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years, entertain and pursue the great idea of his life: he now set himself to compose his
great epic poem. The subject which had once attracted him-King Arthur--now gave place to a strangely different one-the Fall of Man. That former subject was not consonant with Milton's nature, educed and developed as it had been during the Commonwealth days, nor with the circumstances amidst which he found himself and the spectacles he witnessed. It was not practical and real enough. In 1667 appeared Paradise Lost, in ten books. It was in that same year that Dryden brought out his Annus Mirabilis. Thus in that year the great poetic leader of the setting age and the leader of the rising age stood strikingly contrasted. Four years afterwards were published Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. In 1674 Milton passed away from the evil times and evil tongues upon which his life had fallen,
HYMN ON THE NATIVITY.
This hymn was written by Milton in the year 1629, when he was just twenty-one years of age. Hallam therefore is inaccurate in saying that we have nothing written by Milton earlier than his sonnet on “his being arrived to the age of twenty-three,” which would be written in December 1631. The Hymn was written while he was yet an undergraduate.
He gives some account of his writing it in one of his elegies--the sixth-which is a letter addressed to his friend Deodati-that same friend the news of whose death met him when he returned from his tour on the Continent, and whom he bewailed in his Epitaphium Damonis:
“At tu siquid agam scitabere, si modo saltem
Esse putas tanti noscere siquid agam.
Faustaque sacratis secula pacta libris ;
Qui suprema suo cum patre regna colit;
Et subito elisos ad sua fana deos.
Illa sub auroram lux mihi prima tulit."
Which passage contains an excellent outline of the poem. Apparently he proposed to celebrate other great Christian events in a similar way. See the fragment on The Passion, and the ode on The Circumcision. With regard to the former he writes :-“This subject the author finding to be above the years he had when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished.”
The metre of the introductory stanzas is that in which Spenser wrote his Four Hymns. I is a modification of the Italian eight-lined stanza, first made by Chaucer, who composed in it several of the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer modified the Italian stanza by the omission of a line ; Spenser in his Faerie Queene by the addition of one, that one of greater length than the others.
This hymn is the first considerable poem which Milton wrote.
6. 2. Wherein. We should rather say whereon. See Spenser's Prothal. I. 119.
4. redemption : here in sense, as etymologically, = ransom.
6. our deadly forfeit should release = that he should remit, or rather cause to le mitted, the penalty of death to which we were liable.
6. 6. deadly forfeit, Comp. "penal forfeit,” Samson Agonistes, 508, and Paradise Lost, xi, 195-8;
or to warn
“Thy slanders I forgive, and therewithal
Remit thy other forfeits." release is etymologically a modified form of relax, coming to us through the French: = let go, quit, remit. See Deut. xv. 2: “Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it.” Comp. Esther ii. 18: “He made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.” 7. with. Not the Lat. cum, but rather apud, or inter. Comp. Dryden:
" Immortal powers the term of Conscience know,
But Interest is her name with men below." 8. unsufferable. The old usage preferred the English prefix. So unpossible (Ascham, &c.), unproperlie (Ascham), uuhospitable (Shakspere), unvulnerable (ib.), uncessant (Milton), &c. &c. In Paradise Lost, x. 256, occurs "unagreeable."
10, wont. See note on Prothal. I. 139.
II. the midst rather " in the midst ” than “the midmost one. [What part of speech is midst in Paradise Lost, v. 164-5?
“On earth join, all ye creatures, to extol
Him first, him last, him midst, and without end."). "The midst " is very common in older English as a substantive. On the “vulgarisms" in our midst, in your midst, see Marsh's English Language, Ed. Smith. 14. darksom.
Some is a favourite adjectival termination in older English, Early English sum, German sam. Thus, we find laboursome, gaysome, ugsome, bigsome, longsome, toothsome, &c. &c. See Trench's English Past and Present. In Paradise Lost, vii. 355, Milton uses unlightsome. This some is radically identical with the adjective same.
with us must not be taken in close connexion with the verb, but rather with the object. What does with mean here?)
15. vein. See Paradise Lost, vi. 628.
16. afford. Afford is commonly used in Elizab. English for to give, present, without any reference such as it now has to the means of the giver. Paradise Lost, iv. 46:
“What could be less than to afford him praise, &c. ?" Ib. x. 271; Samson Agonistes, 910 and 1,109; Winter's Tale, IV. iv. 16; Henry VIII. I. iv. 17. But it sometimes seems to have that reference, as in Paradise Lost, v. 316, &c. The stem is said to be the Latin forum.
during which time. When = at which time. In modern English we very commonly use when where while would be more exact, and where while would have been used by our forefathers : e.g. in l. 30.
20. took. So Il Penseroso, 91 : forsook, &c.
21. spangled, &c. is here an adjective, from the substantive spangle, rather than the participle of the verb spangle. 7. 23. See Paradise Regained, i. 249-54.
Wisards. -Ard had originally an intensive force, as in sweethard (corrupted into sweetheart), drunkard, çoward, braggart, laggard, &c. It appears in some person-names,
as Leonard, Bernard, Everard. It seems to have been very commonly appended to nouns of a contemptuous and depreciatory meaning. Most of the words ending in it that now survive are of this sort. Add to those already mentioned bastard, sluggard, dotard; Trench mentions others now obsolete (English Past and Present). In our text wisards perhaps means nothing more than the Wise Men, without anything of the later sense of magicians attached to it, although in the Middle Ages the three Eastern kings were undoubtedly regarded as “ wizards" in the modern sense of the word, and that with all reverence.
In Comus, 571, the modern sense appears, and so ib. 872. In Lycid. 55 the word is applied to the personified river Dee. Spenser calls the ancient philosophers “antique wizards ” (Faerie Queene, IV. xii. 2).
7. 24. prevent. See Psalms cxix. cxlvii. &c. &c. See Trench's Select Gloss. Comp "prevenient,” Paradise Lost, xi. 3; "prevention,” ib. vi. 129. 27. the angel quire. See II. 85-140 ; Paradise Regained, i.
242-5. 28. See Isaiah vi. 6,7. He has the same allusion in his Reason of Church Government. 29. born is dissyllabic here. 31. all. See Prothal. I. 56. 32. to him is to be taken in connexion with in awe, rather than with had dofft. 41. pollute is the Latin participle pollutus, with its termination Anglicized. blame. Comp. Macbeth, IV. iii. 122-5:
“I Unspeak mine own detraction ; here abjure The taints and blames I laid upon myself
For strangers to my nature.” 42. marden white. Comp. maiden sword (1 Henry IV. V. iv. 134); maiden walls (Henry V. V. ii. 449); maiden flowers (Henry VIII. IV. ii. 169).
45. cease. Here causal. Comp. "shrink,” inf. l. 203 ; Lycid. 133. So Bacon: 6. You may sooner by imagination quicken or slack a motion than raise or cease it."
." Comp. also Ascham's Schoolmaster:
“ Therefore, my heart, cease sighes and sobbes, cease sorowes secde to sow." 48. The turning sphear. Comp. Paradise Lost, iii. 416:
“ Thus they in heaven above the starry sphere," &c. In the Ptolemaic System the earth was the centre round which the heavens, with their stars, revolved. Sphere here means this great revolving framework.
On the words orb, sphere, globe, ball, see Smith's Marsh's Lectures on the English Language. 49. harbinger. Comp. German herberger. See Paradise Regained, i. 71:
“Before him a great prophet to proclaim
His coming is sent harbinger,” &c. See also Midsummer Night's Dream, III. ii. 380 ; Comedy of Errors, III. ii. 12; Macbeth, I. iv. 46; and V. vi. 10; Hamlet, I. i. 122. Hawkins' Life of Bishop Ken: “On the remova. of the court to pass the summer at Winchester, Bishop Ken's house, which he held in the right of his prebend, was marked by the harbinger for the use of Mrs. Eleanor Gwyn,” &c. (Apud Halliwell.)
For the form of the word, as messenger from message, scavenger from scavage, porringer from porridge, so herbinger from harb'rage ; see Wedgewood. In the Ayenbite of Inwit there is the form herberyeres for innkeepers, = harbourers. In Chaucer's Man of Lawes Tale herbergeour - harbinger:
“ The fame anon throughout the toun is born,
How Alla King shal com on pilgrimage,
For harbourage, see King John, II. i. 234. In Pericles, I. iv. 100," harbourage” is asked for “ourself, our ships.” Harbour radically = a shelter for a host.
7. 50. See Collins' Ode to Peace :
So Richard III. V. iii. ; 1 Henry VI. II. iii. Such, no doubt, is the force of the word here. Otherwise, one might comp. the Lat. fædus ferire, &c.
About the time of the birth of Christ the Temple of Janus was shut ; i.e. there was peace in the Roman empire. See Merivale's Romans under the Empire, iii. 401, smaller Ed.
8. 56. the hooked chariot covinus, variously described or referred to as falcifer, falcatus, rostratus. Comp. Spenser's Faerie Queene, V. viii. 28. It is said to have been a Keltic invention. The Romans adopted it, with certain natural changes, for their domestic use. Their covinus seems to have resembled our cabriolet. See Martial's enthusiastic apostrophe to it (xii. 24), &c. It is curious that so many Roman carriage-names are Keltic. Essedum, petorritum, rheda, are all so.
58. Comp. in Ovid's adjuration to Peace (Fast. i. 716): “And let the wild trumpet sound no signal-blast save for the festal train."
59. awfull. So Richard II. III. iii. 76. It has its more usual sense in Taming of the Shrew, V. ii. 108 ; 2 Henry VI. V. i. 98, &c. Awless, in King John (I. i. 266), may have either an active or a passive meaning.
60. sovran. Old French, souverain. Our erroneous modern spelling has probably arisen from the popular tendency to force strange word-forms into, or at least into some proximity to, familiar ones. Comp. beaf-eater, sparrow-grass, sweetheart, island, Charles' Wain, lanthorn, emerods, colleague, could, gooseberry, liquorice, frontispiece, shamefaced, Jerusalem artichoke, cray-fish, country-danse, Bag-o'-nails (as an inn name), Goat and Compasses (ditto), Bull and Mouth (ditto), loadstone, Billy Ruffian (as a ship's name), &c.
64. whist = hushed. So Spenser's Faerie Queene, VII. vii. 59. See Tempest, I. ï. 77-82:
“Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands ;
The wild waves whist,
where Johnson takes whist to be a verb = are silent ; but it is probably a participle, as in our text, the phrase the wild waves whist standing in an adverbial relation to the predicate, just as this done the tales in L'Allegro, I. 115. No doubt the word is originally a sort of interjection commanding silence. Comp. the Latin st, Italian zitto, French chut.
hush, hist, &c. Then whist is used as a verb to say whist-i.e. to silence. It is also used = to be silent, as in Surrey's Translation of Virgil:
They whisted all, with fixed face intent." Comp. hush. Whisper is from the same root. There is a provincial form whister = whisper. (Halliwell.) Then we have whist for the name of a game at cards, where the players are supposed to keep silence (it was frequently called whisk); whist, as an adjective, as in Euphues and his England: “So that now all her enimies are as whist as the bird attagen," &c. (H. & W.'s Nares.) The forms whish and whisht are also found.
8. 68. birds of calm halcyons. See the story of Alcyone, told by Ovid, one of Milton's favourite authors, in Metam. xi. There was an ancient belief, that during the seven days preceding and the seven succeeding the shortest day of the year, at which time the alcyon was breeding, a great tranquillity prevailed at sea. When it “sat brooding," the “wave was charmed.” Frequent allusions to this belief occur in the Classics, as in Aristophanes' Birds and his Frogs, in Theocritus, &c. &c. The Greeks spoke of “alcyon days” (Akvovider huépai); the Latins, of Alcedonia, the halcyon time, alcedo being the old Latin name for the bird. Thus the Prologue-speaker of Plautus' play, the Casina: “There is a calm. All about the forum (= pretty much our “the City "] 'tis halcyon-tide ;" i.e. there is no bustling and tumult. See “halcyon beaks” in Lear, II. ii. 84; “halcyon days," ı Hen. VI. I. ii. 131.
70. stedfast. Fast, in the form fast, is an Anglo-Saxon word, denoting firm. Sooth. fast firm in truth, &c. In the modern editions of our Bible translation shamefast is corrupted into shamefaced, and shamefastness into shamefacedness. Rootfast has become obsolete.
71. influence. Here used in its original sense of the rays, or glances, or aspects, flowing from the stars to the earth. These aspects were believed to have a great mysterious power over the fortunes of men ; and hence influence came to have its modern meaning, “The astrologers,” says Bacon (Essay ix.), “call the evill influences of the starrs evil aspects.
Job xxxviii. 31: “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades?" Paradise Lost, ii. 1034 :
“But now at last the sacred influence
Of light appears."
Measure for Measure, III. i. : "the skiey influences." King Lear, I. ii. 135: "planetary influence." Comp. L'Allegro, I. 122.
Other astrological terms still surviving are disastrous," “ill-starred," "ascendency," “lord of the ascendant," "jovial," "saturnine," mercurial.” (See Trench's Study of Words.) See what Gloucester and Edmund respectively say of the old faith, in King Lear, I. ii.; and this verse in Fletcher's lines Upon an Honest Man's Fortune (quoted in Bible Word-Book):
“Man is his own star, and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man
Nothing to him falls early, or too late.” So also Paradise Lost, x. 659. Fuller's Scripture Observations, xviii. 73. for = in spite of, notwithstanding. So frequently, as in Davies (apud Johnson):
“ But as Noah's pigeon, which return'd no more,
Did show she footing found for all the flood," &c. Probably the full phrase would be “for all the flood, or the morning light, or &c. &c could do." Certainly, the all does not qualify “the flood,” or “the morning light," or &c.
74. often. As if Lucifer gave several separate admonitions, instead of, by his very appearance, one long one: