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Of sad Electra's poet' had the power
To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare.
TO A VIRTUOUS YOUNG LADY.
LADY, that in the prime of earliest youth
To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light,
Therefore be sure,
Passes to bliss at the mid hour of night,
Hast gain'd thy entrance, Virgin wise and pure.
TO THE LADY MARGARET LEY.
DAUGHTER to that good earl," once president
As a subject, Milton was too conscious that his situation was precarious, and that his seditious tracts had forfeited all pretensions to his sovereign's mercy. Mr. Bowle here refers us to Pliny, 1. vii. c. 29:-"Alexander Magnus Pindari vatis, familia penatibusque jussit parci, cum Thebas caperet;" and to the old commentator on Spenser's "Pastorals," who relates this incident more at large, and where it might have first struck Milton, as a great reader of Spenser. Ælian says, that in this havoc, Alexander honoured the family of Pindar, and suffered his house alone to stand untouched and entire; having killed 90,000 Thebans, and taken 30,000 prisoners.— T. WARTON.
iOf sad Electra's poet, &c.
Plutarch relates, that when the Lacedemonian general Lysander took Athens, it was proposed in a council of war entirely to rase the city and convert its site into a desert: but during the debate, at a banquet of the chief officers, a certain Phocian sung some fine anastrophies from a chorus of the "Electra" of Euripides; which so affected the hearers, that they declared it an unworthy act, to reduce a place, so celebrated for the production of illustrious men, to total ruin and desolation. The lines of Euripides are at ver. 168. It appears, however, that Lysander ordered the walls and fortifications to be demolished. By the epithet "sad," Milton denominates the pathetic character of Euripides. "Repeated" signifies recited. But it has been ingeniously suggested, that the epithet "sad" belongs to Electra, who very often so calls herself in Euripides's play; and says, that all the city gave her the same appellation.-T. WARTON. Electra had been before denominated "sad" by Drummond, in his "Elegy on Prince Henry's death:”—
And sad Electra's sisters, who still weepe.
This is one of Milton's best Sonnets, as Mr. Warton observes. It was written in 1642, when the king's army was arrived at Brentford, and had thrown the whole city into consternation.-TODD.
Rom. v. 5.-Hurd.
And hope that reaps not shame.
1 When the bridegroom with his feastful friends. "Feastful" is an epithet in Spenser. He alludes to the midnight feasting of the Jews before the consummation of marriage.-T. WARTON.
m Daughter to that good earl.
She was the daughter of Sir James Ley, whose singular learning and abilities raised
Who lived in both, unstain'd with gold or fee,
Kill'd with report that old man eloquent."
ON THE DETRACTION WHICH FOLLOWED UPON MY WRITING
A BOOK was writ of late call'd "Tetrachordon," P
Numbering good intellects; now seldom pored on.
him through all the great posts of the law, till he came to be made Earl of Marlborough, and Lord High Treasurer, and Lord President of the Council to King James I. He died in an advanced age; and Milton attributes his death to "the breaking of the parliament;" and it is true that the parliament was dissolved the 10th of March, 1628-9, and he died on the 14th of the same month. He left several sons and daughters; and the Lady Margaret was married to Captain Hobson, of the Isle of Wight. It appears, from the accounts of Milton's life, that in 1643 he used frequently to visit this lady and her husband; about which time we may suppose this Sonnet to have been composed.— NEWTON.
n Kill'd with report that old man eloquent.
Isocrates, the orator. The victory was gained by Philip of Macedon over the Athenians.-T. WARTON.
o Dr. Johnson says of this and the next Sonnet, that "the first is contemptible, and the second not excellent;" and yet he had unfairly selected the contemptible Sonnet as a specimen, in his Dictionary, of this species of verse in English. But Milton wrote this Sonnet in sport.-TODD.
After this proved fact, who can doubt Johnson's malignity and dishonesty towards Milton?
PA book was writ of late call'd Tetrachordon.
This elaborate discussion, unworthy in many respects of Milton, and in which much acuteness of argument and comprehension of reading were idly thrown away, was received with contempt, or rather ridicule, as we learn from Howell's "Letters." A better proof that it was treated with neglect is, that it was attacked by two nameless and obscure writers only; one of whom Milton calls, "a serving-man turned solicitor." Our author's divorce was on Platonic principles: he held, that disagreement of mind was a better cause of separation than adultery or frigidity: here was a fair opening for the laughers. This and the following Sonnet were written soon after 1645. For this doctrine Milton was summoned before the lords: but they not approving his accusers, the presbyterian clergy, or thinking the business too speculative, he was quickly dismissed. On this occasion Milton commenced hostilities against the presbyterians. He illustrates his own system in this line of "Par. Lost," b. ix. 372. "Go; for thy stay, not free, absents thee more." Milton wished he had not written this work in English. This is observed by Mr. Bowle, who points out the following proof, in the "Defensio Secunda:"-" Vellem hoc tantum, sermone vernaculo me non scripsisse: non enim in vernas lectores incidissem, quibus solenne est sua bona ignorare, aliorum mala irridere." This was one of Milton's books published in consequence of his divorce [separation] from his first wife. "Tetrachordon" signifies expositions on the four chief places in Scripture which mention marriage or nullities in marriage.-T. Warton.
Cries the stall-reader, Bless us! what a word on
Stand spelling false, while one might walk to Mile-
Those rugged names to our like mouths grow sleek,
When thou taught'st Cambridge, and king Edward, Greek.
ON THE SAME.
I DID but prompt the age to quit their clogs,
When straight a barbarous noise environs me
As when those hinds" that were transform'd to frogs
Which after held the sun and moon in fee.
a Colkitto, or Macdonnel, or Galasp.
Milton is here collecting, from his hatred to the Scots, what he thinks Scottish names of an ill sound. "Colkitto" and "Macdonnel," are one and the same person; a brave officer on the royal side, an Irishman of the Antrim family, who served under Montrose: the Macdonalds of that family are styled, by way of distinction, "Mac Colleittok," i. e. descendants of lame Colin. "Galasp" is a Scottish writer against the independents; for whom see Milton's verses "On the Forcers of Conscience," &c. He is George Gillespie, one of the Scotch members of the assembly of divines, as his name is subscribed to their letter to the Belgic, French, and Helvetian churches, dated 1643; in which they pray, "that these three nations may be joined as one stick in the hands of the Lord: that all mountains may become plains before them and us; that then all who now see the plummet in our hands, may also behold the top-stone set upon the head of the Lord's house among us, and may help us with shouting to cry, Grace, grace to it." Rushw. p. 371. Such was the rhetoric of these reformers of reformation!-T. WARTON.
Sir John Cheek.
Or Cheke he was the first professor of the Greek tongue in the university of Cambridge, and was highly instrumental in bringing that language into repute, and restoring the original pronunciation of it; though with great opposition from the patrons of ignorance and popery, and especially from Gardiner, bishop of Winchester and chancellor of the university. He was afterwards made one of the tutors to Edward VI. See his Life by Strype, or in the "Biographia Britannica."-NEWTON.
The preceding Sonnet is evidently of a ludicrous, the present of a more contemptuous cast. There is a portrait of the celebrated Spanish poet, Lopez de Vega, painted when he was young; surrounded by dogs, monkeys, and other monsters, and writing in the midst of them, without attending to their noise. It is not improbable that Milton might have seen, or heard of, this curious picture of his contemporary; and be led, in consequence, to describe so minutely, in this Sonnet, "the barbarous noise that environed him."-TODD.
t When straight a barbarous noise, &c. Milton was violently censured by the presbyterian clergy for his "Tetrachordon," and other tracts of that tendency.-T. WARTON.
u As when those hinds, &c.
The fable of the Lycian clowns changed into frogs is related by Ovid, "Met." vi. fab. 4: and the poet, in saying "Which after held the sun and moon in fee," intimates the good hopes which he had of himself, and his expectations of making a considerable figure in the world.-NEWTON.
That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
TO MR. H. LAWES, ON THE PUBLISHING HIS AIRS.
HARRY, whose tuneful and well-measured song
That with smooth air couldst humour best our tongue.
▾ When truth would set them free.
Compare St. John, viii. 32. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."-TODD.
w Loss of blood.
The latter part of this Sonnet is very fine, and contains a most important political truth.
* With Midas ears, committing short and long.
"Committing" is a Latinism, as Mr. Warton observes; and, as Mr. Richardson had remarked, conveys with it the idea of offending against quantity and harmony.-TODD. y Exempts thee from the throng. "Secernunt populo."-RICHARDSON.
Horace, "Od." 1. i. 32.
z Thou shalt be writ the man.
This also is in the style of Horace, "Od." 1. vi. 1:
Scriberis Vario fortis, et hostium
a Or story.
"The story of Ariadne set by him to musiek." This is a note in the margin of this Sonnet, as it stands prefixed to " Choice Psalms put into musick by Henry and William Lawes, Lond. for H. Moseley, 1648." The inscription is there, "To my friend Mr. Henry Lawes."-T. WARTON.
b Than his Casella, &c.
Dante, on his arrival in Purgatory, sees a vessel approaching the shore, freighted with souls under the conduct of an angel, to be cleansed from their sins, and made fit for Paradise: when they are disembarked, the poet recognises in the crowd his old friend Casella the musician. The interview is strikingly imagined, and, in the course of an affectionate dialogue, the poet requests a soothing air; and Casella sings, with the most ravishing sweetness, Dante's second Canzone. By "milder shades," our author means, shades comparatively much less horrible than those which Dante describes in the "Inferno."-T. WARTON.
See a notice of Henry Lawes in the notes prefixed to "Comus."
ON THE RELIGIOUS MEMORY OF MRS. CATHARINE THOMSON,
WHEN Faith and Love, which parted from thee never,
Of death, call'd life; which us from life doth sever.
TO THE LORD GENERAL FAIRFAX.
FAIRFAX, whose name in arms through Europe rings,
Victory home, though new rebellions raise
© SONNET XIV.-Mrs. Catharine Thomson.
I find in the accounts of Milton's life, that when he was first made Latin Secretary, he lodged at one Thomson's, next door to the Bull-head tavern at Charing-cross. This Mrs. Thomson was in all probability one of that family.-NEWTON.
a Stay'd not behind, nor in the grave were trod.
"Nor in the grave were trod," is a beautiful periphrasis for "good deeds forgotten at her death," and a happy improvement of the original line in the manuscript ;"Straight follow'd the path that saints have trod.”—T. WARTON.
e With her golden rod.
Perhaps from the golden reed in the Apocalypse.-T. WARTON.
For obvious political reasons, this Sonnet, the two following, and the two to Cyriack Skinner, were not inserted in the edition of 1673; they were first printed at the end of Philips's Life of Milton prefixed to the English version of his public letters, 1694. They are quoted by Toland in his Life of Milton, 1698, p. 24, 34, 35. Tonson omitted them in his editions of 1695, 1705; but growing less offensive by time, they appear in his edition of 1713. The Cambridge manuscript happily corrects many of their vitiated readings. They were the favourites of the republicans long after the Restoration: it was some consolation to an exterminated party to have such good poetry remaining on their side of the question. These five Sonnets, being frequently transcribed, or repeated from memory, became extremely incorrect: their faults were implicitly preserved by Tonson, and afterwards continued without examination by Tickell and Fenton. This Sonnet, as appears from Milton's manuscript, was addressed to Fairfax at the siege of Colchester, 1648.-T. WARTON.
* Daunt remotest kings.
Who dreaded the example of England, that their monarchies would be turned into republics.-T. WARTON.