Page images
PDF
EPUB

about two months; when I contracted an intimacy with many persons of rank and learning, and was a constant attendant at their literary parties; a practice which prevails there, and tends so much to the diffusion of knowledge, and the preservation of friendship. No time will ever abolish the agreeable recollections which I cherish of Jacob Gaddi, Carlo Dati, Frescobaldi, Coltellino, Buonomattei, Clementillo, Francini, and many others. From Florence, I went to Siena, thence fo Rome; where, after I had spent about two months in viewing the antiquities of that renowned city, where I experienced the most friendly attentions from Lucas Holstein, and other learned and ingenious men, I continued my route to Naples. There I was introduced by a certain recluse, with whom I had travelled from Rome, to John Battista Manso, Marquis of Villa, a nobleman of distinguished rank and authority, to whom Torquato Tasso, the illustrious poet, inscribed his book on friendship. During my stay, he gave me singular proofs of his regard: he himself conducted me round the city, and to the palace of the viceroy; and more than once paid me a visit at my lodgings. On my departure, he gravely apologised for not having shown me more civility, which he said he had been restrained from doing, because I had spoken with so little reserve on matters of religion. When I was preparing to pass over into Sicily and Greece, the melancholy intelligence which I received of the civil commotions in England made me alter my purpose; for I thought it base to be travelling for amusement abroad, while my fellow-citizens were fighting for liberty at home. While I was on my way back to Rome, some merchants informed me that the English Jesuits had formed a plot against me if I returned to Rome, because I had spoken too freely on religion; for it was a rule which I laid down to myself in those places, never to be the first to begin any conversation on religion; but if any questions were put to me concerning my faith, to declare it without any reserve or fear. I, nevertheless, returned to Rome. I

took no steps to conceal either my person or my character; and for about the space of two months I again openly defended, as I had done before, the reformed religion, in the very metropolis of popery. By the favour of God, I got safe back to Florence, where I was received with as much affection as if I had returned to my native country. There I stopped as many months as I had done before, except that I made an excursion for a few days to Lucca; and, crossing the Apennines, passed through Bologna and Ferrara to Venice. After I had spent a month in surveying the curiosities of this city, and had put on board a ship the books which I had collected in Italy, I proceeded through Verona and Milan, and along the Leman lake to Geneva. At Geneva I held daily conferences with John Deodati, the learned Professor of Theology. Then, pursuing my former route through France, I returned to my native country, after an absence of one year, and about three months.” To this hurried narrative a few facts should be added, which Milton's modestyled him to conceal. Of the degree of admiration he excited in Italy, some idea may be formed from the poetic offerings he received from the most eminent Italians of the age. He was admitted into those literary societies which had arisen under the patronage of the Medici. In their assemblies, he informs us,” “it was the custom that every one should give some proof of his wit and reading.” And many of the productions of his earlier years, and others which he composed at the time, were received “with written encomiums, which the Italian is not forward to bestow on men of this side the Alps.” Among these panegyrists may be mentioned Carlo Dati and Antonio Francini, at Florence, who addressed to him, the one an Italian ode, and the other a Latin address, filled with enthusiastic prediction and praise. Selvaggi also, and Salsilli, at Rome, presented him with two complimentary epigrams. The former anticipates the idea conveyed in Dryden's wellknown epigram, by making him equal to Homer and Virgil. The latter describes the Thames as rendered more illustrious by Milton than all the streams which were consecrated by the muses of Homer, Virgil, and Tasso. A similar honour was paid him at Naples by Manso, the princely patron of Tasso. Both he and Salsilli were amply repaid for their courtesies; as both are best known to posterity by extended Latin poems which Milton afterwards addressed to them, in which his feelings towards them are described with his own classic elegance and beauty. At Rome he received the most flattering consideration from Cardinal Barberini, the nephew of Urban VIII. Having invited Milton to a magnificent musical entertainment, the cardinal awaited his arrival at the door, and led him by the hand into the assembly. It is supposed to have been at this entertainment that he saw and heard the beautiful Leonora Baroni, with whose charms he was smitten, and whom he has celebrated in three of his choicest Latin epigrams. It was amidst the combined inspirations of nature, art, society, and rising reputation, which concentrated on the glowing mind of Milton, during his residence in Italy, that he began to be conscious of his own vast powers, and to conceive, though indistinctly at first, the great project which was destined to make his fame co-extensive with the world, and coeval with the latest date of its history. It is exceedingly interesting to trace, in Milton's own ingenuous language, the successive states of his mind, and the gradual strengthening of his aspirations, at this time. We have already listened to his first timid announcement of them, in a private letter to his friend Deodati. The next appears at the close of the Latin address to Manso, which we have already mentioned; and this, that it may be generally understood, must be presented in Sterling's translation, which does sad injustice to the original.

* The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy. Works, vol. ii. p. 477.

Oh ! might a friend, endow'd like you by Heaven,
To adorn the bard and judge the strain be given,
Whene'er my Muse shall sound the British strings,
And wake again to song her native kings :
Hail her great Arthur! who, from mortals far,
Now pants for his return, and burns for war:
Record the hero-knights who sheathed the sword,
Link'd in strong union, round the mighty board,
And break (if daring genius fail not here)
The Saxon phalanx with the British spear.
Then when, not abjectly discharged, my trust
Of life was closed, and dust required its dust,
Oh! might that friend, with dewy eye-lids near,
Catch my last sigh, and tell me I was dear :
Then my pale limbs, resolved in death's embrace,
Beneath an humble tomb devoutly place;
And haply, too, arrest my fleeting form
In marble, from the sculptor's chisel warm
And full of soul; while round my temples play
The Paphian myrtle, and Parnassian bay.
Meantime composed in consecrated rest,
I share the eternal Sabbath of the bless'd.
If faith deceive not,-if the mighty prize
Be fix'd for ardent virtue in the skies;
There, where the wing of holy toil aspires,
Where the just mingle with celestial quires,
There, as my fates indulge, I may behold
These pious labours from my world of gold:
There while a purple glory veils my face,
Feel my mind swell to fit her heavenly place :
And, smiling at my life's successful fight,
Exult and brighten in ethereal light.

In terminating my notices of the Latin poetry of Milton with this his most admired effort, I pause in my narrative, to present the reader with Mr. Macaulay's admirable observations on this accomplishment, as possessed by the great bard.

“ Versification,” he says, “in a dead language, is an exotic, a far-fetched, costly, sickly imitation of that which elsewhere may be found in healthful and spontaneous perfection. The soils on which this rarity flourishes are, in

general, as ill suited to the production of vigorous native poetry, as the flower-pots of a hothouse to the growth of oaks. That the author of the Paradise Lost should have written the epistle to Manso was truly wonderful. Never before were such marked originality and such exquisite mimicry found together. Indeed, in all the Latin poems of Milton, the artificial manner, indispensable to such works, is admirably preserved, while, at the same time, the richness of his fancy, and the elevation of his sentiments, give to them a peculiar charm, an air of nobleness and freedom, which distinguishes them from all other writings of the same class. They remind us of the amusements of those angelic warriors who composed the cohort of Gabriel, ‘About him exercised heroic games The unarmed youth of heaven. But o'er their heads Celestial armoury, shield, helm, and spear, Hung bright with diamond flaming and with gold.' We cannot look upon the sportive exercises for which the genius of Milton ungirds itself, without catching a glimpse of the gorgeous and terrible panoply which it is accustomed to wear. The strength of his imagination triumphed over every obstacle. So intense and ardent was the fire of his mind, that it not only was not suffocated beneath the weight of its fuel, but penetrated the whole superincumbent mass with its own heat and radiance.”

« PreviousContinue »