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The Latin Poems were distinctly divided by Milton himself, in both editions, into two Books or sets,—an "Eleg1arum L1ber," or "book Of Eleg1es"; and a "sylvarum L1ber," or " Book Of Sylv^." The word Sylva (literally "a Wood ") was the name given by the Latin authorcraft of the Empire, as we learn from Quintilian, to any rough thing written off at a heat; and hence the Miscellanies of many poets are printed in their works under the title of Sylva. The distinction made by Milton between his Eleg1/e or Eleg1es and his Sylv^e or M1scellan1es seems to have been one of metrical form merely, and not of matter. Among the Eleg1es he put all pieces, of whatever kind, and whether properly "elegiac" or not in the sense of " pensive" or '* mournful," that were written in the elegiac metre, of alternate Hexameters and Pentameters, so much used by Tibullus, Propertius, and his favourite Ovid. Among the Sylv^e or M1scelLan1es, on the other hand, he put all pieces written in other kinds of verse, whether in Hexameters only, or in such more complex Horatian measures as Alcaics and varied Iambics. Later editors, indeed, have taken the liberty of cutting off a few of the smaller pieces from the end of the Book of Elegies, and combining them with two or three scraps of Latin verse from the prose-pamphlets, so as to constitute a third brief book, called Ep1grammatum L1ber, or Book Of Ep1grams. But, though the few pieces thus thrown together are of the nature of Epigrams, and some of them like Martial's Epigrams, the liberty seems unwarrantable. Milton made the distinction into Eleg1es and Sylv^e suffice, and we must do the same.
The person addressed in this Elegy was Charles Diodati, the dearest and most intimate friend of Milton in his boyhood, and through his youth and early manhood, and for whose memory he entertained a singular affection in still later life, after he had lost him by death. He will be mentioned again in the course of these Introductions. At present we shall trace what is known of him as far as to the date of this Elegy, i.e. to the year 1626.
The family of Diodati (pronounce it Diodati) was Italian, belonging originally to Lucca. One of the family, who had migrated from Lucca to France on commercial business, and had turned Protestant, had been driven from France by the St. Bartholomew Massacre of 1572, and had settled in Geneva, where he lived to as late as 1625, and where, by his second wife, also of an Italian family of Protestant refugees, he was the father of four sons and three daughters. One of the sons, named Giovanni Diodati, born in 1576, had become very eminent in Geneva, as a scholar and theologian, and was Professor of Hebrew and one of the ministers of that city. He was the author of various Calvinistic writings, much esteemed in their day by foreign Protestants and by the Puritans of England; he took a leading part in the famous Synod of Dort in 1618-19; and he would be yet remembered, if for nothing else, at all events for his Italian Version of the Scriptures, published in 1607, and known as "Diodati's Version." An elder brother of his, named Theodore Diodati, born at Geneva in 1574, and educated for the medical profession, had made England his home, and, having married an English lady of some means, acquired a good practice and some celebrity as a physician, first at Brentford, and afterwards in London, where he resided in the parish of Little St. Bartholomew, not far from St. Paul's and Milton's native Bread Street. Of two sons of this naturalised London physician, by his English wife, one was called John, probably after his uncle, the Genevese divine, and the other Charles, after his Genevese grandfather. There was also, it seems, a daughter, named Philadelphia.1
Milton knew all the family, but young Charles Diodati was his especial friend. He was almost exactly of Milton's own age, or but a few months younger. He had been sent at a very early age to St. Paul's School, and it was there that Milton had become acquainted with him. He was probably somewhat in advance of Milton in the classes, for he left school for Trinity College, Oxford, in Feb. 1621-2, three years before Milton left the same school for Cambridge. The separation was no interruption of their friendship. The young Oxonian and the young Cantab corresponded with each other; and in the University vacations they were much together in London, or in excursions in its neighbourhood. Probably because Diodati was destined for his father's profession of medicine, and was preparing for it, we do not hear much of his career at Oxford; but he was well liked in his college there, and there is a copy of Latin Alcaics by him in a volume of Oxford Verses put forth in 1624 on the death of the great scholar Camden. He seems, however, to have been fond of writing his letters in Greek; and two Greek letters of his to Milton have been strangely preserved, and are now in the British Museum. In the second of these he writes from some place in the country, saying he is leading a most pleasant life on the whole, though he rather misses intellectual companionship, and he advises Milton not to "tie himself night and day to his books," but to take some relaxation. "I, in all things else your inferior," he concludes, "am superior to you in this, that I know a measure in my labours."
It seems possible that in this Greek missive, now in the British Museum, we have that very letter of Diodati to which Milton's Latin Elegy is an avowed reply. It is, at all events, a reply to some letter of Diodati's sent from near Chester, and which reached Milton in London. The interest of Milton's Elegy in reply is, to a large extent, autobiographical; and there is one passage of particular moment to the commentators. It is that beginning line 9 and ending line 24. Milton is supposed to refer here (and the supposition seems
1 Some of the facts here stated about the Diodati family are from the recent researches of Colonel Chester, and from a genealogical essay by Professor Edward E. Salisbury, read before the Historical Society of Newhaven, U.S., in 1875.