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remaining two or three the last six, the linking of the rhymes within this general provision admitting of variety, though some arrangements were preferred to others. The worst and least common arrangement in the last six lines, according to Hallam, was that which ended the Sonnet in a rhyming couplet, so as to round it off with a kind of epigrammatic effect; and Quadrio, he says, entirely condemns this couplet termination. As Quadrio, however, condemned it on his own mere disliking, or at best because he found it rare, one is at liberty to rest on the fact that there are instances of it in the old Italian poets (we have cited one from Petrarch), and so to regard its occasional use as not only defensible on grounds of free taste, but also consistent with the Italian usage.
There is a paucity of rhymes in English as compared with Italian, and not only of the dissyllabic endings which formed the Italian rhymes, but even of the single rhymes that must pass for their substitutes. The first English Sonnet-writers, therefore, made pretty free with the Italian model. There was some effort indeed to keep more or less close to that model, and especially not to go beyond five rhymes in all in the building of the Sonnet. Instances will be found in Wyatt (1503-1542), and in Surrey (1515-1547). Surrey even has a Sonnet in which, by a freak, he makes two rhymes serve for the whole, and others in which he gets through with three. From the first, however, there was a tendency to the convenience of more numerous rhymes than the four or five allowed in Italian, and also, with or without that convenience, to the epigrammatic effect of an ending in a couplet. Surrey's Sonnets all end in rhyming couplets, and some of them have seven rhymes. Hence, at length, a laxness in the English idea of the Sonnet, which permitted any little poem of fourteen lines, rhymed anyhow, to be called by that name. Perhaps, however, two forms emerged from this confusion as normal or customary forms of the English Sonnet. One of these forms, largely exemplified in Spenser (1553 1599), is a form which finds five rhymes in all still sufficient, but does so by throwing the first twelve lines into three interlinked stanzas of four lines each, and then adding a couplet. The formula, more expressly, is A 1, 3, B 2, 4, 5, 7, C 6, 8, 9, 11, D 10, 12, E 13, 14; where the rhymes within the three
stanzas, it will be observed, are alternate, but, by the device of making the last rhyme of the first stanza begin the second, and the last of the second again begin the third, four rhymes clear all the three stanzas and prepare for the fifth of the final couplet. Take this from Spenser as an example:
"Fair Proud! now tell me why should fair be proud,
However now thereof ye little ween.
Ne any mention shall thereof remain,
Fair! be no longer proud of that shall perish;
But a still laxer form than this common Spenserian one was one to which even Surrey had helped himself, and of which there are examples in Spenser too, and others in Samuel Daniel (1562—1619). This form dispensed altogether with the interlinking of the three stanzas by rhymes common to the first and second and the second and third, and was content that the twelve lines should be three loose stanzas of alternate rhymes, connected only by a continuous meaning, and preceding the final couplet. Thus seven rhymes in all were allowed in the Sonnet, the formula being A 1, 3, B 2, 4, € 5, 7, D 6, 8, E 9, 11, F 10, 12, G 13, 14. It was of this free form of the Sonnet that Shakespeare availed himself; and all his famous Sonnets, with scarce an exception, are written in it. For example :
"No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Give warning to the world that I am fled
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
Or, if, I say, you look upon this verse
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
To all time this type of Sonnet, though not the strict Italian, will remain, consecrated by Shakespeare's great usage, a true and sufficient English type. Even while Shakespeare was alive, however, there lingered a knowledge of the stricter Italian type, and a disposition to exhibit it also in English. The Sonnets of Donne (1573-1631), specimens though they are rather of metrical intellection than of lyrical effusion, are, most of them, more after the Italian mechanism than Spenser's, and much more than Shakespeare's. They are of five rhymes, of which two, by their interlinking, sustain the first eight lines of the Sonnet, leaving three for the other six lines. On the same principle, and with much more of softness and music in them, are the Sonnets of Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649), a poet imbued with Italian influences and fond of the Sonnet. But both in Donne's Sonnets and in Drummond's, no less than in Spenser's and Shakespeare's, the sounding epigrammatic couplet at the end is still a constant feature. The English ear seems to have grown so accustomed to this ending as to require it, and it was usual to print Sonnets with these two final lines coupled together for the eye by indentation from the rest.
It was reserved mainly for Milton to emancipate the English Sonnet from this peculiarity of the final rhyming couplet, by reasserting the Italian rule that it should be optional and occasional only, while at the same time he reverted to the Italian construction in other respects. An early student of the Italian poets, he had learnt the true music of the Sonnet from Petrarch most of all, so that, when he first ventured on trials of the Sonnetform in English, he thought of it as the "Petrarchian Stanza." These first trials were made while he was still a Cambridge student, long before that "damp" fell round his path of which Wordsworth speaks as being already round it when he seized the Sonnet and the thing in his hands became a trumpet. The series of his
Sonnets, however, though beginning about 1630, extends to 1658; and most of them were those "soul-animating strains" which he blew at intervals from this instrument when other poetry was in forced abeyance from him, and he was engrossed in prose polemics. Milton's last sixteen Sonnets, indeed, with a verse or two besides, are the few occasional strains that connect, as by intermitted trumpet-blasts through twenty years, the rich minor poetry of his youth and early manhood with the greater poetry of his declining age in blindness after the Restoration.
Only one of the English Sonnets presents a termination in a rhyming couplet, though in three of the five Italian Sonnets included in the general series along with the English this liberty is taken. It may also be remarked that of the English Sonnets, which number eighteen in all, only nine, or exactly one half, are Sonnets of five rhymes; the other nine contain four rhymes only, and are constructed on the strictest Italian system of the two quatrains and the two tercets. Which of the Sonnets are fourrhymed only and which are five-rhymed, and what is the formula of each Sonnet individually, may be left to the reader's curiosity. What follows relates to the matter of the Sonnets, one by one, and the circumstances of their composition ;—
SONNET I. TO THE NIGHTINGALE.
(Editions of 1645 and 1673.)
There is no means of dating this Sonnet precisely; but it is placed first by Milton himself, and must be referred either to the close of the Cambridge period, or to some time in the Horton period. It is the Sonnet of a youth to whom the return of May brings the thought of his youth passing companionless and a sense of love-longing. There is a recollection of the superstition that he who hears the nightingale before he hears the cuckoo will woo fortunately before the year is over. The heading "To the Nightingale" is not Milton's, but has been supplied by the editors. The first lines, taken by themselves, might have suggested the heading "To a Nightingale ;" and I know of no neighbourhood where nightingales are more abundant than about Cambridge. But the rest of the Sonnet seems to imply, not that a particular
nightingale has been heard, but that the poet, looking at some "bloomy spray," judges it to be the evening haunt of some nightingale whom he would fain hear.
SONNET II.: ON HIS HAVING ARRIVED AT THE AGE OF
(Editions of 1645 and 1673; and Draft, in Milton's own hand, among the Cambridge MSS.)
Milton prints this Sonnet after his Five Italian Sonnets and Canzone, so as to make it the seventh in the general series; but it may fitly be placed second. At all events, we know its exact date. He wrote it at or about the moment when Time had "stolen on his wing" the "three-and-twentieth year" of his life; and that was on the 9th of December, 1631. He was then at Cambridge, a B.A. of three years' standing, and was looking forward to his degree of M.A., and the close of his Cambridge career, in a few months. But the occurrence of the draft of the Sonnet among the Cambridge MSS. adds other illustrative particulars. It occurs there as an insertion into the first of two drafts, in Milton's hand, of a prose letter, of some length, which he sent, or meant to send, to a friend. This friend, whose name we do not know, had remonstrated with Milton on the aimless course of merely studious life he was then leading, and on the impropriety of his continuing it instead of dedicating his talents to the Church or some other active profession. Milton's reply is a courteous acknowledgment of the interest shown by the friend in his behalf, with a defence of his conduct, and a statement of his reasons for being in no hurry to enter the Church. Though all ordinary motives conspired to urge him into that or some other profession, yet a "sacred reverence and religious advisement," principle of "not taking thought of being late, so it gave advantage to be more fit," had hitherto held him back.
may see," he adds, "that I am something suspicious of myself, " and do take notice of a certain belatedness in me, I am the bolder "to send you some of my nightward thoughts some little while "ago, because they come in not altogether unfitly, made up in a "Petrarchian stanza, which I told you of." Here, accordingly,