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The next, "To the Same," is of a higher tone: he here speaks of his blindness, and his fortitude under it.
The twenty-third, and last, is, "On his deceased wife," his second wife the daughter of Captain Woodcock, about 1656: it is in the form of a vision, and is very poetical and plaintive.
As to the Italian Sonnets, which follow the first, they have received the praises of the critics of that poetical country. Another English poet has latterly distinguished himself still more in the same way, Mr. Mathias, who resided the last twenty years at Naples, and died there in August, or the end of July, 1835*.
I must confess that more poetry might have been introduced into these Sonnets than our immortal bard has effected: I think that they are not equal in sublimity to Dante; and certainly have little similitude to the tenderness, harmony, and soft and plaintive imagery of Petrarch. Indeed our language will scarcely admit the softness of the Italian tones; but Wordsworth has shown what rich and harmonious poetry the legitimate sonnet will admit even in our language; and the late lamented Mrs. Hemans has done the same, though in a different style. Charlotte Smith's Sonnets excel in a soft melancholy; and T. Warton's are rich in description, and classical in expression+.
But Dyer's collection will prove that there are many good sonnets by several modern authors, as Edwards, Bamfylde, Bowles, Kirke White, Leyden : but one I must especially quote; because it is by the last editor of Milton's poems, the Rev. John Mitford, of Benhall, in Suffolk; a man of great genius, great learning, and great taste, and an excellent prose writer as well as poet. It comes from a note to his "Life of Milton," p. xix.
Rise, Genoa, rise in beauty from the sea:
Old Doria's blood is flowing in thy veins :
Hang up thy gorgeous canopy, thou sun!
Like silver in the never-dying beam:
Nor her long age of conquest seem a dream.
In Milton's Sonnets there is nothing of the flow and excited temperament of "Lycidas:" the reiteration of the rhyme seems in general to embarrass and impede the author; the words are sometimes forced into their places: it seems as if the writer was resolved to rely solely on the strength or elevation of the thought: neither have they any imagination, except the last; nor any rural pictures.
This is a less favourable view of these Sonnets than I have been accustomed hitherto to take; but it arises from a still more close and analytical dissection of them, or perhaps from a transient state of gloom and spleen in myself. I will never admit that the sonnet is not capable of every sort of sweetness and poetical spirit; but its shortness is some impediment to the gradual elevation to grand or passionate strains: it has not
Ample room and verge enough.
Though Milton's single images are commonly given with extraordinary compression, yet the multitude of them is inconsistent with the limits of the sonnet: the
* See "Athenæum," August 22, 1835.
+ See Dyer's "Specimens of English Sonnets," 1833. This chronological and critical series of sonnets has been selected in concurrence with the opinions which I ventured to express to the editor. It appears to me an instructive gradation of specimens, and ought to be studied by every lover of English poetry with great attention: it shows the progress of language and thought, and proves that the genuine character of poetry is always the same. How little difference is there between the language and sentiment and harmony of Shakspeare, and those of the present day! The high intellect and sensibility of human nature are always the same.
power of the web depends on its combination and extension. The poet scorns all prettiness or littleness: I do not wonder, therefore, that in these short compositions he has not hit the popular taste: I am rather surprised, that, fond as he was of the Italian poets, he did not here catch more of their manner; at least of the solemn and sombre inspiration of Dante, if not of the amatory tenderness of Petrarch.
Loftiness of understanding, and the resolution of a bold, virtuous, strong, and uncompromising heart, the bard had at all times; they were inseparable from his nature but I persevere in the conviction, that during that long period of his middle life, when he was engaged in political controversy and state affairs, the fire and tone of the muse were suppressed, and partly forgotten. Mighty poet as he was, I am sure that he would have been still greater if he had never engaged in politics: these politics weighed down and stifled all the romantic predilections and golden arrays of his youthful taste and enthusiastic imagination: chivalry was his early delight, and how could chivalry and democracy co-exist?
Such are the inconsistencies of the most highly endowed and greatest of men! for what man has been greater or more virtuous than Milton? Though the idle pomps and riches of the world were not with him,-empty possessions which he scorned; yet how much greater was he than kings and heroes? In his solitary study, working out his glorious fables by the midnight lamp, how infinitely more exalted than in his office of secretary; or than if he had been performing the acts of Cromwell and Fairfax, the themes of his majestic muse!
TO THE NIGHTINGALE.
O NIGHTINGALE, that on yon bloomy spray
First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill b,
Foretell my hopeless doom in some grove nigh;
Whether the Muse or Love call thee his mate,
DONNA legiadra, il cui bel nome honora
a While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
Because the nightingale is supposed to begin singing in April.-T. WARTON.
b First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill, &c.
That is, if they happen to be heard before the cuckoo, it is lucky for the lover. Milton laments afterwards, that hitherto the nightingale had not preceded the cuckoo as she ought had always sung too late, that is, after the cuckoo.-T. WARTON.
Of their train am I.
This sonnet has been commended rather more than it deserves: the nightingale is a common theme of poets, and has been often better sung.
Che dolcemente mostra si di fuora
E i don', che son d' amor saette ed arco,
Che mover possa duro alpestre legno,
Che 'l disio amoroso al cuor s' invecchi.
QUAL in colle aspro, al imbrunir di sera
Cosi Amor meco insù la lingua snella
RIDONSI donne e giovani amorosi
M'accostandosi attorno, e perche scrivi,
Spuntati ad hor, ad hor a la tua chioma
Canzon dirotti, e tu per me rispondi
d It is from Petrarch, that Milton mixes the canzone with the sonetto. Dante regarded the canzone as the most perfect species of lyric composition, "Della Volg. Eloqu." c. iv. but, for the canzone, he allows more laxity than for the sonnet. He says, when the song is written on a grave or tragic subject, it is denominated canzone; and when on a comic, cantilena, as diminutive.-T. WARTON.
DIODATI, e te 'l dirò con maraviglia,
Quel ritroso io ch' amor spreggiar soléa
E de suoi lacci spesso mi ridéa
Gia caddi, ov' huom dabben talhor s' impiglia.
M' abbaglian sì, ma sotto novo idea
E degli occhi suoi auventa si gran fuoco
PER certo i bei vostr' occhi, Donna mia
Da quel lato si spinge, ove mi duole,
Scosso mi il petto, e poi n' uscendo poco
GIOVANE piano, e semplicetto amante
L' hebbi fedele, intrepido, costante,
e Portamenti alti honesti.
So before "Son." iii. 8. "Vezzosamente altera." Portamento expresses the lofty dignified deportment, by which the Italian poets constantly describe female beauty; and which is strikingly characteristic of the composed majestic carriage of the Italian ladies, either as contrasted with the liveliness of the French, or the timid delicacy of the English.-T. WARTON.
f Colma di rose.
The forced thoughts at the close of this sonnet are intolerable: the land of conceit, and was infected by writing in its language. native Thames for Arno, "Son." iii. 9.
Canto, dal mio buon popol non inteso,
but he was now in He had changed his
Tanto del forse, e d' invidia sicuro,
Sol troverete in tal parte men duro,
ON HIS BEING ARRIVED TO THE AGE OF TWENTY-THREE.
How soon hath Time h, the subtle thief of youth,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven ;
As ever in my great Task-master's eye.
8 L'insanabil ago.
Milton had a natural severity of mind. For love-verses, his Italian sonnets have a remarkable air of gravity and dignity: they are free from the metaphysics of Petrarch, and are more in the manner of Dante: yet he calls his seventh sonnet, in a letter printed from the Cambridge manuscript by Birch, a composition in the Petrarchian stanza. In 1762, the late Mr. Thomas Hollis examined the Laurentian library at Florence, for six Italian sonnets of Milton, addressed to his friend Chimentelli; and for other Italian and Latin compositions and various original letters, said to be remaining in manuscript at Florence he searched also for an original bust in Marble of Milton, supposed to be somewhere in that city but he was unsuccessful in his curious inquiries.-T. WARTON. This bust of Milton is now in England: it is beautifully carved, small, and in a very architectural case of mahogany. The likeness shows both the features and the age of the poet.-J. B.
Mr. Hayley justly considers this sonnet as a very spirited and singular sketch of the poet's own character.-TODD.
h How soon hath time, &c.
This sonnet was written at Cambridge in 1631, and sent in the following letter to a friend, who had importuned our author to take orders :
"Sir,-Besides that, in sundry other respects, I must acknowledge me to profit by you whenever we meet; you are often to me, and were yesterday especially, as good a watchman to admonish that the hours of the night pass on (for so I call my life, as yet obscure and unserviceable to mankind), and that the day with me is at hand, wherein Christ commands all to labour while there is light which because I am persuaded you do to no other purpose, than out of a true desire that God should be honoured in every one, I therefore think myself bound, though unaskt, to give you account, as oft as occasion is, of this my tardy moving, according to the precept of my conscience, which I firmly trust is not without God. Yet now I will not streine for any set apologie, but only refere myself to what my mind shall have at any time, to declare herself at her best ease. But if you think as you said, that too much love of learning is in fault, and that I have given up myself to dreame away my years in the arms of a studious retirement, like Endymion with the Moone, as the tale of Latmus goes; yet consider, that if it were no more than the meer love of learning,