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SONNET XXI.: To CYRIACK SKINNER.
This Sonnet also, like the last, might appear, on a first reading, to belong to a time before Milton's blindness. For it also is in a hospitable vein, and invites to leisure and mirth. But all that we know of Cyriack Skinner and his connexion with Milton confirms the notion that the two Sonnets were written about the same time, i.e. about 1655, after Milton was blind and when he was living in his house in Petty France. Phillips, in his list of the friends of Milton who visited him there, mentions, "above all, Mr. Cyriack Skinner;" words which imply that Skinner was even a more frequent visitor than young Lawrence. There is even a probability that he had been one of Milton's pupils; for Wood describes him (Ath. Oxon. III. 1119) as "a merchant's son of London, an ingenious young gentleman and scholar to Jo: Milton," informing us farther that he became a leading member of Harrington's celebrated political debating club, called The Rota, which held its meetings in 1659 at "the Turk's Head in the New Palace Yard at Westminster." From the Sonnet itself we learn that, besides being thus interested in political speculations, or before being so interested, Skinner was an eager student of mathematical and physical science. Wood seems to have been wrong in calling him "a merchant's son of London ;" for he is otherwise known as the third son of William Skinner, a Lincolnshire squire, who had married Bridget, second daughter of the famous lawyer and judge Sir Edward Coke. This explains the compliment of pedigree in the first line of the Sonnet. As this William Skinner died in 1627, Cyriack, his son, though described as "an ingenious young gentleman" in 1659, must have been considerably older than young Lawrence. There is extant a deed of conveyance, of the date May 7, 1660, by which Milton makes over to Cyriack Skinner, of Lincoln's Inn, Gentleman," a Bond for 400/. given to Milton by the Commissioners of Excise. The transaction proves how intimate Milton was with Skinner; for it was on the eve of the Restoration, when property invested in Excise Bonds was not likely to be worth much to Milton or his representatives.
SONNET XXII.: SECOND SONNET TO CYRIACK SKINNER.
This touching Sonnet must have been written some little time after the last; 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. The tenor of the closing lines prevented its publication in 1673.
SONNET XXIII.: TO THE MEMORY OF HIS SECOND WIFE.
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 FIFTH ODE OF HORACE, Lib. I., ENGLISHED."
The particular Ode of Horace 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. 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."
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), 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. 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). On the whole, Rous's Version had many 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, so far as England was concerned.—That Milton, in his experiment in April 1648, had some view to the controversy then going on as to the national Psalter, and the rivalry between Rous and Barton, is rendered the likelier by the form his experiment took. He adopted the ordinary Service metre of eights and sixes, only rhyming the first and third lines as well as the second and fourth; and he made it a punctilio to translate direct from the Hebrew, and to indicate every addition to the original by the use of Italic type. With all his pains, his Version of these nine Psalms is much inferior to what we should have expected from him. It is perhaps inferior to Rous's, and it is certainly inferior to the authorized Scottish Version of 1650 founded on Rous's.
PSALMS I.-VIII.: DONE INTO VERSE.
The former experiment of a close translation of Nine of the Psalms into ordinary Service metre had been made by Milton in April 1648, when he was living in High Holborn, not yet blind, and (Charles I. being still alive) not yet Latin Secretary to the Commonwealth, nor with any prospect of being such. More than five years had elapsed since then, and Milton was living in Petty France, quite blind, and occupied with the duties of his Secretaryship, when something led him to recur to Psalm-translation. On a few successive days of August 1653 he dictated metrical versions of the first Eight of the Psalms. These versions, however, were done on a new principle. They did not profess to be close to the original, nor were they in the ordinary Service metre. On the
contrary, very various metres were employed, some of them quite uncommon; and no two of the Eight Psalms were rendered in the same metre. Perhaps the main intention was to try the effect of such a freedom of metre.
SCRAPS OF TRANSLATED VERSE FROM THE PROSE WRITINGS.
It was Milton's laudable habit, and one rather unusual in his day, not to trouble the readers of his English pamphlets and other writings with quotations in Latin and Greek, but, where he did have occasion to quote a Latin or Greek author, either to give the English sense of the passage, or to annex the English sense to the quoted bit of Latin or Greek. So with Italian. Hence, when he wanted to quote a line or two from a Latin, Greek, or Italian poet, or a passage of Latin verse occurring in a prose author, he generally took the trouble to translate it off hand himself at the moment. In such cases blank verse came easiest, and all the scraps of the kind in his prose writings are in blank verse. He did not think it worth while to collect these for either the first or the second edition of his Poems; but they have very properly been sought out and placed in later editions.
INTRODUCTIONS TO THE POEMS SEVERALLY.
THE LATIN POEMS.
The Latin Poems were distinctly divided by Milton himself, in both editions, "ELEGIARUM LIBER," or into two Books or sets-an BOOK OF ELEGIES; and a "SYLVARUM LIBER," or "BOOK OF SYLVE." The word Sylva (literally "a Wood") was the name given by the Latin authorcraft of the Empire, as we learn from Quintilian, to any rough thing written off at a heat; and hence the Miscellanies of many poets are printed in their works under the title of Sylva. The distinction made by Milton between his ELEGIE or ELEGIES and his SYLVÆ or MISCELLANIES seems to have been one of metrical form merely, and not of matter. Among the ELEGIES he put all pieces, of whatever kind, and whether properly" elegiac or not in the sense of "pensive" or mournful," that were written in the elegiac metre, of alternate Hexameters and Pentameters, so much used by Tibullus, Propertius, and his favourite Ovid. Among the SYLVE or MISCELLANIES, on the other hand, he put all pieces written in other kinds of verse, whether in Hexameters only, or in such more complex Horatian measures as Alcaics and varied Iambics. Later editors, indeed, have taken the liberty of cutting off a few of the smaller pieces from the end of the Book of Elegies, and combining them with two or three scraps of Latin verse from the prose-pamphlets, so as to constitute a third brief Book, called EPIGRAMMATUM LIBER, or BOOK OF EPIGRAMS. But, though the few pieces thus thrown together are of the nature of Epigrams, and some of them like Martial's Epigrams, the liberty seems unwarrantable. Milton made the distinction into ELEGIES and SYLVA suffice, and we must do the same.
ELEGIA PRIMA :
Ad Carolum Diodatum.
The person addressed in this Elegy was Charles Diodati, the dearest and most intimate friend of Milton in his boyhood, and through his youth and early manhood, and for whose memory he entertained a singular affection in still later