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LIFE OF MILTON.
This most extraordinary man, this prince of English poets, this consistent champion of civil and religious liberty, was the son of John Milton and Sarah Caston; they had two other children, ANNA, who married Edward Philips; and CHRISTOPHER, bred to the common law.
Mr. John MILTON was born in Bread-street, in the city of London, Decenaber 9, 1608,* descended of an ancient family of that name at Milton, near Abingdon, in Oxford. shire, where it had been a long time settled as appears from the monument still to be seen in the church of Mil. ton; till one of the family having taken the unfortunate side in the contest between the houses of York and Lancaster, was sequestered of all his estate, except what he held by his wife. The poet's grandfather, whose name also was John Milton, was under ranger, or keeper, of the forest of Shotover, near Horton, in Oxfordshire, he being a zealous papist. His father was a polite man, a great master of music, and, by profession, a scrivener, in which calling, through his diligence and honesty, he got a competent estate in a short time; for he was disinherited
*"The 20th day of December, 1608, was baptised John, the son of John Mylton, scrivener."-Extract from the Registry of All-hallows, Bread
by his bigoted parents for embracing the Protestant reli. gion, and abjuring the popish idolatry. He lived at the sign of the Spread Eagle, (the armorial bearings of the family,) in Bread-street. Of his mother, it is said, “ she was a woman of incomparable virtue and goodness." John Milton was destined to be a scholar: and partly under domestic tutors, (whereof one was Thomas YOUNG,* to whom the first of his familiar letters is inscribed; and afterwards, Dr. Gill, the chief master of Paul's School, to whom, likewise, the fifth of the same letters is inscribed,) he made an incredible progress in the knowledge of words and things,his diligence and inclination outstripping the care of his instructors; and after he was twelve years of age, such was his insatiable thirst for learning, that he seldom went to bed before midnight. Being thus initiated into several tongues, and having not slightly tasted the inex. pressible sweets of philosophy, he was sent, at'the age of fifteen, to Christ's College, in Cambridge to pursue more arduous and solid studies.
In the same year he gave several proofs of his early geuius for poetry. His first essay was to translate some psalms into English verse, whereof the 114th thus com. mences :
“ When the bless'd seed of TERAH's faithful son,
His praise and glory was in Israel known.” In his seventeenth year, he wrote a handsome copy of verses on a child of his sister, who had died of a consumption. In this year also he composed a Latin Elegy on the
* He was afterwards chaplain to the English merchants at Hamburgh. His pupil dedicated a poem to him. Aubrey calls him "a Puritan in Essex, whó cutt his hair short."
death of the Bishop of WINCHESTER, and another on that of the Bishop of Ely; and about the same time he com. posed his fine poem on the Gunpowder Treason Plot. Of these juvenile productions MAROHOF* says: “ That Milton's writings show him to have been a man from his childhood ; and that these poems are exceedingly above the ordinary capacity of that age.”
He spent seven years at Cambridge, “where he lived with great reputation, and was generally beloved.' But having obtained the degree of Master of Arts, in 1632, and performed his exercises with much applause, he left the university; for he aimed not at any of those learned professions that require a longer stay in that place.” Some of his academic performances are still extant among. his occasional poems, and at the end of his familiar let. ters. He was now twenty-four years of age. From this time till 1637 he lived at his father's house, at Horton, near Colebrook, in Buckinghamshire : here he had full opportunity to peruse all the Greek and Latin writers. He was not, however, so much in love with solitude but that he frequently visited London for the purpose of purchasing books, and to meet his old friends from the uni. versity; or to learn something new in the mathematics, or in music, in which he extraordinarily delighted. It was during this period that he wrote, while in London, the Latin Elegy to his intimate friend CHARLES DIODATI, wherein were some verses which expressed his preference of the pleasures of London to the drudgery of the univer sity. “It was on this account,” says Toland, “ that some persons, no less ignorant than malicious, afterwards took a handle to assert, that he was either expelled for some misdemeanour from Cambridge, or that he left it in discontent, because he obtained no preferment; or that he
* In his Polyhistar Literuturius.
spent his time in London with lewd women, or at the play-houses ; but,” he adds, “the falsity of this story, we shall in due place demonstrate.”
His first work of consequence was written and enacted in 1634. This was his “ Comus,” entitled " A Maske, presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634, on Michaelmass night, before the Right Honourable John, Earl of Bridgewater, Viscount Brackly, Lord President of Wells, and one of his Majesty's most honourable Privy Counsell."* In the year 1637 he wrote the inimitable poem called “. Lyci. das,” of which the manuscript is still preserved in the Egyptian Library, Trinity College, Cambridge.
The death of his mother happened about this time, so that he felt himself at liberty to carry into effect his fa. vourite object; and having obtained his father's consent, he resolved to make the tour of Europe. His reason for wishing to travel in foreign countries, is quaintly ex. pressed by Toland, to have been a persuasion, “that he could not better discern the pre-eminence or defects of his own country, than by observing the customs and institutions of others; and that the study of never so many books, without the advantages of conversation, serves either to render a man a stupid fool, or an insuf. ferable pedant."
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 per. sons."
*" London: printed for Humphrey Robinson, at the sign of the Three Pigeons, in Paul's Church Yard.–1637.”
It affords full proof of the high respectability of the character of Milton, that he was favoured with an ele. gant 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 Eng. lish 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 infi. nitely 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 contracted 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, FRAN. CINI, BONMATTEI, COLTELLINO, CHIMENTELLI, and seve. ral others. With these he kept up a constant corres.
pondence, 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