Page images



aloft. Let us be lowly wise! I will now tell you seriously what I am thinking of—of migrating into some inn of the lawyers,' wherever there is a pleasant and shady walk, because there I shall have a more convenient habitation among a few companions if I wish to remain at home, and more suitable head-quarters if I choose to go abroad. Where now I am, as you know, I am buried in obscurity. You shall also be better informed respecting my studies. I have, by a consecutive course of reading, brought down the Grecian affairs to the time when they ceased to be Greeks. I was long employed on the obscure history of the Italians under the Lombards, the Franks, and Germans, to the time when they received their liberty from Rudolf, King of Germany; from that time it will be better to read separately the particular transactions of each state. But how are you employed? How long will you hang over domestic matters, forgetful of your city connexions? But unless this novercal war be worse than the Dacian, or the Sarmatian, you will certainly require to make haste, so as at least to come with us into winter

This he did not do, but went his continental tour instead.

quarters. In the meantime, if you can do it without inconvenience, I beg you to send me Justinian, the historian of the Venetians. I will either keep it carefully till your arrival, or, if you had rather, will soon send it back again."1


How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol'n on his wing my three-and-twenti'th year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,

But my late spring no bud or blossom show'th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
That I to manhood am arriv'd so near,2

And inward ripeness doth much less appear, That some more timely-happy spirits indu'th. Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,

It shall be still in strictest measure ev'n, To that same lot, however mean, or high, Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav'n; All is, if I have grace to use it so,

As ever in my great Task-Master's eye.3

1 Letter VII. To Charles Diodati, London, September 23, 1637. 2 At forty he appeared ten years younger, Sec. Def. vol. i. p. 236. 3 Sonnet VII. (Warton's edition), On his being arrived to the age of 23.


O Nightingale, that on yon bloomy spray

Warbl❜st at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hope the lover's heart dost fill,
While the jolly hours lead on propitious May;
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of day,
First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill,
Portend success in love; O! if Jove's will
Have link'd that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate

Foretell my hopeless doom in some grove nigh:
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
For my relief, yet had'st no reason why;
Whether the Muse, or Love,' call thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am I.2

For we were nurs'd upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock by fountain, shade, and rill.
Together both, ere the high lawns appear'd
Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
We drove afield; and both together heard
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Batt'ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star that rose at ev'ning, bright,


'Aubrey says that Milton was a poet when he was ten years old; and he was in love when he was nineteen. See Elegy VII.

2 Sonnet I. To the Nightingale.

Toward Heav'n's descent had slop'd his westering wheel. Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute,

Temper'd to the oaten flute;

Rough Satyrs danc'd, and Fauns with clov'n heel

From the glad sound would not be absent long,
And old Damotus lov'd to hear our song.1

He (St. Peter) shook his mitr'd locks, and stern bespake, 'How well could I have spared for thee, young swain, Enow of such as for their bellies' sake,

Creep and intrude, and climb into the fold!
Of other care they little reck'ning make,
Than how to scramble at the shearer's feast,

And shove away the worthy bidden guest;

Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learn'd aught else the least

That to the faithful herdsman's art belongs!
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.' 2

'Lycidas, 23-36. This pastoral elegy is an allegory, and the passage here cited means that Milton and his friend Edward King were fellow-students at Christ's. 'The hill here is, of course, Cambridge; the joint feeding of the flocks is companionship in study ; the rural ditties on the oaten flute are academic iambics and elegiacs, and old Damotas is perhaps Chappel, Milton's tutor.'-Masson.


Lycidas, 112–125. Edward King was intended for orders, which his friend, church-outed by the prelates,' had long since given up all idea of. We here see what he thought of the state of the Church at this time. His intention is evident from the title prefixed in 1645. In this Monody the author bewails a learned friend, unfortunately drowned in his passage from Chester, in the Irish seas,



1637. And by occasion foretells the ruin of our corrupted clergy then in their height.' The conclusion of this, as of the Epitaphium Damonis, in memoriam of his still dearer friend Charles Diodati, so well loved and so soon lost, is exceedingly beautiful. They are both modelled after the eleventh eclogue of Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar, and show that the highest flight of poetical fancy is in strict accordance with sound scriptural truth. Death has lost its sting. Death is not death, but introductory to a higher state of existence. Dido, Lycidas, Damon are not dead, but only 'gone for an hour-gone for a minute from this room into the next.' Therefore weep no more.

« PreviousContinue »