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ideas; and that on such important points as, for instance, the freedom of the will. It was not Catholic dogma or ideas that shocked him, but the political and intellectual tyranny he associated with the Church of Rome.
His long stay in Horton was occupied by reading, social intercourse with neighboring wealthy and educated families, and the writing of L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Arcades, Comus, and Lycidas. He went up to London frequently, took lessons in mathematics and music, and altogether enjoyed himself as fully as he could. His nephew Phillips tells us that in 1640 Milton frequented the beaux of the capital, dressed as elegantly as any of them, and allowed himself "a gaudy-day " in their company once or twice a month.1 In the country, the Countess of Derby, the Earl of Bridgewater, Sir Henry Wotton were among his friends; for their entertainment Arcades and Comus were written and performed.
We are far in all this from the Puritan of popular imagination. We find here an elegant young man, fond of music and of mixing in the choicest society, well known among his friends as a promising poet, keenly alive to all worldly charm, and especially to feminine charm, pure in behavior as in mind.20 But in himself, he has devoted his whole life to a supreme poetical enterprise, and he looks upon the world as from a tower in his pride, strength, and seriousness-a perfect master of himself, his mind set with a sort of grimness on getting out of his great gifts all they can produce.
19 Masson, II, 209.
20 Cf. his letter to Deodati (1637): " whatever the Deity may have bestowed upon me in other respects, he has certainly inspired me, if any ever were inspired, with a passion for the good and fair. Nor did Ceres, according to the fable, ever seek her daughter Proserpine with such unceasing solicitude, as I have sought this Toυ kaλoù idéav, this perfect model of the beautiful in all the forms and appearances of things. . . . I am wont day and night to continue my search" (Prose Works, III, 494).
Such was Milton, as we listen to him in his first poems, as we see him on his travels in Italy.
III. EARLY POEMS
Milton's early poems were only, in his opinion, a trial of his strength, a promise to the world. He published them at a time (1645) when he had given up literature for less familiar but, as he thought, more pressing duties. The modest way in which he presented them, under the Virgilian warning,
Cingite, ne vati noceat mala lingua futuro,
tells us that he did not look upon them as a very important work. In his pamphlets, too, on several occasions, he records his promise to do great things yet in literature, without so much as mentioning his early poems. Yet in the history of Milton's ideas, these poems give us a very solid starting-point; at a time when his religion was more or less orthodox, they reveal his dominant characteristics, those general tendencies of his temperament which, acting on his first conceptions, were to dissolve his orthodoxy in the following fifteen years.
For one thing, the poems display an extremely varied sensibility. It is necessary to insist on this variety and, so to speak, "humanity" of the poet's soul. He feels sympathy for all feelings of the human heart, even encompassing apparently contradictory ones. Now Milton is the least dramatic of the poets; he has no skill in creating character; he is essentially lyrical; what he sings is still and ever Milton. And this is quite in harmony with his self-centered character. But it also shows that the poet who has been made out to be a narrow Puritan
was in reality gifted with an extraordinary wealth of feel-
Laughter holding both his sides.
and lead the dancing troop
O'er the smooth enamel'd green
Where no print of step hath been.21
In particular, the poems are full of amorous and more than half voluptuous feeling. Milton could muse in his youth in this wise:
Alas! What boots it with uncessant care
21 Arcades, 11. 65, 84-85
22 Lycidas, 11. 64-69.
Nor was it any Puritan poet who saw the exuberance of Nature as Comus celebrates it in that astounding passage in which we feel in full maturity that peculiar love for Mother Earth already suggested in the Latin poems: a love internal, so to speak, that describes but little, but consists in a sort of sympathy for the very growth of all beings, as though Milton recognized in himself the same generous forces as in vegetation and the luxuriance of animal generation:
O foolishness of men! that lend their ears
But all to please, and sate the curious taste?
That in their green shops weave the smooth-hair'd silk
Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins
She hutched th' all-worshipp'd ore, and precious gems,
Should in a pet of temp'rance feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze,
Not half his riches known, and yet despised;
And we should serve him as a grudging master,
As a penurious niggard of his wealth;
And live like Nature's bastards, not her sons,
Who would be quite surcharged with her own weight,
And strangled with her waste fertility;
Th' earth cumbered, and the wing'd air dark'd with plumes,
The herds would over-multitude their lords,
The sea o'erfraught would swell, and th' unsought diamonds Would so emblaze the forehead of the deep,
And so bestud with stars, that they below
Out of this feeling for Nature, an idea is arising which will play a great part in Milton's philosophy. Nature comes from God; natural instincts are good; to follow them is to fulfil God's will. The line
Th' All-giver would be unthank'd, would be unpraised
contains in germ the thought which will later be clearly expressed in
Our Maker bids increase, who bids abstain
In this feeling for Nature is the ultimate source of Milton's pantheistic ideas. He will never admit that Nature, or matter, or the flesh are evil. His deepest sympathy goes out to all that grows, reproduces itself, spreads out into beautiful rich shapes. He loves Nature in a twofold way: through his senses for her external beauty, and through this inner feeling of sympathy with Life.
Comus, speaking thus, is a part of Milton's soul, even as Satan will be later. But, ruling high above these deeper powers of feeling, which are but half-awakened as yet, sits Reason. Comus is one long praise of temperance, self-mastery, chastity. I have already pointed out the strictly non-Christian character of this value given to chastity. There is little that is Christian about Comus. Chastity has a value of its own, and gives powers in the supernatural world by its own magic forces:
23 Comus, II. 706–36. In the Times Literary Supplement for January 19, 1922, Dr. Smart points out a curious source for this passage in Randolph. But the feeling as well as the poetry have been put in by Milton.
24 Paradise Lost, IV, 748-49.