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MEMOIR OF MILTON.
THE Introductions to the Poems in these volumes contain necessarily a considerable quantity of biographical matter. All that is needed here, therefore, by way of general memoir, is a map or chronology of the life as a whole. A very sure Topography of the life may be combined with such a Chronology.
BREAD STREET, CHEAPSIDE, OLD LONDON.
1608-1625: ætat. 1-17.
Born in Bread Street, Cheapside, on Friday, December 9, 1608, in a house known as "The Spread Eagle," and baptized in Allhallows Church in the same street on the 20th of the same December, Milton was for the first sixteen years of his life a denizen of the very heart of Old London.
His father, John Milton, originally from Oxfordshire, was a prosperous London scrivener, and owner of the Spread Eagle, which served him both as residence and as place of business. See more about him in the Introduction to the Latin poem Ad Patrem. As to the name of Milton's mother there has hitherto been some uncertainty. One tradition calls her Sarah Bradshaw, and another Sarah Caston; and yet in the register of Allhallows Parish, Bread Street, there is this distinct record: "The XXIInd daye of February, A°. 1610 [1610-11], was buried in this parishe Mrs. Ellen Jefferys, the mother of Mr. John Mylton's wyffe of this parishe." This Mrs. Ellen Jefferys, who seems thus to have lived with the scrivener and his wife till two years after the birth of her grandchild, the future poet, is ascertained to have been the widow of a Paul Jeffrey or Jeffreys, of an Essex family, who had died before 1583, after having been for some time Citizen
and Merchant Taylor of London, and an inhabitant of St. Swithin's Parish in that city. She had another daughter, Margaret Jeffrey or Jeffreys, who was married in 1602, at the age of twenty, to a "William Truelove, gentleman, of the parish of Hatfield Peverell, in the county of Essex, widower," afterwards designated as "of Blakenham upon the Hill, Co. Suffolk," and heard of as owning various properties in Essex and Herts. At the time of that marriage the widow's consent to it was signified through her son-in-law, the bride's brother-in-law, John Milton, of Allhallows, Bread Street.1 From this circumstance, and from other evidence, no doubt is now left that the maiden name of Milton's mother was
Sarah Jeffrey. She had been married to the scrivener in 1600, the very year when he set up in business, her age being then about twenty-eight years, while his was about thirty
At the death of the widowed grandmother Jeffrey in February 1610-11, the Bread Street household consisted of the scrivener, his wife, and two children,-Anne and John. Three children were subsequently born; of whom only one, Christopher, seven years younger than John, outlived infancy. Anne, John, and Christopher, therefore, are to be remembered, and in that order, as the surviving children.
The first sixteen years of Milton's life were the last sixteen of the reign of James I. Amid the events of those sixteen years, and the growing discontent of the mass of the English people with the rule of James and his minister Buckingham, Milton passed his boyhood. He was most carefully educated, on the principles of a pious Puritan household of superior means and tastes, the head of which was himself distinguished as a musical composer. To be remembered, as having shared with this excellent father the honour of Milton's early education, are the Scottish preacher Thomas Young, his first domestic tutor, and the two Alexander Gills, father and son, respectively head-master and under-master of St. Paul's School, close to Bread Street. At this public school Milton was for some years a day-scholar; and here he first became acquainted
1 With the exception of the burial entry of Mrs. Ellen Jefferys in the register of Allhallows, the documents that have yielded the above particulars of Milton's maternal pedigree were recently discovered by the research of Colonel J. L. Chester, a distinguished American antiquary and genealogist, living in London.
with the young half-Italian Charles Diodati, his friendship with whom he has made touchingly and everlastingly memorable in his Letters and in his Latin Elegia Prima, Elegia Sexta, and Epitaphium Damonis. He was still, it seems, a scholar at St. Paul's when his sister Anne Milton, who was a year or two older than himself, married (1624) a Mr. Edward Phillips, from Shrewsbury, second clerk in the important Government office called the Crown Office in Chancery. As the married couple took up their residence in the Strand, near Charing Cross, Milton and his younger brother Christopher were then the only children left in the paternal home.
From his childhood Milton was not only a ceaseless student and insatiable reader, but also a writer of verses. The earliest preserved specimens of his muse, however, belong to the year 1624, his last year at St. Paul's School.
A Paraphrase on Psalm cxiv.
If we deduct the two Psalm-paraphrases, which belong to the last year of the reign of James I., Milton's literary life may be said to begin exactly with the reign of Charles I.
That king succeeded his father on the 27th of March 1625. Six weeks before that event, i.e. February 12, 1624-5, Milton, at the age of sixteen years and two months, had been entered in the grade of a Lesser Pensioner" on the books of Christ's College, Cambridge; and his matriculation in the Register of the University is dated April 9, 1625, when Charles had been on the throne a fortnight. From that time to July 1632, or for a period of more than seven years, Milton resided habitually in Cambridge, though with frequent visits, in vacation and at other times, to London and his father's house. The rooms he occupied in Christ's College are still pointed out.
When Milton was at Cambridge, the total number of persons on the books of all the sixteen colleges of the University was about 2900. Christ's College had about 265 members on its books. The master of the college was Dr. Thomas Bainbrigge; and among the fellows were Joseph Meade,
remembered as a commentator on the Apocalypse, Mr. William Chappell, who was Milton's first tutor, and became afterwards an Irish bishop, and Mr. Nathaniel Tovey, to whose tutorship Milton was transferred, and who was afterwards Rector of Lutterworth in Leicestershire. Among Milton's fellow-students at Christ's were Edward King, afterwards commemorated as Lycidas, John Cleveland, afterwards the well-known satirist, and Henry More, afterwards the Cambridge Platonist. They were all Milton's juniors; and indeed More entered the college in Milton's last year. Milton's brother Christopher joined him at Christ's in February 1630-1, and was put under Tovey's tutorship.-Among the eminent heads of colleges when Milton's academic course began were Dr. John Preston of Emanuel, Dr. Samuel Collins of King's, Dr. Samuel Ward of Sidney Sussex, and John Gostlin, M.D., of Caius. The Public Orator of the University was George Herbert the poet; Andrew Downes, of St. John's, was Regius Professor of Greek; Robert Metcalfe, of the same college, was Regius Professor of Hebrew; Thomas Thornton, also of St. John's, was Lecturer in Logic; and Abraham Whelock, the Orientalist, was University Librarian. Among the Fellows or more advanced graduates of the different colleges were about ten men who afterwards rose to be Bishops or Archbishops, others who rose to be heads of colleges, and some who became noted as Puritan divines. Contemporaries of Milton at Cambridge, only a little his seniors in their respective colleges, were the Church-historian Thomas Fuller, of Queens', and the poets Edmund Waller, of King's, and Thomas Randolph, of Trinity. Jeremy Taylor, who was a native of Cambridge, entered Caius College, as a pauper scholar, in August 1626, eighteen months after Milton had entered Christ's.
Although Milton never looked back on Cambridge with any great affection, and although it is certain that in the beginning of his undergraduateship he was unpopular among the rougher men in his own college (where he was nicknamed "The Lady," on account of his fair complexion, feminine and graceful appearance, and a certain haughty delicacy in his tastes and morals), there is, nevertheless, the most positive evidence that his career at the University was one of industrious and persevering success, and that, even before the close of his undergraduateship, he had beaten down all opposition,
and gained a reputation quite extraordinary. the Collegiate and Academical Exercises to the admiration of all, and was esteemed to be a virtuous and sober person, yet not to be ignorant of his own parts," is Anthony Wood's summary of the information he had received on the subject. He took his B. A. degree, at the proper time, in Jan. 1628-9, and the M.A. degree, also at the proper time, in July 1632. On each occasion, with the other graduates, he went through the formality of signing Articles of Religion implying faith in the constitution, worship, and doctrines of the Church of England; and on the second occasion his signature "Joannes Milton" stands at the head of the list of twenty-seven who so signed from Christ's College. This looks as if the foremost place in his college was then unanimously accorded to him. By that time, one may say, he was recognised as without an equal among his coevals in the University.
The reputation won by Milton during his seven years at Cambridge was doubtless due in part to his personal impressiveness in walks and talks with select companions, and in all those daily chances of intercourse between seniors and juniors, in hall or in college-rooms, which University life affords. There were, however, the more formal opportunities of those scholarly displays called by Wood "the Collegiate and Academical Exercises": viz. the periodical Latin debates and declamations, in College or in the Public Schools of the University, which formed so conspicuous a part of the old system of Cambridge training. Seven specimens of Milton's ability in such things have been preserved under the title of Prolusiones Quædam Oratoria, and are interesting both as revelations of Milton's own character and habits of intellect at this period, and also as curious glimpses of old Cambridge life. See the Introduction to At a Vacation Exercise. There are preserved also four Latin Familiar Epistles written by Milton during the Cambridge period,-two of them to his former preceptor, Thomas Young; and two to Alexander Gill the younger, his former teacher at St. Paul's School. More important products of the seven Cambridge years, however, were the poems, in English or in Latin, written at intervals. Here is a list of these in chronological order, the more important printed in capitals, and the Latin distinguished from the English by italics :