Page images
PDF
EPUB

Don are in Yorkshire; Drayton speaks of the "thirty streams” of the Trent; the Mole, in Surrey, disappears in summer, for a part of its course, into a subterranean channel ; Severn derived its name in the legends from the maiden Sabra or Sabrina drowned in it, with her mother Estrildis, by Guendolen, the wife of Locrine, son of Brutus ; there are several Avons, but the one meant may be the Avon of Bristol ; “ sedgy Lea” is near London ; the Dee, near Chester, was sacred with Druidical tradition ; Humber in the legend derives its name from a Hunnish invader in primeval times ; the other epithets explain themselves.

ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY.

19-22. “ Now while the heaven," &c. This Ode of Milton's, as we learn from his Elegia Sexta, addressed to Diodati, was conceived at dawn on Christmas-Day, 1629 (see Introd.).

24. Oh! run," &c. In Drummond of Hawthornden's Flowers of Sion (1623) there is a Sonnet on the Nativity, beginning

Run, Shepherds, run where Bethlem blest appears !” There are traces of a knowledge of Drummond's poetry in many parts of Milton.-"prevent them: i.e, anticipate them, get before them.

27. the Angel Quire": the Angels heard singing by the shepherds in the fields at Bethlehem. Luke ii. 13, 14.

28. “ From out his secret altar,&c. Isaiah vi. 6. (Newton.) 41. Pollute.Direct from the Latin pollutus.

48. “ Down through the turning sphere": i.e. down, from Heaven's gate, through the wheeling orb of the whole Universe, hung from Heaven, "Down through the turning spheres ” would have been more according to Milton's custom ; but here he views the aggregate of the spheres

as one.

56.

hooked chariot." The war-chariots of different nations were armed with scythes or hooks, which cut whatever they met. Richardson, in his Dictionary, quotes this description from an old translation of Quintus Curtius : “ The wheels were also full of iron pikes right forth, and of great hooks both upward and downward, wherewith all thing was cut asunder that came in their way.”

64 "whist: i.e. hushed, silenced. To hush, to whist, and to hist are all forms of one verb, meaning to silence, derived perhaps from the

mere sound sh or st, the interjection of silence. See Pens. 55. Todd quotes from the Dido of Marlowe and Nash, 1594, the line

“ The air is clear, and southern winds are whist.” But there is also Ariel's song in the Tempest, I. 2 :

“ Courtsied when you have, and kissed

The wild waves whist." 66. Ocean" must be pronounced here as a trisyllable—not an unfrequent pronunciation in old poets. Sylvester has it occasionally. Thus

began To crystallize the Baltic ocean. 71. Bending one way their precious influence”: an image from Astrology

77–84. And, though the shady gloom," &c. Warton detects here a recollection of a stanza in Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar (April)--,

" I saw Phoebus thrust out his golden head

Upon her to gaze;
But, when he saw how broad her beams did spread,

It did him amaze.
He blushed to see another Sun below,
Ne durst again his fiery face outshow.

Let him, if he dare,

His brightness compare

With hers, to have the overthrow." 86. Or ere.” So printed in the original editions ; but “or eerhas been suggested instead, on the ground that “or ere” is a mere reduplication, as if Milton had said “ Ere ere the point of dawn," i.e. “Before before the point of dawn"-the word “ or » in this sense being originally only another form of the word “ere” (old English, ær, before). But the reduplication occurs in writers before Milton. Mr. Aldis Wright, in his Bible Word-Book, quotes three instances—“This man ere the clergy began, was wont,” &c. (Sir Thomas More); "or ere we meet” (Shakespeare, K. John, IV. 3); and again (Shakespeare, Temp.,

“I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth, or ere

It should the good ship so have swallowed."
Yet our form“ or ever" did exist as well. Mr. Wright quotes from
Hamlet, I. 2:

“ Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven

Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio," informing us that the reading in the first quarto is “ere ever.Now it might be argued that in the three instances of “or ere" given above, or

[ocr errors]

I. 2) =

at least in the two instances from verse, or e'er" would do as well, and may have really been what was intended. In the present passage in Milton, however, the fact that it is a substantive, point of dawn," that is qualified, and not a verb, as in the three instances cited, increases the probability that “ or ere” was intended, and that it was a naturalized duplicate preposition in English, as well as adverb, when Milton wrote.

98.

88. "little thought they than.Note than instead of then. It is in the original editions, and is obviously a deviation from the usual spelling and pronunciation, for the sake of the rhyme with. Pan. But it was only a revival of an old spelling and pronunciation, perhaps not quite obsolete. Our word “then,for “at that time,” is the survivor of three forms once in use-then, than (or thanne), and tho. In Wycliffe's Bible we have Thanne summe of the scribis and farisees answeriden to him ”; and the same form, or than, occurs in Piers Plowman, in Chaucer, and in Gower (see Richardson's Dictionary, under Then).

89. the mighty Pan: i.e. the real being so long dreamt of as Pan, the God of Shepherds. 95. strook.See note, Par. Lost, II. 165. .

As all.To make the construction complete, suppose the “such” of line 93 repeated in connexion with "divinely-warbled voice.” IOI-104.

Nature that ... now was," &c. The prose order of the words here is “Nature, that heard such sound thrilling the Airy region beneath the hollow round of Cynthia's seat, was now,” &c.; and the meaning is, “ Nature, on hearing such a sound thrilling through the Earth's atmosphere under the concave of the Moon's orbit, was now," &c. 106.

. its last fulfilling: one of the three instances in all Milton's poetry of the use of the word its. See Par. Lost, I. 254 and IV. 813, and notes there : also Essay on Milton's English.

116. "unexpressive": i.e. unexpressible. The same word, in the same sense, is in Lycidas (176); and Shakespeare has it, As you Like it, III. 2:

“ The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive She."

Warton fancies that Shakespeare may have coined it; but search may find older instances. 117--1 24.

Such music . . . when of old the Sons of Morning sung," &c. A distinct recollection of Job xxxviii. 4—11. See also Par. Lost, VII. 557 et seq. VOL. III.

A A

An organ

125--132. “Ring out, ye crystal spheres," &c. In the whole of this stanza there is a use of the Pythagorean doctrine or fancy of the music of the spheres—i.e. of the actual physical spheres or orbs of the Universe. They are here made to be nine (line 131), though ten was the number in the latest development of the Ftolemaic astronomy. This doctrine of the music of the spheres was congenial to Milton's

See his academic oration, De Sphærarum Concentu, written perhaps about the same time as this Ode. In that prose piece there is an amplification of the hint of this stanza, that the mysterious celestial music, though rarely heard by mortals, may not be absolutely inaudible even yet, if there were minds of due preparation. See also Shakespeare's famous passage “Sit, Jessica” (Merchant of Venice, V. 1). It is rather difficult to say whether in " the bass of Heaven's deep organ Milton had a precise reference to any portion of his optical diagram of space and the Universe, or merely brought in a musical effect as such. Warton's notion that it was a recollection of the organ he had heard in his school-time įn St. Paul's Cathedral is somewhat bald. was no rarity to Milton. 143, 144. Orbed in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,

Mercy will sit between." This is a change in the Second Edition from what had been the text of the First, viz. :

" Th' enameld Arras of the Rainbow wearing,

And Mercy set between." The change is evidently for the better, and proves that the Second Edition contains Milton's own corrections of the First.

“ Arras” was cloth, or tapestry, made at Arras in France ; and “enamelled Arras (i.e. tapestry coated or glazed with colours by a process of melting) is hardly conceivable.

156. There ought evidently to be only a comma at the end of this line, as the sentence is prolonged into the next stanza. There was only a comma in the First Edition, but it was changed into a full stop in the Second.

166. "perfect," so spelt in First Edition, but “perfet" in the Second. *168.“ The old Dragon." Rev. XX. 2. 171. wiroth;" so in Second Edition, but “wrath" in the First.

172. “Swinges ;” spelt “ swindges" in both the original editions. As the word is spelt sometimes “swinge" and sometimes “swindge" in old books, and the d does not affect the pronunciation, the less ordinary spelling need not be kept. This is the only occurrence of the word in Milton's poetry.

173 The Oracles are dumb.Here begins an idea which is protracted through the following stanzas, as far as to line 236. The idea is that of the sudden extinction and disappearance of the gods and the ceremonies of all the old Polytheistic religions on the birth of Christ. There is an evident recollection throughout of a striking story originally told in one of Plutarch's writings, and often repeated in mediæval and modern books (e.g. in Rabelais), under some such title as “The Death of Pan.” Milton, it has been suggested, even if he had not read the original story in Plutarch, might have known it through the version of it given in the “Glosse ” or Notes appended to Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar by Spenser's friend E.K. (Edward Kirke), the editor of the poem. Commenting on the line in the May Eclogue

“ When great Pan account of Shepeherdes shall aske," E.K, writes as follows :Great Pan is Christ, the very God of all shepherds, which calleth "himself the Great and Good Shepherd. The name is most rightly, "methinks, applied to him ; for Pan signifieth all or omnipotent, “which is only the Lord Jesus. And by that name (as I remember)

he is called of Eusebius, in his fifth book De Præparat. Evang., who “thereof telleth a proper story to that purpose. Which story is first “recorded of Plutarch in his book Of the Ceasing of Oracles, and of “Lavater translated in his book Of Walking Sprights” (the book De Lemuribus by Lewis Lavater, of Zurich (1536—1586), of which there was an English translation by "R. H.” in 1572]; “who saith that, about the time that our Lord suffered his most bitter passion, for the

redemption of man, certain passengers sailing from Italy to Cyprus “and passing by certain isles called Paxæ, heard a voice calling aloud Thamus, Thamus ! Now Thamus was the name of an Egyptian "which was pilot of the ship; who, giving ear to the cry, was bidden, “when he came to Palodes, to tell that the great Pan was dead : which "he doubting to do, yet, for that, when he came to Palodes, there

suddenly was such a calm of wind that the ship stood still in the sea unmoved, he was forced to cry aloud that Pan was dead; wherewithall “there was heard such piteous outcries, and dreadful shrieking, as hath

not been the like. By which Pan, though of some be understood the great Satanas, whose kingdom at that time was by Christ conquered, “the gates of Hell broken up, and Death by death delivered to eternal “ death (for at that time, as he saith, all Oracles surceased, and en“chanted Spirits that were wont to delude the people thenceforth held “their peace), and also at the demand of the Emperor Tiberius who “that Pan should be answer was made him by the wisest and best “ learned that it was the son of Mercury and Penelope : yet I think it “ more properly meant of the death of Christ, the only and very Pan, " then suffering for his flock.” The reader will easily trace the influence

« PreviousContinue »