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the title in 1628, was a Roman Catholic; he subsequently attained great distinction by his loyalty during the civil wars; and he did not die till 1674, forty-three years after he had been made a widower by the death of this, his accomplished (first) wife. That event occurred on the 15th of April, 1631, in circumstances thus communicated in a contemporary news-letter, dated the 21st of the same month :-“The Lady Marquis of Winchester, daughter “s to the Lord Viscount Savage, had an imposthume upon her cheek lanced ; “the humour fell down into her throat, and quickly despatched her, being big “ with child : whose death is lamented, as well in respect of other her virtues "as that she was inclining to become a Protestant.” An unusual amount of public regret seems to have been caused by the lady's melancholy death. It was the subject of a long elegy by the poet-laureate, Ben Jonson, printed in his “Underwoods”; and there were verses on the occasion by Davenant and other poets. How Milton, then in his twenty-third year, and still at Cambridge, came to be so interested in the event as to make it the subject of a poem, is not known. Warton had been told that there was a Cambridge collection of verses on the occasion, among which Milton's elegiac ode first appeared ; and some expressions in the ode might imply that fact; but no such volume has been found.
L'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO.
These were written as companion pieces, and are to be read together. There is some doubt as to the time of their composition, there being no drafts of them among the Cambridge MSS. In the edition of 1645 they follow immediately after the pieces on Hobson, and precede the Arcades, with the intervention, however, of the ten Sonnets printed in that edition.
With great probability they are assigned to the period immediately subsequent to Milton's student-life at Cambridge, i.e. to the time of his studious seclusion in his father's country house at Horton in Buckinghamshire, near Windsor. Milton retired thither in 1632, after taking his degree of M.A., and he mainly resided there till the beginning of 1638. If the pieces were written at Horton, they were probably written soon after his going there. That they were written in some peaceful country neighbourhood, amid the sights and sounds of quiet English landscape and English rural life, is rendered likely by their nature. But it is a mistaken notion of the poems, and a somewhat crude notion, to suppose that they must contain a transcript of the scenery of any one place, even the place where they were written. That place (and we incline to think it was Horton) may have shed its influence into the poems; but the purpose of the poet was not to describe actual scenery, but to represent two moods, and to do so by making each mood move, as it were, amid circumstances and adjuncts akin to it and nutritive of it. Hence the scenery is visionary scenery, made up of eclectic recollections from various spots blended into one ideal landscape. It is, indeed, the exquisite fitness with which circumstances are chosen or invented, in true poetic affinity with the two moods, that makes the poems so beautiful, and secures them, while the English language lasts, against the
possibility of being forgotten.
The poems, we have said, are companion-pieces, and must be read together. Each describes an ideal day—a day of twelve hours. But L'Allegro is the ideal day of the mind of an educated youth, like Milton himself, in a mood
of light cheerfulness. And observe at what point that day begins. It begins at dawn. The first sound heard is the song of the lark; the first sights seen round the rustic cottage, or in the walk from it, are those of new-waked nature, and of labour fresh afield. Then the light broadens on to mid-day, and we have the reapers at their dinner, or the haymakers busy in the sun. And so, through the afternoon merry-makings, we are led to the evening sports and junkets and nut-brown ale round the cottage bench; after which, when the country folks, old and young, have retired to rest, the imaginary youth of the poem, still in his mood of cheerfulness, may protract his more educated day by fit reading indoors, varied by sweet Lydian music. Contrast with all this the day of Il Penseroso. It is the same youth, but in a mood more serious, thoughtful, and melancholy. The season of the year, too, may be later. At all events, the ideal day now begins with the evening. It is the song of the nightingale that is first heard ; lured by which the youth walks forth in moonlight, seeing all objects in their silver aspect, and listening to the sounds of nightfall. Such evening or nocturnal sights and sounds it is that befit the mood of melancholy. And then, indoors again we follow the thoughtful youth, to see him, in his chamber, where the embers glow on the hearth, sitting meditatively, disturbed by no sound, save (for it may be a town that he is now in) the drowsy voice of the passing bellman. Later still, or after midnight, we may fancy him in some high watch-tower, communing, over his books, with old philosophers, or with poets, of grave and tragic themes. In such solemn and weirdly phantasies let the whole night pass, and let the morning come, not gay, but sombre and cloudy, the winds rocking the trees, and the rain-drops falling heavily from the eaves. At last, when the sun is up, the watcher, who has not slept, may sally forth ; but it is to lose himself in some forest of monumental oaks or pines, where sleep may overtake him recumbent by some waterfall. And always, ere he rejoins the mixed society of men, let him pay his due visit of worship to the Gothic cathedral near, and have his mind raised to its highest by the music of the pealing organ.
The studied antithesis of the two pieces has to be kept in mind in reading them. It needs only be added that the commentators have supposed that Milton may have been aided in his conception of the two poems by some passages in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, by a song in Beaumont and Fletcher's drama of Nice Valor, and by recollections of other pieces of a pensive kind, in octosyllabic measure, including Marlowe's pretty poem, the Passionate Shepherd to his Love, and Sir Walter Raleigh's answer to the same, called The Nymph's Reply. The help from any such quarters, however, must have been very small, the mere suggestion of a cadence here and there.
Part of an Entertainment presented to the Countess-Dowager of Derby od Harefield by some noble persons of her Family,” are the words added by Milton himself to the title of the poem, to explain its nature. In other words, it is part, and only part, of a masque presented before a venerable lady at her country-seat by some members of her family who had chosen this way of showing their affection and respect for her. The rest of the masque has perished ; only this fragment of it, supplied by Milton, remains. The date is a little uncertain. Historically, the Arcades is connected so closely with Comus that any Introduction to the one must serve also as partly an Introduction to
the other; and the manner of the connexion is such that we must assume that the Arcades preceded Comus. Now, as the date of Comus is 1634, the immediately preceding year, 1633, has been taken as the probable year for the Arcades; but there are arguments which might push it as far back as 1631, or even 1630. It is chiefly necessary to bear in mind that the Arcades did precede Comus, and that the lady in whose honour it was composed was one of the same noble family for whom Comus was subsequently written.
That lady was Alice, Countess-Dowager of Derby, who, in 1631, was about seventy years of age. The life of this lady had been one that would have made her venerable in the social and literary his:ory of England even had there not been this association of her later years with the youth of Milton. Born, about the year 1565, one of the daughters of Sir John Spencer of Althorpe, Northamptonshire—from whom are descended the Earls Spencer and their branches--she had been married in early life to Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, eldest son of the fourth Earl of Derby. One of her sisters, Elizabeth Spencer, was then, by marriage, Lady Carey, and another, Anne Spencer, was Lady Compton. The three sisters seem to have at that time been especially well known to the poet Spenser, who, indeed, claimed to be related to the Spencers of Althorpe. Spenser's earliest known publication, Muiopotmos (1590), was dedicated to Lady Carey; his Mother Hubberd's Tale (1591) was dedicated to Lady Compton; and to the youngest of the three sisters—the one with whom we are at present concerned—was dedicated in the same year (1591) his Tears of the Niuses. In paying this honour to Alice, Lady Strange, Spenser had regard not only to her own accomplishments and his connexion with her family, but also to the reputation of her husband, Lord Strange. No nobleman of the day was of greater note in the world of letters than Lord Strange. He was himself a poet; among the dramatic companies of the time was one retained by him and known as “Lord Strange's Players ;” and among his clients and panegyrists were Nash, Greene, and others of Shakespeare's seniors in the English drama. All this is recognised in Spenser's dedication of the Tears of the Muses to Lady Strange. “Most brave and noble
says, "the things that make ye so much honoured of the world as ye be are such as, without my simple lines' testimony, are throughly “known to all men : namely, your excellent beauty, your virtuous behaviour, "and your noble match with that most honourable Lord, the very pattern of
right nobility. But the causes for which ye have thus deserved of me to be “honoured (if honour it be at all) are both your particular bounties and also
some private bonds of affinity which it hath pleased your Ladyship to acknowledge. .. Vouchsafe, noble Lady, to accept this simple remem. "brance, though not worthy of yourself, yet such as perhaps, by good
acceptance thereof, you may hereafter cull out a more meet and memorable “evidence of your own excellent deserts.” Some time after this dedication to wit, in September 1593—the lady so addressed rose still higher in the peerage by the accession of her husband to the earldom of Derby on his father's death. Ferdinando, fifth Earl of Derby, however, enjoyed his new dignity but a few months. He died on the 16th of April, 1594, in his thirty-sixth year, much regretted. From that day his widow was known as Alice, Countess-Dowager of Derby. The earldom of Derby went to the next male heir; and the Countess-Dowager, with her three young daughters by her deceased husband-- Lady Anne Stanley, Lady Frances Stanley, and Lady Elizabeth Stanley-lived on to form new alliances. Spenser, who had honoured
her during her husband's life, continued to honour her in her widowhood. In his pastoral of Colin Clout's come Home again (completed in 1595), the poet, having enumerated the chief “shepherds” or poets of the British isle, and having proceeded thence to a mention of some of the chief “shepherdesses "nymphs," introduces three of these ladies thus :
“Ne less praiseworthie are the sisters three,
honour of the noble familie
These three ladies were the three married daughters of Sir John Spencer of Althorpe, honoured some years before by dedications of Spenser's earliest poems to them respectively; and Amaryllis, the youngest of them, and the highest in degree,” was the one to whom he had dedicated his Tears of the Muses--then Lady Strange, but now Countess-Dowager of Derby. Indeed, there are special allusions in Colin Clout's come Home again to the widowed condition of this lady :
“But Amaryllis whether fortunate
Or else unfortunate may I aread,
The lady, however, did marry again. In 1600, when Spenser was no longer alive to approve or to regret, she contracted a second marriage with Lord Keeper Egerton—then only Sir Thomas Egerton and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal to Queen Elizabeth, but afterwards (1603) Baron Ellesmere and Lord Chancellor to King James, and finally (1616) Viscount Brackley. This eminent lawyer and statesman had already been twice married, and was a man of about sixty years of age, with grown-up children, when he made his splendid match with the Countess-Dowager of Derby. The Countess—who, of course, retained that title in her new condition as the Lord Keeper's wife—was brought once again conspicuously into society by her husband's connexion with public affairs. In 1601 she and her husband jointly purchased the estate of Harefield in Middlesex -a charming property, with a fine mansion upon it, on a spot of well-wooded hill and meadow, on the river Colne, about four miles from Uxbridge. Here or in London, the Lord Keeper and his wife mainly resided, doing the honours of their position, and receiving in return the recognitions due to persons of their rank. One very memorable incident in their life at Harefield was a visi of four days paid them there by Queen Elizabeth (July 31 --August 3, 1602), when all sorts of pageants were held for her Majesty's recreation. The story that these included the first known performance of Shakespeare's Othello by
Burbidge's players” is now universally rejected ; but a long avenue of elms,” leading to the house, was the scene of a kind of masque of welcome at the Queen's reception, and of another of leave-taking on her departure, and
was ever afterwards known as “the Queen's Walk.” Throughout the reign of James I. there were similar recognitions of the high social rank of the Chancellor and his noble wife, besides not a few of a literary character, in the shape of poems, or dedications of poems, to them. It was not only their own marriage, however-a marriage that proved childless—that now connected the pair. Not long after that marriage had taken place, the ties of family between the two had been drawn closer by the marriage of the Lord Keeper's son-then Sir John Egerton—with Lady Frances Stanley, the Countess's second daughter by her former husband the Earl of Derby. Thus, while the Countess-Dowager was the wife of the father, one of her daughters was the wife of the son. Her other two daughters made marriages of even higher promise at the time. The eldest, Lady Anne Stanley, had married Grey Bridges, fifth Lord Chandos; and the youngest, Lady Elizabeth Stanley, had married, at a very early age (1603), Henry, Lord Hastings, who, in 1605, succeeded his grandfather as Earl of Huntingdon, and possessor of the fine estate of Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire.
On the 15th of March, 1616-17, the Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, then just created Viscount Brackley, died, and the Countess-Dowager of Derby commenced her second widowhood. She was then probably over five-and-fifty years of age, and she survived for twenty years more. These twenty years she spent chiefly in retirement at Harefield, where she endowed almshouses for poor widows, and did other acts of charity, but was surrounded all the while, or occasionally visited, by those numerous descendants and other relatives who had grown up, or were growing up, to venerate her, and whose joys and sorrows constituted the chief interest of her declining years. By the year 1630, when she was about seventy years of age, she had at least twenty of her own direct descendants alive, besides collateral relatives in the families of her sisters, Phyllis and Charillis. (1.) One group of the venerable lady's direct descendants consisted of her eldest daughter, Lady Chandos, and that daughter's surviving children by her first husband Lord Chandos, the eldest of whom was George Bridges, now Lord Chandos, a boy of about twelve years of age. Both mother and children, we chance to know, lived at Harefield, with the grandmother, in 1631 ; and the estate of Harefield itself, we also learn, was to descend, after the Countess-Dowager's death, to Lady Chandos, otherwise left “destitute," and so to her son, young Lord Chandos. (2.) An additional group of relatives, also sharing the affections of the venerable Lady of Harefield, consisted of the children of her youngest daughter, the Countess of Huntingdon, viz. : Ferdinando, Lord Hastings, twenty-two years of age, and heir-apparent to the earldom of Huntingdon ; his younger brother Henry, afterwards Lord Loughborough ; a daughter, Alice, married to Sir Gervase Clifton ; and another daughter, Elizabeth. These four grandchildren would sometimes be on visits to their grandmother at Harefield from their own homes in London, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and elsewhere. (3.) There was still a third group of relatives around the venerable lady. At or near the time when she herself had married the Lord Keeper Egerton, as we have seen, her second daughter by her former husband, Lady Frances Stanley, had married the Lord Keeper's son, Sir John Egerton. When his father was raised to the peerage as Baron Ellesmere (1603), this Sir John Egerton had become “baron-expectant, -a designation which rose to the higher one of “Lord Egerton” when his father was made Viscount Brackley (1616). On his father's death, a few months afterwards (March 1616-17), he succeeded him as Viscount. But his dignities