« 上一頁繼續 »
The "Comus" had been preceded by the "Arcades," which the youthful poet wrote for the family of his fair neighbour the Dowager Countess of Derby, who lived near Uxbridge, and at whose house he frequently visited. Here, probably, also he had made the acquaintance of the Bridgewater family for Lord Bridgewater had married a daughter of Lady Derby's.
This lady was a very accomplished woman, and of kin to Spenser, the poet.
During his five years' residence in his father's house, Milton occasionally visited London, to buy books, enjoy the society of his friends, and to visit the theatres, in which he greatly delighted at this period of his life-that brilliant and gifted youth which we so reluctantly quit for his harder and sterner manhood.
In 1637 his friend Edward King was lost in the Irish Sea, and Milton honoured his memory by writing" Lycidas," as a monody on his death.
It is not possible to fix the date of the composition of the "Allegro" or the Penseroso," but there is every reason to believe that those enchanting pictures of rural life, of mirth and melancholy, were written at Hoxton.
He was beginning to grow weary of the country, and had thoughts of taking chambers in one of the Inns of Court, when his mother died; and his father shortly afterwards was persuaded to let him travel on the Continent. Before his departure he received from the celebrated Sir Henry Wotton the wise instruction to keep "i pensieri stretti ed il viso sciolto," i.e., "close thoughts and a frank counte
In 1638 he quitted England, and went first to Paris. Here Lord Scudamore, the English Ambassador, gave him an introduction to Grotius, the learned ambassador of the singular and also) learned Christina, Queen of Sweden. From Paris, after a short stay, Milton proceeded to Italy, then the classic land of Europe, to which his thoughts and affections had continually travelled. There Tasso had quite recently charmed the world with his "Gerusalemme Liberata;" Ariosto was still a modern poet, and the renown of Dante and Petrarch, now two centuries old, was at its height. In the recent reigns of Elizabeth and James, the intercourse between Italy and England had been frequent. "To have swum in a gondola "was, as Shakespeare tells us, the boast of travelled youths. The fame of the arts and science of "le belle contade" was world-spread. No marvel that Milton eagerly mastered the language and hurried to its shores.
The Italians were deeply interested in all literature, and far better able to appreciate the gifted Englishman than the generality of his uncultivated countrymen;-amongst whom, as Johnson says, with respect to the sale of "Paradise Lost," "to read was not then a general amusement; neither traders, nor often gentlemen, thought themselves disgraced by ignorance: the women had not then aspired to literature. ... and of that middle race of students, who read for pleasure or accomplishment, the number was comparatively small." To pass from the England of 1638 to the Italy of that period, must have been like going from darkness to light.
Milton went from Nice to Genoa, thence to Leghorn and Pisa, and proceeded to Florence, where he remained two months. Sir Henry Wotton (whose heart had been won by the "Comus") had given the poet introductory letters to the chief literary men of the city, and Milton met with a most enthusiastic reception.
He formed friendships with the celebrated Carlo Dati, Frescobaldi, and Antonio Malatesta, and during his residence there he visited the recently liberated prisoner of the inquisition-Galileo. It is thought probable that Grotius had urged Milton to see the great astronomer, for in the very month in which the young English poet was presented to him, he wrote thus to Vossius of Galileo: This old man, to whom the universe is so largely indebted, worn out with maladies, and still more with anguish of mind, gives us little reasons to hope that his life can be long. Common prudence, therefore,
What features, form, mien, manners, with a mind,
Were but thy piety from fault as free,
Thou wouldst no angle, but an angel be.
Milton, in return, addressed to the Marquis a Latin poem (see page 212), which must have greatly impressed the learned Italians. Milton now purposed visiting Sicily and Greece, but letters from home told him how England was shaken to its centre by the differences between the King, Charles I., and his Parliament, and the young man thought that duty and patriotism alike forbade his absence from his native land in her hour of sore trial. So he bent his steps homeward, not, however, hurrying his journey. Again he visited Rome, though warned of plots formed by the Jesuits against him on account of the openness with which he had discussed religious topics, and although at Naples, Manso had told him that his religion alone precluded him from great distinction, he felt sure that his nationality protected him from personal danger, and remained again two months in Rome. From thence he went to Florence, to Lucca, and to Venice. From the latter city he sent his father a collection of music and books, and proceeded to Geneva, then the seat of Puritanism, and the spot from whence republican doctrines were promulgated over Europe. Here he found a friend in Charles Diodati's uncle, John (or Giovanni), and in Frederick Spanheim, who was also a learned Professor of Divinity. From Geneva he returned to France, and thence home, having been absent from England a year and three months.
The news of the death of his dear friend, Charles Diodati, met him on his return: he commemorated the loss in the "Epitaphium Damonis." (See page 215.)
The youth of Milton closes with this grief. He was now a man of thirty-one years of age, and it behoved him to take up the work of life in earnest. He had drawn largely on the means of his gener