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ON MILTON'S FOREIGN TRAVELS.
IN 1637, æt. twenty-nine, Milton, on the death of his mother, obtained his father's leave to visit Italy. I have already mentioned the course of his travels. The accomplished and amiable Sir Henry Wotton, whose admiration and heart had been won by the poet's Comus,' gave him his advice and recommendations. At Florence, Rome, and Naples, he was received with applause and kindness by all the most eminent literati. He, who had been little noticed in his own country, was received with the most distinguished honours abroad, in the country of Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso.
How happened this? Yet such is the perversity of human nature!
It is a subject of deep regret that Milton has not left a written account of his travels, with details such as modern visiters of the same and other countries give; or even such short notes as Gray sent in his letters. It is impossible to conceive any other so qualified to receive delight from these
visits as Milton. Above all other men, his mind was full of the richest and most profound classical recollections. Not only his fancy held a mirror to all the beautiful and golden scenery, and all the exquisite and grand displays of the arts of painting and sculpture, but he had a creative imagination, beyond all other men, which must have fired into a blaze at them. All with which his mind had been stored from boyhood, drawn from distant sources, must now have seemed to be realized. He saw the very identical relics of classical times embodied before his eyes: he saw clear skies, and beautiful scenes, of which we have no idea in a northern climate. The Alps and the Apeninnes, the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, and above all the bay of Naples, gave him landscapes and sea-wiews such as an Englishman, who has never quitted his own country, can' have no conception of.
He visited Galileo, which, however, was supposed to have raised some dangerous prejudices against him but his great friend was the Marquis Manso of Naples, who had been the friend of Tasso, and who was, himself, a poet. • Ad Mansum,' is one of the best of his Latin poems. With what enthusiasm must Milton have entered into Tasso's character, as well as that of Dante, Petrarch, and Ariosto! Dante's genius was, no doubt, the nearest to his own: but in addition to the epic imagination, there is in his personal history something so striking, so melancholy, and so full of deep interest, that it adds
Three, at least, of these four mighty poets suffered great misfortunes: but the history of their lives is well known, and this is not the place for treating of them. We have nothing English of the same sort as their respective geniuses, unless, perhaps, Spenser. The sombreness and mystical sublimity of Dante is peculiar to himself: he has been admirably translated by Carey: he lived in a glorious time for poetry, when superstition fostered and coloured all its noblest creations; and when the chilling and false artifices of the cold critic had not yet paralysed exertion;when all was hope and adventure, both of mind and body.
Had Milton's mind at this epoch been so strongly infected with puritanism as his enemies averred, he could not have enjoyed Italian manners and Italian genius. There he saw all the pomp and warmth of religion: puritanism had all its acidity and rigidness, and all its freezing bareness. Coming fresh from these things, of which he has expressed his delight, I know not how he could so at once plunge into principles, which would destroy them all to the very root; but such are the inconsisteneies of frail humanity! Gray saw all these things with equal sensibility and taste, if not with equal genius; and he remained fixed in the love of them through life.
But it is worthy of remark, that as soon as Milton actively took the side of this cause of
destruction, the Muses left him for twenty years. Coming fresh from the living fountains of all imaginative creation, the happy delirium of glorious genius subsided into a cold and harsh stagnation of all that was eloquent and generous. The blight was more violent and effective in proportion as the bloom had been strong.
Milton did not stay long enough at any of the great Italian cities: instead of eighteen months among them all, his stay ought to have been four or five years.
I give in this place Cowper's translation of the Latin epistle to Manso.
TO GIOVANNI BATTISTA MANSO,
MARQUIS OF VILLA.
["Giovanni Battista Manso, Marquis of Villa, is an Italian nobleman of the highest estimation among his countrymen for genius, literature, and military accomplishments. To him Torquato Tasso addressed his 'Dialogues on Friendship; for he was much the friend of Tasso, who has also celebrated him among the other princes of his country in his poem entitled Gerusalemme Conquistata,' book xx.
Fra cavalier magnanimi, e cortesi,
During the author's stay at Naples, he received at the hands of the Marquis a thousand kind offices and civilities and, desirous not to appear ungrateful, sent him this poem a short time before his departure from that city."]
These verses also to thy praise the Nine,
Already such it shines in Tasso's page,
For thou wast Tasso's friend, from age to age;
To his great theme, the life of Homer drew.
I, therefore, though a stranger youth, who come, Chill'd by rude blasts, that freeze my northern home, Thee dear to Clio, confident proclaim,
And thine, for Phœbus' sake, a deathless name.
We too, where Thames with his unsullied waves
Who trod, a welcome guest, yon happy shore.
Yes,-dreary as we own our northern clime,