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light of wise, imaginative, and feeling commentary. You have not forgotten, perhaps, the lines which in a former lecture I quoted, on the conversion of the Saxon king, and the incident that led to it.
Much appropriate Sunday reading is supplied by the biography of the good men and women of early and late times. Amid the large variety of such records, one may be named-none more modest in origin, more unambitious in plan, but none more admirable as a memorial. I refer to Izaak Walton's Lives, of which the poet has said :
“There are no colours in the fairest sky
Passing to the imaginative side of our literature, there is the sacred prose allegory, “The Pilgrim's Progress," a work second, I believe, only to Robinson Crusoe in the largeness of the audience it has gained in the world. Allegory has been beautifully revived in our own day in - The Old Man's Home.”+
To any one who justly appreciates the moral uses of poetry as a spiritual ministry, it will be apparent that it should enter, well chosen, into our Sunday reading; and there is no more marked characteristic of English literature than the abundance and excellence of its sacred poetry. The seventeenth century contributed largely to itbeautifully so in the well-known poems of that saintly country parson, George Herbert, and in the poetry, almost unknown, till its recent reproduction, fit to be associated with Herbert's—the poems of Henry Vaughan; and in later times the English muse has not been regardless of its peculiar sacred functions.
* Wordsworth, p. 306. Sonnet on Walton's Book of Lives.
† The Old Man's Home, by the Reverend William Adams, M.A., Author of “ The Shadow of the Cross.”
I must hasten, however, to the great sacred poems of the language, and recur first to Milton's epics. Of these poems, considered with reference to imaginative power, and all its accessories of wondrous verse, no language could express too strongly one's sense of their sublimity and beauty. Not only for poetic description of nature and regions supernatural, but also in deep human interest, the Paradise Lost stands among the world's great poems. But when we study it as a sacred poem, and ask ourselves carefully as to the religious impressions it gives, the character becomes questionable. This is chiefly in two respects : the character of Satan, and the bold handling of the Divine nature. The Miltonic Satan is undoubtedly one of the most stupendous and awful creations of poetry; one of its grandest studies, but there is a heroic grandeur in it which wins, do what you will, a human sympathy. It is impossible to look on the Apostate Angel without awe, and somewhat of admiration, rather than abhorrence; sometimes perhaps with something of pity, as in that famous passage, where, having called his followers, myriads of the fallen angels thronged around their chief, and the peerage of Pandemonium stood in mute expectation of his voice.
“ Thrice he essay'd, and thrice, in spite of scorn,
Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth.” It was from such a representation of Satan as is given throughout the poem, that Arnold's deep religious feeling revolted, remarking, that “ by giving him a human like
ness, and representing him as a bad man, you necessarily get some images of what is good as well as of what is bad; for no living man is entirely evil. Even banditti have some generous qualities; whereas the representation of the devil should be purely and entirely evil, without a tinge of good, as that of God should be purely and entirely good, without a tinge of evil; and you can no more get the one than the other from any thing human. With the heathen it was different; their gods were themselves made up of good and of evil, and so might well be mixed up with human associations. The hoofs and the horns and the tail were all useful in this way, as giving you an image of something altogether disgusting. And so Mephistophiles in Faust, and the other contemptible and hateful character of the Little Master, in Sintram, are far more true than the Satan of the Paradise Lost."*
With regard to Milton's hardihood in carrying his imagination into the mysteries of the being of the Most High, and the unreserved freedom with which the Father and the Saviour are set before us in this dramatic epic, I believe that even the least sensitive reader must be conscious of an instinctive shrinking from many passages of the poem. It is in this, even more than in the character of the Arch-fiend, that the Paradise Lost—and the Paradise Regained also--may blunt the sense of adoration, and lower, instead of raising, some of the emotions which sacred poetry ought to inspire. There are passages in the poems which, perhaps, it would be better never to read a second time. I should be loth to read them aloud here, because it would be difficult to divest them of a certain air of irreverence, which was not a purposed irreverence in the pure and lofty soul of Milton, but was an unconscious manifestation of the intellectual pride which was part of his character, and of the spiritual pride which belonged to his times.
* Arnold's Life and Correspondence, in a note to Appendix C., p. 468.
There is an impressive contrast between the spirit with which Milton and Shakspeare have treated the most sacred subjects. A reverential temper, less looked for in the dramatic bard, marks every passage in which allusion is made to such subjects—a feeling of profound reverential reserve; and as this may not have been generally observed, let me group some brief and characteristic passages together. There is the beautiful allusion to Christmas in Hamlet:
“Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.”
“ those holy fields
For our advantage, on the bitter cross." Again, the single line in Winter's Tale, in which Polyxenes refers to Judas and the betrayal
“Though justice be thy plea, consider this
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.” And most impressive, perhaps, of all—the deep feeling in the words of the saintly Isabella :
“ Alas! alas!
I can do little more now than allude to a contrast still more striking between Milton's want of reverential reserve and Spenser's handling of religious truth, moving gently and with awe, as if with an ever-abiding sense that the ground he was treading on was holy ground. It was characteristic of Milton and of his times, when religion was freely talked about and rudely handled, to make his great epic avowedly a sacred poem—to put it in direct connection, if possible, with scriptural subjects. The genius of Spenser could not have ventured on what would have seemed to his gentle and reverential nature a profane handling of hallowed things and thereupon he employed, not the direct, but the veiled mode of sacred instruction. That veil interposed by his imagination was a gorgeous one, so interwoven with the richness of paganpoetry, “barbaric gold," and of romantic Christian fancy, that the dazzled eye often fails to look through it to the scriptural truth that is steadily beaming there. Great injustice is done to Spenser, when, bewildered with the mazes of his inexhaustible creations, or by the brightness of his exuberant fancy, we see in the