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But apt the mind of fancy is to rove
These beautiful lines are built in some measure, as Bentley has remarked, upon a verse of Homer, the very verse admired by Socrates, which Dr. Johnson has not scrupled to quote, as a part of his fingular ill-grounded attempt to prove that Milton's ideas of education were in direct opposition to those of the great moralist of Greece; an attempt that arose from a very inoffensive boast of Milton's nephew, who gives a long list of books perused by the scholars of his uncle, which merely proves, that they read more books than are usually read in our common schools; and that their diligent instructor thought it advisable for boys, as they approach towards sixteen, to blend a little knowledge of the sciences with their Greek and Latin.
That he taught the familiar and useful doctrine of the Attic philosopher, even in his lighter poetry, we have a pleasing instance in the following lines of his sonnet to Syriac Skinner, who was one of his fcholars :
66 To measure life learn thou betimes, and know
But his brief treatise, addressed to Hartlib, affords, perhaps, the best proof that his ideas of moral difcipline were perfectly in unison with those of Socrates; he fays, in that treatise, “ I call a complete “ and generous education that, which fits a man to “ perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously, all “ the offices, both private and public, of peace
and “ war." Who can define a good education in terms more truly Socratic ?
Milton, however, in his attachment to morality, forgot not the claims of religion; his Sundays were devoted to theology, and Johnson duly praises the care, with which he instructed his scholars in the primary duties of men.
With a critic fo sincerely devout as Johnson unquestionably was, we might have hoped that the sublime piety of our author would have secured him from sarcastic attacks; but we have yet to notice two insults of this kind, which the acrimony of uncorrected spleen has lavished upon Milton as a preceptor.
“ From this wonder-working academy,” says the biographer, “ I do not know that there ever pro“ ceeded any man very eminent for knowledge ; “ its only genuine product, I believe, is a small
history of poetry, written in Latin by his nephew, " of which, perhaps, none of my readers ever " heard.” The contemptuous fpirit and the inaccuracy of this farcasım are equally remarkable. The scholars of Milton were far from being nume
Can it be just to speak with derifion of a small academy, merely because it raises no celebrat
ed author, when we consider how few of that description every nation produces? We know little of those, who were under the tuition of our poet, except his two nephews; these were both writers; and a biographer of Milton should not have utterly forgotten his obligations to Edward Philips, if he allowed no credit to his brother, for the spirited Latin treatise in which that young man appeared as the defender of his uncle. But the striking inaccuracy of the critic consists in not giving a just account of a book that particularly claimed his attention, Philips's Theatrum Poetarum, a book that, under a Latin title, contains in English a very comprehensive list of poets, ancient and modern, with reflections upon many of them, particularly those of our own nation. It is remarkable that this book was licensed Sept. 14, 1674, just two months before the death of Milton, and printed the following year. The author assigns an article both to his uncle and his brother, · After enumerating the chief works of the former, he modestly says, “ how far he hath re“ vived the majesty and true decorum of heroic
poesy and tragedy, it will better become a person « less related than myself to deliver his judgment.
Though he here suppresses a desire to praise his most eminent relation, it bursts forth in an amiable manner, when he comes to speak of his brother ; for he calls him, “ the maternal nephew and disci. “ ple of an author of most deserved fame, late de.
ceased, being the exactest of heroic poets (if the 6 truth were well examined, and it is the opinion “ of many, both learned and judicious persons)
66 either of the ancients or moderns, either of our “ own or whatever nation else.”
I transcribe with pleasure this honest and simple eulogy; it does credit to the intelligence and affection of the poet's disciple, and it in some measure vindicates the good sense of our country, by shewing that, in the very year of Milton's decease, when some writers have supposed that his poetical merit was almost utterly unknown, there were persons in the nation, who understood his full value.
Let us return to the author in his little academy, and the second sarcastic insult, which his biographer has bestowed upon him as the master of a school. The lodging in which he settled, on his arrival from the continent, was soon exchanged for a more spacious house and garden, in Aldersgate-street, that fupplied him with conveniencies for the reception of fcholars : on this occasion Johnson exclaims, let
not our veneration for Milton forbid us to look " with some degree of merriment on great promises “ and small performance; on the man who hastens “ home, because his countrymen are contending for “ their liberty, and, when he reaches the scene of " action, vapours away his patriotism in a private “ boarding-school."
To excite merriment by rendering Milton ridiculous for having preferred the pen to the sword, was an enterprise that surpassed the powers of Johnson; the attempt affords a melancholy proof how far prejudice may mislead a very vigorous understanding. What but the blind hatred of bigotry could have tempted one great author to deride
another, merely for having thought that he might serve his country more essentially by the rare and highly cultivated faculties of his mind, than by the ordinary service of a soldier. But let us hear Milton on this subject. We have this obligation to the malice of his contemporaries, that it led him to speak publicly of himself, and to relate, in the most manly and explicit manner, the real motives of his conduct.
Speaking of the English people, in the commencement of his Second Defence, he says *, “ it
was the just vindication of their laws and their
religion, that necessarily led them into civil war; “ they have driven fervitude from them by the most “ honourable arms; in which praise, though I can
Quos non legum contemptus aut violatio in effrænatam licentiąm effudit ; non virtutis & gloriæ falsa species, aut ftulta veterum æmulatio inani nomine libertatis incendit, fed innocentia vitæ, morumque sanctitas rectum atque folum iter ad libertatem veram docuit, legum et religionis juftiffima defenfio neceffariò armavit. Atque illi quidem Deo perinde confifi, fervitutem honeftiffimis armis pepulere: cujus laudis etfi nullam partem mihi vendico, a reprehenfione tamen vel timiditatis vel ignaviæ, fi qua infertur, facile me tuero. Neque enim militiæ labores & pericula fic defugi, ut non alia ratione, & operam, multo utiliorem, nec minore cum periculo meis civibus navarim, & animum dubiis in rebus neque demissum unquam, neque illius invidiæ, vel etiam mortis plus æquo metuentem præftiterim. Nam cum ab adolefcentulo humanioribus essem ftudiis, ut qui maxime deditus, & ingenio semper quam corpore validior, pofthabitâ caftrenfi operâ, quâ me gregarius quilibet robusțior facile superasset, ad ea me contuli, quibus plus potui; ut parte mei meliore ac potiore, si saperem, non deteriore, ad rationes patriæ, causamque hanc præftantissimam, quantum maxime poffem momentum accederem.