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“ and such a subject, as the publishing whereof might be
delayed at pleasure, and time enough to pencil it over with “all the curious touches of art, even to the perfection of
a faultless picture ; when, as in this argument, the not de
ferring is of great moment to the good speeding, that if “ folidity have leisure to do her office, art cannot have much.
Lastly, I should not chuse this manner of writing, wherein, “ knowing 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 degrees, 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 fellows of his college; but he regarded the house of his father as a retreat favourable to his literary pursuits, and, at the age
twentyfour, 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 perseverance, 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 philosophy: “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 despising the false estimates of the vulgar, and daring to aspire, in sentiment, language, and conduct, to what the highest wisdom, 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
* De studiis etiam noftris fies certior, Græcorum res continuatâ lectione deduximus usquequo illi Græci efle sunt desiti: Italorum in ou cura re diu verfiti sumus sub Longobardis
et Francis et Germanis ad illud tempus quo illis ab Rodolphio Germaniae rege conceffa libertas est; exinde quid quæque civitas suo marte geslerit, separatim legere præftabit.
roughly attained this glory, or appear engaged in the successful pursuit of it.
“ You enquire, with a kind of solicitude, 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 Aight; but my Pegasus rises as yet on very tender pinions. Let us be humbly wise !*"!
This very interesting epistle, in which Milton pours forth his heart to the favourite friend of his youth, may convince every candid reader, that he possessed, in no common degree, two qualities very rarely united, ambitious ardour of mind and unaffected modesty. The poet, who speaks with such graceful humility of his literary atchievements, had at this time written Comus, a composition that abundantly displays the variety and compass of his poetical powers. After he had delineated, with equal excellence, the frolics
* De cætero quidem quid de me ftatuerit five meo fato ita fum comparatus, ut nulla Deus nescio ; illud certe, delvby poc eputan ETER
contentione, et laboribus meis ad tale decus TW arta, T8 καλά ενες αξε : nec tanto Ceres et faftigium laudis ipfe valeam emergere, talabore, ut in fabulis eft, liberam fertur quæ-, men quo ininus qui eam gloriam assecuti sunt, fiviffe filiam, quanto ego hanc Texans ideaty aut eo feliciter aspirant, illos femper colam et veluti pulcherrimam quandam imaginem, per fufpiciam, nec dii puto nec homines prohionnes rerum formas et facies; (Tonnat yap
buerint.-Multa folicite quæris, etiam quid μορφαι των Δαιμονιων) dies noctetque indagare cogitem. Audi, Theodate, verum in aurem Soleo, et quasi certis quibusdam vestigiis du ut ne rubeam, et finito paulisper apud te centem sector. Unde fit, ut qui, spretis, quæ grandia loquar : quid cogitem quæris? Ita vulgus pravâ rerum æstimatione opinaçur, id me bonus deus, immortalitatem quid agam fentire, et loqui et efle audet, quod fumma per vero? lepopuw, et volare meditor : sed teomne ævum fapientia optimum efle docuit, nellis admodum adhuc pennis evehit fe nofter illi me protinus, ficubi reperiam, neceffitate! Pegasus : humile fapiamus. quadam adjungam. Quod fi ego five naturâ,
of gaiety and the triumphs of virtue, passing with exquisite transition from the most sportive to the sublimest tones of poetry, he might have spoken more confidently of his own productions without a particle of arrogance.
We know not exactly what poems he composed during his residence at Horton. The Arcades seems to have been one of his early compositions, and it was intended as a compliment to his fair neighbour, the accomplished Countess Dowager of Derby; she was the sixth daughter of Sir John Spencer, and allied to Spencer the poet, who, with his usual modesty and tenderness, has celebrated her under the title of Amarillis. At the house of this lady, near Uxbridge, Milton is said to have been a frequent visitor. The Earl of Bridgewater, before whom, and by whose children, Comus was reprefented, had married a daughter of Ferdinando Earl of Derby, and thus, as Mr. Warton observes, it was for the same family that Milton wrote both the Arcades and Comus. It is probable that the pleasure, which the Arcades afforded to the young relations of the Countess, gave rise to Comus, as Lawes, the musical friend of Milton, in dedicating the mask to the young Lord Brackley, her grandson, fays, “ this poem, which received its first occasion of birth from yourself and others of your noble family, and much honour from your own person in the performance.
These expressions of Lawes allude, perhaps, to the real incident, which is said to have supplied the subject of Comus, and may
seem to confirm an anecdote related by Mr. Warton, from a manuscript of Oldys; that the young formers in this celebrated drama were really involved in
and noble per
adventures very similar to their theatrical situation; that in
Whatever might be the origin of the mask, the modesty
acknowledged by the author, yet it is a legitimate off-
Milton discovered a similar diffidence respecting his Lyci-
favour by those whom the poet had left in his college,
An animated and benevolent veteran of criticism, Doctor Warton, has considered a relish for the Lycidas as a test of.. true taste in poetry; and it certainly is a test, which no lover of Milton will be inclined to dispute ; though it must exclude from the list of accomplished critics that intemperate censor of the great poet, who has endeavoured to destroy the reputation of his celebrated monody with the most insulting expressions of sarcastic contempt; expressions that no reader of a spirit truly poetical can peruse without mingled