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THE Life of Milton has been already written in so many forms, and with
such minute enquiry, that I might perhaps nore properly have contented myself with the addition of a few notes to Mr. I enton's elegant Abridgement, but that a new narrative was thought necessary to the uniformity of this edition.
JOHN MILTON was by hirth a gentleman, descended from the proprietors of Milion near Thame in Oxfordshire, one of whom forfeited his estate in the times of York and Lancaster. Which side he took I know not; his descendant inherited no veneration for the White Rose.
His grandfather John was keeper of the forest of Shotover, a zealous papist, who disinherited his son, because he had forsaken the religion of bis ancestors.
His father, John, who was the san disinherited, bad recourse for his support to the profession of a scrivener. He was a man eminent for his skill in music, many of his compositions being still to be found; and luis reputation in his profession was such, that he grew rich, and retired to a i estate. He had probably more than common literature, as his son addresses him in one of his most elaborate Latin poems. He married a gentlewoman o sthe name of Caston, a Welsh fainily, by whoni le bad two sons, John the poet, and Christopher who studied the law, and adhered, as the law taught hiin, to the King's party, for which he was awhile persecuted; but having, by his brother's interest,
obtained perinission to live in quiet, he supported hiinself so honourably by ¡ chamber-practice, that, soon after the accession of King Jai res, he was knighted
and made a Judge ; but, his constitution being too weak for business, he retired before any disreputable compliances becanie necessary.
He had likewise a daughter Anne, whom he married with a considerable fortune to Edward Philips, who came from Shrewsbury, anvi rose in the Crownoffice to be secondary: by him she bad two sons, Jolin and Edward, who were educated by the poet, and from whom is derived the only authentic account of his domestic manners.
John, the Poet, was born in his father's house, at the Splc ad-Eagle in BreadStreet
, Dec. 9, 1608, between six and seven in the morning. I lis father appears to , liave been very solicitous about his education; for he was instructed at first by
prii ate tuition under the carc of Thomas Young, who was afterwards chaplain to the English merchants at Hamburgh, and of whom we have reason io think well, since his scholar considered him as worthy of an epistolary Elegy.
He was then sent to St. Paul's School, under the care of Mr. Gill; and removed, in the beginning of his sixteenth year, to Christ's College in Cambridge, where he entered a sizar*, Feb. 12, 1624.
He was at this time eminently skilled in the Latin tongue; and he himself, by annexing the dates to his first compositions, a boast of which Politian had given him an example, seems to commend the earliness of liis own proficiency to the notice of posterity. But the products of his vernal fertility have been surpassed by many, and particularly by his contemporary Cowley. Of the powers of the mind it is difficult to form an estimate: many have excelled Milton in their first essays, wlio never rose to works like Paradise Lost.
Al fifteen, a date which he uses till he is sixteen, he translated or versified two Psalms, 114 and 136, which he thought worthy of the public eye; but they raise no great expectations; they would in any nunierous school have obtained praise, but not excited wonder.
Many of his elegies appear to have been written in his eighteenth year, by which it appears that he had then read the Roman authors with very nice discernment. I once heard Mr. Hampton, the translator of Polybius, remark what I think is true, that Milton was the first Englishman who, after the revival of letters, wrote Latin verses with classic elegance. If any exceptions can be made, they are very few: Haddon and Ascham, the pride of Elizabeth's reign, however they may have succeeded in prose, no sooner attempt verses than they provoke derision. If we produced any thing worthy of notice before the elegies of Milton, it was perhaps Alabaster's Roxana +.
(f these exercises which the rules of the University required, some were published by him in his maturer years. They had been und ubtedly applauded; for they were such as few can perform: yet there is reason to suspect that he was regarded in his college with no great fondness. That he obtained no fellowship is certain ; but the unkindness with which he was treated was not merely negative. I am ashamed to relate what I fear is true, that Milton was one of the last students in either university that suffered the public indignity of corporal correction.
It was, in the violence of controversial hostility, objected to him, that he was expelled; this he steadily denies, and it was apparently not true; but it seems plain from his own verses to Diodati, that he had incurred Rustication ; a temporary dismission into the country, with perhaps the loss of a term.
In this assertion Dr. Johnson was mistaken. Milton was admitted a pensioner, and not a sizar, as will appear by the following extract from the College Register. " Johannes Milton " Londinensis, filius Johannis, institutus fuit in literarum Elementis sub Mag'ro Gill “ Gyinnasii Paulini præfecto, admissus est Pensionarius Minor Peb. 12°, 1624, sub M'ro
Chappell, solvitq. pro Ingr. 8. 10. od. E.
Me tenet urbs re Auâ quam Thamesis alluit undå,
Méque nec invitum patria dulcis habet.
Ncc dudum retiti me laris angit anor.
Cxteraque ingenio non subeunda meo.
Et vacuum curis oria grata sequi,
Lætus et exilii conditione fruor.
I cannot find any meaning but this, which even kindness and reverence can give to the termi, vetiti laris, " a habitation from which he is excluded;” or how exile can be otherwise interpreted. He declares yet more, that he is
of enduring the threats of a rigorous master, and something else, which a temper like his cannot undergo. What was more than threat was probably punisiament. This poem, which mentions his exili, proves likewise that it was not perpetual; for it concludes with a resolution of returning some time to Cambridge. And it may be conjectured from the willingness with wisich he has perpetuated the memory of his exile, that its cause was such as gave him no shame.
He took both the usual degrees, that of Batchelor in 1628, and that of Master in 1632; but he left the university with 10 kindness for its institution, alienated either by the injudicious severity of his governors, or his owu captious perverseness. "The cause cannot now be known, but the effect appears in his writings. His scheme of education inscribed to Harilib. supersedes all academical instruction, being intended to comprise the whole time which men usually spend in literature, from their entrance upon grainmar, till they proceed, as it is called, masters of arts. And in his Discourse on the likeliest way to remove Hirelings seat of the Church, he ingeniously proposes, that the profils of the lunds forfeited by the act for superstitious uses, should be applied to such academiei all over the land whia. languages and arts may be taught together ; so that youth may be at once brought up,
Ma competency of learning and an honest trade, by which means such of them as had the | gift, being enabled to support themselves (without tithes) by the latter, muy, by the help of the former, become wo thy preachers.
One of his ohjections to academical education, as it was then conducted, is, that men designed for orders in the Church were permitted to act plays, curithing and unboning their clergy limós to all the antick and dishonest gestures of Trineulos.* buf sons and bauds, prostituting the shame of that ministry which they had, or were mar having, to the eyes of courtiers and court ladies, their
grooms and mad mois!!!:s.
. By the mention of this name he evidently refers to Albumazdı, acted at Cambridge in 1614. Ignoramus and other plays were performed at the same time. The practice was then very frequent. The last dramatick performance at either university was Ilse Grateful Fair, written by Christopher Sinarı, and represented at Peinbroke College, Cambridge, about 1747. E.
This is suficiently peevil in a man, who, when he mentions his exile fron the college, relates with great luxuriance, the compansation which the pica sures of the theatre afford hin. Plays were therefore only criminal when they were acted by academicks.
He went to tlie university with a design of entering into the church, but i time altered his mind; for lie declared, ti at whoever became a clergman m s subscribe slave, and take an oatia withal, which unless he took with a co): “ science that could not retch, he must straight perjure Linself. He then “it better to prefer a hlameless silence betore the oflice of speaking, bouge. "and begun with servitude and forswearing."
These expressions are, I find, applied to the subscription of the Articles; k. it seems more probable that they relate to canonical obedience.
I know nr any of the Articles which seem to thwart his opinions; but the thoughts obedience, whether canonical or civil, raised bis indignation.
His unwillingness to engage in the ministry, perhaps not yet advanced to a settled resolution of declining it, appears in a letter to one of his friends, who had reproved his suspended and dilatèry life, which he seems to have inpute to an insatiable curiosity and fantastic luxury of various knowledge. To thi he wiites a cool and plausible answer, in which he endeavours to persuade him that the delay proceeds not from the delights of desuitory study, but from tie desire of obtaining more fitness for his task; and that he goes on, not tak.. thought of being late, so it give advantage to be more fit.
When he lefi the university, he returned to his father, then residing at Horton in Buckinghamshire, with whom he lived five years; in which tine -he is said to have read all the Greek and Latin writers. With what limitationis this universality is to be understood, who shall inform us?
It might be supposed, that lie who read so much should have done nothing else ; but Milton found time to write the Masque of Com us, which was presented at Ludlow, then the residence of the Lord President of Wales, in 163: and had the honour of being acted by the Earl' of Bridgewater's sons and daughter. The fiction is derived from Homer's Circe * ; but we never can refuse to any modern the liberty of borrowing from Homer:
It has nevertheless its foundation in reality. The earl of Bridgewater being president of Wales in the year 1634, had his residence at Ludlow-castle in Shropshire, at which time lord Brackly and Mr. Egerton his sons, and lately Alice Egerton his daughter, passing through a place called the Hay.wood Forest, or Haywood in Herefordshire, were benigheel, and the ladly for a short time lost: this accident hemg related to their father upon their arrival #t his casei, Milton, at the request of his friend He iry Lawes, who taught music in the family, wrote this marque. Lawes set it to music, and it was acted on Michaelmas night; the two brothers, the young lady, and Lawes hims:lf, bening each a part in the representation.
The lady Alice Ege ton becaine afterwards the wise of the earl of Carbury, who at his sest called Golden-grove, in Caermarthenshire, harboured Dr. Jeremy Taylor in the time of the Usurpation. Among the locior's surmulis is one on her deach, in which her churacter is finely pourtrayed. Her sister, lady Mary, was given in marriage to lord Herbert of Cherbury.
a quo ceu fonte perenni
Varum Pieriis ora rigantur aquis. His next production was Lycielas, an elegy, written in 1637, on the death of Air. King, the son of Sir John King, secretary for lieland in the time of ElizaNah, James and Chaules. King was much a favourite at Cambridge, and many of the wits joined to do honour to his memory. Milton's acquaintance with the Tilian writers may he discovered by a mixture of longer and shorter verses, accorcito the rules of Tuscan poetiy, and his malignity to the Church, by fore lines which are interpreted as threatening its extermination.
He is supposed about this time to have writien bis Arcades; for while he lived a: Horton he used sometimes to steal from his studies a few cars, which he spent at Harefield, the house of the countess dowager of Derby, where the ticades made part of a dramatick entertainment.
He began now to grow weary of the country; and had some purpose of taking clan.bers in the Inns of Court, when the death of his mother set him at liberty to travel, for which le obtained his father's consent, and Sir Henry Wotton's directions, with tle celebrated precept of prudence, i pensieri stretti, ed il viso 5:59; "thoughts close, and looks loose.”
In 1638 he left Esgland, and went first to Paris; where, by the favour of Lord Sudamore, he had the opporiunity of visiting Gostius, ti. en residing at tlie Frerich court as ambassador from Christina of Sweden. From Paris he hasted into Italy, of which he had with particular diligence studied the language and literature: and thougivi:e seems to have intended a very quick perambulation of ti e contry, staid tuo months at Fiorence; where he found his way into the academics, and produced l.is compositions with such applause as appear to have exalted liim in his own opinion, and confirmed himin the hope, tliut, “hy labour " and intense study, whicli,” says he, “ I take to be my portion in this life,
joined with a strong propensity of nature,” he might “ leave something so " written to afiertimes, as they should not willingly let it die.”
appears, in all his writings, that he had the usual concomitant of great ah'lities, a lofty and steady confidence in himself, perhaps not without some conknipt of others; for scarcely any man ever wrote so me, and praised so few. of his praise he was very frugal; as he set its value high, and considered bis mention of a name as a security against the waste of time, and a certain preSerration from oblivion.
.: Frener fir could not indeed complain that lis merit wanted difinction. Cu buti prosijted him with an encomiastic inscription, in the tunid lapidaru Style; a drrancini wrote linn an ode, of which the first stanza is only empty
Nirwithstanding Dio jolmson's assertion, thaedre fiction is derived from Ilumer's Circe, ir may be conieciurethat it was rather taken from the Comi5 of Erycius Puteanus, in wich, 11. dur tar diction of a cireann, the characters of Comus and his attendants are ca lineater!, and the citlaghits a sensualists exprsed and reprobated. Tiis little tract was published at Luvain in 16!1, and dirvuards at Oxford in 1654, the very year in which Wiltor's Conus was written. 1. Milion evidently was indebied to the Oill oves Tale ut George Pecle for the plan of Comus. E.