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RUFUS WILMOT GRISWOLD.
HE WAS IN HIS STYLE
SIR EGERTON BRYDGES.
MILTON ! THOU SHOULDST BE LIVING AT THIS HOUR.
RETURN TO US AGAIN,
IN TWO VOLUMES.
JOHN W. MOORE, No. 193 CHESTNUT STREET.
On the ninth day of December, 1608, John Milton was born in London.
It was near the close of the golden age of England. Spenser had been dead ten years. SHAKSPEARE was alive, but had ceased to write. Bacon was in the meridian of his power, but was known already to be one of the meanest of mankind, and neither his genius nor his station secured respect.
The father of Milton had been disinherited for becoming a Protestant; but not until the completion of his studies at Oxford, where he was distinguished for his scholarship, taste and accomplishments.* Deprived of his patrimony, he adopted the profession of a scrivener, in the practice of which he was so successful as to be able to give his son a liberal education, and at an early age to retire with a competence into the country.
The instruction of Milton was carefully attended to: his private tutor was Thomas Young, a Puritan minister, who remained with him until compelled on account of his religious opinions to leave the kingdom. In 1624, soon after entering upon his sixteenth year, he was sent to Cambridge, where he was committed to the tuition of Mr. Chappell, afterwards a bishop, and the reputed author of The Whole Duly of Man. He had already made astonishing progress in learning. He was familiar with several languages, and with the most abstruse books in philosophy. Before he was eighteen, he studied critically the best Greek and Roman authors, and wrote more elegant Latin verses than were ever before produced by an Englishman.
After remaining seven years at the university, where he took the degrees of bachelor and master of arts, he returned to his father's house, at Horton, near Colebrook, whither, he says, he was accompanied by the regrets of most of the fellows of his college, who showed him no common marks of friendship and esteem. In the malignant and envious life of Milton by Dr. Johnson, there is an endeavour to prove that he was expelled from Cambridge for some misdemeanor, or that he went away in discontent because unable to obtain preferment, to spend his time in the company of lewd women, and in the play-houses of London. All this is false. It is evident from what has been written on the subject, that he committed no act deserving punishment or regret. He left Cambridge because his theological opinions, and his views of ecclesiastical independence, not permitting him to inter the church, a longer stay there was not required. He believed that he who would accept orders, “must subscribe himself slave, and take an oath withal, which unless he took with a conscience that would retch, he must either straight perjure himself, or split his faith ;” and he deemed it “ better to prefer a blameless silence, before the learned office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing.”
On his father's estate Milton passed happily five years of uninterrupted leisure, occasionally visiting London to enjoy the theatres and the conversation of his friends, or to learn something new in mathematics or music. He wrote here the Mask of Comus, and Lycidas, the Arcades, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso, a series of poems alike extraordinary for the sublimity and beauty of their conception, and for the exquisite finish of their execution.
*. He was a skilful musician, and ranked honourably among contemporary composers Allusion to this circumstance is made in the following beautiful lines from Ad Patrem :
“Nec tu perge precor, sacras contemnere Musas,
On the death of his mother, in 1637, when he was about twenty-nine years of age, he became anxious to visit foreign parts, and particularly Italy. His reasons for wishing to travel, as quaintly expressed by his biographer TOLAND, were, that “he could not better discern the preëminence and defects of his own country, than by observing the customs and institutions of others; and that the study of never so many books, without the advantages of conversation, serves either to render a man a fool or a pedant.” Obtaining permission of his father, he left England in 1638, accompanied by a single servant, and bearing a letter of direction and advice from Sir Henry Wotton. He arrived in Paris, the most accomplished Englishman who had ever crossed the Channel, and was escape the notice of men, it could not elude the inspection of God. At Geneva I held daily conferences with John Deodati, the learned professor of theology. Then pursuing my former route through France, I returned to my native country, after an absence of one year and about three months; at the time when CHARLES, having broken the peace, was renewing what is called the episcopal war with the Scots; in which the royalists being routed in the first encounter, and the English being universally and justly disaffected, the necessity of his affairs at last obliged him to convene a parliament."
courteously received by the ambassador of King Charles, who introduced Jhim to the celebrated Grotius, then representative of the queen of Sweden at the
court of France. The best account of his travels is contained in the brief autobiography which opens his Second Defence of the People of England. He soon set out for Italy, and taking ship at Nice, visited Genoa, Leghorn, Pisa and Florence. “In the latter city,” he says, “ 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 constant attendant at the literary parties, which prevail there, and tend so much to the diffusion of knowledge and the preservation of friendship. No time will ever abolish the agreeable recollections which I cherish of Jacob Gaddi, Carolo Dati, FresCOBALDO, Cultellero, BonnoMATTHAI, CLEMENTILLO, FRANCISCO, and many others. From Florence I went to Siena, 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. There I was introduced by a certain recluse, with whom I had travelled from Rome, to John BAPTISTA Manso, Marquis of Villa, a nobleman of distinguished rank and authority, to whom TORQUATO Tasso, the illustrious poet, inscribed his book on friendship. During my stay, he gave me singular proofs of his regard; he himself conducted me round the city, and to the palace of the viceroy; and more than once paid me a visit at my lodgings. On my departure he gravely apologized for not having shown me more civility, which he said he had been restrained from doing, because I had spoken with so little reserve on matters of religion. When I was preparing to pass over into Sicily and Greece, the melancholy intelligence which I received, of the civil commotions in England, made 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 on religion ; for it was a rule 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 conce
cerning 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 my 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 popery. By the favour of God, I got safe 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, except that I made an excursion for a few days to Lucca; and crossing the Apennines, 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 thuse 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
On his arrival in London, Milton could discover no way in which he might directly serve the state, and he therefore hired a spacious house for himself and his books, and resumed his literary pursuits; calmly awaiting the issue of the contest, which he “trusted to the wise conduct of Providence, and the courage of the people."
He now undertook the education of his sister's sons, John and EDWARD Phillips, and subsequently received a few other pupils, whom he instructed in the best learning of the ancients and moderns. Johnson sneers at Milton's “ great promise and small performance,” in returning from the continent because his country was in danger, and then opening a private school. But it was not from cowardice that he preferred the closet to the field, and he saw no absurdity in adding to his light income by teaching, while he wrote his immortal works on the nature and necessity of liberty.“ I did not,” he says in his Defensio Secunda, “ for any other reason decline the dangers of war, than that I might in another way, with much more eflicacy, and with not less danger to myself, render assistance to my countrymen, and discover a mind neither shrinking from adverse fortune, nor actuated by any improper fear of calumny or death. Since from my childhood I had been devoted to the more liberal studies, and was always more powerful in my intellect than in my body, avoiding the labours of the camp, in which any robust soldier would have surpassed me, I betook myself to those weapons which I could wield with the most effect; and I conceived that I was acting wisely when I thus brought my better and more valuable faculties, those which constituted my principal strength and consequence, to the assistance of my country and her honourable cause.”
Milton was a silent and calm, but careful and far seeing spectator of the general agitation. The outrageous abuses of power by the weak minded and passionate king, and the despotism of the episcopal officers, caused the popular heart to beat as the sea heaves in a storm; and the restraints of established authority, made weaker every day by over exertion, were soon altogether to cease.
The Long Parliament was in session; the bigoted and persecuting Primate had been impeached ; and the Second Spirit of the Revolution stepped before the audience of the world, to be in all the great period which followed the most earnest and powerful champion of the cause of the people. “I saw,” he says, “ that a way was opening for the establishment of real liberty ; that the foundation was laying for ihe 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 republic; and as I had from my youth studied the distinctions between religious and civil rights, 1 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 so 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 one important object.”
He accordingly wrote and published in the year 1641 his first work in prose, under the title Of Reformation in England, and the Causes that hitherto have hindered it. In this he attempts to show that prelacy is incompatible vith civil liberty, and to the support of this proposition he brings learning s'ore various and profound, a power of reasoning, and an impassioned eloquence, vnprecedented in English controversy. The treatise ends with the following prayer, " piously laying the sad condition of England before the footstool of