General Characteristics of the Age
(i) Civil War: The entire period was dominated by the civil war, which divided the people into two factions, one loyal to the King and the other opposed to him. English people had remained one and united and loyal to the sovereign. The crisis began when James I, who had recoined the right of royalty from an Act of Parliament, gave too much premium to the Divine Right and began to ignore Parliament which had created him. The Puritans, who had become a potent force in the social life of the age, heralded the movement for constitutional reforms. The hostilities, which began in 1642, lasted till the execution of Charles I in 1649. There was little political stability during the interregnum of eleven years which followed. These turbulent years saw the establishment of the Commonwealth, the rise of Oliver Cromwell, the confusion which followed upon his death, and, finally, the restoration of monarchy in 1660.
(ii) The Puritan Movement: The Renaissance, which exercised immense influence on Elizabethan literature, was essentially pagan and sensuous. It did not concern the moral nature of man, and it brought little relief from the despotism of rulers. "The Puritan movement," says W. J. Long, "may be regarded a second and greater Renaissance, a rebirth of the moral nature of man following the intellectual awakening of Europe in the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries." In Germany and England the Renaissance was accompanied by a moral awakening, "that greatest moral and political reform which ever swept 'over a nation in the short space of half a century", which is meant by the Puritan movement. Puritanism had two chief objects: the first was personal righteousness; the second was civil and personal liberty. In other words, it aimed to make men honest and to make them free.
"Though the spirit of the Puritan movement was profoundly religious, the Puritans were not a religious sect; neither was the Puritan a narrow-minded and gloomy dogmatist, as he is still pictured in the histories." Hampden, Eliot, Milton, Hooker and Cromwell were Puritans.
From a religious viewpoint Puritanism included all shades of belief. In course of time "Puritanism became a great national movement. It included English Churchmen as well as extreme Separatists, Calvinists, Covenanters, Catholic noblemen,— all bound together in resistance to despotism in Church and State, and with a passion for liberty and righteousness such as the world has never since seen," says W. J. Long.
During the Puritan rule of Cromwell severe laws were passed, simple pleasures were forbidden, theatres were closed, and an austere standard of living was forced upon an unwilling people. So there was rebellion against Puritanism, which ended with the Restoration of King Charles ll.
Literary Characteristics of the Age
(i) Influence of Puritanism: The influence of Puritanism upon English life and literature was profound. The spirit which it introduced was fine and noble but it was hard and stern. The Puritan's integrity and uprightness is unquestionable but his fanaticism, his moroseness and the narrowness of his outlook and sympathies were deplorable. In his over-enthusiasm to react against prevailing abuses, he denounced the good things of life, condemned science and art, ignored the appreciation of beauty, which invigorates secular life. Puritanism destroyed human culture and sought to confine human culture within the circumscribed field of its own particular interests. It was fatal to both art and literature.
Puritanism created confusion in literature. Sombreness and pensiveness pervaded poetry of this period. The spirit of gaiety, of youthful vigour and vitality, of romance and chivalry which distinguished Elizabethan literature was conspicuous by its absence. In the words of W. J. Long: "Poetry took new and startling forms in Donne and Herbert, and prose became as sombre as Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. The spiritual gloom which sooner or later fastens upon all writers of this age, and which is unjustly attributed to Puritan influence, is due to the breaking up of accepted standards in religion and government. This so-called gloomy age produced some minor poems of exquisite workmanship, and one great master of verse whose work would glorify any age or people, —John Milton, in whom the indomitable Puritan spirit finds its noblest expression."
(ii) Want of Vitality and Concreteness: The literature of this period lacks in concreteness and vitality. Shakespeare stands first and foremost for the concrete realities of life; his words and phrases tingle with vitality and thrill with warmth. Milton is concerned rather with theorising about life, his lines roll over the mind with sonorous majesty, now and again thrilling us as Shakespeare did with the fine excess of creative genius, but more often impressing us with their stateliness and power, than moving us by their tenderness and passion. Puritanism began with Ben Jonson, though it found its greatest prose exponent in Bunyan. W. J. Long writes: "Elizabethan literature is generally inspiring; it throbs with youth and hope and vitality. That which follows speaks of age and sadness; even its brightest hours are followed by gloom, and by the pessimism inseparable from the passing of old standards."
(iii) Want of the Spirit of Unity: Despite diversity, the Elizabethan literature was marked by the spirit of unity, which resulted from the intense patriotism and nationalism of all classes, and their devotion and loyalty to the Queen who had a singleminded mission to seek the nation's welfare. During this period James I and Charles II were hostile to the interests of the people. The country was divided by the struggle for political and religious liberty; and the literature was as divided in spirit as were the struggling parties.
(iv) Dominance of Critical and Intellectual Spirit: The critical and intellectual spirit, instead of the romantic spirit which prevailed on Elizabethan literature, dominates the literature of this period. W. J. Long writes: "In the literature of the Puritan period one looks in vain for romantic ardour. Even in the lyrics and love poems a critical, intellectual spirit takes its place, and whatever romance asserts itself is in form rather than in feeling, a fantastic and artificial adornment of speech rather than the natural utterance of a heart in which sentiment is so strong and true that poetry is its only expression."
(v) Decay of Drama: This period is remarkable for the decay of drama. The civil disturbances and the strong opposition of the Puritans was the main cause of the collapse of drama. The actual dramatic work of the period was small and unimportant. The closing of the theatres in 1642 gave a final jolt to the development of drama.
JOHN MILTON (1608-1674)
Milton's Life and Works. John Milton was born in London on December 9, 1608, about eight years before Shakespeare's death. His father was a scrivener, an occupation that combined the duties of the modern banker and lawyer. Milton was educated first at St. Paul's School, London, and then at Christ's College, Cambridge, when he took his B. A. in 1629, and M. A. in 1632.
The young Milton had first intended for the Church, but due to the corrupt state of the Church of England, he gave up the idea of entering the Church. What was he to do then? From his early youth he felt that he was destined to become a poet. In order to prepare himself for his poetic vocation he retired to his residence at Horton and lived a secluded life of deep study and meditation for seven years. During this peirod, he wrote four poems— L'Allegro, II Penseroso, Comus and Lycidas, which may be called the first blossoms of Milton's genius.
As a boy at school, Milton studied laboriously till midnight and at the university he had shown the same untiring devotion to learning. During his period of seclusion of six years he pursued his studious way undisturbed. Hudson writes: "Building steadily upon the firm foundations he had already laid, Milton thus became a very great scholar. This point must be carefully marked, not only because in the breadth and accuracy of his erudition he stands head and shoulders above all other poets, but also because of his learning everywhere nourishes and interprets his poetic work."
In 1638, Milton set out on a continental tour, and after about fifteen months, returned to England at the news that Civil War was imminent, "for I thought it base," he wrote, "to be travelling for amusement, while my fellow citizens were fighting for liberty at home." He took up his residence in London and set up a small private school. When hostilities broke out a year or two later, he took no part in fighting; but his pen was active in support of the Parliamentary cause. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, the young daughter of a Royalist, but the union proved the most unhappy one. Milton wrote two strong pamphlets on divorce. In 1649 Milton became Latin Secretary to Oliver Cromwell. In 1653 he became totally blind. To this period of his life belong his "soul animating sonnets". This period extends from 1640 to the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Now all his hopes were shattered and he was a broken-hearted man. He married Catherine Woodcock, who died within fifteen months. On the Restoration of the monarchy, Milton was arrested and two of his books were publicly burnt by the hangman; but he was now released and permitted to drop into political obscurity. Now he was a broken-hearted man. His third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, consoled and comforted him in his declining years, he was greatly distressed by the unfilial conduct of his daughters by his first marriage. From the literary viewpoint this was the most glorious period of his life because to it belong the immortal productions of his genius—Paradise Lost (1667), Paradise Regained (1671) and Samson Agonistes (1671). He died on November 6, 1674.
Milton, though a Puritan, was a classicist and humanist. He delighted in everything that pleased his eyes, and was a passionate lover of beauty. He did not share the Puritan contempt for the stage, his interests were wide, and he had no desire to shun responsibility by running away from life. Nevertheless, he possessed all the moral earnestness and the religious zeal of the puritan.
Milton's Early Poetry. Milton's early poems exhibit all that was best in Elizabethan literature. His first poem On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, though marred by conceits and inequalities of style, is the high watermark of lyric poetry in England. L'Allegro and II Penseroso are two distinguished poets of the Herton period. Both the poems are autobiographical and point the two sides of Milton's own temperament: "they are urging outward, toward communion with the brightness and vivid activity of life; the other drawing inward, towards lovely contemplation, or musings upon the dreamier, quieter aspects of human nature and of human existence. Taken together the two little poems give a view of the life which Milton led during the five happy years of his preparation for the poetic ministry, wonderfully compressed, clarified, and fixed in permanent symbols." (Moody and Lovett)
Comus marks a distinct stage in the development of Milton's mind. In it Milton expresses puritanic moral zeal in the Renaissance form of mask. W. J. Long writes: "Comus has the gorgeous scenic effects, the music and dancing of other masques; but its moral purpose and its ideal teachings are unmistakable."
Lycidas, a monody on the death of Edward King, Milton's college friend, is in the conventional style of the classic pastoral elegy like Spenser's Astrophel. Its content is suffused with moral zeal of the Puritans.
Thus through these earlier poems we can trace the steady growth of the religious element in Milton's mind. Milton used the learning and the art of the Renaissance for the expression of a Puritan philosophy of life.
Besides these well-known poems, Milton wrote in this early period a fragmentary masque called Arcades, several Latin poems and his famous Sonnets. He wrote his sonnets on the themes of patriotism, duty, music, subjects of political interest. His well-known sonnets are On His Deceased Wife, To The Nightingale, The Massacre in Piedmont and On His Blindness.
Milton's Prose. Most of Milton's prose was written during the middle period of his life (1640-60), when he was busy with public affairs. His prose works either deal with his personal business or public interests. In all they consist of twenty five pamphlets, of which twenty one are in English and the remaining four are in Latin. In 1644 he wrote a rather poor tract Of Education. His tracts on divorce were occasioned when his wife deserted him. Aeropagitica, a great and impassioned treatise on the freedom of the press, stands apart. It was written in 1644. It was directed against an Act of Parliament which established a censorship of books. Commenting on Milton's prose works, Edward Albert remarks: "His pamphlets were cast off at white heat and precipitated into print while some topic was in urgent debate either in. Milton's or the public mind. Hence in method they are tempestuous and disordered; voluble, violent and lax in style. They reveal intense zeal and pugnacity, a mind at once spacious in ideals and intolerant in application, a right fancy, and a capacious scholarship. They lack humour, restraint and proportion; but in spite of these defects they are among the greatest controversial compositions in the language."
Milton's Later Poetry. Milton's finest poetry was wirtten when he was blind and suffering. His noblest and finest works Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes were written during this period.
Paradise Lost is an immense epic in twelve books and is the greatest book of its type in the language. The plan of Paradise Lost is admirable. Raleigh asserts that its theme is grander than any handled by Milton's predecessors. "It concerns itself with the fortunes, not of a city or an empire, but of the whole human race which has moulded all its destinies. Around this event, the plucking of an apple, are ranged, according.to the rules of the ancient epic, the histories of Heaven and Earth and Hell. The scene of action is universal space. The time represented is Eternity. The characters are God and His creatures. All these are exhibited in the clearest and most inevitable relation with the main event, so that there is not an incident, hardly a line of the poem, but leads backwards or forwards to the central line in the ninth book:
"So saying hisrash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat,
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe
That all was lost."
The opening lines of Paradise Lost outline the scope of the poet's plan. Man's disobedience is the main theme, the immediate result of his disobedience is the loss of paradise. Satan is mentioned as the instrument of man's fall, and, therefore, Satan is described first.
Paradise Lost is a classical epic in twelve books. Milton combined in himself the erudition of a scholar with the genius of a poet. In form it follows the strict unity of the classical epic. In theme it deals with the fall of man; but by means of introduced narratives it covers the rebellion of Satan in Heaven, the celestial warfare, and the expulsion of rebels.
An epic, according to the classical tradition, must contain three elements of greatness, that is, great action, great hero and great style. These three conditions are fulfilled in the Paradise Lost. No great action than the fall of man is inconceivable. Again, no hero can be greater than the First man created by God in His own image. And lastly, the style of Paradise Lost has all the grandeur and greatness which the epic demands.
Paradise Lost has perfect unity of action like the great classical epics of Homer and Virgil. Everything in the poem either leads up to or follows from the main theme, that is, the fall of man. The plucking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge by Eve is the apex of the whole architecture of Paradise Lost. The war between God and Satan, followed by his fall, is only the prelude to the main action. Satan, defeated and punished sought to take revenge on God by bringing about the fall of man. Hence, the fall of Satan does not constitute a separate action. The whole action of Paradise Lost is single and compact.
Paradise Lost is full of classical allusions and contains similes of the Homeric type. It is saturated with Milton's classical learning. In the classical framework of epic, Milton expressed his puritanic ideas, for his aim was "to assert eternal Providence and justify the ways of God to man."
Paradise Lost is remarkable both for the loftiness of its theme and for the grandeur of its style. Matthew Arnold wrote about the loftiness of Milton's style: "In the sure and flawless perfection of his rhythm and diction, he is as admirable as Virgil or Dante, and, in this respect, he is unique among us. No one else in English literature possesses the like distinction. Shakespeare is divinely strong, rich and attractive. But sureness of perfect style Shakespeare himself does not possess. Milton from one end of Paradise Lost to the other, is in his diction and rhythm constantly a great artist in the great style."
Paradise Regained is a sequel to the Paradise Lost. It opens with the journey of Christ into the wilderness after his baptism, and its four books describe the temptation of Christ by Satan, and the answers and victory of the Redeemer. Its solemn beauty of quietude and a more severe style than that of Paradise Lost make us feel in it that Milton has grown older. W. J. Long writes: "The first (Paradise Lost) tells us how mankind in the person of Adam, fell at the temptation by Satan and became an outcast from Paradise and from divine grace; the second shows, how mankind, in the person of Christ, withstands the tempter and is established once more in the divine favour. Christ's temptation in the wilderness is the theme, and Milton follows the account in the fourth chapter of Matthews's gospel."
Samson Agonistes is a choral drama, after the Greek model. It has threefold unity of time, place and action, and, therefore, it achieves a concentration, seldom found in Elizabethan tragedy; it has therefore gained in concentration what it has lost in breadth. But its verse is the blank verse of Elizabethan tragedy, with inevitable Miltonic adaptations.
Samson in his blindness is described. He is called on to make sport for Philistines, and overthrows them in the end. S. A. Brooke writes about its autobiographical importance: "Samson represents the fallen Puritan cause, and Samson's victorious death Milton's hopes for the final triumph of that cause. The poem has all the grandeur of the last words of a great man in whom there was now "calm of mind, all passion spent."
Characteristics of Milton's Poetry
John Milton was the greatest English poet after Shakespeare. W. H. Hudson remarks: "In him we have a wonderful union of intellectual power and creative power, both at their highest. He is also a consummate literary artist, whose touch is as sure in delicate detail as in vast general effects." Milton was a superb poetic artist. His poetry is conspicuous for the following characteristics:
(i) Lofty Conception of Poet's Vocation: Milton had a noble conception of a poet's vocation. According to Milton a poet's life should be "a true poem" — that is, a poet should live pure and chaste life. He writes: "He who would not be frustrated of his hope to write well in laudable things ought himself be a true poem; that is, a pattern and composition of the best and honourablest thing." To him poetry was a sacred vocation, and he always regarded his life as one dedicated to the purest and noblest ideals. He never lost sight of his life's mission. To Milton poetry was not a mere intellectual exercise and diversion, it was something solemn, sacred and sublime. Poetry comes only from divine inspiration, which is possible, Milton says, only through earnest prayer to God "who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and send out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases." This was Milton's idea of poetry, and he pursued this ideal all through his life.
(ii) Sublimity: Milton's poetry is sublime and majestic. It is the expression of a pure and noble mind, enriched by knowledge and disciplined by art. He lived a life of purity and austerity, and his poetry bears the unmistakable stamp of the nobility of his character. Whatever he has written has a dignity and stateliness of its own. His poetry has an elevating influence on the mind of the readers, and this influence is exercised not only by its lofty thought, but also by the grandeur of its style. Wordsworth wrote: "Thou hadst voice whose sound was like these."
(iii) Love of Beauty: Milton was possessed of a deep sense of beauty. He loved beauty in all its manifestations. He was attracted by the beauties of external nature. L'Allegro and II Penseroso testify to his love of nature. "Nowhere is Milton's love of beauty better displayed than in the early poems, L'Allegro, II Penseroso, Comus and Lycidas."
The beauty of virtue always made an appeal to Milton's religious temperament and it has found an artistic expression in Comus. Milton's love for the beauty of music finds expression both in L'Allegro and II Penseroso. The song of the nightingale delighted him and he found it "most musical, most melancholy".
In Book IV of Paradise Lost, Milton has nicely described the beauty of Adam and Eve, in "whose looks divine the image of their Maker shone." Satan too is described as a magnificent figure — proud and powerful, dignified and majestic.
(iv) Puritanism: There was, besides this love of beauty, a deep strain of puritanism in Milton's poetry. In his early poems, there is a harmonious combination of the two strains. There is nothing distinctively puritan about L'Allegro and II Penseroso. But it is noticeable that love has not been mentioned as one of the sources of felicity of "the happy man". Comus is really a hymn in praise of chastity and purity and teaches us to restrain our passions and resist all temptations. In Lycidas the puritan in Milton is revealed in the violent outburst against the Established Church. His denunciation of the members of the Anglican Church-- "the blind mouths" is worthy of a thoroughgoing Puritan.
In later poetry the Puritan voice assumes a strident note. Milton becomes a stern Puritan during the later period of his life, and his religious zeal almost kills his humanism. The Puritan spirit represents spiritual discipline, moral austerity, other worldly outlook, religious zeal and moral earnestness. The religious tendency in the later poems is seen in the choice of the subjects, which are all taken from the Bible. The avowed aim of Paradise Lost is "to justify the ways of God to men". Milton's epic was to be a Christian epic. Its theme is Biblical and is directly traceable to the Puritan element in Milton. The subject of Paradise Regained resembles that of Comus. It portrays Christ's resistance to Satan's temptations and his victory over them. It has intense moral favour which characterises Comus. The theme of SanisonAgonistes is also Biblical and is imbedded with moral earnestness.
(v) Classicism: Closely in wrought with Milton's puritanism, there is in his nature a strong bent for classicism, which is pagan and sensuous. He was a keen student of ancient classics, and drank deep at the springs of classical learning. He wrote Latin prose as freely as he wrote English. His fondness of classicism is found in:
(i) his choice of classical and semi-classical forms-epic (Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained); the Greek tragedy (The Samson Agonistes), the pastoral elegy (Lycidas), and the Ode (Ode on the Nativity of Christ)
(ii) the dignity of his style, built on classical models;
(iii) his fondness for classical allusions,
(iv) his elaborate descriptions and enormous similes in Paradise Lost, and
(v) his choice of diction which is abundantly classical.
(vi) Milton's Poetic Art: Milton was a flawless poetic artist. Whatever he has written is remarkable for its artistic workmanship. Edward Albert writes: "As a poet Milton is not a great innovator; his function is rather to refine and make perfect. Every form he touches acquires a finality of grace and dignity." His descriptive lyrics, L'Allegro and Penseroso, are unequalled in English poetry. His Lycidas surpasses all elegies. His epic, Paradise Lost still remains the highest poetic triumph of the English race, and his Samson Agonistes "is the last word of the music of the Elizabethan long after its notes seemed hushed". Barley writes: "To live with Milton is necessarily to learn that the art of poetry is no triviality, no mere amusement, but a high and grave thing, a thing of the choicest discipline of phrase, the first craftsmanship of structure, the most nobly ordered music of sound."
(vii) Milton's Style: The name of Milton, says Raleigh, "is become the mark not of a biography nor of a theme, but of a style—the most distinguished in our poetry." Milton's mind was "nourished upon the best thoughts and finest works of all ages" and that his is the language, says Pattison, of one "who lives in the companionship of the great and the wise of the past time." So his diction is stamped with dignity, sublimity and stateliness. Milton's poetic style reflects his sublime personality and character. In his poetic style we inevitably find the imprint of a cultured mind, a lofty soul and an artistic conscience. Matthew Arnold remarked. "In the sure and flawless perfection of his rhythm and diction, he is as ' admirable as Virgil or Dante, and in this respect he is unique amongst us. No one else in English literature possesses the like distinction ........ Shakespeare is divinely strong, rich and attractive. But sureness of perfect .. style Shakespeare himself does not possess. Milton from one end of Paradise Lost to the other, is in his diction and rhythm constantly a great artist in the great style."Above all, there is a certain loftiness about the style of Milton, which is found alike in his Ode to Nativity and Paradise Lost, and so Bailey says that "it is precisely majesty which is the unique and essential Miltonic quality."
As a poetic artist Milton is never careless or slipshod. There is hardly a line in his poetic work which is unpoetical — hardly a word which is superfluous. All the words used by him were deliberately chosen to fulfil these three functions: the exact expression of thought, their power of Suggestion, and the musical effects required for the verse. This artistic excellence characterises his entire poetry from Ode to Nativity to Samson Agoinistes. The appreciation of Milton's poetry has been rightly called "the last reward of consummate scholarship."
Milton's style, says Raleigh, is not a loose-flowing garment but is tightly fitted to the thought. "He packs his meaning in the fewest possible words," says Raleigh, and we may add, in "the most musical language."
The style of Paradise Lost rises to the height of the theme. It is the solitary example of sustained grand style in his poetry. It rises to a lofty place by virtue of the poet's imaginative power, passionate emotions and moral earnestness. Everything in Paradise Lost is conceived in a mighty way. In his descriptions Milton studies "large decorum and majesty", and in them he attains remarkable vividness and picturesquess in the fewest possible apt words; for example: the fallen angels floating on the lake of Hell
Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
The shield of Satan is
like the moon, whose orb
Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
At evening from the top of Fesole.
A striking feature of Milton's style in Paradise Lost is his use of epic similies. He uses classical mythology for its symbolical meaning and suggestiveness in his similes, for example:
Not that fair field
Of Enne, where Proserpin gathering flowers,
Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis
Was gathered— which cost Ceres all that pain
To seek her through the world.
"Milton," says T. S. Eliot, "is at his best in imagery, suggestion of vast size, limitless space, abysmal depth and light and darkness."
"Of all the English Styles," says Raleigh, "Milton's is best entitled to the name of classic." Milton's style is noticeable for compactness, force and reserve and the unity of emotional impression, which are the distinctive characteristics of true classical style. Milton was a conscientious artist and weighed every word he used for its meaning, weight and sound. Macaulay writes that the merit of his poetry lies "less in its obvious meaning than in its occult power. There would seem at first sight to be no more in his words than in other words. But they are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced than the past is present and the distant near. Change the structure of the sentence, substitute one synonym for the other, and the whole effect is destroyed."
(viii) Milton's Versification: Tennyson called Milton "God-gifted organ voice of England" and "mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies. Milton takes the first place among the masters of English music. His entire poetry is marked by a unique musical quality.He deftly adPto his metres to poetic forms. He is equally the master of the stanza form in Ode on Nativity, of the octo-syllabic couplet in L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, and of the rhymed blank verse in Paradise Lost.
As a versifier, Milton mended the loose dramatic blank verse of Elizabethan dramatists and made of it a worthy epic metre. The first think that Milton did was to make the verse strong and vertebrate. This he did by giving up almost all the licenses that the dramatists had used. He makes a sparing use of the double ending, and abandons the use of a redundant syllable in the middle of a line. Thus he tightened the joints and stiffened the texture of blank verse. The next thing he did was to secure variety. Milton makes splendid use of the freedom and variety which blank verse, more than only metre, allows; and the manner in which he does it, defies analysis, and no other poet, handling blank verse, has approached Milton in this respect.
Milton made the blank verse musical. De Quincey calls the movement of his verse "slow planetary wheeling" — having double motion, viz. (i) the natural movement of the line, and (ii) its movement with reference to a group of lines. And again, Milton adjusts the sound to the sense. W. H. Hudson writes: "His blank verse in particular deserves the closest study. Though this form, as we now know, had long been used in the drama, it had not thus far been adopted for any non-dramatic poem. Milton was therefore making an experiment when he took as the measure of Paradise Lost "English heroic verse without rime". Of this measure he remains our greatest master."
Milton's Influence on Literature. In the seventeenth century Milton was known as a celebrated scholar and a distinguished English and Latin poet. His Paradise Lost was read and admired. It was in the eighteenth century that the fame and influence of Milton were at their height. Hanford says that "in no other time he has had so many readers or been the occasion of so much discussion." There were many factors which led to Milton's popularity during the eighteenth century:
(i) The eighteenth century was an age of classicism, and because Milton a wrote his epic, elegy and tragedy or the classical models, the classicists admired him and tried to imitate him.
(ii) His didacticism was in accord with the trends of the time.
(iii) The appeal of his poetry was primarily felt on account of the sublimity and fervour of his poetic imagination.
(iv) The undercurrent of romanticism in the middle of the century found a strong ally in his poetry and "Milton became more and more acclaimed as a champion of the inwardness and freedom of true poetry."
(v) Milton's poetic style was imitated and admired by every writer of verse in the eighteenth century— "he was a quarry of poetical phrase for everybody."
(vi) Finally, his versification supplied model to the poets who broke away from the classical tradition of the eighteenth century.
The poetry of the eighteenth century, both classical and romantic, was influenced by Milton. The poets of the classical school, including Pope, drew upon the treasury of poetical phrase, and it was the blank verse of Paradise Lost that served as a model for many of the longer poems of the eighteenth century. Among the blank verse poems may be mentioned Thompson's Seasons, Young's Night Thoughts, Warbon's Pleasures of Melancholy, Akenside's Pleasures of the Imagination and Cowper's Task. All these poets took Milton as their model.
"English verse," says Raleigh, "went Milton-mad during the earlier half of the eighteenth century." Not only was Milton's blank verse imitated, but "his Latinisms, his inversion of natural world order, his collocation of sonorous proper names and other external traits, furnished a ready means of stylistic ornamentation." The poets of the eighteenth century adopted these traits in order to impart dignity to the trivial and commonplace.
Among the nineteenth century poets Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and Shelley were influenced by Milton. There is a Miltonic quality in Wordsworth's exalted utterances in blank verse; here and there we catch in his poetry echoes of Miltonic poetry. The sonnets of Wordsworth are modelled on those of Milton. Wordsworth felt the influence of Milton's character and art, while Byron and Shelley admired that aspect of his poetry which coincided with their revolutionary ideas. Keats was attracted to Milton for the richness of his poetic phrase. Tennyson paid a reverent tribute to Milton and called him "God-gifted organ voice of England".
Stopford A. Brooke writes about Milton's place in literature: "He summed up in himself the learned and artistic influences of the English Renaissance, and-handed them onto us. His taste was as severe, his verse as polished, his method and language as strict as those of the school of Dryden and Pope that grew up when he was old. A literary past and present thus met in him, nor did he fail, like all the greatest men, to make a cast into the future. He established the poetry of pure natural description. Lastly, he did not represent in any way the England that followed the Stuarts, but they did represent Pulitan England, and the whole spirit of Puritanism from its cradle to its grave."
THE METAPHYSICAL POETRY
The Elizabethan Wadition: Its Decadence
By the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, the great Elizabethan poetry had exhausted itself. Signs of decadence were visible everywhere. There were three traditions that were generally followed — the Spenserian, the Arcadian and the Petrarchan. Everything was conventional and artificial; there was little that was original or remarkable. There was much sugared melody and romantic extravagance, but intellectual emptiness. In the first decades of the 17th century there was a revolt against the outdated and exhausted Elizabethan poetry. As C. S. Lewis puts it, "Metaphysicist: in poetry is the fruit of the Renaissance tree becoming over-ripe and approaching putrescence".
Revolt Against It
The leaders of this revolt were Ben Jonson and John Donne. Both of them were forceful personalities who attracted staunch followers and founded schools. The first, Ben Jonson— the founder of the classical school which reached its full flowering in the poetry of Dryden and Pope—was primarily a dramatist. As a poet he profoundly influenced the Caroline lyricists. The other is John Donne. His poetry is remarkable for its concentrated passion, intellectual agility and dramatic power. He is given to introspection and self-analysis; he writes of no imaginary shepherds and shepherdesses but of his own intellectual, spiritual and amorous experience. His early satires, his Songs and Sonnets, his Holy Sonnets etc., are all different expressions of his varied experiences. His poetry is marked with a tone of realism, even cynicism, but it is always forceful and startling. He is the founder of the so-called "Metaphysical school" of poetry, of which Richard Crashaw, George Herbert Henry Vaughan and Abraham Cowley are the other leading poets.
The Metaphysical School
Literally "Meta" means "beyond" and "physics" means "physical nature". It was Dryden who first used the word, "Metaphysical", in connection with Donne's poetry and wrote. "Donne affects the tnetaphysics", and Dr. Johnson confirmed the judgment of Dryden. Ever since the word "Metaphysical" has been used for Donne and his followers. However, the term is an unfortunate one for it implies a process of dry reasoning a speculation about the nature of the universe, the problems of life and death, etc. Milton's Paradise Lost, Pope's Essay on Man and even Tennyson's In Memoriam may be called metaphysical poems, for they are concerned with the nature of things. Donne's poetry is not metaphysical in the true sense of the world. A metaphysical poem is long, while Donne's poems are all short. His poetry does not expound any philosophical system of the universe, rather it is as much concerned with his emotions and personal experiences, as any other poetry. No doubt, there is much intellectual analysis of "emotion" and "experience", but this by itself cannot be called metaphysical. The poetry of the school of Donne is not metaphysical as far as its content is concerned. But as Grierson puts it, "Donne is meta physical not only by virus of his scholasticism, but by his deep reflective interest in the experiences of which his poetry is the expression, psychological curiosity with which he writes of love and religion."
(i) Delight in Novel Thoughts and Expressions: The metaphysical poets desired to say what they hoped had been never said before. They cared to be singular in their thoughts and were careless of their diction. They had their own thoughts and worked out their own manner of expressing them. "They played with thoughts," says Sir Walter Scott, "as the Elizabethans had played with words."
(ii) Far-fetched Images: A characteristic feature of metaphysical verse is indulgence in "dissimilar images or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike." The poets probably deemed it a passport to fame to say "something unexpected and surprising" in far-fetched images and hyperbolical expressions.
(iii) Obscurity: In, the task of trying to find the verbal equivalent for states of mind and feeling the metaphysical poets made themselves difficult to understand, Coleridge remarked: "The style of metaphysicals is the reverse of that which distinguishes too many of our most recent versifiers; the one conveying the most fantastic thoughts in the most correct tanguage; the other in the most fantastic language conveying the most trivial thoughts."
(iv) Learning: The metaphysical poetry reveals the scholarship of its authors. A whole book of knowledge might be compiled from the scholarly allusions in Donne and Cowley alone. What is unfortunate about the metaphysical poets is that they "sometimes drew", says Dr. on, "their conceits from recesses of learning not very much frequented by common readers of poetry." Dr. Johnson adds: "No man could be born a metaphysical poet nor assume that dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery and hereditary similes, by readiness of volubility.
(v) Religious and Amorous: Metaphysical poetry may be classified into two broad divisions of amorous and religious verse. The former was written largely by courtly poets ¾ Carew, Sucking etc., and the later by Herbert, Crawshaw and Vaushan. The metaphysical element, it seems, first made its appearance in love poems, following the example of Italian writers, whom Donne seems to have adopted as his models.
"The metaphysicals of the seventeenth century," says H. J. C. Grierson, "combined two things, …….., the fantastic dialectics of medieval love poetry and the simple, sensuous strain which caught from the classics—soul and body lightly yoked and glad to soar together in the winged chariot of Pegasus."
Important Metaphysical Poets
1. John Donne (1537-1631). John Donne was the founder of the metaphysical school of poetry, and he is the greatest of the poets of this school. His works include Satires, Songs and Sonnets, Elegies, which were published posthumously about 1633. His poetry falls naturally into three divisions:
(i) Amorous Poetry: Donne's love poetry was written in his brilliant and turbulent youth. His love poems, the Songs and Sonnets, are intense and subtle analyses of all the moods of a lover, expressed in vivid and startling language, which is colloquial rather than conventional. A vein of satire runs even in his love poetry. His best known love poems are Aire and Angels, A Nocturnal! upon S. Lucies Day, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning and Extasie. Edward Albert writes about his love poems: "He is essentially a psychological poet whose primary concern is feeling. His poems are all intensely personal and reveal a powerful and complex being."
(ii) Religious Poems: Donne's religious poetry was written after 1610. Holy Sonnets and lyrics such as A Hymn to God the Father are his memorable religious poems. His religious or devotional poems, though they probe and question, are nonetheless never sermons, but rather confessions or prayers. His love poems are noticeable for intellectual subtlety, the scholastic learning, and the "wit" and "concerts" of the love poems.
(iii) Satirical Poems: Donne wrote satires, such as of the Progress of the Soul (1600), which reveal his cynical nature and keenly critical mind. They show his dissatisfaction with the world around him. They were written in the couplet form, which was later adopted by Dryden and Pope.
"He affects the metaphysics," said Dryden of Donne, and the term "metaphysical" has come to be applied to Donne and the group of poets who followed him. The word metaphysical strictly means "based on abstract general reasoning", but Donne's poetry shows more than this. In the words of Edward Albert: "It reveals a depth of philosophy, a subtlety of reasoning, a blend of thought and devotion, a mingling of the homely and the sublime, the light and the serious, which make it full of variety and surprise." Donne's poetry bears the stamp of his scholarship. His images are far-fetched, obscure, unusual and striking; for example:
So doth each tear
Which thee doth wear,
A globe, year world by that impression grow;
Till thy tears mixed with mine do overflow
This world, by waters sent from thee, my
Heaven dissolved so.
Donne's influence was strongly felt in both the courtly and religious poetry of the seventeenth century. George Herbert, Richard Crawshaw, Henry Vaughan, Robert Herrick and Thomas Carew show directly or indirectly Donne's influence.
2. George Herbert (1593-1633). Herbert's poems were published posthumously. The Temple (1633) reveals his religious zeal, especially his ardent interest in the Church of England. Of all the metaphysical poets he is the most widely read by reason of his clearness of expression, and his happy knack for using intelligible conceits and concrete imagery. His treatment of the religious themes has the simple, unstudied earnestness of Longfellow. Along with the delicate didactic vein, he shows a quaintness and daintiness characteristic of the time. The discerning reader will also note a welcome salt of humour in his work, which restrained him from extravagance which characterises many poets of this period. He preferred simple, homely, racy language and naturalness of expression. Herbert was a careful poetic artist, precise and clear in expression, fond of unusual metrical patterns as in Easter Wings, and a lover of humanity. His poetry is sensitive to the most delicate changes of feeling. The following lines from The Temple illustrate his poetic art:
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load
But as I rav'd and grew more fierce and wild
At every word
Me thought I heard the calling, childe
And I reply'd, My Lord.
3. Richard Crawshaw (1613-49). Richard Crawshaw's best work is in Steps to the Temple (1646). Some of his poems are secular but he is at his best in his religious poems. To him religion meant everything. Crashaw's poetry is noticeable for striking but fantastic conceits, for its religious fire and fervour. It is emotional rather than thoughtful. In many of his odes we find gaudy extravagances and sensuous decorations, an undisciplined rapture and mystic imagery. His poetry is mainly lyrical. Mark his exalted mood in the following lines from The Flaming Heart.
Live in these conquering leaves; live
all the same;
And walk through all tongues are triumphant
Live here, great heart; and love, and die, and
And bleed and wound, and yield, and conquer
4. Henry Vaughan (1622-95). His books include Poems (1646), Olor Iscanus (1651), Silex Scintillans (1650) and Thalia Rediviva (1678). In the beginning Vaughan composed secular poems under the influence of Ben Jonson. They are Poems and Silex Scientillons.
Vaughan like Crawshaw was at heart a mystic. He was more at home in sacred than in secular verse. His work never rises to the heights attained by Crawshaw, but he had a considerable gift for fantasy and used it to decorate his serious poetry. His poems reveal his good intellectual power and originality. Edward Albert writes: "His regard for nature, moreover, has a closeness and penetration that sometimes (for example, in The Retreat) suggest Wordsworth."
5. Thamas Carew (1594-1639). Carew's Poems (1640) shows his undoubted lyrical ability. These pieces show the influence both of Ben Jonson and Donne. His indebtedness to Donne lies in the inflexibility of his style and strength, but he was a wise disciple who eschewed his master's infirmities. He is neither obscure nor uncouth.
Carew's style and versification are so polished and refined that he approximates Walter and Denham, the acknowledged pioneers of the classical school.
All his poetry is the work of an amorist. He writes persuasions to love, madrigols, complaints and reproaches. As a lyric poet he is the first of his age. Mark the richness of his fancy and his golden felicity of diction in the following lines:
Ask me no more if east or west
The phoenix builds its spicy nest,
For unto you at last she flies
And your fragrant bosom dies.
6. Abraham Cowley (1618-67). Cowley distinguished himself as a classical scholar. He was a man of versatile literary interests, who wrote poems, plays, essays and histories. He wrote an epical romance Pyramus and Thisbe (1628) at the age of ten, and two years later he wrote Constantia and Philatus . His well known poems are The Mistress (1647), a collection of love poems, The Davideis (1656) and the Pindaric Odes.
Cowley is important as a transitional poet of this period. He was the last of the metaphysical poets and in many respects he foreshadows the English classicists. He deserved to be numbered among the disciples of Donne. His knowledge of the ancients whom he imitated, entitles him to be considered a humanist. With all his piety, his fantasy, his conceits and his Pindarism, Cowley is, first of all, an intellectual.
Cowley's couplets foreshadow the eighteenth century heroic couplet but they are not inspiring. His lyrics are often sweet and graceful. He is wholly neither with the songwriters, nor with the clear and vigorous satirists of the new age. But as the harbinger of Dryden and Pope, his work has a historical importance that must not be overlooked.
7. Andrew Marvell (1621-78). Marvell's poems, which were circulated in manuscript during his life, have been described, says Edward Albert, "as the finest flower of serious and secular verse. Marvel's work has the subtlety of wit, the passionate argument and learned imagery of the metaphysicals, combined with the clarity and control of the classical followers of Johnson and the gracefulness of Cavaliers. His rhythms are flexible, his melody delicate. He loved nature and the freshness of gardens, and in all his work there is a high seriousness and absolute sincerity."
Marvell combined like Milton the Renaissance sensuousness and humanism with Puritanism. His poems deal with the theme of nature, as Garden, Upon the Hill; love as The Gallery, To His Coy Mistress, and patriotism, as Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland.
The following lines from To His Coy Mistress illustrate clearly the metaphysical blend of passion and fantastic conceit, handled by Marvell with this distinctive control and poise:
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast Eternity.
OTHER CAVALIER POETS
The cavalier poets are lyrical, and deal chiefly with love and war.
(i) Robert Herrick (1591-1674). Robert Herrick's two volumes of poems The Noble Numbers (1647) and Hesperides (1648) are collections of short poems, both sacred and profane. His lyrical power is characterised by freshness, passion and felicity of expression. It is also meditative and observant. His poetry shows strong influence of Ben Jonson and the classics. It is remarkable for a keen enjoyment of Nature and a fresh outlook upon life. To Anthena, To Julia and Cherry Ripe are his best-known shorter pieces.
(ii) Richard Lovelace (1618-58). Lovelace's Lucasta (1649) contains some of his finest lyrics, such as To Althea, from Prison and To Lucasta, going to the Wars. His poems are simple and sincere, and free from the cynicism of his day. His poems are careless in workmanship, full of affected wit and gallantry, and often rendered obscure by extravagant and grotesque conceits.
(iii) Sir John Suckling (1609-42). Suckling's Ballad Upon a Wedding and Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover reflect his gaiety, generosity and wit. He is witty and humorous. His laughter is not coarse and cynical, but is of pleasant and mercurial quality.
The Precursors of Classicists
The Age of Milton anticipates the Age of Dryden and Pope. We have seen that Abraham Cowley was a forerunner of classicism. Waller and Denham anticipate the age of neoclassicism.
(i) Edmund Waller (1606-1687). His long life links up two periods separated by a political convulsion and a literary revolution. Throughout his life he wrote verse, but only occasional verse. We did not pride himself upon inventiveness. Smoothness, elegance, correctness, a certain studied grace, coldness of feelings, polish and refinement distinguish his poetry. The wit of metaphysical poets recurs in Waller, but is attenuated, diluted and purified. His well-known poems— The Bud, Go Lovely Rose and On A_Girdle are models in this genre. His imagery is clear and well sustained. He does not always avoid the pedantry of Renaissance, and he sometimes Uses ornamental mythology unjustifiably. In his political and patriotic Poems and in rhymed couplets in ten syllables, he is dignified and lofty.
The fine verse he wrote towards the end of his life to express the serenity which accompanies old age might serve as text for an examination into the birth of classical qualities in literature. Here imagery is not strange or precious, but noble and strictly governed by the idea behind it. The lines are disposed in couplets, each containing a full sentence. So he influenced literature of the age of Dryden and Pope. Dryden says that "the excellence and dignity of it were never fully known till Mr. Waller taught it. He first made writing easily on art, first showed us to conclude the sense, most commonly in a distich."
(ii) Denham (1615-1669). The other pioneer of classicism was John Denham who was highly praised by Pope. He is the unrivalled pioneer of regulated and correct poetry. Denham's Cooper's Hill (1642) and Windsor Forest were written in the heroic couplet. His poetry is remarkable for proportion, wit, balance, order, neatness and clarity. Pope came under his influence.
The development of prose was copious and excellent in kind. There was a notable advance in the sermon; pamphlets were abundant; and history, politics, philosophy, and miscellaneous kind were well represented. In addition, there was a remarkable advance in prose style.
Jeremy Taylor (1613-67), the most prominent literary divine of this period, is remembered for his collections of sermons, The Liberty of Prophesying (1647), Holy Living (1650) and Holy Dying (1651) deserve mention as fine specimens of religious prose. In his writings he is fond of quotations and allusions and of florid, rhetorical figures such as simile, exclamation, and apostrophe; and his language, built into long, stately, but comprehensible sentences, is abundant, melodious and pleasing. The Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-91) wrote the Saint's Everlasting Rest which is purely religious in matter and aim. His simple style is neither brilliant nor nervous. Milton's prose has already been dealt with.
Thomas Fuller (1608-61), another divine, wrote serious historical books The History of the Holy War (1639), dealing with the Crusades, and The Church History of Britain (1655). His pamphlets include Good Thoughts in Bad Times (1645) and An Alarm to the Counties of England and Wales (1660). His memorable work is The Worthies of England, published posthumously in 1662. His works reveal his original and penetrating mind, wit and humour. His style is accurate and sententious. His dry antitheatrical humour appealed strongly to Coleridge and Ella.
While in the early part of the seventeenth century the delineation of characters was the most popular exercise of essayists, it was not the only one. The essay which Bacon had introduced could be put to man! uses. The essayists of the seventeenth century brilliantly attempted the essay form, though they did not tread Bacon's footsteps.
1. Owen Felltham (1602-1668). He was the author of Resolves: Divine, Moral, Political which is a graphical picture of contemporary society. In his preface to the reader the author is careful to explain that these essays were written not so much to please others as to profit and gratify himself. The Resolves are written, not without ease, but certainly with care. His essays show a remarkable influence of Bacon. Felltham's essay On Death is obviously founded on Bacon's essay of the same subject. But he could attain Bacon's superb rhetorical quality and depth of thought. His style abounds with ornate phrases. Felltham had plenty of wit, though apparently not much humour. Bacon's subjects are political, ethical and of general interest. Felltham's are more distinctly religious or more with a religious tinge.
2. William Drummond (1585-1649). Drummond's A Cypress Grave is remarkable for refinement, elegance and reflective note. There was in Drummond from the start a strain of mysticism. He is akin to the English Platonists and is enamoured of the Platonic doctrine of ideas. He believes in the oneness of the universe, and the oneness of the soul with that from which it comes.
A Cryress Grave is perhaps the first conscious and sustained effort in English to write political prose. Drummond was a born essayist. Had he lived a century later he would, almost certainly, have shone in the company of Steele and Addison.
3. Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674). He was influenced by Bacon. His two collections of essays - Contemplations and Reflections upon the Psalms of David and Essays: Divine and Moral — express the reflections of a man rich in experience and wise from contemplation. His sentences are loosely constructed.
4. Abraham Cowley (1618-1667). Cowley cultivated a form of essay more intimate and confidential, though less profound, weighty and philosophical than the Baconian. As a prose writer his output is slender. It consists of a mere handful discourses and prefaces. His essays are noticeable for intimacy, and simple and sincere self-revelation. They are the friendly chat of a thoughtful and reflective spectator of life. His essay Of Myself is the finest of his compositions.
5. James Howell (1594-1666). Howell's Epistolae Hoe is a collection of familiar letters, domestic and foreign, partly historical, political, philosophical "upon emergent occasions". Howell's style is simple, familiar and easy, rapid and clear in narrative, humorous or pathetic according to the occasion.
In many ways he is the forerunner or Queen Anne essayists. He had completely given up those poetical elements which are alternately the highest grace and the worst fault in the prose writings of his contemporaries. He addresses himself to the understanding, and rarely fails to make himself intelligible.
Howell anticipated the periodical essay and he has been spoken of as a journalist before the time of journalists.
6. Lord Halifax (1633-1695) and William Temple (1628-1699). Halifax was an outstanding orator. His fame rests on a small volume called Miscellanies. It contains a number of politic tracts, such as The Charactor of A Trimmer, and a piece of more general character called Advice to a Daughter. His essays are witty and eloquent. Halifax's writings are remarkable for a moderation of statement, a cold and agreeably acid humour, and a style devoid of flourishes. In The Lady's New Year's Gift or Advance to A Daughter he is nearest to the spirit of the eighteenth century essayists.
Temple's chief works are his Letters, published posthumously by Swift in 1700 or 1703, Memoirs (1691) and Miscellanea, a series of essays on a variety of subjects, literary and general, which was published in three parts in 1680, 1690 and 1701. Temple's style is noticeable for cultured reticence and he also showed great skill in writing melodious and rhythmic prose.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE (1605-82)
Browne's Life and Works. Born in 1605 in London, Browne was educated at Winchester and Oxford. He studied medicine. For some time he practised in Oxfordshire. He was a widely travelled man and he received his degree of M. D. at Leyden. Returning to England in 1634, he soon removed to Norwich in 1637, where for the remainder of his life he successfully practised as a doctor.
Browne's prose works, though small in size, are of great literary interest. Religio Medici (1635), his confession of faith, is a curious mixture of religious faith and scientific scepticism. "Religio Medici, says Rickett," is an excellent prose companion to the metaphysical verse of the age. In each case we have an ardent fancy, a tinge of melancholy, a quaint pietism, and a tangled growth of erudition In short, Browne mirrors in little most of the characteristics of the time, without developing any to excess. But it is as a stylist of modulated, harmonious English prose that we most esteem him."
Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Vulgar Errors (1646) shares the same mental inconsistency. It resembles the work of Burton in its out-of-the-way learning. Hydrotaphia or Urn Burial (1658) contain' Browne's reflections on human mortality induced by the discovery of some ancient funeral urns. It is considered to be his masterpiece. The Garden of Cyrus (1658) is a treatise and his last work Christian Morals was published after his death.
Characteristics of Browne as a Writer
(i) An Essayist: Browne deserves a place among the essayists of the seventeenth century. It is generally assumed that his prose writings has' more of the nature of treatises than of essays. They are much longer than the essay. Hugh Walker thinks that there is little unity in his writings. Fact' chapter is an independent entity. He writes: "The truth is that each, chapter is an essay in itself, virtually independent of the others with which it is grouped...... He is essentially and always desultory, though this does not mean a careless writer, and his meditations are invariably "dispersed"." His writings are, for the most part, collections of independent papers which the author has chosen to head as chapters. "He is in soul and substance an essayist from start to finish," says Hugh Walker.
(ii) Intimacy: S. T. Browne was a learned man but as Hallam remarks, he was "far removed from real philosophy, both by his turn of Medici has none of the detached, impersonal, scientific spirit of a treatise. At its very beginning the personal note is struck, the note which is characteristic of the essayist of the school of Montaigne; for example: "I am, I confess, naturally inclined to that which misguided zeal terms superstition: my common conversation I do acknowledge austere, full of rigour sometimes not without morosity." Browne takes his readers into his confidence in the same artless and undisguised manner as the immortal Montaigne.
(iii) His Style: As a stylist Browne deserves praise. His style is pedantic, ornate and strongly Latinized, sometimes to the limit of obscurity. He has the scholastic habit of introducing Latin tags and references. In this respect he resembles Burton. S. T. Coleridge writes: "It was Sir Thomas Browne who, though a writer of great genius, first effectively injured the literary taste of the nation by the introduction of learned words, merely, because they were learned." Dr. Johnson speaks of Browne's style as "a tissue of many languages". He used such ornate and pedantic words as erogatism, volutation, fumabulatog, orbity. etc. just for the sake of outlandishness, and not for the sake of their merit. His habit of needless word coinages was justly rejected.
Browne's style is a model for musical prose. He was interested in the beauty of words, in their sound, their form and the image that they raised. Hugh Walker writes: "The value of Browne as a model for musical prose is perennial. Few would be capable of directly following him, but many have, even unconsciously, written more melodious English because he had written before them."
Browne's sentences "are carefully wrought and artistically combined into paragraphs," says Edward Albert, "and, most important from the literary point of view, the diction has a richness of effect unknown among other English prose writers. The rhythm is harmonious, and finishes with carefully attuned cadences. The prose is sometimes obscure, rarely vivacious, and hardly ever diverting; but the solemnity and beauty of it have given it an enduring fascination."