Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

a much longer and more composite exercise or discourse, part of which was in Latin, written for some ceremonial at Christ's College in the vacation of that year,— i.e. after the close of the Easter Term on the 4th of July.

Fortunately, the College Exercise to which this piece belonged still exists. It is the Sixth of those seven juvenile Latin Essays of Milton, called Prolusiones Oratoriæ (now included in his collected prose works), which were first published in 1674, the last year of his life, in conjunction with his Epistola Familiares, or Latin Familiar Epistles. All the seven Prolusiones are interesting as throwing light on Milton's career at the University, and on his success in those public debates and discussions on scholastic and philosophical topics which formed in those days so important a part of College and University training. The Sixth, however, is nearly the longest, and is perhaps the most interesting altogether. It is entitled "In Feriis Æstivis Collegii, sed concurrente, ut solet, totâ fere Academie juventute, Oratio : Exercitationes nonnunquam ludicras Philosophiæ studiis non obesse"; which may be translated thus, “In the Summer Vacation of the College, but in the presence, as usual, of a concourse of nearly the whole youth of the University, an Oration to this effect : That occasional sportive exercises are not inconsistent with philosophical studies.The Essay, then, was an actual speech delivered by Milton in the hall of Christ's College, Cambridge, on an occasion of periodical revel, when not only his fellow-collegians, but a crowd of students from other colleges, were present. Milton had nearly completed his undergraduate course, and had his degree of B.A. in prospect; and he was probably chosen to lead the revels on account of his pre-eminent reputation among the undergraduates of Christ's. “The revels,” we say; for, in reading the speech itself, we become aware that the circumstances were those of some annual academic saturnalia, when the college hall was a scene of festivity, practical joking, and fun of all kinds, and when the president-styled, in academic phrase, “the Father” for the nonce — was expected to enliven the proceedings with a speech full of jests and personalities, and to submit in turn to interruptions, laughter, and outcries from his noisy “sons.” Milton, though confessing in the course of his speech that fun was hardly his element, and that his “faculty in festivities and quips” was very slight, seems to have acquitted himself in his character of " Father," or elected master of the revels, with unusual distinction. At all events he took trouble enough. His entire discourse must have taken at least an hour and a half in the delivery. As originally delivered, it consisted of three parts,-first, a serio-comic discourse, in Latin prose, on the theme “ That sportive exercises on occasion are not inconsistent with the studies of Philosophy'; secondly, a more expressly comic harangue, also in Latin prose, in which he assumes the character of Father of the meeting, addresses his sons jocularly, and leads off the orgy; and thirdly, a conclusion in English, partly verse and partly prose, consisting of dramatic speeches.

In the middle part, or Latin comic harangue, we have, amid many coarse jocosities, and personal allusions to indi. vidual fellow-students not now intelligible, the following passage explanatory of what is to follow : “I turn me, therefore, as Father, to my sons, of whom I behold a goodly number; and I see too that the mischievous little rogues acknowledge me to be their father by secretly bobbing their heads. Do you ask what are to be their names ? I will not, by taking the names of dishes, give my sons to be eaten by you, for that would be too much akin to the ferocity of Tantalus and Lycaon; nor will I designate them by the names of parts of the body, lest you should think that I had be. gotten so many bits of men instead of whole men ; nor is it my pleasure to call them after the kinds of wine, lest what I should say should be not according to Bacchus. I wish them to be named according to the number of the Predicaments, that so I may express their distinguished birth and their liberal manner of life.” The meaning of the passage seems to be that it was the custom at such meetings for the “Father" to confer nicknames for the nonce on such of his fellow-students as were more particularly associated with him as his “sons," and, as such, had perhaps to take a promi. nent part, under him, in the proceedings; and that Milton, instead of following old practice, and calling his sons by such rigmarole names as Beef, Mutton, Pork, etc. (names of dishes), or Head, Neck, Breast, etc. (names of parts of the body), or Sack, Rhenish, Sherris, etc. (names of wines), proposed to call them after the famous Ten Predicaments or Categories of Aristotle. These Predicaments or Categories were all regarded as subdivisions of the one supreme category of Ens or Being. First, ENS was subdivided into the two general categories of Ens per se or Substance, and Ens per accidens or Accident. By farther divisions and subdivisions, however, Accident was made to split itself into nine subordinate categories, —Quantity, Quality, Relation, Action, Passion, Place where, Time when, Posture, and Habit. Prefix to these nine categories, developed out of Accident, the one unbroken category of Substance, and you have the Ten Aristotelian Categories or Predicaments, once so famous in the schools. What Milton said, therefore, was virtually this : I, as Father, choose to represent myself as Ens or Being in general, undivided Being; and you, my sons, Messrs. So and So and So and So (to wit, certain students of Christ's acting along with Milton in the farce), are to regard yourselves as respectively Substance, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Action, Passion, Place, Time, Posture, and Habit. Thus I have assigned your parts in what is to follow of our proceedings.

We have here then the key to the dramatic speeches in English with which Milton's address was wound up. After apologising for having detained the audience so long with his Latin harangue, he announces that he is about to break the University statutes (which ordained that all academic discourses, etc., should be in the learned tongues) by “running across ” from Latin to English. At this point, therefore, he suddenly exclaims

Hail ! Native Language, that by sinews weak

Didst move my first endeavouring tongue to speak,

And mad'st,” etc. He continues this episodic address to his native speech through a goodly number of lines, but then remembers that it is a divergence from the business in hand, and that his sons are waiting to hear him speak in the character of Ens. Accordingly, he does speak in this character, calling up the eldest of his ten sons, Substance, and addressing him in fit terms. Whether Substance made any reply we are not informed; but the next two Predicaments, Quantity and Quality, did speak in their turn,—not in verse, however, but in prose. It seems most natural to conclude that these speeches were made by the students of Christ's who represented the Predicaments in question,– Milton himself only speaking in his paramount character as Ens. In this character, at all events, he finally calls “by name” on the student who represented the fourth category,—i.e. Relation ; and with this speech of Ens to Relation the fragment, as we now have it, abruptly ends. “The rest was prose,” we are informed, -i.e. whatever was said by Relation, and to or by the six remaining Predicaments, was said in prose and has not been preserved. For some further elucidations, especially as to the particular fellow-student of Milton at Christ's who represented Relation, see our notes on the fragment.

ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY. This magnificent ode, called by Hallam “perhaps the finest in the English language,” was composed, as we learn from Milton's own heading of it in the edition of 1645, in the year 1629. Milton was then twenty-one years of age, in his sixth academic year at Cambridge, and a B. A. of a year's standing. There is an interesting allusion to the ode by Milton himself, when he was in the act of composing it, in the sixth of his Latin elegies. In that elegy, addressed to his friend Charles Diodati, residing in the country, in answer to a friendly epistle which Diodati had sent to him on the 13th of December 1629, there is a distinct description of the Ode on the Nativity, as then finished or nearly so, and ready to be shown to Diodati, together with the express information that it was begun on Christmas-day 1629.

The Passion. This piece, as the opening stanza implies, grew out of the Ode on the Nativity, and is a kind of sequel to it. It was probably written for Easter 1630. It is but the fragment of an intended larger poem, for which, after the young poet had proceeded so far, he thought his powers unequal.

SONG ON MAY MORNING. This little piece has been usually assigned, but only by conjecture, to the year 1630. If this were correct, the exact date would be May 1, 1630. There is some reason for think ing, however, that this date is too early, and that the piece may belong to May 1633, Milton's first May at Horton.

ON SHAKESPEARE.

This famous little piece is sometimes spoken of as Milton's - Sonnet on Shakespeare”; but it is not even laxly a Sonnet, as it consists of sixteen lines. In its anonymous printed form, among the commendatory verses prefixed to the Shakespeare Folio of 1632, it is entitled “ An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakespeare.” That it was written two years before its publication in so distinguished a place appears from the date 1630" appended to its shorter title in the original editions of Milton's Poems. It seems to me not improbable that Milton originally wrote the lines in a copy of the First Folio Shakespeare in his possession, and furnished them thence to the publisher of the Second Folio.

ON THE UNIVERSITY CARRIER. The two pieces on this subject are chiefly curious as specimens of Milton's muse in that facetious style in which, according to his own statement, he was hardly at home. They celebrate an incident which must have been of considerable interest to all Cambridge men of Milton's time,--the death of old Thomas Hobson, the Cambridge University carrier.

Born in 1544, or twenty years before Shakespeare, Hobson had for more than sixty years been one of the most noted characters in Cambridge. Every week during this long period he had gone and come between Cambridge and the Bull Inn, Bishopsgate Street, London, driving his own wain and horses, and carrying letters and parcels, and sometimes stray passengers. All the Heads and Fellows of Colleges, all the students, and all the townspeople, knew him. By his business as a carrier, and also by letting out horses, he had become one of the wealthiest citizens in Cambridge,-owner of houses in the town and of other property. He had also such a reputation for shrewdness and humour that, rightly or wrongly, all sorts of good sayings were fathered upon him. Till his eightysixth year he had persisted in driving his carrier's waggon himself. But, in April or May 1630, a stop had been put to his journeys. The Plague, after an interval of five years, was again in England ; it was rife in Cambridge this time, so that the colleges had been prematurely closed and all University

« AnteriorContinuar »