« AnteriorContinuar »
that enabled him to ascend the sublimest heights,
When Milton began his course of academical
parents and friends, I was destined of a child,
“ For me (iays this zealous and disinterested ad.
good old age, if God vouchsafe it me, the honest “ liberty of free speech from my youth, where I « shall think it available in so dear a concernment " as the church's good.” In the polemical writings of Milton there is a merit to which few po. lemics can pretend; they were the pure dictates of conscience, and produced by the sacrifice of his favourite pursuits: this he has stated in the following very forcible and interesting language:
“ Concerning therefore this wayward subject “ against prelaty, the touching whereof is so distalte“ ful and disquietous to a number of men, as by “ what hath been said I may deserve of charitable “ readers to be credited, that neither envy nor gall " hath entered me upon this controversy, but the " enforcement of conscience only, and a preventive “ fear, lest the omitting of this duty should be
against me, when I would store up to myself the “ good provision of peaceful hours: so left it should “ be still imputed to be, as I have found it hath “ been, that some self pleasing humour of vain “ glory has incited me to contest with men of high " estimation, now while green years are upon my “ head; from this needless surmisal I shall hope to - dissuade the intelligent and equal auditor, if I
can but say successfully, that which in this
exigent behoves me, although I would be heard, " only if it might be, by the elegant and learned “ reader, to whom principally for a while I shall “ beg leave I may address myself: to him it will be
no new thing, though I tell him, that if I hunted " after praise by the ostentation of wit and learn“ ing, I should not write thus out of mine own “ feason, when I have neither yet completed to my - mind the full circle of my private studies (al“ though I complain not of any insufficiency to the “ matter in hand) or were I ready to my wishes, it
were a folly to commit any thing elaborately com“ posed to the careless and interrupted listening of " these tumultuous times. Next, if I were wise “ only to mine own ends, I would certainly take
“ such a subject, as of itself might catch applause; “ whereas this has all the disadvantages on the con"s trary; and such a subject, as the publishing “ whereof might be delayed at pleasure, and time 's enough to pencil it over with all the curious “ touches of art, even to the perfection of a fault“ less picture; when, as in this argument, the not 6 deferring is of great moment to the good fpeed“ ing, that if folidity have leisure to do her of“ fice, art cannot have much. Lastly, I should “ not chuse this manner of writing, wherein, know“ ing myself inferior to myself, led by the genial
power of nature to another task, I have the use, " as I may account, but of my left hand.” Prose Works, vol. I. page 62.
Such is the delineation that our author has given us of his own mind and motives in his treatise on Church Government, which the mention of his early design to take orders has led me to anticipate.
Having passed seven years in Cambridge, and taken his two degrées, that of batchelor, in 1628, and that of master, in 1632, he was admitted to the same degree at Oxford, in 1635. On quitting an academical life, he was, according to his own testimony, regretted by the felłows of his college; but he regarded the house of his father as a retreat favourable to his literary pursuits, and, at the age
of twenty-four, he gladly shared the rural retirement, in which his parents had recently settled, at Horton, in Buckinghamshire: here he devoted himself, for five years, to study, with that ardour and perse
verance, to which, as he says himself, in a letter to his friend, Charles Diodati, his nature forcibly inclined him. The letter I am speaking of was written in the last year of his residence under the roof of his father, and exhibits a lively picture of his progress in learning, his passion for virtue, and his hope of renown.
“ To give you an account of my studies," he says, “ I have brought down the affairs of the Greeks, in a continued course of reading, to the period in which they ceased to be Greeks. I have long been engaged in the obscurer parts of Italian history, under the Lombards, the Franks, and the Germans, to the time in which liberty was granted them by the emperor Rodolphus; from this point I think it best to pursue in separate histories, the exploits of each particular city *.”
He shews himself, in this letter, most passionately attached to the Platonic philofophy: “ As to other points, what God may have determined for me, I know not; but this I know, that if he ever instilled an intense love of moral beauty into the breast of any man, he has instilled it into mine : Ceres, in the fable, pursued not her daughter with a greater keenness of enquiry, than I, day and night, the idea of perfection. Hence, wherever I find a man def
* De ftudiis etiam noftris fies certior, Græcorum res continuatâ lectione deduximus usquequo illi Græci effe sunt desiti: Italorum in obfcura re diu verfati fumus fub Longobardis et Francis et Germanis ad illud tempus quo illis ab Rodolpho Germaniæ rege concessa libertas est ; exinde quid quæque civitas fuo marte gefferit, feparatim legere præftabit. C 2
pising the false estimates of the vulgar, and daring to aspire, in sentiment, language, and conduct, to what the highest wifdom, through every age, has taught us as most excellent, to him I unite myself by a sort of necessary attachment; and if I am so influenced by nature or destiny, that by no exertion or labours of my own I may exalt myself to this summit of worth and honour, yet no powers
of heaven or earth will hinder me from looking with reverence and affection upon those, who have tho. roughly attained this glory, or appear engaged in the fuccessful pursuit of it.
“ You enquire with a kind of folicitude, even into my thoughts.--Hear then, Diodati, but let me whisper in your ear, that I may not blush at my reply-I think (so help me Heaven) of immortality. You enquire also, what I am about? I nurse my wings, and meditate a flight; but my Pegasus rises as yet on very tender pinions. Let us be humbly wise!*"
* De cætero quidem quid de me ftatuerit Deus nescio ; illud certe, δεινόν μοι ερωτα, είπερ τω αλλω, τε καλά ενεσαξε : nec tanto Ceres labore, ut in fabulis eft, liberam fertur quælivisse filiam, quanto ego hanc T8 rahe too sev veluti pulcherrimam quandam imaginem, per omnes rerum formas et facies ; (Todan yag peopout TWY Activonsav) dies noctesque indagare soleo, et quasi certis quibusdam veftigiis ducentem fector. Unde fit, ut qui, fpretis, quæ vulgus pravâ rerum æltimatione opinatur, id fentire, et loqui et esse audet, quod fumma per omne ævum fapien:ia optimum esse docuit, illi me protinus, ficubi reperiam, neceffitate quadam adjungam. Quod fi ego five naturâ, five meo fato ita fum comparatus, ut nullâ contentione, et laboribus meis ad tale decus et