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THE LIFE OF MILTON,
John Milton, the grandfather of our poet, was, ac
according to Wood, an under-ranger or keeper of the forest of Shotover, near Halton, in Oxfordshire; he was of the Romish religion, and such a bigot, that he disinherited his son only for being a Protestant. Upon this the son, the poet's father, named likewise John Milton, settled in London, and became a scrivener by the advice of a friend eminent in that profession: but he was not so devoted to gain and to business as to lose all taste for the more polite arts, and was particularly skilled in music, in which he was not only a fine performer, but is also celebrated as the composer of several pieces: and yet, on the other hand, he was not so fond of his music and amusements, as in the least to neglect his business, but by his diligence and economy acquired a competent estate, which enabled him afterwards to retire, and live in the country. He was by all accounts a very worthy man, and married an excellent woman, Sarah, of the ancient family of the Bradshaws, according to Wood; but Mr. Philips, the nephew of our author, and therefore more likely to know, says, of the family of the Castons, derived originally from Wales. Whoever she was, she is said to have been a woman of incomparable virtue and goodness; and by her her husband had two sons and a daughter.
The elder of the sons was our famous poet, who was born in the year of our Lord 1608, on the 9th of December, in the morning, between six and seven o'clock, in Bread Street, London, where his father lived, at the sign of the Spread Eagle, which was also the coat of arms of the family. He was named John, as his father and grandfather had been before him; and from the beginning discovering the marks of an uncommon genius, he was designed for a scholar, and enjoyed the advantages of a good education, partly, under private tutors, and partly at a public school. It appears from the fourth of hiš Latin elegies, and from the first and fourth of his familiar epistles, that Mr. Thomas Young, who was afterwards pastor to the company of English merchants residing at Hamburg, was one of his private preceptors: and when he had made good progress in his studies at home, he was sent to St. Paul's School, to be prepared for the university, under the care of Mr. Gill, who was the master at that time, and to whose son are addressed some of his familiar Latin epistles. In this early time of his life, such was his love of learning, and so great his ambition to surpass his equals, that from his twelfth year he commonly continued his studies till mid. night, which (as he says himself, in his Second Defence) was the first ruin of his eyes, to whose natural debility were added too frequent headaches : but nothing could abate his zeal for letters. It is very seldom seen, that such application and such a genius meet in the same person. The force of either is great, but both combined must perform wonders.
He was now in the seventeenth 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, on the 12th of February 1624-5, under the tuition of Mr. William Chappel, afterwards Bishop of Ross, in Ireland. He continued above seven years at the university, and took his degrees of Bachelor of Arts in 1628-9, and of Master, in 1632.
He was designed by his parents for holy orders; and among the manuscripts of Trinity College, 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 he had con. ceived some early prejudices against the doctrine and discipline of the Church; and subscribing to the Articles was, in his opinion, subscribing to slavery. This, no doubt, was a disappointment to his friends, who, though in com. fortable, were yet by no means in great circumstances: nor does he seem to have had any inclination for any other profession; he had too free a spirit to be limited and con fined;
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 himseif has informed us, read over all the Greek and Latin authors, particularly the historians; but now and then he 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 of “ Comus,” was presented at Ludlow Castle. There was formerly a president of Wales, and a sort of 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 Michaelmas night, and the principal parts, those of the two brothers, were performed by his lordship’s sons, the Lord Brackly and Mr. Thomas Egerton, and that of the lady, by his lordship's daughter, the Lady Alice Egerton. The occasion of this poem seems 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 Shakspeare'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 some time handed about only in manuscript; but afterwards, to satisfy the impor. tunity of friends, and to save the trouble of transcribing, 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 composed the music, and played the part of the attendant Spirit.
In 1637 he wrote another excellent piece, his Lycidas, wherein he laments the untimely fate of a friend, who was
Many of our readers will recollect its magnificent revival, under Mr. Macready's management of Drury Lane Theatre. 2 See the introduction prefixed to this poem.
unfortunately drowned that same year in the month of August, on the Irish seas, in his passage from Chester. Despite the subject, however, this poem is not all made up of sorrow and tenderness; there is a mixture of satire and indignation; for in part of it the poet takes occasion to inveigh against the corruptions of the clergy, and seems to have first discovered his acrimony against Archbishop Laud, and to have threatened him with the loss of his head, which afterwards happened to him through the fury of his enemies, At least I can think of no sense so proper to be given to the following verses in Lycidas
“Besides, what the grim wolf with privy paw
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 not very well pleased with living so obscurely in the country: but his mother dying, he prevailed upon his father to let him indulge a desire, which he had long entertained, of seeing foreign countries, and particularly Italy; and having communicated his design to Sir Henry Wotton, who had formerly been Ambassador at Venice, and was then Prorost of Eton College, and having also sent him his “ Mask,” of which he had not yet publicly acknowledged himself the author, he received from him å most friendly and complimentary letter, dated from the College the 10th of April, 1638.
He now set out on his travels, attended by only one servant, who accompanied him through all his travels; and he went first to France, where he had recommen. dations to Lord Scudamore, the English Ambassador there at that time; and as soon as he came to Paris, he waited upon his Lordship, and was received with wonderful civility; and having an earnest desire to visit the learned Hugo Grotius, he was, by his Lordship's means, introduced to that great man, who was then Ambassador at the French court from the famous Christina, Queen of Sweden ; and the visit was to their mutual satisfaction ; each of them being pleased to see person, of whom he had heard such commendations. But at Paris he stayed not long, his thoughts and his wishes hastened into Italy; and so after a few days he took leave of the Lord Scudamore, who