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In addition to Milton's own statement,* Masson cites the testimony of Aubrey, Wood, and Philips, as to the great Poet's industry, and exemplary conduct at the University.
Aubrey's Statement. He“ was a very hard student in the University, and performed all his exercises there with very good applause."
Wood's Statement. " There [at Christ's College,) as at school for three years before, ’t was usual with him to set up till midnight at his book, which was the first thing that brought his eyes into the danger of blindness. By his indefatigable study he profited exceedingly performed the collegiate and academi. cal exercises to the admiration of all, and was esteemed to be a virtuous and sober person, yet not to be ignorant of his own parts."
Philips Statement. “Where, in Christ's college. be studied seven years, and took his degree of Master of Arts, and, for the extraordinary wit and reading he had shown in his performances to attain his degree, he was loved and admired by the whole University, particularly by the Fellows, and most ingenious persons of his House."
On quitting the university, Milton took up his abode with his father, who had purchased a property in the village of Horton, in Buckinghamshire, devoting himself to the most thorough and comprehensive course of reading—“ beholding the bright countenance of Truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies," and embodying his observations of nature and his pure and beautiful imaginings into the immortal verse of L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, of Lycidas and Comus ; and above all, moulding and consolidating his own character and life into “ a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honorablest things."
Of this period of his life, in his apology, Milton says,—"My morning haunts are, where they should be, at home, not sleeping, or concocting the surfeits of an irregular feast, but up and stirring; in winter, often ere the sound of any bell awake men to labor, or to derotion; in summer, as oft with the bird that first rouses, or not much tardier; to read good authors, or cause them to be read, till the attention be weary, or memory have it full fraught; then with useful and generous labors, preserving the body's health and hardiness, to render lightsome, clear, and not lumpish obedience to the mind, to religion, and our country's liberty, when it shall require firm hearts in sound bodies to stand and cover their stations.” Milton made no pretension to a life without “some recreating intermission of labor and serious things," ---but sought in cheerful conversation, and with the harmonies of music heard or performed, and in lofty fable and romance, to retouch his spirit to fresh issues, and prepare himself for hardier tasks.
* To one of his opponents, who asserted that he had been “vomited out of the University after having spent there a riotous youth, he replied in his “ Apology for Smectymnuus; ”" It hath given me an apt occasion to acknowledge publicly, with all grateful miod the more than ordinary favor and respect which I found, above any of my equals, at the hands of those 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 could 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 toward me."
“Next-for hear me out now, readers, that I may tell whither my younger feet wandered, - I betook me among those lofty fables and romances which recount in solemn cantos the deeds of knighthood founded by our victorious kings, and from hence had in renown over all Christendom. There I read, in the oath of every knight, that he should defend to the expense of his best blood, or even of his life, if it so befall him, the honor and chastity of virgin or matron; from whence even then I learned what a noble virtue chastity sure must be, to the defence of which so many worthies, by such dear adventure of themselves had sworn. Also this
mind gave me, that every free and gentle spirit, without that oath, ought to be born a knight, nor needed to expect the gilt spur, or the laying a sword upon his shoulder to stir him up, both by his counsel and his arms, to secure and protect the weakness of attempted chastity ;” and then those books, read in hours of recreation, “ proved to him so many incitements to the love and observation of virtue.” But his strong protection against the seductions of vice was not in the laureat fraternity of poets, or the shady spaces of philosophy, but his early home religious culture. "Last of all, -not in time, but as perfection is last, that care was always had of me, with my earliest capacity, not to be negligently trained in the precepts of the Christian religion.”
But his education was not yet complete. On the death of his mother, he visited the continent, and especially Italy," the seat of civilization, and the hospitible domicil of every species of erudition." In a tour of fifteen months, he made the personal acquaintance of several men of genius, “whose names the world will not willingly let die;" among them, Grotius, and Galileo; and was everywhere received by men of learning, on a footing of equality, which only great conversational powers and sound scholarship could sustain. Of this portion of his life, we fortunately have a brief record from his own pen in reply to some utterly unfounded charges of his unscrupulous assailants, both as to his motives for travel, and his manner of life while abroad.
"On my departure, the celebrated Henry Wotton who had long been king James' ambassador at Venice, gave me a signal proof of his regard, in an elegant letter which he wrote, breathing not ouly the warmest friendship, but containing some maxims of conduct which I found very useful in my travels. The noble Thomas Scudamore, king Charles' ambassador, to whom I carried letters of recommendation, received me most courteously at Paris. His lordship gave me a card of introduction to the learned Hugo Grotins, at that time ambassador from the Queen of Sweden to the French court: whose acquaintance I anxiously desired, and to whose house I was accompanied by some of his lordship's friends. A few days after, when I set out for Italy, he gave me letters to the English merchants on my route, that they might show me any civilities in their power.
Taking ship at Nice, I arrived at Genoa, and afterwards visited Leghorn, Pisa, and Florence. In the latter city, which I have always more particularly esteemed for the elegance of its dialect; its genius and its taste, I stopped about two months, when I contracted an intimacy with many persons of rank and learning, and was a constant attendant at their literary parties; a practice which prevails there, and tends so much to the diffusion of knowledge and the preservation of friendship.
No time will ever abolish the agreeable recollections which I cherish of Jacob Gaddi, Carolo Dati, Cultellero, Bonomotthai, Clementillo, Francisco, and many others.
From Florence I went to Siena, thence to Rome, where, after I had spent about two months in viewing the antiquities of that renowned city, where I experienced the most friendly attentions from Lucas Holstein, and other learned and ingenious men, I continued my route to Naples. There I was introduced by a certain recluse, with whom I had traveled from Rome, to John Baptista Manso, Marquis of Villa, a nobleman of distinguished rank and authority, to whom Torquato Tasso, the illustrious poet, inscribed his book on friendship.
During my stay he gave me singular proofs of his regard; he himself conducted me around the city, and to the palace of the viceroy : and more than once paid me a visit at my lodgings. On my departure he gravely apologized for not having shown me more civility, which he said he had been restrained from doing, because I had spoken with so little reserve on matters of religion. When I was preparing to pass over into Sicily and Greece, the melancholy intelligence which I received of the civil commotions in England, made me alter my purpose, for I thought it base to be traveling for amusement abroad, while my fellow citizens were fighting for liberty at home. While I was on my way back to Rome, some merchants informed me that the English Jesuits had formed a plot against me, if I returned to Rome, because I had spoken too freely on religion; for it was a rule which I laid down to myself in those places, never to first begin any conversation on religion; but if any questions were put to me concerning my faith, to declare it without reserve or fear. I nevertheless, returned to Rome. I took no steps to conceal either my person or my character; and for about the space of two months I again openly defended, as I had done before, the reformed religion, in the very metropolis of popery. By the favor of God, I got safe back to Florence, where I was received with as much affection as if I had returned to my native country. There I stopped as many months as I had done before, except that I made an excursion for a few days to Lucca; and, crossing the Apenines, passed through Bologna and Ferrara to Venice. After I had spent a month surveying the curiosities of this city, and had put on board the ship the books which I had collected in Italy, I proceeded through Verona and Milan and along the Leman lake to Geneva.
The mention of this city brings to my recollection the slandering More, and makes me again call the Deity to witness, that in all those places in which vice meets with so little discouragement, and is practiced with so little shame, I never once deviated from the path of integrity and virtue, and perpetually reflected that, though my conduct might escape the notice of men, it could not elude the inspection of God. At Geneva I held daily conferences with John Deodati, the learned professor of Theology. Then pursuing my former route through France, I returned to my native country, after an absence of one year and about three months : at the time when Charles having broken the peace, was renewing what is called the Episcopal war with the Scots, in which the royalists being routed in the first encounter, and the English being universally and justly disaffected, the necessity of his affairs at last obliged him to convene a parliament. As soon as I was able I hired a spacious house in the city for myself and my books ; where I again with rapture renewed my literary pursuits, and where I calmly awaited the issue of the contest, which I trusted to the wise conduct of Providence, and to the courage of the people."
Thus equipped by genius,“ the inspired gift of God rarely vouchsafed, but yet to some in every nation,” by learning at once elegant and profound, and by travel, under the most favorable opportunities of studying works of art, and of intercourse with refined society, and with aspirations of the most honorable achievements for the good of his race, and the glory of God, Milton did not feel it below his position or his hopes to become a teacher, to compose school-books, and to employ his great abilities in pointing out “the right path of a virtuous and noble education, laborious indeed at the first ascent, but else so smooth, so green, so full of goodly prospect, and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of Orpheus was not more charming." What he might have accomplished in his own school, if he had converted it into an “ ACADEMY,” such as he described in his Tractate, which was to be" at once both school and university for a complete and generous education,” except in mere professional training; had he devoted himself unreservedly, for any considerable time, to this work, with text-books of his own composing,* and with pupilst capable of receiving his instruction with the same acuteness of wit and apprehension, the same industry and thirst after knowledge as the instructor was imbued with,” is now only left to conjecture. Apart from the direct fruit of his teaching, in giving to his country a succession of well-trained youth, a portion, at least, imbued with his own ingenuous and noble ardor, “inflamed with the love of learning and the admiration of virtue, and stirred up with high hopes of living to be brave men and worthy patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages,"—his example would indirectly have elevated the office of educator of the young in public estimation, and demonstrated the wisdom of securing for it the best talent and highest culture of the community. But the times called for such talents and scholarship as he possessed, in other walks less retired and peaceful; and, “ when God commands to take the trumpet and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in man's will what he shall say, or what he shall conceal.” And, he did take the trumpet, and, in defence of the people of England, and of their right to institute a republican government, and of the liberty of the press, and of conscience in matters of religion, against prelates, priests, and kings, and their hirelings, he blew a blast, again and again, “ of which all Europe rang, from side to side.” And, although it was his lot to
evil times and evil tongues,”—to see " the good old cause of the commonwealth shipwrecked, and every species of licentiousness roll in like a flood over the land which he would gladly have made to smile with the triumphs of temperance, frugality, knowledge, and liberty, yet, not bating one jot of heart or hope, in his blindness and disappointment, he addressed himself to the achievement of his great poem, the PARADISE Lost.
Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Milton, with that spirit of depreciation which breathes throughout his notice of Milton's opinions, character and life, and which was prompted by his hatred of the great poet's religious and political sentiments, makes the following remarks on the educational labors of our author.
“Let not our veneration for Milton forbid us to look with some degree
* Milton was the author of a Latin Grammar, a Treatise on Logic, and a Latin Lexicon.
* This is the language of one of his pupils, who adds that such teaching, with the right sort of youth, would have produced "prodigies of wit (mind) and learning."