صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

his father's. The acquaintanceship, however, is only matter of plausible conjecture. But if there was not a publisher among the acquaintances of the elder Milton, there was certainly one author. This was John Lane, utterly unknown to English literature now, but to whom Milton's nephew Philips, who afterwards knew him, assigns a niche in his Theatrum Poetarum, published in 1674. He there describes Lane as "a fine old Queen Elizabeth gentleman " living within his remembrance, "whose several poems, had they not had the ill fate to remain unpublished, when much better meriting than many that are in print, might possibly have gained him a name not much inferior, if not equal, to Drayton and others of the next rank to Spenser." Philips must have strained his conscience a little to write this. The old gentleman's poetry remains in manuscript to this day, and will probably do so as long as the world lasts. Besides a Poetical Vision and an Alarm to Poets, not now to be recovered, he wrote a continuation of the Squire's Tale in Chaucer, thus finishing that "story of Cambuscan bold," which, as Milton afterwards noted, had been left "half-told" by the great original. There are manuscript copies of this performance in the British Museum and the Ashmolean at Oxford. Another still more laborious attempt of Lane's, of which there is also a fair manuscript copy in the Museum, dated 1621, was a continuation of Lydgate's metrical romance of Guy, Earl of Warwick, in twenty-six cantos. Besides these, there remains, as evidence of his perseverance, a long manuscript poem in the Museum, dated 1621, and entitled Triton's Trumpet to the Twelve Months, husbanded and moralized. In it there is a distinct allusion to the scrivener Milton, in his capacity as a musical composer. Here it is-specimen enough of all Lane's poetry:

"Accenting, airing, curbing, ordering

Those sweet, sweet parts Meltonus did compose,
As wonder's self amazed was at the close,
Which in a counterpoint maintaining hielo
'Gan all sum up thus Alleluiah Deo." 3

But, more interesting still, another of Lane's manuscripts-that of "Guy of Warwick "-furnishes us with a specimen of the musician's powers in returning the compliment. This manuscript had evidently been prepared for the press; and on the back of the

1 Todd and others assume as a fact what appears first as a conjecture in Mr. Charles Dunster's "Essay on Milton's Early Reading," published in 1800.

2 Philips's Theatrum Poetarum, 1674, pp. 111,

112.

3 Royal MS. 17, B. xv. f. 179. b.

title page is a sonnet headed "Johannes Melton, Londinensis civis, amico suo viatico in poesis laudem;" that is "John Milton, citizen of London, to his wayfaring friend in praise of his poetry." The sonnet is so bad that Lane might have written it himself; but, bad or good, as a sonnet by Milton's father the world has a right to see it. So, here it is: —

"If virtue this be not, what is? Tell quick!

For childhood, manhood, old age, thou dost write
Love, war, and lusts quelled by arm heroic,
Instanced in Guy of Warwick, knighthood's light:
Herald's records and each sound antiquary

For Guy's true being, life, death, eke has sought
To satisfy those which prevaricari;

Manuscript, chronicle, if might be bought;

Coventry's, Winton's, Warwick's monuments,

Trophies, traditions delivered of Guy,

With care, cost, pain, as sweetly thou presents,

To exemplify the flower of chivalry:

From cradle to the saddle and the bier,

For Christian imitation all are here."1

In excuse for the quality of this sonnet, we may charitably suppose that it was the scrivener's first and last. But only fancy Humphrey Lownes's horror, if the scrivener, in his anxiety to see his friend's poem printed, ever went so far as to invite him and Lane to his house together, that they might arrange as publisher and author. For the child there might be a fascination in the sight of the only real author within the circle of his father's acquaintance; and he may have had all his life a kindly recollection of this "fine old Queen Elizabeth gentleman," the first poet he had known!

If Mr. Stocke, Humphrey Lownes, and John Lane ever met at the scrivener's, and kept off the subject of Lane's poetry, there were other and more general subjects about which they could talk. Ever since the famous Hampton Court Conferences of 1603-4, at which both the great parties of the English Church had appeared before the king to plead their views and endeavor at the outset of his reign to secure his favor, the hopes entertained by the Puritan party had been more and more disappointed. The Scottish sovereign had become, as decidedly as his predecessor, the supporter of

1 Harl. MS. 5243. Mr. Hunter was the first to print this sonnet; and also, so far as I am aware, to refer, in connection with Milton,

to Lane's MS. generally. I have looked at the MSS. in the Museum for myself.

prelacy in the Church, and the maintainer of royal prerogative in the state. High Church principles were in the ascendant; and the Puritan or Presbyterian party existed as an aggrieved minority within the Church, secretly acquiring strength, and already throwing off, now and then, to relieve itself of its most peccant spirits, a little brood of dissenters or sectaries. The "Brownists or Independents, the Anabaptists, and the Familists, all began to be distinguished from the general body of the Puritans about 1616, in which year Henry Jacob set up the first Independent congregation in England. Many of those who, if they had been at home, would have swelled these sects, were exiles in Holland. Moreover, in addition . to the general Puritan body within the Church, and the incipient sects of Independents and the like who were starting out of the body, there was also throughout England a sprinkling of doctrinal heretics. They were chiefly either of the Arminian sort, or of that new sect of Arians, of which Conrad Vorstius, the successor of Arminius in the theological chair at Leyden, was regarded as the chief. They were under the ban of High Churchmen, Puritans, and orthodox sectaries alike; and there was nothing in which king James was more zealous than in defending the faith against the "wretches" in his own dominions, and calling upon his allies the Dutch to do God and him the favor of clearing their country of them. The opinions of Vorstius in particular roused all James's theology. He made his ambassador in Holland inform the States how shocked he was to find them allowing "such a monster" to be professor in one of their universities, and how infinitely he should be displeased if they gave him any farther promotion. Even the Catholics though, ever since the Gunpowder Plot, they had been well looked after in England-were less objects of aversion to his majesty than these rare heretics developed out of ultra-Protestantism. The doctrine of allegiance to a potentate living far away in Central Italy was less troublesome politically than the doctrine, slowly breaking out among the Puritans, of the right of every man to think for himself on the exact spot of earth which he chanced to occupy.

In addition to all this, we have to fancy James getting on but ill with his parliaments; trying hard to insinuate his notions of prerogative, and always finding resistance at a certain point; obtaining what money he could from the Commons, and, where that was deficient, raising more by the sale of peerages, the creation of baronets at so much a-head, and other such devices; and finally lavishing

1 Neal's Puritans, II. 100, 101. 2 Fuller's Church Hist. Book X. Section 4.

away the money thus obtained in those jocosities of his private court-life which, with all his reputation as a kind of shambling Solomon with a Scottish accent, lost him, almost from the first, the real respect of a people who knew what respect was, and had ere now had sovereigns to whom they did not refuse it. Let the following stand as a sample of the kind of events that were taking place during the poet's childhood, and that would necessarily be talked over in English households like that of the elder Milton.

1611 (the Poet aged 3). The present authorized version of the Bible published, superseding the version called the Bishop's Bible.

1612, Nov. 6 (the Poet aged 4). Prince Henry died in his nineteenth year, to the great grief of the nation, leaving the succession to his brother, Prince Charles, who was not so much liked. Not long after, James's daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, was married amid universal rejoicings to the ElectorPalatine Frederick, the most Protestant of the German Princes.

1613-14, March 13 (the Poet aged over 5). Bartholomew Legate, an Essexman, aged about forty, "person comely, complexion black, of a bold spirit, confident carriage, fluent tongue, excellently skilled in the Scriptures," was burned to death at Smithfield for Arianism. He had been in prison two years, during which the clergy and the King himself had reasoned with him in vain. Once the King, meaning to surprise him into an admission involving the Divinity of Christ, asked him whether he did not every day pray to Christ. Legate's answer was, "that indeed he had prayed to Christ in the days of his ignorance, but not for these last seven years;" which so shocked James that he "spurned at him with his foot." At the stake he still refused to recant, and so was burnt to ashes amid a vast conflux of people—"the first,” says Fuller, "that for a long time suffered death in that manner, and oh, that he might be the last to deserve it!" The very next month another Arian, named Whiteman, was burned at Burton-on-Trent.

1615 (the Poet aged 7). The trial of the favorite Carr, Earl of Somerset, his wife and their agents, for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in the Tower. The issue, as regarded the favorite, was his disgrace from court. George Villiers takes his place, and becomes the ruling minister of James, first as Viscount Villiers (1616), and next as Earl of Buckingham (1617), which title was afterwards raised to that of Marquis, and finally to that of Duke. 1616, April 23 (the Poet aged over 7). Shakspeare died at Stratford-onAvon.

1617, (the Poet aged over 8). The King visits Scotland, where, after much difficulty with the Scottish Parliament and General Assembly, he succeeds in settling the modified Episcopacy he had been long trying to introduce.

1618, Oct. 29 (the Poet aged nearly 10). Sir Walter Raleigh beheaded "more to please the Spanish Court," people said, "than for any other reason.” 1618, Nov. 13. The Synod of Dort in Holland met to settle matters in the Dutch Church, particularly the controversy between the Calvinists and the Arminians. There was much interest in its proceedings in England, and five

English Divines sat in it as deputies. The Calvinists were greatly in the majority, and Arminianism was condemned.

1618-19, March 2. The death of Queen Anne leaves James a widower.

1620 (the Poet aged 12). Great murmuring on account of the King's subserviency to the Catholic Power of Spain, as shown in his lukewarmness in the cause of his son-in-law, the Elector Frederick. The Bohemians, after having been in revolt against their King, the German Emperor Matthias, on account of his attempt to subvert Protestantism among them, had seized the opportunity afforded by his death (March 1619) to renounce their allegiance to his successor in the Empire, Ferdinand II., and to provide themselves with a true Protestant sovereign. Their choice had fallen on the Elector Palatine. Frederick accepted the throne; and thus there began a war- -as it proved, the great Thirty Years' War- -in which the Emperor, the Pope, and the King of Spain were leagued against the Bohemians, Frederick, and the Protestant Union. All Europe looked on. In Britain, it seemed shocking that James should permit the Pope, the Emperor, and the Spaniard to carry all before them against his own son-in-law and daughter and the Protestant Religion to boot. The British Protestant Lion longed to leap into the quarrel; and James was compelled at last to send some money and men. But it was too late. In November 1620, the Protestants were shattered in one decisive battle; and Frederick and his Queen, losing both Bohemia and the Palatinate, became refugees in Holland. The unpopularity of James and his favorite Buckingham was greatly increased by this affair, the more because it was known that their truckling arose from a design to secure the Spanish Infanta, with her dowry of two millions, for the young Prince Charles.

In addition to these greater matters of national politics, which must have interested the poet's father as a man and an Englishman during the period of his son's childhood, there were other matters which interested him as the head of a family and a scrivener. In the latter half of the year 1616, for example, there was some commotion among the scriveners of London, ending in a reorganization of their body. Like the other city companies, the Scriveners had always been liable to taxes and other charges, and had duly paid the same by assessment among themselves. Of late, however, an assessment towards a "general plantation" of Coleraine and Londonderry in Ireland-i. e. toward the settlement of English and Scotch Protestants in those parts-had provoked opposition. Some refused to pay on the ground that the Company, not being regularly incorporated by charter, could not be legally taxed for such a purpose. The Company, therefore, fell into arrears, which the master, wardens, and other chief men paid out of their own private purses. In these circumstances, the remedy was to procure a charter of incorporation, vesting full legal powers in the officebearers to assess, hold meetings, compel the payment of "quar

« السابقةمتابعة »