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unjustly denied to Milton, the power of moving with facility in the fetters of rhyme: this power is still more conspicuous in the poem he wrote at the age of seventeen, on the death of his fifter's child; a composition peculiarly entitled to the notice of those, who love to contemplate the early dawn of poetical genius. In this performance, puerile as it is in every sense of the word, the intelligent reader may yet discern, as in the bud, all the striking characteristics of Milton ; his affectionate sensibility, his superior imagination, and all that native tendency to devotional enthusiasm,
Which sets the heart on fire,
To spurn the fordid world, and unto Heav'n aspire. Admirably trained as the youth of the poet was 'to acquire academical honour by the union of industry and talents, he seems to have experienced at. Cambridge a chequered fortune, very similar to his destiny in the world. It appears from some remarkable passages in the Latin exercises, which he recited in his College, that he was at first an object of partial severity, and afterwards of general admiration. He had differed in opinion concerning a plan of academical studies with some persons of authority in his college, and thus cited their displeasure. He speaks of them as highly incensed against him; but expresses, with the most liberal sensibility, his surprise, delight, and gratitude, in finding that his enemies, forgot their animosity to honour him with unexpected applause.
An idlę story has been circulated concerning his treatment in College." I am ashamed,” says Dr. Johnson, “ to relate
what I fear is true, that Milton was the last student in either University that suffered the public indignity of corporal punishment.” In confirmation of this incident, which appears improbable, though supported by Mr. Warton, the biographical critic alledges the following passage from the first Elegy:
Jam nec arundiferum mihi cura revisere Camnum,
Nec dudum vetiti me laris angit amor;
Cæteraque ingenio non subeunda meo.
Nor zeal nor duty now my steps impel
To reedy Cam and my forbidden cell ;
And fly from wrongs my soul will ne'er sustain.
Dr. Johnson considers these expressions as an absolute proof, that Milton was obliged to undergo this indignity; but they may suggest a very different idea. From all the light we can obtain concerning this anecdote, it seems most probable, that Milton was threatened, indeed, with what he considered as a punishment, not only dishonourable but unmerited; that his manly. spirit disdained to submit to it; and that he was therefore obliged to acquiesce in a short exile from Cambridge.
In speaking of his academical life, it is necessary to obviate another remark of a similar tendency.
“ There is reason,” says Johnson, " to suspect that he was regarded in his college with no great fondness.” . To coun
teract this invidious insinuation we are furnished with a reply, made by, Milton himself, to this very calumny, originally fabricated by one of his contemporaries ; a calumny, which he had to fully refuted, that it ought to have revived no more! He begins with thanking his reviler for the asperfion : “ It has given me,” he says, an apt occasion to ac“ knowledge publicly, with all grateful mind, that more “ than ordinary favour and respect, which I found, above any “ of my equals, at the hand of those courteous and learned
the Fellows of that 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 that I would stay, as by many let
ters, full of kindness and loving respect, both before that “ time and long after, I was assured of their singular good « affection towards me.”—Prose Works, vol. 1, p. 15.
The Latin poems of Milton are yet entitled to more of our attention; because they exhibit lively proofs, that he poffessed both tenderness and enthusiasm, those primary constituents of a poet, at an early period of life, and in the highest degree: they have additional value, from making us acquainted with several interesting particulars of his youth, and many of his opinions, which must have had considerable infuence on his mioral character.
His fixth Elegy, addressed to his bosom friend, Charles Diodati, seems to be founded on the idea, which he may be faid to have verified in his own conduct, that ftrict habits of temperance and virtue are highly conducive to the perfection of great poetical powers. "To poets of a lighter class
he recommends, with graceful pleasantry, much convivial enjoyment; but for those who aspire to Epic renown, he prescribes even the simple regimen of Pythagoras.
Ille quidem parce, Samii pro more magistri,
Vivat, et innocuos præbeat herba cibos ;
Sobriaque e puro pocula fonte bibat.
Et rigidi mores, et sine labe manus.
Surgis ad infensos, augur, iture Deos.
Simply let these, like him of Samos, live;
In his Elegy on the Spring, our poet expresses the fervent emotions of his fancy in terms, that may be almost regarded as a prophetic description of his sublimest work:
Jam mihi mens liquidi raptatur in ardua cæli,
Perque vagas nubes corpore liber eo ;
Nec fugiunt oculos Tartara cæca meos.
I mount, and, undepressed by cumbrous clay,
With these verses it may be pleasing to compare a similar passage in his English vacation exercise, where, addressing his native language, as applied to an inconsiderable purpose, he adds,
Yet I had rather, if I were to chuse,
" It is worth the curious reader's attention to observe how much the Paradise Loft corresponds with this prophetic wish,” says Mr. Thyer, one of the most intelligent and liberal of English commentators.
The young poet, who thus expressed his ambition, was then in his nineteenth year. At the age of
twenty-onę (the period of his life when that pleasing portrait of him was executed, which the Speaker Onflow obtained from the executors of his widow) he composed his Ode on the Nativity; a poem that surpasses in fancy and devotional fire a composition on the same subject by that celebrated and devout poet of Spain, Lopez de Vega.