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Of calling shapes, and beck’ning shadows dire,
To keep my life and honour unassailed.” Again, there are passages which blend with a music of their own the melody of both Spenser and Shakespearethe music of their words and of their thoughts-as when the brother speaks :
“I do not think my sister so to seek
Or so unprincipled in Virtue's book,
May sit in the centre, and enjoy bright day.” When the lady is at last rescued from the wicked magic that encircled her, the good attendant spirit, his guardianship achieved, speeds away like Ariel, set free to the elements, and leaves in poetry words of encouragement and promise to humanity :
“Now my task is smoothly done,
I can fly or I can run
One cannot part with this poem, radiant as it is with what is bright and pure and lofty in poetry and philosophy, without thinking how little that high-born woman, when her heart was throbbing in the loneliness of Haywood Forest—how little could she have thought that a young poet's words were to win for her more enduring honour than wealth or beraldry could bestow.
The most distinct foreshadowing of Milton's great epic poem, and of his own independent genius, is an earlier poem—“The Hymn on the Nativity"—which gives the poet the fame of having composed almost in his youth the earliest of the great English odes, the like of which had not, I believe, been heard, since Pindar, two thousand years before, had struck the lyre for assembled Greece. It is a lyric that might have burst from that religious bard of paganism, could he have had prophetic vision of the Advent.
It is a poem that revealed a new mastery of English versification, disciplined afterward to such
power in the blank verse of Paradise Lost. Nothing in the way of metre can be grander than some of the transitions from the gentle music of the quiet passages to the passionate parts, and their deep reverberating lines that seem to go echoing on, spiritually sounding, long after they are heard no more.
The universal peace at the time of the Nativity is told with the very music of peace :
“No war or battle's sound
The idle spear and shield were high up hung:
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
His reign of peace upon the earth began :
Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.” The stanzas that tell of hopes of a golden age again are followed by that solemn one:
“ But wisest Fate says no,
The Babe lies yet in smiling infancy,
So both himself and us to glorify;
The grandest portion of this poem is that which tells
of the flight of the false deities of heathendom, the panic of the priests, the silencing of the oracles, and the cessation of the services of superstition, when the star was seen over the infant Saviour. The profusion of mysterious epithets and the dim imagery seem to blend the magic of the dark incantations of Shakspeare's witchcraft with the splendours of Greek mythology. Paganism and superstition-Europe's, Asia's, Africa's—all, with all the host of their ministry, are vanishing like witches at the touch of music—a babe's cry heard from the manger at Bethlehem throughout the spiritual uni
The oracles are dumb;
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
The parting Genius is with sighing sent:
And sullen Moloch, fled,
His burning idol all of blackest hue :
In dismal dance about the furnace blue :
The brutish gods of Nile as last
Nor is Osiris seen,
Trampling the unshower'd grass with lowings loud;
Nought but profoundest hell can be his shroud:
He feels from Juda's land
Of Milton's various prose-writings, and of his epic poems, it would hardly be possible to say much in a general lecture on the literature of the century. What I have to say respecting the Paradise Lost, I propose to put in this course in another connection.
I have ventured to include, in the subject of this evening's lecture, some suggestions on Sunday reading; and, in turning aside to this topic, let me first explain why I have connected it with this portion of my course.
The literature of the seventeenth century includes that which is most generally regarded as the great sacred poem of our language-I mean, of course, the Paradise Lost; and, again, it is the most illustrious age of English pulpitoratory and of theological literature. Let me, in the next place, say, that I trust it will not be thought presumptuous or impertinent in me to introduce, even somewhat casually, into a course like this, the subject of Sunday reading. I am truly solicitous, on the one side, not