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not instantly engage with raw and untutored judgments in the study of theology; and of this they acquire only a slender smattering, not more than sufficient to enable them to patch together a sermon, with scraps pilfered, with little discrimination, from this author and from that. Hence I fear lest our clergy should relapse into the sacerdotal ignorance of a former age. Since I find so few associates in study here, I should instantly direct my steps to London, if I had not determined to spend the summer vacation in the depths of literary solitude, and, as it were, hide myself in the chamber of the Muses. As you do this every day, it would be injustice in me any longer to divert your attention or engross your time. Adieu.
“ Cambridge, July 2, 1628.”
Here should be noticed the first efforts of Milton's muse, his college poetry, which is of the very highest order. His Latin poems, written about the age of nineteen and twentyone, “may be justly considered,” says Warton, “as legitimate, classical composition, but the majesty of his odes is very great, witness the sublime lines “AT A SOLEMN MUSIC. We need
not to be told how great a power harmony had over his senses and his imagination.”
“Blest pair of sirens, pledges of Heaven's joy,
Sphere-born harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse,
The sonnet, on his being arrived at the age of three-and-twenty years, shows to us how seriously he began to look upon life,—upon his own life,-upon the shaping forth of his own duties and his character.
" How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
That I to manhood am arrived so near,
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
To that same lot, however mean or high,
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
But that poem which principally at this period, the college era of his life, ennobles his name and memory, is his “ Hymn on the Nativity.” It meets Milton's own definition of a poem ; it is simple, sensuous, and passionate ; grandeur and magnificence break forth in every line. Scholarship, too, the evidences of a mind embued with not only the great names and events of ancient story, but with the more gloomy pomp and mysterious light from Gothic superstitions. This poem has engaged the encomiums of every succeeding critic and biographer, except Johnson, who passes it by in sullen silence, apparently because it was not possible to condemn, and his pen was too jealous to give unqualified praise. In this sublime but youthful effort the poet is caught up to the highest flights of frenzy--words never in the whole history of language more accurately and vividly bodied forth the most exalted conceptions. The music of the stanza is perfect, too, and the last line of each verse “the Alexandrinian close, is like the swelling of the wind when the blaze rises to the height.” It sounds like the climax of the thought; we feel it rushing through the soul ; now it sobs, and now it soars,—expressing either tenderness or terror, mysterious awe, or haughty majesty. Thus the prevalence of peace throughout the world at our Lord's nativity is alluded to.
- No war or battle sound,
The idle spear and shield were high up hung:
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
But peaceful was the night,
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
Whisp’ring new joys to the mild ocean,
The streaming of the celestial music through the ranks of the “ amazed stars," and the ears of the entranced shepherds, while all the symbols of Paganism feel the thrill through temple and shrine—the cessation of the oracles at the birth of Christ is the most powerful portion of the poem. The verses have been repeatedly quoted, and every lover of Milton will know this well; but they may be cited again, as illustrations of the power of the imagination to embody forth in words the most lofty ideas.
“ The oracles are dumb,
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
The lonely mountains o'er,