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while the fragments of it were yet strewn on every side and the thunders of his controversial voice were echoing in the distant sky, there broke forth, at sunset, a placid gleam of that light which had beamed upon his youth. His sight extinguished, a hostile dynasty restored,— “Darkness before and Danger's voice behind,”—he bowed his head with the unsoured cheerfulness of his early days. In that spirit we find him in the sonnets communing with a few chosen friends and with his God. To appreciate Milton's sonnets fully, we should refresh our recollections of some of his prose-writings; we should recall the fierce indignation and the bitter scorn hurled against Salmasius; we should recur to the closing passages of his tract of “Reformation in England,”— the most awful imprecation ever uttered by the voice of man, save when it has been prophetic of the vengeance of the Almighty. Then let either of the Sonnets addressed to Cyriac Skinner be read :—

“Cyriac, this three years day these eyes, though clear
To outward view of blemish or of spot,
Bereft of light their seeing have forgot,
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of Sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year,
Or man or woman. Yet I argue not
Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied
In liberty’s defence, my noble task,
Of which all Europe talks from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the world’s vain mask,
Content, though blind, had I no better guide.”

Can it be that the torrent which before leaped so madly and so loudly from rock to rock has passed into this gentle current? How full, how tranquil, is its flow !

Spenser's sonnets are of secondary merit. Inferior to his other minor poems, they are unimpassioned productions, of a character which seems to be suggested by the title “Amoreti” prefixed to them. The poet who, as a sonnet-writer, has gained a place by the side of Shakspeare and Milton, is Wordsworth. And when it is considered that all of these have given to the world works of a more enlarged form and of the highest order of poems, it would seem that the sonnet was used as a kind of private tablet to preserve the detached and passing thoughts which must ever be rising in the ceaseless fountain of a great poet’s heart. It is the record of :

“The sessions of sweet, silent thought,”
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to borrow from a sonnet of Shakspeare one of those exquisite phrases which fell so naturally and so gracefully from his tongue, and which justify us in saying (not irreverently, we trust) that he spake as never man spake. Let no one look upon the little poem with a hasty superciliousness. I have shown that it has been the retreat of poetic genius of the first rank,+an oratory for those who have worthily ministered in the solemnities of cathedral service. The sonnets of Wordsworth would richly deserve a separate examination. He, more than any other poet, has shown its adaptation to a very great variety of subject and of feeling. If there were none other in

ENGLISH so NNETS. 267

the language, there would be reason enough to claim the sonnet as a form of poetry completely naturalized into English literature. The public is at last rendering him justice; the sound of the war that was waged against him has died away. It is his singularly-happy fortune, in which his early admirers especially sympathize, to witness the beginning of the maturity of his fame. It will be completed by the reputation of his sonnets, which will probably be the last of his works to gain very general favour. For this reason we have quoted from them freely, and if the reader desire the eloquence, the pathos, and the philosophy of poetry, with all its harmonies, we commend him to the several collections of sonnets among the poems of Wordsworth. In adverting to contemporary poetry, we cannot suppress a regret that Coleridge—that other great light, but recently extinguished—did not, in the later periods of his life, revive his early attachment to the sonnet. In expressing this regret, I would not be understood as participating in the charge of inactivity that has so inconsiderately been brought against him. Of that injustice we wash our hands, for we entertain too deep a gratitude for what he has done, and too firm conviction that few writers have contributed more to the thoughts of their fellow-beings. Coleridge has been our friend,our companion, our guide, our own familiar friend. We could not lay upon the grass that grows on his grave the weight of the lightest complaint. I merely regret that in his old age he did not renew the series of his youthful Sonnets, because his constitutional habits of reflection and his singular powers of versification pre-eminently qualified him for this form of poetry. I could readily point out many a passage in Mr. Coleridge's prose-works, in which some noble thought is illuminated by a richlyimaginative illustration, and which would need only the metrical arrangement to constitute a sonnet of the first order. His son, Hartley Coleridge, who has given proof that the genius of the family has not been buried in the father's grave, might find in such a process of transformation a task affectionate to the memory of his parent and worthy of his own powers.” It is irksome, we are aware, to write from other men's suggestions, and the best efforts of mind are those which are purely self-evolved. The mere difficulty of any undertaking would be no obstacle to the intellect that could conceive a sonnet in all respects so adequate to its

* If our voice could reach him, we would commend such passages as the following as suitable material for a sonnet: the fine comparison in the “Friend,”—“Human experience, like the stern-lights of a ship at sea, illumines only the path we have passed over:”—or Coleridge's impassioned wish respecting the reception of his works:— “Would to Heaven that the verdict to be passed on my labours depended on those who least needed them . The water-lily, in the midst of the waters, lifts up its broad leaves and expands its petals at the first pattering of the shower, and rejoices in the rain with a Quicker sympathy than the parched shrub in the sandy desert:”—or his bold conception respecting the design of miracles, in the “ Statesman’s Manual:”—“It was only to overthrow the usurpation exercised in and through the senses, that the senses were miraculously appealed to. Reason and revelation are their own evidence. The natural sum is, in this respect, a symbol of the spiritual. Ere he is fully arisen, and while his glories are still under veil, he calls up the breeze to chase away the usurping vapours of the night-season, and thus converts the air itself into the minister of its own purification ; not, surely, in proof or elucidation of the light from heaven, but to prevent its interception.”

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high theme as the following from the poems of Hartley Coleridge:–

“TO SHAKSPEARE.

“The soul of man is larger than the sky,_
Deeper than ocean, or abysmal dark
Of the unfathomed centre. Like that ark
Which in its sacred hold uplifted high,
O'er the drowned hills, the human family,
And stock reserved of every living kind,
So, in the compass of the single mind,
The seeds and pregnant forms in essence lie
That make all worlds. Great poet ! 'twas thy art
To know thyself, and in thyself to be
Whate'er Love, Hate, Ambition, Destiny,
Or the firm fatal Purpose of the Heart,
Can make of Man. Yet thou wert still the same,
Serene of thought, unhurt by thy own flame.”

In closing my enumeration of the capabilities of the sonnet, there is one other purpose to which it was equal. It could express the feelings of Charles Lamb. Why of Charles Lamb more than of any one else? Reader, if you ask that question you have not yet learned the dear mystery of those two monosyllables, “Charles Lamb.” But if you have been more fortunate, how much of the spirit of “Elia” will you not recognise in these two brief poems —

“WORK.

“Who first invented Work, and bound the free
And holiday-rejoicing spirit down
To the ever-haunting importunity
Of business in the green fields, and the town,
To plough, loom, anvil, spade,-and, oh most Sad,
To that dry drudgery at the desk's dead wood?—

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