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to Achilles.' Young was still his master for some time after he was sent to St. Paul's School, then under Alexander Gill, 'an ingeniose person, notwithstanding his humours, particularly his whipping fits.'
Milton was a hard student. 'From my twelfth year I scarcely ever went to bed before midnight, which was the first cause of injury to my eyes.' Before his school days were over it is probable that, besides Latin and Greek, he had learnt to read French and Italian, and also something of Hebrew.
The earliest specimens of his poetry which we possess are the translations of Psalms cxiv. and cxxxvi. (1624).
The year after (Feb. 12, 1625), he was admitted a lesser pensioner to Christ College, Cambridge, under the tutorship of William Chappell, afterwards Dean of Cassels and Bishop of Cork. A delay of two months occurred before his matriculation, and in the interval (April 9, 1625) he visited London, and thence wrote an affectionate letter to Young, acknowledging his present of a Hebrew Bible.
The next year (1626) occurred the incident of his temporary rustication, which has occasioned so much. discussion ever since Dr. Johnson enlarged a dubious intimation by Aubrey into the explicit statement that ‘Milton was one of the last students at either University who suffered the public indignity of corporal punishment.' Mr. Masson (from whose copious Life this account of Milton's early years is taken), after a careful investigation, pronounces that the facts assume this form:—"Towards the close of the Lent Term of 1625-26, Milton and his tutor Chappell had a disagreement: the disagreement was of such a kind that Dr. Bainbrigge, as Master of the College, had to interfere. The consequence was that Milton withdrew, or was sent, from college in circumstances equivalent to rustication. His absence extended probably over the whole of the Easter Vacation and part of the Easter Term; but at length an arrangement was made whch permitted him to return and save that Term, and to exchange the tutorship of Chappell for that of Tovey.'
While at St. Paul's, Milton had formed a friendship with
Charles Diodati, who left that school in February 1622 for Trinity College, Oxford. Diodati's father was a royal physician, and his uncle (best remembered by his Italian version of the Bible) was Professor of Hebrew at Geneva. To this school friend Milton wrote during the period of his rustication, finding fault with the flat scenery of Cambridge and with the harsh discipline of the University, 'intolerable to his disposition, and giving an account of his London pleasures. He feels no regret for his banishment from college, whither it has been determined he shall return.
In this same spring-time (1626) was written the Elegy on a Fair Infant, the child of his sister Anne, who had married (in 1624) Edward Phillips, of the Crown Office in Chancery.
During the Long Vacation (Sept. 21, 1626) died Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester. His learning and moderation are commended by Fuller, and his name was joined with that of Usher when Milton subsequently attacked the champions of episcopacy in his Reason of Church Government. Soon afterwards (Oct. 5) departed Nicholas Felton, Bishop of Ely. On both prelates Milton bestowed a Latin elegy. Similar tributes from the same hand honoured the memory of the medical Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Gostlin, and that of the University Bedel, Richard Ridding, who also died during the autumn. The close of the year is marked by an elaborate poem, also in Latin, on the Gunpowder Plot.
The next Long Vacation (1627), Young, then pastor of the English merchants at Hamburg, received a Latin letter from his sometime pupil. From the Biblical allusions therein we gather that Young had his share in the adversity which the ill-will of the High Churchmen brought upon the Puritan divines and lecturers. But the hope held out of a return to England and of better days was not frustrated. Young returned in March of the next year to be Vicar of Stowmarket, where tradition asserts that his pupil paid him not only the visit promised in a Latin epistle of July 1628, but many others during his incumbency.
The next trace of Milton is found in a slight love-adventure described by himself—a momentary glimpse of some beauty
who passed him in some public place in London on May Day, 1628. But the wound of Cupid so eloquently bewailed was probably as conventional a passion as the hyperbolical joy with which he soon after acknowledged (May 20) the receipt of Gill's 'truly great and Virgilian verses on some now forgotten victory of Henry of Nassau. He is uncertain whether he should rather congratulate that hero on his success itself, or on these glorious strains occasioned by it. The failure of our own arms glanced at in Milton's letter was, with other grievances, the subject of those stormy debates which culminated in the memorable scene of the 4th of June, when old Sir Edward Coke, with passionate sobs, named the Duke of Buckingham to the assenting and excited Commons as the cause of the national calamities. Three days after, Charles I. thought it advisable to give a direct assent to the Petition of Right,
The same year (1628), while still an undergraduate, Milton wrote some Latin verses for a certain Fellow of his college, who 'being past the age for such trifles' had yet to act as respondent in the philosophic disputation. Dr. George Hakewill, Archdeacon of Surrey, had published his Apology for the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World, in which he controverted the commonplace of the perpetual and universal decay of nature. Milton's verses maintaining Hakewill's opinion are not of remarkable merit or comparable in force or elegance to the noble lines of the Vacation Exercise of the same year. On his admission as B.A. (March 29, 1629) the future Puritan signed, 'willingly and ex animo,' the three articles of assent to the Royal Supremacy, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Thirty-nine Articles.
In April, Milton wrote his poem De Adventu Veris (On the coming of Spring): in July, at the Commencement, his friend Charles Diodati and Rubens received the same honorary degree of M.A.; and in September, Lord Holland (the successor of Buckingham as Chancellor of the University) visited Cambridge, accompanied by the French ambassador. A Latin play was performed, and it seems probable that Milton refers to this entertainment in his Apology for Smectymnuus.
'I was a spectator; they thought themselves gallant men, and I thought them fools; they made sport, and I laughed; they mispronounced and I misliked; and to make up the Atticism', they were out, and I hissed.'
On this Christmas morning (1629) at daybreak, Milton conceived the Hymn on the Nativity, as we are told in his sixth elegy, wherein we also find the first enunciation of his theory of the nature and office of a true poet. Lighter bards may indulge in wine; but he who would sing of the divine counsels of the gods, or of the gloomy realms guarded by Cerberus, must live on herbs like Pythagoras, and drink clear water from a beechen cup. His youth must have been pure from crime, and his hands must be stainless. Such were the bards and seers of old, Tiresias, Linus, Calchas and Homer.
The pieces on the Circumcision, Time, and the Passion, probably followed closely on the Nativity Ode; and the lines on Shakespeare are dated 1630 by their author. These last were prefixed to the second folio edition (1632) of the plays, and were the first English verses of Milton that appeared in print.
Three epitaphs—two on Hobson, and one (written from Cambridge) on the Marchioness of Winchester–mark the year 1631; and in July 1632, Milton, having taken his M.A. degree and again subscribed the Three Articles, went home 'regretted by most of the Fellows, who held him in no ordinary esteem.'
He had already (in Dec. 1631, or early in 1632) penned the memorable reply to a Cambridge friend who had taken him to task for making little use of his time. He says that the very fear of the punishment denounced against him who hid the talent restrains him so that he takes no thought of being late so it gave advantage to be more fit; for those that were latest lost nothing when the master of the vineyard came to give every man his hire. Enclosed is the noble Sonnet 1. (On being arrived at the Age of 23).
He had little reason to be diffident. Even in pursuing the
1 The passage being imitated from the series of antithetical taunts addressed by the Attic orator Demosthenes to his opponent Æschines, in his oration On the Crown,
ordinary academic routine, he gave evidence of unusual powers of thought and expression. Of his college exercises generally he said afterwards, whether aught was imposed upon me by them that had the overlooking, or betaken to of my own choice, in English or other tongue, prosing or versing, but chiefly this latter, the style by certain vital signs it had was likely to live.
He retired to his father's house at Horton. The elder Milton did not send his poet son into the resorts of commerce, nor hurry him into the study of the law, but allowed him to wander a happy companion of Apollo far from the noise of town and shut up in deep retreats.' Of this indulgence the poem Ad Patrem, written about this time, is the grateful acknowledgment.
At Horton, Milton lived for five years, absorbed in classical, mathematical, or musical studies. During this retirement were produced (to follow the probable suggestion of Mr. Masson) the Nightingale Sonnet, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Arcades, Comus, and Lycidas; and their author was incorporated M.A. at Oxford, in 1635.
The deaths of his mother, on April 6, 1637, and of his friend Edward King, on the 11th of the following August, may have troubled, but did not turn the current of his life. About six weeks after the latter event, he writes to Diodati an account of his studies and plans. His readings in early Italian history, his wish to remove to some quiet nook in a London Inn of Court, are recorded side by side with more intimate revelations. He is ‘thinking of immortality;' the 'wings are already growing' that in time are to “soar above the Aonian mount.'
His desire of seeing foreign lands, especially Italy, was satisfied by his father's permission (1638) to undertake a continental journey, designed to extend over several years. He was courteously received at Paris by Lord Scudamore, Viscount Sligo (the English ambassador, and son of the Sir James Scudamore celebrated in the Faerie Queene), who introduced him to Hugo Grotius, then engaged in an abortive scheme for uniting the Protestant Churches of Sweden,