Imágenes de páginas

show to mankind “what creatures heaven doth breed”? In the close, he consoles the mother for her loss, and assures her, that if she bears it patiently, God will give her another offspring, that will make her name live “ till the world's last end”.

-an assurance verified at least by

this poem.

The language of this ode is exquisitely poetic, and the imagery and sentiments give evidence of the first faint dawn of the Paradise Lost. The measure is the poet's own formation ; for, adopting the seven-lined stanza used by Chaucer in his Troilus and Cressida and some of his other poems, and by Sackville in his Induction to the Mirror of Magistrates, he changed the last line from the original form of five feet to one of six feet, as in the Spenserian stanza. It is very remarkable that the very same thing was done by Phineas Fletcher in his Purple Island; and, as this poem was not published till 1633, it is quite evident that Milton could not have imitated the structure of its verse. *

In the edition of 1673 the eighth stanza is printed in the following manner :

“ Or wert thou that just Maid who once before

Forsook the hated earth, O! tell me sooth,
And cam’st again to visit us once more ?
Or wert thou that sweet-smiling Youth !
Or that cown’d Matron sage, white-robed truth?

Or any other of that heav'nly brood
Let down in cloudie throne to do the world some good ?”

It will be seen at once that the fourth line is short by a foot, and it can hardly be doubted that the missing word is Mercy, which we have no hesitation in restoring to the text, though Warton was more scrupulous, when it was suggested to him by a gentleman named Heskin;

* There is however a difference, for in Fletcher's stanza the last three lines form a triplet.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

for in the Ode on the Nativity (st. xv.), Truth, Justice, and Mercy are placed together, and the last, as here,

, occupies the middle station ; Mercy and Truth are also associated in the Scriptures, see Ps. xxv. 10, Prov. xxvi. 6. The error may have originated in the following manner. The compositor omitted Mercy, and as Justice is merely called that just maid,” and “truth," in this edition, begins with a small letter, the person who read the proof --for it is hardly possible it could have been read to Milton himself—may have supposed that "

supposed that “sweet-smiling youth” was the whole, his eye not noting the measure.

The additional poems in this edition-which otherwise follows that of 1645 even in its errors of punctuation-do not seem to have been read with any care ; for in the very next line, we may observe that crowned is printed cowned. We may see by this, as we will show more fully hereafter, how little value should be attached to the phrase “ the author's own edition.”

The reader may perhaps feel a curiosity to know why Milton should have made Mercy a youth, while Truth and Justice are females. The reason probably is, that the young poet may have observed that mercy in Hebrew is a masculine, while truth is a feminine noun, and he thence thought they should be thus personified. He may also have had in view the eighty-fifth Psalm, where it is said, “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed,” and have forgotten that it is the masculine, not the feminine, form of the word expressing righteousness that is used.


These verses, though written in the poet's twentieth year (anno ætatis xix.), i. e. in 1628, were not printed


till 1673, the copy probably having gone astray at the time he was first publishing his collected poems. In the edition of 1673 it was printed, the last but one of the original poems; but in the errata, directions are given to place it immediately after the verses on the Death of a Fair Infant, which is set as the second of the original poems in that volume,-a proof that the poet aimed at somewhat of chronologic arrangement in his compositions. The heading of it is “At a Vacation Exercise in the College, part Latin, part English. The Latin speeches ended, the English thus began.” Among our poet's Prolusions is one which was pronounced“ In Feriis æstivis Collegii, sed concurrente, ut solet, tota fere Academiæ juventute,” the subject of which is “Exercitationes nonnunquam ludicras Philosophiæ Studiis non obesse," and this is probably the Latin speech to which he alludes; for he was very careful in preserving all his compositions. Whatever the speech was, it is evident from v. 12 of the poem, that he rated it below the English compositions which followed it.

He commences with an address to his “ Native Language,” in which he manages to bring in some of the most attractive subjects of ancient poetry; and then he introduces the Ens, with his two sons the Predicaments, “ whereof the eldest stood for Substance with his canons.' Ens addresses his son Substance in a speech in the commencement highly poetic, and then really humorous. “The next, Quantity and Quality spake in prose; then Relation was called by his name.” This is followed by an address, in verse, to the principal rivers of England, of which we freely confess, with Warton, that we cannot see the relevance or the connection with the subject.

" The rest was prose.

[ocr errors]


The verses are all heroic couplets, such as he had already employed in his translation of the 114th Psalm.


The subject of this pleasing poem was Jane, first wife of John, Marquis of Winchester, a Catholic nobleman, afterwards so conspicuous for his fidelity to Charles I., and his gallant defence of his house at Basingstoke, in Hants, against the troops of the Parliament. She was daughter to Thomas Viscount Savage, of Rock-Savage, in Cheshire, by Elizabeth, daughter and coheiress of Thomas Darcy, Earl of Rivers.* She died in childbed of her second son, in her twenty-third year ; the year of her death is uncertain, but, as it will appear, it could not have been later than 1628.

This lady appears to have been a highly accomplished person. Warton quotes a letter of Howell's to her, dated, he tells us, March 15, 1626, in which he says that he had assisted her in learning Spanish, and that Nature and the Graces had exhausted all their treasure and skill in" framing this exact model of female perfection.” The death, then, of so eminent a person proba

” bly caused what is termed a sensation, and, in the manner usual at the time, it became the theme of poetry. Warton says he had heard, but doubted if it was the case, that there was a Cambridge collection of verses on her death. Todd however informs us that in a volume

* Collins' Peerage, ii. 379. Hence Milton says—

'A viscount's daughter, an earl's heir.' While Beaumont speaks of her “ father's earldom.” The former therefore seems to confound her with her mother, and the latter to mistake her father for her grandfather.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of manuscript poems in the British Museum, this epitaph occurs, with the date 1631, and at the bottom, “Jo. Milton, of Chr. Coll., Cambr.” Mr. Hunter also informs us that in a contemporary collection of Peers’ Pedigrees, in his possession, the same year is the date of the Marchioness' death. We have here then a clear proof of how little such documents are to be relied on, for this date is indubitably erroneous, as in the poems of Sir John Beaumont, published posthumously in 1629, there is one to the memory of this lady, so that, as we have said, she must have died in 1628, at latest. We regard however the fact of there having been a Cambridge collection as certain ; and those who set the matter on foot, whether the University authorities or not, probably sought the aid of Milton, who, although he had as yet written hardly anything in English, had in the close of 1626 distinguished himself by his Latin poems on the death of eminent personages. It is not at all likely that he would of his own accord have made the theme of his verse a lady of whom he could have known nothing but what common fame told. Warton however gives on this occasion a curious specimen of his sycophancy to the Egerton family. “It is natural to suppose,” says he, “ that her family was well acquainted with the family of Lord Bridgewater, belonging to the same county, for whom Milton wrote the Mask of Comus. It is therefore not improbable that Milton wrote this elegy, another poetical favour, in consequence of his acquaintance with the Egerton family.” He actually would thus seem to make it posterior in order of composition to Comus ! But 'mark now how a plain tale shall put him down.' Milton's acquaintance with the Egerton family, if any, which we doubt, is allowed to have originated in his

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »