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Sings darkling, and in shadiest covert hid,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.13 From the same deep well of pathos—if similarly selfcentred-rose the tears which watered the funeral-wreath of the girl-wife, little more than bride, dead in child-birth :
Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
Purification in the Old Law did save,
And such as yet once more I trust to have
Her face was veiled ; yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined
But, oh! as to embrace me she inclined,
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.14 These, it is true, were involuntary sobs extorted by positive heartaches. They were not Byronic confidences exchanged with the outside world, or even with a circle of admirers. They were no appeals for condolence. Still, with their echoes in our ears, we well may mourn the more for the general rigour of self-repression. It is the secret of the failure—this a positive failure, as, notwith
standing Coleridge's admiration, it seems to me—of Paradise Regained. The Christ Milton might have painted had he given the rein to his natural instinct of Divine compassion ! As it is, the one grace, accordant with its Quaker genesis, which the composition possesses, is that of an equably calm and chill winter sunset. The poet's purity, his moral dignity, too exalted for visible emotion, were not similarly out of tune with the marvellous tale of the fall of Angels and Man. Flaws there bear testimony at all events to a Titanic consciousness of power. In it, from it, over it shines a colossal character. If it was no habit of Milton's to ask for sympathy, if he moves on a plane above vulgar admiration, as little does he condescend to seek to excite curiosity by hiding himself. Simply, his was become a hermit soul. Yet it remains one, when visible, worthy in the highest degree of contemplation. We should find it hard to name its equal for personal grandeur in English literature.
The Poetical Works of John Milton, edited by David Masson. Macmillan & Co., 1874.
1 L'Allegro. 2 Il Penseroso. 3 Song on May Morning. 4 Arcades, Song, ii.
5 Letters of Wotton, ed. L. Pearsall-Smith. Two vols. Henry Frowde, Clarendon Press, 1907.
6 Comus, Song. ? Comus, Spirit “ Epilogizes”. 8 On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, xx. 9 Lycidas. 10 To the Nightingale : Sonnets, i. 11 Paradise Lost, Book II, vv. 666–73. 12 Ibid., Book XII, vv. 645–9. 13 Ibid., Book III, vv. 21-50. 14 On his Deceased Wife : Sonnets, xxiji.
WILLIAM BROWNE, OF TAVISTOCK
THE confessed disciple of Sidney, with
His shepherd's lay, yet equaliz'd of none, and of
Divinest Spenser, heav'n-bred, happy Muse! a master of Keats ; author of poems, golden apples of the Hesperides, had he but suffered them to ripen on the bough.
Never was a more unmistakable poet so given to tantalizing admirers with the promise of beauties, which he insists upon expanding to tedium, or into caricatures. Nature equipped him for a poet, and, I can only suppose, as in some other cases, overdid her work. She supplied either an excess of facility, or too much modesty for him to understand that he was his proper self only when at his highest. What that was he probably never measured, whether for good or for ill. If the possession of a critical faculty highly developed checks inspiration, the utter want of the gift is almost equally injurious. Browne cannot have had it in any degree; or he would not continually have spoilt his choicest verse by tasteless additions. Thus, whether the earlier part of the famous epitaph on Lady Pembroke be his, or, as I think it, by Ben Jonson, he at all events went far towards marring it by the second half. His tendency similarly to blur his undisputed work with his own sleeve is so habitual that the falling-off is even an argument in the doubtful instance for his authorship. This absence of the
instinct when to stop, and a habit of diffuseness, are grave faults. So is a passion for extravagant conceits, as that
A mead a wanton river dresses
With richest collars of her turning esses ; as if the stream were a Lord Chief Justice; or that the poet's pen
blubb’ring her sable tears lets fall
In characters right hieroglyphical.5 Such defects may among them account for a dearth of popularity in Browne's own time, unless for the excellent humour of Lydford Journey. Certainly they explain the neglect, but very partially dissipated yet, which has since enveloped him.
If the general reading public had patience, as perhaps it cannot be expected to have, it would find that the mannerisms and fantastic phrasings, the tediousness itself, are more than balanced by intrinsic beauties. Nowhere, not even by Herrick, in English poetry since Chaucer—with the one universal Stratford-on-Avon exception to all rulesis physical nature treated with such insight as in Britannia's Pastorals. Apparent all over the surface as are the literary trickeries of the period, we feel throughout, under the Oxford scholar and the Templar, the inborn rural instinct. One is satisfied that the orchestra of dawn is described from personal experience, when
The mounting lark, day's herald, got on wing,
The counter-tenor sweetly in a bush.?
draws in his verse for us her gradual curtain over the landscape :
Now great Hyperion left his golden throne
As loath to waken any singing bird. 8 The Devon patriot hymns as accurately as exultantly the delights and glories of his fair fatherland :
Hail thou my native soil ! thou blessed plot