A Precursor of Milton

THE bookworm has hidden wings, on which he makes aerial journeys, with chosen spirits for his guides, and besides these happy flights, the love of letters carries him into many pleasant earthly by-ways. All students have not the ardor which led the Frenchman Ampère, on his Voyage Dantesque, to every spot on the terrestrial ball named in the Divina Commedia ; but how many pilgrims have sought Stratford-on-Avon, George Herbert’s country parsonage, the church at Clevedon with its sublime monument of In Memoriam, Petrarch’s fountain at Vaucluse, Horace’s Fons Bandusiæ, Lamartine’s lake, Goethe’s Thuringian forest, and countless nooks in Scotland beloved of Burns and Scott, or in England’s classic lake country, to whom those lovely scenes would be unknown if they were not associated with hours of delight or consolation drawn from a cherished volume ! Sometimes these shrines are not on by-ways, but on highroads of travel, and people pass them, in haste to reach the great city to which they are bound. Do not the great majority of tourists, who have no object but pleasure, look wistfully at the spires of Canterbury and Amiens without stopping, merely because Paris or London is on their ticket ? A human interest would make many stop who rush past the glorious cathedrals with only a backward glance.

On the great Paris, Lyons, and Mediterranean line there is a station called Vienne, at which express trains do not stop and at which few passengers get in or out: these are soldiers or priests whose duty holds them to the place, or small citizens going to or from Lyons, the neighboring capital, on business or pleasure, which are not active pursuits at Vienne. At long intervals of years, perhaps, a traveler comes to honor the memory of a man, once powerful and celebrated, who lived and died there more than thirteen centuries ago, and who would be forever famous if his immortal bequest to literature had not been kept secret by his heirs. Twenty years ago, by chance, and no credit to myself, I became familiar with his name and works, laid up safe from disturbance in a fine copy of the Bibliothecæ Veterum Patrum (ed. Gallandus), in the Astor Library.1 My interest in him has only grown stronger with time, and lately, finding myself within an hour’s journey of his home and burial-place, I gave a day to pay him the tribute of a visit.

The railway follows the Rhone as it emerges from the granite embankments which keep it within bounds at Lyons, and rushes along, wide, swift, and brimful, but not imposing. The level strips on each bank are disfigured by the rich industries of Lyons, silk manufactories and glass-works, and by the common necessities of a large town, brick-yards, lime-kilns, gravel-pits, and with iron sidings and switches, freight-cars, rails, sleepers, and other material and refuse of a railway. Nature survives only in cabbage gardens, pollard willows, and poplar - trees clipped into liberty - poles. As in most of the main river-valleys of France, the land on each side rises in regular ridges, parallel with the stream, called Côtes; below Lyons they are far withdrawn from the Rhone, and their surface is treeless, broken up into small properties, and thickly peppered with insignificant modern towns and villages. As the distance from Lyons increases the scenery improves. There are spongy meadows, where the poplars and willows flourish unshorn, composing those landscapes of which a school of French painters have found the picturesque and poetic view. Osier islands rise in the eddies of the river. The sharp, horizontal line of the côte dips now and then, giving outlet to a pretty valley, behind which faint, opaque mountain slopes are to be divined. Two long tunnels shut out the light, and then the train stops at the unpretending station of Vienne. Here, on one side, the hills overhang the railway, so that they require to be propped by huge granite bulwarks like fortifications; but the grapes ripen peacefully above them on the sun - baked steeps, yielding the generous, fruity wine called Côte Rôti.

While the train, in no haste to be gone, blocked the way, I looked at my fellow-travelers on the platform. They were for the most part humdrum, rustic or provincial; but a touch of the picturesque and unforeseen is seldom wanting in any group on the continent of Europe, and in this there were two fresh-faced, black-robed young priests, and two bronzed, careworn Arabs in dingy white burnooses and dark red leather leggings, gilt and embroidered. The sons of Ishmael were climbing into a third-class compartment, with no help from the occupants, who protested by word and deed against the Oriental luggage, a big, coarse sack which looked as if it might hold a decapitated body. When the track was clear, I found that there were no cabs at the station, or in all Vienne, and that the only omnibus was for the exclusive service of the one hotel. However, it was easy to see that the town was not large, and might, with a few directions, be visited on foot. I accosted the young priests, and the venerable name which had brought me there served as a passport and letter of introduction. One of them spoke English, and he said that they were professors at a seminary, where the professor of rhetoric would be glad to tell me all that there was to know. The professor received me in the monastic parlor, with the usual ugly carpet and devotional colored prints on the walls. He was kind and obliging. The visit was short but friendly, and I set forth to see the town under the guidance of the young professor of geometry, who spoke English well enough, but whose unpracticed ear soon forced us to fall back upon French.

Vienne is one of those ancient theatres of great dramas which, deserted by actors and audience, have not only fallen into decay, but shrunk in dimensions. It was a place of note when Julius Cæsar invaded Gaul, and Roman poets of later times called it “ opulenta Vienna ” and “ pulchra Vienna ; ” its streets were then paved with mosaic, and its stately limits reached far into the fields and vineyards of the present day, where vestiges of them are to be found. It was the nursery of Western Christianity, and the cathedral town of an archiepiscopal see ; in the middle of the fifth century it was a seat of learning. The conquering Burgundians made it their capital when they were little better than a horde of barbarians, and in the Middle Ages it was the residence of the Dukes of Burgundy, whose eldest son was styled Dauphin, with the second title of Count du Viennois. In the middle of the fourteenth century, after more than three hundred years of independent sovereignty, Humbert II., then Count du Viennois, saw his line cut off by the death of his only son, a baby, who jumped from his nurse’s arms, out of a window, into the river below. The father, heartbroken, made over his fair province to the kingdom of France, stipulating that the heir to the throne should bear the title of Dauphin. Though Vienne ceased to be a ducal court, its ecclesiastical importance was undiminished ; the council which abolished the order of the Knights Templars sat there in 1311 and 1312, and it remained an archbishopric until the Revolution. To-day it is a staid little provincial town, with no church magnate except a curé, and in which the state is probably represented by no higher dignitary than a mayor. In three directions it looks on vine-clad slopes tufted with bunches of trees, and in the fourth towards the Rhone, bending broadly under wooded hillsides with the suave dignity of the Hudson. A wide walk, shaded by sycamores, in the middle of the principal streets is the only modern attempt at embellishment. Here and there a fragment of old building juts out from the commonplace architecture, oldfashioned without being old, and marks periods of past grandeur. There is a handsome Gothic doorway and part of a stately old portal belonging to the former archiepiscopal palace. At another point, a deep-vaulted arch and gateway, over which projects a round turret from an adjoining wall, recall some of the picturesque remnants of old Paris ; this effect is accidentally due to the juxtaposition of an old abbatial edifice and the ancient entrance to the forum of Roman times. Of the Gallic origin of Vienne I saw but one reminiscence, — a drinking-shop with the sign Bar des Allobroges. Beside the nineteenth-century suspension bridge over the Rhone, where the tributary Gère pours in its waters, a ruined tower rises in mid-flood, of the same epoch as a castle on the hill-top above the town. They are morsels of Vienne’s mediæval accoutrement, mere shells, in which even legend scarcely finds foothold.

A Grecian temple, built by Latin masons and dedicated to Augustus and Livia, has fared better than the less ancient remains, though it is not in perfect preservation ; the Ionic portico and pediments sculptured against the hot blue sky thrill one with a sudden vision of imperial Rome. She is represented, too, in the museum, by some relics of newly christened paganism, such as are to be found throughout Gallo-Roman towns, and of which the chief collection is in the Lateran : broken mosaics of familiar designs, — Ganymede and the eagle, a crane swallowing a serpent, a stag browsing, a greyhound in a leash framed in a pattern of a double cord intertwined ; common Roman pottery and iridized glass vessels ; capitals of pillars ; tragic masks in stone ; imperfect inscriptions ; bronzes cankered by rust and verdigris, — nothing of much value or merit. The best work of art is a beautiful Renaissance bust, in alto-rilievo, of a woman sleeping or in a gentle swoon.

These treasures are well lodged in the light, roomy apartments of a long, low, gray building, apparently a former convent, which had entirely lost the Roman science of drainage, with a two-story arcade running the whole length of the front. I summoned the janitor from his midday meal, that second breakfast so prized by Latin races. He came with so much alacrity and good-will that I expressed a hope that he was not often called from table to show the museum. “ Only yesterday,” he said, with a smile. “ Indeed ! And were they foreigners or Frenchmen?” “Americans,” he said. Americans ! bless their hearts — and heads ! Who were they, what brought them there ?

The museum forms one side of a square in which there is a monument with a bronze sitting figure. Grateful at not being confronted by an allegorical female or by a rampant Napoleonic marshal, I stopped to read the inscription. The statue was of Ponsard, the poet and playwright, a Viennois, author of Honneur et Argent, Lucréce, and other plays, who will be hailed by any reader old enough, if such there be, to remember Mademoiselle Rachel in Horace et Lydie, a bewitching little piece dramatized from Horace’s Ode IX. Book 3. He has a refined and pensive face, and looks as if he had previsions of oblivion.

The ecclesiastical monuments of Vienne are still her greatest ornaments. The cathedral is dedicated to the warlike St. Maurice. It is a fine specimen of sixteenth-century Gothic, nobly placed at the head of a wide street sloping to the river, and approached by a very high, broad, triple granite staircase leading to a spacious stone terrace with an open-work parapet, on which the main doors of the cathedral open. This beautiful church, which would be the boast of many a capital city, has had a hard fate. A quarter of a century after it was completed it fell into the rough hands of the Baron des Adrets, and was abominably mutilated by his Huguenot soldiery. What they spared, or what was restored by the piety and pride of the Viennois, underwent harder usage a hundred years ago from the sans-culottes. Statues and carving have been mercilessly torn away, mullioned windows plugged with brick and mortar, the rich, sculptured surfaces ground down by desecration. A feature which struck my uneducated eye as unusual and very pleasing was an exterior colonnade along the side wall, with windows opening into the church, corresponding to the clerestory within ; above it there is a cornice of tracery and heads, of the utmost variety of grotesque type and grimace. The interior is Pointed Gothic of the finest proportions, soaring and solemn, with an effect of closing in towards the choir, which seems to symbolize the withdrawal of the soul into its sacred places of meditation and prayer.

St. Maurice, though beautiful and impressive, is a work of comparatively modern times. The real Christian landmark of Vienne is St. Pierre, one of the oldest Romanesque churches in France, it not the very oldest, parts of which date from the Merovingian era. The preference for one architectural style over the rest is eminently a question of temperament. To many people the Romanesque, with its large simplicity and unity of design, its solid front and rectangular towers, its round arches and widely spaced pillars, seems better fitted for worship than any other. To one of this mind the lofty massiveness of St. Pierre, its well-lighted breadth, deep, rich color, fine, serious decoration, with its tradition of earliest antiquity, will appeal profoundly as the truest expression of a religious purpose, and give it rank, even in its dilapidation and desecration, by that grand example of Christian building, St. Ambrose at Milan. The desecration is at an end ; the much-abused atheistical government, notwithstanding its empty treasury, is restoring the church for a museum of the Christian relics which have been found in Vienne, and the tombs and mural tablets of which St. Pierre was full. The most memorable of these, with its inscription, has disappeared, but a walled-up chapel beside the apse is known to contain the dust and ashes of a great man and a genius, to whom posterity owes Paradise Lost.

The accusation of making free with other people’s verse has often been brought against England’s greatest poet. The charge was last made by the Rev. George Edmundson, who in his very interesting volume on Milton and Vondel has brought to light another unacknowledged debt. The passages given from the Dutch author, which are translated with spirit and felicity, and generally with fidelity, establish Vondel’s title to genius of the first order ; they set him beside Milton, and there is no higher place in modern poetry. They also annul the claims of many of Milton’s supposed creditors, transferring them to the list of Vondel’s debtors. It is incomprehensible that in all which had hitherto been written about Milton and his borrowing Vondel should practically have been overlooked, but it is still more strange that nobody has yet named the original source whence the poets of the seventeenth century drew, who sang the revolt of the angels or the fall of man, — a source to which Vondel owed more than any of them.

The clue to its discovery was tangled among the skeins of truth from which Lauder wove his web of lies ; but he missed the thread, nor has Mr. Edmundson found it. Lauder made his attacks upon the memory of Milton nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, and there are probably few readers of Paradise Lost in the present generation who have even heard of those once notorious forgeries. Lauder was a Scotchman, born early in the last century, who, after holding positions in the University of Edinburgh and the public school of Dundee, went to London about 1746, and became editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine. In that periodical he published a number of articles accusing Milton of plagiarism, with a long list of sixteenth and seventeenth century authors, British, Dutch, German, French, Italian, and Spanish, from whom the ideal plan and chief beauties of Paradise Lost had been borrowed. These essays he subsequently published collectively under the title of Milton’s Use and Imitation of the Moderns. Most of the works referred to by Lauder were poems, and in Latin, according to the custom of the times, but some of them had been translated into English. Lauder gave analyses of them, with extracts and the dates of publication, beginning at 1514 and coming down to 1655, ten years before the first appearance of Paradise Lost.

At first Lauder’s accusations gained credit, the more readily that Milton’s free, unacknowledged use of the ancients had been brought to notice in print not long before. It was incontestable that a great many poems or dramas on the fall of the angels and man, and kindred subjects, had been composed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and that some of Lauder’s pretended quotations corresponded word for word with passages in Paradise Lost. But doubts soon arose. Lauder was challenged to show the books which he cited. He produced several of them, but the most important author, Masenius, was missing, and Lauder could only assert that he must have dropped the volume in the street. Startling inaccuracies and interpolations were discovered in his extracts from the authors at hand, however, and the story of the lost book was repeated with derision. The tide turned against him, and he was overwhelmed by the testimony of contemporary scholars, from the elegant animadversions of Hayley to the fulminations of Dr. Johnson, originally a victim to the fraud. Lauder was crushed and silenced for the moment, but after a time he began to opine that his case was not so bad as it had seemed, — which was true in so far as Milton was concerned. He renewed his attack in a pamphlet entitled The Grand Impostor Detected, or Milton’s Forgery against Charles I. He did himself no good by this, and was forced to leave England. He went to Barbadoes, where he opened a school, and died there obscurely in 1771.

The contempt into which Lauder has fallen may be gauged by the fact that while the Rev. John Henry Todd, in his early editions of the Poetical Works of John Milton, devotes above twenty pages to exposing the forgeries, Professor David Masson, in the preface to his edition of Milton’s poems, does not even name Lauder’s pamphlet, and dismisses other investigations of Milton’s indebtedness to previous authors, ancient or modern, with one or two exceptions, as “laborious nonsense.” Lauder’s ingenious and learned libel has been relegated to the cabinet of literary cariosities, and his memory to the shelf for the fossils of venomous reptiles. Yet there once lived a sacred poet, of whom Lauder never heard, the knowledge of whose works would have supplied him with a more formidable weapon against Milton than those which he altered to his hand to give his stabs more force.

This writer was Avitus, Bishop of Vienne at the close of the fifth century. He was known throughout Christendom during his life and for a hundred years or more afterwards, but his fame was lost in the abyss of the dark ages. It was recovered, by scholars at least, as early as the sixteenth century, for Grotius, Du Bartas, and Masenius certainly were familiar with his poems ; so, probably, were all the authors on the long list compiled by Lauder, except perhaps the imitators of Vondel; but the latter has followed Avitus so closely that it is difficult to say who copied the Dutch poet and who copied his master. Not one of them appears to have given Avitus credit for their inspiration, and the silence of Milton consigned him a second time to oblivion. His very name is almost lost: I have not found it in any English biographical dictionary, nor in the learned Bayle, nor in Châteaubriand’s Génie du Christianisme, nor in any edition of Milton, English, French, German, or Italian, except the Rev. Mr. Todd’s, of 1809, who quotes a single passage from the poems, second hand from Bowles, with one or two inaccurate details, on the same authority. His allusion to Avitus as a poet is the only one I have found in any English writer except Dean Milman, who mentions his compositions in a manner which betrays little acquaintance with them. He is not named in the eight volumes of Professor David Masson’s noble study of the Life of Milton, nor in the late Professor Mark Pattison’s book on the same subject. M. Guizot gives a short account of the man and his writings in the Histoire de la Civilisation en France, with which the gentlemen just named, professors of rhetoric and literature in English universities, might have been expected to be familiar. Mr. Hodgkin, who in his leisure hours writes tomes on the Invaders of Italy, heavy only to the hand, knows Avitus as churchman and statesman, but says nothing about him as a man of letters ; yet it is as such that he has the highest claim to be remembered.

Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus was born in Auvergne about 450 A. D., of a noble senatorial family, the members of which for generations had held important posts at Rome and in Gaul. He was probably a near kinsman of the Emperor Avitus, whose short, inglorious reign belied his early promise. Sidonius Apollinaris, prefect of Rome and afterwards Bishop of Clermont, a dignified figure among the politicians and poetasters of the decadence, was apparently his brother-inlaw. The villa of Sidonius in Auvergne was called the Avitiacum. The owner has left a charming description of it, with the life he led there, translated for us by Mr. Hodgkin in his Invaders of Italy. Miss Preston made an excursion thither a year or two ago, and told of it in her scholarly, graceful style in these pages. Whatever the degree of relationship between Alcimus Avitus and these magnates, he was the fourth bishop of his family, and succeeded to the see of Vienne about the year 490.

The bishop of such a place at such a time could not fail to have his hands full. At this period Gaul was gathering herself together after the ravages of barbarous hordes, and was about to grow into a kingdom under the warlike domination of the first Merovingians; the great chiefs who have become heroes of legend and epic — Attila the Hun, Theodoric the Goth, Clovis the Frank — were sweeping over Europe, pulling down and setting up monarchies; the expiring power of Rome was being revived by Justin and Justinian in the East; the blood of the martyrs had scarcely dried from the arenas of Lyons, Orange, Nîmes, and Arles ; royal brides, Clotilde, Radegonde, Bathilde, moved like celestial apparitions among the fierce courts they had come to christianize ; the schisms of the Church were already setting up pope and antipope ; the great theological parties of Arianism and orthodoxy, descending to the use of political recruits and material weapons, were seeking a battle-field on which the creed of Christendom was to be decided for a thousand years. No man of the time was more identified with the cause of orthodoxy than Avitus. He shared with St. Remigius the glory of converting Clovis, and had the undivided honor of bringing Sigismund, king of the Burgundians, from the errors of Arianism into the pale of the Church. He exerted his utmost powers to convert Gundobald, the father and predecessor of Sigismund, and to that end wrote him many controversial epistles. He was long in friendly communication with the elder king, who, although a heretic, was by no means indifferent to doctrinal questions ; and at his request Avitus composed treatises against the Nestorian and Eutychian heresies and the errors of Faustus of Riez. But the unyielding heterodoxy of the Burgundian wore out the patience of the churchman, strong in the support of Clovis. A deputation of bishops, with Avitus at their head, held a conference with Gundobald at Lyons, hoping to overwhelm him by their united arguments. The king, a man of great intelligence, met the reasoning of his learned visitors with a shrewdness and subtlety equal to their own : the discussion lasted for days. He remained contumacious, and they threatened him, as a last resort, with an invasion by the Franks. The old chronicle dwells on the humility of demeanor, the angelic sweetness of face and speech, of the Beatus Avitus during the interview ; but as the king’s firmness was not shaken by menaces, the bishop put his last argument into force, and hurled the victorious Franks upon the kingdom of Burgundy, into which they carried the true form of faith with fire and sword. Gundobald refers to this with cutting irony in a short letter to Avitus, remarkable from a man of his age and nation, not to say life, for in some respects Gundobald was a mere savage : —

“ Lord Gundobald, the king, to Avitus, Bishop of Vienne.

“ I have thought it expedient to consult your holiness as to the right reading of an extract from the prophets, which I subjoin. Will you deign to declare whether the times referred to are past or to come? ‘The law shall go forth of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem: and He shall judge among many people and rebuke strong nations afar off: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree: and none shall make them afraid.' ”

Gundobald remained true to his convictions, and he became tributary to the Franks; but his son and successor, Sigismund, publicly renounced the faith of his father, and Arianism was subdued in Burgundy.

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Vienne was exerting his energy in other directions, and leading a life of extraordinary activity in ecclesiastical affairs, politics, and literature. Nearly a hundred letters are extant among his published works, addressed to popes, bishops, and prelates of less degree, to emperors, kings, prefects, senators, and other viri illustres. Some of these epistles were written by him for Sigismund and other distinguished persons to the Pope, the Emperor, and various potentates, temporal and spiritual. Among his correspondence are several letters to the rebel Vitalianus, the orthodox rival of Anastasius, Emperor of the East; for Avitus, like many other saints, had no scruples about stirring up a believing servant against an unbelieving master, showing how early the practice of the Church diverged from apostolic teaching on this head, at least. He assisted at the baptism of Clovis, and wrote an account of it which was pronounced to be elegantissimus. He wrote constantly against the heresies of which the age was so prolific; he used his influence, all-powerful in Gaul and potent at Rome, against the antipope Laurentius, and to good purpose; and he devoted himself to a grand task, the reconciliation of the Eastern and Western branches of the Church. Complimentary letters from two popes, Symmachus and Hormisdas, attest the value which was set upon his services. Yet he was as active in his own diocese as if he had no broader interests; fulfilling his episcopal duties, visiting the different towns and preaching in their churches, convening councils and presiding over them. In the midst of this full and busy existence he found time for writings which would be thought a good life’s work had the author spent his days in a cloister. Besides the letters above mentioned, he has left sermons ; the canons of the Council of Epaona, which he drew up; a mass of controversial matter; homilies on St. Paul’s Epistles, which might have been entitled Tracts for the Times, being chiefly directed against the growth of liberal ideas; poems on portions of the Old and New Testament, and a poem in praise of virginity dedicated to one Fuscina. " Dignissima virgo, soror Fuscina,” he styles her; himself, “Frater Alcimus.” Whether the titles sister and brother are to be taken literally is rendered doubtful by the introduction of one word, “ Deo,” — " Fuscina, my sister in God ; ” just as his relationship to Sidonius Apollinaris, to whom his poem on Genesis is dedicated, is made uncertain by the words “ frater Domino Sancto in Christo.” There are letters from St. Avitus, as it is proper to call him, to an Apollinaris who seems to have been his brother in the flesh, but it is not clear whether this last and Sidonius Apollinaris, the author, prefect, patrician, and Bishop of Clermont, who died about the date of Avitus’s accession to the mitre, were one and the same person. The question is more interesting as regards Fuscina, because of the tender and touching manner in which St. Avitus commonly speaks of Eve throughout his poem on Genesis, although once, in a hasty moment, he terms her “ primæval virago.” Perhaps he knew women only through this beloved sister, for, whatever their relationship, the dedication of the poem declares that she was beloved. It is not impossible that he was married, like his father and grandfather, both Bishops of Vienne, though it is improbable, as he had been destined to holy orders from childhood. But his private life has disappeared in the publicity which involved him. He died A. D. 525, aged, it is supposed, seventy three or four.

This is all that can be gathered about Avitus, as a man, from the published documents to which I have had access, and it is time to come to the poem which justifies the title of the present article. It is divided into five books, upon the creation, the fall of man, his punishment, the deluge, and the departure of Israel from Egypt. The first three constitute a trilogy, and are more interdependent than the rest. De Initio Mundi begins with an apostrophe to Adam, very different, on the whole, from Milton’s sublime exordium, yet with obvious similarity of thought and expression. Resisting the temptation of rendering the Latin hexameters into English blank verse, which, however poor, enhances the resemblance to Paradise Lost unfairly, I give a literal prose translation : —

“ I lay to thy charge, O first father, who didst engraft the seeds of death on the vital germ of thy lapsing progeny, whatever drives the human race to its manifold labors, the brief duration of mortal existence, whatsoever taint vitiates our first impulses, the strange doom that overtook our first parent, and all the evil which is added by our own act to his guilt, with loss of his pristine rank. And albeit Christ in himself freed the offshoots from that which it had contracted from the smitten stock, yet the crime of our progenitor abides, who brought on us the penalty of death and transmitted disease and dissolution to his posterity, a fatal sore in sinful flesh.”

We have here, as in Milton, man’s first disobedience, death, and all our woes and loss of Eden, and the antithesis between Adam and Christ.

In Paradise Lost, two books are devoted to the fallen angels and their council. Avitus proceeds at once to the creation : —

“ Already the almighty Father, by the weight of his word, as in a balance, divided the assembled waters from the dry land, compelling the ocean within its shores, the rivers to their banks.”

“ The Eternal . . .
Flung forth in Heav’n his golden scales,
Wherein all things created first he weigh’d.”

To follow the parallel paths of Milton and Avitus where both are following the narrative of Genesis might seem unfair, unless every coincidence of phrase and metaphor could be given. This is not within my limits, and one or two examples must stand for scores. I cite a few passages in the original to show the constant use which Milton, in his latinized style, made of the very words of Avitus : —

“ Protinus in varias animalia multa figuras
Surgurent, et vacuum discurrunt bruta per orbem:
Elatæ in altum volucres, motuque citato
Pendentes secuere vias, et in a aëre sudo
Præpetibus librant membrorum pondere pennis
Post etiam elausi vasto sub gurgite pisces
Respirant lymphis, flatuque sub æquore ducunt.
Nec minus in pelago viviseunt grandia cete
Accipiuntque cavis habitacula digna latebris
Et quæ monstra soret rarus nunc prodere pontus,
Aptat ad informes condens sollertia formas.
Tum pater omnipotens æterno lumine lætum
Contulit ad terras sublimi æthere vultum,
Illustrans quodunque videt: placet ipse menti
Artifici factura suo, laudatque creator
Disposito pulchra quem condidit ordine mundum.”
“ Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms,
Limb’d and full grown ; out of the ground uprose,
As from his lair, the wild beast where he wons
In forest wild.”
“ The egg, that soon
Bursting with kindly rupture forth disclos’d
Their callow young ; but feather’d soon and fledge
They summ’d their pens, and soaring th’ air sublime
With clang despis’d the ground. . . .
. . . The air
Floats, as they pass, fann with unnumbered plumes.
. . . They . . .
. . . rising on stiff pennons tower
The mid aerial sky.”

“ Forthwith the sounds and seas, each creek and bay,
With fry innumerable swarm, and shoals
Of fish . . .

. . . The seal
And bended dolphins play ; part huge of bulk
Wallowing unwieldy, enormous in their gait,
Tempest the ocean. There Leviathan,
Hugest of living creatures . . .
... at his gills
Draws in, and at his trunk spouts out, a sea.”
“ Here finished he, and all that he had made
View’d, and behold, all was entirely good:
Up to the Heav’n of heav’ns, his high abode,
Thence to behold this new-created world,
Th’ addition of his empire, how it skew’d
In prospect from his throne, how good, how fair,
Answering his great idea.”

St. Avitus’s account is more succinct than Milton’s, and sometimes follows a different order ; but notwithstanding the occasional inversion, the latter’s descriptions are paraphrases when they are not literal translations. Milton never misses a happy expression; if he passes it in its place, he makes use of it afterwards. The bishop gives the creation of grass in one beautiful line : —

“ Pulchra repentimo vestita est gramine tellus ; ”

of which Milton’s lovely version is, —

Brought forth the tender grass, whose verdure clad
Her universal face with pleasant green.”

Like the cunning workman that he is, inlaying and encrusting his handicraft with every precious bit that comes in his way, Milton embodies the same line and another equally charming, ——

“ Perpetuo viret omne solum, terræque tepentis
Blanda nitet facies,” —
in this, and in a less exquisite passage:
“ Earth in her rich attire
Consummate lovely smiled.”

It may be objected that both poets have a common model, which would account for these resemblances, but there are many where no hint is taken from the Biblical text, as will be shown.

Milton’s digressions begin sooner than the bishop’s, who proceeds from the creation of the world immediately to the formation of man, according to Genesis, but the parallel continues in the seventh book of Paradise Lost. Man’s prerogative of walking erect is made a point of by both Milton and his precursor, his gift of reason, and his power to read the signs of the weather and changes of the season, none of which are specified in Genesis.

“ Who, not prone
And brnte as other creatures, but endu’d
With sanctity of reason, might erect
His stature, and upright with front serene
Govern the rest.”
“ Heav’n
Is as the book of God before thee set,
Wherein to read his wondrous works.”

To avoid the slow march of Latin hexameters, I revert to the literal prose translation : “ To whom it is permitted, erect, to dominate the prone beasts with his visage, . . . he shall receive the privilege of lifting his face toward the sky. . . . He shall number the stars and know the lights and paths of heaven. . . . Imbued with wisdom, he shone with the pure light of reason.” Avitus has a singular and remarkable touch in his rendering of the divine project for Adam’s creation: he is to be formed in the image of the Highest and in his likeness, “inwardly in his beautiful soul.” There was ground in this, as in other of the bishop’s fancies, for impeaching his orthodoxy, if he had not been above attack. More than fifty lines are devoted to the making of man, with an ingenuous display of anatomical knowledge, no doubt uncommon for the times. Then man inhales the breath of life and becomes a living soul, his first act being to get upon his feet. “He rose, steadied his feet on their even soles, then wondered at the various earthly species and at the heavenly bodies.”

“ By quick instinctive motion up I sprung,
As thitherward endeavoring, and upright
Stood on my feet; about me round I saw
Creatures that liv’d and mov’d, and walk’d or fiew.”

The Creator tells man that the realm he beholds and its inhabitants are subject to him, and bids him be thankful and adore. “ All they shall pay service to thee, but thou to me,"—a fine sentence, suggesting by its form several of Milton’s. A deep sleep falls upon Adam, which Avitus describes in measures too melodious to omit: —

“ Interea sextus noctis primordia vesper
Retulit, alterno depellens tempore lucem:
Dumque petunt dulcem spirantia cuncta quietem,
Solvitur et somno laxati corporis Adam.
Cui pater omnipotens pressum per corda soporem
Jecit et immenso tardavit pondere sensus,
Vis ut nulla qneat sopitam solvere mentem.
Non si forte fragor securas verberat aures
Nee si commoto cœlum tune intonet arx,
Sed nec pressa manu rupnissent membra quietem.”

Every school-boy will remember the analogous passages in Paradise Lost, in the seventh and eighth books. The first twilight descends and the first stars arise upon mortal vision. The thought of sleep and repose was intimately blessed to the bishop ; his poem abounds in soothing lines and sweet verses which convey the grateful sense of quiet, calm, and rest, and exhale like sighs from the turmoil of a perpetual activity. He does not linger by the sleeping Adam, but briefly relates the creation of woman. This event he illustrates by a startling comparison, the first of many, betraying the rage for symbols and parallels which began with the earliest writers on Christianity, derived probably from the Neoplatonists, and which unhappily has not yet abated among theologians. St. Avitus likens the sleep of Adam, in which he gained Eve, to the death of Christ, who was wounded in his side, and after a short sleep in the tomb arose to wed his bride, the Church. The nuptial benediction on the first human pair, the invitation to use and enjoy everything in the garden except one forbidden tree, occur as in Genesis, Avitus and Milton both marking the impression made on Adam by the interdiction uttered " voce terribili.” The paraphrast here breaks into a eulogy upon marriage, which rouses curiosity as to whether it was the result of fortunate experience or of the proverbial omne ignotum. It winds up as follows : " He ordained joyful marriage, and commanded the angelic hymn to be sung, wedded to harmony. Paradise was their bridal chamber, the world was given them in dower, and the stars rejoiced with gladsome flames.”

“ And happy constellations on that hour
Shed their selectest influence . . .
And heav’nly quires the hymenæan sung.”

The remainder of the first book, De Initio Mundi, is devoted to the site of Eden, to the garden, and to the race whose later habitation Avitus places near that lost abode. As he leaves the Old Testament for a while, to indulge his imagination, the similarity to Milton is more striking and significant, and holds through at least a hundred lines. The skeptical reader is referred to the fourth, fifth, and seventh books of Paradise Lost for a metrical translation of tlie following extracts, which might be extended to thrice their length, if space allowed, without losing the beauty or the likeness. Throughout Milton’s Eden we are wandering in a blissful maze, constantly meeting Avitus or his footprints. “ There is a garden beneath the eastern zenith, hidden by Nature deep in her secret holds, where the dawn rising with the birth of the sun strikes on the neighboring Ind. . . . There is the brow of the world, where it is said earth and sky meet. There stands a grove shut within an everlasting barrier on a height inaccessible to mortals. . . . There no fog rises with the season’s change, nor do scorching suns return after frost when the high zodiac brings back fierce summer, nor do the fields grow hoary with thickening rime. The clemency of heaven maintains perpetual spring ; the stormy north wind keeps aloof, but in the limpid atmosphere the melting clouds disperse beneath the vault. Nature neither seeks nor gains relief from showers, but the contented plants receive their share of dew. The universal soil is always green, and the bland face of earth forever smiles. . . . Whatsoever growth is missed by us, as the year speeds its course, here blooms or ripens every month. Here grow the spices by false report misnamed Sabæan. . . . Here the boughs distill fragrant balm. . . . Here, if perchance the wind should sigh lightly with gentle breath and soft whisper, the thickleaved forest trembles, and hardy bloom and sweet odors are scattered abroad. Here a resplendent fountain rises from a transparent depth, brighter than silver, nor does crystal sparkle with a cooler sheen. The banks glitter with green pebbles, and what the vain mind of man esteems as jewels are here strewn about like stones. The meadows have varied hues. ... A river flows down from the forest, and divides the fields with its fourfold stream. . . . These, men call Tigris and Euphrates, which set a boundary to the far-reaching frontier of the arrow-bearing Parthian.”

The onward river leads the learned bishop into “ many a famous realm and country,” a long way from his subject, “ whereof here needs no account,” says Milton, for once shunning the snare. Avitus undeniably inclines too much to what has been termed geographical poetry in his imitator. In the present instance the temptation comes from the Nile, one of the four rivers of Paradise: he gives a spirited and graphic description of the annual inundation, with many striking lines and incidents, which Milton transfers to his vision of the deluge. After this excursion he returns to Eden, where Adam and Eve are listening to God’s paternal instructions as to their mode of life; these being ended, “ the Father joyfully remounted to heaven’s starry court.”

The first book of the Latin poem closes with God’s ascent to heaven. The second, De Originali Peccato, opens with the happy life of the new human creatures. They do not find the necessity for work to enhance their enjoyment which Milton ascribes to them, a noteworthy difference between the plain-bred English Puritan and the Gallo-Roman prelate. The luxury, rank, and culture to which Avitus was born had no doubt taught him, industrious as he was, a truth rediscovered by Mr. Lowell, — that the highest proof of civilization is to do nothing gracefully; and this grace he bestows on our first parents in their simplicity. But not Milton’s first parents were more diligent in their culling and grafting than he in picking out and appropriating every charming word in which their innocent idleness is described.

“ Facilis custodia recti est,” said the Creator, as he laid the one restriction, but the eternal mystery of the fall remains unexplained. The bishop, in the midst of his sonorous numbers and flowing measures, bursts into a diatribe against wedlock, which he avers to be the cause of “ grumbling, strife, fear, guile, wrath, grief, deceit, complaints, jealousy, discord.” In Paradise Lost Adam charges to it “ anger, hate, mistrust, suspicion, discord.” Milton’s prejudice against matrimony is well known, though it did not prevent his trying the experiment three times ; the causes of the bishop’s are recondite, and made more perplexing by his previous panegyric on the holy estate. He nearly loses breath in the vehemence of his objurgations; but there is no time to dwell on the inconsistency, for Satan now comes upon the scene.

“He had once been an angel . . . who shone first in the rank of created beings.”

“ His form had not yet lost
All her original brightness, nor appear’d
Less than Archangel ruin’d.”
“ Cloth’d with transcendent brightness, didst outshine
Myriads. ’ ’

Having lost his high place in heaven by pride and presumption, he has turned his celestial powers to working evil. He can assume any shape at will, from his original angelic semblance to that of a wild beast, — a suggestion Milton did not forget in making Satan disguise himself first as a lion, then as a tiger. All forms of seduction are at his disposal; women and gold are specially mentioned,— a hint winch was turned to account in Paradise Regained. Envy is the predominating passion of his fallen and vitiated nature, even above hatred or revenge. “ He saw in that calm abode the new race leading a safe and happy life, serving the Lord of the universe under accepted law, enjoying tranquil pleasure, all things being subject to them : a spark of jealousy ignited his wrath, and his burning envy kindled a fierce flame. . . . He uttered his complaint from his breast, and gave vent to his murmurs in these words : ‘ Oh, grief! this hateful race of moulded clay has risen and come forth upon our ruin. I once held the highest rank ; now behold me rejected, cast forth, and this clod succeeds to my angelic honors. Earth possesses heaven, kneaded mud reigns in its vile compaction, and the power transferred from us perishes. Yet it has not wholly perished; a mighty portion retains its native force and still preserves the highest power, — to harm. Let me not delay ; ... let the race perish at its source; . . . a withered root will not bear living buds. This wretched comfort still remains to me. If I be unable to scale the heavens again, they shall be barred to these. If this new stuff be destroyed by a like mischance, let it be a comrade in my cutting off, a partner in my punishment. Let it share with me those fires which I foresee.’ So spake he, grieving, and groans choked his voice,” The familiar parallel passages are to be found in Paradise Lost, books first, fourth, and ninth.

Satan assumes the form of a serpent, subtlest of the beasts of the field, and Milton’s description of his metamorphose is compared by Lauder with portions of a poem by Grotius, published at the Hague fifty years before Paradise Lost. The identity of both with the corresponding passage in Avitus loses its force from the resemblance of all three to Virgil’s monstrous snakes; for the bishop also knew when to borrow. This circumstance would relieve Milton of the charge in this particular instance, if it were not for the stress laid by Avitus as well as by himself on the devil’s flattery. The holy man, notwithstanding his tenderness and indulgence to woman, was as thoroughly convinced of her inferiority to man as was the harsh Puritan ; they both allege it as Satan’s motive for assailing Eve rather than Adam. He accosts her “blandita voce,” “ fallaci susurro,” — a thing so monstrous and portentous in itself that Avitus wonders she was not shocked and forewarned, while Milton adopts the idea, and makes her express surprise at the prodigy.

The serpent’s address to Eve in the Latin poem, with the exception of some compliments and the needful adherence to Genesis, differs from the long rhetorical discourse in Paradise Lost, and is very superior to it in beauty and simplicity. The brevity and ingenuousness of Avitus are among his marked advantages over the Puritan, whose personages are all long-winded and casuistical, from the Creator to the snake. The dialogue between Eve and the tempter is direct and natural. “ Wrapped about the trunk of a lofty tree with his far-reaching coils,”

(“About the mossy trunk I wound me soon,
For high from ground the branches,”)

he begins : “ ‘ O most beauteous maid, blessed ornament of the world, whose radiant presence is adorned by blushing modesty, future parent of a race, the great globe looks to thee as its mother, thou first, best comfort and delight of man, without whom he would not live: the greater he is, the more he is subject to thy love.’ ’ He asks why she and her husband abstain from the most delicious fruit of the garden, when all that air, earth, and ocean produce belong to them. “ ' I fain would know who predicts disasters, who envies you those gifts. . . . Thou art terrified, O woman, by an empty name of dread. This penalty of death shall not overtake you ; the envious Father could not tolerate an equal lot.’ ”

“ Or is it envy ? and can envy dwell
In heavenly breasts ? ”

Eve listens silently, and answers simply that no one denies or restrains them, but that if they eat they will die ; though what to die may be she knows not, and begs her interlocutor, “ doctissime serpens, suavibus O pollens coluber dulcis dictis, callidus draco,” to explain. The “ spirited sly snake ” goes on to tell her that it boots her little to behold and possess the world, “ yet to dwell imprisoned in the wretched dungeon of a blind mind.” The brute creation, he continues, share with her the enjoyment of the senses, the sun shines upon them alike, and eyesight is no distinction between man and beast. Take his counsel, and at the moment that her lips taste the celestial flavor of the forbidden fruit her eyes will become clear, her vision like that of the gods, and she will discern good from evil, right from injustice, truth from falsehood. Eve takes the deadly fruit, turns it over, touches it to her nostrils and to her lips, and “ ignorantly trifles with death to come. Oh, how many times did she brush it against her mouth and draw back reluctant! Her hand, shaking with its sinful burden, sometimes drops tremulous and flees before the crime. Yet she desired to be like the gods, and the hurtful venom slowly crept on, with ambition. Contrary impulses snatch her mind this way and that, between desire and fear.” A simple, pretty picture, such as only a master can give. She does not go through a Puritanical process of ratiocination, but struggles with temptation like a child. The serpent continues to urge and tempt her. " She is beguiled, the deadly venom enters her ears, she accedes to the evil. To satisfy the serpent, she bites the apple and tastes the sweet poison.” At this moment she sees Adam ” coming joyfully through the grassy fields,” and runs to meet him with the bitten apple, “semesum pomum,” in her hand, — another touch of masterly simplicity. Instead of the long speeches which Adam and Eve interchange in Paradise Lost, where the man yields not to his own desire, but to a tender and magnanimous resolve to share her fate, the bishop’s Eve utters a few words of persuasion, and, childlike still, almost dares him to do it. Adam tastes without much demur. “ Then a sudden lightning broke upon them, and shed a mournful glare on their altered gaze. Nature had not made them blind, . . . but now indeed they will be blind.”

“ Their eyes how open’d, and their minds
How darken’d.”

St. Avitus concurs with Milton in naming carnal desire as the immediate result of eating the forbidden fruit ; but Milton, following the natural order of events, goes on to describe the revulsion and remorse and first estrangement of the guilty pair, while the bishop plunges into an extraordinary dissertation on the remote consequences of the deed. He ascribes to our first parents’ fatal curiosity the diseased appetite for all sorts of mysteries and secrets which possesses mankind. Astrology (which Milton makes Gabriel denounce in a discourse of a hundred lines), soothsaying, serpent-charming, even prophecies as to the weather and harvest, are adduced as instances of this sinful and presumptuous tendency. He alludes with great severity to the practice of raising spirits, whereby some dupes imagine that their inquiries can be satisfied, whereas “ they are deceived here below, and will be damned hereafter.” Still dwelling on the iniquity of inquisitiveness, as the learned bishop himself would say, — for he had the Latin trick of playing upon words, which his illustrious imitator did not escape, — he gives a long account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are fine passages, which for want of space cannot be quoted ; among others, the description of Lot’s wife, in the act of turning to look back, slowly stiffening to a rigid, translucent image of her living self, “ a shining horror, " well deserves to be given. The secondary moral of the tale is the fallibility of woman ; for in this case also the tempter betrayed a daughter of Eve to her doom, but durst not tamper with her husband. The bishop admits, however, that it was probably lucky for Lot that his wife had no time to run forward and tell him what she saw, or he too might have turned back. Avitus was imbued with rabbinical theories of the devil’s peculiar influence over the female sex which had been transmitted to the early Church. He closes his digression by an allusion to “ the serpent, wont to move the female mind,” which brings him back with a twist to Paradise. The ancient enemy is exulting over his victims in an outburst of defiant power: “ ‘ Lo, the divine glory of the promised privilege is now yours. Whatever is mine to know, believe me, is now yours. I have led your mind through secret holds. . . . I have taught you to use your left hand as well as your right. Henceforth ye are dedicated to me by a perpetual fate, nor has God more right in you than I. . . . Let him keep what he formed ; what I have taught is mine, mine is the larger part. You owe much to the creator, but more to the master.’ So saying, he left them shuddering, amid a thick mist, and departed through the vapor, quitting his assumed body.”

“ I with you must dwell, or you with me Henceforth.”
“ Satan involv’d in rising mist.”
“ Thus wrapt in mist Of midnight vapor glides obscure.”

So ends the second book of the Latin poem. The third, De Sententia Dei, opens with this exquisite prelude : —

“ Tempus erat quo sol medium transcenderat axem
Pronus et excelsi linquens fastigia centri.
Vicina jam nocte leves præmiserat auras.”
“Now was the sun in western cadence low
From noon, and gentle airs, due at their hour,
To fan the earth now wak’d, and usher in
The evening cool.”

Adam and Eve, hiding from their shame, seek for covering : the fig-tree

“Umbrosis propter stabat ficulnea ramis,
Frondentes diffusa comes,”
“ Spreads her arms
Branching so broad and long,”

and supplies them with raiment. The blessed Avitus, unable to hold his hand, continues to point out coincidences : their nakedness came from a tree ; a tree furnishes covering for their nakedness ; in time to come the wood of a tree will heal the wound made by a tree, for when Christ shall be lifted up, the tree, from being the source of death, will become the cross, the tree of life. It is evident that the legendary history of the cross had already taken shape.

“ Meanwhile, the Father was breathing the dewy breezes of the clear air in the mossy ways of the green grove.” He calls Adam and Eve, and then man first feels what all mankind must feel when “ struck suddenly by lightning from the universal skies, with clanging trump whereby the herald of judgment alarms the smitten globe.” This fine sentence is followed by twenty-five lines descriptive of the everlasting fires of hell, — more than enough to prove that from what source soever that doctrine was introduced into Christianity, it was well burnt in before the sixth century. The Judge arraigns Adam, who breaks into an angry complaint against the Creator, the woman, and the married state. The speech is short, but bitter, and contains the germ of Adam’s soliloquy after his fall, and of his imprecation on Eve in Paradise Lost, tenth book. The Judge turns to the woman, who humbly owns her temptation and her sin. He then pronounces their sentence. First on the serpent, “ to drag along after itself in flexible coils and be bound by living fetters,” to be banished from the upper earth for part of the year, to be feared and hated by everybody, to be bruised by the heel of the woman and to bruise her in turn, until at last she shall vanquish the victor, — “victoremque ultima vincat.”

“ Then verified
When Jesus, son of Mary, second Eve,
. . . rising from his grave
Captivity led captive.”

The woman’s turn comes next, in the terms of Genesis, her sentence ending with the pathetic words : “ ‘ Woman, when exhausted by sore travail thou hast brought forth thy cherished offspring with much labor, childless often shalt thou mourn thy fruitless pangs.’ ” Adam’s condemnation is given last, — the curse on the soil, the life of toil, the bestial needs, the doom of death, and a heavier doom : “ ‘ Before thy own death thou shalt see thy child perish, and shalt witness thy punishment on thy progeny, that thou mayest better understand the appalling image of death. Thou shalt know what it is to have sinned, what to die, what to weep thy dead.’ ” The murder of Abel is foretold, which in Paradise Lost Adam beholds in a vision. Thus man learns the full penalty of sin. “ The terrified earth heard and was shaken,” —

“Earth trembled from her entrails,” —

and by the overcasting of the sky. the untimely disappearance of the sun, Nature gives signs of fear and sympathy which Milton did not forget. St. Avitus makes short work of the expulsion from Paradise : the guilty pair are clothed in skins and driven forth without more words. Their entrance into the outer world, their homesickness for Eden, their strangeness, their grief with its hitherto unknown burden of tears and sobs, are told in beautiful and moving verses. “ They wander through the empty world with hurried steps. Though they see the verdant herbage, the flowery fields, the springs and rivers, they deem the aspect of the earth vile, after the face of Paradise; all that they behold affrights them, according to the wont of man to love what he has lost. . . . The world seems narrow to them, lamenting their forbidden country ; . . . they groan for the stars hanging in a remote sky. . . . Then in their grief mingled with angry pain they felt a new sensation, and sobs broke from their throbbing hearts in unexpected torrents, and unbidden tears overflowed their straining cheeks.” " Some natural tears they shed,” says Milton, but his narrative is cold ; Adam’s discourse and demeanor are too philosophical, Eve is too elegiac, for the circumstances. In his picture of our first parents leaving Eden, Avitus is truer to nature, to their childlike, inexperienced condition, to their uncontrolled despair. In this episode and elsewhere in the course of the poem, he evinces a repressed melancholy, a sympathy with sinful humanity, a sadness for its fate, restrained by faith, — the moral dejection which has oppressed believing souls in all ages.

He follows Adam and Eve no further. He tells us how the earth straightway brought forth thorns and thistles; how the sky learned to lower and thunder, to pour down rain and bail; how the wild beasts, heretofore gentle and harmless, grew fierce and savage; how disease, war, and violence in every form invaded the world. ( Vide Paradise Lost, tenth and eleventh books.) The poet adds he could not fitly sing it all, “ no, not if one with a hundred tongues or an iron throat should try to recount them, or Mæonius, or him whom Mantua sent should sing with diverse voice,” friends whom Milton is fond of mentioning. After this the bishop sermonizes a little, and introduces the parables of Lazarus and Dives, the Prodigal Son, the Good Shepherd, and the Good Samaritan. The first is a fine paraphrase of a hundred lines or more; it opens with a banquet, which is served up again in Paradise Regained. “ When the hour invited to the jovial board the meats came quickly, and all that earth can proffer was brought. The foreign granary sent its wheat; the old Falernian glowed in the cool crystal. Moist cinnamon and incense mixed with aromatic essences perfume the house. Whatever sea or land produces, or the rivers bring forth, the pale and weary slave with a golden rod brings by turn in dishes from every side.”

“ A table richly spread in regal mode,
With dishes piled and meats of noblest sort
And savor. . . .
. . . All fish from sea or shore
Freshest or purling brook, or shell or fin.
. . . And winds
Of gentlest gale Arabian odors fann’d
From their soft wings.”

St. Avitus moralizes on the parables, and draws a warning from that of Lazarus, connecting it with man’s first transgression : “ But we, while life lasts, while we are strengthened by light, let us take warning by our forerunner, Adam ; while there is a place for repentance, nor yet we vainly beat against gates barred with iron. For we all know the regret of the first man driven from his native home, to which he could never find the way back. He suffered a form of death even in his fall, since by no tears or prayers could he regain that which he had lost.” After the parable of the Good Samaritan the bishop finally prays : “ Thus, Almighty Father, stretch forth thy right hand to us, and let life seek us also out for eternal welfare; may thy prevailing grace restore to the ancient abode those misled by the guile of a perjured malefactor, whom the envious wrath of the enemy drove from Paradise.”

With this gentle supplication the story of man’s fall comes to an end. But Milton and Avitus do not part company so soon: the former utilizes the magnificent description of the deluge from the fourth book of the Latin poem by bringing it, with happy anachronism, into Adam’s vision. There is a strong likeness in both to passages in Virgil and Ovid. Avitus knew his Roman poets well; but there are original strokes in De Diluvio Mundi and in the foregoing inundation of the Nile, not one of which Milton has missed: the sea monsters taking refuge from their ocean homes in the submerged haunts of man ; the sun coming forth and reflecting his hot splendor in the water as in a glass, and drinking up the waves “ as after thirst; ” the receding torrents which turn into an ebbing lake; and last, the dove, a Bible picture which becomes an old mosaic of the Catacombs in the bishop’s hands, and which Milton copies faithfully : —

“ Illa, memor jussi, rapido petit arva volatu
Paciferumque videns ramum viridantis olivæ.
Decerpit mitique refert rostro.”
“ A dove, sent forth once and again to spy
Green tree or ground whereon his foot may light;
The second time returning in his bill
An olive-leaf he brings, pacific sign.”

The passage of the Red Sea, also witnessed by Adam in his vision, is the subject of Avitus’s fifth book. The crowning event is thus related : “ The mass, built up by a framework of hanging water, kept the waves suspended in air. God’s race elect fleeing, the conqueror pursuing, pass through the midst, planting their feet on land within the borders of the sea, treading on the stones of the deep, and the chariotwheel crushed the bare clay.”

“ Pursuing whom he late dismissed, the sea
Swallows him with his host, but them lets pass
As on dry land between two crystal walls,
Awed by the rod of Moses so to stand.
. . . The race elect
Safe towards Canaan from the shore advance.”

In the same book, De Transitu Maris Rubri, there is a grand apparition of the angel of death on the Passover night: " It was night, and all things took their midnight rest, for darkness now divided the measured hours, when, lo, from out the dread silence, with noiseless tread, came the avenging angel with unsheathed sword.”

To quote all the remarkable passages, or even the striking single lines, of the poem would require a volume. The above extracts are enough to illustrate its beauty and power and its simplicity, which is a beauty and power in itself. There are proofs in plenty of the bishop’s familiarity with the ancients; he made as free with them as later poets have done with him, but in his case it was not done secretly. We do not meet Pan dancing with the Graces in his Garden of Eden, but there is mythological allusion in abundance to certify the churchman’s culture centuries after the taste for classic letters had died out in Europe, nearly a thousand years before the Revival, at a time when, as he says, “ the pipes resounding the praise of Christ were mute to Apollo.” Yet with all that he owed to these masters and to the Old Testament, his poem in its vigor, beauty, pathos, and occasional sublimity is his own. For the conception of this tremendous theme and for his mode of treating it he had no model.

De Initio Mundi is the first of a long series, in every one of which there is internal evidence of the author’s acquaintance with it. at least if Lauder’s quotations are to be trusted in the least; and inasmuch as he knew nothing of that poem they may be trusted as far as regards Avitus. In the Triumphum Pacis, by Staphortius, published at Dort, 1655, there is a eulogy on marriage, in which some of the lines are transcripts from that in De Initio Mundi. Ramsay, whose poem on the fall was published in Edinburgh, 1633, has lines which recall some of Avitus’s too strongly for mere coincidence. In the Adamus Exul of Grotius, the similarities are even more frequent and striking to the latter than to the passages in Paradise Lost with which Lauder compares them. But the analogy is most astonishing in Masenius, the poet whom Lauder considered to have been the special model and pattern of Milton, whose existence has been indignantly called in question by his editors. Two lines from Masenius’s monologue of Satan suffice to prove that he knew Avitus. “ ' Hen dolor ! ’ " his Lucifer begins, and after uttering his rage and grief he says : —

“ ‘ Quid moror ? apta dolus pugnanti subgeret arma,
Simplicitas paret insidiis, via fraudis aperta est.’ ”

“ ‘ Pro dolor ! ’ ” cries the bishop’s archfiend, and concludes : “ ' Let me not delay, for now I can encounter them with gentle strife, while pristine innocence and simplicity, ignorant and inexpert in guile, lie open to my weapons.’ ”

Mr. Edmundson’s book makes it probable that the later Dutch and German poets of the seventeenth century followed Vondel, not Avitus, but the point cannot be decided without a comparison of their entire works. At any rate, they were a pack of thieves. At times, before I laid down the volume, I was almost persuaded that Milton knew nothing of De Initio Mundi, but, as in the quotations from Masenius just given, there are situations and locutions too identical to be fortuitous resemblances, such as those in Satan’s monologue and in his dialogue with Eve. Stronger still is the evidence gathered from the descriptions of the deluge and of the passage of the Red Sea, of which Mr. Edmundson gives no parallels from Vondel, and which point directly back to the older epic. Had Vondel written in Latin, and not in his mother tongue, the question would be more doubtful, but Milton constantly pays tacit tribute to the bishop’s use of language by anglicizing his exact words. The excess of latinity in Paradise Lost over the other poems is most likely due to this freedom. The main difference between the epics of Avitus, Vondel, and Milton is the prominence given to Lucifer and to the war in heaven by the last two. But on the whole, after getting over the surprise of making Vondel’s acquaintance, one cannot collate the Latin and English poems, observing the similarity of subject, plan, and treatment, the correspondence of important incidents, descriptions, speeches, phrases, the skillful introduction into Paradise Lost of episodes from De Initio Mundi and the succeeding books which do not belong to the story of the fall, and yet doubt Milton’s thorough knowledge of the works of Avitus. They relieve Lauder of the charge and deprive him of the credit of inventing Maseums. Moreover, they explode Voltaire’s shallow hypothesis, which has obtained such wide and easy credence, that Milton got the idea and inspiration of his epic from a sacred drama by Andreini, a Florentine playwright.

Yet when the utmost has been admitted of Milton’s debt to Avitus, no one who reads the whole of De Initio Mundi will attempt to establish its superiority over Paradise Lost as a work of genius. The former contains altogether but about twenty-five hundred lines, while a single book of the other has nearly that number; and although Milton is often cumbrous, prolix, and verbose, which St. Avitus very seldom is, the scope of the English poem is far broader and bolder than that of the Latin one. We find there none of the magnificent marshaling of the spirits of light and darkness, nor the sublime portrayal of heaven and hell; not a word of the celestial and infernal hierarchies, nor the delineation of character in angels and demons. The marvelous power of expression which presents at once a vivid picture and a startling idea, such as, —

“ On his crest sat horror plumed ; ”

the axioms condensing the experience of profound wisdom and a devout life ; the mastery of language which makes melody of the mere names of men and places, — all these and much more belong to Milton in his own right, unless Vondel can dispute it. His style lacks the simplicity and straightforwardness of the bishop’s, who compares fairly well with the classics in this respect; but Avitus sometimes becomes coarse and grotesque in his candor, falling into crudities like those of the early painters. Milton’s verse is strung with pearls of phrase, language of such surpassing perfection as no other English author has attained. This is never seen to more advantage than in the passages where the resemblance to Avitus is most striking; paraphrase or translation, it is always felicitous.

Milton had a lofty, serene consciousness of supremacy. Why did he announce himself as undertaking

“ Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme " ?

In view of his familiarity with Avitus, the claim is audacious, not to say mendacious. He considered, perhaps, that the ground was covered by his observation in Eiconoclastes: " Borrowing, if it be not bettered by the borrower, among authors is accounted plagiarie.” M. Guizot, in reference to Avitus, says that Milton could afford to imitate, for he could create. In this view there may be a Protestant’s indulgence for the great Puritan poet; a Roman Catholic would probably judge him more severely. Without theological partiality, one cannot but ask, How could he stoop to rob the forgotten dead ? He has rifled a venerated tomb. Let us forbear to push the accusation. Mr. Edmundson takes the right stand in calling his book “a curiosity of literature. ” It is enough for one man to have tried to blacken and belittle the author of Paradise Lost; and inasmuch as Lauder never heard of De Initio Mundi in this life, there can be no more fitting punishment for his fraud and malignity than to lift up his eyes and behold the blessed Avitus in Abraham’s bosom.

There is consolation in remembering that although posterity has been ungrateful to the memory of the Bishop of Vienne, he was famous, revered, and beloved in his own time. His position was second to none except the Pope’s throughout Christendom. When he died, full of years and honors, his praises were sounded by his contemporaries, and numerous writers of the next century sustained the eulogium. Gregory of Tours, Fortunatus in his life of St. Martin, St. Isidore of Seville, and other illustrious ecclesiastical authors extol the eloquence, piety, orthodoxy, talents, learning, keen wit, and poetical gifts of Avitus. Adonis, Bishop of Vienne in the sixth century, refers to his predecessor’s epitaph as the best summary of his life and works. That long laudatory versified composition concludes thus : “ He overcame by his wit, virtue, and wisdom, by exhortation, by warnings. He was preeminent in everything that he did. No orator was equal to him, nor any poet. His voluminous writings proclaim that he lived, that he lives yet, and that he shall live through all ages to come.”

Alas for the blessed Avitus and his elegist! But there is satisfaction in reviving his memory for an hour.

  1. The Astor Library also contains the same author’s works in J. P. Migne’s Patrologia Cursus Completus, wherein it is stated that they were “ edited with great care and pains Jacobi Sirmondi Parisiis Anno 1653.”
  2. Mr. W. H. Kirk, of Philadelphia, to whom the writer is indebted for valuable assistance, found an old volume of the fourth edition of the Bib. Vet. Pat., published in Paris 1624, in the Ridgway Library. It contains some of Avitus’s poems, in which, however, many passages read differently from this edition of 1653, and is so full of typographical errors as to suggest the probability that the later edition, though not wholly free from them, was corrected from original manuscripts.