Puslapio vaizdai

in his studies at home, he was sent to St. Paul's school, to be fitted for the university under the care of Mr. Gill, who was the master at that time, and to whose fon are addressed some of his familiar epistles. In this early time of his life such was his love of learning, and so great was his ambition to furpass his equals, that from his twelfth year he commonly continued his studies till midnight, which (as he says himself in his second Defense) was the first ruin of his eyes, to whose natural debility were added too frequent head-akes : but all could not extinguish or abate his laudable passion for letters. It is

very feldom seen, that such application and such a genius meet in the same person. The force of either is great, but both together must perform wonders,

He was now in the 17th year of his age, and was a very good classical scholar and master of several languages, when he was sent to the university of Cambridge, and admitted at Christ's College (as appears from the register) on the 12th of February 1624-5, under the tuition of Mr. William Chappel, afterwards Bishop of Cork and Ross in Ireland. Hecontinued above seven years at the university, and took two degrees, that of Bachelor of Arts in 1628-9, and that of Mafter in 1632. It is somewhat remarkable, that tho' the merits of both our universities are perhaps equally great, and tho' poetical exercises are rather more encouraged at Oxford, yet most of our greatest poets have been bred at Cambridge, as Spenfer, Cowley, Waller, Dryden, Prior, not to mention any of the leffer ones, when there is a greater than all, Milton. He had given early proofs of his poetic genius before he went to the university,


and there he excelled more and more, and distin guished himself by several copies of verses upon occafional subjects, as well as by all his academical exercises, many of which are printed among his other works, and show him to have had a capacity above his years: and by his obliging behaviour added to his great learning and ingenuity he deservedly gained the affection of many, and admiration of all. We do not find however that he obtained any preferment in the university, or a fellowship in his own college ; which seemeth the more extraordinary, as that society has always encouraged learning and learned men, had the most excellent Mr. Mede at that time a fellow, and afterwards boasteth the great names of Cudworth, and Burnet author of the Theory of the Earth, and several others. And this together with fome Latin verses of his to a friend, reflecting upon the university seemingly on this account, might probably have given occasion to the reproach which was afterwards cast upon him by his adversaries, that he was expelled from the university for irregularities committed there, and forced to fly to Italy : but he fufficiently refutes this calumny in more places than one of his works; and indeed it is no wonder, that a person fo engaged in religious and political controversies, as he was, should be calumniated and abused by the contrary party,

He was designed by his parents for holy orders; and among the manuscripts of Trinity College in Cambridge there are two draughts in Milton's own hand, of a letter to a friend, who had importuned him to take orders, when he had attained the age of twenty three: but the truth is, he had conceived


early prejudices against the doctrin and disciplin of the Church, and subscribing to the Articles was in his opinion subscribing save. This no doubt was a disappointment to his friends, who though in comfortable were yet by no means in great circumstances: and neither doth he seem to have had

any inclination to any other profession; he had too free a spirit to be limited and confined ; and was for comprehending all sciences, but professing none. And therefore after he had left the university in 1632, he retired to his father's house in the country; for his father had by this time quitted business, and lived at an estate which he had purchased at Horton near Colebrooke in Buckinghamshire. Here he resided with his parents for the space of five years, and, as he himself has informed us, (in his second Defense, and the 7th of his familiar epistles) read over all the Greek and Latin authors, particularly the historians; but now and then made an excursion to London, sometimes to buy books or to meet his friends from Cambridge, and at other times to learn something new in the mathematics or music, with which he was extremely delighted.

His retirement therefore was a learned retirement, and it was not long before the world reaped the fruits of it. It was in the year 1634 that his Mask was presented at Ludlow-castle. There was formerly a president of Wales, and a sort of a court kept at Ludlow, which has since been abolished; and the president at that time was the Earl of Bridgwater, before 'whom Milton's Mask was presented on Min chaelmás night, and the principal parts, those of the two brothers were performed by his Lordship's fons


the Lord Brackly and Mr. Thomas Egerton, and th? of the lady by his Lordship’s daughter the Lady Alice Egerton. The occasion of this


seemeth to have been merely an accident of the two brothers and the lady having lost one another in their way to the castle: and it is written very much in imitation of Shakespear's Tempest, and the Faithful Shepherdess of Beaumont and Fletcher ; and though one of the first, is yet one of the most beautiful of Milton's compositions. It was for fome time handed about only in manufcript; but afterwards to satisfy the importunity of friends and to fave the trouble of tranfcribing, it was printed at London, though without the author's name, in 1637, with a dedication to the Lord Brackly by Mr. H. Lawes, who compos’d the music, and played the part of the attendent Spirit. It was printed likewife at Oxford at the end of Mr. R's poems, as we learn from a letter of Sir Henry Wotton to our author; but who that Mr. R. was, whether Randolph the poet or who elfe, is uncertain. It has lately, tho' with additions and alterations, been exhibited on the stage several times; and we hope the fine poetry and morality have recommended it to the audience, and not barely the authority of Milton's name; and we wish for the honor of the nation, that the like good taste prevailed in every thing.

In 1637 he wrote another excellent piece, his Lycidas, wherein he laments the untimely fate of a friend, who was unfortunately drowned that fame year in the month of August, on the Irish seas, in his passage from Chester. This friend was Mr. Edward King, son of Sir John King, Secretary of


Ireland under Queen Elizabeth, King James I, and King Charles I; and was a fellow of Christ's Cola lege, and was so well beloved and esteemed at Cambridge, that some of the greatest names in the university have united in celebrating his obsequies, and published a collection of poems, Greek and Latin and English, sacred to his memory. The Greek by H. More &c; the Latin by T. Farnaby, J. Pearson &c į the English by H. King, J. Beaumont, J. Cleaveland with several others; and judiciously the last of all, as the best of all, is Milton's Lycidas. « On such sacrifices the Gods themselves strow in

cense;” and one would almost wish fo to have died, for the sake of having been fo lamented. But this poem is not all made up of sorrow and tenderness; there is a mixture of fatir and indignation; for in part of it the poet taketh occasion to inveigh against the corruptions of the clergy, and seemeth to have first discovered his acrimony against Archbishop Laud, and to have threaten’d him with the loss of his head, which afterwards happened to him thro' the fury of his enemies. At least I can think of no sense fo proper to be given to the following verses in Lycidas,

Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said ;
But that two-handed engin at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.

About this time, as we learn from one of his familiar epistles, he had some thoughts of taking chambers at one of the Inns of Court, for he was


[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« AnkstesnisTęsti »