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lines. “ That Nature is not subject to old age” is the proposition they maintain. They are, in fact, a powerful, and very eloquent and poetical, protest against the notion of a gradual decadence or deterioration of the physical Universe or visible frame of things. The verses being in this strain, we are led to think that the Philosophical Thesis which they were written to illustrate must have been some form of the same proposition. It is certainly known, at all events, that a question much debated in the speculative world of England about 1628 was the question whether there were signs of decay in Nature, whether the Present were necessarily inferior to the Past, or whether endurance, or even general progressiveness and improvement, might not be the rule. Bacon's influence, opposed as it was to that abject reverence for antiquity which had prevailed since the Revival of Letters, had given an impulse to what was still perhaps the heterodox sentiment, namely faith in the present and in the future.
DE IDEÂ PLATONICÂ QUEMADMODUM ARISTOTELES
This is, clearly, also an academic exercise; but in which year of Milton's residence at Cambridge it was written, and for what occasion, I cannot determine. It answers exactly to its title, “ On the Platonic Idea as understood by Aristotle.” That is to say, with an evident admiration of Plato, and an imaginative sympathy with his doctrine of an eternal Idea or Archetype, one and universal, according to which Man was formed, and which reproduces itself in men's minds and thoughts, it yet shows how, by a too physical or too coldly rational construction of this doctrine, it may be turned into burlesque.
These Hexameters are undated, but their date is hinted by their meaning. They are an affectionate address to the poet's father, apparently in reply to some mild remarks of the father on the subject of the son's dedication of himself to a life of mere Poetry and Literature, and not, as had been hoped, to one of the professions. They were written, therefore, after Milton had left Cambridge, and had begun his secluded life of study at his father's country-place at Horton in Buckinghamshire. In lines 73-76 the reference to Horton seems to be distinct.
Milton's father was himself an excellent and interesting man. He was from the neighbourhood of Oxford, where a Roman Catholic family of Miltons, the poet's ancestors, are found living, in the rank of small husbandmen, from about 1550 onwards. One of the family, Richard Milton, of Stanton St. John's, yeoman, was very resolute in his adherence to the old Religion, and is mentioned twice in the Recusant Rolls for Oxfordshire as among those who were heavily fined towards the end of Elizabeth's reign (1601) for obstinate non-attend. ance at their parish churches. He was the poet's grandfather, one of his sons, John Milton, being the poet's father. This John Milton, who became a Protestant, and is said to have been cast off by his father on that account, had settled in London, and was in business there as a scrivener, before the above-mentioned date of his father's fines for recusancy. The business of a scrivener in Old London was an important, and sometimes a lucrative one. It consisted in the drawing up of wills, marriage-settlements, and other deeds, the lending out of money for clients, and much else now done partly by attorneys and partly by law stationers. The house of the new scrivener, John Milton, which was also his place of business, was the Spread Eagle in Bread Street, Cheapside, in the very heart of London.
There the scrivener married, probably in 1600, and there his children were born. They were six in all ; of whom only three survived to maturity,—the eldest, a daughter Anne, afterwards Mrs. Phillips, and again, by a second marriage, Mrs. Agar; John Milton, the poet, born Dec. 9, 1608; and Christopher Milton, afterwards Sir Christopher Milton and a judge, born Dec. 3, 1615. The household in Bread Street seems to have been a peculiarly peaceful and happy one, with a tone of pious Puritanism prevailing in it, but with the liberal cheerfulness belonging to prosperous circumstances and to ingenious and cultivated tastes. For one thing, music was perpetual in it. The scrivener was not only passionately fond of music, but even of such note as a composer that, apart altogether from the great fame of his son, some memory of him might have lingered among us to this day. Madrigals, songs, and psalm-tunes of his composition are to be seen yet in music-books published before his son was born, or while he was but in his boyhood, and not in mere inferior musicbooks, but in collections in which Morley, Wilbye, Bull, Dowland, Ellis Gibbons, Orlando Gibbons, and others of the best artists of the day, were his fellow-contributors. There must have been frequent musical evenings, with one or more musical acquaintances present, in the house in Bread Street ; books of music and musical instruments were parts of its furniture; and the young poet was taught by his father both to sing and to play the organ. But the scrivener's designs for his children went beyond their mere training in his own art. It was his care to give them the best education possible, and to grudge nothing of his means towards that end. From the first there is proof that his heart was bound up in his son John, and that he had conceived the highest expectations of what that son would turn out to be. A portrait of the poet, as a sweet, serious, round-headed boy, at the age of ten, still exists, which his father caused to be done by the foreign painter then most in fashion, and which hung on the wall of one of the rooms in the house in Bread Street. Both father and mother doted on the boy and were proud of his promise. And so, after the most careful tuition of the boy at home, by his Scottish preceptor Young, and his farther training by the two Gills at St. Paul's School, close to Bread Street, he was sent to Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1625, whither his younger brother, Christopher, followed him in Feb. 1630-31. The expense of maintaining two sons at Cambridge was considerable, and proves that the scrivener must have succeeded well in his business.
That the scrivener's business had been a flourishing one is farther proved by the fact that he was able to retire from it, in whole or in part, in or about 1632, to the country-house at Horton, which he either took then, or had already been in possession of for some time. Thither, in that year, his son, having completed his seven years at the University and taken his M.A. degree, went to reside with him. So far all his highest hopes of that son had been fulfilled. He was then twenty-three years of age ; and what youth comparable to him had the University sent out,—what youth of such fair grace of form, of such genius and accomplishments, of character so manly and noble ? A second portrait of Milton, done in the time of his Cambridge studentship, when he was about twenty-one years of age, attests the continued pride in him of his father and mother. Only one thing a little troubled the elderly people, and particularly the father. This son of theirs, whom they had destined for the Church, had clearly and resolutely abjured that destination of himself as against his conscience; the profession of the Law, thought of for a moment, had also been set aside ; and here he was, back on their hands, with no clear line of life before him, such as other young men of his age had, but buried in books, and lost in poetry. Some remonstrances to this effect may have been expressed by the father ; but, if so, they must have been in the mildest and most hesitating terms (for Milton, I fancy, had learnt to be master and more in his father's house). Or, without any such remonstrances, Milton may have divined what was passing in the minds of his parents and in their colloquies concerning him. And so, on some occasion when the subject had been broached, or it was strong in Milton's musings, he writes this grateful and affectionate poem Ad Patrem.
“Well, John, I have faith in you : take your own way, whatever it is ; God has given me enough of means, my son, for all immediate needs; and, while I live, what I have is yours.” As surely as if we had heard these words spoken, they were the response of Milton's father to the pleading of this poem. They were his response, not in words only, but in fact. Until Milton was thirty-two years of age, or perhaps some years older, he did not earn a penny for himself.
· Milton, though an assiduous and enthusiastic reader of the Greek classics, did not give much time to the practice of Greek composition. He has left but three pieces of Greek verse ; and the verdict upon them by the critic of subsequent times who has published the minutest examination of them (Dr. Charles Burney, 1757 - 1817) is that they show imperfect Greek scholarship. He finds lax constructions in them, questionable usages of words, and even false quantities.
PSALM CXIV. — This seems to have been a favourite Psalm with Milton, for it is one of the two which he had paraphrased in English when he was fifteen years of age. The present version of it in Greek Hexameters was done in 1634, as appears by a Latin letter of Milton to Gill the younger, of date Dec. 4 in that year.
PHILOSOPHUS AD REGEM QUENDAM, ETC. — As these Hexameters appear in the Edition of 1645, and as their tenor suggests that they were done after the Civil War had begun, we may date them between 1642 and 1645.
IN EFFIGIEI EJUS SCULPTOREM.—These satirical Iambics were engraved by way of practical joke under Marshall's portrait of Milton in the 1645 Edition of his Poems. See antè, pp. 2-3. In the Edition of 1673, which did not contain that portrait, they were put into the text. AD SALSILLUM, POETAM ROMANUM, ÆGROTANTEM.—
SCAZONTES. This was written at Rome, either in 1638 or in 1639, in one of Milton's two visits to that city. The person addressed is Joannes Salsillus, or Giovanni Salzilli, a Roman Poet, whose acquaintance Milton had made in those visits. He must have been of considerable note in Roman society in his day; for I find him a leading contributor to a volume published at Rome in 1637 and dedicated to Cardinal Cesarini under the title of “Poesie de Signori Accademici Fantastici,” i.e. Poems by members of the Academy of the Fantastics. Apparently he was a young man and habitually an invalid. He was in bad health, at all events, when Milton addressed to him these Scazontes, i.e. verses written in the “limping measure” employed by the Greek poet Hipponax, the peculiarity of which is that the verse is regular Iambic trimeter until the last foot, where, by the substitution of a spondee or trochee for the expected Iambus, an effect is given as of coming to the last step of a stair with the wrong emphasis. To bring out this effect fully, the fifth or penultimate foot ought always to be an Iambus ; but Milton has not attended strictly to this rule. In the verses Milton expresses his wishes for Salzilli's recovery, pays him a compliment on his poetry, and refers to the four lines of Latin elegiac verse in which Salzilli had, with Italian politeness, so hyperbolically praised Milton, on slight acquaintance, extolling him above Homer, Virgil, and Tasso. See the lines among the Testimonies to Milton by Italians, prefixed to the Latin Poems.