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Hence, loathed Melancholy,
Of Cerberus and blackest midnight born
In Stygian cave forlorn,
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy
Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brooding Darkness spreads her jealous wings,
And the night-raven sings;
There under ebon shades, and low-brow'd rocks
As ragged as thy locks,
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.
But come, thou goddess fair and free,
As he met her once a Maying,
There on beds of violets blue
And fresh-blown roses wash'd in dew,
Fill'd her with thee, a daughter fair,
Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
Quips and Cranks, and wanton Wiles,2
To live with her, and live with thee,
Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures,
Whilst the landskip round it measures,
Of herbs, and other country messes,
Tells how the drudging Goblin sweat,
And the busy hum of men,
Where throngs of knights and barons bold,
In saffron robe, with taper clear;
Ther to the well-trod stage anon,
Or sweetest Shakspeare, Fancy's child,
Lap me in soft Lydian airs,
Such as the meeting soul may pierce,
The hidden soul of harmony;
Milton shows his early fondness for the Italian language, by taking from it the titles of these poems. L'Allegro is the mirthful (man), and Il Penseroso the melancholy (pensive rather, or thoughtful). These two poems are supposed, with good reason, to have been written at Horton in Buckinghamshire, where his parents were residing at the time of their composition. I mention this circumstance, first because it is pleasant to know when poetry is written in poetical places, and next for the sake of such readers as may happen to know the spot.
1" Some sager sing."-Ben Jonson, in one of his Masks. "Because," says Warburton, "those who give to Mirth such gross companions as Eating and Drinking, are the less sage mythologists."
2" Quips, and Cranks, and wanton Wiles."-What a Crank is, the commentators are puzzled to say. They guess, from analogy with "winding turns" (which the word originally appears to signify), that the poet means cross purposes, or some other such pastime. The witty author of Hints to a young Reviewer (afterwards, I believe, no mean reviewer himself), who criticised these
poems upon the pleasant assumption of their having "just come out," and expressed his astonishment at "Mr. Milton's amatory notions" (I quote from memory), takes occasion, from the obscurity of this word, to observe, that the "phenomenon of a tripping crank" would be very curious, and “doubtless attract numerous spectators." He also, in reference to passages a little further on, wonders how "Mirth can be requested to come and go at the same instant ;" and protests at the confident immortality of the "young gentleman who takes himself for a poet," in proposing to live with Mirth and Liberty both together.
To live with her, and live with thee,
How delightful is wit, when bantering in behalf of excellence! 3" Through the sweet-briar," &c.—" Sweet-briar and eglantine," says Warton, are the same plant: by the twisted eglantine he therefore means the honey-suckle: all three are plants often growing against the side or walls of a house.” This is true; yet the deduction is hardly certain. The same name sometimes means different flowers, in different counties; as may be seen from passages in Shakspeare. Eglantine, however, is the French word for the flower of the sweet-briar (eglantier); and hence it came to mean, in English, the briar itself. Perhaps, if Milton had been asked why he used it in this place, he would have made Johnson's noble answer to the lady, when she inquired why he defined pastern, in his Dictionary, to be a horse's knee;"Ignorance, madam, ignorance." Poets are often fonder of flowers than learned in their names; and Milton, like his illustrious brethren, Chaucer and Spenser, was born within the sound of Bow bell.
4" And every shepherd tells his tale."-It used to be thought, till Mr. Headley informed Warton otherwise, telling his tale meant telling a love-tale, or story. The correction of this fancy is now admitted; namely, that tale is a technical word for numbering sheep, and is so used by several poets,-Dryden for one. Warton, like a proper Arcadian, was loth to give up the fancy; but he afterwards found the new interpretation to be much the better