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The rays of Bethl'hem blind his dusky ey'n ;
Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine :
Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,
Each fettered ghost slips to his sev'ral grave ;
Time is our tedious song should here have ending ;
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid-lamp attending; And all about the courtly stable Bright-harnessed Angels sit in order serviceable.
Before we pass from this poem, a word must be said about the place that it occupies in the development of Milton's mind. Both by its subject-matter, and by its marked sincerity and earnestness, it testifies to the sobriety of the young poet's temper and to his interest in religious things. Yet there is nothing in it to foreshadow his later Puritanism, nothing to distinguish it as the work of one who was presently to use the forms of the ancient epic as the vehicle of a Puritan theology. It is, in fact, just such a poem as, given the necessary genius, any serious-minded young college man might very well have written ; and in its curious blending of Christian thought and classical imagery and ideas it is entirely in keeping with the poetic habits of a time when, under the powerful traditions of the Renaissance, men perpetually drew upon pagan literature and mythology even when they were dealing with the most vital questions of their religious faith. Let me take the opportunity of insisting here upon a point which is of the utmost importance to the student who would follow the course of Milton's intellectual history. Two great influences were to enter into and fashion his poetic powers-the influence of classicism and the influence of Puritanism. Of these, the former was for the moment completely in the ascendant. The Puritanism was as yet latent only. The spirit of the Renaissance, whose child on one side he was, claimed him for its own. In thinking of his life-work as a whole, we commonly emphasise so strongly the purely religious and moral side of it, and the Hebraic zeal or righteousness which in later life came to govern all his efforts, that we are apt to lose sight of the
fact that in him this Hebraic zeal for righteousness was combined with a true Hellenic
feeling for beauty and love of knowledge. The Hebrew and the Hellene, as we may therefore say, were always present together in Milton's poetry ; but they were present in very different proportions at different stages of his career; and at the opening of it, the Hellene was paramount. striking passage in a letter dated September 23, 1637, to his friend Diodati, he afterwards wrote of himself : "Whatever the Deity may have bestowed upon me in other respects, He has certainly inspired me, if any ever were inspired, with a passion for the good and the beautiful. Nor did Ceres, according to the fable, ever seek her daughter Proserpine with such unceasing solicitude as I have sought this idea of the beautiful in all the forms and appearances of things, for many are the shapes of things divine. Day and night I am wont to continue my search.” This is remarkable language. Not even Keats, who had little of the Hebraic in his composition, and to whom “a thing of beauty" was a joy for ever," could have written of his own devotion to beauty more fervently than this ; and what we have specially to remember is, that it was with this intense love of the beautiful “ in all forms and appearances of things," that our great Puritan poet, with whom presently
were to be the primary concern, actually set out on his
Yet in one poem of this period the strong
Hebrew or Puritan note is distinctly struck. A
AGE OF TWENTY-THREE
Stol'n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year !
My hasting days fly on with full career,
That I to manhood am arrived so near ;
And inward ripeness doth much less appear, That some more timely-happy sp'rits endu'th. Yet, be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure ev'n,
To that same lot, however mean or high,
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
This sonnet was written by Milton on the eve of his leaving Cambridge, and clearly marks his sense that he was now about to open a new chapter in his history. Youth was over ; he stood on the threshold of manhood, with all its temptations and duties; and it was in this fine spirit of self-dedication to the highest aims in life that he turned his back upon his college walls and went forth into the world. Come what might, he was solemnly resolved henceforth to live as in God's sight and for God's service.
III IS father had designed that he should enter the Church, and this he had himself regarded, from childhood
up, as his settled vocation. But before his Cambridge course had closed he had come to realise that for him Holy Orders were impossible. "To the service of the Church,” he afterwards wrote, “ by the intentions of my parents and friends, I was destined of a child, and by mine own resolution; till coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded the Church, that he who would take orders must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that would retch (stretch), he must either straight perjure, or split his faith ; I thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of