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' and I thought them fools; they made sport, and I laughed; they mispronounced, and I misliked; and to make up the Atticism, they were out, and I hist.' The author of Comus, and of Samson Agonistes, could not have scrupled at either the composition or the representation of a drama. Nor was he the man, consistent with his peculiar religious principles, to distinguish what was lawful in a layman from what was lawful in a priest. He thought himself to be as much a minister in the church, to whose ser'vice, by the intentions of my parents and friends, I was des'tined of a child, and in mine own resolutions,' as if he had been actually ordained. For, of ordination,' (he asks,) what is it, 'but the laying on of hands, an outward sign or symbol of admis'sion? It creates nothing, it confers nothing; it is the inward han calling of God that makes a minister, and his own painful study ' and diligence that manures and improves his ministerial gifts.' Even in that sullen age, the intelligent and serious part of the English public must have been satisfied by a standard for the pursuits and studies of their clergy, with which Milton was satisfied for himself. His genius and his learning combined to cherish in him lofty ideas of the ends that poetry might accomplish. Instead of narrowing the literary interests of religion to versions of the Psalms, to lugubrious Night Thoughts,' or to Scripture ́ dramas,' he had noted down a variety of subjects as arguments for heroical poems and British tragedies. The absurd prejudice sometimes entertained against the amusements of the theatre, will be best removed by raising the character of its writers and its performers. To the few who think that, though other forms of poetry may be innocent, a play, like a card, is one of the devil's books, no graver authority can be opposed than the poet of the Paradise Lost. The few, the unhappy few, are fortunately a minority in England, to be respected for their conscientious apprehensions, and to be pitied for the pleasure which they lose. The prebendal repose of Mason was not harassed by a demand from convocation, or archbishop, for a professional justification of the Caractacus and the Elfrida; and we wish, for the sake of Mr Milman, that his church had quarrelled as little with him for his History of the Jews, as for his tragedy of Fazio.
It would be strange had it been otherwise. For the highest dignitaries of the Church have recognised Shakspeare's mission, and have left an admiration of the word, as he has delivered it unto us, for a direct instruction to their profession, whose business it is, above that of all others, to go down and toil among the great 'waters' of the human heart. Mr Willmott, in his 'Lives of Sacred 'Poets,' just published, mentions, from the notes to Burnet, that Archbishop Sharp advised all young divines to unite the reading
of Shakspeare to the study of the Scripture. He was himself one of the most popular preachers of his age; and Dr Lisle, Bishop of Norwich, who had been chaplain to Archbishop Wake, assured Speaker Onslow that Sharp's declaration, that the Bible and Shakspeare had made him Archbishop of York,' was often repeated at Lambeth Palace. The coincidence is far from being accidental, when we find similar lessons in the mouths of spiritual teachers of another strain. The founders of Methodism, whose actual representatives have been forcibly designated 'the hundred "Popes of England's Jesuitry,' were men remarkable equally for piety and worldly shrewdness. They gave advice precisely of the same nature to the preachers, whom they were schooling for the humbler ministry of the chapels and of the fields of England. In Milton, himself a poet, it might be thought to be a personal predilection to love the laureat fraternity of poets, and with young feet to wander among those lofty fables and romances, which ' recount in solemn cantos the deeds of knighthood founded by our victorious kings, and from hence had in renown all over 'Christendom.' But what shall we say to John Wesley-the missionary of the then neglected people-who saw in them, at least in the greatest of them all, a source of truth and eloquence to which his preachers, if they were to be worthily accomplished for their sacred office, ought to devote a part of the most important period of their literary education. It was his particular recommendation to such of the methodists as desired to proceed through a course of academical learning, that they should add, in their second year, to the study of the historic books of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Testament, the reading of the Faery Queen.
The vates of antiquity was at once poet and prophet-priest. The principle of the alliance must continue still. Not that we mean none are to be clergymen but poets, or that, according to Milton's confirmed opinion, nobody can write well in laudable things who is not himself a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things.' Regular poets have not always been the most regular in their lives. Those who have cared much about the harmony of their own minds may be counted upon the fingers of a single hand; and the fingers of both will certainly outnumber our poetical divines. It is difficult to account for the fact to the extent to which it exists. For poetry and devotion start from the same point. The enthusiasm from which the passion springs is, in neither case, of man's making, but is God's most precious and immediate gift. In his ode upon 'the poetical character,' Collins truly calls Heaven and fancy, kindred powers;' and describes the evening ear of Milton as nigh sphered in heaven, listening to its native strains.
Years before the bard of Eden had found leisure to realize his solemn purpose, his own account of the destiny on which he brooded was scarcely less figuratively expressed. He tells how ' these abilities, wheresoever they be found, are the inspired gift of God, rarely bestowed, yet to some (though most abuse) in every nation;' and emphatically repeats how he was led on by every instinct and presage, by strong propensity, and the genial power of nature, to a work not to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory, and her siren daughters, but by 'devout prayer to that eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all ❝ utterance and knowledge, and sends out his Seraphim with the 'hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom 'he pleases.' The true poet and the true priest are summoned, by calls alike mysterious, to the service of the same master. the young Samuel, dedicated to the sanctuary, is expected even nowadays to hear a voice haunting him in his secret slumbers, and to answer, Here I am,'-unbidden visitations crowd also around the walks of Nature's youthful prophet,
And oft before his infant eyes will run
Such forms as glitter in the Muses' ray,
Dante was right. Theology, in its highest sense, and its most exalted ministers, is but the poetry of God.
Elevation of sentiment is principally caught by conversing with higher characters than our own. There can be no source of greatness to compare with the habitual contemplation of the Supreme Being. But susceptibility to such impressions is only one of the elements of genius. When the glimpses of the beatific presence, which beam around the altar, penetrate to a mind, not only sensible of their power, but capable of manifesting their effects, it is seen how far the influence of religion must extend over life and learning beyond religion merely. Milton and Dante are the most sublime of poets. It is equally evident that it is the sublimity of the Bible. Comparing his earlier with his later works, scripture thoughts and scripture language have been the making of Milman. They have raised him above himself. It is true that it is our own fault, if we loiter away our days over a fabled Helicon, or turn aside to Pharphar and Abanon, rivers of Damascus. The power of nightly revisiting the fountain of sacred song is the exclusive privilege of no profession. But a fuller share of its inspiration, as well as blessing, might be expected to be the portion of those, who, serving within its temples, are always dwelling upon its banks.
VOL, LIX. NO. CXIX.
The practical duties of a minister of the gospel throw other great advantages in his way. He must be constantly bordering upon scenes and emotions of a kind to turn almost into poetry of themselves. The poetry which, with this view, we are thinking of, is not the wonderful and wild which transports us into new creations: but the gentle spirit, which, waving a humbler wand, performs its miracles on the simple materials of ordinary existence. Its business is to wait upon our goings out and comings in; to connect sweet images and ennobling thoughts with familiar occurrences and household words; and, scattering flowers over the common path where every body must sometimes walk, to teach our dull and workaday world to smile with the enchantments of the spring. The magic power of calling forth new worlds into aërial being is far less enviable than the skill, fresh, gracious, and affectionate, of making the world we live in more happy and more loveable than it would otherwise have been. The Bard' of Gray, for instance, is the work of a poet by profession. The Elegy in the Churchyard we would have had written by the Curate. His position is bringing him in constant and natural contact with views and occasions, equally capable of being improved into a lecture and a poem. A judicious sexton might pick out among Cowper's minor poems better specimens for our purpose than the verses to be printed at the bottom of the Bills of Mortality at Northampton. The funeral sermon must be good indeed, which is likely to take a deeper hold on the maidens of a village than Prior's Garland. Each after his own way. Mr Lyte's fishermen would proba bly be as much struck by his irregular dirge On a naval officer buried in the Atlantic.'
There is, in the wide, lone sea,
Down, down, within the deep,
He sleeps serene, and safe
From tempest or from billow,
Where the storms, that high above him chafe,
The sea and him in death
They did not dare to sever:
It was his home while he had breath ;
'Tis now his rest for ever.
'Sleep on, thou mighty dead!
A glorious tomb they've found thee-
No hand profane shall move thee;
And when the last trump shall sound,
Like the morning sun from the wave thou'lt bound,
Occasional poems, as they are called, are often spoken of too slightingly. We do not want people to be going about, like Orlando, hanging odes on hawthorns, and elegies on brambles. But is it not true, that the principle of suggestive and illusive beauty will be much more universally understood, and is calculated to produce infinitely more enjoyment, when it is applied to the thousand incidents which make more or less the common history of human life, than when it is set forth in more stately works of art? The stream of life is carrying us on. Elaborate and formal compositions are scarcely the way to make the most of the flowers upon its banks, or the bubbles on its surface. It is no slight service to let mankind perceive that the various objects which are constantly within our reach, may have a meaning and a passion which we might never have discovered of ourselves.
Mr Lyte, for instance, is certainly not the first person who, when stooping to pluck a flower, has been stopped by a lady friend, and desired to let it blossom on. We question, however, whether any of his predecessors have made as poetical a use of the petition. The next time we are asked to spare a flower, Mr Lyte may depend upon it that his pretty verses shall raise our obedience from an act of perhaps mechanical courtesy, to one of graceful and reverent homage.
'O spare my flower, my gentle flower,
The slender creature of a day!
Let it bloom out its little hour,