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traces of the love for long periods which distinguishes his prose writings. Thus in his poem on Time there are only two sentences, one of eight, the other of fourteen lines; in that At a Solemn Music in the same manner there are only two, the first of twenty-four, the second of only four lines. *
In all Milton's verses the rimes are as exact as in the French and Italian languages. This however is not peculiar to him ; it was the case with perhaps all our poets anterior to Waller and Cowley. Thus in the whole of the Faery Queen there are not so many bad rimes as in Pope. Indeed Spenser went to a most reprehensible length in this respect, making his words always rime to the eye as well as to the ear; and by a strange sort of superstition, that barbarous, repulsive, and capriciousf system of orthography has been preserved to the present day by the editors and publishers of his poems.
We cannot understand why his orthographic vagaries should be held so sacred, while the text of all other works of the time, the Bible included, has been reduced to the modern form; and we feel quite sure that if the same were done with the Faery Queen, carefully however preserving the rimes, that the number of its readers would be
augmented. But it should be done with great judgement and caution.
Our old poets, to effect this accuracy of rime, employed various forms of the same word. Thus, for example, when shew—which we look on as the original form
* In one of Horace's Odes (iv. 4), the first sentence is of twentyeight lines, and in Gresset's La Chartreuse there is one of ninety.
† We use this term, for what else but mere caprice could have made him, without any exigence of rime, write joy joy, joint ioint, and such like?
I The common practice at the present day of writing shew, and pro
was to rime with grew, view, etc., they retained and pronounced shew, but if with low, grow, etc., they wrote and pronounced show. In like manner, they had strew strow, shrev shrow, grove greave, losc lese, hair hear, etc. Then again, from the commutability of ă and ě,--as we pronounce Berkshire, clerk, etc., Barkshire, clark, etc.,if desert, for instance, was to rime with art, heart, they pronounced it desart. The same was the case with è and ē; yet rimed with bit, fit, etc. So also are, riming with care, rare, etc., was pronounced like them ;* and have like cave, rave, etc.; its invariable sound, by the way, at the end of a verse. Taste, chaste, waste, when riming with fast, last, etc., were pronounced like them. This however we believe to have been their usual sound at the time.
We may thus see how our old poets were able to have exact rimes, without being under the necessity of abstaining from the use of a number of important and valuable words.
In Waller however and his successors we find not only such words as the elder poets made to rime together in this manner continued as good rimes after the pronuncia
nouncing show, is to be condemned. To our great surprise, Mr. Dyce has followed it in his valuable edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, even where the rime required show.
* It is very remarkable that Fairfax never uses this rime, so common in all the other poets.
† In fact, we have hardly a single clear instance of the a in these words being pronounced as in fate. As they all came from the French, the a may have retained its original sound. The French a was also expressed by au, as in chaunge, straunge, raunge, auncient, etc., which we still retain in some words, as haunt, daunt, etc. We doubt if at that time a in a final syllable was ever pronounced as in fate, except when followed by a single consonant and e. Yet, strange enough, they gave this sound to the Latin a, making the final a of Hecuba, Helena, etc., rime with stay, obey, etc.
tion had become fixed, but many words used in accord which those poets had never so employed. Thus Waller makes ear, fear, dear, sea, etc., rime with care, air, fair, hair, prey, obey, etc.; throw, grow, know, throne, etc., with bough, now, down, crown, etc.; do, you, etc., with know, owe, etc. Pope, beside many of these, has face, glass ; grace, brass ; vain, man; make, back; most, placed ; compare, war, etc. This license we hold to be inexcusable, for there should be some similarity of sound.
The distinguishing quality of Milton's prose-writing is vigour, to which is to be added earnestness, dignity, and eloquence, joined with sound logical reasoning from his premisses, which however are not always to be admitted. It must certainly be confessed that his sentences are frequently too long,* and too much involved; and that their structure is classical rather than English, and that he is too fond of using words derived from the Latin in their primitive physical sense. But at the same time we venture to assert that his periods are in general harmonious, and fill the ear agreeably, and with the aid of proper punctuation are perfectly clear and intelligible to any attentive reader ; but they certainly do require more intension of the mind than most writings of the present or preceding century. It may in truth be questioned if too much lucidity may not sometimes be a fault, as it causes the attention to be relaxed. We have ourselves often experienced this disadvantage in reading French works.
* He appears to have held short sentences in contempt; for in the Apol. for Smect., when speaking of his opponent, he says, “ Instead of well-sized periods, he greets us with a quantity of thumb-ring posies."
† The writings of Milton's contemporary, Baxter, appear to us to offer an excellent model of ease, vigour, and lucidity. The style of Bishop Hall too is extremely good.
From the following sentence of Hallam on the prose style of Milton, we must express our total dissent.
Even in the Areopagitica he frequently sinks in a single instant, as is usual with our old writers, from his highest flights to the ground; his intermixture of familiar with learned phraseology is unpleasing; his structure is affectedly elaborate; and he seldom reaches any harmony. If he turns to invective, as sometimes in this treatise, and more in his Apology for Smectymnuus, it is mere ribaldrous vulgarity blended with pedantry; his wit is always poor and without ease. An absence of idiomatic grace, and a use of harsh inversions, violating the rules of the language, distinguish in general the writings of Milton.*
Every writer should be judged by the laws and usages of his own time, for nothing is more fleeting and capricious than phraseology. The graceful and elegant of one period becomes often the coarse and indecent of another of more real or fancied refinement. Thus the Spectator was regarded as a model of propriety at the time it was written, yet now it is frequently withheld from the young and from the fair, on account of its indelicacy. In like manner, in the middle of the last century, Fielding, when dedicating his immortal romance to the virtuous Lord Lyttleton, could say, and we believe with perfect truth, , that the reader would find in it “nothing inconsistent with the strictest rules of decency, nor which can offend even the chastest eye in the perusal.” Yet what is the current opinion on that subject at present! Refined and delicate as we fancy the literature of the present day to be, a period of super-refinement may arrive which may withhold some of it from the hands of the young and the fair. The Horatian Ut silvæ foliis pronos, etc., applies to ideas and phrases as well as to the single words. We say then, let Milton be judged by the standard of his
* Literature of Europe, iü. 151.
age, and we will maintain that, in all his writings, there is not a single passage to which the expression “ribaldrous vulgarity” can with justice be applied. Neither do we esteem his wit to be so very "poor," for we meet with passages of genuine humour; though, as he himself avowed, even in his younger days, humour was not his talent. As to his “ never reaching any harmony,” we think it sufficient to refer the reader to our extracts from his writings. To our ear, there are few passages in
, Milton less harmonious than this very passage quoted from Mr. Hallam's own work.