Imatges de pÓgina
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In social measure swift the heavens around.
Nor tardier now is Saturn than of old,
Nor radiant less the burning casque of Mars.
Phoebus, his vigour unimpair'd, still shows
The effulgence of his youth, nor needs the god
A downward course, that he may warm the vales;
But ever rich in influence, runs his road,

Sign after sign, through all the heavenly zone.
Beautiful, as at first, ascends the star

From odoriferous Ind, whose office is

To gather home betimes the ætherial flock,

To pour them o'er the skies again at eve,

And to discriminate the night and day.-CowPER

Gray, a century afterwards, wrote tripos verses, at Cambridge, on the subject— "Anne Luna est habitabilis?"

In 1627, anno ætatis 18, Milton wrote his elegy, "Ad Thomam Junium præceptorem suum, apud mercatores Anglicos Hamburghæ agentes, Hastoris munere fungentem." This Thomas Young was Milton's tutor before he went to St. Paul's school. He was a Puritan, of Scotch birth. He returned to England in 1628, and was afterwards preferred by the Parliament to the mastership of Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1644, whence he was ejected for refusing the engagement. He died, and was buried at Stow-market, in Suffolk, where he had been vicar thirty years.*

From Young, Milton says that he received his first introduction to poetry.

Primus ego Aonios, illo præeunte, recessus

Lustrabam, et bifidi sacra vireta jugi;
Pieriosque nasi latices, Clioque favente,
Castalio spars læta ter ora mero.

CHAPTER III.

THE SUBJECT OF MILTON'S COLLEGE POETRY CONTINUED.

Ir does not appear at what exact date Milton wrote his beautiful Latin poem to his father (who lived till 1647), excusing his devotion to the Muses: it was probably before he left Cambridge. Though it assumes that his father did not oppose his pursuits, yet I think we may infer that he had endeavoured to persuade him to occupy himself with some lucrative profession :

Nec tu perge, precor, sacras contemnere Musas, &c.

The poet ends in this noble manner :

Et vos, o nostri, juvenilia carmina, lusus,
Si modi perpetuos sperare audebitus annos,
Et domini superesse rogo, lucemque tueri,
Nec spisso rapient oblivia nigra sub Orco;
Forsitan has laudes, decantatumque parentis
Nomen, ad exemplum, sero servabitis ævo.

This is an aspiration which Warton praises with congenial enthusiasm, and which was duly fulfilled to its utmost extent.

This poem may be taken as perfectly biographical, as well as poetical; I think it proper, therefore, to give the whole poem, as translated by Cowper.

TO HIS FATHER.

(TRANSLATED BY WILLIAM COWPER.)

O, that Pieria's spring would through thy breast

Pour its inspiring influence, and rush

No rill, but rather an o'erflowing flood!

That, for my venerable father's sake,

All meaner themes renounced, my Muse on wings

Of duty horne, might reach a loftier strain.

For thee, my Father! howsoe'er it please,
She frames this slender work; nor know I aught
That may thy gifts more suitably requite;

* See Mitford's Poetical Dedication to his edition of Parnell.

Though to requite them suitably would ask
Returns much nobler, and surpassing far
The meagre stores of verbal gratitude;
But such as I possess, I send thee all:

This page presents thee in their full amount
With thy son's treasures, and the sum is nought;
Nought save the riches that from airy dream,
In secret grottoes and in laurel bowers,

I have by golden Clio's gift acquired.

Verse is a work divine: despise not thou

Verse, therefore, which evinces (nothing more)

Man's heavenly source, and which, retaining still
Some scintillations cf Promethean fire,

Bespeaks him animated from above.

The gods love verse: the infernal powers themselves Confess the influence of verse, which stirs

The lowest deep, and binds in triple chains

Of adamant both Pluto and the shades.

In verse the Delphic priestess, and the pale
Tremulous sibyl, make the future known:

And he who sacrifices, on the shrine

Hangs verse, both when he smites the threatening bul And when he spreads his reeking entrails wide

To scrutinize the fates enveloped there.

We too, ourselves, what time we seek again

Our native skies, (and one eternal now

Shall be the only measure of our being),
Crown'd all with gold, and chanting to the lyre
Harmonious verse, shall range the courts above
And make the starry firmament resound:
And even now the fiery spirit pure,

That wheels yon circling orbs, directs, himself
Their mazy dance with melody of verse
Unutterable, immortal; hearing which,
Huge Ophiucus holds his hiss suppress'd,
Orion, soften'd, drops his ardent blade;
And Atlas stands unconscious of his load.
Verse graced of old the feasts of kings, ere yet
Luxurious dainties, destined to the gulf
Immense of gluttony, were known, and ere
Lyæus deluged yet the temperate board.
Then sat the bard a customary guest,

To share the banquet; and his length of locks
With beechen honours bound, proposed in verse
The character of heroes, and their deeds
To imitation: sang of chaos old;

Of nature's birth; of gods that crept in search
Of acorns fallen, and of the thunder-bolt
Not yet produced from Etna's fiery cave:
And what avails, at last, tune without voice,
Devoid of matter? Such may suit perhaps
The rural dance, but such was ne'er the song
Of Orpheus, whom the streams stood still to hear,
And the oaks follow'd. Not by chords alone
Well touch'd, but by resistless accents more
To sympathetic tears the ghosts themselves
He moved: these praises to his verse he owes.

Nor thou persist, I pray thee, still to slight
The sacred Nine, and to imagine vain
And useless powers, by whom inspired, thyself
Art skilful to associate verse with airs

Harmonious, and to give the human voice

A thousand modulations, heir by right

Indisputable of Arion's fame.

Now say, what wonder is it, if a son
Of thine delight in verse, if so conjoin'd

In close affinity, we sympathize

In social arts, and kindred studies sweet?
Such distribution of himself to us

Was Phoebus' choice: thou hast thy gift, and 1
Mine also; and between us we receive,
Father and son, the whole inspiring god.
No! howsoe'er the semblance thou assume
Of hate, thou hatest not the gentle Muse,
My Father! for thou never bad'st me tread
The beaten path and broad, that leads right on
To opulence, nor didst condemn thy son
To the insipid clamours of the bar,
To laws voluminous and ill observed;
But, wishing to enrich me more, to fill
My mind with treasure, led'st me far away
From city din to deep retreats, to banks
And streams Aonian, and, with free consent,
Didst place me happy at Apollo's side.

I speak not now, on more important themes
Intent, of common benefits, and such
As nature bids, but of thy larger gifts,
My Father! who, when I had open'd once
The stores of Roman rhetoric, and learn'd

The full-toned language of the eloquent Greeks,
Whose lofty music graced the lips of Jove,

Thyself didst counsel me to add the flowers

That Gallia boasts,-those too with which the smooth

Italian his degenerate speech adorns,

That witnesses his mixture with the Goth;

And Palestine's prophetic songs divine.

To sum the whole, whate'er the heaven contains,

The earth beneath it, and the air between,

The rivers and the restless deep, may all

Prove intellectual gain to me, my wish
Concurring with thy will; science herself,
All cloud removed, inclines her beauteous head,

And offers me the lip, if dull of heart

I shrink not, and decline her gracious boon.

Go, now, and gather dross, ye sordid minds

That covet it: what could my Father more?
What more could Jove himself, unless he gave
His own abode-the heaven in which he reigns?
More eligible gifts than these were not
Apollo's to his son, had they been safe

As they were insecure, who made the boy

The world's vice-luminary, bade him rule

The radiant chariot of the day, and bind

To his young brows his own all-dazzling wreath.
I, therefore, although last and least, my place

Among the learned in the laurel grove

Will hold, and where the conqueror's ivy twines,
Henceforth exempt from the unletter'd throng
Profane, nor even to be seen by such.

Away, then, sleepless Care! Complaint, away!
And Envy, with thy jealous leer malign!

Nor let the monster Calumny shoot forth

Her venom'd tongue at me. Detested foes!

Ye all are impotent against my peace,

For I am privileged, and bear my breast
Safe, and too high for your viperean wound.
But thou, my Father! since to render thanks
Equivalent, and to requite by deeds
Thy liberality, exceeds my power,
Suffice it, that I thus record thy gifts,

And bear them treasured in a grateful mind.
Ye, too, the favourite pastime of my youth,
My voluntary numbers! if ye dare

To hope longevity, and to survive

Your master's funeral, not soon absorb'd

In the oblivious Lethean gulf,

Shall to futurity perhaps convey

This theme, and by these praises of my sire

Improve the fathers of a distant age.

In 1627, Milton wrote his first Latin elegy, addressed to Charles Deodate,* in answer to a letter from Cheshire.

Milton's Latin epistles are written in the style of Ovid, but the matter and language not servilely borrowed from him. It seems to me extraordinary that Milton should have taken Ovid for his model. I agree with Warton that it would have been more probable that he would have taken Lucretius and Virgil, as more congenial to him. His poems, "Ad Patrem" and "Mansus," I consider much superior, and in a different manner. I cannot agree that "his inherent powers of fancy and invention display themselves" much in the "Elegies." I suspect that the greater part of them might have been by any classical scholar of lively talents, rich in learning, and practised in conversation. Not so "Ad Patrem" or "Mansus;" or some of the college exercises. But it is no more than justice to quote Warton's more favourable judgment on the sixth elegy, also addressed to Deodate. He says, "the transitions and corrections of this elegy are conducted with the skill and address of a master, and form a train of allusions and digressions, productive of fine sentiment and poetry. From a trifling and unimportant circumstance, the reader is gradually led to great and lofty imagery." Of all the elegies, that which pleases me most, and which I consider far the most poetical, and at the same time time the most original in its imagery, is the fifth elegy, "In Adventum Veris," ætatis 20, 1629.

But even here the images have not the raciness and wildness of the descriptions in his English poems. Warton speaks of it as excellent in all the requisites of poetry. Here Milton says that his poetical genius returns in the spring: in later life, he has said that the autumn was the season of his composition.

The last elegy is, perhaps, the best, next to that upon the Spring. Milton was apt to encumber his poetry with too many learned allusions, which unfitted them for the general readers, who might have taste and sympathy without much technical erudition. At this period, Milton's mind, though his English poems prove that at times it was grave and deep, yet occasionally showed all the playfulness of his youthful age. I am not sure that I like his Ovidian graces. I prefer the solemn tones of his grander imagery; his picturesque descriptions of the scenery of nature: his voices among the lonely mountains; his evening contemplations, and his studious melancholy by the night-lamp. I prefer his allusions to the fables of Gothic romance rather than to the pantheon of the classics, which does not carry with it any part of our belief. Our imaginations can easily enter into the superstitions of the dark ages, which have far more of dignity and sublimity.

Perhaps Milton was at this date more proud of his scholarship than of his own original genius, as Petrarch to the last preferred his own Latin poems to his Italian, and * Charles Deodate, the son of Theodore, was born in 1574, at Geneva, where the family still flourishes. See Galiffe's "Généalogies des Families Genevoises." Theodore came to England, and married a lady of good birth and fortune. In 1609 he appears to have been physician to Henry, Prince of Wales, and the Princess Elizabeth, afterwards Queen of Bohemia. He was brother of John Deodate, a learned Puritan divine, whose theological works, printed at Geneva, are well known. The family came from Lucca on account of their religion.

The following notice as to the family, I am favoured with by one of its members, a learned librarian in the Public Library of Geneva. It is extracted from a letter written by Theodore, the father of Charles Deodate, and dated London, 20th March, 1675.

"Nous avons tenu le premier rang entre les familles nobles et patriciennes de tous tems à Lucques, et en sommes encore en possession; le père de mon grand-père logen en son palais l'empereur Charles Quint: il étoit alors gonfalonier; auquel tems mon grand-père nacquit, et l'empereur fût son parrain, et le homma Charles, et lui donna l'enseigne des diamans, qu'il portait en son col, à son départ. Nous avons eu des généraux d'armées. Le général Diodati conserva Brissac à l'empereur contre l'armée des princes d'Allemagne; et fut tué d'une volee de canon dans Munich en Bavière. A cette heure nous avons Don Jean Diodati, chevalier de Malthe, grand-prieur de Venise, cousin-germain de feu mon père," &c

placed on them his hopes of fame. But in a language which is not our own we can never equally express our unborrowed thoughts. In bringing our phraseology to the test, we are driven to the train of mind of others. It is only when the language rises up with the mental conception that it is racy and vigorous. Hence, in my opinion, there is a radical defect in all modern Latin poetry-though it may still have great merit of a secondary sort. I deny that Milton shows in these Latin compositions, unless, perhaps, on some rare occasion, anything of the peculiarity of his native genius.

In his own tongue there are bursts of that mind which produced "Paradise Lost," even in his verses from the age of thirteen. Sometimes an image, sometimes an epithet displays it. A holy inspiration had already commenced in his mind. The tone of the sacred writings had taken fast possession of his enthusiasm: this perhaps was increased by his study of Dante. In Spenser there is more profusion and more flexibility, but not the same sombre and sublime cast. In Shakspeare also, there is more sweetness and less study; more of the "native wood-note wild;" but not that solemn and divine strain, as if an oracle spoke. There is a sort of prophetic awe in the outbreathings of Milton, like that of the Hebrew poetry; yet there is nothing totally uncompounded with human learning. Perhaps it were better if it had been. It is occasionally encumbered.

Milton conforms everything to his own grand inventions. Shakspeare enters into the souls of others. Spenser brings them upon the stage in groups, in all the allegorical fabulousness of their outward forms. He is the painter of the times of chivalry, moralized into fictions of his own, which display the different virtues in the adventures of different knights; they form wonderful tales of inexhaustible variety,-giants, and enchanted castles, and imprisoned damsels, rescued by heroic courage and divine interference.

CHAPTER IV.

ON L'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO.

MILTON left the university of Cambridge in 1632, at the age of twenty-three, and retired to the villa of his father at Horton in Buckinghamshire: here he wrote those juvenile poems, which are the most celebrated. The exact date of the "L'Allegro," and "Il Penseroso," is not known: it is evident that they were suggested by a poem in Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," and by a few beautiful stanzas of Beaumont and Fletcher. These poems are familiar to all: they are rich in picturesque description of natural imagery, selected and combined with the power of splendid genius, according to the opposite humours of cheerfulness and contemplative melancholy; and are the more attractive, because they paint Milton's individual taste, character, and habits. The style of the scenery is principally adapted to the spot and neighbourhood where he now lived.

But if I may venture the opinion, I will own that these are not the compositions in which the peculiarity of the grandeur of Milton's genius displays itself. Beautiful as these Odes are, there are others, besides Milton, who might have written them :-not many indeed. They have not the solemnity, the dim and unearthly visions,-the awful and gigantic grandeur,-the prophetic enthusiasm,—the terrible roll and bound and swell of the "Hymn on the Nativity." The subject did not call for such merits;but then, if they are excellent, they are excellent in an inferior walk.

Probably I shall be thought heterodox in this judgment. I much prefer "Il Penseroso" to "L'Allegro," as more solemn, more deep-coloured, and more original in its imagery. Perhaps the general merit of these two pieces lies more in a selection of rural pictures combined with taste, than in particular images,-except in a few passages of the latter poem. The metre wants variety and sonorousness. The passages I chiefly allude to, are Contemplation—

down to

Him that yon soars on golden wing,

-the far-off curfew sound,
Over some wide-water'd shore,
Swinging slow with sullen roar

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