Page images
PDF
EPUB

smattering learning of the University and of the manner in which the clergy engage with raw, and untutored judgments in the study of theology, patching together a sermon with pilfered scraps, without any acquaintance with criticism or philosophy; again, in his Animadversions on the Remonstrant's Defence, he says, "What should I tell you how the universities that men look should be the fountains of learning, and knowledge have been poisoned and choked under your governance ?”

Milton's natural genius, cultivated by the care of those excellent scholars, who had conducted his education, and enriched by his own indefatigable study, had doubtless made great advances in those branches of knowledge at once congenial to his mind, and conducive to its improvement; and he might feel unwilling to be diverted from them, into the barren and unprofitable pursuits, which the old system of collegiate education too often required ; 14 that which he disliked or despised,

14 The following passage in Milton's Prolusiones has been overlooked, which throws some light on the subject of his discussion with the college, and his renewed union. (v. p. 115). He disliked some parts of their studies, probably their logical and metaphysical Theses, and expressed his opi. nion too freely, or perhaps did not perform the tasks that were required. I feel convinced that the whole ground of offence, so much disputed, is to be found in this point. • Tur

nec mediocriter me pellexit, et invitavit ad has partes subeundas vestra, (vos qui ejusdem estis mecum Collegii) in me nuperrime comperta facilitas, cum enim ante præteritos menses, aliquam multos oratorio apud vos munere perfuncturus essem, putaremque lucubrationes meas qualescunque etiam ingratas propemodum futuras, et mitiores habituras judices Æacum et Minoa, quam e vobis fere quemlibet, sane præter opinionem meam, præter meam si quid, erat speculæ, non vulgari sicuti ego accepi, imo ipse sensi omnium plausu exceptæ sunt immo eorum qui in me alias prop

his love of freedom on all subjects, and in every situation forbade him to conceal. It is probable that he underwent a temporary rustication. This however is certain,—that all misunderstanding was removed, and that he soon acquired the kindness and respect of the society with which he lived: he says,—" It hath given me an apt occasion to acknowledge publicly with all grateful mind that more than ordinary favour and respect, which I found above any of my equals at the hands of these courteous and learned men,

the fellows of the college wherein I spent some years ; who, at my parting, after I had taken two degrees, as the manner is signified many ways, how much better it would content them, if I would stay, as by many letters full of kindness, and loving respect, both before that time and long after, I was assured of their singular good affection towards me:”—and in another place he speaks of himself, as

• Procul omni flagitio, bonis omnibus probatus.' In 1628 he wrote some lines on the subject, · Naturam non pati senium,' as an Academical exercise, to oblige one of the fellows of the college; and T. Warton says of it, that it is replete ter studiorum dissidia essent prorsus infenso, et inimico animo; generosum utique simultatis exercendæ genus, et regio pectore non indignum, siquidem cum ipsa amicitia plerumque multa inculpate facta detorquere soleat, tunc profectio acris et infesta inimicitia errata forsitan multa, et haud pauca sine dubio indiserte dicta, leniter et clementius quam meum erat meritum interpretari non gravabatur. Jam semel unico hoc exemplo vel ipsa demens ira mentis compos fuisse videbatur, et hoc facto furoris infamiam abluisse. At vero summopere oblector, et mirum in modum voluptate perfundor, cum videam tantá doctissimorum hominum frequentiâ circumfusum me, et undique stipatum, &c.

[ocr errors]

poems.

with fanciful and ingenious allusions, it has also a vigour of expression, a dignity of sentiment, and elevation of thought rarely found in very young writers.' This praise is just : but its Latinity is not so flowing, or elegant, as that of his later

Milton was designed by his parents for the profession of the church; but during his residence at the University, he changed his intention. Dr. Newton considers that he had conceived early prejudices against the doctrine and discipline of the church; but Johnson seems to think that his objections lay not so much against subscription to the articles, but related to canonical obedience. His own account is as follows ;15 “ By the intention of my parents and friends, I was destined of a child to the service of the church, and in mine own resolutions. Till coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded the church, that he who would take orders, must subscribe Slave, and take an oath withal, which unless he took with a conscience that he would relish, he must either straight perjure or split his faith; I thought better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing."

In whatever line his objections lay, his youthful decisions seem to have been but little controlled by the exercise of parental authority; for in the beautiful lines which he addresses to his father, in the Latin language, he says,

Neque enim, Pater, ire jubebas,
Qua via lata patet, qua pronior area lucri
Certaque condendi fulget spes aurea nummi

15 See Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy. Vol. i. p. 123.

Nec rapis ad leges, male custoditaque gentis
Jura, nec insulsis damnas clamoribus aures.
Sed magis excultam cupiens ditescere mentein,
Me procul urbano strepitu, secessibus altis
Abductum, Aoniæ jucunda per otia Ripæ,

Phæbæo lateri comitem sinis ire beatum ? In 1632 he left the University, and retired to his father's house at Horton,16 in Buckinghamshire, making occasional visits to London to meet his friends, to buy books, or to learn something new in mathematics or music. Here he resided five years, passing his time in regular and severe study; for he is said to have read over all the Greek and Latin writers : Johnson says,

• that this account must be received with limitations ;' but five years well employed would leave few of the ancient authors unperused : I think Wyttenbach has mentioned his having read through Athenæus in fourteen days; and Joseph Scaliger has left on record the short time in which he finished both the Homeric Poems. What then might not Milton's enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge, and his unwearied industry perform? says of himself at this time,

* Et totum rapiunt, me, mea vita, libri.'

16 This house at Horton was pulled down about fourteen years ago. See Syminons's Life, p. 93. Milton's father had some country house besides this, nearer to London, of which we have had no notice. Milton's letter to A. Gill, is dated * E nostro Suburbano,' Dec. 4, 1634. And see his Elegy i. ver. 50.

• Nos quoque lucus habet vicinà consitus ulmo,

Atque Suburbani nobilis umbra loci.' and in Prolusiones (p. 136.) he says, “ Testor ipse lucos, et flumina, et dilectas villarum ulmos, sub quibus æstate proxime præterita (si dearum arcana eloqui liceal), summam cum musis gratiam habuisse me jucunda memoria recolo, ubi et ego inter rura, et semotos saltus velut occulto ævo crescere mihi potuisse visus sum.'

[ocr errors]

In this studious retirement, and under the shelter of his paternal roof, it is believed that he wrote his Arcades, Comus, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas. In the neighbourhood of Horton, the Countess Dowager of Derby resided, and the Arcades was performed by her grandchildren at their seat, called Harefield Place. Was ever lady on her return to the hall of her ancestors, crowned with such poetic garlands, or greeted by a welcome so elegant as this? Some of his letters to Charles Deodati give us interesting particulars of his studies and habits of life. You well know (he says) that I am naturally slow in writing, and averse to write. It is also in my favour, that your method of study is such as to admit of frequent interruptions, in which you visit your friends, write letters, or go abroad, but it is my way to suffer no impediment, no love of ease, no avocation whatever, to chill the ardor, to break the continuity, or divert the completion of my literary pursuits;'-in a subsequent letter, the honourable ambition of his youthful mind opens itself without reserve to his familiar friend. Hear me,' he writes, my Deodati, and suffer me, for a moment, to speak without blushing in a more lofty strain. Do you ask what I am meditating? by the help of heaven, an immortality of fame, but what am I doing? ttepopūw. I am letting my wings grow and preparing to fly, but my Pegasus has not yet feathers enough to soar aloft in the fields of air.

You shall likewise have some information respecting my studies. I went through the perusal of the Greek authors to the time when they ceased to be Greeks. I was long employed in unravelling the obscure history of the Italians under the Lombards, the Franks, and

« PreviousContinue »