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SONNET XXII. SECOND SONNET TO CYRIACK SKINNER. (First printed by Phillips, at the end of his Life of Milton, in 1694'; but copy, in the hand of an amanuensis, among the Cambridge MSS.)
This touching Sonnet, the MS. copy of which is on the same leaf as the copy of the last, but in a different hand, must have been written at some little interval of time; perhaps in 1655, but certainly not later than 1656. It is a Sonnet on Milton's blindness, written, as it purports, on the third anniversary of the day from which he dated the completeness of that calamity. Its being addressed to Cyriack Skinner is a proof of the esteem which Milton felt for that friend. The tenor of the closing lines prevented its publication in 1673.
SONNET XXIII.: TO THE MEMORY OF HIS SECOND Wife. (Edition of 1673; and copy, in the hand of an amanuensis, among the Cambridge MSS.)
After some years of widowhood, Milton, still residing in Petty France, Westminster, had married, Nov. 12, 1656, at St. Mary Aldermanbury, London, his second wife, Catherine Woodcock, daughter of a Captain Woodcock, of Hackney. His wedded life with her, however, was doomed to be brief. She died in childbirth fifteen months after her marriage, and was buried at St. Margaret's, Westminster, Feb. 10, 1657-8. The infant daughter she had borne survived but about a month. Thus, in his fiftieth year, Milton was left in second widowhood, with his three young daughters by his first wife, the eldest not twelve years of age, partly depending on his charge, and partly deputed to take charge of him. There can be no sadder picture than that of the blind, stern man, in 1658, going about his vacant house, the poor children not understanding him, and half afraid of him; and whoever visits the house now may do so with that picture in his mind. For the house still stands, and may be visited-actually the "pretty garden-house in Petty France, Westminster, next door to the Lord Scudamore's, and opening into St. James's Park," which Milton occupied from 1652 to 1660; though now
not "pretty," nor a "garden-house " any longer, but sorely disguised, degraded, and blocked in, as "No. 19, York Street, Westminster." Going about in that house, or seated by himself in one of its rooms, as they may still be seen, Milton thinks much of his dead wife, far more really a partner of his heart than the first wife had been, but remembers also that first wife, the mother of his children, and wonders what may become of these children, left now with neither mother nor substitute. From his despondency, as we know, he roused himself to resume that poem of Paradise Lost which he had schemed eighteen years before. But the sense of his loss recurs, and intrudes itself into his dreams. One night his dream is strangely happy. He sees his lately dead wife, not dead, but alive, and returned to him clad all in white like one of the Saints, her face veiled, and stooping to embrace him. He wakes from his dream to find it but a dream, and his night brought back; but he commemorates the dream in a Sonnet. The reader ought to notice the full significance of the words of the Sonnet. It seems to be implied that Milton had never actually beheld his second wife with his bodily eyes, but had married her after he was blind, and with no acquaintance with her dating from before his blindness. Hence, though in his dream he sees her, it is as a radiant figure with a veiled face. He had not carried into sleep the recollection out of which the face could be formed, and could only know that love, sweetness, and goodness must have dwelt in one who had that saint-like figure.
The handwriting of the copy of this, the last of Milton's Sonnets, in the Cambridge MSS., is a peculiar one, and has been identified. It is distinctly the handwriting of the amanuensis who wrote the greater part of that original MS. of the Treatise on Christian Doctrine which Daniel Skinner was afterwards employed partly to transcribe and partly to revise and correct, and which now lies in the State Paper Office. This amanuensis must have been much employed by Milton from 1658 onwards. Milton's signature to the deed of May 1660, already mentioned (p. 305), conveying an Excise Bond for 400l. to Cyriack Skinner, is not an autograph signature, though in such a document, if in any, an autograph was to be expected. It is a vicarious signature in the hand of this same amanuensis.
"THE FIFTH ODE OF HORACE, Lib. I., ENGLISHED.”
(Edition of 1673.)
Such is the title in the Table of Contents prefixed to the volume of 1673; but the heading of the piece itself in the body of the volume is more elaborate, as follows: "The Fifth "Ode of Horace, Lib. I., Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa, "rendered almost word for word, without rhyme, according to the “Latin measure, as near as the language will permit." Still farther to call attention to the exactness of the translation, there is printed, parallel with it, on the opposite page, the original Latin of Horace, with this heading: "AD PYRRHAM. Ode V. Horatius ex Pyrrhæ illecebris tanquam e naufragio enataverat, cujus amore irretitos affirmat esse miseros." ("To PYRRHA. Ode V. Horace had escaped from the allurements of Pyrrha, as by swimming from shipwreck, and he pronounces miserable those who are ensnared by love of her.") The particular Ode on the translation of which Milton bestowed so much pains is one on which many translators have since tried their hands; but it may be doubted whether any of them has beaten Milton. His translation, if not quite word for word, is nearly so; and the rhythm he has adopted, though not answering in the least to the proper scansion of the metre of the Ode, is meant to do duty to the English ear for the metre as ordinarily read by accent only, and does so all the better because of a certain strangeness, arising from the absence of rhyme and the retention of the Latin syntax. On the whole, however, the thing is a trifle. It must have been written after 1645, as it does not appear in the edition of that year.
"NINE OF THE PSALMS DONE INTO METRE, WHEREIN ALL BUT WHAT IS IN A DIFFERENT CHARACTER ARE THE VERY WORDS OF THE TEXT, TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL."
(Edition of 1673.)
The Psalms grouped together under this heading are Psalms LXXX.-LXXXVIII. ; and the group is ushered in with the
dating "April 1648: J. M.," showing at what time they were translated.
There can be no doubt, I think, that Milton was moved to his experiment by the interest which was then felt, both in England and Scotland, and had been felt for some years, in the project of a complete new Version of the Psalms, which should supersede, for public worship, the old English Version of Sternhold and Hopkins and others, first published complete in 1562, and the Version, partly the same, that had been in use in Scotland since 1565, and was known as Lekprevik's, from the name of the printer who had published it that year in Edinburgh. In spite of competing Versions of the Psalms, or of some of them, these had remained substantially the authorized Psalters in the two countries till the meeting of the Long Parliament. But, after the meeting of that body, and especially after the Westminster Assembly had been convoked to aid it in religious matters (July 1643), and the English and Scots had come to a kind of understanding that there should be a conformity between the two countries on the basis of a common Confession of Faith, common forms of worship, and common Church-government, a revision or renovation of the Psalter had been much discussed. It was one of those matters on which the Westminster Assembly were especially required to deliberate and report to the Parliament. Hence a considerable activity in urging the claims of versions already made, either in print or in manuscript, by persons recently dead or still living. There was no chance, indeed, for the Version purporting to be King James's, but mainly done, under his auspices, by Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, afterwards Earl of Stirling, which had been published at Oxford in 1631, and which Charles, out of respect to his father, had tried hard to force upon Scotland. But George Withers, the Puritan poet, had published a Translation (1632); and, not to speak of other Versions, acknowledged or anonymous, there was one by no less public a person in England than the pious Francis Rous, member of the Long Parliament for Truro, and himself a lay-member of the Westminster Assembly (1st edit. 1641, 2nd 1643); while in Scotland it was known that Versions had been made, or were being made, by Mr. Zachary Boyd, one of the ministers of Glasgow, and by Sir William Mure,
Knight, of Rowallan. On the whole, Rous's Version had most friends; and a revised edition of it, carefully made, was recommended by the Westminster Assembly to the Parliament (Nov. 1645). With this Version, by one of themselves, the Commons were well satisfied; and it was again printed in its revised form in 1646. But, as the Lords, or some of them, had taken up a rival Version, "close and proper to the Hebrew," by a Mr. William Barton, M.A. of Oxford (published in 1644), they were slow to acquiesce in the preference for Rous; and, notwithstanding much urging of the subject by the Commons, and also by the Assembly, it stood over unsettled-Rous's Version generally accepted, indeed, by the English Puritans, and used by them as having had a kind of public sanction, but that sanction not so absolute but that English worship could remain at liberty in the matter of a Psalter, and could use Barton's or any other at hand, or wait for the advent of Tate and Brady (1696). In Scotland, however, there was a compensation for Rous. The recommendation of the Westminster Assembly had had weight with the General Assemblies of the Scottish Church and with the Scottish Parliament; and, after a fresh consideration of the subject by these bodies, and much revision and correction, in the course of which Mr. Zachary Boyd's native labours were again heard of, a Version based on Rous's was published in Edinburgh in 1650, as the one Version authorized by the General Assembly and by Parliament to be sung in congregations and in families. To this day the Version holds its place in Scotland; and, from long use, and its own simple and deep, if rude, merits, a kind of sacredness is attached to it in the minds both of the clergy and of the people.
That Milton, in his experiment in April 1648, had some view to the controversy then going on as to the Psalter that should be used in England, and that he may even have thought that a better Psalter might be provided than either Rous's or Barton's, is rendered the likelier by the form which his experiment took. The measure he uses for all the Nine Psalms chosen is, like Rous's, the ordinary Service metre, of eights and sixes, which people were most accustomed to sing, and to which most Psalm tunes had been set; the only difference, in this respect, being that Milton rhymes the first and third lines, while Rous rhymes only