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sition that it was only the canons of the Church of England that he refused to subscribe. It is altogether unsupposable that such a mind should have voluntarily subjected itself to such a yoke. It is sufficiently remarkable that Dr. Johnson should have seen nothing in the Articles which could thwart the maturer judgment of Milton. The 20th, to which we have already adverted, by its denial of the right of private judgment would be sufficient to vitiate the entire code in the view of such a mind as Milton's. It is equally surprising that Dr. Johnson should have forgotten the 37th, on the powers of civil magistrates, which not only asserts the ecclesiastical supremacy of the reigning monarch, but, in immediate connection with this, declares his right to punish “with the civil sword the stubborn and evil doers,” thus sanctioning the infliction of pains and penalties for religious faith and practice; a principle which the lofty and generous nature of Milton held in utter detestation. As little justice is there in the remark which follows—that “the thought of obedience, whether canonical or civil, raised his indignation.” So far from this, he pays throughout his writings, as he did throughout his life, a devout reverence to the authority of law both human and Divine. But his was a dignified submission. He could discern the distinction between rational obedience and the prostration of the whole nature before a tyranny which strove to lord it alike over the body and the soul. Indeed, an unworthy and disingenuous spirit pervades this performance; and he who would maintain a high opinion of Dr. Johnson's integrity and candour, will do well to avoid his Life of Milton.
MILTON'S RESIDENCE AT HORTON-COMPOSES THE COMUS-LYCIDAS
ARCADES-L'ALLEGRO-IL PENSEROSO-DEATH OF HIS MOTHER-
On leaving the university, in 1629, he spent five years, probably the happiest of his life, at Horton, in Buckinghamshire, whither his father had retired from business with a competent fortune. In his “Second Defence of the People of England,” having been led, as before observed, by the slanders of his antagonist to a brief recapitulation of the events of his early life, he thus refers to this period of his history :“ Here (at Cambridge) I passed seven years in the usual course of instruction and study, with the approbation of the good, and without any stain upon my character, till I took the degree of Master of Arts. After this I did not, as this miscreant feigns, run away into Italy, but of my own accord retired to my father's house, whither I was accompanied by the regrets of most of the fellows of the college, who showed me no common marks of friendship and esteem. On my father's estate, where he had determined to pass the remainder of his days, I enjoyed an interval of uninterrupted leisure, which I entirely devoted to the perusal of the Greek and Latin classics; though I occasionally visited the metro
polis, either for the sake of purchasing books, or of learning something new in mathematics or in music, in which I, at that time, found a source of pleasure and amusement. In this manner I spent five years, till my mother's death.” It is not at all surprising that Milton should have omitted from this narrative the fact that during this interval the most admired of his minor poems were composed. The Comus, which critics unite in designating as the most exquisite dramatic poem which perhaps the genius of man has ever produced, was composed in 1634, when its author was but twenty-five years of age. Lycidas was written in 1637; and there is every reason to believe that the Arcades, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso were also composed during Milton's residence at Horton. The poem of Comus is too well known to require description, and certainly nothing need be added to the eulogies with which it has been loaded by the choicest minds of every succeeding generation. / The plot of the masque of Comus is said to have been suggested by the circumstance of Lady Alice Egerton, the youthful daughter of the Earl of Bridgwater, having when travelling been accidentally separated from her companions in the night, and having wandered for some time in a forest by herself. It is not often that Dr. Johnson exposes himself to the shafts of ridicule. There is, indeed, too much of him to be the fit object of such light missiles; yet, what other treatment is merited by such an observation as the following in reference to a master-piece of genius, such as the Comus?—“It was presented at Ludlow, then the residence of the Lord President of Wales, in 1634, and had the honour of being acted by the Earl of Bridgwater's sons and daughters,” all of whom the reader should be informed, by the way, were under fourteen years of age. That Johnson, in presence of the majesty of Milton, should exhibit this “falling-down-deadness of manner” before the little boys and girls of an earl, is certainly contemptible enough. Of the poem itself it is
impossible to speak in terms of too high admiration. The eulogy pronounced upon it by Dr. Symmons, is at once enthusiastic and discriminate: “Among the compositions of our own country,” he says, “it certainly stands unrivalled for its affluence in poetic imagery and diction; and, as an effort of the creative power, itcan be paralleled only by the muse of Shakspeare, by whom in this respect it is possibly exceeded. With Shakspeare the whole, excepting some rude outlines or suggestions of the story, is the immediate emanation of his own mind; but Milton's erudition precluded him from this extreme originality, and was perpetually supplying him with thoughts, which would sometimes obtain the preference from his judgment, and would sometimes be mistaken for his own property by his invention. Original, however, he is; and, of all the sons of song, inferior in this requisite of genius to Shakspeare alone.” In the only criticism of a particular passage upon which Dr. S. ventures, he is by no means so felicitous. He selects one of the most charming passages in the drama—that in
How sweetly did they float upon the vwings Of silence through the empty-vaulted night, At every fall smoothing the raven down Of darkness till it smiled. After justifying the preceding images he adds, “But it is surely a transgression, which stands in need of pardon, when proceeding a step further and accumulating personifications, we invest this raven-down with life and make it to smile.” It is surprising that a man of the taste and perception of Dr. Symmons should have fallen into such an error. The application of the term to smile to the down of the imaginary bird, smoothed by the cadences of the music, involves no additional personification. Innumerable instances might be adduced from the highest ancient and modern poets, in which, without personification, and with a strict similarity of meaning, the surface of the sea is said to smile or to
frown under the sunshine or the passing shadows of clouds. It is indeed a dangerous exercise to criticise this matchless production; it stands conspicuous among the brightest productions of human genius, by a refined and exquisite purity of sentiment which, even in a strictly imaginative range of thought, may be designated as intense spirituality; and the union of this ethereal spirit with the very genius of harmony completes the enchantment of the poem. The remote and heterogenous reading indicated by its allusions still further increases the wonder with which we peruse it. It has ever been matter of amazement that the Comus could have been produced by any one at the age of twenty-five; this, however, is not the only fact that proves the strange precocity of Milton's mind. It is scarcely more surprising that this drama should have been produced at that age than that one of the finest of his Latin poems should have been written at the age of nineteen. I refer to an Academic exercise composed to oblige one of the fellows of his college, and entitled Naturam non pati senium, its purpose being to reply to those who held the notion that the world was liable to the decays of old age. Several of Milton's biographers mention that this subject was probably suggested by a work published in the preceding year under the title of “An Apologie or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World, by George Hakewill, D.D., and Archdeacon of Surrey, 1627.” Of the former production, Mr. Macaulay, in his brilliant article on Milton, first published in the Edinburgh Review, remarks, that “Comus is framed on the model of the Italian masque, as the Samson is formed on the model of the Greek tragedy. It is certainly the noblest performance of the kind which exists in any language." * Similar views were maintained some years afterwards by Dr.
South, a bitter enemy of Milton, in a Sermon from Eccl. vii. 10–"Say not thou, what is the cause that the former days were better than these?”