, as the fittest mode of expressing their feelings" (new series, 1817, viii. 85).