« AnteriorContinuar »
divide,—was probably written immediately after that on the Nativity. Its brevity is, of course, owing to the nature of the subject, which did not offer much or agreeable matter for poetry. In it we meet with the Augustinian notions of satisfaction, which Milton, spite of his freedom of thought, seems to have held to the end of his life.
This stanza also is Milton's own. It consists chiefly of lines of five feet, with two of three feet after the seventh verse, and ending with three lines of three, two, and three feet respectively.
THE PASSION. This ode was probably undertaken about the Easter after the one on the Nativity. If, as Warton conjectures, this last was a college exercise, the authorities, who saw how he had succeeded in that task, imposed the present on him also. But we doubt the correctness of this theory. Christmas is in the middle of a vacation, when the students are mostly with their families; and the Latin Elegy to Diodati, in which he tells him that he was at work on this ode, was evidently written toward Christmas, and from London. The circumstance of the ode on the Passion not having been completed also militates against the probability of its having been an imposed task. The poet modestly tells us that “This subject the author finding to be above the years he had when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished.” It must be confessed, that though the opening stanzas are very fine, and the sixth remarkably so, yet it does not seem at all likely that it could ever have vied with that on the Nativity. It also contains concetti, worthy of the Italian school of Marini, or of Donne and Cowley, and probably these are the parts with which the poet was “nothing satisfied ;" his natural taste revolting against that of the age, with which he was forcing himself to comply. The stanza is the same as that employed in the introduction to the Nativity, and possibly it had been his intention to add a hymn in a different measure.
EPITAPH ON SHAKESPEARE.
These lines first appeared among the commendatory verses prefixed to the second folio edition, in 1632, of Shakespeare's Plays. It might therefore seem most probable that they were written in that year; but Milton himself, when printing them in the first edition of his poems, gives them the date of 1630. might however have played him false on this as on some other occasions,-a matter here certainly of very little importance. The verses are valuable, as showing the high estimation in which Milton, who always expressed his real thoughts, held the immortal dramatist. Hurd objected to the thought expressed in the concluding lines, as being more in the manner of Waller than of Milton. This criticism is perhaps well founded, but the idea seems to have pleased the imagination of Pope, who adopted it in his Epitaph on Gay.
ON THE UNIVERSITY CARRIER.
These two sportive effusions were written on the occasion of the death of Hobson, a celebrated carrier, who plied between Cambridge and London, and from whom is derived the proverbial expression of “Hobson's choice," explained in the Spectator (No. 509). Hurd wonders that Milton should have inserted them in his edition of 1645 ; but Milton, as we have already observed, deemed nothing that he wrote to be worthless, and he presumed that the reader would take them for what they were meant to be—mere plays of fancy. The first is certainly light and amusing ; in the second the humour is more elaborate, the allusions more far-fetched, and the meaning not always easily to be ascertained. As Hobson died, it appears, January the 1st, 1630-31, while the plague was in London, these verses, it is probable, were written sometime in that month.
In the latter of these two poems, there is a passage of which we confess ourselves almost unable to make any sense :
His leisure told him that his time was come,
itAs he were prest to death he cried, More weight! The only conjectures which we can make are, that it may be an allusion—and a very remote one-to the punishment of the peine forte et dure, in which the sufferer might call for more weight to be laid on him by way of a coup de gráce,—(we may observe, that “lack of load made his life so burdensome, that,"* etc. ;) or, as at the time, were was sometimes used for was after conjunctions,f the meaning might be, as (i. e. while) he was pressed to death with the weight or stupor of his disease.
* Our friend Mr. Singer, to whom we communicated this conjecture, informed us that a friend of his had given the very same explanation of
“Like one that strove to shew his
mood When he were ill-disposed.”
Beaumont and Fletcher, Maid's Tragedy, iii. 2.
AT A SOLEMN MUSIC.
We have no means of ascertaining the date of this poem ; but from the turn of the thoughts, similar to those in his odes on the events of our Lord's life, we feel inclined to ascribe it to one of the latter years of Milton's residence at the University. His mind was probably occupied at that time with serious ideas, as he seems to have been meditating on the subject of theology, with a view to adopting the Church as a profession.
It consists of only twenty-eight lines ; the measure is five-foot, in general with one couplet of four-foot, and one single verse of the three-foot measure.
ON TIME. TO BE SET ON A CLOCK-CASE.
Here, too, we have no means of fixing the date. The high and solemn tone however, so nearly akin to that of the poem just noticed, would lead us to suppose that it might have been written about the same time. We therefore place it among those composed before he quitted the University.
The measure is of the same character as that of the preceding poem; verses of five feet, with some of four and three feet interspersed.
SONNET I. (VII.]*
ON HIS BEING ARRIVED AT THE AGE OF TWENTY-THREE.
Of this sonnet, Warton states as follows :-“Written at Cambridge, in 1631 [in November], and sent in a letter to a friend, who had importuned our author to take orders. Of this letter there are two drafts in the Trinity manuscript. * He there says, You object that I have given myself up to dream away my years in the arms of studious retirement, like Endymion with the moon on Latmus hill.' He calls this sonnet, ‘my nightward thoughts sometime since made up in a Petrarchian stanza.
* The numbers within brackets are those of the Sonnets in Todd's edition.
This was Milton's first attempt in this species of composition, and though it is by no means devoid of merit, and is dignified and solemn in its tone, like all his poetry of that period, we must regard it as inferior to many of his other compositions of this kind. We learn from it that he was at that time familiar with the Italian poets; for he would never have alluded to Petrarca as he does, if he knew him only at second-hand. Besides, as it is the earliest English specimen of a sonnet formed on the Italian model, he must have derived his knowledge of this form from Italian poetry.
The sonnet is the invention of the Italians, for there is no trace of it in the Provençal poetry. The earliest specimen is that of Lodovico Vernaccia, to which the date
* Of this celebrated MS. a full account will be found in the second edition of Warton's edition of Milton's poems. The pieces forming it were, it seems, found by Dr. Mason, in the eighteenth century, among the MSS. bequeathed in the preceding century to Trinity College, Cambridge, by Sir Henry Newton Puckering, and they were handsomely bound up in 1736, at the charge of Thomas Clarke, afterwards Master of the Rolls. It contains Arcades, Comus, Lycidas, Ode on Circumci. sion, At a Solemn Music, On Time, Sonnets IX., X., XI., XII., XIII., XVI., XVIII. (according to our arrangement), in Milton's own hand, and Sonnets VIII., XV., XIX., XX., XXIII., XXIV., in different female hands. It also contains a copious list of subjects for the drama, and two copies of the letter quoted in the text, in the poet's own handwriting