« AnteriorContinuar »
From some Latin verses to Charles Diodati, one of his schoolfellows, Mr. Wharton, and Dr. Johnson after him, think it is, also, 'plain that Milton had incurred rustication, a temporary dismission into the country, with perhaps the loss of a term.' Mr. Godwin is again enraged; and, though he does not undertake to disprove the interpretation, he is, we think, much more entitled to be angry in this case, than in the former. Milton says,
Me tenet urbs reflua quam Thamisis alluit unda,
Meque nec invitum patria dulcis habet.
Nec dudum vetiti me laris angit amor.
Quam malè Phobicolis convenit ille locus!
Cæteraque ingenio non subeunda meo.
Et vacuum curis otia grata sequi,
Laetus et exilii conditione fruor.
Ille Tomitano fibilis exul agro;
Neve foret victo laus tibi prima, Maro!
From the frequent mention of exile, and from the use of the words vetiti laris, there is little doubt, that, when Milton wrote this elegy, he had quitted the university against his will. But he does not declare, as Dr. Johnson thinks, that he is weary of enduring the threats of a rigorous master:' it is not some thing else,' but some things else, that his genius could not undergo; nor can we admit, that, by these
own for academical instruction. Hayley's Life of Milton, Lond. 1796. 'For me, (said the poet afterwards, I have determined to lay up, as the best solace and treasure of a good old age, if God vouchsafe it me, the honest liberty of a ree speech from my youth.' Works in Prose, 1698. yol. i. p. 220.
other things, besides threats, the author 'probably meant punishment.' His design seems to have been, to compare the pleasures of the country with those of a college; and, on this account, Dr. Johnson should not have omitted the two essential lines, beginning with nuda nec arva. The threats of a rigorous master are not intended for himself particularly; neither is it at all evident, that the other things' are designed to refer exclusively to those threats.' Milton begins to enumerate the miseries of Cambridge; and, after mentioning some of the most prominent, includes the rest under the comprehensive et cetera. The elegy closes with a resolution of returning some time to Cambridge; and it is upon this combination of circumstances, that Dr. Johnson founds his conjecture of Milton's rustication. If Toland is to be credited,* the interpretation is decisively contradicted by the fact, that this elegy was written after Milton had taken his second degree, and while he was residing with his father at Horton, in Berkshire. We believe Diodati, his schoolfellow, was then a student of medicine; and that he was himself at home, appears from the expression, patrios adisse penates.
We shall now propose our own conjecture. Milton 'went to the university (we prefer to use the language of Dr. Johnson) with a design of entering into the church, but in time altered his mind; for he declared, that whoever became a clergyman, must “subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that could not
* Life of Milton, p. 7. Toland's sources of information were both ample and genuine. 'I learnt som particulars,' says he, * from a person that had bin once his amanuensis, which were confirm'd to me by his daughter now dwelling in London, and by a letter written to one at my desire from his last wife who is still alive. I perus'd the papers of one of his nephews; learnt what I could in discourse
with the other; and lastly consulted such of his acquaintance, as, after the best enquiry, I was able to discover:' pp. 3, 4.
retch, he must straight perjure himself. He thought it better to prefer à blameless silence before the office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing.” His unwillingness to engage in the ministry, perhaps not yet advanced to a settled resolution of declining it, appears in a letter to one of his friends, who had reproved his suspended and dilatory life, which he seems to have imputed to an insatiable curiosity, and a fantastic luxury of various knowledge. To this he writes a cool and plausible answer, in which he endeavours to persuade him, that the delay proceeds not from the delights of desultory study, but from the desire of obtaining more fitness for his task; and that he goes on, not taking thought of being late, so it gives advantage to be more fit.
We have before mentioned, that Milton came away without a fellowship; and perhaps the reader has already anticipated us in the supposition, that, to take the requisite oath and subscribe the thirty-nine. articles, being among the things to which Milton's spirit could not submit, he was allowed to go home; examine the subject; and try to think better of these qualifications. It does not appear, that the disfavour of his first master extended to any other member of the faculty; and, when, as we have seen, they would condescend to violate the rules of college, by transferring him to another,* there can be little doubt, that he was highly esteemed by the majority. Indeed, it is well known, that, at both universities, a good Greek and Latin scholar could seldom do amiss; and, if any undergraduate might claim impunity in this respect, it was certainly John Milton. When he offered himself for a fellowship, therefore, there was probably no impediment to his suc. cess, but an unwillingness to sign the articles, and take the oath.
* See above, page 4, note.
Our conjecture seems to be warranted by his own testimony. In an Apology against a pamphlet, supposed to have been written by the son of Bishop Hall, he takes 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 those courteous and learned men, the fellows of that 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 that 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 affections towards
It appears, upon the whole, then, that Milton went to the university with a design to enter the church; that, though he left it, without a fellowship, he was strongly solicited to stay; and that, notwithstanding his
opposition to the oath and articles, he still entertained a resolution at some time to return. We can see no means of reconciling these circumstances, but upon the supposition, that, at the time of writing the lines to Diodati, he was · residing at home, as a sort of probationer; and that, if, upon investigating the subject, he could satisfy himself of the propriety of the required qualifications, he should still execute his original determination of taking orders. It is upon no other supposition, that we can account for the anomaly, remarked by his biographers, of remaining at his father's house, for more than five years after he had left the university. We learn from himself, that, excepting an occasional visit to London to relieve himself with its amusements, procure books, and see his school. fellows, the whole of this time was given to intense study;* and his eulogists have not omitted to add,
* Et totum rapiunt me mea vita libri.-Ad Diod,
that, besides other reading, he completed, in the same period, the perusal of all the Latin and Greek classics.
However this may be, we think it likely, that the study and reflection of these five years confirmed the author in those independent views of religion and politics, which a part of his early education had contributed to form ; and for which his subsequent life was so eminently distinguished. He commenced the investigation of episcopacy, with a violent prejudice against its doctrines and discipline: every thing in his progress was doubtless turned in the most unfavourable light; and he ended, not merely with a negative unbelief of its orthodoxy,—but with a determination to spend his life in hunting down its absurdities.* By the perusal of the Greek and Roman authors, he became, at the same time, familiar with the glories of republicanism;t and he seems, at last, to have been convinced, not only, that mankind would do better without a king or a church,-but that his own services would be indispensable, in deposing monarchs, and overturning religious establishments.
It was probably the enthusiastic veneration, which he had now conceived for the ancient republics, that induced him to undertake a political pilgrimage to Rome and Greece. The time of his setting out
* 'Some years (says he) I hail spent in the stories of those Greek and Roman exploits, wherein 1 found many things both nobly done and worthily spoken: when coming in the method of time to that age wherein the church had obtained a Christian emperor, I so prepared myself as being now to read examples of wisdom and goodness anong those who were foremost in the church, not else, where to be paralleled. But to the amasement of what I expected, I found it quite contrary; excepting in some very few, nothing but ambition, corruption, contention, combustion :-endless brabbles and counterplotiings of the bishops,' &c. Apology.
+ Aub. App. Godw. p. 344. ' His being so conversant in Livy and the Roman authors, and the greatness he saw donue by the Romanan commonwealth, and the virtue of their great commanders, induc't him to write against monarchie.'
I As a cause of Milton's journeying into Italy, was to be found