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23 « Return, Alpheus,” &c.—How much more sweet and Christian Paganism itself sounds, after those threats of religious violence ! The “ two-handed engine is supposed to mean the axe preparing for poor, weak, violent Laud! Milton was now beginning to feel the sectarian influence of his father ; one, unfortunately, of a sullen and unpoetical sort.
24 « Honied showers.”—There is an awkwardness of construction between this and the preceding line which hurts the beautiful idea of the flowers “sucking the honied showers,” by seeming to attribute the suction to their “eyes."
eyes.” There might, indeed, be learned allowance for such an ellipsis; and we hardly know where to find the proper noun substantive or predicate for the verb, if it be not so; but the image is terribly spoilt by it.
25 “ Glowing violet.”— Why “glowing ?” The pansy (heart's-ease) “freak'd with jet” is exquisite; equally true to letter and spirit.
26 « The great Vision of the guarded Mount.”- This is the Archangel Michael, the guardian of seamen, sitting on the Mount off the coast of Cornwall known by his name, and looking towards the coast of Gallicia. It is rather surprising that Milton, with his angelical tendencies, did not take the opportunity of saying more of him. But the line is a grand one.
THỳRSIS tells the Brothers of a Lady, that their Sister has fallen
into the hands of the Sorcerer Comus, dwelling in a wood.
Within the navel of this hideous wood,
Immur'd in cypress shades, a sorcerer dwells,
Of Bacchus and of Circe born,-great Comus,
Deep skill'd in all his mother's witcheries ;
And here to every thirsty wanderer
By sly enticement gives his baneful cup,
With many murmurs mix'd, whose pleasing poison
The visage quite transforms of him that drinks,
And the inglorious likeness of a beast
Fixes instead, unmoulding reason's mintage
Character'd in the face. This have I learnt,
Tending my flocks hard by i' the hilly crofts,
That brow this bottom-glade; whence, night by night,
He and his monstrous rout are heard to howl,
Like stabled wolves, or tigers at their prey,
Doing abhorrèd rites to Hecatè
In their obscured haunts of inmost bowers;
Yet have they many baits and guileful spells,
To inveigle and invite the unwary sense
Of them that pass unweeting by the way.
This evening late, by then the chewing flocks ?
Had ta'en their supper on the savoury herb
Of knot-grass dew-besprent, and were in fold
I sat me down to watch upon a bank
With ivy canopied, and interwove
With flaunting honey-suckle, and began,
Wrapt in a pleasing fit of melancholy,
To meditate my rural minstrelsy,
Till fancy had her fill; but, ere a close,
The wonted roar was up amidst the woods,
And fillid the air with barbarous dissonance;
At which I ceas’d, and listen’d them awhile,
Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
Gave respite to the drowsy frighted steeds,
That draw the litter of close-curtained Sleep ;
At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound
Rose like a steam of rich distillod perfumes,
And stole upon the air, that even Silence
Was took ere she was ware, and wish'd she might
Deny her nature, and be never more
Still to be so displac'd. I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul
Under the ribs of Death: but O! ere long,
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honour'd lady, your dear sister.
Amaz'd I stood, harrow'd with grief and fear,
And, O poor hapless nightingale, thought I,
How sweet thou sings't, how near the deadly snare!
Then down the lawns I ran with headlong haste,
Through paths and turnings often trod by day;
Till, guided by mine ear, I found the place,
Where that da:cın'd wizard, hid in sly disguise,
(For so by certain signs I knew,) had met
Already, ere my best speed could prevent,
The aidless innocent lady, his wish'd prey;
Who gently ask'd if he had seen such two,
Supposing him some neighbour villager.
Longer I durst not stay, but soon I guess’d
Ye were the two she meant; with that I sprung
Into swift flight, till I had found you here;
But further know I not.
O night, and shades !
How are ye join'd with hell in triple knot
Against the unarmed weakness of one virgin,
Alone and helpless! Is this the confidence
You gave me, Brother ?
Yes, and keep it still ;
Lean on it safely ; not a period
Shall be unsaid for me: against the threats
Of malice, or of sorcery, or that power
Which erring men call chance, this I hold firm ;-
Virtue may be assail’d, but never hurt,-
Surpris’d by unjust force, but not enthrall’d ;
Yea, even that, which mischief meant most harm,
Shall in the happy trial prove most glory ;
But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness; when at last,
Gather'd like scum, and settled to itself,
It shall be in eternal restless change,
Self-fed, and self-consumèd ; if this fail,
The pillar'd firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble.
27 « The chewing flocks, &c.”—“The supper of the sheep,” says Warton, “is from a beautiful comparison in Spenser,
As gentle shepherd, in sweet eventide
When ruddy Phæbus gins to welk (decline) in west,
High on a hill, his flock to viewen wide,
Marks which do bite their hasty supper best.”
Faerie Queene, i. 8. 23. Chewing flocks” is good, but not equal to “ biting their hasty supper.” It is hardly dramatical, too, in the speaker to stop to notice the sweetness and dewiness of the sheep's grass, while he had a story to tell, and one of agitating interest to his hearers.
COLERIDGE lived in the most extraordinary and agitated period of modern history; and to a certain extent he was so mixed up with its controversies, that he was at one time taken for nothing but an apostate republican, and at another for a dreaming theosophist. The truth is, that both his politics and theosophy were at the mercy of a discursive genius, intellectually bold but educationally timid, which, anxious, or rather willing, to bring conviction and speculation together, mooting all points as it went, and throwing the subtlest glancing lights on many, ended in satisfying nobody, and concluding nothing. Charles Lamb said of him, that he had “ the art of making the unintelligible appear intelligible.” He was the finest dreamer, the most eloquent talker, and the most original thinker of his day; but for want of complexional energy, did nothing with all the vast prose part of his mind but help the Germans to