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nephew) was a lodging in St. Bride's Church yard, where he received, as his disciples, the two sons of his sister, John and Edward Philips; the latter is his biographer; but although he has written the life of his illusstrious relation with a degree of laudable pride and affectionate spirit, he does not communicate that abundance of information, which might have been expected from the advantage he possessed. In one article his pride has a ludicrous effect, as it leads him into an awkward attempt to vindicate his uncle from the fancied opprobrium of having engaged professionally in the education of youth; a profession which from its utility and importance, from the talents and virtues it requires, is unquestionably entitled to respect. Philips will not allow that his uncle actually kept a school, as he taught only the sons of his particular friends. Johnson ridicules this distinction, and seems determined to treat Milton as a profest schoolmaster, for the sake of attempting to prove, that he did not sustain the character with advantage, but adopted a vain and preposterous plan of education.
"Let me not be censured," says the Doctor, as pedantic or paradoxical; for if I have Milton against me, I have Socrates on my side: it was his labour to turn philosophy from the study of nature to speculations upon life; but the innovators, whom I oppose, are turning off attention from life to nature; they seem to think that we are placed here to watch the growth of plants, or the motions of the stars; Socrates was father of opinion, that what we had to learn was how to do good and avoid evil."
This insidious artifice of representing Milton and Socrates as antagonists is peculiarly unfortunate, since no man appears to have imbibed the principles of Socratic wisdom more deeply than our poet; his regard and attachment to them is fervently expressed, even in his juvenile letters; the very maxims of moral truth, which he is accused of counteracting, never shone with more lustre than in the following passage of the Paradise Lost:
But apt the mind or fancy is to rove
Uncheck'd, and of that roving is no end,
Till warn'd, or by experience taught, she learn,
That not to know at large of things remote
From use, obscure and subtle, but to know
That, which before us lies in daily life,
Is the prime wisdom; what is more is fume,
Or emptiness, or fond impertinence,
And renders us in things, that most concern,
Unpractis'd, unprepar'd, and still to seek.
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 singular illgrounded 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 hie scholars:
ff To measure life learn thou betimes, and know Toward solid good what leads the nearest way."
But his brief treatise, addressed to Hartlib, affords perhaps, the best proof, that his ideas of moral discipline were perfectly in unison with those of Socrates; he says, 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 so 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 proceeded 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 spirit and the inaccuracy of this. sarcasm are equally remarkable. The scholars of Milton were far from being numerous. Can it be just to speak with derision of a small academy, merely because it raises no celebrated author, when we consider how