Изображения страниц

benefit of agricultural life was secured to the nation, while the towns and the outposts afforded scope to the activity of younger sons and the surplus population. It is impossible to conceive anything better adapted to unite the interests of liberty with those of conservatism. But it is evident that nothing less than a Divine authority could enforce the redemption of the Jubilee. It is not an instituton which any human legislation could effectually imitate. In the future ages of the world it is probable that the advance of intelligence and of the spirit of justice, accompanied, perhaps, by some violent revolutions in aristocratic governments and by remarkable providences like that of the Irish famine, will ensure a gradual alteration for the better of the tenure of property all over the world. He who devised the Jewish land-law cannot regard with unconcern the miseries of mankind which spring either from unscrupulous monopoly or from undue interference of governments with the freedom of proprietors. In the latter days the spirit of heaven will animate the earth. Then shall the earth yield her increase, and God, “even our own God,” shall bless us. Meantime, for the majority, life affords no landholding. Like Abram, before his passage of the Jordan, they have not a foot of ground for an inheritance; but, like him, they may attain to inheritance which is heavenly, and “stand up, like Daniel, “in their lot, at the end of the days.' Here, moreover, landholders themselves enjoy but a transient tenancy under the Most High. “The land is mine—and ye are sojourners with me.’

“The lands and home and pleasing wife
Must all be left with parting life,
And, save the bough abhorred
Of monumental cypress, none
Of all the trees thy care hath grown
Follow their short-lived lord!’

As for me and for you, my tenant reader, we must cultivate our fading flowers in our leasehold gardens, and wait in ‘well-doing’ for the day when the mercy of God shall give us, in a better country, “that which is our own.” (o, ö,

[ocr errors]

MR. MAssoN is, we suppose, too well known to need any introduction to our readers; but, if it were otherwise, we could give him one, of a special character. In 1852, in a weekly newspaper, which was then, avowedly, “the organ of Modern Disbelief, he wrote, apropos of the sad story of the Patagonian Missions, then recent, a defence (not a justification) of Christian Missions, which, remarkable as a composition, was still more remarkable for the intelligence and energy with which it rebutted the charge against the supporters of Foreign Missions, of neglecting the claims of Home. This very charge has been, within these few days, repeated in the very same ‘Times’ in which it was then rampant; and we cannot resist the temptation to quote, in spite of the irrelevance, some of the eloquent words of Mr. Masson upon the former occasion, — words which provoked foolish remonstrances from some of the readers of the journal in which they appeared, but which are as weighty and truthful as they are gracious and noble. Our friends may be glad to be told, in passing, that the editors of this ‘organ of Disbelief’ cordially supported their contributor against the remonstrants. The whole case was so interesting that it dwelt in our memory, and we have preserved the article to this day. Mr. Masson says:—

“The “Times,” speaking for Englishmen in general, gives the matter a different turn. “Misdirected energy”—“What have we to do with the Patagonians? Have we no misery, no heathenism at home, that we must waste our energies on a horde of savages separated from us by every line of demarcation which Providence can set between human beings?” Such are the phrases of the “Times,” commenting on this Patagonian tragedy. Shallow! we say in reply, shallow! true, and not true! In the first place . . . . . . all the quibbling in the world will not convince any one who knows what Christianity is either essentially or historically, that the sentiment is not radically anti-Christian. Moreover, it virtually asserts against the mission-supporting part of the public a charge which facts disprove. Telescopic charity, as it has been called, charity in behalf of distant ob. jects—does not imply a corresponding diminution of charitable energy in behalf of objects that are near. The Christian congregations and churches that contribute most largely to Indian and African missions and the like, are precisely those that contribute most largely to all home charities too; and those seven men who went to convert the savages in Terra del Fuego were, we verily believe, men that would have shamed most of our philanthropists by their activity among the heathen in St. Giles’s. “And why, then, in the name of common sense, did they not stay in St. Giles's?” It is hard to say in the name of common sense. But this, at least, we will venture to say, in a higher name, that “the quality of mercy is not strained;” which, being interpreted, means, as we believe, that mercy, like other

* “The Life of John Milton: narrated in connexion with the Political, Ecclesiastical, and Literary History of his Times.’ By David Masson, M.A., Professor of English Literature in Üniversity College, London. Vol. W. 1608–1689. Macmillan & Co.

electric forces, will capriciously leap from point to point, taking and rejecting as it chooses, and all this caprice only subserves decree and law. Ah! if charity proceeded only in eccentric circles, never dashing at distant points till all the vicinity were organized and beautiful, where had we ourselves been now? Let the “Times” bethink itself! On the banks of the Thames, where the “Times” office now stands, there once wandered British savages; the Italian and German missionaries that came to Britain to convert those savages doubtless left much work undone in their own Italian and German homes; nevertheless, was not this “misdirected energy,” as it might then have been called, one of the things that have

helped to make a “Times” newspaper, and all that is contemporary with it, possible? . . . . .”

And so forth. We shall leave this preliminary irrelevance to speak for itself to the indulgence of our readers, and shall not attempt to establish any connexion between Missions and Milton by way of excuse. But we may say, in all sincerity, and with emphasis too, that the remarkable passage we have just quoted may serve the purpose of assuring those who know Mr. Masson's name in connexion with the most “liberal thought, and with those of the most “liberal’ thinkers, that the Life of the great Puritan Poet is not in the hands of one who, like the majority of our men of letters, is totally incapable of taking any accredited Christian stand-point. The dramatic intelligence necessary to the biographer and historian rarely takes in the secret of a life such as Milton's. When John Foster looked into the causes which made evangelical religion repulsive to men of taste he should have looked a little further, and he would have encountered a much deeper form of the problem,-one which we shall not be able to escape in this paper, though we shall meet it only to glance at it. The plan and nature of the work of which we have the first volume before us, and which was undertaken (we fancy) upon a hint of Robert Southey's, we will call upon the author to state in his own strong crystalline English,_ “Commencing,” says Mr. Masson, “in 1608, the Life of Milton proceeds through the last sixteen years of the reigh of James I., includes the whole of the reign of Charles I. and the subsequent years of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, and then, passing the Restoration, extends itself to 1764, or through fourteen #. of the new state of things under Charles II. . No portion of our national istory has received more abundant or more admirable elucidation than these sixty-six years; but perhaps, in traversing it again in that mood and with that i. bent of inquiry which may be natural where the Biography of Milton is the primary interest, some facts may be seen in a new light, and, at all events, certain orders of facts lying by the side of the main track may come into notice. As the great poet of the age, Milton may, obviously enough, be taken as the representative of its literary efforts and capabilities; and the general history of its literature may, therefore, be narrated in connexion with his life. But even in the political and ecclesiastical departments Milton was not one standing aloof. He was not the man of action of the party with which he was associated, and the actual and achieved deeds of that party, whether in war or in council, are not the property of his life; but he was, as nearly as any private man in his time, the thinker and idealist of the party—now the expositor and champion of their views, now their instructor and in advance of them; and hence, without encroaching too much on common grounds, there are incidents and tendencies of the great Puritan Revolution which illustrate his life especially, and seek illustration from it.—As

if to oblige Biography, in this instance, to pass into History, Milton's life divides itself, with almost mechanical exactness, into three periods, corresponding with those of the contemporary social movement, the first extending from 1608 to 1640, which was the period of his education and of his minor poems; the second extending from 1640 to 1660, or from the beginning of the Civil Wars to the Restoration, and forming the middle period of his polemical activity as a prosewriter; and the third extending from 1660 to 1674, which was the period of his later muse, and of the publication of “Paradise Lost.” It is the plan of the present work to devote a volume to each of these periods.’ *

We would allow the greatest (fair and reasonable) latitude to the writer of such a Life as the one now in question, but we really half fear this is overdoing it. Not a page of this Volume I. which is not interesting; but the general impression it leaves is, that here is too great an elaboration of material—that when the author had drawn his circle he found himself a little pushed to make up a segment here and there, and was forced to travel wide for filling-in. Not that the book is not all “stuff o' conscience’ and nearly all delightful reading; but if anything that bears on Milton's life is to be discussed by his biographer, we must go into the bushel of wheat, the price of sea-coal, the influence of his writing-paper on the flow of his inspiration, the state of the packet-service on the Italian coast, and what-not besides. We object, heartily, against the big-volume system, and its failure in this case we may put down in a line or two, as thus:—We, individually, are not better acquainted than a good many others with Milton’s ‘Times,” and the personal and other more obvious associations of his life: but the general result of Mr. Masson's thick book is, in our mind, the impression that we have been reading over again what we knew already. This, of course, is not the true state of the case; for Mr. Masson has collected new facts, or checked old ones with laborious care, has not delivered himself of one flimsy sentence, and has actually produced in English for the first time much new matter of Milton's writing in his youth: but, on the whole, the matter might have been compressed, and the big-book system now so rife is a bore! To have done, at once, with animadversion—the critical sketches of contemporary literature should, we do think, have been shorter or better; and, lastly, the writing occasionally descends to triviality in the attempt to give meaning and distinct interest to scanty personal notices. These things we charge upon the Exhaustive System of Lifewriting, rather than upon Mr. Masson, whose faculty is unquestionable, and whose literary integrity is of the very highest order.

We wish we could put upon this paper some images of the two beautiful and authenticated portraits which meet one at the threshold of this volume. The first is of Milton, when a little boy of ten; and if we had any faith in the artist-breed in general, especially in that part of it which delights in fancy portraits, we should hope this “presentment” would serve as an admonition to them about inventing heads and faces for great men in their youth. Anything more unlike the Rosa Matilda idealizations of Milton the child which we have seen it would not be easy to conceive than this Portrait of a Puritan Young Gentleman from the original picture in the possession of Mr. Disney. We doubt if ordinary observers would see anything in it beyond a little boy with short-cut hair, striped doublet, and stiffstanding collar. But noticeable it is, for the serious interest which looks from the eyes; from an air of doggedness and exactingness more Miltonic than agreeable; and the general set of the head upon the shoulders, in which there is the je-ne-sais-quot always seen in the cases of able people, if ever so young. But if this little head is so charming, as it is, what shall we say of the other,-Milton at 21, “after Vertue's engraving in 1731, from the original picture, then in the possession of Speaker Onslow?’ It is, in fact, exceedingly handsome; and the spectator turns to it again and again, carries it in his mind, dreams of it, talks of it, and tries to reproduce it with his own dull pencil . But the face is still dogged and overbearing, for all its sweetness. It is not, positively not, a kind, tender countenance. A phrenologist would say,+and the signs which would lead him to his conclusion are constant in all the portraits of Milton, ‘This man is wanting in reverence (or submissiveness), in good-nature, in humour, and consequently in grace and tenderness of character generally. A better patriot than friend; a better friend than a husband; but inflexible and glorious in the sphere of virtue, of all conscious goodness.” But let us accompany all this with what Mr. Masson gives us concerning the poet's personal appearance:—

“Milton says, “I confess I am not tall, but still of what is nearer to middle height than to little; and what if I were of little, of which stature have often been very great men both in peace and war, though why should that be called little which is great enough for virtue?” This is precise enough; but we have Aubrey's words to the same effect. “He was scarce so tall as I am,” says Aubrey; to which, to make it more intelligible, he appends this marginal note:—“Qu. Quot feet I am high? Resp. Of middle stature”—i.e. Milton was a little under middle height. “He had light brown hair,” continues Aubrey, putting the word “abrown,” (auburn) in the margin by way of synonym for “light brown;”—“his complexion exceeding fair; oval face; his eye a dark grey.” As Milton himself says that his complexion, even in later life, was so much “the reverse of bloodless or pallid,” that on this ground alone, he was generally taken for ten years younger than he really was, Aubrey’s “exceeding fair” must mean a very delicate white and red. Then he was called “the lady” in his College—an epithet which implies that, with this unusually delicate complexion, the light brown hair falling to his ruff on both sides of his oval face, and with his slender and elegant rather than massive and powerful form, there was a certain prevailing air of the feminine in his look. The feminine, however, was of that peculiar sort, let connoisseurs determine what it is, -which would consist with clear eyes of a dark grey, and with “a delicate and tunable voice,” that could be firm in the low tenor notes and carry tolerably sonorous matter. And, lady-like as he was, there was nothing effemimate in his demeanour. “His deportment,” says Wood, “was affable, his gait erect and manly, bespeaking courage and undauntedness.” Here, Wood apparently follows Milton's own account, where he tells us that in his youth he did not neglect “daily practice” with his sword, and that he was not so “very slight.” but that, “armed with it, as he generally was, he was in the habit of thinking himself quite a match for any one, even were he much the more robust, and of being perfectly at ease as to any injury that any one could offer him, man to man.” As to the peculiar blending there was of the feminine and the manly in

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »