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LIFE OF MILTON.
John Milton, “the greatest of great men, was born at his father's house in Bread street, London, December 9th, 1608.* The poet's grandfather was a rigid Papist, and disinherited his son, whom he had educated at Christ Church College, Oxford, because he embraced the Protestant faith. Thus deprived of his patrimony, the poet's father had recourse, for his support, to the profession of serivener or writer, in the practice of which he proved so successful that he was enabled to give his children the advantages of a good education, and at length to retire with comfort to the country.
It is to be regretted that we have so little information respecting the early life of our immortal poet. His first instructor wis Thomas Young, a Puritan minister of Essex, to whose worth Milton has borne testimony in an elegy and two Latin epistles. On Mr. Young's going to the ContiDent, Milton was sent to St. Paul's school, then under the direction of Dr. Gill, where he distinguished himself by almost incredible progress, and gave numerous indications of that gigantic intellect, the energies of which afterwards more fully developed themselves. Thence he was removed to Christ's College, Cambridge, which he entered on the 12th of February, 1624. Already, or about this time, he had commenced his poetical career, by paraphrasing two of the Psalms, (the 114th and 136th,) in which may be discerned the dawning of real genius. The next year, 1625, he wroto his poem “On the Death of a Fair Infant dying of a Cough."† of this poem Warton remarks_“On the whole, from a boy of seventeen, it is an extraordinary effort of fancy, expression, and versification.” While at Cambridge he wrote also many other poems, both Latin and English: among the latter is his “ Address to his Native Language," at a “ Vacation Exercise" in the college, written at the age of nineteen; and his grand and inimitable “Hymn on the Nativity," in his twenty-first year, and of which Sir Egerton Brydges remarks—“I cannot doubt that this Hymn was the congenial prelude of that holy and inspired imagination which produced the · Paradise Lost' nearly forty years afterwards."
Milton was designed by his parents for the profession of divinity; but during his residence at the University he changed his intention. His own account is as follows:-"By the intention of my parents and friends I was destined, of a child, to the service of the church, and in mine own resolutions. Till, coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded the church, that he wbo would take orders must cubscribe Slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that he would reteh, he must either straight perjure or split
& Bread street runs from Cheapside south, near St. Paul's Churcb. Old Anthony Woud tells us that the house and chamber in which the poet was born were often viitei by foreigners, even in the poet's lifetime. The house, however, was destroyed in the great fire of 1066.
† Milton's only sister, Anne, was married to a gentleman by the name of Phil. lipe, and had by him, besides the infant daughter immortalized by this poem, two sons, John and Edward, who were educated by the poet.
his faith; I thought better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forgwearing." This honest and ardent love of truth and freedom was his predominant characteristic through life.
Milton remained seven years in Cambridge, where he took the usual degrees, that of bachelor in 1628, and that of master of arts in 1632. He then left the University, and retired to his father's house in Horton, Buckinghamshire, where he wrote the most celebrated of what are called his “Juvenile Poems,”-his Arcades, Comus, L'Allegro, I Penseroso, and Lycidas. In 1637, having lost his mother, he felt himself at liberty to carry into effect a project which he had long meditated,—to visit foreign parts; and having obtained his father's permission, he set out for Italy. The account is, of course, best given in his own words. In his “Second Defence of the People of England,” to refute the calumnies of his endmies, who had represented him as vicious in his youth, he thus gives a too brief autobiography :
"I will now mention who and whence I am. I was born at London, of an honest family: my father was distinguished by the undeviating integrity of his life; my mother, by the esteem in which she was held, and the alms which she bestowed. My father destined me from a child to the pursuits of literature; and my appetite for knowledge was so voracious, that from twelve years of age I harily ever left my studies, or went to bed before midnight. This primarily led to my loss of sight: my eyes were naturally weak, and I was subject to frequent headaches, which, however, could not chill the ardour of my curiosity, or retard the progress of my improvement. My father had me daily instructed in the grammar school, and by other masters at home. He then, after I had acquired a proficiency in various languages, and had made a considerable progress in philosophy, sent me to the university of Cambridge. Here I passed seven years in the usual course of instruction and study, with the approbation of the good, and without any stain upon my character, till I took the degree of Master of Arts.
“After this I did not, as this miscreant feigns, run away into Italy, but of my own accord retired to my father's house, whither I was accompanied by the regrets of most of the fellows of the college, who showed me no common marks of friendship and esteem, On my father's estate, where he had determined to pass the remainder of his days, I enjoyed an interval of uninterrupted leisure, which I devoted entirely to the perusal of the Greek and Latin classics,--though I occasionally visited the metropolis, either for the sake of purchasing books or of learning something new in mathematics or in music, in which I, at that time, found a source of pleasure and amusement, In this manner I spent five years, till my mother's death. I then became anxious to visit foreign parts, and particularly Italy. My father gave me his permission, and I left home with
On my departure, the celebrated Henry Wotton, who bad long been King James's ambassador at Venice, gave me a signal proof of his regard, in an elegant letter which he wrote, breathing not only the warmest friendship, but containing some maxims of conduct which I found very useful in my travels. The noblo Thomas Scudainore, King Charles's ambassador, to whom I carried letters of recommendation, received me most courteously at Paris. His lordship gave me a card of introduction to the learned Hugo Grotius, at that time ambassador from the queen of Sweden to the French court. A few days after, when I set out for Italy, he gave me letters to the English merchants on my route, that they might show me any civilities in their power.
• Taking ship at Nice, I arrived at Genoa, and afterwards visited Leg. horn, Pisa, and Florence. In the latter city, which I have always more
particularly esteemed for the elegance of its dialect, its genius, and its • taste, I stopped about two months; when I contracted an intimacy with
many persons of rank and learning, and was a constart attondant at
their literary parties,-a practice which prevails there, and tends so much to the diffusion of knowledge and the preservation of friendship.
* From Florence I went to Sienna, thence to Rome, where, after I had spent about two months in viewing the antiquities of that renowned city, -where I experienced the most friendly attentions from Lucas Holstein and other learned and ingenious men,- I continued my route to Naples. When I was preparing to pass over into Sicily and Greece, the melancholy intelligence which I received of the civil commotions in England macie me alter my purpose; for I thought it base to be travelling for amusement abroad, while my fellow-citizens were fighting for liberty at home.
" While I was on my way back to Rome, some merchants informed me that the English Jesuits had formed a plot against me if I returned to Rome, because I had spoken too freely of religion: for it was a rulo which I laid down to myself, in those places never to be the first to begin any conversation on religion, but, if any questions were put to me concerning my faith, to declare it without any reserve or fear. I nevertheless returned to Rome. I took no steps to conceal either my person or mny character, and for about the space of two months I again openly defended, as I had done before, the reformed religion in the very metropolis of Propery.
** By the favour of God I got back to Florence, * where I was received with as much affection as if I had returned to my native country. There I stopped as many months as I had done before ; then, crossing the Apennines, I passed through Bologna and Ferrara to Venice. After I had spent a month in surveying the curiosities of this city, and had put on board a ship the books which I had collected in Italy, I proceeded through Verona and Milan, and along the Leman Lake to Geneva. The mention of this city brings to my recollection the slandering More, † and makes me again call the Deity to witness, that in all those places, in which vice meets with so little discouragement and is practised with so little shame, I never once deviated from the paths of integrity and virtue; and perpetually reflected that, though my conduct might escape the notice of men, it would not elude the inspection of God.
* Then, pursuing my former route through France, I returned to my native country, after an absence of one year and about three months. As soon as I was able, I hired a spacious house in the city for myself and my books, where I again with rapture renewed my literary pursuits, and where I calmly awaited the issue of the contest, which I trusted to the wise conduct of Providence and to the courage of the people.
“ The vigour of the parliament had begun to humble the pride of the bishops. As long as the liberty of speech was no longer subject to control, all mouths began to be opened against the bishops; some complained of the vices of the individuals, others of those of the order. They said that it was unjust that they alone should differ from the model of other refirrmed churches, and particularly the word of God.
“This awakened all my attention and my zeal: I saw that a way was opening for the establishment of real liberty; that the foundation was laying for the deliverance of man from the yoke of slavery and superstition; that the principles of religion, which were the first objects of our care, would exert a salutary influence on the manners and constitution of the republie; and as I had from my youth studied the distinctions between religious and civil rights, I perceived that, if I ever wished to be of use, I ought at least not to be wanting to my country, to the church, and to 80 many of my fellow Christians, in a crisis of so much danger. I therefore determined to relinquish the other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer the whole force of my talents and my industry to this ono
* At Florence he also visited the great and injured Galilco, to whom he refers in Paradise Lost, book i. line 258.
† Alexander More.
important object. I accordingly wrote two books to a friend, concerning * The Reformation of the Church of England.'"
Upon his return to England, which was about August, 1639, Milton did not see any way in which he could immediately serve the cause of the people. He therefore hired a house in St. Bride's Churchyard, about a quarter of a mile west of St. Paul's, and renewed his literary pursuits, calmly awaiting an opportunity for him to enlist in the great struggle for civil freedom, on the side of the people. In the mean time he received as pupils his two nephews, John and Edward Phillips, and subsequently, yielding to the importunities of some intimate friends, he added to their number. Finding his apartments too small for him, he removed to a "garden-house in Aldersgate street, free from the noise and disturbance of passengers," where he received more boys, and instructed them in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, as well as in mathematics, history, and some of the modern languages. What a privilege, to have had a Milton for an instructor; to have received from such lips lessons of truth and wisu dom, eloquently enforcing and illustrating the great principles of civil and religious liberty !
But the time was drawing near for him to enter the political arena. The tyrannical power of the king and the domineering and intolerant zeal of Laud were bringing matters to a crisis, and Milton determined to take an active part in the contest.
In 1641 appeared the first of his controversial works, entitled “Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England, and the Causes that hitherto have hindered it,"—the object of which is to demonstrate the proposition that prelacy is essentially inimical to civil and religious liberty. In the prosecution of this grand object, “he displays a profundity of learning, a vigour of reasoning, an earnestness of purpose, an impassioned eloquence of style, and a comprehensive grasp of his subject, which must ever excite admiration : indeed, the work is, throughout, one continued strain of wisdom and eloquence."* To this, Hall, Bishop of Norwich, at the request of Laud, replied in “An Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament;" and about the same time, Usher, Archbishop of Armagh, published “The Apostolical Institution of Episcopacy.” In answer to these able and learned works, Milton wrote two pieces, one of them entitled “Of Prelaticall Episcopacy," and the other, “The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty.” These productions of Milton, distinguished hy vigour, acuteness, and erudition, were unquestionably the most able, eloquent, and learned on the Puritan side of the controversy. But the publication which appears to have attracted most attention at the time, was a pamphlet, the joint production of five Presbyterian divines, under the appellation of SNECTYMNU US, a word formed from the initials of the names of the authors.† To this production Bishop Hall replied in “A Defence of the Remonstrance;" and Milton's formidable pen, again employed in opposition to the prelates, produced “Animadversions on the Remonstrant's Defence." All these various publications were written in the course of one year, (1641,) when their author was only thirty-three years of age, and occupied with the arduous duties of an instructor of youth,a circumstance which cannot fail to excite greater wonder at the unwearied industry, the ready application of various knowledge, and the exuberant fertility of mind which are displayed in their composition.
We now come to an event in Milton's life which materially affected his domestic comfort, and gave a new direction to his literary labours. This was his marriage, in 1643, when in his thirty-fifth year, to Mary, eldest daughter of Mr. Richard Powell, a high royalist, of Forest Hill, Oxfordshire. This was an eminent example of the unhappiness that must ever
* Encyclopadia Britannica, vol. xv. p. 91. f Stephen Marshall, Edward Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcommen, and William Spurstow
ensue from the union in wedlock of those whose tempers, dispositions, and tastes are entirely uncongenial. The wife, who appears to have been a dull, unintellectual, insensate woman, though possessed of outward persodal beauty, accustomed to the afuent hospitality of her father's house, and to the gay society found there, could not relish the calm and quiet philosophic abode of Milton; and having no mind to enjoy his conversation, and no sympathy in the cause in which his whole soul was enlisted, she early requested to return to her father's on a visit, and to remain there during the Summer. The request was readily granted; but when the timo fixed for her return came, she did not go back. Milton wrote to her, urging her immediate return. This letter was unanswered. Others were sent, and similarly treated. He then sent a messenger to bring her home; but he was dismissed, and the wife remained with her friends. She was strengthened in this purpose by the fact, that victory up to that time had favoured the royalists, and the Powells wished to break off the alliance.
Milton was not the man to submit patiently to such injustice aggravated by insult. Accordingly, he repudiated his wife upon the grounds of disobedience and desertion; and to justify this step to the world, he pablished, in 1644, “ The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce," in which he maintains, that "indisposition, unfitness, or contrariety of mind, arising from a cause in nature, unchangeable, hindering and ever likely to hinder the main benefits of conjugal society, which are solace and peace, is a greater reason of divorce than adultery, provided there be a mutual consent for separation.” He next published " Tetrachordon," or " Exposition of the Four Chief Places in Scripture which treat of the Nullities in Marriage.” Thirdly, “The Judgment of the famous Martin Bucer touching Divorce.” Fourthly,“ Colasterion."† These tracts raised a great clamour against the author. The Presbyterian clergy, especially, unmindful of the important services he had recently rendered them, assailed him from the pulpit and the press with such violent and acrimonious hostility, that they alienated him irrevocably from their cause.
It must, however, in truth be acknowledged, that this “Doctrine of Dirorce," as urged by Milton, is not defensible. With such a man as Milton, it would indeed be productive of no practical ill effects; but if it should be generally received and practised, it would doubtless open the way to a great amount of domestic unbappiness and immorality.
Milton, however, soon showed that he sincerely entertained these views, by paying his addresses to a beautiful and accomplished young woman, the daughter of a Dr. Davis. This alarmed his wife and her relations, more especially as the royal cause was now desperate,—and they contrived to hare his wife meet him. They watched his visits, and when he was at the house of a relative, the wife burst into the room, fell down at his knees, and with tears implored his pardon. At first he appeared inexorable; but his firmness soon gave way, and, yielding to his own generous nature, he consented to forgive the past, and took her to his home and his affections. Nor was this all: he took her family, in their danger and distress, when the royalists were entirely prostrate, under his own roof, and gave them his protection and support.
In 1614, Milton published his tractate on "Education," and his Areopagitica, or “A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.” This Mit. ford pronounces the finest production in prose from Milton's pen. For vi. gour and eloquence of style, unconquerable force of argument, majesty and richness of language, it is not to be surpassed. But the Presbyterians, now risen to power, speedily forgot the principles they had professed in adversity, and declared against unlimited toleration; and the very men
* Martin Bucer, a man of great learning, was one of the first promoters of the Reformation at Strasburg. lle agrees with Milton, though the laiter had not seed his look till after the publication of his own,
† From a Greek word meaning "adapted for punishment,” as it was written in reply to a malicious ulversary who abused Milton's first work.