« AnteriorContinuar »
George Brandes characterizes the advocates of the theory in forceful criticism:
“It is well known that in recent years a troop of less than halfeducated people have put forth the doctrine that Shakespere lent his name to a body of poetry with which he had really nothing to do.” And the authors of An Introduction to Shakespeare say,
“their writings, taken as a whole, form one of the strangest medleys of garbled facts and fallacious reasonings which has ever imposed on an honest and intelligent but uninformed public."
The Shakespearian Drama, a Commentary. SNIDER.
Shakespeare as a Dramatic Thinker. MOULTON.
Bacon-Shakespeare Craze. WHITE. Atl., vol. 51, p. 507.
vol. 80, p. 500.
MILTON is one of the grand, massive figures of English
“ Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart;
So thinks Wordsworth in his incomparable sonnet on Milton. There are scores of English poets who have written more gracefully, who have described nature more accurately, whose humanity has touched our hearts more intimately; but where is the poet the music of whose verse rolls forth in grander harmonies, carrying on its melody the rich argosies of Hebrew and classic tradition, whose thought maintains a higher elevation, whose imagination has successfully dared to give “a local habitation and a name” to the vasty spirits of Heaven and Hell? For more than two hundred years, while the reading public has run the gamut of taste from Pope to Kipling, innumerable critics, both English and foreign, have been pointing out the defects of Milton, his old-fashioned theology and Puritanic narrowness, his lack of humor, his Latinized sentence-structure, and many noble poets have added luster to the pages of English literature; but today, if the English-speaking nations were to be represented at an international congress of poets, we would, with Mr. Pattison, choose Shakspere and Milton; Shakspere first, but then Milton.
Birth and Parentage. - John Milton, like Spenser and Chaucer before him, and Pope, Gray, and Keats after him, was born in London. The date was December 9, 1608; the place, Bread Street, Cheapside, in the rooms of the household living over the shop carrying the sign, “The Spread Eagle.” He was baptized on December 20, in All Hallows Church, and his name can still be read in its register, which was saved when the building was
destroyed in the Great Fire. Bread Street is famous for its Mermaid Tavern, where Shakspere and his coterie met to jest and drink canary; in the language of Keats,
"Souls of poets dead and gone,
Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern."
John Milton, the poet's father, was a scrivener, a profession or trade concerning itself with the drawing up of deeds and wills. “Neither for haste nor covetousness I shall take upon me to make any deed whereof I have not cunning without good advice and information of counsel.” Diligent and frugal he must have been, for he was able to send both his sons to Cambridge, and to retire from active business to Horton in 1632. The father had much ability in music, taking rank as a composer with the best of his day. It is not hard to believe that the musical ability of the father had some influence in the making of the mighty harmonies of Milton's verse. Of the mother, Sarah Jeffrey, we know but little.
Early Education. — Much of his early education was by the instruction of private tutors, but for four years he attended St. Paul's School. At the age of sixteen he was ready for college. In his own language he tells us that even before this he had," by the ceaseless diligence and care of my father (whom God recompense) been exercised to the tongues and some sciences as my age would suffer, by sundry masters and teachers both at home and at the schools." Aubrey, the antiquarian, who knew Milton and wrote a memoir of him, tells us that when Milton was very young, “he studied very hard and sate up very late, commonly till twelve or one at night; and his father ordered the maid to sit up for him." This information agrees with Milton's own words concerning his studies in the Defensio Secunda, where occurs this passage of great autobiographical interest :
"I was born at London of an honest family; my father was distinguished by the undeviating integrity of his life; my mother, by the esteem in which she was held, and the alms which she bestowed. My father destined me from a child to the pursuits of literature; and my appetite for knowledge was so voracious, that, from twelve years of age, I hardly ever left my studies, or went to bed before midnight. This primarily led to my loss of sight. My eyes were naturally weak, and I was subject to frequent headaches; which, however, could not chill the ardor of my curiosity, or retard the progress of my improvement. My father had me daily instructed in the grammar-school, and by other masters at home. He then, after I had acquired a proficiency in various languages, and had made a considerable progress in philosophy, sent me to the University of Cambridge. Here I passed seven years in the usual course of instruction and study, with the approbation of the good, and without any stain upon my character, till I took the degree of Master of Arts. After this I did not, as this miscreant feigns, run into Italy, but of my own accord retired to my father's house, whither I was accompanied by the regret of most of the fellows of the college, who showed me no common marks of friendship and esteem. On my father's estate, where he had determined to pass the remainder of his days, I enjoyed an interval of uninterrupted leisure, which I entirely devoted to the perusal of the Greek and Latin classics; though I occasionally visited the metropolis, either for the sake of purchasing books, or of learning something new in mathematics or in music, in which I, at that time, found a source of pleasure and amusement. In this manner I spent five years till my mother's death. I then became anxious to visit foreign parts, and particularly Italy. My father gave me his permission, and I left home with one servant."
At Cambridge.--He was enrolled as a lesser pensioner of Christ's College, Cambridge, on February 12, 1625, “ the greatest poetic name in an University roll already including Spenser, and destined to include Dryden, Gray, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, and Tennyson.” As the boy's tutors were Oxford men, it would seem that that university instead of Cambridge would have been the choice of the Milton family. Mr. Garnett describes the Cambridge of Milton's time as "an institution undergoing modification, rather by the decay of the old than by the intrusion of the new." Milton, like Carlyle and Ruskin of a later century, does not profess to be greatly indebted to his university experience. Possibly such men are apt to underestimate the value of formal instruction. Their minds are too eager and independent to be