Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 629 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.

Denied the use of his eyes as a guide to the form of his later verse, he must have repeated aloud these groups of lines and changed them until their cadence satisfied his remarkably musical ear.  Lines like these show the melody of which this verse is capable:—­

  “Heaven opened wide
  Her ever-during gates, harmonious sound
  On golden hinges moving."[5]

To begin with, he had, like Shakespeare and Keats an instinctive feeling for the poetic value of words and phrases.  Milton’s early poems abound in such poetic expressions as “the frolic wind,” “the slumbring morn,” “linked sweetness,” “looks commercing with the skies,” “dewy-feathered sleep,” “the studious cloister’s pale,” “a dim religious light,” the “silver lining” of the cloud, “west winds with musky wing,” “the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.”  His poetic instinct enabled him to take common prosaic words and, by merely changing the position of the adjective, transmute them into imperishable verse.  His “darkness visible” and “human face divine” are instances of this power.

[Illustration:  MILTON DICTATING PARADISE LOST TO HIS DAUGHTERS. From the painting by Munkacsy.]

Twentieth century criticism is more fully recognizing the debt of subsequent poetic literature to Milton.  Saintsbury writes:—­

“Milton’s influence is omnipresent in almost all later English poetry, and in not a little of later prose English literature.  At first, at second, at third, hand, he has permeated almost all his successors."[6]

How the Paradise Lost has affected Thought.—­Few people realize how profoundly this poem has influenced men’s ideas of the hereafter.  The conception of hell for a long time current was influenced by those pictures which Milton painted with darkness for his canvas and the lightning for his brush.  Our pictures of Eden and of heaven have also felt his touch.  Theology has often looked through Milton’s imagination at the fall of the rebel angels and of man.  Huxley says that the cosmogony which stubbornly resists the conclusions of science, is due rather to the account in Paradise Lost than to Genesis.

Many of Milton’s expressions have become crystallized in modern thought.  Among such we may mention:—­

  “The mind is its own place, and in itself
  Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven,
  What matter where, if I be still the same?"[7]

  “To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell
  Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven."[8]

  “...Who overcomes
  By force hath overcome but half his foe."[9]

The effect of Paradise Lost on English thought is more a resultant of the entire poem than of detached quotations. L’Allegro and Il Penseroso have furnished as many current quotations as the whole of Paradise Lost.

The Embodiment of High Ideals.—–­No poet has embodied in his verse higher ideals than Milton.  When twenty-three, he wrote that he intended to use his talents—­

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Halleck's New English Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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