Imágenes de páginas

Solemn Music (Milton's own hand); Two Drafts of an English Prose Letter to a Friend, the first containing a transcript of the “Sonnet on his having arrived at the age of twenty-three" (all in Milton's own hand); On Time (Milton's own hand); Upon the Circumcision (Milton's own hand); Sonnet VIII. (in the hand of an amanuensis); Sonnets IX. and X. (Milton's own hand); Comus and Lycidas, entire drafts, much corrected (in Milton's own hand); Seven pages of Jottings of Subjects for Tragedies (Milton's own hand : see Introd. to P. L., to P. R., and to Sams. Ag.); Sonnets X1. — XIV. (in Milton's own hand, but with copies in another hand); Sonnet XV.: To Fairfax (in Milton's own hand); Sonnet XVI. : To Cromwell (in the hand of some amanuensis); Sonnet XVII. : To Vane (also in another hand); Lines on the Forcers of Conscience (also in another hand); Sonnets XX1. — XXIII. (also in the hands of amanuenses). It thus appears that in this precious volume at Cambridge there are preserved,—mostly in Milton's own hand, but occasionally in the hands of amanuenses, who either transcribed from his original drafts before he was blind, or, after he was blind, wrote to his dictation,—actual MS. copies of much the larger part of all Milton's Minor English Poetry. What has to be specially noted, however, in the enumeration of the pieces contained in the Cambridge volume, is that it does not include a single original draft of a poem of Milton's known to be of earlier date than 1632, the year when he left Cambridge for the retirement of his father's country house at Horton. The “Sonnet on his having arrived at the age of twenty-three” is only an apparent exception. That sonnet was written in December 1631 ; but it is only a transcript of the original copy that is included in the Letter to a Friend, and this with an intimation in the letter itself that the sonnet was written “some while since.” On the whole, the inference is that the Cambridge MS. volume of drafts begins in 1633, just after Milton had settled at Horton.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]




THESE were done, as the author himself takes care to tell us, " at fifteen years old ”-i.e. in 1624. They are, in fact, the only speciniens now extant of Milton's muse before he went to Cambridge. They are the relics, doubtless, of a little collection of boyish performances, now lost, with which he amused himself, and perhaps pleased his father and his teachers, when he lived in his father's house in Bread Street, Cheapside, and attended the neighbouring school of St. Paul's. They prove him to have been even then a careful reader of contemporary English poetry, and, in particular, of Spenser, and of Sylvester's quaint and old-fashioned, but richly poetical, translation of the Divine Weekes and Workes of the French religious poet Du Bartas. This book, which had been published in 1605 by Humphrey Lownes, a wellknown printer of Bread Street Hill, close to Milton's father's house, was as popular in England as the original was on the Continent. It went through several editions while Sylvester lived, and almost every pious English household of literary tastes possessed a copy.


Over this poem Milton has himself placed the words Anno ætatis 17,” implying that it was written in his 17th year. Now, as Milton entered his seventeenth year on the 9th of December 1624, and ended it on the oth of December 1625, this would place the poem between those dates. But, when Milton placed Arabic figures after the phrase anno ætatis in those headings of his poems, it was his habit to give himself the benefit of a year by understanding the figures as noting cardinal and not ordinal numbers. "Anno ætatis 17meant, with him, not strictly “in his seventeenth year,” but “at seventeen years of age.” The present poem, accordingly, was actually written in the winter of 1625-6, or during Milton's second academic year at Cambridge. It is the first of his preserved English pieces of the Cambridge period, but seems to have been written, not at Cambridge, but in the course of a brief visit made to London between the Michaelmas Term and the Lent Term of the academic year,-i.e. between December 16, 1625, and January 13, 1625-6. The subject of it was the death of an infant niece of the poet, the first child of his only surviving sister Anne Milton, who was several years older than himself, and had been recently married to a Mr. Edward Phillips, a native of Shrewsbury, but resident in London, where he held a situation in the Crown Office in Chancery. When in town from Cambridge, Milton had seen the “fair infant,” whether in his father's house in Bread Street, or in his sister's own house, which was “in the Strand, near Charing Cross.” But the life of the little creature was to be short. The autumn of 1625 was a particularly unhealthy one in London,—the Plague then raging there with such violence that as many as 35,000 persons were said to have died of it during that season within the Bills of Mortality. There is an allusion to this prevalence of the Plague in the last stanza but one of the poem. Not to the Plague, however, but to the general inclemency of the succeeding winter, did the delicate little blossom fall a victim. She died “of a cough,”-i.e. of some affection of the lungs.

AT A VACATION EXERCISE IN THE COLLEGE. The heading prefixed to this piece by Milton is, more completely, as follows : — Anno ætatis 19: At a Vacation Exercise in the College, part Latin, part English : the Latin Speeches ended, the English thus began.The piece, in fact, was written in 1628, or during Milton's fourth academic year at Cambridge, and, as the title implies, was but a fragment of

« AnteriorContinuar »