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What neat repast shall feast us, light and choice,
He who of those delights can judge, and spare
CYRIACK, whose grandsire, on the royal bench
Of British Themis, with no mean applause
Which others at their bar so often wrench;
In mirth, that, after, no repenting draws !!
And what the Swede intends, and what the French.
Toward solid good what leads the nearest way;
For other things mild Heaven a time ordains,
That with superfluous burden loads the day,
TO THE SAME.
To outward view, of blemish or of spot,
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not
d He who of those delights can judge, &c. The close of this sonnet is perfectly in the style of Horace and the Grecian lyrics; as is that of the following to Cyriack Skinner.-T. WARTON.
e Cyriack Skinner was one of the principal members of Harrington's political club. Wood says, that he was “an ingenious young gentleman, and scholar to John Milton; which Skinner sometimes held the chair."-" Ath. Oxon," ii. 591.
! In mirth, that, after, no repenting draros. This is the decent mirth of Martial :
Nox non ebria, sed soluta curis.-T. WARTON.
s And what the Sroede intends, &o. Charles Gustavus, king of Sweden, was at this time waging war with Poland, and the French with the Spaniards in the Netherlands: and what Milton says is somewhat in the manner and spirit of Horace, “Od.” 11. xi. 1:
Quid bellicosus Cantaber, et Scythes,
h Of heart or hope, &c. One of Milton's characteristics was a singular fortitnde of mind, arising from a con. gciousness of superior abilities, and a conviction that his cause was just.-T. WARTON.
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied "
In liberty's defence,i my noble task,
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask
ON HIS DECEASED WIFE.
Brought to me, like Alcestis from the grave,
Rescued from death by force, though pale and faint.
Purification in the old Law did save,
Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint;-
Her face was veil'd; yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined
But, 0, as to embrace me she inclined,
i To have lost them orerplied, &c. When he was employed to answer Salmasius, one of his eyes was almost gone; and the physicians predicted the loss of both if he proceeded: but he says, in answer to Du Moulin, “I did not long balance whether my duty should be proferred to my eyes.” -T. Warton.
j In liberty's defence, &c. This Sonnet was not hazarded in the edition of 1673, where the last appears : for the “Defensio pro Populo Anglicano," of which he here speaks with so much satisfaction and self-applause, at the Restoration was ordered to be burnt by the hands of the com. mon hangman, together with his “ Iconoclastes," at which time his person was spared; and, by a singular act of royal clemency, he survived to write “ Paradise Lost." But Milton's prose was to suffer another disgrace. Twenty-seven propositions, gathered from the writings of our author, Buchanan, Hobbes, Baxter, Jolin Goodwin, Knos, Owen, and others, were proscribed by the university of Oxford, July 21, 1683, as destructive both to church and state; and ordered to be burnt in the court of the schools. This transaction is celebrated in a poem of the “Musæ Anglicana," called “Decretum Oxoniense,” 1693, vol. ii. p. 180, 181, edit. 1714. I transcribe some of the lines with abhorrence :
Hæ tibi sint Inudes immortalesque triumphi,
Miltonum, cælo terrisque in amabile nonien ! But hy what follows, the writer does not seem to have been insensible to the beauties of Milton's poetry.-T. Warton.
k Methought I saw my late espoused saint, &c. This Sonnet was written about the year 1656, on the death of his second wife, Catberine, the daughter of Captain Woodcock of Hackney, a rigid sectarist. She died in child-bed of a daughter, within a year after their marriage. Milton had now been long totally blind; so that this might have been one of his day-dreams.—T. WARTOX.
| Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grace. Dr. Johnson calls this "a poor Sonnet." Perhaps he was not struck with this fine allusion to Euripides.-T. WARTON.
ON THE MORNING
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS. The “Hymn on the Nativity” is a favourite poem with me, notwithstanding Thomas Warton, unlike himself, has commenced with a censure on what he calls its conceits : Joseph Warton, in a short but beautiful note on ver. 173, has expressed a very opposite opinion. There is no doubt that the prima stamina of the bard's divine epics are exhibited in this poem; but it has several peculiarities, which distinguish it from the poet's other compositions: it is more truly lyrical ; the stanza is beautifully constructed; and there is a solemnity, a grandeur, and a swell of verse, which is magical. The images are magnificent, and they have this superiority of excellence; that none of them are merely descriptive, but have a mixture of intellectuality and spirituality.
If there are any “conceits," they are entirely confined to the first two stanzas of the lyrical part,—“It was the winter wild,” and “Only with speeches fair:" all the rest is essence of poetry; and that of the strongest and most picturesque sort. The ninth stanza “When such music sweet,” is such as perhaps no one but Milton could have written; and still several, which follow, rise even upon this.
Some one has said that Milton had no ear for the harmony of versification ; this hymn proves that his ear was perfect. Spenser's Alexandrines are fine; Milton's are more like the deepest swell of the organ.
When it is recollected that this pieco was produced by the author at the age of twenty-one, all deep thinkers of fancy and sensibility must pore upon it with delighted wonder. The rigour, the grandeur, the imaginativeness of the conception; the force and maturity of language; the bound, the gathering strength, the thundering roll of the metre; the largeness of the views; the extent of the learning; the solemn and awful tones; the enthusiasm, and a certain spell in the epithets, which puts the reader into a state of mysterious excitement, may be better felt than described.
I venture to pronounce this poem far superior to the “ L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," though the popular taste may not concur with me: it is much deeper; much more original; and of a nobler cast of materials. The two latter poems are mainly descriptive of the inanimate beauties of the creation : it is the grand purpose of poetry to embody invisible spirits; to give shape and form to the ideal; to bring out into palpable lines and colours the intellectual world; to associate with that which is material that which is purely spiritual; to travel into air, and open upon the fancy other creations. Fancy is but one faculty of the mind; it is a mirror, of whose impressions the transfer upon paper by the medium of language is a single operation.
Milton, before he could write the Hymn, must have already exercised and enriched all his faculties with vast and successful culture. He had travelled in those dim regions, into which young minds scarcely ever renture; and he had carried a guarded lamp with him, so as to see all around him, before and behind; yet not so peering and reckless as to destroy the religious awe. The due position of the lights and shades was never infringed upon.
* This Ode, in which the many learned allusions are highly poetical, was probably composed as a college-exercise at Cambridge, our author being now only twenty-one years old. In the edition of 1645, in its title it is said to have been written in 1629. We are informed hy himself, that he was employed in writing this piece, in the conclusion of the sixth Elegy to his friend Deodate, which appears to have been sent about the close of the month December.-T. WARTON.
This is the month, and this the bappy morn,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
That glorious form, that light unsufferable,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
Say, heavenly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Hath took no print of the approaching light,
See, how from far, upon the eastern road,
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
With her great Master so to sympathise :
a Sages. The prophets of the Old Testament.-T. WARTON.
• Spangled host. A magnificent line: but these four introductory stanzas aro not equal to the Hymn.
• The star-led wisards. Wiso men.--T. WARTOX.
d From out his secret altar touch'd with hallow'd fire. Alluding to Isaiah vi. 6, 7.-Newton.
Only with speeches fair
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow;
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw;
But he, her fears to cease,
She, crown'd with olive green, came softly sliding
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing:
No war, or battle's sound,
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
But peaceful was the night,
His reign of peace upon the earth began :
Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,
e Fears to cease. I believe cease is seldom used as a verb active.
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land. Dr. Newton perhaps too nicely remarks, that for “ Peace to strike peace" is an inaccuracy: yet he allows that “foedus ferire" is classical. But Roman phraseology is here quite out of the question. It is not a league, or agreement of peace between two parties, that is intended : a quick and universal diffusion is the idea. It was done as with a stroke.--T. WARTox.
Yet it will perhaps be generally supposed that Milton had the “ ferire foedus," which Stephens interprets "pacem componere,” in his mind.-DUNSTER.
& The hooked chariot stood
Unstain'd with hostile blood. Liv. I. xxxvii. xli. “Falcata quadrigæ, quibus se perturbaturum hostium aciem Antiochus crediderat, in suos terrorem verterunt."
.."-BOWLE. Nothing can be more poetically grand than this stanza. In all Milton's noble poetry There are few passages finer than this.
h The winds, with wonder whist. “Whis!" is silenced. In Stanyburst's Virgil “Intentique ora tenebant," is translated, “They whisted all.” B. ii. 1.-T. Warton.