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Finding that his house in Aldersgate-street was too small for his establishment, which was now increased by the return of his wife, he hired a more spacious residence in Barbican.* Even this soon proved not too large for his requirements; for, not only did his wife's parents seek an asylum under his roof, but also a numerous train of brothers and sisters, all of whom continued with him until after his father's death, which occurred in 1647, when the family property was restored to them by an arrangement with the Government. It is a striking proof of the irrepressible activity of Milton's mind, that, amidst the public convulsions and domestic anxiety of the time, he could find either leisure or inclination for the literary pursuits in which he engaged. Yet it was in the year 1644 that he produced his “Treatise on Education, as well as the greatest of all his productions in prose, entitled, “ Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Speaking."
The treatise on education was addressed to his friend, Master Samuel Hartlib, and was occasioned by Milton's conviction, and, indeed, his experience of the cramped, barbarous, and almost useless style of education which then prevailed in our public schools and universities, and which, even in our own day, is but slowly and reluctantly retiring before the march of enlightened reform. It has been variously commented upon by the biographers of Milton. Dr. Symmons describes it “as calculated only to amuse the fancy, while it would be found by experience to disappoint the expectation.” Mr. Milford, however, takes a different view. “ The system of education which he adopted
* "I cannot but remark,” says Dr. Johnson, “a kind of respect perhaps unconsciously, paid to this great man by his biographers; every house in which he resided is historically mentioned, as if it were an injury to neglect naming any place that he honoured by his presence.” Indeed it is known that foreigners of distinction gratified their curiosity, during the life of Milton, by visiting the house in Bread-street where he was born,
was deep and comprehensive; it promised to teach science with language, or rather to make the study of languages subservient to the acquisition of scientific knowledge. Dr. Johnson has severely censured this method of instruction, but with arguments that might successfully be met. The plan recommended by the authority of Milton seems to be chiefly liable to objection from being too extensive.” Milton commences by stating his own views of the great purpose of education, and of the inadequacy of existing institutions to fulfil it. “The end then of learning,” he says, “is to repair the ruins of our first parents, by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith, makes up the highest perfection. But because our understanding cannot in this body found itself but on sensible things, nor arrive so clearly to the knowledge of God and things invisible, s by orderly conning over the visible and inferior creature, the same method is necessarily to be followed in all discreet teaching. And seeing every nation affords not experience and tradition enough for all kinds of learning, therefore we are chiefly taught the languages of those people who have at any time been most industrious after wisdom; so that language is but the instrument conveying to us things useful to be known. And though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues that Babel cleft the world into, yet, if he have not studied the solid things in them, as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man, as any yeoman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only. “Hence appear the many mistakes which have made learning generally so unpleasing and so unsuccessful: First, we do amiss to spend seven or eight years merely in scraping together so much miserable Latin and Greek, as might be learned otherwise easily and delightfully in one year." And that which casts our proficiency therein so much behind, is our time lost partly in too oft idle vacancies given both to schools and universities; partly in a preposterous exaction, forcing the empty wits of children to compose themes, verses, and orations, which are the acts of ripest judgment, and the final work of a head filled, by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims and copious invention. These are not matters to be wrung from poor striplings, like blood out of the nose, or the plucking of untimely fruit. # + # # “And for the usual method of teaching arts, I deem it to be an old error of universities, not yet well recovered from the scholastic grossness of barbarous ages, that instead of beginning with arts most easy, (and those be such as are most obvious to the sense) they present their young unmatriculated novices, at first coming, with the most intellective abstractions of logic and metaphysics; so that they, having but newly left those grammatic flats and shallows, where they stuck unreasonably to learn a few words with lamentable construction, and now on the sudden transported under another climate, to be tossed and turmoiled with their unballasted wits in fathomless and unquiet deeps of controversy, do for the most part grow into hatred and contempt of learning, mocked and deluded all this while with ragged notions and babblement, while they expected worthy and delightful knowledge.”f Having thus indicated the main defects of university education, Milton thus enters on the development of his projected reforms. “I shall detain you now no longer in the demonstration of what we should not do, but straight conduct you to a hill-side, where I will point you out the right path of a virtuous and noble education; laborious indeed at
* On this subject, see Locke's Treatise on Education, § 162–177. Works, folio edition, vol. iii. p. 72, seq. + Prose Works, vol. iii. pp. 464, 466.
the first ascent, but else so smooth, so green, so full of goodly prospect, and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of Orpheus was not more charming.” I doubt not but ye shall have more ado to drive our dullest and laziest youth, our stocks and stubs, from the infinite desire of such a happy nurture, than we have now to hale and drag our choicest and hopefullest wits to that asinine feast of sowthistles and brambles, which is commonly set before them as all the food and entertainment of their tenderest and most docible age. I call, therefore, a complete and generous education, that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully,
and magnanimously all the offices, both private and public,
of peace and war. And how all this may be done between twelve and one and twenty, less time than is now bestowed in pure trifling at grammar and sophistry, is to be thus ordered.”f It is not surprising that Milton's plan should have been condemned as too extensive to be practicable, for it embraces nearly every branch of human knowledge. Commencing with grammar, it leads the student through the Latin classics, beginning with those which convey some kind of scientific or economical knowledge; at the same
time acquiring the knowledge of the “principles of arith
metic, geometry, astronomy, and geography, with a general compact of physics, they may descend in mathematics to the instrumental science of trigonometry, and from thence to fortification, architecture, enginery, or navigation. And in natural philosophy they may proceed leisurely from the history of meteors, minerals, plants, and living creatures, as far as anatomy.” He continues his plan through the art of
* He had already, in Comus, described the delight derivable from the study of philosophy: “How charming is divine philosophy! Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose, But musical as is Apollo's lute, And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets, Where no crude surfeit reigns." + Prose Works, vol. iii. p. 467.
medicine, and natural science generally, and those Latin poets who especially treat on similar subjects, and last come the highest departments of study, ethics, politics, theology, and logic. This he connects throughout with a system of physical and military training, recommending as a principal relaxation, “the solemn and divine harmonies of music.” In concluding his treatise, he himself seems to have been struck, on a retrospect, with the almost presumptuous vastness of his scheme. “I believe,” he says, “that this is not a bow for every man to shoot in, that counts himself a teacher; but will require sinews almost equal to those which Homer gave Ulysses; yet I am withal persuaded that it may prove much more easy in the assay, than it now seems at distance, and much more illustrious.”