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Nec rapis ad leges, male custoditaque gentis
Phvebæo lateri comitem sinis ire beatum In 1632 he left the University, and retired to his father's house at Horton,16 in Buckinghamshire, making occasional visits to London to meet his friends, to buy books, or to learn so
something new in mathematics or music. Here he resided five years, passing his time in regular and severe study; for he is said to have read over all the Greek and Latin writers: Johnson says, “that this account must be received with limitations ;' but five years well employed would leave few of the ancient authors unperused : I think Wyttenbach has m ned his having read through Athenæus in fourteen days; and Joseph Scaliger has left on record the short time in which he finished both the Homeric Poems. What then might not Milton's enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge, and his unwearied industry perform? He says of himself at this time,
‘Et totum rapiunt, me, mea vita, libri.'
16 This house at Horton was pulled down about fourteen years ago. See Symmons's Life, p. 93. Milton's father had some country house besides this, nearer to London, of which we have had no notice. Milton's letter to A. Gill, is dated 'E nostro Suburbano, Dec. 4, 1634. And see his Elegy i. ver. 50.
Nos quoque lucus habet vicinâ consitus ulmo,
Atque Suburbani nobilis umbra loci.' and in Prolusiones (p. 136,), he says, “Testor ipse lucos, et flumina, et dilectas villarum ulmos, sub quibus æstate proxime præterita (si dearum arcana eloqui liceat), summam cum musis gratiam habuisse me jucunda memoria recolo, ubi et ego inter rura, et semotos saltus velut occulto ævo crescere mihi potuisse visus sum.'
In this studious retirement, and under the shelter of his paternal roof, it is believed that he wrote his Arcades, Comus, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas. In the neighbourhood of Horton, the Countess Dowager of Derby resided, and the Arcades was performed by her grandchildren at their seat, called Harefield Place. Was ever lady on her return to the hall of her ancestors, crowned with such poetic garlands, or greeted by a welcome so elegant as this? Some of his letters to Charles Deodati give us interesting particulars of his studies and habits of life.- You well know (he says) that I am naturally slow in writing, and averse to write. It is also in my favour, that your method of study is such as to admit of frequent interruptions, in which you visit your friends, write letters, or go abroad, but it is my way to suffer no impediment, no love of ease, no avocation whatever, to chill the ardor, to break the continuity, or divert the completion of my literary pursuits; '-in a subsequent letter, the honourable ambition of his youthful mind opens itself without reserve to his familiar friend.—Hear me,' he writes, 'my Deodati, and suffer me, for a moment, to speak without blushing in a more lofty strain. Do you ask what I am meditating? by the help of heaven, an immortality of fame, but what am I doing ? mtepopūw. I am letting my wings grow and preparing to fly, but my Pegasus has not yet feathers enough to soar aloft in the fields of air.
You shall likewise have some information respecting my studies. I went through the perusal of the Greek authors to the time when they ceased to be Greeks. I was long employed in unravelling the obscure history of the Italians under the Lombards, the Franks, and
Germans, to the time when they received their liberty from Rodolphus, king of Germany.'
To B. Bonmatthaei he writes of his proficiency in the richest and most melodious of modern tongues. 'I who certainly have not merely wetted the tip of my lips in the stream of these languages, but, in proportion to my years, have swallowed the most copious draughts, can yet sometimes retire with avidity and delight to feast on Dante, Petrarch, and many others; nor has Athens itself been able to confine me to the transparent wave of its Ilissus, nor ancient Rome to the banks of its Tiber, so as to prevent my visiting with delight the stream of the Arno, and the hills of Fæsolæ.'
The 17 Masque of Comus was presented at Ludlow, in 1634, then the residence of the Lord President of Wales, and was acted by the 18 Earl
17 The original manuscript of Comus is in Trin. Coll. Library; it was found among other papers that once belonged to Sir Henry Newton Puckering, a benefactor to the library, and was printed at London in 1637, 4to. Warton says, “It was with great difficulty and reluctance that Milton first appeared as an author.' Some account of Sir N. Puckering may be read in Warton's Milton, p. 578, and the original various readings to the Lycidas, Comus, and smaller poems from the Manuscript, p. 578 to 590. On the few variations not noticed by Warton, see Class. Journal, No. xxiii. p. 211. There is one rather curious:
While all the starry rounds, and arches blue
Resound, and echó Hallelu! a manuscript copy of Comus is also in the Bridgewater library, at Ashridge, (See Todd's Comus, p. 165) before it was corrected.
18 Milton lost the friendship of the Bridgewater family by his Defensio. In a copy of it in Lord Stafford's library, the Earl (who performed the part of the first brother) wrote Liber igne, autor furcâ dignissimi.' On this account Lawes's dedication is supposed to have been withdrawn from the subsequent editions. v. Todd, p. 2.
of Bridgewater's sons, and his young daughter the Lady Alice Egerton. The story is said to have been founded on a circumstance that took place in the family of the Earl not long before; and Milton wrote his Masque at the request of Henry Lawes, the celebrated musician. Dr. Johnson observes that the fiction is derived from Homer's Circe, but later investigations have discovered a closer resemblance in the Comus of Erycius Puteanus, and the Old Wives' Tale of George Peele.19 It is one of the most beautiful and, with the exception of a few passages, one of the most finished Poems in our language. It has all the sweetness of Fletcher, with a richer structure of versification, more foreign idioms, more learned allusions, and a higher reach of fancy. It does not rise into all the wildness of the romantic fable, only because it is guarded and subdued by a chaste and elegant judgment. Sir Henry Wotton was peculiarly delighted in the lyrical parts, with what he quaintly, but not incorrectly callsa certain doric delicacy in the songs and odes. And Warburton speaks of the bright vein of its poetry, intermixed with a softness of description.20 T. Warton observes that Comus is a suite of speeches not interesting by discrimination of character, not conveying variety of incidents, nor gradually exciting curiosity ; but perpetually attracting attention by sublime sentiment, and fanciful imagery of the richest vein, by an exuberance of picturesque description, poetical allusion, and ornamental expression.' 21
19 See G. Peele's Works by the Rev. A. Dyce, Vol. i. p. 204, ed. 1829. Is. Reed first directed attention to this play, then almost unknown. For extracts from Puteanus, see Todá's ed. of Comus, p. 57, 62.
20 On the system of 'orthography) adopted by Milton in this and his other poems, consult Capel Lofft's Preface to Par. Lost. 4to. 1792, and Todd's Preface to Comus, p. viii. and Richardson's Life, p. cxxx.
In November, 1637, he wrote Lycidas, an elegy occasioned by the death of a young and very accomplished person, Mr. King, who was the friend Milton, and a great favourite at Cambridge. Milton's Poem was published at the end of a small volume of Elegies, with which the University honoured the memory of their student. Some of the songs of LYCIDAS I have read, for
He knew Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme!' they are, for the most part, complimentary effusions on the birth of the children of Charles the First; but I have discovered nothing that I could extract with advantage.22 The beautiful
21 It has been asked where an illustration must be sought for the expression, ver. 252,
At every fall, smoothing the raven down
Of darkness till it smiled:' and the entire silence of the commentators has been remarked. I shall, therefore, observe that there can be no doubt, but that Milton had the following passage in Heywood's Love's Mistresse before him. Act. iii. sc. 1.
Takes their repose and rest.' 22 Edward King, of Christ's Coll. Camb. son of Sir John King, Secretary for Ireland in the time of Elizabeth, James, and Charles. . He was drowned on the passage from Chester