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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles

Henry Hart Milman (1791–1868)

HENRY HART MILMAN, poet, scholar, historian, and divine, was born on the 10th of February, 1791. He was the youngest son of Sir Francis Milman, Bart., physician to George III., and was educated at Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford. He gained the Newdegate prize for his poem “The Belvidere Apollo,” in 1812, and graduated B.A. 1814, and M.A. 1816. He was elected a fellow of his college in 1814, and was ordained in the following year. He became Vicar of St. Mary’s, Reading (1818), Professor of Poetry at Oxford (1821), Bampton Lecturer (1827), Rector of St. Margaret’s, Westminster (1835), and Dean of St. Paul’s (1849). His first published work was his “Apollo Belvidere” (1812), which was followed by “Fazio,” a tragedy (1815), performed without his permission at several theatres, and at Covent Garden in 1818; a religious epic entitled “Samor, the Lord of the Bright City” (1818), and four dramas, “The Fall of Jerusalem” (1820), “The Martyr of Antioch” (1822), “Belshazzar” (1822), and “Anne Boleyn” (1826). He also published “Poems” (1821), “Nala and Damayanti,” with other poems (1835), and a collected edition of his poems (1839). His prose works include “The History of the Jews” (1829), “The History of Christianity under the Empire” (1840), and “The History of Latin Christianity” (1854–5).

Milman’s poetical works were received with enthusiasm, but they cannot be said to have retained a moiety of the interest they excited upon their appearance. Though he so frequently adopted the dramatic form he lacked dramatic instinct, and was wanting in passion and imagination. There are fine passages in all his works, passages in which elevated thought is clothed in ornate language, and adorned with picturesque imagery. But it is as an historian that he achieved his success in letters—as an historian that he will live in literature, and it was probably the operation of the very qualities which made him so sound an historian that limited his achievements as a poet. He has been instanced as “a noble example of ecclesiastical liberalism”: and the characterisation is no more than just. He was a sound scholar, a broad thinker, and an untiring worker. Some of his hymns, “Ride on, ride on in Majesty,” “When our heads are bowed with woe,” and others are still in use, but his longer poems have ceased to attract attention or are only read in selections.