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is an avowed adaptation of the divine herb Moly given by Hermes to Ulysses (Odyss. X. 286 et seq.) to enable him to withstand those drugs of Circe that had wrought such woe on his companions. Commentators, however, have found traces in the masque of Milton's acquaintance also with George Peele's comedy of The Old Wives' Tale (1595) and Fletcher's pastoral of The Faithful Shepherdess, originally produced before 1625, and revived as a Court play and acted in the London theatres in 1633-4. In neither of these pieces is COMUs a character ; but in the first there is a story of two brothers wandering in search of their lost sister and releasing her from the spell of an Enchanter, and in both there are passages in which one may descry or fancy some slight resemblance to some in Comus.
On the 9th of June, 1626, when Milton had been for about sixteen months a student at Christ's College, Cambridge, there were admitted into that college, as appears from its records, two brothers, named King, sons of Sir John King, Knight, then living in Dublin, as Privy Councillor for Ireland and Secretary to the Irish Government. The family was English ; but various members of it, in addition to Sir John, held offices in Ireland. Edward King, for example, Sir John's brother, was bishop of the Irish see of Elphin. Both the young men had been born in Ireland—the elder, named Roger, near Dublin ; and the younger, named Edward after his uncle, at Boyle in Connaught. At the date of their admission into Christ's College, Roger was sixteen years of age, and Edward fourteen. They had previously been pupils of Mr. Thomas Farnaby, one of the most noted schoolmasters of the time, whose school then was in Goldsmith's Rents, Cripplegate, London. The tutor under whose care they were put at Christ's College was Mr. William Chappell, who was also Milton's first tutor there, and who became afterwards Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and Dean of Cashel, and finally a bishop in the Irish Church.
Edward King, the younger of the two brothers, seems to have been one of the most popular young men in Christ's College during Milton's residence there. He and Milton must have seen much of each other. They must have had frequent meetings in hall, at lecture, and in each other's rooms, and frequent walks about Cambridge together. Milton, as we know, waz indubitably the chief ornament of the little community, its ablest and noblest youth, supreme in everything; and, before he left college as M. A. in July 1532, aged twenty-three, this had come to be recognised. But, among those who had been his fellow-students in college, and whom he left behind him there, there were several of whom high things were expected. John Cleveland, afterwards known as a metrical Satirist, was one ; and the future celebrated “Platonist," Henry More, who had joined the college just as Milton was about to leave it, was another. Probably, however, no one was more liked in the college, both by dons and by students, than Edward King. Indeed, before Milton left the college, King, by what looks now like a promotion over Milton's head, had become himself one of the dons. On June 10, 1630, a Fellowship in Christ's College being then about to fall vacant, a royal mandate was addressed to the Master and Fellows of the college in behalf of Edward King, B.A., willing and requiring them, when the Fellowship should be vacant, to admit “the said Edward King into the same, notwithstanding any statute, ordinance,
or constitution to the contrary." Had such college honours then gone by merit, Milton, then a B. A. of two years' standing, would have had a far superior claim. As it was, however, King, though his junior by three years, and only just out of his undergraduateship, received the Fellowship, and thus took nominal precedence of Milton during Milton's last two years at Christ's. The royal mandate in King's favour was clearly owing to his family connexions and influence ; but to so popular a young scholar the preferment does not appear to have been grudged. Not only was he a favourite on account of his amiable character; he really was, as the royal mandate represented him, a youth of
hopeful parts.” This we learn, however, rather from tradition than from any specimens of his ability that have come down to us. The earliest of such specimens that I have found are in a volume put forth by the Cambridge University press late in 1631 under the title of Genethliacum illustrissimorum principum, Caroli et Mariæ, a Musis Cantabrigiensibus celebratum. It consists of complimentary Latin pieces by some scores of Cambridge men, of different colleges, on the recent birth of the Princess Mary, the third child of Charles I., but with retrospective reference to the birth in the previous year (May 29, 1630) of the Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles II. Among the contributors is Edward King, Fellow of Christ's College. He contributes four short Latin pieces-one in hexameters, one in Horatian verse, and two in elegiacs. They are not very poetical or elegant, and indeed are rather prosaic. But in such customary verses of compliment to Royalty one had not much scope; and King had probably written better things, in Latin and in English, known to his fellow-collegians in Christ's, and to Milton among them. When Milton left the college, there seems to have been no one in it for whom he had a higher regard, morally at least, than Edward King.
Five years had elapsed since then, during which Milton, living chiefly at his father's country place, at Horton in Buckinghamshire, some sixty miles from Cambridge, can have seen King but occasionally. He would still hear, however, of King's progress and continued popularity in his Fellowship. In July 1633, we find, King took his full degree of M.A.; and there are subsequent traces of him in the records of the college, while he was qualifying himself for the Church-the profession for which Milton also had been originally destined, but which he had abandoned. He was Tutor in the college, as well as Fellow; and in 1634-5 he was “prælector, ," and the admissions into the college for that year are still to be seen in his handwriting in the college-books. At least six more specimens of his Latin versification have been discovered, belonging to this period. There is a copy of Latin Iambics by him in a volume of Cambridge University verses on the King's recovery from small-pox (1633); he furnished another copy of Latin lambics to a similar collection of academic congratulations on the King's return from his coronation-visit to Scotland (July 1633); there are some commendatory Latin Iambics of King's prefixed to Senile Odium, a Latin play by Peter Hausted, M.A. of Queen's College, acted at Cambridge in 1631, but not published till 1633 ; he has a set of Latin elegiacs in a Cambridge collection of verses on the birth of the Duke of York (Oct. 1633); he has some Horatian stanzas in a similar volume on the birth of the Princess Elizabeth (December 1635); and the latest thing of his I have seen is a copy of Latin Iambics in a collection of pieces, by no fewer than 140 Cambridge scholars, put forth on the birth of the Princess Anne (March 1636-7). Milton's hand does not appear in any of these collections, verses eulogistic of Royalty not being in his way ; but he may have seen some of the collections,
and read King's contributions to them. He cannot, I am pretty sure, have thought much of them, any more than of their predecessors in the volume of 1631. But, as I have said, he liked King personally, and probably knew him to be capable of better things.
Suddenly, however, this youth of golden opinions from all sorts of people, this young hope of Christ's College, was cut off. It was the Long Vacation of 1637, and he had arranged to visit his friends in Ireland. Proceeding by way of the English midland and western counties, and perhaps seeing friends in those parts, he took a passage on board a vessel sailing from Chester Bay for Dublin. The vessel had gone but a little way, was still on the Welsh coast, and not out into the open channel, when, on the roth August, in perfectly calm weather, she struck on a rock, not far from land, and foundered. Some seem to have escaped in a boat ; but most went down with the ship, and among them Edward King. His body was never recovered.
The news caused a profound sensation among all King's friends. As it was the time of the University vacation, when his college-fellows were scattered, it must have reached them separately, and some of them circuitously. Milton, we are to fancy, heard it at Horton, late in August 1637, or in the course of the following month. It had already been a sad year in the Horton household. The Plague, which had broken out in 1636, and whose ravages in various parts of England, and especially in London, were very alarming in 1637, had caused an unusual number of deaths in the neighbourhood of Horton. In the same unhealthy season, though not by the Plague itself, Milton's mother had died. She was buried, on the 6th of April, in Horton parish church, where the inscription Heare lyeth the Body of Sara Milton, the wife of John Milton, who died the 3rd of April
, 1637,” may be read to this day on a plain blue stone on the floor of the chancel. Milton was still walking about Horton with this loss in his mind, and the blue stone, with its inscription, may have just been put down over the grave, when there came the news of the shipwreck in the Irish Seas and of the drowning of Edward King with the rest.
When the Cambridge colleges reassembled in Oct. 1637 after the Long Vacation, the melancholy death of poor King of Christ's was one of the first subjects of talk. It was proposed by somebody, or it suggested itself to more than one at once, that a volume of Memorial Verses should be prepared in his honour and published from the University Press. Among the contributors to this volume were to be, of course, some of King's more immediate associates of Christ's College, from whom he had parted so lately on his fatal journey ; but friends of his in other colleges, and relatives and former acquaintances out of Cambridge, night be expected to co-operate. Either Milton was thought of and applied to, or he had heard of the project and volunteered his assistance. In November 1637, as appears from a dating at the head of the original draft of Lycidas in Milton's own hand among the Milton MSS. at Cambridge, he wrote that poem, entitling it simply “ LYCIDAS.” This was to be his contribution to the intended memorial volume.
The volume, probably because other contributors were not so ready as Milton, did not appear till some time in 1638. It consisted of two collections of pieces, printed by the University printers, Thomas Buck and Roger Daniel, and separately paged, so that they might be bound either separately or together. The one was a collection of twenty-three Latin and Greek pieces occupying 35 pages of small quarto, and entitled “ Fusta Edovardo King naufrago ab amicis mærentibus, amoris et uvelas zápır” (“Rites to Edward King, drowned by shipwreck,
in love and remembrance by his sorrowing friends”); the other consisted on thirteen pieces of English verse, occupying 25 pages of the same size, and with this title, bordered with black, on the front page, Obsequies to the memorie of Mr. Edward King, Anno Dom. 1638. The last piece in the English collection, and much the longest--for it spreads over six pages (pp. 20-25), while only one of the others extends over more than two-is Milton's Lycidas. It is signed merely “J. M.,” and has no title, or other formal separation from the pieces that cede it. All the more striking must it have been for a reader who had toiled through the trash of the preceding twelve pieces (I have read them one and all, and will vouch that they are trash) to come at length upon this opening of a true poem :
“Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
This poem of Milton's, published half-anonymously in 1638 in the Cambridge volume of Memorial Verses to Edward King, was in circulation just as Milton was going abroad on his Italian journey. It, and his Comus, printed for him quite anonymously in the previous year by his friend Henry Lawes the musician, were all but the only poems of Milton in print till 1645, when the first edition of his collected Poems was given to the world by Moseley. In that edition, and in the subsequent edition of 1673, Lycidas is printed with its present complete title, thus : " LYCIDAS. In this Monody the Author bezvails a learned Friend, unfortunately drown’d in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637. And by occasion foretells the ruine of our corrupted Clergie then in their height.” A portion of this extended title (from “In this Monody” to the date “1637") appears in the original MS. draft of the poem at Cambridge, inserted, clearly by way of afterthought, in Milton's own hand under the heading Lycidas; the words “Novemb. 1637,” which had originally accompanied that heading, being then erased as superfluous.
The poem is a Pastoral. It is the most pastoral in form of all Milton's English poems, more so considerably than the Arcades and Comus. It is not a direct lyric of lamentation by Milton for the death of King; it is a phantasy of one shepherd mourning, in the time of autumn, the death of a fellow-shepherd. The mourning shepherd, however, is Milton himself, and the shepherd mourned for is King; and, through the guise of all the pastoral circumstance and imagery of the poem, there is a studious representation of the real facts of King's brief life and his accidental death, and of Milton's regard for him and academic intimacy with him.
“Together both, ere the high lawns appeared
Battening our docks.
bridge, their walks and talks together there, and their common exercises. In the same manner it has already been hinted to us that among those common exercises was poetry. One reason why Lycidas was now lamented in
song was that he himself had known how "to sing and build the lofty rhyme." All the more inexplicable was his loss. Where had the Nymphs been when this loved votary of theirs was drowned ? Not, certainly, anywhere near the scene of the disaster. Not on the steeps known to the old Bards and Druids (the mountains of North Wales), nor on the shaggy top of Mona (the Isle of Anglesey), nor by the wizard stream of the Deva (the river Dee and Chester Bay). The topographical exactness here, under the poetic language, is worthy of remark, and is one of Milton's habits. But, had the Nymphs been there, what could they have done? Had the Muse herself been able to save her son Orpheus? Dwelling a little on this thought, of the non-immunity of even the finest intellectual promise from the stroke of death, Milton works it into one of the most beautiful and most frequently quoted passages of the poem : “Alas, what boots it,” &c. (lines 64-84). That strain, he says, at the end of the passage, had been “of a higher mood,” rather beyond the range of the pastoral; but now he will resume his simple oaten pipe and proceed. There pass then across the visionary stage three figures in succession. First comes the Herald of the Sea, Triton, who reports, in mythological terms, which yet veil exact information, that the cause of King's death was not tempestuous weather, for the sea was as calm as glass when the ship went down, but either the unseaworthiness of the ship itself or some inherited curse in her very timbers.
Next comes Camus, the local deity of the Cam, footing slowly like his own sluggish stream, and with his bonnet of sedge from its banks, staying not long, but uttering one ejaculation over the loss to Cambridge of one of her darling sons. Lastly, in still more mystic and awful guise, comes St. Peter, the guardian of that Church of Christ for the service of which King had been destined—the apostle to whom the Great Shepherd himself had given it in charge, “Feed my sheep.' Not out of place even his grave figure in this peculiar pastoral. For has he not lost one of his truest under-shepherds, lost him too at a time when he could ill be spared, when false shepherds, hireling shepherds, knowing nothing of the real craft they professed, were more numerous than ever, and the flocks were perishing for lack of care or by the ravages of the stealthy wolf? It is to the singularly bold and stern passage of denunciation here put into St. Peter's mouth (lines 113-131), and especially to the last lines of the passage, prophesying speedy vengeance and reform, that Milton referred, when, in the title prefixed to the poem on its republication in 1645, he intimated that it contained a description of the state of England at the time when it was written, and foretold the ruin of the corrupted English clergy then in their height. In 1638 it had been bold enough to let the passage stand in the poem, as published in the Cambridge memorial volume, without calling attention to it in the title. But, indeed, this passage too had transcended the ordinary limits of the quiet pastoral. The poet is aware of this. Accordingly, when “the dread voice is past" that had so pealed over the landscape and caused it to shudder, he calls on Alphëus and the Sicilian Muse, as the patrons of the pastoral proper, to return, and be with him through the pensive remainder. Beautifully pensive it is, and yet with a tendency to soar. First, in strange and evidently studied contrast with the stern speech of St. Peter which has just preceded, is the exquisitely worded passage which follows (lines 143-151). For musical sweetness, and dainty richness of floral colour, it beats