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Cyrus, in 1658; Lovelace's second volume, and Hales's Remains, in 1659; together with two or three philosophical publications by Hobbes, and a few short pieces in verse by Waller, of which the most famous is his Panegyric on Oliver Cromwell, written after the Protector's death, an occasion which also afforded its first considerable theme to the ripening genius of Dryden. It is to be noted, moreover, that, with one illustrious exception, none of the writers that have been named belonged to the prevailing faction. If Waller and Dryden took that side in their verses for a moment, it must be admitted that they both amply made up for their brief conformity; Denham, Browne, Taylor, Herrick, Lovelace, Fuller, Hales, Hobbes, Cowley, were all consistent, most of them ardent, royalists; Harrington was a theoretical republican, but even he was a royalist by personal attachments; Milton alone was in life and heart a Commonwealth-man and a Cromwellian.
POETRY OF MILTON.
From the appearance of his minor poems, in 1645, Milton had published no poetry, with the exception of a sonnet to Henry Lawes, the musician, prefixed to a collection of Psalm tunes by that composer in 1648, till he gave to the world his Paradise Lost, in Ten Books, in 1667. In 1671 appeared his Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes; in 1673 a new edition of his minor poems, with nine new sonnets and other additions; and in 1674, what is properly the second edition of the Paradise Lost, now divided into Twelve Books. He died on - Sunday the 8th of November, in that year, when within 3 about a month of completing the sixty-sixth year of his age. His prose writings have been already noticed. Verse, however, was the form in which his genius had earliest expressed itself, and also that in which he had first come forth as an author. Passing over his paraphrases of one or two Psalms, done at a still earlier age, we have abundant promise of the future great poet in his lines ‘On the Death of a Fair Infant,’ beginning,
O fairest flower, no sooner blown but blasted,
written in his seventeenth year; and still more in the • College Exercise,’ written in his nineteenth year. A portion of this latter is almost as prophetic as it is beautiful; and, as the verses have not been much noticed,” we will here give a few of them:—
Hail, native Language, that by sinews weak
I have some naked thoughts that rove about,
* Mr. Hallam, in his late work on the Literature of Europe, inadvertently assumes that we have no English verse of Milton's written before his twenty-second year.
Immortal nectar to her kingly sire:
This was written in 1627. Fourteen years later, after his return from Italy, where some of his juvenile Latin compositions, and some others in the same language, which, as he tells us, he “had shifted in scarcity of books and conveniences to patch up amongst them, were received with written encomiums, which the Italian is not forward to bestow on men of this side the Alps;” and when, assenting in so far to these commendations, and not less to an inward prompting which now grew daily upon him, he had ventured to indulge the hope that, by labour and study—“which I take,” he nobly says, “to be my portion in this life”—joined with the strong propensity of nature, he “might perhaps leave something so written in after-times as they should not willingly let it die”— he continued still inclined to fix all the industry and art he could unite to the adorning of his native tongue—or, as he goes on to say, “to be an interpreter and relater of the best and sagest things among mine own citizens, throughout this island, in the motherdialect;-that what the greatest and choicest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old, did for their country, I, in my proportion, with this over and above of being a Christian, might do for mine; not caring to be once named abroad, though perhaps I could attain to that, but content with these British islands as my world;” and he again, more distinctly than before, though still only in general expressions, announced the great design, “of highest hope and hardest attempting,” which he proposed to himself one day to accomplish— whether in the epic form, as exemplified by Homer, Virgil, and Tasso, or after the dramatic, “wherein Sophocles and Euripides reign"—or in the style of “those magnific odes and hymns” of Pindarus and Callimachus; not forgetting that of all these kinds of writing the highest models are to be found in the Holy Scriptures—in the Book of Job, in the Song of Solomon and the Apocalypse of St. John, in the frequent songs interspersed throughout the Law and the Prophets. “The thing which I had to say,” concluded this remarkable announcement, -“ and those intentions which have lived within me ever since I could conceive myself anything worth to my country, I return to crave excuse that urgent reason hath plucked from me by an abortive and foredated discovery. And the accomplishment of them lies not but in a power above man's to promise; but that none hath by more studious ways endeavoured, and with more unwearied spirit that none shall, that I dare almost aver of myself, as far as life and free leisure will extend; and that the land had once enfranchised herself from this impertinent yoke of prelaty, under whose inquisitorious and tyrannical duncery no free and splendid wit can flourish. Neither do I think it shame to covenant with any knowing reader, that for some few years yet I may go on trust with him
toward the payment of what I am now indebted; as being a work not to be raised from the heat of youth or the vapours of wine, like that which flows at waste from the pen of some vulgar amourist, or the trencher fury of a rhyming parasite; nor to be obtained by the invocation of dame Memory and her Siren daughters; but by devout prayer to that eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases. To this must be added industrious and select reading, steady observation, insight into all seemly and generous arts and affairs. Till which in some measure be accomplished, at mine own peril and cost I refuse not to sustain this expectation from as many as are not loth to hazard as much credulity upon the best pledges that I can give them.” Before this, Milton had published of his poetry only his Comus and Lycidas; the former in 1637, the latter with some other Cambridge verses on the same occasion, the loss at sea of his friend Edward King, in 1638; but, besides some of his sonnets and other minor pieces, he had also written the fragment entitled Arcades, and the two companion poems the L’Allegro and the Il Penseroso. These productions already attested the worthy successor of the greatest writers of English verse in the preceding age—recalling the fancy and the melody of the minor poems of Spenser and Shakspeare, and of the Faithful Shepherdess of Fletcher. The Comus, indeed, might be considered as an avowed imitation of the lastmentioned production. The resemblance in poetical
* The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy (published in 1641).