« ZurückWeiter »
follows the Sonnet on which we are now commenting. been written recently, probably on his last birthday, Dec. 9, 1631; he had mentioned it to his friend in conversation; and now he sends him a copy of it. Whatever his friend thought of it, we read it now with admiration.
SONNETS III-VII.: FIVE ITALIAN SONNETS, WITH AN
(Editions of 1645 and 1673.)
These Italian pieces, which precede Sonnet II. in Milton's own editions, form a little group by themselves. They relate the story of Milton's love for some Italian lady, beautiful, dark-haired, accomplished, and fascinating by her grace and her powers of singing. In one of the Sonnets Charles Diodati is addressed as confidant, and is told that his stubborn friend, who had laughed at love hitherto, has at length yielded, and that his conqueress is not a fair-haired English maiden, but one of Diodati's own countrywomen, a foreign beauty, of stately carriage, and with eyes of a splendid black. In three others the lady herself is addressed directly; and in one, and in the Canzone, Milton excuses himself for writing in Italian, saying that this is the language of love, and that in which his lady delights.Where then, in Milton's life, are the Sonnets and Canzone, and the incident which they chronicle, to be dated? Towards determining this, the fact that one of the Sonnets is addressed to Diodati is of some consequence. Diodati died in the summer of 1638, shortly after Milton set out on his Italian journey, though Milton did not know the fact till that journey was near its close and he was on his way home. Therefore, the Sonnets, if they are one series and refer to the same incident (which there is no reason to doubt), must have been written during Milton's stay in Italy, before he had heard the sad news of Diodati's death, and while he was still fancying him alive and well in England; or else they must have been written at some earlier period, before the visit to Italy, and while Diodati and Milton were together or within reach of each other in England itself. The first supposition has been generally adopted, and there is much in its favour. There is an Italian air about
the Sonnets; they breathe of Italy. They have been referred therefore, by common consent, to the time of Milton's Italian journey (1638-9). Some time and some where during that journey, it is supposed, he met the foreign beauty who captivated him. Warton imagines that she may have been the celebrated singer Leonora, whom Milton heard at Rome, and to whom he addressed three pieces of complimentary Latin verse (see them among the Latin Poems, and the Introduction to them). There is no real ground for the fancy. The lady, whoever she was, is described, in the first Sonnet, as a native of the Vale of the Reno, in the north of the Papal States, between Bologna and Ferrara. Now Milton visited this part of Italy in 1639, or towards the end of his tour, when, after having returned from Naples, and paid second visits, of two months each, to Rome and Florence, he passed through Bologna and Ferrara on his way to Venice and homewards. But the lady, though a Bolognese, may have been met in Venice, or perhaps even in Florence or Rome, before Milton had passed through Bologna. On the supposition that it was somewhere in Italy that he did meet her, the address to Diodati in one of the Sonnets must be regarded as a poetic apostrophe, by which Milton, desiring a confidant for his secret, introduced the name of the dearest of his friends left at home in England, himself of Italian name and descent. It was as if he said, "How surprised Diodati will be when he hears this!" little knowing that Diodati was then dead.—After all, however, may not the Italian Sonnets and Canzone have been written in England before the Italian journey, and even a good while before it? May not Milton, some time after he had left Cambridge, have met, in English society, the Bolognese beauty who charmed him? May not his attempts in Italian have been a tribute to her foreign loveliness, and to the sweetness of the language as heard from her lips,—an obedience even to some such little saying of hers as the Canzone seems to record? Would not the appeal to Diodati in the affair have then been the most natural thing in the world? On the whole, I still think the former supposition the likelier. I would rather not disturb the belief that the Sonnets and Canzone were written during the Italian journey, and that the vision of the Bolognese beauty was an incident of that journey. Yet the alternative
supposition is tenable, and might be supported. In the second of the Sonnets and in the Canzone there are expressions which might be construed in its favour. Nor must the fact be concealed that Italian critics find evidence in all the pieces of a less perfect knowledge of Italian than we should suppose Milton to have had after a year or more of residence in Italy. My friend Signor Saffi, whom I consulted on the subject in the year 1858, obliged me with a verdict which is perhaps as kindly as any an Italian could give. "As regards the form of the language," he wrote, "there
are here and there irregularities of idiom and grammar, and metaphors which remind one of the false literary taste prevalent "in Italy when Milton visited that country; although such a "defect appears, in the English imitator, modified by the fresh66 ness of his native genius. The measure of the verse is generally
correct, nay, more than this, musical; and one feels, in perusing "these poems, that the mind of the young aspiring poet had, "from Petrarch to Tasso, listened attentively to the gentlest notes "of the Italian Muse, though unable to reproduce them fully in a "form of his own."
SONNET VIII.; "WHEN THE ASSAULT WAS INTENDED
(Editions of 1645 and 1673; and earlier copy, in the hand of an amanuensis, but with title in Milton's own hand, among the Cambridge MSS.)
This Sonnet, the first of those which refer to English public affairs, was written in November 1642, and probably on Saturday the 12th of that month. The Civil War had then begun; and Milton, already known as a vehement Anti-Episcopal pamphleteer and Parliamentarian, was living, with two young nephews whom he was educating, in his house in Aldersgate Street, a suburban thoroughfare just beyond one of the city gates of London. After some of the first actions of the war, including the indecisive Battle of Edgehill (Oct. 23), the King's army, advancing out of the Midlands, with the King and Prince Rupert present in it, had come as near to London as Hounslow and Brentford, and was threatening a farther marc to crush the Londoners and the Parliament at once. They were at their nearest on Saturday
the 12th of November; and all that day and the next there was immense excitement in London in expectation of an assault— chains put up across streets, houses barred, &c. It was not till the evening of the 13th that the citizens were reassured by the retreat of the King's army, which had been checked from a closer advance by a rapid march-out of the Trained Bands under Essex and Skippon. Milton, we are to fancy, had shared the common alarm. His was one of the houses which, if the Cavaliers had been let loose, it would have given them particular pleasure to sack. Knowing this, the only precaution he takes is, half in jest, and yet perhaps with some anxiety, to write a Sonnet addressed to the imaginary Royalist Captain, Colonel, or Knight, who may command the Aldersgate Street sacking party. "On his dore when ye citty expected an assault" is the original heading of the Sonnet in the copy of it, by an amanuensis, among the Cambridge MSS., as if the Sonnet had actually been pasted or nailed up on the outside of Milton's door. This title was afterwards deleted by Milton himself, and the other title substituted in his own hand; but the Sonnet appeared without any title at all in the editions of 1645 and 1673.
SONNET IX.: TO A LADY.
(Editions of 1645 and 1673; and Draft, in Milton's own hand, among
This Sonnet was left untitled by Milton: the title has been supplied by the editors. The date, almost certainly, was 1644; but who the lady was that is addressed is unknown. A certain Miss Davis has been suspected, the possibility of a marriage with whom Milton is said, by his nephew Phillips, to have contemplated after his desertion by his first wife had driven him to thoughts of divorce. But this is mere conjecture.
SONNET X.: "TO THE LADY MARGARET Ley." (Editions of 1645 and 1673; and Draft, in Milton's own hand, among the Cambridge MSS.)
This Sonnet must have been written in 1644 or 1645; and the lady addressed was Lady Margaret Ley, one of the daughters of James Ley, first Earl of Marlborough, a nobleman of whom
there still remained a respectful recollection in England. Born in 1552, he had been eminent as a lawyer before Queen Elizabeth's death; and, after a long career as Knight, Baronet, and Judge, he had been raised by James to the great office of Lord High Treasurer of England in 1624, and, at the same time, to a peerage as Baron Ley of Ley in Devonshire. The higher dignity of the Earldom of Marlborough was conferred on him by Charles in 1626-7, when he was seventyfour years of age. In 1628 he had been removed from the High Treasurership to the less laborious office of President of the Council, ostensibly on account of his old age, but really, it was thought, because he was not sufficiently compliant with the policy of Charles and Buckingham. He died in March 1628-9, immediately after the dissolution of Charles's Third Parliament, and, as the Sonnet hints, his death was believed to have been hastened by political anxiety at that crisis. He left three sons; the eldest of whom, Henry, succeeded him in the Earldom, but, dying in 1638, transmitted it to his son, James Ley, third Earl of Marlborough, who attained to unusual distinction by his services to the King in the Civil War, and by his various abilities. Among the surviving aunts of this young nobleman, and herself probably somewhat past her youth, was the Lady Margaret of the Sonnet. She had married a Captain Hobson, from the Isle of Wight; and both she and her husband seem to have taken the Parliamentarian side. They resided in London, and Milton had become acquainted with them. His nephew and biographer Phillips expressly says that, after his desertion by hist first wife in 1643, Milton "made it his chief diversion now and then of an evening to visit the Lady Margaret Ley," adding, "This "lady, being a woman of great wit and ingenuity, had a particular "honour for him, and took much delight in his company, as "likewise Captain Hobson, her husband, a very accomplished "gentleman." Milton's compliment to her in the Sonnet is that she was a true daughter of her liberal father. Her political and religious opinions probably agreed with Milton's. This is the latest of the Sonnets printed in the edition of 1645, and it is there printed without a heading. The heading is from the Cambridge draft.