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In 1638 he went to France, accompanied by a servant, but by no tutor: “ For,” says his biographer,“ such as still need a pedagogue are not fit to go abroad : and those who are able to make a right use of their travels, ought to be the free masters of their own actions, their good qualifications being sufficient to introduce them into all places, and to present them to the most deserving persons.
It affords full proof of the high respectability of the character of MILTON, that he was favoured with an elegant letter of direction and advice from the famous Sir HENRY WOTTON, who was a long time ambassador from James the First to the Republic of Venice. When he arrived at Paris, he was most kindly received by the English ambassador, Lord Scudamore, who recommended him to the famous Grotius, who was then ambassador to the French court, from Christina, queen of Sweden. From France he proceeded to Italy, where, after having passed through many noted places, he came at length to Florence : “A city, for the politeness of the language, and the civility of the inhabitants, he always after infinitely admired.” In this city he staid about two months, and was daily assisting at those learned conferences which they held in their private academies, according to the laudable custom of Italy, both for the improvement of letters, and the maintaining of friendship. During this time he con
tracted an intimate acquaintance with several ingenious men: “most of whom,” says Toland, “ have since made a noise in the world, and deserve a mention in this place; I mean GADDI, Dati, FRESCOBALDI, FRANCINI, BONMATTEI, ColTELLINO, CHIMENTELLI, and several others. With these he kept up a constant correspondence, particularly with Carolo Dati, a nobleman of Florence, to whom he wrote the tenth of his familiar letters."
From Florence he went next to Rome, where he resided two months, and witnessed the miserable remains of that once famous city, the mistress of the world. And,” says Toland, “ deservedly so; being then not only the fairest place under heaven, but, until the ambition of a few persons had corrupted her equal government, she extended liberty and learning as far as the glory of her name and the terror of her arms. Here, no doubt, remarks his biographer, “ all the examples which he had read of the virtue, eloquence, wisdom, and valour of her ancient citizens, occurred to his mind; and must have oppressed his generous soul with grief, when he saw Rome, the chief seat of the most exquisite tyranny, exercised by effeminate priests, not governing the world by the opinion formed of their justice, or power, being afraid of their courage, (for to these qualities they are known and sworn enemies,) but deluding men
with unaccountable fables, and terrifying them by imaginary fears; filling their heads with superstition, and filling their own pockets with the money of their credulous votaries."
At Rome Milton made the acquaintance of several eminently learned men, as the celebrated Lucas HOLSTENIUS, the librarian of the Vatican, who showed him great politeness, and permitted him to read all the Greek authors under his care. This gentleman presented him to Cardinal BARBERINI, who, at an entertainment of music performed at the Cardinal's expense, sought him out in the crowd, and gave him a kind invitation to visit him. He likewise commenced a friendship with the poet, GIOVANNI SALSILLI.
Having departed from Rome he went to Naples, and was introduced by his fellow-traveller, a hermit, to GIOVANNI Battista Manso, Marquis of Villa, a person most nobly descended, who accompanied Milton round the city, showing him all the remarkable places in it, and visited him often at his lodging. He also composed a Latin distich, which he addressed to Milton:
“ Ut mens forma, decor, facies, mos; si pietas sie,
Non Anglus, verum, Herclè, Angelus ipse fores.” “ Did your piety equal your talents, form, countenance, grace, and manners,—you were not so much an Englishman, by Hercules, as an angel. The exception, in regard to his piety, relates to
Milton being a Protestant, and to the courage with which he had avowed, and doubtless defended, his principles. The marquis, indeed, told him, “ he would have done him many other good offices, had he been more reserved in matters of religion.” From this very brief mention of the frankness and courage of our Protestant poet, we may safely infer that his mind was at this time well informed as to the all-important principles of Protestantism, and that he felt a detestation of the idolatrous principles and superstitious practices of the Antichristian Church of Rome. It is fair to infer also, that his courageous conduct, even in the city upon seven hills, where Antichrist was seated in all his glory, and where his flattering, cringing sycophants were shouting, “who is like unto the Beast?” arose from his heart having been renewed by the Holy Spirit of God; for one can scarcely conceive it possible that any other principle than that of the fear of God having been put into his heart, could have produced such fearless confidence and such dauntless zeal. In return for the many favours which Milton had received from a person of Manso’s rank, he presented him, at his departure from Naples, notwithstanding the cautious scruples by which this kindness was qualified, with an incomparable Latin eclogue, entitled Mansus; which is extant among his occasional pieces.
He had intended, and was making preparations
to pass over into Sicily and Greece, when he was recalled by the sad news of a civil war beginning at home; and “deeming it a thing,” says his nephew Philips, “ unworthy of him to be diverting himself in security abroad, when his countrymen were contending with an insidious monarch for their liberty, he resolved to give up his further travels, and, with his noble compatriots, to “ jeopard his life on the high places of the field."
Before returning to England, however, he made up his mind again to visit Rome, though he was advised by some merchants to the contrary; for they had learned from their correspondents, that the English Jesuits were framing plots against him, on account of the great freedom he used in his conversations on the subject of religion. He therefore resolved not to commence any disputes with the Papists, but was determined, whatever might happen, not to dissemble his sentiments. He went again to the city of Antichrist, and continued there two months, neither concealing his name, nor declining to defend openly the truth, under the Pope's eye, when any thought fit to attack him; and notwithstanding his danger, he returned safely to his friends at Florence. Toland remarks, in connexion with the above statement: “ I forgot all this while to mention, that he paid a visit to Galileo, then an old man, and a prisoner in the Inquisition, for thinking con