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the dramatists and other popular writers of the reigns of James and Charles I. I have come upon it easily enough in the prose and verse of Drummond of Hawthornden between 1616 and 1630, sometimes in cases where a contemporary southern writer would pretty surely have used his; I have, on the whole, an impression that the northern writers and speakers of that time used it more frequently than the southern ; but, as I have found it in the title of a London book of 1651 in so emphatic a form as this, “Eng. land's Deliverance from the Northern Presbyter compared with itt's deliverance from the Roman Papacy,” and as I have also found it quite at home in other writings of that date, I cannot doubt that the word was a perfectly acceptable one in London in the middle of the seventeenth century. Indeed, it is formally recognised in Butler's English Grammar of the year 1633, though Butler himself in that very grammar avoids the use of it and prefers the form his. In the first sentence of Lawes's dedication of his private edition of Milton's Comus, in 1637, to Lord Brackley we read “ this poem, which received its first occasion of birth,” etc.
What of Milton himself? By diligent search one may come, here and there, on an its in his prose-writings ; but that even in his prose he disliked and avoided the form seems proved by such passages as the following in his Elementary Latin Grammar entitled Accedence Commenc't Grammar (published in 1669, though doubtless written long before) :-The Superlative exceedeth his Positive in the highest degree, as durissimus, hardest ; and it is formed of the first case of his Positive that ends in is, by putting thereto simus”; “There be three Concords or Agreements : The first is of the Adjective with his Substantive; The Second is of the Verb with his Nominative Case ; The Third is of the Relative with his Antecedent." Let us pass, however, from Milton's prose to his poetry.
In Milton's poetry, I believe, it has been definitely ascer. tained, he uses the word its only three times, viz. Od. Nat. 106, Par. Lost, 1. 254, and Par. Lost, iv. 813. Here are those three memorable passages :
“Nature that heard such sound
Of Cynthia's seat, the Airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won
And that her raign had here its last fulfilling;
Od. Nat. 101-108.
Par. Lost, 1. 250-255.
Three times, therefore, in his whole life did Milton use the word its in his poetry, - once about Christmas-day 1629, when he was one-and-twenty years of age ; and twice between 1658 and 1665, when he was between his fiftieth year and his fifty-seventh. If the passages are studied, it will be seen that the risk of ambiguity imposed a certain necessity for using its in each case. The only wonder is that a similar stress of meaning and context did not oblige Milton to write or dictate its much more frequently.
How does he get on without it? Marvellously well. In the first place, the very idea or peculiar mental turn or act involved in the word its or its equivalents (of it, thereof, etc.) was somehow far rarer in the writing of Milton's time than it is in writing now. Mr. Craik's remark on this subject is both true and acute. "The most curious thing of all in the history of the word its," he says, “is the extent to which, before its recognition as a word admissible in serious composition, even the occasion for its employment was avoided or eluded. This is very remarkable in Shakespeare. The very conception which we express by its probably does not occur once in his works for ten times that it is to be found in any modern writer. So that we may say the invention, or adoption, of this form has changed not only our English style, but even our manner of thinking.” What Mr. Craik here says of Shakespeare is true of Milton. Perhaps it is even truer of Milton. That he was much more chary of the use of the word its than Shakespeare had been appears from the fact that, though Shakespeare had used the word ten times before 1616, Milton in his literary life, stretching from 1625 to 1674, used it in his poetry but three times. But even of the substitutes or equivalents he is charier than Shakespeare. The odd possessive form it, found in Shakespeare fifteen times, is not found in Milton's poetry once. The word thereof, if Todd's verbal index is to be trusted, occurs but seven times, all in Paradise Lost, and never in the exact sense of its, but only as a translation of of it in such a text of Scripture as “In the day that thou eatest thereof." In short, for the expression of our conception its in a single word, when he did want to express it, Milton confined himself, even more strictly than Shakespeare, to the alternative of his or her.
On the whole, her seems to have been Milton's favourite. Here are a few examples :
“His form had not yet lost
“Th' ascending pile
“This Desart soile
P. L., II. 271.
But, though Milton uses her for our its (sometimes with an approach to personification, but not always) in cases where Shakespeare would have used his, Mr. Craik is wrong, I think, in saying that his personifications by his are rare, and still more wrong in saying he “never uses his in a neuter sense.” Surely, the grammatical terms Superlative, Adjective, Verb, and Relative, are neuter enough; and yet to each of these, as we have seen, Milton fits the word his. But take a few examples from his poetry :
“ The Thunder,
Perhaps hath spent his shafts.”—P. L., 1. 176.
"the neather Flood,
Belch'd fire and rowling smoak; the rest entire
The work of Sulphur.”—P. L., 1. 673.
A spatious plain outstretch't in circuit wide
P. R., 111. 255. “Error by his own arms is best evinc't.”—P. R., IV. 235. Here is a passage in which his and her, both in a neuter sense, are companions :
“O that torment should not be confin'd
To the bodies wounds and sores
And on her purest spirits prey !"–S. A., 612, 613. This little account of the history of the word its in connection with Milton may be concluded with a practical application. In the Library of the British Museum there is a copy of the tiny First (1645) edition of Milton's Minor Poems, on the blank page at the end of which some old possessor of the volume has left written, in minute handwriting, the following piece of verse. We print it in our present spelling :
He whom Heaven did call away
Meanwhile the Muses do deplore
Think not, reader, me less blest,
In this little bed my dust