Abbildungen der Seite

prevented him from doing justice to Milton's life and character. Where that criticism is defective the cause is, to use one of Johnson's own phrases, not lack of candour, but lack of sensibility.

In the Biographical notes to this edition I must acknowledge the great assistance derived from Masson's Life of Milton. For some of the critical notes I am indebted to Peter Cunningham's edition of the 'Lives of the Poets,' 1854. For some others I have to express my thanks to Dr. Hill.

OXFORD, May 8, 1888.



The life of Milton has been already written in so many forms, and with such minute inquiry, that I might perhaps more properly have contented myself with the addition of a few notes on Mr. Fenton's elegant abridgment, but that a new narrative was thought necessary to the uniformity 5 of this edition.

John Milton was by birth a gentleman, descended from the proprietors of Milton, near Thame, in Oxfordshire, one of whom forfeited his estate in the times of York and Lancaster. Which side he took I know not; his descend- 10 ant inherited no veneration for the White Rose.

His grandfather, John, was keeper of the forest of Shotover, a zealous Papist, who disinherited his son because he had forsaken the religion of his ancestors.

His father, John, who was the son disinherited, had re-15 course for his support to the profession of a scrivener. He was a man eminent for his skill in music, many of his compositions being still to be found; and his reputation in his profession was such, that he grew rich, and retired to an estate. He had probably more than common liter- 20 ature, as his son addresses him in one of his most elaborate

He married a gentlewoman of the name

Latin poems.


of Caston, a Welsh family, by whom he had two sons, John, the poet, and Christopher, who studied the law, and adhered, as the law taught him, to the king's party, for which he was awhile persecuted; but having, by his 5 brother's interest, obtained permission to live in quiet, he supported himself so honourably by chamber-practice, that, soon after the accession of King James, he was knighted and made a judge; but, his constitution being too weak

for business, he retired before any disreputable compliances 10 became necessary.

He had likewise a daughter Anne, whom he married with a considerable fortune to Edward Phillips, who came from Shrewsbury, and rose in the Crown-office to be

secondary : by him she had two sons, John and Edward, 15 who were educated by the poet, and from whom is derived the only authentic account of his domestic manners. > John the poet, was born in his father's house, at the Spread Eagle, in Bread Street, Dec. 9, 1608, between six

and seven in the morning. His father appears to have 20 been very solicitous about his education; for he was in

structed at first by private tuition under the of Thomas Young, who was afterwards chaplain to the English merchants at Hamburgh, and of whom we have

reason to think well, since his scholar considered him as 25 worthy of an epistolary elegy.

He was then sent to St. Paul's school, under the care of Mr. Gill; and removed, in the beginning of his sixteenth year, to Christ's College, in Cambridge, where he entered a sizar, Feb. 12, 1624.

He was at this time eminently skilled in the Latin tongue ; and he himself, by annexing the dates to his first compositions, a boast of which Politian had given him an example, seems to commend the earliness of his own




proficiency to the notice of posterity. But the products of his vernal fertility have been surpassed by many, and particularly by his contemporary Cowley. Of the powers of the mind it is difficult to form an estimate : many have excelled Milton in their first essays, who never rose to works 5 like · Paradise Lost.'

At fifteen, a date which he uses till he is sixteen, he translated or versified two Psalms, 114 and 136, which he thought worthy of the public eye ; but they raise no great expectations: they would in any numerous school have 10 obtained praise, but not excited wonder.

Many of his elegies appear to have been written in his eighteenth year, by which it appears that he had then read the Roman authors with very nice discernment. I once heard Mr. Hampton, the translator of Polybius, 15 remark, what I think is true, that Milton the first Englishman who, after the revival of letters, wrote Latin verses with classic elegance. If any exceptions can be made, they are very few : Haddon and Ascham, the pride of Elizabeth's reign, however they have succeeded 20 in prose, no sooner attempt verses than they provoke derision. If we produced anything worthy of notice before the elegies of Milton, it was perhaps Alabaster's · Roxana.'

Of these exercises, which the rules of the University 25 required, some were published by him in his maturer years. They had been undoubtedly applauded; for they were such as few can form : yet there is reason to suspect that he was regarded in his college with no great fond

That he obtained no fellowship is certain; but 30 the unkindness with which he was treated was not merely negative. I am ashamed to relate what I fear. is true, that Milton was one of the last students in either. Uni

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

versity that suffered the public indignity of corporal correction.

It was, in the violence of controversial hostility, objected to him, that he was expelled : this he steadily 5 denies, and it was apparently not true; but it seems plain, from his own verses to 'Diodati,' that he had incurred * rustication,' a temporary dismission into the country, with perhaps the loss of a terin.

Me tenet urbs refluâ quam Thamesis alluit andâ,

Meque nec invitum patria dulcis habet.
Jam nec arundiferum mihi cura revisere Camum,

Nec dudum vetiti me laris angit amor.-
Nec duri libet usque minas perferre magistri,

Caeteraque ingenio non subeunda meo. 15

Si sit hoc exilium patrios adiisse penates,

Et vacuum curis otia grata sequi,
Non ego vel profugi nomen sortemve recuso,

Laetus et exilii conditione fruor.



[ocr errors]


I cannot find any meaning but this, which even kind20 ness and reverence can give to the term, 'vetiti laris,'

sa habitation from which he is excluded;' or how 'exile' can be otherwise interpreted. He declares yet more, that he is weary of enduring the threats of a rigorous master,

• and something else which a temper like his cannot undergo.' 25 What was more than threat was probably punishment. This

poem, which mentions his 'exile, proves likewise that it was not perpetual; for it concludes with a resolution of returning some time to Cambridge. And it may be con

jectured, from the willingness with which he has perpetuated 30 the memory of his exile, that its cause was such as gave him no shame.

He took both the usual degrees : that of bachelor in 1628, and that of master in 1632; but he left the University with no kindness for its institution, alienated either by the

« ZurückWeiter »