Page images
PDF
EPUB

" of them which I possibly could; but have also col" lected some other particulars from Milton's own “ works, as well as from other authors, and from cre. “ dible tradition as well as from written testimonies; " and all these, like so many different threads, I have

woven into one piece, and formed into a continued “ narration: So that I have included the substance

of all former lives, and with improvements and ad“ ditions.” Of this Life follows a large abstract, is which no material circumstance is omitted.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

vener,

The LIFE of MILTON. THE HE family of Milton came originally from Mil

ton near Halton and Thame, Oxfordshire ; where it flourished several years, till at last the estate was sequestered, one of the family having taken the unfortunate side in the civil wars between the houses of York and Lancaster. John Milton, the Poet's grandfather, was an under-ranger or keeper of the forest of Shotover near Halton, Oxfordshire : He was: of the religion of Rome, and such a bigot, that he disinherited his son only for being a Proteftant. Upon this the son, our Poet's father, named, likewise John Milton, settled in London, and became a scri

He had a taste for the politer arts, and was particularly skilled in music, in which he was a fine performer; and is also celebrated for several pieces of his composition. By his diligence and oeconomy he acquired a competent estate, which enabled him af terwards to retire, and live in the country. He was a very worthy man; and married Sarah Caston, of a. family originally derived from Wales. She was a woman of incomparable virtue and goodness, and by her husband had two sons and a daughter.

The elder of the fons was our famous poet, who was born in Breadstreet, London, Dec. 9. 1608. He was named John, as his father and grandfather had been before him. From the beginning discovering the marks of an uncommon genius, he was designed: for a fcholar, and had his education partly under private tutors, and partly at a public school. When he had made good progress in his studies at home, he was fent to St. Paul's School, to be fitted for the univer: fity. In this early tinie of life, such was his love of learning, and so great his ambition to surpass his equals, that from his twelfth year he commonly continued his studies till midnight, which (as he says himself) was the first ruin of his eyes, to whose natural debility were added too frequent headachs: But

all

was

2

all could not extinguish or abate his laudable pallionfor letters. It is very feldom seen, that such application and such a genius meet in the same person. The force of either is great, but both together must perform wonders,

He was now in the 17th year of his age, and a very good classical scholar, and master of several languages, when he was sent to the university of Cam. bridge, and admitted at Christ's College Feb. 12. 1624-5. He continued above seven years at the uni. versity, and took two degrees, that of Bachelor of Arts in 1628-9, and that of Master in 1-632. He had given early proofs of his poetic genius before he went to the university; and there he excelled niore and more, and distinguished himself by several copies of verses upon occasional subjects, as well as by all his academical exercises, many of which are printed among his other works, and show him to have had a capacity above his years: And by his obliging behaviour, added to his great learning and ingenuity, he. deservedly gained the affection of many, and admiration of all. He did not however obtain any preferment in the university. This, together with some Latin verses of his to a friend, reflecting upon the u. niversity seemingly on this account; might probably have given occafion to the reproach 'afterwards cast upon him by his adversaries, that he was expelled from the university for irregularities, and forced to fly to Italy. But he sufficiently refutes this calumny in more places than one of his works. And indeed it is no wonder, that a person so engaged in religious and political controversies as he was, should be casumniated by the contrary party..

He was designed by his parents for holy orders : But it appears, that he had conceived early prejudices against the doctrine avd discipline of the church; and subscribing to the articles, was, in his opinion, subfcribing slave. . This no doubt was a disappointment to his friends, who, though in comfortable, were yet by no means in

great circumitances. Neither doth he feem to have had any inclination to any other pro

fefsion :

fellion : He had too free a spirit to be límited and confined; and' was for comprehending all sciences, but profeffing none. Therefore, after he had left the university in 1632, he went to his father's houfe in: the country; for his father had by this time retired to live at an estate which-he had purchased at Hora con, near Colebrooke, Buckinghamshire. Here he resided with his parents for five years, and read over all the Greek and Latin authors, particularly the historians. But now and then he made an excurfion to London ; fonietimes to buy books, or to meet his friends from Cambridge ; and at other times to learn fomething'new in the mathematics or mufic, with which he was extremely delighted.

His retirement therefore was a learned retirement; and it was not long before the world reaped the fruits of it. His Masque was prefented at Ludlow-castle in 1634. There was formerly a President of Wales, and a fort of court kept at. Ludlow, which has since been abolished. The Prefident at that time was the Earl of Bridgewater ; before whom Milton's Masque was prefented on Michaelmas night ; and the principal parts, those of the two Brothers were performed by His Lordship’s fons the Lord Brackly and Mr. Tho. mas Egerton, and that of the Lady by his Lord'hip's daughter Lady Alice. The occasion of this poem feemeth to have been merely an accident of the two Brothers and the Lady having lost one another in their way to the castle. It is written very much in imitation of Shakefpeare's Tempest, and the Faithful ShepHerdess of Beaumont and Fletcher ; and though one of the first, is yet one of the most beautiful of Milton's compositions. It was for some time handed about only in manufcript; but afterwards, to satisfy the importunity of friends, and to save the trouble. of tranfcribing, it was printed at London, though without the author's name, in 1637, with a dedication to the Lord Brackly, by Mr. H. Lawes, who composed the music, and played the part of the Attendant Spirit. It was printed likewise at Oxford, at the end of Mr. R.'s poems; but who that Mr. R. was, whether Ran.

dolph

dolph the poet, or who else, is uncertain. It has lately, though with additions and alterations, been exhibited on the stage several times; and we hope the. fine poetry and morality have recommended it to the audience, and not barely the authority of Milton's name ; and we wish, for the honour of the nation, that the like good taste prevailed in every thing.

In 1637 he wrote another excellent piece; his Lycidas; wherein he laments the. untimely fate of a friend. who was drowned on the Irish feas, in his passage from Chester. This friend was Mr. Edward King, son of Sir John King, Secretary of Ireland, and a fellow of Christ's College. He was so well beloved and esteemed at Cambridge, that some of the greatest names in the university have united in celebrating his obsequies, and published a collection of poems, Greek, Latin, and English, facred to his memory; the Greek. by H. More, &c.; the Latin by T. Farnaby, J. Pearson, &c.; the English by H. King, J. Beau.. mont, J. Cleaveland, with several others; and judi. ciously the last of all, as the best of all, is Milton's. Lycidas. “ On such facrifices the gods themselves. “ strow incense;" and one would almost with so to bave died, for the sake of having been so lamented. But this poem is not all made up of sorrow and ten. derness; there is a mixture of satire and indignation : For in part of it the poet taketh occasion to inveigh again the corruptions of the clergy, and seemeth to have first discovered his acrimony against Abp. Laud, and to have threatened him with the loss of his head, which afterwards happened to him through the fury of his enemies. At least, I can think of no sense so proper to be given to the following verses in Lyci

das.

Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said ;
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.

About this time he had some thoughts of taking chambers, at one of the inns of court, for he was not

very

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »