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WHEN THE ASSAULT WAS INTENDED TO THE CITY.
Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize,
Guard them, and him within protect from harms.
That call fame on such gentle acts as these,
Whatever clime the sun's bright circle warms.
The great Emathian conquerour bid spare whether it proceed from a principle bad, good, or naturall, it could not have held out thus long against so strong opposition on the other side of every kind. For, if it be bad, why should not all the fond hopes, that forward youthe and vanitie are fledged with, together with gaine, pride, and ambition, call me forward more powerfully, than a poor, regardless, and unprofitable sin of curiosity should be able to withhold me, whereby a man cuts himselfe off from all action, and becomes the most helplesse, pusillanimous, and unweaponed creature in the world; the most unfit and unable to do that, which all mortals most aspire to ; either to be usefull to his friends, or to offend his enemies. Or, if it be to be thought a natural pronenesse, there is against that a much more potent inclination inbred, which about this time of a man's life sollicits most the desire of house and family of his owne, to which nothing is esteemed more helpful, than the early entering into credible employment, and nothing more hindring than this affected solitarinesse ; and tho' this were enough, yet there is to this another act, if not of pure, yet of refined nature, no lesse availeable to dissuade prolonged obscurity; a desire of honour, and repute, and immortal fame, seated in the breast of every true scholar; which all make haste to, by the readiest ways of publishing and divulging conceived merits, as well those that shall, as those that never shall obtain it. Nature would presently work the more prevalent way, if there were nothing but this inferiour bent to restraine her. Lastly, the love of learning, as it is the pursuit of something good, it would sooner follow the more excellent and supreme good known and presented, and so be quickly exempted from the emptie and fantastic chase of shadows and notions, to the solid good flowing from due and tymely obedience to that command in the Gospel, sett out by the terrible seasing of him that hid the talent. It is more probable therefore that, not the endless delight of speculation, but this very consideration of that great commandment, does not presse forward as soon as many doe to undergoe, but keeps off with a sacred reverence and religious advisement how best to undergoe; not taking thought of being late, so it give advantage to be more fit; for those that were latest lost nothing when the maister of the vineyard came in to give each one his hire. And here I am come to a stream-head, copious enough to disburthen itself like Nilus at seven mouths into an ocean; but then I should also run into a reciprocall contradiction of ebbing and flowing at once; and do that which I excuse myself for not doing, preach and not preach. Yet that you may see I am something suspicious of myselfe, and do take notice of a certain belatednesse in me, I am the bolder to send you some of my nightward thoughts, some while since, because they come in not altogether unfitly, made up in a Petrarchian stanza, which I told you of:
How soon hath Time, &c. By this I believe you may well repent of having made mention at all of this matter; for if I have not all this while won you to this, I have certainly wearied you of it. This therefore alone may be a sufficient reason for me to keep me as I am ; least, having thus tired you singly, I should deal worse with a whole congregation, and spoyle all the patience of a parish; for I myself do not only see my own tediousnesse, but now grow offended with it, that has hindered me thus long from coming to the last and best period of my letter, and that which must now chiefly work my pardon; —that I am your true and unfained friend,
The house of Pindarusi, when temple and tower
Wisely hast shunn'd the broad way and the green,
That labour up the hill of heavenly truth;
Chosen thou hast; and they that overween,
To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light,
And hope that reaps not shame k. Therefore be sure,
Passes to bliss at the mid hour of night,
i The great Emathian conquerour bid spare
The house of Pindarus. As a poet, Milton had as good right to expect this favour as Pindar; nor was the English monarch less a protector of the arts, and a lover of poetry, than Alexander. As a subject, Milton was too conscious that his situation was precarious, and that his seditious tracts had forfeited all pretensions to his sovereign's mercy. Mr. Bowle here refers us to Pliny, 1. vii. c. 29 :-“Alexander Magnus Pindari vatis familiæ penatibusque jussit parci, cum Thebas caperet;" and to the old commentator on Spenser's “Pastorals,” who relates this incident more at large, and where it might have first struck Milton, as a great reader of Spenser. Ælian says, that in this havoc, Alexander honoured the family of Pindar, and suffered his house alone to stand untouched and entire ; having killed 90,000 Thebans, and taken 30,000 prisoners.-T. WARTON.
1 Of sad Electra's poet, &c. Plutarch relates, that when the Lacedemonian general Lysander took Athens, it was proposed in a council of war entirely to rase the city and convert its site into a desert: but during the debate, at a banquet of the chief officers, a certain Phocian sung some fine anastrophics from a chorus of the “Electra” of Euripides ; which so affected the hearers, that they declared it an unworthy act, to reduce a place, so celebrated for the production of illustrious men, to total ruin and desolation. The lines of Euripides are at ver. 168. It appears, however, that Lysander ordered the walls and fortifications to be demolished. By the epithet “sad” Milton denominates the pathetic character of Euripides. “Repeated” signifies recited. But it has been ingeniously suggested, that the epithet “sad” belongs to Electra, who very often so calls herself in Euripides's play; and says, that all the city gave her the same appellation.—T. WARTON.
Electra had been before denominated “sad” by Drummond, in his “Elegy on Prince Henry's death :”
And sad Electra's sisters, who still weepe. This is one of Milton's best Sonnets, as Mr. Warton observes. It was written in 1642, when the king's army was arrived at Brentford, and had thrown the whole city into consternation.—TODD.
And hope that reaps not shame. Rom. v. 5.—HURD.
.' When the bridegroom with his feastful friends. "Feastful” is an epithet in Spenser. He alludes to the midnight feasting of the Jews before the consummation of marriage.-T. WARTON.
TO THE LADY MARGARET LEY.
And left them both, more in himself content,
Broke him, as that dishonest victory,
Kill’d with report that old man eloquent n.
Wherein your father flourish'd, yet by you,
Madam, methinks I see him living yet;
That all both judge you to relate them true,
ON THE DETRACTION WHICH FOLLOWED UPON MY WRITING
And woven close, both matter, form, and style ;
m Daughter to that good earl. She was the daughter of Sir James Ley, whose singular learning and abilities raised him through all the great posts of the law, till he came to be made Earl of Marlborough, and Lord High Treasurer, and Lord President of the Council to King James I. He died in an advanced age; and Milton attributes his death to “the breaking of the parliament;” and it is true that the parliament was dissolved the 10th of March, 1628-9, and he died on the 14th of the same month. He left several sons and daughters; and the Lady Margaret was married to Captain Hobson, of the Isle of Wight. It appears, from the accounts of Milton's life, that in 1643, he used frequently to visit this lady and her husband; about which time we may suppose this Sonnet to have been composed.--NEWTON.
Kild with report that old man eloquent. Isocrates, the orator. The victory was gained by Philip of Macedon over the Athenians. -T. WARTON.
o Dr. Johnson says of this and the next Sonnet, that "the first is contemptible, and the second not excellent;" and yet he had unfairly selected the contemptible Sonnet as a specimen, in his “Dictionary,” of this species of verse in English. But Milton wrote this Sonnet in sport.-TODD.
After this proved fact, who can doubt Johnson's malignity and dishonesty towards Milton ?
P A book was writ of late cald Tetrachordon. This elaborate discussion, unworthy in many respects of Milton, and in which much acuteness of argument and comprehension of reading were idly thrown away, was received with contempt, or rather ridicule, as we learn from Howell's “Letters.” A better proof that it was treated with neglect is, that it was attacked by two nameless and obscure writers only; one of whom Milton calls, “a serving-man turned solicitor." Our author's divorce was on Platonic principles : he held, that disagreement of mind was a better cause of separation than adultery or frigidity : here was a fair opening for the laughers. This and the following Sonnet were written soon after 1645. For this
Cries the stall-reader, Bless us ! what a word on
A title-page is this ! and some in file
End Green. Why is it harder, sirs, than Gordon,
Those rugged names to our like mouths grow sleek,
That would have made Quintilian stare and gasp.
Hated not learning worse than toad or asp,
ON THE SAME
By the known rules of ancient liberty, doctrine Milton was summoned before the lords : but they not approving his accusers, the presbyterian clergy, or thinking the business too speculative, he was quickly dismissed. On this occasion Milton commenced hostilities against the presbyterians. He illustrates his own system in this line of “Par. Lost,” b. ix. 372. Go ; for thy stay, not free, absents thee more.” Milton wished he had not written this work in English. This is observed by Mr. Bowle, who points out the following proof, in the “ Defensio Secunda :”—“ Vellem hoc tantum, sermone vernaculo me non scripsisse : non enim in vernas lectores incidissem, quibus solenne est sua bona ignorare, aliorum mala irridere.” This was one of Milton's books published in consequence of his divorce (separation) from his first wife. “Tetrachordon” signifies expositions on the four chief places in Scripture which mention marriage or nullities in marriage.—T. WARTON.
4 Colkitto, or Macdonnel, or Galasp. Milton is here collecting, from his hatred to the Scots, what he thinks Scottish names of an ill sound. “Colkitto” and “Macdonnel,” are one and the same person ; a brave officer on the royal side, an Irishman of the Antrim family, who served under Montrose: the Macdonalds of that family are styled, by way of distinction, “Mac Collcittok,”i.e. descendants of lame Colin. “Galasp" is a Scottish writer against the independents ; for whom see Milton's verses “On the Forcers of Conscience,” &c. He is George Gillespie, one of the Scotch members of the assembly of divines, as his name is subscribed to their letter to the Belgic, French, and Helvetian churches, dated 1643 : in which they pray, “that these three nations may be joined as one stick in the hands of the Lord; that all mountains may become plains before them and us; that then all who now see the plummet in our hands, may also behold the top-stone set upon the head of the Lord's house among us, and may help us with shouting to cry, Grace, grace to it.” Rushw, p. 371. Such was the rhetorick of these reformers of reformation !-T. WARTON.
Sir John Cheek. Or Cheke : he was the first professor of the Greek tongue in the university of Cambridge, and was highly instrumental in bringing that language into repute, and restoring the original pronunciation of it; though with great opposition from the patrons of ignorance and popery, and especially from Gardiner, bishop of Winchester and chancellor of the university. He was afterwards made one of the tutors to Edward VI. See his Life by Strype, or in the “Biographia Britannica."--NEWTON.
s The preceding Sonnet is evidently of a ludicrous, the present of a more contemptuous cast. There is a portrait of the celebrated Spanish poet, Lopez de Vega, painted when he was young ; surrounded by dogs, monkeys, and other monsters, and writing in the midst of them, without attending to their noise. It is not improbable that Milton might have seen, or heard of, this curious picture of his contemporary; and be led, in consequence, to describe so minutely, in this Sonnet, the “barbarous noise that environed him.”—TODD.
When straight a barbarous noise t environs me
Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes, and dogs :
Rail'd at Latona's twin-born progeny,
But this is got by casting pearl to hogs;
And still revolt when truth would set them free v.
Licence they mean when they cry liberty;
But from that mark how far they rove we see,
First taught our English musick how to span
With Midas ears, committing short and long *;
With praise enough for Envy to look wan:
That with smooth air couldst humour best our tongue.
To honour thee, the priest of Phoebus' quire,
* When straight a barbarous noise, &c. Milton was violently censured by the presbyterian clergy for his " Tetrachordon,” and other tracts of that tendency.-T. WARTON.
As when those hinds, &c. The fable of the Lycian clowns changed into frogs is related by Ovid, “Met.” vi, fab. 4 : and the poet, in saying “Which after held the sun and moon in fee,” intimates the good hopes which he had of himself, and his expectations of making a considerable figure in the world.-NEWTON.
When truth would set them free. Compare St. John, viii. 32. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”—TODD.
* Loss of blood. The latter part of this Sonnet is very fine, and contains a most important political truth.
* With Midas ears, committing short and long. “Committing" is a Latinism, as Mr. Warton observes ; and, as Mr. Richardson had remarked, conveys with it the idea of offending against quantity and harmony.—TODD.
Exempts thee from the throng.
- Thou shalt be writ the man. This also is in the style of Horace, “Od.” 1. vi. 1 :
Scriberis Vario fortis, et hostium
. Or story. “The story of Ariadne set by him to musick.” This is a note in the margin of this Sonnet, as it stands prefixed to “ Choice Psalms put into musick by Henry and William Lawes, Lond. for H. Moseley, 1648.” The inscription is there, “To my friend Mr. Henry Lawes."-T. WARTON.