+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

greater, to the antiquarians of literature,
a mere name, with the vaguest of memories
attached to it. The late Sir Robert Peel,
in a memorable speech in parliament,
exhumed from the musty towers where
Cowley's poems slumber undisturbed, a very
beautiful and striking passage, which, with
a faint twinkle, will doubtless tend to
preserve his memory as long as books of
poetical extracts continue to be published.
The poet speaks of a period of national
peril, of impending civil strife, and of a
deed unperpetrated that, if perpetrated,
would be one of national disgrace:

Come the eleventh plague rather than this should be!
Come, sink us rather in the sea!
Come rather pestilence, and mow us down!
Come God's sword rather than our own;
Let rather Roman come again,
Or Saxon, Norman, or the Dane.
In all the bonds we ever bore,
We groaned, we sighed, we weptwe never blushed

I now arrive at the unpopular poet. All
this time, when these and others of even a
smaller calibre appeared as large as Tritons
to the critical minnows of that paltry age,
one of the greatest poets that England
ever produced was alive. The people
were not great readers, and nobody knew
him. Few had ever heard of him. Those
who had heard of himKing Charles and
his courtiers among the numbershrugged
their shoulders at mention of his name.
He had mingled in politics, had made
himself a power in prose if not in verse, and
had, unluckily for his fortunes, taken the
losing side. He had been for Cromwell
and the Commonwealth, and his fortunes
had been wrecked by the Restoration. He
kept a little school for day-scholars in
Bride-court, Fleet-street. He was old
and blind. To speak of him, except
with disrespect as a Roundhead and a
bad subject, was to incur the suspicion
of the court and of all the fashionable
people who took their tone from
it. He earned his bitter and too
scanty bread with agony and tears; and
was only too glad to accept a very mean
and paltry dole from a speculative
bookseller who had faith in him (to the extent
of five pounds), for a work that has put
many hundreds of thousands of pounds
into the pockets of the printers and
booksellers of the last two centuries. The name of
this poor unpopular poet was John Milton.
Nobody knew him in his own day. Everybody
knows him in ours. His fame extends
wherever the English language is
spoken, and his Lycidas, his Comus, his
Sonnets, and his Paradise Lost, are part of
the mind and education of every person of
British blood or descent, who aspires to
hold the position of a gentleman or a lady,
or to the possession of ordinary information
on subjects of English poetry and
literature. Not to know Tom D'Urfey,
Katherine Phillips, and Abraham Cowley,
the idols of their time, is neither a wonder
nor a disgrace among well-educated people.
Not to know John Milton and his immortal
works, is to be a dunce or an ignoramus,
or at least an exceedingly illiterate person.
Popular poets look to your laurels!
Unpopular poets take heart of grace, and gain
such satisfaction as you can from the hope
that if this age knows you not, a wiser
posterity will do you justice!


A SINGULAR adventure befel me during
the late American war. I was with
General Blenerhasset  during the early part
of his triumphant march through Georgia,
but falling sick at Penaquoddy, and being
unable any longer to sit on my horse, I
and a young German lieutenant, named
Rabenstein, who had been wounded in the
leg, were left behind, about forty miles
north of Savannah, at a small farm-house
belonging to an old Reb farmer.

We both felt down-hearted enough, you
may imagine, as we heard the last bugle-
call of our regiment die away in the
distance, and felt that there we were lying
behind in the backwater, while the sturdier
rowers were pulling in for the winning

"Vas ist dis for a voonder?" said
Rabenstein, tapping his pipe viciously on the
sill of the farm-house window. "Potz
hoondred tausend and a sandbag over, ve
shan't see old Jeff make his last bow now. I
could knock out my brains with my crutch
to think of it. Sapperment, everybody has
the luck but me. Never mindthere's one
good thing

They'll hang up Jeff on a sour apple-tree
When they go marching home.

No one to talk to here but the old man and
his frow, and that sulky nigger. I shall go
in and hurry up the tea-fixings." So saying,
he began to pound at the bolted door by
no means in the sweetest of tempers, for
his leg pained him a good deal at times.
"If I'd only got my pistol," said he, "I