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Dante shall give Fame leave to set thee higher
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,
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."
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.
d 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 thee the path that saints have trod."-T. WARTON.
• With her golden rod.
Perhaps from the golden reed in the Apocalypse.-T. Warton.
f 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, pp. 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
And all her jealous monarchs with amaze
Victory home, though new rebellions raise
Their hydra heads, and the false North displays
(For what can war but endless war still breed?)
TO THE LORD GENERAL CROMWELL.
CROMWELL, Our chief of men, who through a cloud,
Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
To peace and truth thy glorious way hast plough'd,
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 transscribed, 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.
8 Daunt remotest kings.
Who dreaded the example of England, that their monarchies would be turned into republics.-T. WARTON.
h Her broken league.
Because the English parliament held, that the Scotch had broken their covenant, by Hamilton's march into England.-HURD.
i To imp their serpent wings.
In falconry, to imp a feather in a hawk's wing, is to add a new piece to a mutilated stump. From the Saxon impan, to ingraft.-T. WARTON.
Of publick fraud.
The presbyterian committees and sub-committees. The grievance so much complained of by Milton in his "History of England." "Publick fraud" is opposed to "publick faith," the security given by the parliament to the city contributions for carrying on the war.-WARBURTON.
k Written in 1652. The prostitution of Milton's Muse to the celebration of Cromwell, was as inconsistent and unworthy, as that this enemy to kings, to ancient magnificence, and to all that is venerable and majestic, should have been buried in the chapel of Henry VII.; but there is great dignity both of sentiment and expression in this Sonnet: and, unfortunately, the close is an anticlimax to both. After a long flow of perspicuous and nervous language, the unexpected pause at "Worcester's laureat wreath," is very emphatical and has a striking effect.-T. WARTON.
A "cloud of war -NEWTON.
1 Not of war only.
is a classical expression: "Nubem belli," Virg. "En." x. 809.
m Crowned Fortune.
His malignity to kings aided his imagination in the expression of this sublime sentiment.-HURD.
Hast rear'd God's trophies, and his work pursued;
And Worcester's laureat wreath o. Yet much remains
TO SIR HENRY VANE THE YOUNGER.
VANE, young in years, but in sage counsel old,
Than whom a better senator ne'er held
n While Darwen stream.
The Darwen, or Derwen, is a small river near Preston in Lancashire; and there Cromwell routed the Scotch army under Duke Hamilton in August 1648. The battles of Dunbar and Worcester are too well known to be particularised; both fought on the memorable 3rd of September, the one in 1650, and the other in 1651.-NEWTON.
• And Worcester's laureat wreath.
This seems pretty, but is inexact in this place. However, the expression alludes to what Cromwell said of his success at Worcester, that it was his "crowning mercy."—HURD. This hemistitch originally stood, "And twenty battles more." "Such are often our first thoughts in a fine passage. I take it, that one of the essential beauties of the Sonnet is often to carry the pauses into the middle of the lines. Of this our author has given many striking examples, and here we discern the writer whose ear was tuned to blank verse.-T. WARton. P Seculur chains.
The ministers moved Cromwell to lend the secular arm to suppress sectaries. WARBURton. Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw.
Hence it appears that this Sonnet was written about May 1652. By "hireling wolves," he means the presbyterian clergy, who possessed the revenues of the parochial benefices on the old constitution, and whose conformity he supposes to be founded altogether on motives of emolument. There was now no end of innovation and reformation. In 1649, it was proposed in parliament to abolish tithes, as Jewish and antichristian, and as they were authorised only by the ceremonial law of Moses, which was abrogated by the gospel : but as the proposal tended to endanger lay-impropriations, the notion of their divine right was allowed to have some weight, and the business was postponed. This was an argument in which Selden had abused his great learning. Milton's party were of opinion, that as every parish should elect, so it should respectively sustain, its own minister by public contribution: others proposed to throw the tithes of the whole kingdom into one common stock, and to distribute them according to the size of the parishes; some of the independents urged, that Christ's ministers should have no settled property at all, but be like the apostles, who were sent out to preach without staff or scrip, without common necessaries; to whom Christ said, "Lacked ye anything?" A succession of miracles was therefore to be worked, to prevent the saints from starving. Milton's praise of Cromwell may be thought inconsistent with that zeal which he professed for liberty: for Cromwell's assumption of the protectorate, even if we allow the lawfulness of the rebellion, was palpably a violent usurpation of power over the rights of the nation, and was reprobated even by the republican party. Milton, however, in various parts of the "Defensio Secunda," gives excellent admonitions to Cromwell, and with great spirit, freedom, and eloquence, not to abuse his new authority; yet not without an intermixture of the grossest adulation.-T. WARTON. r Perhaps written about the time of the last, having the same tendency. Sir Henry Vane the younger was the chief of the independents, and therefore Milton's friend he was the contriver of the solemn league and covenant: he was an eccentric character, in an age of eccentric characters. In religion the most fantastic of all enthusiasts, and a weak writer, he was a judicious and sagacious politician : the warmth of his zeal never misled his public
The helm of Rome, when gowns, not arms, repell'd
The drift of hollow states hard to be spell'd;
Both spiritual power and civil, what each means,
What severs each, thou hast learn'd, which few have done :
Therefore on thy firm hand Religion leans
ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN PIEMONT'.
AVENGE, O Lord, thy slaughter'd saints, whose bones Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold; Ev'n them who kept thy truth so pure of old, When all our fathers worship'd stocks and stones", measures: he was a knight-errant in everything but affairs of state. bishop Burnet in vain attempted to penetrate the darkness of his creed. He held, that the devils and the damned would be saved; he believed himself the person delegated by God to reign over the saints upon earth for a thousand years. His principles founded a sect called the Vanists. On the whole, no single man ever exhibited such a medley of fanaticism and dissimulation, solid abilities and visionary delusions, good sense and madness. In the pamphlets of that age he is called Sir Humorous Vanity. He was beheaded 1662. On the scaffold, he compared Tower Hill to Mount Pisgah, where Moses went to die, in full assurance of being immediately placed at the right hand of Christ. Milton alludes to the execution of Vane and other regicides, after the Restoration, and in general to the sufferings of his friends on that event, in a speech of the Chorus on Samson's degradation, "Sams. Agon." v. 687. This Sonnet seems to have been written in behalf of the independents, against the presbyterian hierarchy.-T. WARTON.
Peace with the hollow states of Holland.--WARBURTON.
In 1655, the Duke of Savoy determined to compel his reformed subjects in the valleys of Piedmont to embrace popery, or quit their country; all who remained and refused to be converted, with their wives and children, suffered a most barbarous massacre: those who escaped fled into the mountains, from whence they sent agents into England to Cromwell for relief. He instantly commanded a general fast, and promoted a national contribution, in which near £40,000 were collected. The persecution was suspended, the duke recalled his army, and the surviving inhabitants of the Piedmontese valleys were reinstated in their cottages, and the peaceable exercise of their religion. On this business there are several state-letters in Cromwell's name written by Milton. One of them is to the Duke of Savoy, and is published in his "Prose Works." Milton's mind, busied with this affecting subject, here broke forth in a strain of poetry, where his feelings were not fettered by ceremony or formality. The protestants availed themselves of an opportunity of exposing the horrors of popery, by publishing many sets of prints of this unparalleled scene of religious butchery, which operated like Fox's "Book of Martyrs." Sir William Moreland, Cromwell's agent for the valleys of Piedmont, at Geneva, published a minute account of this whole transaction, in "The History of the Valleys of Piemont, &c. Lond. 1658." fol. with numerous cuts. Milton, among many other atrocious examples of the papal spirit, appeals to this massacre, in Cromwell's letter to king Charles Gustavus, dat. 1656. "Testes Alpinæ valles miserorum cæde ac sanguine redundantes," &c.-T. Warton.
"Ev'n them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worship'd stocks and stones. It is pretended that, when the church of Rome became corrupt, they preserved the
Forget not in thy book record their groans
Mother with infant down the rocks V. Their moans
To Heaven. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
ON HIS BLINDNESS.
WHEN I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
My true account, lest He, returning, chide;
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
primitive apostolical christianity; and that they have manuscripts against the papal antichrist and purgatory, as old as 1120. See their history by Paul Perrin, Genev. 1619. Their poverty and seclusion from the rest of the world for so many ages, contributed in great measure to this simplicity of worship. In his pamphlet, "The likeliest Means to remove Hirelings out of Churches," against endowing churches with tithes, our author frequently refers to the happy poverty and purity of the Waldenses.-T. WARTON.
▾ That roll'd
Mother with infant down the rocks.
He relates that "a mother
There is a print of this piece of cruelty in Moreland. was hurled down a mighty rock, with a little infant in her arms; and three days after, was found dead with the little childe alive, but fast clasped between the arms of the dead mother which were cold and stiffe, insomuch that those who found them had much ado to get the young childe out." P. 363.-T. WARTON.
And that one talent which is death to hide.
He speaks here with allusion to the parable of the talents, Matt. xxv. and he speaks with great modesty of himself, as if he had not five, or two, but only one talent.-NEWTON.
y Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?
Here is a pun on the doctrine in the gospel, that we are to work only while it is light, and in the night no man can work. There is an ambiguity between the natural light of the day, and the author's blindness.-T. WARTON,
Man's work, or his own gifts.
Free-will or grace.-T. WARTON.
a Stand and wait.
My own opinion is that this is the noblest of Milton's Sonnets.