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In June 1628, while Milton was still an undergraduate, he composed for one of the Senior Fellows of his college, who was the respondent in the Philosophical Act, the Latin verses which it was the Cambridge custom to print for distribution to the Doctors present at the ceremony. Professor Masson has suggested that the lines on the theme, Naturam non pati senium' (That Nature is not subject to old age) were written for this occasion. If so, this was, as far as we can guess, the first composition of Milton's to obtain the honour of print. Academical fly-sheets of this kind quickly pass out of existence, and as it was no longer customary at this date to use layers of printers' proofs instead of paste boards, there is little likelihood of this fugitive paper having been preserved even in that last refuge, the inside of an old binding. Should it be extant the fly-sheet ought to bear the imprint, Cantabrigiae, ex academiae celeberrimae typographeo,' or (less probably) Cantabrigiae, apud Thomam & Ioannem Buck,' and if anyone lights on some Latin verses with either of these imprints, and the date 1628, he will probably have made a very exciting find.
Milton's second published verses, his first in English, were the lines (written in 1630), entitled 'An Epitaph on
the admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare,' printed among the preliminary matter of the second folio edition of the Plays, in 1632. After this, as far as we know, no more of his poems saw the light until 1637, when Henry Lawes, who had written the music for the performance of 'Comus' at Ludlow Castle in 1634, and had himself taken part in it, weary of making copies for his friends, sent it, with the poet's leave, to press, under the title :
A Maske presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634 on Michaelmasse night, before the Right Honorable Iohn, Earle of Bridgewater, Vicount Brackly, Lord Præsident of Wales, And one of his Maiesties most honorable Privie Counsell.
Eheu quid volui misero mihi! floribus austrum
London, Printed for Humphrey Robinson, at the signe of the Three Pidgeons in Pauls Church-yard. 1637.
In addition to this printed edition Milton's autograph draught is preserved at Trinity College, Cambridge, another manuscript copy at Bridgewater House, and the music of five of the six songs in Lawes' autograph at the British Museum.
It was in November of this year 1637 that Milton wrote the draught of Lycidas' (the corrections in which so saddened Charles Lamb), which also is preserved at Trinity College. The poem was published in 1638, with the signature J. M., in the memorial volume entitled : 'Justa Edovardo King naufrago ab amicis morentibus, amoris & μvelas xápu,' or as the English section of it was called, 'Obsequies to the memorie of Mr. Edward King, Anno Dom. 1638.'
After this no more of Milton's verse was printed till close on the end of 1645, when Humphrey Moseley, a publisher who through all the turmoil of the Civil War steadily fostered good literature, obtained his leave to