« PreviousContinue »
AMONG the chief commentators on Milton's Minor Poems are, of course, to be remembered NEwToN, Todd, and KEIGHTLEY. As editors of Milton's Poetical Works generally, they did not confine their attention to Paradise Zost, or to that poem with Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, but bestowed also proportional pains on the Minor Poems, both English and Latin. From MR. R. C. BROWNE's edition of Milton's Poems for the Clarendon Press (1870) the Latin Poems are excluded, and also the Translations of seventeen Psalms and some others of the less important scraps of English verse; but the edition contains careful Notes to the Minor Poems with these exceptions. In MR. J. M. Ross's School Edition of a selection from Milton's Poetry (1871) the Minor Poems included are the Ode on the Nativity, Z'A//agro, I/ Penseroso, Comus, and Zycidas ; and these poems are annotated by Mr. Ross. Incidentally also others of those mentioned in our lists of commentators on Milton's larger poems (pp. 101-103, and 281) have furnished elucidations of passages in the Minor Poems. The commentatorin-chief on these Minor Poems by themselves, however, is THOMAS WARTON. This well-known scholar, critic, and poet (1728–1790), remembered now chiefly by his “History of English Poetry,” made a special study of Milton's Minor Poems, and published an edition of them in 1785, “with Notes, critical and explanatory, and other Illustrations,” which may be said for the first time to have given them their true place among Milton's writings and shown their abundant and minute interest in connexion with his Biography. It is, indeed, with all deduction on account of the want of sympathy with some parts of Milton's mind and life natural in a critic in Warton's circumstances, one of the best books of comment in the English language. Before his death he had prepared a second impression of it, which was posthumously published in 1791. This second edition presents many alterations from the first, and large additions; but there are also omissions in it of matter which had appeared in the first, chiefly of notes referring from the Minor Poems to Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. These omissions, or abbreviations, were caused, it is believed, by Warton's intention to put forth a separate edition of those two Poems, where the omitted matter would have found a more suitable place. As he did not live to fulfil this intention (see p. 281), his First Edition of the Minor Poems retains a certain value still, apart from the Second. Warton's Notes to these Poems, in fact, have been the stock from which all subsequent editors, and also all biographers, of Milton, from Todd to the present day, have derived a good deal of their material
PsALM cxlv. —Several of the phrases and rhymes in this Paraphrase have been traced, by Warton and others, to older poets, whom Milton is supposed to have read in his boyhood. It is enough to say that, like everyone else, he inherited a traditional phraseology, and began with it. The observation of one critic, however (Mr. Dunster), is more special. A favourite book in English households in the early part of the seventeenth century was Joshua Sylvester's Translation of The Divine Weeks and Works of the French poet Du Bartas ; and there is evidence that Milton, in his childhood, had revelled in this quaint, but really rich and poetical, book. The verse employed in the present Paraphrase is the verse of Sylvester's Du Bartas ; and some of the rhymes—such as recoil, soil (lines 9, Io), mountains, sountains (13, 14), and crush, gush (17, 18)—were already Sylvester's.
3. “Pharian" : i.e. Egyptian. Unless this is an ill-formed adjective from “A”haraoh,” or from Pharan or Paran, the name of a part of the desert between Egypt and Palestine (Gen. xxi. 21, and I Kings xi. 18), it is from Pharos, the island in the Bay of Alexandria on the northern coast of Egypt, made to give its name, by extension, to Egypt itself. But clearly Milton had Buchanan's translation of the Psalm before him:-
“Barbaraque invisae linqueret arva Phari.”
Indeed, in Buchanan Pharius is a common word for “Egyptian.” Thus in Psalm crxxvi., the next of Milton's paraphrasing, Buchanan has
“Pharonem et Pharios submersit gurgite currus.”
PsALM cxxxvi.:—Here also several of the phrases are, by Warton and others, traced to older poets. Thus, “watery plain" for the sea (line 23) is found in Spenser, in William Browne, and in Drayton; “goldentressèd,” as applied to the sun (29), is in Chaucer; “horned moon” (33) is Spenser's, Shakespeare's, and everybody's ; “tawny king” (55) is in Fairfax's translation of Tasso. These recollections may be unconscious and general ; but perhaps the influence of Sylvester is direct. The rhymes fell, Isrúð (lines 42, 43), and Isråés, dwell (73,74), are after Sylvester.
Io. “Who doth the wrathful,” &c. The initial pronoun “Who” in this line, and also in lines 13, 17, 21, and 25 is a substitute, in the Second, Edition, for “That" in the first. This is worth noting. \
45, 46. “ruddy waves . . . of the Erythraean main " : i.e. the Red Sea. The word pubpóc (erythros) is Greek for “red,” and i Epubpd OáAaoroa was the name for the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in Herodotus and later Greek writers. Various origins of the name have been assigned —the red coral reefs in the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, &c. Evidently, however, the name begot a popular idea that the water itself was red. Hence “ruddy waves” in this passage. Both that phrase and its adjunct “Erythraean" are from Sylvester's Du Bartas. Thus, in a passage quoted by Dunster:—
“along the sandy shore Where th' Erythrean ruddy billows roar.”
But Sylvester beats this in another couplet in his actual description of the drowning of Pharaoh's host:
“Another with loud lashes
49. “walls of glass.” Sylvester has the phrase in his description of the crossing of the Red Sea ; also “walls of crystal” and “bulwarks of billows.”
65, 66. “Scon . . . Amorrean coast.” The phrase in the Authorized Version is “Sihon King of the Amorites”; but Milton, as Todd points out, must have had Buchanan's Latin before him :—
“Stravit Amorrhaeum valida virtute Seomem.”
Todd, however, did not remark that, though the same line occurs in the preceding Psalm (cxxxv.) in more recent editions of Buchanan, as a translation of the same phrase “Sihon King of the Amorites,” older editions of Buchanan had this line in that Psalm :—
“Quique Amorrhaeis Seon regnavit in oris.”
Milton all but translates this.
89. “warble forth.” Sylvester again; who, in the very opening of his translation of Du Bartas, has
“O Father, grant I sweetly warble forth
ON THE DEATH OF A FAIR INFANT.
In Milton's own edition (1673) the date “Anno aetatis 17” is put before the title of the poem, instead of after, as now. This was done, I fancy, to avoid the absurdity of meaning that would arise if the date were read after the title and as part of it. There are instances of the same thing in the headings of the 2nd, the 3rd, and the 4th of the Latin E/ogies, and of the 1st and 3rd of the Sy/va.
1. “O fairest flower,” &c. This opening reminds us of that of a little piece in Shakespeare's Passionate Pilgrim —
“Sweet rose, fair flower, untimely plucked, soon vaded,
Milton's taste in rhythm had by this time outgrown Sylvester's Du Bartas.
8–10. “grim Aquilo . . . Athenian damse/got.” Aquilo, or Boreas, the North Wind, dwelt in a cave in Thrace, and carried off Oreithyia, the daughter of the Athenian king Erechtheus.
8. “charioteer; ” spelt “charioser” in the original, and also in the only other line of Milton's poetry in which it occurs (Par. Zost, VI. 390). In all modern editions the spelling has been changed to “charioteer;” but I am not quite sure that Milton intended our modern stress on the last syllable.
12. “infimous blot.” The phrase, with the same pronunciation of infimous, occurs in Spenser, Faery Queene, III. vi. 13. (Todd.)
15. “icy-fearfod.” Warton suggested “ice-ypear/od,” on the analogy of yehained in the Ode on the AVativity (155) and star-ypointing in the lines on Shakespeare; but, on the other analogy, afforded by such words as rosy-bosomed (Comus, 986), fiery-wheeled (Pens. 53), we may keep the word as it is.-Sylvester calls hail “ice-pearl” and “bounding balls of ice-pearl.”
23–27. “For so Apos/o . . . young Hyacinth . . . pur//e slower.” The myth referred to is that of the beautiful youth, Hyacinthus, son of a king of Sparta or Laconia, in which territory is the river Eurotas. He