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TO MR. LAWRENCE.
LAWRENCE, of virtuous father virtuous son,
The frozen earth, and clothe in fresh attire
He who of those delights can judge, and spare
TO CYRIACK SKINNER.
CYRIACK, whose grandsire, on the royal bench
Toward solid good what leads the nearest way;
talents, Matt. xxv. And he speaks with great modesty of himself, as if he had not five, or two, but only one talent.NEWTON.
14. Stand and wait. My own opinion is, that this is the noblest of Milton's Sonnets.-BRYDGES.
SONNET XV.-The "virtuous father," Heary Lawrence, was member for Herefordshire in the Little Parliament which began in 1653, and was active in settling the protectorate of Cromwell. The family appears to have been seated not far from Milton's neighbourhood in Buckinghamshire.-T. WARTON. This Henry Lawrence, the "virtuous son," is the author of a work suited to Milton's taste, on the subject of which I make no doubt
he and the author by the fire helped to waste many a sullen day. It is entitled, "Of our Communion and Warre with Angels," &c. I suppose him also the same who printed "A Vindication of the Scriptures and Christian Ordinances.”—
SONNET XVI.-Cyriack Skinner was one of the principal members of Harrington's political club. Wood says, that he was an ingenious young gentleman, and scholar to John Milton.
8. And what the Swede intends. Charles Gustavus. King of Sweden, was at this time waging war with Poland; and the French with the Spaniards in the Nether lands.
TO THE SAME.
CYRIACK, this three years day these eyes, though clear,
Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask
ON HIS DECEASED WIFE.
METHOUGHT I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave,
And such, as yet once more I trust to have
But, O, as to embrace me she inclined,
I waked; she fled; and day brought back my night.
SONNET XVII.-8. Of heart or hope. One of Milton's characteristics was a singular fortitude of mind, arising from a consciousness of superior abilities, and a conviction that his cause was just.-T. WARTON.
10. To have lost them, &c. When he was employed to answer Salmasius, one of his eyes was almost gone, and the physicians predicted the loss of both, if he proceeded. But he says, in answer to Du Moulin, "I did not long balance whether my duty should be preferred to my eyes." What a noble sentiment; and how encouraging such lines from the greatest of all men as well as the greatest of all poets, to those who are labouring in the cause of Liberty and Humanity!
SONNET XVIII-1. Methought, &c. Raleigh's elegant Sonnet, called "A Vision
upon the Faerie Queene," (see "Compendium of English Literature," p. 151,) begins thus,-
Methought I saw the grave where Laura lay; and here, perhaps, the idea of a Sonnet in the form of a vision was suggested to Milton. This Sonnet was written about the year 1656, on the death of his second wife, Catharine, the daughter of Captain Woodcock, of Hackney. She died in child-bed of a daughter, within a year after their marriage. Milton had now been long totally blind: so that this might have been one of his day-dreams. -T. WARTON.
2. Alcestis. This refers to the Alcestis of Euripides, in which Hercules (Jove's great son) brings back to Admetus, from the realms of Pluto, his wife Alcestis, who had resolved to die to save her husband.
MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY.
THERE is no doubt that the prima stamina of the bard's divine epics are exhibited in this poem; but it has several peculiarities, which distinguish it from the poet's other compositions: it is more truly lyrical; the stanza is beautifully constructed; and there is a solemnity, a grandeur, and a swell of verse, which is magical. The images are magnificent, and they have this superiority of excellence; that none of them are merely descriptive, but have a mixture of intellectuality and spirituality.
Some one has said that Milton had no ear for the harmony of versification; this Hymn proves that his ear was perfect. Spenser's Alexandrines are fine; Milton's are more like the deepest swell of the organ.
When it is recollected that this piece was produced by the author at the age of twenty-one, all deep thinkers of fancy and sensibility must pore upon it with delighted wonder. The vigour, the grandeur, the imaginativeness of the conception; the force and maturity of language; the bound, the gathering strength, the thundering roll of the metre; the largeness of the views; the extent of the learning; the solemn and awful tones; the enthusiasm, and a certain spell in the epithets, which puts the reader into a state of mysterious excitement, may be better felt than described.
I venture to pronounce this poem far superior to the "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," though the popular taste may not concur with me: it is much deeper; much more original; and of a nobler cast of materials. The two latter poems are mainly descriptive of the inanimate beauties of creation: it is the grand purpose of poetry to embody invisible spirits; to give shape and form to the ideal; to bring out into palpable lines and colours the intellectual world; to associate with that which is material that which is purely spiritual; to travel into air, and open upon the fancy other creations. Fancy is but one faculty of the mind; it is a mirror, of whose impressions the transfer upon paper by the medium of language is a single operation.
Milton, before he could write the Hymn, must have already exercised and enriched all his faculties with vast and successful culture. He had travelled in those dim regions, into which young minds scarcely ever venture; and he had carried a guarded lamp with him, so as to see all around him, before and behind; yet not so peering and reckless as to destroy the religious awe. The due position of the lights and shades was never infringed upon. SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.
ON THE MORNING
THIS is the month, and this the happy morn,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
That glorious form, that light unsufferable,
Wherewith he wont at Heaven's high council-table
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.
Say, heavenly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,
To welcome him to this his new abode,
Now, while the heaven, by the sun's team untrod,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?
See, how from far, upon the eastern road,
The star-led wisards haste with odours sweet:
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
O, run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
From out his secret altar touch'd with hallow'd fire.
*I cannot doubt that this hymn was the congenial prelude of that holy and inspired imagination which produced the “Paradise Lost," nearly forty years afterwards.-BRYDGES. Be it remembered that this sublime Hymn was written in his twenty-first year, probably as a college exercise.
5. Sages, the Hebrew prophets.
28. Touch'd with hallowed fire, Is. vi. 6, 7.
While the heaven-born child
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Had doff'd her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathise:
To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour.
Only with speeches fair
She wooes the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow;
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw;
Confounded, that her Maker's eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.
But he, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace:
She, crown'd with olive green, came softly sliding
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
No war, or battle's sound,
Was heard the world around:
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
Unstain'd with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
And kings sat still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by,
But peaceful was the night,
Wherein the Prince of light
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
45. To cease, used actively.
52. She strikes a peace. This is a peculiar phraseology, showing the rapidity
with which it was done, as it were with one stroke.
56. The hooked chariot, &c. Nothing