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REMARKS ON THE SONNETS.
The brevity of the Sonnet will scarcely admit the greater traits of poetry: there is no space for fable; but for the preservation of a single grand thought it is admirably fitted. Mr. Dyce, in his “Specimens of English Sonnets, from the time of Henry VIII., chronologically arranged," has shown their progress and their fashions. They were favourites with Spenser and Shakspeare, and many less eminent poets of those days; as, Sydney, Constable, B. Barnes, Daniel, and Drayton. It appears to me that the Sonnets both of Spenser and Shakspeare have been commended too much : they are quaint, laboured, and often metaphysical. Of all authors, Wordsworth has most succeeded in this department.
But there are many of Milton's which are very grand in their nakedness: they have little of picturesque imagery. To make use once more of an expression of Johnson-not as applied to them, but to other parts of Milton-their sublimity is argumentative: it is intellectual and spiritual. There is something at times of ruggedness and involution in the words: they rarely flow. They are spoken as by one, who, conscious of the force of the thought, scorns ornament; they have something of the brevity and the dictatorial tone of the oracle, and seem to come from one who feels conscious that he is entitled to authority. Compositions so short can only have weight when they come from established names : every word ought to be pregnant with mind, with thought, sentiment, or imagery. The form will not allow diffuseness and smooth diluted periods : the repetition of the rhymes certainly aggravates the difficulty.
If it can be shown that in any one of these Sonnets of Milton there is not much sterling ore, I will give it up. In all there is some important thought, or opinion, or sentiment developed. The modulation may sometimes appear rough to delicate and sickly ears; and there is not the nice polish of a lady's gem come from a refining jeweller's workshop: it is all massy gold, -not fillagreed away into petty ornaments.
The Sonnet on Cromwell is majestic;--on his blindness, sublime ;-on his twenty-second birthday, both pathetic and exalted : others are moral and axiomatic; and others descriptive.
The necessity of compression gives this form of composition a great merit, when the fountain of the writer's mind is abundant.
It is true, that in this short space, barrenness itself can find enough to fill up the outline: but in Milton there is no unmeaning sentence or useless word.
If there was one poetical power of Milton more eminent than another, it was his power of description: he gave an idealism to all his material images; and yet they were in the highest degree distinct and picturesque. He knew where to throw a veil, and when to make the features prominent.
The question at present is, not whether the Sonnets are equal to Milton's genius, but whether they are good, or as contemptible as Johnson represents them. I say that they are such as none but Milton could have written: they are full of lofty thought, moral instruction, and virtuous sentiment, expressed in language as strong as it is plain. They are pictures of a manly, resolute, inflexible spirit, and aid us in our knowledge of the poet's individual character; and if any one can read them without both pleasurable excitation and improvement, he has a sort of mind which it would be vain to attempt to cultivate-a barren soil, or one overgrown with weeds and prejudices.
SIR EGERTOX BRYDGES.
TO THE NIGHTINGALE.
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still ;
While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill,
Have link'd that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Fortel my hopeless doom in some grove nigh;
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
Whether the Muse or Love call thee his mate,
ON HIS BEING ARRIVED TO THE AGE OF
Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year!
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
That I to manhood am arrived so near;
That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot, however mean or high,
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
SONNET 1.-4. Lead on propitious May, his own innate character, vowed to great because the nightingale is supposed to undertakings, and grieved that his vir begin singing in April.
tues and sublime ambition had yet ad. 6. First heurd, &c., that is, if first vanced no step in its own accomplisbheari, &c.
ment. Here the language is simple, SONNET II.—This Sonnet is preëminent chaste, and smooth, and the numbers ly interesting as an early development of I are not unmelodious.—BRYDES.
WHEN THE ASSAULT WAS INTENDED TO THE
Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize,
That call fame on such gentle acts as these,
Whatever clime the sun's bright circle warms.
The great Emathian conquerour bid spare
The house of Pindarus, when temple and tower
Of sad Electra's poet had the power.
TO A VIRTUOUS YOUNG LADY.
Wisely hast shunn’d the broad way and the green,
Chosen thou hast; and they that overween,
To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light,
Passes to bliss at the mid hour of night,
SOVYET III.-Ths Sonnet shows that the 13. Sad Electra's port. Plutarch relates poet haul now conceived that firm opinion that when the Lacedemorian general of his own genius and worth which never took Athens, it was proposed in a counafterwards deserted him. It was written cil of war to rise the city entirely, and in 1042, when the king's army had ar-convert its site into a desert. But during rived at Brentford, and had thrown the the debate a certain Phocian sung some whole city into consternation,
fine lines from the “ Elerira" of Euri11. Pinclarus. Every reader of an- piiles, which so affected the hearers that cient hi-tory knows that when Alexan. they declared it an unworthy act to reder of Macedonia assaulted and destroved duce a place, so celebrated for the producThebes, he ordered the house of Pindar tion of illustrious men, to total ruin. to stand untouched and entire, though By the epithet sad, Milton denominateg thousands of Thehans were put to death the pathetic character of Euripides. Re and thousands more sold into slavery. peated signifies rerited.-T. WARTON. As a poet, Milton bad as good a right to expect protection as Pindar.