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Milton Versus Southey And Landor
by [?]

This conversation is doubly interesting: interesting by its subject, interesting by its interlocutors; for the subject is Milton, whilst the interlocutors are Southey and Landor. If a British gentleman, when taking his pleasure in his well-armed yacht, descries, in some foreign waters, a noble vessel, from the Thames or the Clyde, riding peaceably at anchor–and soon after, two smart-looking clippers, with rakish masts, bearing down upon her in company–he slackens sail: his suspicions are slightly raised; they have not shown their teeth as yet, and perhaps all is right; but there can be no harm in looking a little closer; and, assuredly, if he finds any mischief in the wind against his countryman, he will show his teeth also; and, please the wind, will take up such a position as to rake both of these pirates by turns. The two dialogists are introduced walking out after breakfast, ‘each his Milton in his pocket;’ and says Southey, ‘Let us collect all the graver faults we can lay our hands upon, without a too minute and troublesome research;’–just so; there would be danger in that–help might put off from shore;–‘not,’ says he, ‘in the spirit of Johnson, but in our own.’ Johnson we may suppose, is some old ruffian well known upon that coast; and ‘faults‘ may be a flash term for what the Americans call ‘notions.’ A part of the cargo it clearly is; and one is not surprised to hear Landor, whilst assenting to the general plan of attack, suggesting in a whisper ‘that they should abase their eyes in reverence to so great a man, without absolutely closing them;’ which I take to mean–that, without trusting entirely to their boarders, or absolutely closing their ports, they should depress their guns and fire down into the hold, in respect of the vessel attacked standing so high out of the water. After such plain speaking, nobody can wonder much at the junior pirate (Landor) muttering, ‘It will be difficult for us always to refrain.’ Of course it will: refraining was no part of the business, I should fancy, taught by that same buccaneer, Johnson. There is mischief, you see, reader, singing in the air–‘miching malhecho’–and it is our business to watch it.

But, before coming to the main attack, I must suffer myself to be detained for a few moments by what Mr. L. premises upon the ‘moral’ of any great fable, and the relation which it bears, or should bear, to the solution of such a fable. Philosophic criticism is so far improved, that, at this day, few people, who have reflected at all upon such subjects, but are agreed as to one point: viz., that in metaphysical language the moral of an epos or a drama should be immanent, not transient; or, otherwise, that it should be vitally distributed through the whole organization of the tree, not gathered or secreted into a sort of red berry or racemus, pendent at the end of its boughs. This view Mr. Landor himself takes, as a general view; but, strange to say, by some Landorian perverseness, where there occurs a memorable exception to this rule (as in the ‘Paradise Lost’), in that case he insists upon the rule in its rigor– the rule, and nothing but the rule. Where, on the contrary, the rule does really and obviously take effect (as in the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’), there he insists upon an exceptional case. There is a moral, in his opinion, hanging like a tassel of gold bullion from the ‘Iliad;’–and what is it? Something so fantastic, that I decline to repeat it. As well might he have said, that the moral of ‘Othello’ was–‘Try Warren’s Blacking!‘ There is no moral, little or big, foul or fair, to the ‘Iliad.’ Up to the 17th book, the moral might seem dimly to be this–‘Gentlemen, keep the peace: you see what comes of quarrelling.’ But there this moral ceases; –there is now a break of guage: the narrow guage takes place after this; whilst up to this point, the broad guage–viz., the wrath of Achilles, growing out of his turn-up with Agamemnon–had carried us smoothly along without need to shift our luggage. There is no more quarrelling after Book 17, how then can there be any more moral from quarrelling? If you insist on my telling you what is the moral of the ‘Iliad,’ I insist upon your telling me what is the moral of a rattlesnake or the moral of a Niagara. I suppose the moral is–that you must get out of their way, if you mean to moralize much longer. The going-up (or anabasis) of the Greeks against Troy, was a fact; and a pretty dense fact; and, by accident, the very first in which all Greece had a common interest. It was a joint-stock concern–a representative expedition–whereas, previously there had been none; for even the Argonautic expedition, which is rather of the darkest, implied no confederation except amongst individuals. How could it? For the Argo is supposed to have measured only twenty-seven tons: how she would have been classed at Lloyd’s is hard to say, but certainly not as A 1. There was no state-cabin; everybody, demi-gods and all, pigged in the steerage amongst beans and bacon. Greece was naturally proud of having crossed the herring-pond, small as it was, in search of an entrenched enemy; proud also of having licked him ‘into Almighty smash;’ this was sufficient; or if an impertinent moralist sought for something more, doubtless the moral must have lain in the booty. A peach is the moral of a peach, and moral enough; but if a man will have something better–a moral within a moral–why, there is the peach-stone, and its kernel, out of which he may make ratafia, which seems to be the ultimate morality that can be extracted from a peach. Mr. Archdeacon Williams, indeed, of the Edinburgh Academy, has published an octavo opinion upon the case, which asserts that the moral of the Trojan war was (to borrow a phrase from children) tit for tat. It was a case of retaliation for crimes against Hellas, committed by Troy in an earlier generation. It may be so; Nemesis knows best. But this moral, if it concerns the total expedition to the Troad, cannot concern the ‘Iliad,’ which does not take up matters from so early a period, nor go on to the final catastrophe of Ilium.