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of A.D. 1200 is given ;* the next is, by Piero delle Vigne, the Chancellor of Frederick II., who flourished in the early part of the thirteenth century. It does not however follow that Vernaccia was the inventor of the sonnet, for he may have followed a model now lost. It soon became a favourite form with the Italian Cantori d'Amore, and has remained such till the present day. The celebrated sonnets of Petrarca are numerous, but they are far exceeded in quantity by those of Torquato Tasso, the most prolific writer in this department of literature that ever existed, for his published sonnets are at least one thousand in number. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, the sonnet was adopted, along with the other Italian forms, by the poets of the Iberian peninsula ; the most celebrated sonnets are, we believe, those of the unfortunate Luis de Camões. Not being well suited to the genius of the poetry of France, the sonnet does not appear ever to have found much favour in that country. It was used by some of the poets of Holland in the seventeenth century, but we are not aware of its adoption by the contemporary poets of Germany. It had more success in England, where it was introduced by Surrey and Wyatt in the reign of Henry VIII.; and we have pumerous sonnets by Sydney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Daniell, Drayton, Drummond, and others. We do not meet with sonnets after the time of Milton, for nearly a century, when Edwards, the author of Canons of Criticism, wrote some, and Gray, and one or two others, single sonnets, in the Italian form, which also was used by T. Warton, in the latter part of the century, while Bowles and Charlotte Smith and Helen Maria Williams reverted to the easy form of the old English sonnets. The poet of the present century most distinguished as a writer of sonnets is Wordsworth, who made Milton his model. *
* See Poeti del primo Secolo della Lingua Italiana, vol. i. page 18. It is the third poem in that collection.
The reader hardly requires to be told that the Italian sonnet is a poem consisting of fourteen five-foot lines, divided into two quatrains (quaternarj) and two tercets (terzine). In the former there are only two rimes, and the most usual form is when the first, fourth, fifth, and eighth lines have the one, and the remaining four lines the other rime; but sometimes in Petrarca, and the older poets, the rhimes are alternate. In the tercets much greater liberty is allowed; the rimes are sometimes two, but more generally three, and arranged at the will of the poet, but never in couplets.
The English poets totally altered the form of the sonnet. In their hands it became a poem of fourteen lines, consisting of three quatrains and a final couplet. Each quatrain had in general its own two independent rimes, but sometimes the same rimes were carried through two or even all the quatrains. The present sonnet of Milton's appears to have been the first return to the genuine Italian form made in the English language. He does not however always strictly adhere to it; for in his sonnet to Cromwell there are three quatrains terminated by a couplet, the two first however having, in the Italian manner, only two rimes. Three out of his five Italian sonnets also end in couplets, in which he may have fancied he had the authority of Dante and Petrarca ; but in these poets they are triplets, the tercets having only two rimes.
* Among Milton's sonnets, Wordsworth is said (Life, i. 289) to have given the preference to VIII., XVIII., XIX., XXI., XXII., XXIV., in our arrangement.
The preceding poems,—whether tasks imposed on his genius, or its voluntary effusions, written toward the close of Milton's academic career, and when his thoughts were very much directed toward theology,-have a solemn, serious, religious cast, suitable to the frame of mind in which we may suppose him to have been at that period. But when he had abandoned all thoughts of adopting the Church as a profession, and had retired to the rural seclusion of Horton, his mind took a different turn, and his poetry in consequence assumed a gayer attire ; and it is perhaps no unsafe mode of procedure to assign to Horton all his poetry of a brighter hue, and in which we meet with rural imagery.
SONG ON MAY MORNING.
No date is assigned to this charming song, but we think there can hardly be a doubt of its having been written at Horton, on some lovely morning in the month of May.
The commencement and conclusion are in five-foot, the song in four-foot measure.
SONNET II. [I.] TO THE NIGHTINGALE. We would also assign these beautiful lines to Horton, and to the month of May, for the reasons given above. In our eyes this sonnet is absolute perfection, and most certainly equal to anything of the kind in the Italian or any other language. Yet Johnson, it seems, could discern no merit in it; and even Wordsworth, as we have seen, did not rank it among those to which he gave the preference.
The concluding lines of this sonnet should serve as a warning to critics and biographers not to be too ready to find traits of personal history in the productions of poets. We might, for instance, be induced to infer from it, that Milton was the victim of a hopeless attachment, and a very pretty theory might be formed from it, taken in conjunction with the first of his Latin elegies. We have indeed quoted above a little romance, to which it may have given occasion. But we know very well that such was not the case. The poet, in fact, as any one who has written verses must be well aware, is like the painter; a subject presents itself to the mind of the one and he paints it, of the other and he puts it into a poetic form, assuming the character of the lover, the hero, or whatever it may be, for the occasion, and then returning to his ordinary frame of mind. A recollection of this truth would dispel more than one ingenious theory.
L'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO. During the happy period of Milton's life spent at Horton, though his mind was occupied by pursuits of the highest intellectual nature, yet poetry undoubtedly was not discarded from his thoughts; and he probably had always steadily in view his design of producing one day a poem which “ the world would not willingly let die.” Meanwhile, as if by way of prelude, his mind occasionally relaxed itself in poetic composition to oblige his friends, or to give expression to some idea which had presented itself in an attractive form. Such were the subjects of the two beautiful poems now under consideration, which, though the exact date cannot be ascertained, were beyond question written at Horton.
It may possibly be—as Warton, always anxious to derogate from the fame of Milton, maintains—that the idea was suggested by the verses prefixed to Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, or by a song in Beaumont and Fletcher's Nice Valour ; but we rather think that it rose spontaneously in the poet's own mind. At all events, Milton seems to have conceived the idea of enumerating and representing the objects more likely to attract the attention of a man of a lively, cheerful temperament, and of another whose disposition was thoughtful and serious. They form a pair of poetic pendents, as we often see pictures in a gallery, and he gave them the respective Italian titles of L'Allegro, or the Cheerful Man, and Il Penseroso, or the Thoughtful Man. The measure which he selected for these poems was the fourfoot iambic, then so much in use, and equally adapted for light or serious subjects. On the true nature of this measure we have already offered some observations.
Even Johnson is obliged to allow that of these poems opinion is uniform ; every man that reads them, reads them with pleasure ;” and he terms them “two noble efforts of imagination.” Warton, with all his prejudices, also had too much poetic feeling not to be charmed with them. From Hallam they receive unlimited praise. In fact, it is utterly impossible that any one with even a particle of poetic feeling could read them with
sentiments but those of delight and admiration. The only objection which Johnson makes seems to be founded on his ignorance of the exact meaning of the Italian terms employed by Milton. “I know not,” says he, “whether the characters are kept sufficiently apart. No mirth can indeed be found in his melancholy, but I am afraid that I always meet some melancholy in his mirth.” But if he had adhered to his own translation of Allegro, cheerful, he might have seen that mirth in its usual sense was not included in its meaning, but merely tranquil, quiet pleasure, that,