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Quint. Nov. Possibly he did not write the present piece till he had finished that, though Bishop Felton had died Oct. 5.
Neptuno satos.” See In Quint. Nov., 26, 27, and note there; also Comus, 18—29. Mr. Keightley thinks Milton was the first to call the Britons outright “sons of Neptune ;” but I should doubt it.
13, 14. “insulâ quæ nomen Anguilla tenet” : i.e. the Isle of Ely, so called from its abundance of eels (anguillæ Lat. for “eels "). The word Ely in old English meant Eel-Island ; so that “ Isle of Ely” is tautological. 17. "potentem . .. Deam”: i.e. Death.
“ Nec vota Naso in Ibida concepit . . . diriora.” The Ibis of Ovid, one of the poems which he wrote in his exile, is a furious invective, in 646 lines of elegiac verse, against an unknown enemy. There had been a similar poem, with the same fancy-name, by the Greek poet Callimachus, in abuse of his pupil Apollonius Rhodius, who had given him offence.
20-22. “Graiusque vates,” &c. The early Greek poet Archilochus (about B.C. 680), famous for the severity of his satires, and of whom the story is that, when Lycambes, who had promised him his daughter Neobule in marriage, broke his word and gave her to another, he took revenge in a poem of such tremendous scurrility that the whole family hanged themselves. He left an extraordinary reputation ; and Horace (Epist. 1. xix. 23 et seq.) claims to have introduced his verse and spirit, though not his matter, among the Latins.
25, 26. “ Audisse tales videor . sonos,” &c. As appears from the sequel, it is the voice of the dead Bishop that the poet hears.
31–44. “ Non est, ut arbitraris," &c. The drift of this passage is that the voice which the poet hears corrects that Pagan view of Death which would regard it with anger and execration, and substitutes the Christian view, which justifies acquiescence, and even joy. In the classic mythology, he is told, Death may be the daughter of Night, or of Erebus, or of a Fury, or born under Chaos, or what not; but Christianity teaches that she is God's minister, sent from heaven to collect His harvests, and call souls out of their fleshly tabernacles, either to the light above or to judgment below. Note, however, the relapse into classic imagery in lines 39-44. The Hours were among the children of Themis by Jupiter, as in the Orphic hymn quoted by Warton :
“Ωραι θυγατέρες Θέμιδος και Ζηνός άνακτος. . 45
“ Hanc ut vocantem,” &c. A strange error has been committed here by all the editors. They make the quotation end with the preceding line at “subterraneas," and print as if at the words “ Hanc ut
vocantem” Milton resumed speech in his own name. Accordingly, they suppose Death herself to have been the speaker of all those words which Milton has hitherto heard mysteriously uttered, from line 27 to line 44, defining the true nature of Death ; and they suppose “Hanc ut vocantem lætus audivi, cito fædum reliqui carcerem,” &c., to mean “ As joyfully I heard her so speaking, speedily I (Milton) left this foul prison, and," &c., to the end of the poem. If, however, one reads on to the end of the poem, it becomes obvious that it could not be Milton himself that is speaking. Were he the speaker, then the whole passage from line 45 to the end would be a kind of dream by Milton of a flight upwards through the starry spaces to which he was carried by the effects on his imagination of the voice he had heard. So, of course, the editors have hitherto interpreted the passage; but the idea of such a starry dream-flight by Milton himself would be quite out of keeping with the circumstances and poetically awkward. All becomes plain and natural, however, if we suppose that the voice which Milton has heard from line 27 has been that of the dead Bishop, and that this voice does not stop at “subterraneas” in line 44, but continues to the very end of the poeni. Then the “ Hanc ut vocantem lætus audivi," &c. of lines 45, 46, implies “I have been telling you the true nature of Death, and what I have told you is not mere conventional Christian doctrine, but consists with my own experience ; for, when Death called me, I heard the summons gladly, left the foul prison of my earthly body, and lo! all at once, amid swift guarding Angels, I felt myself carried up through the starry worlds to the Heaven where I now abide.” As I hav no doubt that this reading, though new, will at once recommend itself and permanently supersede the other, I have printed accordingly, and extended the quotation-marks to the ciose of the poem. This is one of the cases in which the absence of quotation-marks in Milton's own editions has led to mistakes. 49, 50. “ Vates ut olim . . . senex," &c. : i.e. Elijah. See 2 Kings
How much more consistent the comparison to Elijah's ascent is with the upward flight of the soul of the dead Bishop than it would have been with the imaginary flight of the poet!
51-64. “ Non me Boötis," &c. Milton is not singular in this somewhat quaint enumeration of the constellations and luminaries through or past which the soul of the dead mounted on its flight to the Heaven where it was to abide. Todd, who read the passage as a description of Milton's own ideal flight in the celestial spaces, paralleled it, on that understanding, with the opening of the Fourth Day of the First Week in Sylvester's Du Bartas :
“ Pure Spirit, that rapt'st above the firmest sphere,
In fiery coach, thy faithful messenger,
O take me up ; that, far from Earth, I may
That, having learnt,” &c. But take the following passage from Donne's Progress of the Soul, written on the death of Mrs. Elizabeth Drury. After comparing Death to the discharge of a rusty gun, which bursts in pieces in the act of shooting out the bullet, he traces the flight of this bullet (i.e. the escaped soul) thus :
“ She stays not in the Air,
Her through these spheres,” &c. Though young Milton yielded in his present Latin poem to the habit of astronomical enumeration which such precedents as these may have instituted, how much more tastefully and poetically he has managed it! Perhaps, as he had been reading Chaucer's House of Fame for the purposes of his In Quint. Novembris (see note to that poem, lines 170—193), he may have had in his mind Chaucer's description there (Book II.) of his flight with the Eagle, through the elements and constellations, and past the Galaxy itself, on their way to Fame's House.
51, 52. 'Boötis . . . sarraca tarda frigore.” Juvenal has a similar phrase (Sat. v. 22, 23) :
“illo tempore quo se
Frigida circumagunt pigri sarraca Bootæ." 56, 57: - deam .
triformem”: i.e. the Moon. See Par. Lost, III. 730, and note there.
57, 58. “suos ... dracones." See Pens, 59, 60, and note.
NATURAM NON PATI SENIUM.
3. “Edipodioniam ... noctem": such night as Edipus moved in after he was blind.
19. “sono dilapsa tremendo." Mr. Keightley refers to 2 Peter iï. 10, “ The heavens shall pass away with a great noise.”
23. "proles Junonia": Vulcan. 25. “tui . .
nat”: Phaethon. 29.
“ aërei . . Hami”: Mount Hæmus, separating Thrace from Thessaly, and famous for its height. 31, 32. “ Ceraunia.”
The name “ Ceraunian Mountains" applied both to a part of the great Caucasian range between the Euxine and the Caspian, and also to a lofty mountain-chain in Epirus. The latter “Ceraunians” are meant here, as being near Thessaly, which was the theatre of the war between the Gods and the Titans. In that war the antagonists hurled mountains against each other; and Pluto, who took part with his brothers Jupiter and Neptune against Saturn and the Titans, is supposed to have used the Ceraunians in this manner. Superos " in line 32 must therefore mean the Titans, or Saturn and the Titans.
33, 34. “At Pater Omnipotens . . . consuluit rerum summæ.” So, as Todd noted, in Par. Lost, VI. 671-673, “ The Almighty Father
consulting on the sum of things." 37, 38. “Mundi rota prima . . . ambitos . . . cælos.” The “rota prima” is the Primum Mobile of the Ptolemaic system ; the “ ambiti cæli," or "enclosed heavens,” are the nine inner spheres. See Introd. to Par. Lost, I. 89 et seq.
39–65. “ Tardior haud solito Saturnus, et,” &c. Observe how, throughout this whole passage, Milton's imagination is regulated by the Ptolemaic system of Astronomy then prevalent. The thesis of the entire “Naturam non pati Senium," " That there is no decay in Nature." By Nature, of course, is here meant the whole Physical system of things, the Mundus, the Cosmos. Well, after having first (lines 1—7) expressed sorrow at the liability to error shown by the human mind, especially when it measures eternal things by its own fleeting standard, and after having next (lines 8-32) put as strongly as possible the question whether it actually is the case, as some people hold, that Nature is wearing out and a catastrophe is coming, -after all this the debater arrives (line 33, “At Pater Omnipotens,” &c.) at his own resolute contradiction of the proposition. The Almighty Father, he asserts, has “consulted better for the sum of things” than such a proposition would imply; and then he goes on to verify this assertion in
detail by actually glancing at the successive portions of this “sum of things." He begins, as we have seen in last note, with the Primum Mobile, or that outermost shell which bounds the Universe in from Chaos or Nothingness, and maintains that that outermost shell is still wheeling in its vast diurnal revolution as soundly as ever, and whirling round with it all the interior heavens. And now, in the present passage, he proceeds to say that not only is that outermost shell still safe, but also each of the successive parts of its enclosed heavens, inwards to the very Earth at the core of all. He keeps to the Ptolemaic or Alphonsine order in his enumeration, only skipping a sphere or two for brevity. The Fixed Stars having been assumed as certified by the Primum Mobile, it is enough to find Saturn duly moving in his sphere (line 39), and next-for Jupiter may be skipped-Mars as red as ever in his (line 40). Then the behaviour of the Sun is examined, and four lines are given to that important body (41—44), also with a favourable report. The same number of lines (45—48) is then given to the planet Venus, not named, but defined beautifully by her functions as both the Morningstar and the Evening-star, according to the season. One may then skip Mercury and pass to the Moon (49, 50). There are no signs of decay in her either. And so, all the planetary spheres having been reported on inwards from Saturn's to the Moon's, one arrives (51) at the aërial region of the so-called Elements, within the Moon's sphere and more immediately surrounding the Earth. The report of the state of this region is also satisfactory. That the Elements are keeping their faith is witnessed by the undiminished roar of the thunder and flash of the lightning (51, 52), the unabated fury of the North-West Wind (53), and the unmitigated stringency of the North-Easter, blowing snow and storms among the Scythian Geloni (54, 55). From the Winds one may pass to the Sea. Well
, do not the Mediterranean waves beat as grandly as ever the base of the Sicilian promontory of Pelorus; is not Triton's conch heard as loudly round all the shores; or is the weight of the giant Ægæon or Briareus less than it was on the spines of the Balearic sea-monsters (56—59)? Only the Earth itself then remains; but observe how, even in the mention of it, the fancy still moves centrewards, or from the surface (61–63) to the interior (63–65). The flowers on the Earth's surface have lost nothing of their beauty-not the Narcissus, nor the Hyacinth (into which the youth Hyacinthus, the favourite of Apollo, was turned), nor that flower which sprang from the blood of Adonis (the beloved of Venus); nor is the interior of the Earth less rich than it was in gold and gems.-So ends the report, and with it the argument. Since the Ptolemaic theory was abandoned, there has been no such easy or convenient way of taking an inventory of “the sum of things " !
65—69. “ Sic denique in avum,” &c. While denying the doctrine of slow and progressive decay in Nature, and anticipating her continued steadiness for ages to come, the debater accepts the Scriptural prophecy of the ultimate and sudden conflagration of all things (2 Peter iii. 7—10).