图书图片
PDF
ePub

he was always able to say it, and that exactly in the manner he desired. The precise idea, and the precise form of expression, were always available.

Surprise is often expressed by the student of Milton's prose writings at the fierceness of his partisanship; but in truth it is not surprising when his whole character is examined. From the first he was prepared, so to speak, to become a partisan. Before he left the University he had laid it down as a principle that "every mortal must aspire either to be useful to his friends or to offend his enemies." And this throughout his public life remained his rule of conduct, and is indeed the key to much that appears least explicable in it. Having first deliberately formed his opinions, he would advance them by every means that seemed not to be dishonourable. Whatever would most strengthen his party, would most injure his opponents, that he was prepared to do, and to do as a matter of stern duty. And whatever he engaged in he did thoroughly, with heart and soul and strength. Pain and pleasure were put out of thought. There was no relenting, either of heart or of head, even for a moment. There was no play in his warfare; no mercy for a feeble enemy; no pity for a fallen foe; no tenderness even for the dead. He thought with his master Dante—

"Harsh manners were best courtesy to them."

It was the sternness of principle, therefore, not of the heart. The gentler virtues were repressed, not destroyed. So when he withdrew from the public scene, there was room for the development of those better and holier thoughts and feelings which occupied his later days. With the strife of party he could lay aside its asperity; and then all the riches and beauty of his rnind broke forth, even through the pain and sorrow and bitter calamity which oppressed and environed' it. The early sowing of truth and beauty yielded a late, but a glorious harvest.

They still point to a house at Horton as Milton's, but that in which he resided was destroyed near the close of the last century. The only relic of him that remains, and that of very doubtful authenticity, and less value, is the bole of an old apple-tree, under whose shade, there is a tradition, he was accustomed to compose.

Horton is a beautiful neighbourhood, and must have been in his days a most fitting place for the rural studies of a youthful poet. Just the place was it that would seem to have been most suitable for such a mind to undergo its initiation into the arcana of the mysteries of nature, and to prepare it for its intercourse with the stern world of human action. What a contrast must the quiet of these happy days have been to the fearful turmoil of his following years! And doubtless, in those evil days, while "In darkness, and with danger compass'd round," he often thought of the time when

"He knew each lane, and every valley green,
Dingle or bushy dell of this wild wood.
And every bosky bourn from side to side,
His daily walks, and ancient neighbourhood."

Comus.

Horton Church will be visited by the tourist. One cannot but connect Milton with it, as we look upon its venerable ivy-mantled tower, and the two yews in the churchyard, which were goodly trees when he walked under their shadow. A marble slab to the memory of the mother of Milton is the only inscription that reminds the visitor of the connexion of our great poet with the place. The church itself is a very good specimen of a village church, but it has suffered somewhat from recent repairs.

After quitting Horton the Colne flows past no place of consequence. It falls into the Thames by several channels, but as they wind through flat meadows, none of them have any thing striking in character. The little that was pleasing formerly about them, is pretty well destroyed by the straight hard line of the Windsor railway, which now traverses these meadows.

Through the greater part of its course the scenery of the Colne is eminently beautiful, and its beauty is considerably varied. A very pleasant 'River Ramble' might be made up it, to the source of the Verlam branch, by which all the places that have been mentioned would be passed. And then a courageous pedestrian might strike across to the source of the Ousel, one of the head streams of the Ouse, which is only five or six miles distant. The Ousel would lead him to the Ouse at Newport Pagnell, where he would at once enter upon the scenes which have been immortalized by Cowper:

"Where Ouse, slow winding through a level plain
Of spacious meads with cattle sprinkled o'er,
Conducts the eye along his sinuous course
Delighted."

From Newton to below Olney every step is Cowper's own property. Lower down the river Cromwell and others put in a claim. I will not venture to say much for the scenery of the lower part, but there will, perhaps, be found sufficient to interest one who is not too exacting in his requirements, fill Ouse is lost in the Wash below King's Lynn. Two rivers especially associated with two of our best poets would thus be explored; and the slow and "sedgy Ouse " would form a good contrast to the livelier and bolder Colne.

CHAPTER XVIII.

CHERTSEY.

In a broad green meadow on the bank of the Thames, by one of the smaller arms of the Colne, stands a stone inscribed " God preserve the City of London, A.d. 1285." It is known as London Stone, and serves to mark the western limit of the jurisdiction of the Corporation of the City of London over the Thames. From this place to a similar stone which is placed near its embouchure, the city possesses the almost uncontrolled authority in all matters connected with the conservancy of the river, and the regulation of the navigation and fishing.

He who steps aside to read the inscription, will, perhaps, respond to its prayer, but, if he be at all of an antiquarian turn, he will demur to the date. The city in very early times had jurisdiction embracing about the same extent as that it now possesses, but there is no evidence, I believe, that the tim<j was as early as the date on the stone would imply. The inscription itself is recent, but you are further informed by it that " the ancient stone (from which it was copied) is raised upon this pedestal, exactly over the spot where it formerly stood." My Lord Mayor and aldermen occasionally make official visits to the stone, as is duly recorded upon it. The last of their high mightinesses whose

« 上一页继续 »