« AnteriorContinuar »
Of the exercises which the rules of the University required, some were published by him in his maturer years. They had been undoubtedly applauded, for they were such as few can perform : yet there is reason to suspect that he was regarded in his college with no great fondness. That he obtained no fellowship is certain ; but the unkindness with which he was treated was not merely negative. I am ashamed to relate what I fear is true, that Milton was the last student in either university that suffered the publick indignity of corporal correction.
It was, in the violence of controversial hoftility, objected to him, that he was expelled : this he steadily denies, and it was apparently not true; but it seems plain from his own verses to Diodati, that he had incurred Rustication ; a temporary dismission into the country, with perhaps the loss of a term : Jam nec arundiferum mihi cura revisere
Camum, Nec dudum vetiti me laris angit amor ; Nec duri libet usque minas perferre magistri,
Cæteraque ingenio non subeunda meo. I cannot find any meaning but this, which even kindness and reverence can give to the term, vetiti laris, " a habitation from which " he is excluded ;” or how exile can be otherwise interpreted. He declares yet more, that he is weary of enduring the threats of a rigorous master, and something else, which a temper like his cannot undergo. What was more than threat was evidently punilament. This poem, which mentions 'le, proves likewise that it was not perpetual; for it concludes with
a resolution of returning some time to Cambridge.
He took both the usual degrees; that of Batchelor in 1628, and that of Master in 1632 ; but he left the university with no kindness for its institution, alienated either by the injudicious severity of his governors, or his own captious perverseness. The cause cannot now be known, but the effect appears in his writings. His scheme of education, inscribed to Hartlib, supersedes all academical instruction, being intended to comprise the whole time which men usually spend inliterature, from their entrance upon grammar, till they proceed, as it is called, masters of arts. And in his Discourse on the likeliest Way to remove Hirelings out of the Church, he ingeniously proposes, that the profits of the lands forfeited by the act for fuperftitious uses, should be applied to such academies all over the land, where languages and arts may be taught together; so that youth may be at once brought up to a competency of learning and an honest trade, by which means such of them as had the gift, being enabled to support themselves (without tithes) by the latter, may, by the help of the former, become wortby preachers.
One of his objections to academical education, as it was then conducted, is, that men designed for orders in the Church were permitted to act plays, writhing and unboning their clergy limbs to all the antick and dishonest gestures of Trincalos, buffoons and bawds, prostituting the shame of that miniftry which they bad, or were near baving, to the eyes of courtiers and court-ladies, their grooms and mademoiselles.
This is fufficiently peevish in a man, who, when he mentions his exile from the college, relates, with great luxuriance, the compensation which the pleasures of the theatre afford him. Plays were therefore only criminal when they were acted by academicks.
He went to the university with a design of entering into the church; but in time altered his mind; for he declared, that whoever became a clergyman must " subscribe flave, “ and take an oath withal, which, unlefs he “ took with a conscience that could retch, he “ must straight perjure himself. He thought “ it better to prefer a blameless filence before “ the office of speaking, bought and begun “ with fervitude and forswearing.”
These expressions are, I find, applied to the subscription of the Articles; but it feems more probable that they relate to canonical obedience. I know not any of the Articles which seem to thwart his opinions; but the thoughts of obedience, whether canonical or civil, raifed his indignation.
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 fantastick 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 defultory itudy, but from the desire of obtaining more fitness for his task; and that he goes on, not
taking thought of being late, so it give advantage to be more fit.
When he left the university, he returned to his father, then residing at Horton in Buckinghamshire, with whom he lived five years ; in which time he is said to have read all the Greek and Latin writers. With what limitations this univerfality is to be understood, who shall inform us?
It might be supposed that he who read so much should have done nothing else; but Milton found time to write the Masque of Comus, which was presented at Ludlow, then the residence of the Lord President of Wales, in 1634; and had the honour of being acted by the earl of Bridgewater's sons and daughter. The fiction is derived from Homer's Circe ; but we never can refuse to any modern the liberty of borrowing from Homer ;
—a quo ceu fonte perenni Vatum Pieriis ora rigantur aquis.
His next production was Lycidas, an elegy, written in 1637, on the death of Mr. King, the son of Sir John King, secretary for Ireland in the time of Elizabeth, James, and Charles. King was mueh a favourite at Cambridge, and many of the wits joined to do honour to his memory. Milton's acquaintance with the Italian writers may be discoverd by a mixture of longer and shorter verses, according to the rules of Tuscan poetry, and his malignity to the Church by some lines which are interpreted as threatening its extermination.
He is supposed about this time to have written his Arcades; for while he lived a Horton he used sometimes to steal from his studies a
few days, which he spent at Harefield, the house of the countess dowager of Derby, where the Arcades made part of a dramatick entertainment. .
He began now to grow weary of the country; and had some purpose of taking chambers in the Inns of Court, when the death of his mother set him at liberty to travel, for which he obtained his father's consent, and Sir Henry Wotton’s directions, with the celebrated precept of prudence, i penferi stretti, ed il viso sciolto ; “ thoughts close, and looks loose.”
In 1638 he left England, and went first to Paris ; where, by the favour of lord Scudamore, he had the opportunity of visiting Grotius, then residing at the French court as ambassador from Christina of Sweden. From Paris he hafted into Italy, of which he had with particular diligence studied the language and literature; and, though he seems to have intended a very quick prerambulation of the country, staid two months at Florence; where he found his way into the academies, and produced his compositions with such applause as appears to have exalted him in his own opini. on, and confirmed him in the hope, that, “ by labour and intense study, which,” says he, “ I take to be my portion in this life, us joined with a strong propensity of nature, “ he might leave something so written to af“ ter-times, as they should not willingly let “ it die,”
It appears, in all his writings, that he had the usual concomitant of great abilities, a lofty and steady confidence in himself, perhaps not without some contempt of others; for scarcely