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first, all the fond hopes which forward youth and vanitie are fledge with; none of which can sort with this Pluto's helmet, as Homer calls it, of obscurity, and would soon cause me to throw it off, if there were nothing else in't but an affected and fruitlesse curiosity of knowing. The love of learning, as it is the pursuit of something good, it would sooner follow the more excellent and supream good known and præsented, and soe be quickly diverted from the emptie and fantastic chase of shadows and notions to the solid good, flowing from due and tymely obedience to that command in the gospell, set out by the terrible seasing of him that hid the talent. ... Yet, that you may see that I am something suspicious of myselfe, and doe take notice of a certain belatednesse in me, I am the bolder to send you some of my nightward thoughts, some while since, because they come in not altogether unfitly, made up in a Petrarchian stanza, which I told you of :
"How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth,
my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th."
Between 1624 and 1638, he produced the "Arcades;" "Comus, or the Masque;" "Lycidas," in which he seems to prophesy the tragic end of
Archbishop Laud; "L'Allegro;" and "Il Penseroso," Latin "Elegies," and "Sylvæ."
Of "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," Johnson gives this lively analysis:
"The cheerful man hears the lark in the morning; the pensive man hears the nightingale in the evening. The cheerful man sees the cock strut, and hears the horn and hounds echo in the wood; then walks, not unseen, to observe the glory of the rising sun, or listen to the singing milkmaid, and view the labours of the ploughman and the mower; then casts his eyes about him, over scenes of smiling plenty, and looks up to the distant tower, the residence of some fair inhabitant; thus he pursues rural gaiety through a day of labour or of play, and delights himself at night with the fanciful narratives of superstitious ignorance.
"The pensive man, at one time, walks unseen to muse at midnight; and at another hears the sullen curfew. If the weather drives him home, he sits in a room lighted only by glowing embers; or by a lonely lamp outwatches the north star, to discover the habitation of separate souls, and varies the shades of meditation by contemplating the magnificent or pathetic scenes of tragic and epic poetry. When the morning comes, a morning gloomy with rain and wind, he walks into the dark trackless woods, falls asleep by some murmuring
water, and with melancholy enthusiasm expects some dream of prognostication, or some music played by aërial performers.
"Both Mirth and Melancholy are solitary, silent inhabitants of the breast, that neither receive nor transmit communication; no mention is therefore made of a philosophical friend or a pleasant companion. Seriousness does not arise from any participation of calamity, nor gaiety from the pleasures of the bottle.
"The man of cheerfulness, having exhausted the country, tries what towered cities will afford, and mingles with scenes of splendour, gay assemblies, and nuptial festivities; but he mingles a mere spectator, as, when the learned comedies of Jonson or the wild dramas of Shakspeare are exhibited, he attends the theatre.
"The pensive man never loses himself in crowds, but walks the cloister, or frequents the cathedral.
"For the old age of Cheerfulness, Milton makes no provision; but Melancholy he conducts with great dignity to the close of life.
Through these two poems the images are properly selected and nicely distinguished, but the colours of the diction seem not sufficiently discriminated. His Cheerfulness is without levity, and his Pensiveness without asperity. I know not whether
the characters are kept sufficiently apart. mirth can, indeed, be found in his melancholy; but I am afraid that I always meet with some melancholy in his mirth. They are two noble efforts of imagination.”
Milton borrowed several images in his beautiful poems from Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," printed in 1624.
MILTON IN ITALY.
IN 1638 Milton obtained permission from his father to travel. Viscount Scudamore, ambassador of Charles I., received at Paris the future apologist of the murder of that King, and introduced him to Grotius. At Florence, Milton visited Galileo, then nearly blind, and half a prisoner of the Inquisition. In the "Paradise Lost" he makes frequent mention of the celestial messenger, nuncius sidereus, thus rendering to him the hospitality of great men. At Rome, he made acquaintance with Holstein, the librarian of the Vatican. At Cardinal Barberini's he was struck by the singing of Leonora Baroni, and addressed to her a poem, inspired by the spot where the voice of Horace had of old been heard.
Altera Torquatum cepit Leonora poetam,