1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Milton

Anonymous, "On Visiting Fuseli's Milton Gallery, in Pall-Mall" Morning Chronicle (3 June 1799).



What niggard hand may hope to fix the rule
To boundless Fancy? What spruce Critic dare
With Lilliputian airs to furnish out
His little fopp'ries, and proclaim around—
"Behold the Law; and Truth, eternal Truth,
Grave Sovereign of the world of Mind, shall call
Him Rebel, and from Nature's walks expel
Who lisps not to my liking —?" Feeble heart!
Forgive the smiling Muse: your solemn sneer
Compels a smile — Heav'ns, when I contemplate
Some weakling, shaking his dull head, 'mid Dreams
Nurs'd in tobacco fumes, or wriggling light
In namby-pamby trot, like ricketty child,
Praying the world to listen to his prattle,
Calling that prattle Law, who but must smile?
E'en Dullness, with her solemn sons, might smile.
Let the world listen still: but Genius first
Gave himself law, and, while his eye was fix'd
On Nature's harmonies, still proudly dar'd
Beyond the solemn bound'ries of your rules,
To seize some vast idea: then it was
The Critic rose, and having first survey'd
The fair designs of Genius, mimick'd him,
And grew so subtle — hence Stagira's sage
From mighty HOMER learn'd to shape his prose
Into Poetic Canons! Critic sage,
Maugre your solemn Lec'trings, laughs the Bard,
And, like some shrew Magician, lifts his arm,
And calls up Oberon: quick with lily wand
Pranks his gay Godship with his Elfin train;
Or, he can shape some Monster large and huge
With Atlantean sides, and Titan limbs,
And Gorgon eyes, and locks in Viper folds;
Or, by an art more pleasing, give new charms
To Beauty's lovely form, and make it wear
A form more lovely! — Such the Poet's skill.
Such, too, the Painter's, who with kindred art
Calls Form, and Face, and Energy divine
Into the speaking Canvas — 'till the Soul
That fill'd the Poet takes a bodied shape,
Fixes that Eye which rov'd, perhaps untaught,
With holy lore and metaphysic beings
By tricksome Fables and the Dreaming Schools.
Take, then, great Master of the Painter's Art
(Tho' light the Lay), oh, take the well-earn'd wreath
Of tuneful praise; for thine the skill to paint
The high MILTONIC thought; and well he claims
Who lifts the Muse, the Muse's blooming Crown.

Yes: — Britain's Bards shall hail you, pleas'd to see
That not to Florence only bold DESIGN
Was known; that Britain now may boast in thee
An ANGELO — a Soul by Genius warm'd
Bold as was MILTON'S, when he vent'rous sung
"Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme!"
And, while the youthful Bard shall list'ning hang
On those sweet melodies, his raptur'd eye
Shall gaze upon the wonders of thy Art,
And from the PAINTER catch the POET'S fire!