페이지 이미지

cumstances operated on the bent and colours of Milton's genius. Probably he was early educated in Puritan principles. His earliest tutor, Young, was a rigid and zealous Puritan; yet there are many traits in his early taste and early poems which make us hesitate as to his boyish attachment to this sect. His ruling love of poetry and classical erudition was not very congenial with it: his love of the theatre, and all feudal and chivalrous magnificence, was alien to it. There are, however, a few passages in his Lycidas concordant with it.

It does not seem to me that there are any traces of these Calvinistic prejudices at the time he visited Italy, unless his friendship to Charles Deodate be a sign of it; which I think, looking at the poetical addresses to him, it is not. The nature of Milton's lofty temper, which could not endure submission even to college-discipline, is the more probable


As the resistance to monarchical authority grew daily bolder, more obstinate, and more bitter, the chance is that Milton heated his mind, and became more fixed in his native love of liberty and self-government. As he was a reader of the most abstruse books, he entangled himself in the webs of controversy.

When King James died, March 27th, 1625, Milton was yet a boy, aged sixteen. That monarch could impress upon the poet nothing but scorn and hatred: his tyranny provoked rebellion; his cowardice encouraged it: his odious and im

becile pedantry was in itself a ground of aversion to a great mind: and these unlucky aids were added to a flame already strong enough to burst from its bondage. The character of the court was notoriously corrupt and profligate: the favourite Villiers was alone sufficient to rouse all great and good minds against it: the preceding favourite, Carr, had been still worse: there was not only a want of principle, but of talent in the administration. England had become the laughingstock of foreign powers: the internal policy was full of vicious abuses: the gentry were discontented; their swords were rusting, and parvenus began to mount over their heads: the order of` knighthood was cheapened and prostituted: the Church lost the veneration it had till now possessed; and sects, that had hitherto lurked in holes and corners, arose and displayed themselves openly.

The cruel and infamous sacrifice of the life of the heroic Sir Walter Raleigh had filled the nation with horror and disgust; and Bacon's mixture of glory and littleness had taken from high station half its respect and all its splendour. All the relics of the public men of Queen Elizabeth's lofty reign had gradually disappeared. Buckhurst, Cecil, Egerton, Coke, the great navigators and soldiers; the gallant courtiers of ancient nobility; and all the leading names of commoners, rich in domains as well as in blood,who carried more respect and influence than most of the best of modern nobility. Percy, the


Earl of Northumberland, was immured a prisoner in the Tower: the head of the Howards had not recovered attainder and confiscation: the Veres, Cliffords, Nevils, Staffords, &c., were all impoverished the Courtenays had lost all their honours: young Essex was oppressed, insulted, and spurned. The sharers of the spoils of church lands alone of the former century were rich.

This state of things encouraged those political opinions which Milton's tutor, Young, had probably instilled into him: but his acquaintance with the Countess of Derby at Harefield, and the Earl of Bridgewater, her son-in-law, must be supposed to have counteracted them for a time.

There can be little doubt that the poet's travels to Italy increased this counteraction. Milton left England in 1638, in his thirtieth year; was presented to Grotius, at Paris, by Lord Scudamore, the English ambassador; proceeded to Nice, embarked for Genoa, and thence through Leghorn and Pisa to Florence. Here he stayed two months: hence he passed through Sienna to Rome, where he stayed another two months. On quitting Rome he visited Naples: it was his purpose also to have visited Sicily and Athens; but the intelligence of the disturbances which had broken out in his own country made him think of home.

He passed back through Rome, where he again stayed two months; and then again to Florence, where also he stopped two months. He now visited Lucca; then went across the Apennines

by Bologna and Ferrara to Venice: here he sojourned for a month; and then travelled by Verona and Milan to Geneva. His way back lay through France; having been absent about fifteen months.

I have brought these facts together rather out of order, because I believe they were the preservatives of Milton's poetical genius against his political adoptions. I now go back to his earliest manhood. From school the poet was sent to Christ's College, Cambridge, in February, 1624, æt. 16, just before King James's death. Already, or about this time, he had commenced his poetical character, for he had paraphrased two of the Psalms, cxiv. and cxxxvi. In this latter are some fine stanzas, indicative of the character of his future genius; witness this speaking of the Creator:

Who by his wisdom did create

The painted heavens so full of state:
Who did the solid earth ordain

To rise above the watery main :
Who by his all-commanding might
Did fill the new-made world with light,
And caused the golden-tressed sun
All the day long his course to run;
The horned moon to shine by night
Amongst her spangled sisters bright.
He with his thunder-clasping hand
Smote the first-born of Egypt land;
And, in despite of Pharaoh fell,
He brought from thence his Israël.
The ruddy waves he cleft in twain
Of the Erythræan main:

The floods stood still, like walls of glass,
While the Hebrew bands did pass :

But full soon they did devour
The tawny king with all his power.
His chosen people he did bless
In the wasteful wilderness:
In bloody battle he brought down
Kings of prowess and renown:
He foil'd both Seon and his host,
That ruled the Amorrean coast;
And large-limb'd Og he did subdue,
With all his over-hardy crew;
And to his servant Israël

He gave their land, therein to dwell.

In 1625 also Milton wrote his poem 'On the Death of a Fair Infant dying of a cough,' said to be his niece, daughter of his sister Phillips. It has some fine stanzas, but a little quaint and farfetched. Take these for instance :


Yet can I not persuade me thou art dead,

Or that thy corse corrupts in earth's dark womb;
Or that thy beauties lie in wormy bed,

Hid from the world in a low-delved tomb.
Could heaven, for pity, thee so strictly doom?
Oh, no! for something in thy face did shine
Above mortality, that show'd thou wast divine.

Resolve me,


then, oh soul most purely bless'd! (If so it be that thou these plaints dost hear,) Tell me, bright spirit, where'er thou hoverest, Whether above that high first-moving sphere, Or in the Elysian fields, if such there were. Oh, say me true, if thou wert mortal wight, And why from us so quickly thou didst take thy flight?

Thomas Warton observes of this Ode, that " on the whole, from a boy of seventeen, it is an extraordinary effort of fancy, expression, and ver

« 이전계속 »