Milton

death, lycidas, poems, miltons, england, poet, tion, poem, elegy and masque

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From July 1632 to April 1638 Milton lived at his father s semi-suburban residence at Hor ton, in Buckinghamshire. He visited London to purchase books and to take lessons in mathe matics and music; but he doubtless found his chief interest at home in studying the classics and French and Italian literature, and in en)joy ing the beauties of the country around him. His occupations and ideals seem to be described in the companion poems and (I1 Penseroso,> which are generally assigned to the second half of 1632; unless, indeed, these idyllic pieces, contrasting as they do two varieties of temperament and modes of life, represent the perplexed state of his mind when he was choos ing between a secular and an ecclesiastical career, and belong to a slightly earlier period. To the Horton epoch we certainly owe three of the most notable of his so-called 'Minor Poems'— the songs and rhymed speech entitled the masque and the pas toral elegy (Lycidas.) The first named was part of an entertainment given before the Countess-dowager of Derby at Harefield in 1633 or 1634. The music for this was furnished by the composer Henry Lawes (q.v.), a friend of Milton's family, and their copartnership in the slighter performance probably led to their asso ciation in providing a masque for the celebra tion of the entrance of the Earl of Bridge water upon his duties as president of the coun cil of Wales. as the masque has been called without Milton's authorization, was prob ably performed in the great hall of Ludlow Castle on Michaelmas-night (29 September) 1634. So many of Lawes' friends asked after ward to be allowed to read it that the com poser had an edition published anonymously in 1637. From that day to this it has been one of the most admired of English poems, and whatever its defects of construction, it is unsurpassed as an idealistic presentation of the power and charm of personal purity. The year that was printed saw also the writing of

tributes to Edward King, a successful rival of Milton's for a fellowship, who was drowned in the Irish Channel in August 1637. The ap parent absence of great personal interest on the part of the poet in his subject, and the decreased toleration of the conventions of pas toral poetry, probably account for much of the adverse criticism has received; but it should be remembered that Milton could have attained the requisite sincerity of utter ance by centring his thoughts and emotions upon the loss sustained by the Church in the death of so promising a clergyman, and that such consummate art of versification and dic tion as (Lycidas' displays and such a felicitous adaptation of a time-honored form of poetry to comparatively modern uses should render a poem, which a series of competent judges has pronounced a masterpiece, unamenable to the censure of the catholic reader. On the other hand, it may be remarked that it seems some what uncritical to rank, as is often done, these poems of the young poet of Horton, admirable but still not magnificent in scope, above the sublime masterpieces which gave Milton his place among the supreme poets of the world.

It is scarcely conceivable that if Milton had died immediately after writing his name would now be widely known outside the English-speaking nations.

In 1638, after his mother's death, Milton, through his father's generosity, was enabled to take a foreign tour in a style befitting a gentle man. At Paris he met Grotius (q.v.), but he did not like the city and passed soon into Italy, going by sea from Nice to Leghorn. He spent about a year on the peninsula, two visits of some two months each being given to Florence, where he made friends among men of culture, and impressed them by his accomplishments both in the classics and in Italian. In Rome his outspoken Protestantism almost got him into trouble. At Naples he formed an acquaintance with the aged Marquis Manso, the protector of Tasso and Marini, to whom he addressed some Latin verses important as showing that he was planning an epic upon King Arthur. Here he abandoned his intention of visiting Sicily and Greece, since the political news from England was too disturbing to allow a patriot to wander far from home. He made a leisurely return, was in Geneva early in July 1639, where he probably heard of the death of Diodati, and landed in England toward the end of the month.

The literary memorials of the tour consist of a few fluent Italian sonnets and a canzone (which afford shadowy evidence of a love affair with a young lady of Bologna), and some Latin verses, including three epigrams inspired by the singer, Leonora Baroni. Milton does not seem to have profited greatly from what he saw of the treasures of plastic art, but his contact with historic places and with the natural beauties of Italy and his association with great men, of whom Galileo, whom he met at Florence, is the most illustrious, must have broadened and deepened his capacities of thought and feeling. With the close of his journey and the composi tion of what is practically his last, and plainly his best, Latin poem, the touching pastoral elegy on Charles Diodati, entitled 'Epitaphium Damonis,> Milton's first period ends. The comely, accomplished young man, who blends the grace of the Cavalier with the serious pur pose of the Puritan, gives place to the strenuous controversialist, the zealous reformer in church i and state, the idealistic partisan. The poet is not entirely swallowed up in the prose man, but he is nearly submerged.

On his return to England Milton took lodg ings in Saint Bride's Churchyard and began to tutor the two children of his sister by her first marriage, Edward and John Phillips. Then he moved to a house in Aldergate street, where his nephews boarded with 'him. Here he lived the life of an abstemious student and developed and practised the stimulating, though rather visionary, educational theories later outlined in his letter to Hartlib (June 1644). In 1643 he received a few more pupils, and he continued to play the part of schoolmaster until the autumn of 1647, when his father's death apparently left him in fairly comfortable circumstances.

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