Abbildungen der Seite

in the English world of Poetry, outside the pale of the Drama. But there is more than presumptive proof. Milton's earlier poems are saturated with Spenser; in his manhood he spoke of Spenser with reverence; and, in his later life, he told Dryden that Spenser had been his first master. It may not be unworthy of remark, in this connexion, that Alexander Gill, the head-master of St. Paul's School while Milton was a pupil there, was a devoted admirer of Spenser. This is shown by the number of quotations from Spenser in Gill's Logonomia Anglica, a curious English Grammar in Latin, first published in 1619.

ON THE DEATH OF A FAIR INFANT DYING OF A COUGH. (First printed in the Edition of 1673.)

Over this poem Milton has himself placed the words "Anno ætatis 17,” implying that it was written in his 17th year. Now, as Milton entered his seventeenth year on the 9th of December, 1624, and ended it on the 9th of December, 1625, this would place the poem between these dates. But, when Milton placed Arabic figures after the phrase anno ætatis in these headings of his poems, it was his habit, as might be proved in this particular case, and as we shall see indubitably hereafter (Introductions to the second and third of the Latin Elegies and to the first piece in the Sylvarum Liber), to give himself the benefit of a year by understanding the figures as noting cardinal and not ordinal numbers. “Anno ætatis 17" meant, with him, not strictly "in his seventeenth year," but "at 17 years of age." The present poem, accordingly, was actually written in the winter of 1625-6, or during Milton's second academic year at Cambridge. It is the first of his preserved English pieces of the Cambridge period, but seems to have been written, not at Cambridge, but in the course of a brief visit made to London between the Michaelmas Term and the Lent Term of the academic year—i.e. between Dec. 16, 1625, and Jan. 13, 1625-6. That the "fair infant was a little girl we learn from the poem itself; but we are indebted to Phillips, in his memoir of Milton, for the interesting information that the little girl was the poet's own niece. "One of his sister's children, who died

[ocr errors]

in infancy," are Phillips's words-i.e. she was Phillips's own sister, of whom he had heard as born before himself, and cut off in her babyhood. The circumstances, more particularly, are these : -In the course of 1624, or just before Milton had gone to Cambridge, his only surviving sister, Anne Milton, several years older than himself, had been married to a Mr. Edward Phillips, a native of Shrewsbury, but resident in London, where he held a situation in the Crown Office in Chancery, and rose at last to the second place as Deputy Clerk of the Crown. To this couple there had been born, after about a year's marriage, their first child, a little girl, making the young poet an uncle, and his father, the scrivener of Bread Street, a grandfather. When in town from Cambridge, Milton had seen the "fair infant," whether in his father's house in Bread Street, or in his sister's own house, which was "in the Strand, near Charing Cross." But the life of the little creature was to be short. The autumn of 1625 was a particularly unhealthy one in London-the Plague then raging there with such violence that as many as 35,000 persons were said to have died of it during that season within the Bills of Mortality. There is an allusion to this prevalence of the Plague in the last stanza but one of the poem. Not to the Plague, however, but to the general inclemency of the succeeding winter, did the delicate little blossom fall a victim. She died "of a cough"-i.e. of some affection of the lungs. This and all the surroundings of the case-the cold, snowy winter, after the autumn of Plague, &c.—are poetically indicated in the beautiful little elegy, with which the young Cambridge student sought to console the sorrowing mother at the time, and which has preserved for us the fact of the existence of this "fair infant" at whom the poet had looked with interest. The poet's sister, Anne Phillips, addressed so affectionately in the last stanza of the poem, had several subsequent children by the same husband-two of whom, Edward and John Phillips, survived to be known in connexion. with their uncle. After the death of that husband, which happened while she was still a young woman, she contracted second marriage with a Mr. Thomas Agar, who had been bred up in the Crown Office in Chancery with Phillips, and who succeeded to Phillips's post in it as Deputy Clerk of the Crown.


(First printed in the Edition of 1673.)

The heading prefixed to this piece by Milton is, more completely, as follows:— “Anno ætatis 19: At a Vacation Exercise in the College, part Latin, part English: the Latin Speeches ended, the English thus began." If the phrase “Anno ætatis 19" were to be understood strictly, according to modern custom, as meaning "in his nineteenth year," we should have to refer the piece to some time between Dec. 9, 1626, and Dec. 9, 1627. But here again, as in the heading of the preceding poem (see Introduction to it), we have to remember Milton's habit of dating not from the current year of his age, but from the year which he had completed. The piece, in fact, was written in 1628, or during Milton's fourth academic year at Cambridge, and, as the title implies, was but a fragment of a much longer and more composite exercise or discourse, part of which was in Latin, written for some ceremonial at Christ's College in the vacation of that year—i. e. after the close of the Easter Term on the 4th of July. Can we restore the fragment to its proper place and connexion ? Fortunately, we can; fortunately, for otherwise the drift of the piece. and various allusions in it would be unintelligible. The fragment, though printed by Milton himself, as we now have it, separately among his minor English Poems, was originally a part of one of a few curious Latin writings of Milton's College-days, which appear in all collected editions of his prose-works under the title of Prolusiones Oratorie (i.e. Rhetorical Essays), but have been less read, until lately, than any of his literary remains. As the history of these Prolusiones Oratoria connects itself intimately with the fragment under notice, it must be here told :

In the year 1674, the last year of Milton's life, when anything bearing the name of the author of Paradise Lost was likely to be a fair speculation for a publisher, a certain London bookseller, Brabazon Aylmer, of "The three Pigeons" in Cornhill, brought out a little volume of Milton's "Epistolæ Familiares," or Latin Letters to his private friends. It was Aylmer's intention, and


probably Milton's also, to append to these private Latin letters his more important "Letters of State"-i. e. the Latin letters of public interest which he had written to foreign princes and governments in his capacity of Secretary to the Council of State of the Commonwealth, and to the Protectors, Oliver and Richard Cromwell. It was found, however, that the authorities then in power to wit, the Government of Charles II.-would not permit the publication of these obnoxious documents. They remained, in fact, unpublished till 1676, or two years after Milton's death, when they were piratically printed by a bookseller who had got hold of copies. Aylmer was consequently placed in a difficulty. The nature of this difficulty and the way in which he overcame it are stated by him in a Latin preface prefixed in his own name to the little volume which he did publish. When I found the Familiar "Letters by themselves," he says, "to be somewhat too scanty "for a volume even of limited size, I resolved to treat with the "author through a particular friend of both of us, in order that, "if he chanced to have by him any little matter in the shape of a "treatise, he might not grudge throwing it in, as a make-weight, to "counterbalance the paucity of the Letters, or at least to fill the "blank. He, influenced by the adviser, having turned over his "papers, at last fell upon the accompanying juvenile compositions, "scattered about, some here and others there, and, at my friend's "earnest request, made them over to his discretion. These, there"fore, when I perceived that, as they were sufficiently approved 'by the common friend in whom I trusted, so the author did not seem to think he ought to be ashamed of them, I have not


hesitated, juvenile though they are, to give to the light-hoping,


as it is very much my interest to do, that they will be found not "less vendible by me than they were originally, when recited, "agreeable to their auditors."

[ocr errors]

The compositions with which Milton thus obliged Aylmer in his difficulty, and which were published in the same volume with the Epistola Familiares, were certain Latin College-exercises which had remained among his papers for more than forty years. "Ejusdem, jam olim in Collegio adolescentis, Prolusiones quædam Oratoria," is the title given to them in the volume-i.e. "Some Rhetorical Essays of the same author long ago when he was a youth at College." The

Essays or Prolusiones are seven in number, and are all interesting as throwing light on Milton's career at the University, and as specimens of his Latinity, and his success in those public debates and discussions on scholastic and philosophical topics which formed in those days so important a part of College and University training. "Utrum Dies an Nox præstantior sit" ("Whether Day or Night is the more excellent") is the thesis of the first of the Essays; "De Sphærarum Concentu" (" Of the Music of the Spheres ") is the title of the second; and so on. But the one with which we are immediately concerned here is the sixth, entitled "In Feriis Æstivis Collegii, sed concurrente, ut solet, totâ fere Academia juventute, Oratio: Exercitationes nonnunquam ludicras Philosophic studiis non obesse;" which may be translated thus, "In the Summer Vacation of the College, but in the presence, as usual, of a concourse of nearly the whole youth of the University, an Oration to this effect: That occasional sportive exercises are not inconsistent with philosophical studies." The Essay, as the heading informs us, was an actual speech delivered by Milton in the hall of Christ's College, Cambridge, on an occasion of periodical revel, when not only his fellow-collegians, but a crowd of students from other colleges, were present. Milton had then nearly completed his undergraduate course, and had his degree of B.A. in prospect; and he was probably chosen to lead the revels on account of his pre-eminent reputation among the undergraduates of Christ's. "The revels," we say; for, in reading the speech itself, we become aware that the circumstances were those of some annual academic saturnalia, when the college hall was a scene of festivity, practical joking, and fun of all kinds, and when the president-styled, in academic phrase, "the Father" for the nonce-was expected to enliven the proceedings with a speech full of jests and personalities, and to submit in turn to interruptions, laughter, and outcries from his noisy "sons." Milton, though confessing in the course of his speech that fun was hardly his element, and that his "faculty in festivities and quips" was very slight, seems to have acquitted himself in his character of "Father," or elected master of the revels, with unusual distinction. At all events he took trouble enough. His entire discourse must have taken at least an hour and a half in the delivery. As originally delivered, it consisted of three parts

« ZurückWeiter »