« PreviousContinue »
prefer the range of the world to the confinement and circumscription of a college.
The five years, which he passed under his father's roof,' may justly be regarded as the happiest of his life. In literary leisure, and the company of an intelligent and beloved father; with a select correspondence, and an occasional intercourse with the society, the sciences and the arts of the metropolis, the temperance of his enjoyment must have been completely satisfied; and the fruition of the tranquil present was not disturbed by any alarming prescience of the dark and stormy future. In a passage of his spirited poem to his father, written, as it is probable, about this time, he seems conscious of his high destiny, and magnanimously exults over those evils, which, he knew, by the experience of all ages, to be inseparably attached to it.
Este procul vigiles curæ! procul este querelæ,
This house, as Mr. Todd says, on the authority of the rector of Horton, was pulled down about ten years ago.
Paterno rúre, quo is transigendæ senectutis causâ concesserat, evolvendis Græcis Latinisque scriptoribus summum per otium totus vacavi; iià tamen ut nonnunquam rus urbe mutarem, aut cöemendorum gratiâ librorum, aut novum quidpiam in Mathematicis vel in Musicîs, quibus tum oblectabar, addiscendi.
Defen, secund. P. W. v.v. p. 230.
Nec vestri sum juris ego ; securaque tutus
Hence wakeful cares and pining sorrows fly;
But he could only calculate the contingencies, not fasten his sight (if the expression may be allowed to me) on the realities of futurity. If some minister of the divine wrath, commissioned to disclose the vision of our poet's advancing life, had, at this instant, exhibited to him the Milton of later days, sacrificing his prime of manhood to the sullen and fiery demon of religious and civil discord; exposed to rancorous and savage calumny; making a cheerful surrender of his sight to the cause, as he deemed it, of his country and his species, yet afterwards abandoned and persecuted; with his public objects lost; his private fortune ruined; his society avoided; his name pronounced with execration; his life itself. saved only by a kind of miracle from an ignominious and a torturing execution; and his old age, more deeply clouded also by the unkindness of children, finally closing amid dangers and alarms, in solitude and darkness- if this scene, I say, in its full deformity had been exposed to our poet's eye in his happy retreat at Horton, the cup of joy would have fallen from his hand; his fortitude, strong as we know it to have been, would probably have yielded to the shock; and, prostrate before the Father of mercies, he would have poured his soul in solicitous supplication for the refuge of an early grave.
k“ Anguiferos rietûs,” is certainiy an inaccurate expression. Vipereos rietus, if the verse had permitted it, would have been unexceptionable. “ Calumnia” is, I fear, the property of prose rather than of poetry. It occurs frequently in Cicero, and sometimes as a forensic word; but never in Virgil, nor, as I believe, in any of the Augustan poets. Many of Milton's expressions in his latin poems are not supported by high classical authority.
But of the world of destiny, as it was passing, one only spoț was discovered to him; and all that was unknown was peopled by hope with her own gay, and beautiful progeny. While he passed his hours in converse with the mighty dead, or with the wise and virtuous living; while, unmolested by any agitating or painful passion, he penetrated science with his intellect, or traversed fairy regions with his fancy, he enjoyed an interval of happiness, on which, amid the asperities of his later years, he must frequently have looked back with emotions nearly simi
lar to those of the traveller, who, wandering over the moors of Lapland and beaten by an arctic storm, reflects on the blue skies, the purple clusters, and the fragrant orange groves of Campania.
To this favoured period of our author's life are we indebted for some of the most exquisite productions of his genius, The Comus, in 1634, and the Lycidas, in 1637, were unquestionably written at Horton; and there is the strongest internal evidence to prove that the Arcades, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso were also composed in this rural scene and this season of delightful leisure. It is probable, indeed, that the composition of the “ Arcades” preceded that of the “ Comus," as the countess dowager of Derby,' for whom it was written, scems, from her residence at Harefield in the vicinity of Horton, and from her double alliance with the family
Alice, countess dowager of Derby, was the sixth daughter of sir John Spencer of Althorpe in Northamptonshire, and married lord Strange, who by the death of his father in 1594 became earl of Derby, and died in the following year. She afterwards married the lord chancellor Egerton, who died in 1617; her daughter, Frances, married the chancellor's son, John earl of Bridgewater lord president of Wales. She was of the same family with Spencer the poet; and had been his patroness and his theme of praise before she was celebrated by Milton's muse.
of Egerton, to have been the connecting link between the author and the eart of Bridgewater," the immediate patron of Comus.
These pieces have been so frequently made the subjects of critical remark, that any long suspension of our narrative would not be compensated by the novelty of the observations, which we could offer on them. The Arcades is evidently nothing more than the poetic part of an entertainment, the bulk of which was formed of prose dialogue and machinery. But whatever portion it constituted of the piece, it was of sufficient consequence to impart a value to the whole; and it discovers a kindred, though inferior lustre to that richest produce of the mines of fancy, the Comus. I am rather surprised that Mr. Warton, who, with his brother commentators, frequently detects imitation in a single, and, sometimes, a no uncommon word, should omit to notice, in the speech of the Genius, an open trespass on the property of Shak, speare. The Genius says,
I see bright honour sparkle in your eyes: and Helena, in All's well that ends well, addressing one of the young lords, from whom
The earl of Bridgewater was the proprietor also of Horton.