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too, almost all persons engaged in any kind of mercantile pursuit had some distinguishing sign.) By his wife, Sarah Caston, a woman of great worth and reputation, and of a respectable family originally from Wales, he had two sons and a daughter; the eldest of whom was the poet, born on the 9th of December, 1608, between six and seven in the morning, at his father's house, and christened John on the 20th of the same month, as appears from the register of Allhallows, Bread Street. The poet's father was a man of blameless character, considerable acquirements, and talent. Of his attachment to literature, the Latin verses addressed to him by his son (see the epistle “ Ad Patrem") with equal elegance and filial gratitude, are a signal proof. He was particularly distinguished for his musical abilities. He is said by Dr. Burney, in his History of Music, to have been “a voluminous composer, and equal in science, if not in genius, to the best musicians of his age.” He acquired an independent fortune, and purchased a small estate at Horton, near Colnebrook in Buckinghamshire, on the borders of Middlesex, whither he retired in his old
age. The poet, from his earliest youth, discovered marks of uncommon genius, and love of literature. These his father diligently cherished. Having sent him to St. Paul's School, of which Mr. Gill was head master, (to whose son Milton has addressed some of his earlier poems) he furnished him besides with the best masters in the different departments of instruction at home in the evening. One of these masters was Mr. Thomas Young, a Scotchman, afterwards chaplain to the English merchants at Hamburgh ; and subsequently master, under Cromwell's usurpation, of Jesus College, Cambridge. He was one of the authors of Smectymnuus, and died at Stow-Market in Suffolk, of which he was vicar thirty years. On the 12th of February, 1624, Milton was admitted a pensioner at Christ's College, Cambridge, under the tuition of Mr. William Chappel, afterwards Bishop of Cork and Ross. Having carried a high literary reputation to college, he there increased it by his uncommon diligence, proficiency as a scholar, and some splendid compositions. Dr. Johnson, though parsimonious of his praise to scholars, especially poets, and
whose criticisms on Milton are impregnated with his characteristic acrimony against all whose political principles were not in unison with his own, especially against persons not friendly to Monarchy and the Established Church, acquiesces (and this acquiescence is high praise) in the opinion of Mr. Hampton, the translator of Polybius, that Milton's Latin poetry, while at college, showed him to have been "the first Englishman who, after the revival of letters, wrote Latin verses with classic elegance." Milton himself says, “ This good hap I had from a careful education—to be inured and seasoned betimes with the best and elegantest authors of the learned tongues ; and thereto brought an ear that could measure a just cadence, and scan without articulating; rather nice and humorous in what was tolerable, than patient to read every drawling versifier.” A short absence from college has occasioned much elaborate and useless controversy about the cause. Some
he was rusticated-some say he was whipped and rusticated—for some trifling violation of academical rules ; while others maintain that he only quitted it in displeasure for a brief space. He himself, and the college records, are silent about the fact of his disgrace or punishment. It is a pure fiction. Indeed he distinctly calls it “ a commodious lie," in his Apology for Smectymnuus. (See his own statement, next Chapter.) Though designed by his father for the Church, he entirely changed his views while at college. He says that the clerical obligation would too much coerce his freewill and conscience ; that to subscribe to the Articles, “ would be to subscribe Slave.” He never obtained, and it seems did not labour to obtain, any College preferment. While at his father's seat at Horton, after he had finished his collegiate education, he composed his Arcades, Comus, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas, between the age of twenty-three and twenty-eight. These well-known poems, this is not the proper place to examine. Suffice it to say, that, had Milton written nothing else, their long and universally established reputation would have placed him in the first class of British poets. Comus and Arcades are masks, or dramatic performances written in a tragic style, but without regard to rules ; which in those times were frequently exhibited at the mansions of the
nobility. The Arcades was performed at Harefield Place, near Horton, the seat of the Countess Dowager of Derby, by her grand-children. The Comus was performed on Michaelmas night, 1634, at Ludlow Castle, the seat of the Earl of Bridgewater, then Lord Deputy of Wales; his sons, Lord Brackly, and Mr. Thomas Egerton, acting the parts of the brothers, and his daughter, Lady Alice Egerton, that of the sister.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY-HIS EARLY EDUCATION-TRAVELS-HIS APPEARANCE-HIS
PROMISE OF SOME GREAT WORK
VINDICATION OF HIS CONDUCT AND
Milton has interspersed through his numerous prose works, touching and valuable, though brief, accounts of himself, partly with a view to satisfy the public curiosity, and partly with a view to silence busy calumny. These fragments of autobiography are written with a lofty, dignified, and steady self-confidence. As I am sure every reader would be best pleased to see such a man his own historian, I transcribe some of them. In his “Second Defence of the People of England,” he thus commences the following narrative and vindication of himself.
“ This it will be necessary for me to do on more accounts than one: first, that so many good and learned men among the neighbouring nations who read my works, may not be induced by calumnies to alter the favourable opinion which they have formed of me; but may be persuaded that I am not one who ever disgraced beauty of sentiment by deformity of conduct, or the maxims of a freeman by the actions of a slave; and that the whole tenour of my life has, by the grace of God, hitherto been unsullied by any enormity or crime: next, that those illustrious worthies, who are the objects of my praise, may know that nothing could afflict me with more shame, than that any vices of
mine should diminish the force, or lessen the value of my panegyric upon them: and lastly, that the people of England, whom fate, or my duty, or their own virtues, have incited me to defend, may be convinced from the purity of my life, that my defence, if it do not redound to their honour, can never be considered as their disgrace.
“I will now mention who and whence I am. I was born at London of an honourable family: my father was distinguished by the undeviating integrity of his life ; my mother, by the esteem in which she was held, and the alms which she bestowed. My father destined me from a child to the pursuits of literature ; and my appetite for knowledge was so voracious, that from twelve years of age I hardly ever left my studies, or went to bed before midnight. This primarily led to my loss of sight: my eyes were naturally weak, and I was subject to frequent head-aches; which, however, could not chill the ardour of my curiosity, or retard the progress of my improvement. My father had me instructed daily in the grammar school, and by other masters at home : he then, after I had acquired a proficiency in various languages, and had made a considerable progress in philosophy, sent me to the University of Cambridge. Here I passed seven years in the usual course of instruction and study, with the approbation of the good, and without any stain upon my character, till I took the degree of Master of Arts. After this I retired of my own accord to my father's house, whither I was accompanied by the regrets of most of the fellows of the college, who showed me no common marks of friendship and esteem. On my father's estate, where he had determined to pass the remainder of his days, I enjoyed an interval of uninterrupted leisure, which I devoted entirely to the perusal of the Greek and Latin classics ; though I occasionally visited the metropolis, either for the sake of purchasing books, or of learning something new in mathematics or in music, in which I at that time found a source of pleasure and amusement.
In this manner I spent five years till my mother's death. I then became anxious to visit foreign parts, particularly Italy. My father gave me his permission ; and I left home with one servant.
On my departure,
the celebrated Henry Wotton, who had long been King James's ambassador at Venice, gave me a signal proof of his regard, in an elegant letter which he wrote, breathing not only the warmest friendship, but containing some maxims of conduct, which I found very useful in my travels. The noble Thomas Scudamore, King Charles's ambassador, to whom I carried letters of recommendation, received me most courteously at Paris. His lordship gave me a card of introduction to the learned Hugo Grotius, at that time ambassador from the Queen of Sweden to the French Court, whose acquaintance I anxiously desired, and to whose house I was accompanied by some of his lordship's friends. A few days after, when I set out for Italy, he gave me letters to the English merchants on my route, that they might show me any civilities in their
power. Taking ship at Nice, I arrived at Genoa ; and afterwards visited Leghorn, Pisa, and Florence. In the latter city, which I have always more particularly esteemed for the elegance of its dialect, its genius, and its taste, I stopped about two months ; where I contracted an intimacy with many persons of rank and learning, and was a constant attendant at their literary parties ; a practice which prevails there, and tends 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, Bonomathai, Clementillo Francisco, and others. From Florence I went to Sienna ; thence to Rome ; when, after I had spent about two months in viewing the antiquities of that renowned city, where I experienced the most friendly attention 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 travelled, to John Baptista Manso, marquis of Villa, a nobleman of distinguished rank and authority, to whom Torquato Tasso, the celebrated poet, incribed his book on "Friendship." During my stay he gave me singular proofs of his regard : he himself
• Holstenius was then keeper of the Vatican library, and had studied three years at Oxford. He introduced him to the distinguished Cardinal Barberini, who treated him with marked kindness.