Puslapio vaizdai

in his ftudies at home, he was fent to St. Paul's school, to be fitted for the univerfity under the care of Mr. Gill, who was the mafter at that time, and to whose fon are addreffed fome of his familiar, epiftles. In this early time of his life fuch was his love of learning, and fo great was his ambition to furpafs his equals, that from his twelfth year he commonly continued his ftudies till midnight, which (as he fays himself in his fecond Defenfe) was the first ruin of his eyes, to whofe natural debility were added too frequent head-akes: but all could not extinguish or abate his laudable paffion for letters. It is very feldom feen, that fuch application and fuch a genius meet in the fame perfon. The force of either is great, but both together muft perform wonders.

He was now in the 17th year of his age, and was a very good claffical scholar and mafter of feveral languages, when he was fent 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 Rofs in Ireland. He continued above seven years at the univerfity, and took two degrees, that of Bachelor of Arts in 1628-9, and that of Mafter in 1632. It is fomewhat 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 diftinguished himself by feveral copies of verfes upon occafional fubjects, as well as by all his academical exercises, many of which are printed among his other works, and fhow him to have had a capacity above his years: and by his obliging behaviour added to his great learning and ingenuity he defervedly 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 fociety has always encouraged learning and learned men, had the most excellent Mr. Mede at that time a fellow, and afterwards boafteth 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 occafion to the reproach which was afterwards caft upon him by his adverfaries, that he was expelled from the univerfity 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 perfon fo engaged in religious and political controverfies, as he was, fhould be calumniated and abused by the contrary party.

He was defigned by his parents for holy orders; and among the manufcripts 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 difciplin of the Church, and fubfcribing to the Articles was in his opinion fubfcribing flave. This no doubt was a difappointment to his friends, who though in comfortable were yet by no means in great circumftances: and neither doth he feem to have had any inclination to any other profeffion; he had too free a spirit to be limited and confined; and was for comprehending all sciences, but profeffing none. And therefore after he had left the university in 1632, he retired to his father's houfe in the country; for his father had by this time quitted bufinefs, and lived at an estate which he had purchased at Horton near Colebrooke in Buckinghamshire. Here he refided with his parents for the space of five years, and, as he himself has informed us, (in his fecond Defense, and the 7th of his familiar epiftles) read over all the Greek and Latin authors, particularly the hiftorians; but now and then made an excurfion to London, fometimes to buy books or to meet his friends from Cambridge, and at other times to learn fomething new in the mathematics or mufic, 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 Mafk was prefented at Ludlow-caftle. There was formerly a prefident of Wales, and a fort of a court kept at Ludlow, which has fince been abolished; and the prefident at that time was the Earl of Bridgwater, before whom Milton's Mafk was prefented on Michaelmas night, and the principal parts, thofe of the two brothers were performed by his Lordship's fons the

[ocr errors]

the Lord Brackly and Mr. Thomas Egerton, and that of the lady by his Lordship's daughter the Lady Alice Egerton. The occafion of this poem feemeth to have been merely an accident of the two brothers and the lady having loft one another in their way to the caftle and it is written very much in imitation of Shakespear's Tempeft, and the Faithful Shepherdefs of Beaumont and Fletcher; and though one of the firft, is yet one of the moft beautiful of Milton's compofitions. It was for fome time handed about only in manufcript; but afterwards to fatisfy 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 mufic, 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 ftage feveral 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 Auguft, on the Irish feas, in his paffage from Chefter. This friend was Mr. Edward King, fon of Sir John King, Secretary of Ireland

Ireland under Queen Elizabeth, King James I, and King Charles I; and was a fellow of Chrift's College, and was fo well beloved and esteemed at Cambridge, that fome of the greateft names in the univerfity have united in celebrating his obfequies, and published a collection of poems, Greek and Latin and English, facred to his memory. The Greek by H. More &c; the Latin by T. Farnaby, J. Pearfon &c; the English by H. King, J. Beaumont, J. Cleaveland with feveral others; and judicioufly the laft of all, as the best of all, is Milton's Lycidas. "On fuch facrifices the Gods themselves ftrow in"cenfe;" and one would almoft wifh fo to have died, for the fake of having been fo lamented. But this poem is not all made up of forrow and tendernefs; there is a mixture of fatir and indignation; for in part of it the poet taketh occafion to inveigh against the corruptions of the clergy, and feemeth to have first discovered his acrimony against Archbishop Laud, and to have threaten'd him with the lofs of his head, which afterwards happened to him thro' the fury of his enemies. At least I can think of no fenfe fo proper to be given to the following verfes in Lycidas,

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

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


« AnkstesnisTęsti »