Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

exercises in prose, there remain, of his writings during this period, the following English and Latin poems :

I. ENGLISH :—

"ON THE DEATH OF A FAIR INFANT DYING OF A COUGH." 1626. "AT A VACATION EXERCISE IN THE College." 1628.

"ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY" (with "THE

HYMN"). 1629.

"THE PASSION."

ON TIME."

"UPON THE CIRCUMCISION."
"AT A SOLEMN MUSICK."

"SONG ON MAY MORNING."

"ON SHAKESPEARE." 1630.

"ON THE UNIVERSITY CARRIER, who sickened in the time of his vacancy, being forbid to go to London by reason of the Plague.”

1630-1.

ANOTHER ON THE SAME."

1630-1.

"AN EPITAPH ON THE MARCHIONESS OF WINCHESTER.”
SONNET, "O Nightingale" (perhaps of this period).

SONNET on his having arrived at the age of twenty-three.
Dec. 1631.

II. LATIN:

"AD CAROLUM DIODATUM" (among the Elegies). 1626.
"IN OBITUM PRÆSULIS WINTONIENSIS (among 'the Elegies).

""

1626.

"IN OBITUM PRÆSULIS ELIENSIS" (among the Sylvæ). 1626.
"IN OBITUM PRÆCONIS ACADEMICI CANTABRIGIENSIS " (among
the Elegies). 1626.

"IN OBITUM PROCANCELLARII MEDICI" (among the Sylvæ).
1626.

"IN QUINTUM NOVEMBRIS" (among the Sylvæ). 1626.

""

"IN PRODITIONEM BOMBARDICAM

"IN EANDEM
"IN EANDEM "
"IN EANDEM "

"IN INVENTOREM BOMBARDÆ

1631.

[ocr errors]

Among the Elegies.

"AD THOMAM JUNIUM, PRÆCEPTOREM SUUM, apud mercatores Anglicos Hamburgæ agentes Pastoris munere fungentem" (among the Elegies). 1627.

ELEGY, beginning "Nondum blanda tuas" (among the Elegies).

[ocr errors]

1628.

"NATURAM NON PATI SENIUM (among the Sylvæ). 1628.
"DE IDEA PLATONICA QUEMADMODUM ARISTOTELES INTEL-
LEXIT" (among the Sylvæ).

"IN ADVENTUM VERIS" (among the Elegies). 1628-9.
"Ad Carolum DIODATUM, RURI COMMORANTEM" (among the
Elegies).

1629.

With such a collection of pieces in English and Latin, the fruit of his leisure hours at Cambridge, Milton, when he left the University in his twenty-fourth year, might have made a respectable appearance, in a small published volume, among the poets of the day. His Elegy "On the Death of a Fair Infant," and his fine hymn "On the Nativity," would alone have certified his poetic genius. So far as appears, however, he kept all his poems still in manuscript. His Latin lines, "Naturam non pati senium," had, indeed, been printed and circulated anonymously in Cambridge in June 1628, when he was yet an undergraduate. These lines had been written by him for one of the Fellows of his College who had to take part in the public philosophical debate at the "Commencement " ceremony of that year, when it was usual to print such verses on the subject of the debate, to be put into the hands of those present. With this exception, there is no evidence that anything of Milton's was in print till the year 1632, when he left College. In that year his lines "On Shakespeare,” written in 1630, were prefixed, but without his name or initials, to the second folio edition of Shakespeare's works, with this title, "An Epitaph on the admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakspeare." It has been noted as interesting that Milton's first public appearance in print should have been on this occasion.

AT HORTON, IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE: 1632-1638.

After leaving Cambridge, and having decided not to enter the Church or any other of the professions, Milton spent the next five years and nine months of his life (i.e. from July 1632 to April 1638, or from his twenty-fourth to his thirtieth year) chiefly at Horton, in Buckinghamshire, near Windsor-to which country place his father had retired with a sufficient fortune, after having been for many years a London scrivener. In this quiet seclusion -from which, however, visits to London, or excursions to other parts of England, could be frequent-Milton devoted himself to laborious reading and study, varied by occasional additions to his manuscript stock of English and Latin compositions. To the Horton period, indeed, belong the finest of his minor poems. The following is a list of the pieces written during this period:

[ocr errors]

I. ENGLISH :

"L'ALLEGRO."
"IL PENSEROSO."

"ARCADES: Part of an Entertainment presented to the Countess-
Dowager of Derby at Harefield by some noble persons of her
Family." (Although this poem is usually referred to the
Horton period, and even, more particularly, to 1633 or 1634,
it may possibly be a composition of the Cambridge period,
earlier than 1632.)

COMUS: not so entitled by Milton himself, but simply "A Mask presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634, before the Earl of Bridgewater, then President of Wales."

"LYCIDAS. In this Monody the author bewails a learned friend, unfortunately drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish seas, and, by occasion, foretells the ruin of our corrupted Clergy, then in their height." Nov. 1637.

II. LATIN :

"AD PATREM" (among the Sylvæ).

III. GREEK :—

Translation into Greek of Psalm CXIV. (among the Sylvæ). 1634.

Here was certainly a goodly addition to the stock of pieces written during the Cambridge period. Nor did all these new pieces remain in manuscript. Two of them, at least, were published, and in such a manner as to call attention to the author, though his name was not given. These were Comus and Lycidas. The first of these was by far the most considerable thing that Milton had yet written, being nothing less than a regular pastoral masque, or drama, of more than a thousand lines, with songs interspersed. It was published separately, in circumstances to be more minutely described hereafter (see Special Introduction to Comus in the sequel), by Milton's friend, the musician Henry Lawes, who had been concerned in the getting up of the masque, and in its performance at Ludlow Castle, in Shropshire. This performance, which took place in 1634, had made such an impression that for several years afterwards Lawes had been applied to in London for copies of the piece. Accordingly, to save himself the trouble of making more copies, he printed it in a small volume in 1637. It cannot be doubted that Milton, though concealing his name, consented to this publication of the masque by Lawes. He certainly had copies for private distribution. One of these copies he sent, on the 6th of April, 1638, to the aged and much distinguished

Sir Henry Wotton, then Provost of Eton College, near Horton, whose acquaintance he had recently made. Wotton's high admiration of the poem, and especially of the songs in it, appears from his famous letter to Milton, of the 13th of the same month, sent just in time to overtake Milton before he left England on his Italian journey. Doubtless, others besides the old Provost of Eton had begun by this time to recognise in Milton an English poet of unusual quality. For his Lycidas, written in November 1637, was also now in circulation, and, though not with his name, yet with his initials "J. M.," and in circumstances which must have informed many that these initials designated John Milton, late of Christ's College, Cambridge. What these circumstances were will be related in the Special Introduction to Lycidas.

ITALIAN JOURNEY: 1638-1639.

Leaving his Comus and Lycidas to produce their impression, Milton, now in his thirtieth year, went abroad on a tour. His mother had died and been buried at Horton in the previous year; and his widowed father, now an aged man, remained at Horton, in the care of his younger son, Christopher Milton, who was preparing for the bar, and had just taken a wife. Milton's absence abroad extended from April 1638 to July or August 1639. During these fifteen months he travelled through France, visiting Paris, and resided for a good while in Italy, mainly at Florence and Rome, but going as far south as Naples. In each of these cities he was well received, and made acquaintance with interesting men. By way of acknowledgment of the kindness of these new foreign friends, he wrote a few trifles in Italian and Latin, of which the following were in verse, and were preserved by him :

I. ITALIAN:

Five SONNETS and one CANZONE.

II. LATIN :—

VOL. II.

"AD LEONORAM ROMÆ CANENTEM

'AD EANDEM

"AD EANDEM"

"AD SALSILLUM, Poetam Romanum, ægrotantem: Scazontes (among the Sylvæ).

"MANSUS" (among the Sylvæ).

M

[ocr errors]

Among the Elegies.

[ocr errors]

FIRST SIX YEARS OF LONDON CITIZENSHIP: 1639—-1645.

Returning from Italy, with these few trifles added to his former stock in manuscript, with his mind full of new images and impressions, and also with some valuable complimentary letters and verses addressed to him by Italians of note, Milton resumed his life in England in the autumn of 1639, and prepared for the labours for which he had hitherto been but educating himself. He was now approaching his thirty-second year; but, in his own opinion, he had still to enter on his real career. What was that? It was to be the career of a man of letters, after a higher ideal of that career than had probably been formed by any Englishman before. Especially, it was to be the career of an English poet, selecting the highest and noblest themes, and treating them in such a manner that what was noblest in himself should pass as an ennobling element into the soul of the nation to which he belonged, and should survive to future times in forms of the most finished art. All that he had hitherto written was to be regarded as but the tuning of the instrument for the greater performances which he now contemplated. Of what he had written nothing had yet been published with his name. He had kept his name back till it might be heard of in association with works of larger scope and enterprise.

It was with these thoughts and intentions that Milton, after revisiting Horton and his friends there, settled down definitely as a citizen of London. He resided first in lodgings in St. Bride's Churchyard, Fleet Street, and afterwards in a house of his own in Aldersgate Street, where he had his two young nephews, Edward and John Phillips, to board with him. It was here that, during the years 1640 and 1641, he engaged in those preparations for a great English poem which we have described in the Introduction to Paradise Lost, pp. 40-49. Throwing aside his first scheme of an Epic on King Arthur, and then inclining rather to the dramatic form of poetry, he collected and considered scores of possible subjects for Tragedies before fixing on that which might be best. In the midst of these occupations, however, came the great interruption. The struggle between Charles I. and his subjects, of which Milton had nitherto been able to be only a thoughtful

« ZurückWeiter »