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from the little-known Nativity ode.1 Nor was Addison's devotion restricted to the epic. Allan Ramsay's correspondent, who thought Milton's masque "the best ever written... in the Praise of which no Words can be too many," remembered to have heard "the late excellent Mr. Addison" agree with him in that opinion. To Allegro Addison gave the tribute of imitation, for his Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, which was sung at Oxford in 1699, has the lines,
Next let the solemn organ join
Later he wrote in the Spectator: "Milton, in a joyous assembly of imaginary persons, has given us a very poetical figure of laughter. His whole band of mirth is so finely described, that I shall set down the passage at length." The way in which Allegro is here referred to seems to indicate that the poem was not well known, an inference certainly warranted by another passage in the same periodical. "In this sweet retirement," writes the unknown contributor, "I naturally fell into the repetition of some lines out of a poem of Milton's, which he entitles Il Penseroso, the ideas of which were exquisitely suited to my present wanderings of thought." A similar conclusion in regard to Comus may be drawn from Steele's remark about “a passage in a mask writ by Milton, where two brothers are introduced seeking after their sister, whom they had lost in a dark night and thick wood"; and from Francis Peck's reference, ten years later, to "the immortal Milton['s] . . . Circe, a beautiful Piece of Doric or Pastoral Poetry, most of it written in Blank Verse, wrought into a Mask, and presented at Ludlow Castle... [which] is printed in the Second Volume of his Poetical Works." In much the same way John Hughes, who praised and copied the companion pieces, referred in 1715 to the "Poem call'd Il Penseroso" and "a Mask, by our famous Milton; the whole Plan of which is Allegorical, and is written with a very Poetical Spirit." So, too, Zachary Pearce alluded to an expression "us'd by M. in his Poem call'd L'Allegro." These re
1 The phrase "Wood-wild Notes," in his poem prefixed to Gildon's History of the Athenian Society (1693?), may be, as Mr. Sherburn points out (p. 522), from Allegro, 134. For the debt to the Nativity, see pp. 566-7 below.
2 See note to Ramsay's Nuptials (Poems, 1728, ii. 143). 3 Works (Bohn ed.), vi. 534.
4 No. 249.
5 No. 425.
7 Sighs upon the Death of Queen Anne (1719), p. xiv.
In his edition of Spenser (1715), vol. i, pp. xxxvii, xxxix. Cf. pp. 442-3 below. • Review of the Text of P. L. (1733), 93. In support of the received text of the epic, Pearce quotes Milton's usage in his other works, referring to Lycidas once, to the octo
marks, and the fact that Thomas Parnell, who died in 1718, named a character in one of his songs Comus and twice imitated Allegro,1 indicate that the leading classicists knew the 1645 volume but the people in general did not.
Yet the early pieces were not entirely without admirers among less cultivated readers. In 1691, for example, the Athenian Mercury declared the "Poems . . . on Mirth and Melancholly, an Elegy on his Friend that was drown'd, and especially a Fragment of the Passion [!]" to be "incomparable"; " and so early as 1657, in Joshua Poole's English Parnassus, "nearly the whole of the Ode on the Nativity is inserted in different extracts; the quotations from L'Allegro are copious; and lines are given from Lycidas and other pieces." These infrequent instances of justice to the poems, however, only accentuate the general indifference and render it harder to understand. Other books of extracts, like Cotgrave's English Treasury of Wit and Language (1655) and Bysshe's Art of English Poetry (1702), contain nothing from Milton's early writings, although the latter quotes extensively from Paradise Lost. It was not till 1733 that commentators used the "Juvenilia" to throw light upon the epic; before 1730 very few of the many enthusiastic admirers and imitators of that work give evidence of knowing anything whatever about Allegro, Penseroso, Comus, or Lycidas. John Philips, for instance, never borrows from these pieces," and Dennis and Watts do so but once."
The early biographers of Milton of course mention his shorter poems; but they usually give more attention to Comus and Lycidas, because these pieces, having been published separately, require syllabics twice, to the sonnets three and to Comus four times; but there is no evidence that he admired the poems, and reference to them in a scholarly work of this kind is no indication that they were popular.
1 See his second Anacreontick ("Gay Bacchus "); and p. 444 below.
2 Vol. v, no. 14. No reference is made to Comus.
3 William Godwin, Lives of Edward and John Philips (1815), 286. I do not doubt that the statement is substantially true, for I have found quotations on pages 265, 400401, 477, 483, 519, 553, 554 (Nativity); 432, 445, 449, 450, 491, 556 (Allegro); 430 (May Morning); 351, 444, 445, 577 (Lycidas).
• Some others for the period 1735-40 are given on pp. 425-6, 432, below.
Philips has the phrase, "Bacchus, author of heart-cheering mirth" (Cyder, ii. 366), which may possibly have been suggested by Allegro, 13-16.
• In Blenheim, Dennis has "swinging slow with hoarse and sullen Roar" (Select Works, 1718, i. 160; cf. Penseroso, 76). The line "Silence was ravish'd as she sung,” which occurs in section ii of his Court of Death (1695), he probably took from Paradise Lost, iv. 604, not from Comus, 557-60. In a letter written about 1705 defending the stage (Original Letters, 1721, i. 236, noted by Sherburn, p. 273), Dennis refers to Milton's Samson, to his "fine Encomium on Shakespear," as well as to his "extraordinary Esteem for Johnson" (in Allegro, 131-2?); but singularly enough he makes no mention of Comus. For Watts, see p. 425 below.
separate notice in a chronological survey, and because in accounts devoted principally to facts the occasions that called forth these two works would naturally be mentioned. Even so late as 1753, however, many of the biographies which laud Paradise Lost to the skies either have no praise at all for the earlier poems or simply repeat some earlier, undiscriminating comment. Usually they give the 1645 volume a brief, blanket commendation, so vague as to make no impression on the reader and not even to convince him that the writer knew the pieces he praised. To be sure, Edward Phillips mentions "that most excellent Monody . . . Intituled Lycidas," and adds, "Never was the loss of Friend so Elegantly lamented"; 1 but Milton's nephew and pupil could hardly have said less.2 Toland in 1698 refers to only two of the poems, but he exhibits a real appreciation for them. Of Comus he writes, "Like which Piece in the peculiar disposition of the Story, the sweetness of the Numbers, the justness of the Expression, and the Moral it teaches, there is nothing extant in any Language"; and "the Monody wherin he bewails his Learned Friend Mr. King drown'd in the Irish Seas" he characterizes as "one of the finest he ever wrote."3 Fenton speaks, in 1725, not only of these two works but of the octosyllabics as well; yet his praise is too vague to mean much. Nine years later Richardson, in addition to general commendation, declares Allegro and Penseroso to be "Exquisite Pictures," Comus and Lycidas "perhaps Superior to all in their Several Kinds," and, after quoting Toland's opinion of the masque, remarks, "As great an Encomium have I heard of Lycidas as a Pastoral, and That when Theocritus was not forgot."5 But Richardson, as his readers all knew, was addicted to superlatives. Peck, in 1740, analyzes the principal short poems (including the
1 Milton's Letters of State (1694), p. ix. "Among the rest of his Juvenile Poems," Phillips goes on to say, "some he wrote at the Age of 15, which contain a Poetical Genius scarce to be parallel'd by any English Writer."
2 Similarly, the few borrowings from these early pieces that Grosart points out in his notes to the poems of Andrew Marvell (who died in 1678) prove nothing, since they are rather less than might be expected from a man who was Milton's friend and assistant. Two are dubious, "gadding vines" (Upon Appleton House, 610, cf. Lycidas, 40) and "the last distemper of the sober brain" (Fleckno, 28, cf. Lycidas, 71); but this one (from the First Anniversary under the Protector, 151-2, cf. Nativity, 172) is striking:
And still the dragon's tail
Swinges the volumes of its horrid flail.
Pages 16, 44, of the life prefixed to the 1698 edition of Milton's prose works. All he says is that the four pieces are "of such an exquisite strain! that though He had left no other monuments of his Genius behind him, his name had been immortal" (pp. xix-xx of his edition of P. L.). Fenton seems not to have cared for Lycidas; at least, he makes no mention of it in his Florelio, "a Pastoral lamenting the Death of the Marquis of Blandford" (Feb., 1702/3), in which he does refer to Spenser's Astrophel. 5 Explanatory Notes on P. L. (1734), pp. xv–xvi.
Nativity), gives their sources and the occasions for which they were composed, and comments on sundry passages, but except in his discussion of the rimes of Lycidas says nothing to indicate appreciation. Giles Jacob in 1720, Birch in 1738, Newton in 1749, and Theophilus Cibber in 1753 give only the facts regarding the poems and repeat briefly the comments of others.1 On the whole, therefore, the attitude of Milton's biographers, from whom undue partiality for all his works might be expected, reflects the general indifference to his shorter pieces.
Yet as regards one of the poems these writers exhibit an appreciation which seems not to have been common, for the passages that have been quoted contain a goodly part of the few allusions to Lycidas made in the Augustan age. Joseph Trapp says nothing about the poem in his Praelectiones Poeticae (1711-22), though he has warm praise for Paradise Lost, discusses both the elegiac and the pastoral form, and alludes to the Shepherd's Calendar. Walsh wrote to Pope in 1706, "I am sure there is nothing of this kind [the pastoral] in English worth mentioning."2 In the course of examining hundreds of books of the period in which one would expect Milton's elegy to be referred to, I have found, up to 1756, only thirteen such references besides those mentioned above and but seven pieces that were at all influenced by it. Yet in Lycidas, as Mark Pattison tells us, "we have reached the high-water mark of English poesy"!
After 1698 I find no mention of the monody-except Fenton's general commendation of the minor poems, a quotation in one of Pope's letters and one in a poem by William Hinchliffe, a borrowing by Isaac Watts," and the expression "Lycidas, the Friend," in Thomson's Winter - until 1727, when Moses Browne, the editor of
1 Birch compared the Cambridge manuscripts with the printed versions of Comus, Lycidas, and some of the sonnets, and devoted several pages to variant readings; but it seems to have been scholarly thoroughness rather than admiration of the poems that led him to do this. He may have had a special interest in Comus because of the recent presentation of Dalton's version of the masque, to which he refers.
2 Pope's Works (Elwin-Courthope ed.), vi. 50–51.
3 See Bibl. III A, below. The extracts in Poole's English Parnassus (see above, p. 423, n. 3), and Pope's verbal borrowings (below, Appendix A), should not, however, be forgotten.
4 "For fame, though it be, as Milton finely calls it, the last infirmity of noble minds" (Pope to Trumbull, March 12, 1713), and "Flames in the Forehead of the Eastern Sky" (Hinchliffe, To Sylvia); cf. Lycidas, 71, 171.
5 In his Funeral Poem on Thomas Gunston (Horae Lyricae, 1709, p. 330):
So shines thy GUNSTON'S Soul above the Spheres
Cf. Lycidas, 168, 77, 181; note also Watts's three preceding lines, and the general similarity in idea between the last parts of the two poems.
First ed. (1726), 298. The name Lycidas is not, so far as I know, particularly
Walton, spoke of it as a neglected work and used it as the model for one of his eclogues. This piece the Gentleman's Magazine reprinted in May and June, 1740, with the comment, "The following Poem... is reckon❜d the best Imitation of MILTON's Lycidas that has yet appear'd." Since there seem to have been no other poems in print at the time that would normally be termed imitations of Lycidas, it may be that the writer in the magazine had in mind not whole pieces, but passages like this in William Broome's verses on the death of Elijah Fenton:
Where were ye, Muses, by what Fountain side,
What River sporting when your Fav'rite dy'd? . . .
Grate on their jarring Pipes a flashy Lay.?
In 1731 Elizabeth Rowe spoke of "reading Milton's elegy on Lycidas"; three years later Warburton answered some questions of Theobald's regarding a passage in it, and John Jortin quoted four of its lines; the following year William Duncombe printed seven lines of it in a life of John Hughes; while two more lines appear in an essay on prosody written about the same time by that great admirer of Paradise Lost, Samuel Say, who refers to Lycidas as a associated with friendship outside of Milton. In the second line of the Morning in the Country, which he wrote about 1720, Thomson borrowed from Allegro the phrase “in thousand liveries drest."
1 "It has a long Time been Matter of wonder to me," he wrote (Piscatory Eclogues, 1729, p. 31), "that among so many Admirers and Imitators of that great Man, none have taken Notice of this Poem, so perfectly Original, which I can never read, for my own part, without the same Veneration, and Partiality, which is paid to the most accomplish'd Works of Antiquity." Browne believed it was Phineas Fletcher's death that called forth Lycidas, a mistake which he corrected in his second edition. The rivers passage in his “Strife” eclogue is, as Mr. Sherburn points out (p. 537), clearly based upon that in Milton's Vacation Exercise, 91-100 (to which Browne refers in his note); the phrases "Trent to clasp her stretch'd out all his Arms” and “sedgy Lea” (Eclogues, 96, 97) are from the same poem, and perhaps the river that "drew along his humid Train" is from Paradise Lost, vii. 306; one of the characters in the piece is named Comus. Towards the end of the "Sea Swains" eclogue Browne introduces the "admit him to their train" of Allegro, 38, the "oozy locks" and "level brine" of Lycidas, 175, 98, and the "birds of calm" of the Nativity, 68. Near the beginning of "The Nocturnal" he has the "hedgerow elms" of Allegro, 58, and towards the end he compresses Allegro, 63-6, into two lines (noted by Sherburn, p. 521), which in the third edition he encloses in quotation-marks.
2 Poems on Several Occasions (2d ed., 1750), 210-11. This poem (noted by Sherburn, p. 535) was written in 1730. The four lines are close together in a work of some length. For a piece in the same volume influenced by Penseroso, see pp. 445-6 below.
3 Letters Moral and Entertaining, II. viii (Works, 1796, i. 240; Sherburn, p. 275). Nichols, Illustrations, ii. 634, 648 (Sherburn, p. 276).
"Samson Agonistes," in Remarks on Spenser's Poems (1734), 185-6.
Hughes, Poems (1735), vol. i, p. iii. Duncombe introduces the quotation with the remark, "So just is the Reflexion of Milton in his Lycidas."