1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Milton

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 49-50.



From a Picture by Dobson, in Dr. Williams's Library.

There is no portrait which at all equals our notions of the elevated countenance of MILTON. It is almost the same with him as with Shakspeare: no painting can do him justice. He was the parent of that vast creation, Satan, — "the Archangel!" moulding him, not from the dust of superstition, or the vaporous exhalations of monkish fear, but in the mighty cast of his own imagination; stripping him of beggarly deformity and paltry vices, and arraying him in the grandeur of a fallen god,

In bulk as huge
As whom the fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian, or earth-born that warred on Jove;

with limbs that combined the proportions of Hercules and Apollo, with the face of a seraph thunder-scarred, and a stature which "touched the stars." — We can no more paint the author of this than the thing itself.

We have here given a resemblance of Milton which has never before been made public. It is as well authenticated — perhaps better, than such pictures usually are: but it fails in some few respects, like all others. Nevertheless, there is something characteristic in it. There is an approach to sweetness and majesty, (both of which Milton possessed in no common degree,) that we do not recollect elsewhere. The eye-brow is contracted, like that of a thinker; the glance is penetrating, yet raised; the mouth wears a sweet expression; and the hair flows down upon the shoulders, and gives a massy character to the whole that is not without its grandeur.

The ordinary portraits of Milton shew little more than his infirmities. We have the "Strict age and sour severity" of his life, or the unmeaning features (they, assuredly, can be no likeness) of his youth. But we want his capacity made visible, his imagination, his love of the beautiful, his sway over earth, and hell, and the "boundless deep: — And accordingly, even in this portrait, we miss, we must confess, somewhat of that lofty aspect which penetrated the depths of Tartarus, and passed the blazing bounds of heaven; as well as those looks accustomed to dwell on the first green freshness of paradise, and to repose with our first parents in the flower-inwoven shades and solitary haunts of Eden.