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The most trifling performances of Milton are so fingular, that we may regret even the loss of the verses alluded to by Aubrey, as the offspring of his childhood. Perhaps no juvenile author ever displayed, with such early force,
“ The spirit of a youth
Who means to be of note.”
His mind, even in his boyish days, seems to have glowed, like the fancy and furnace of an alchymist, with incessant hope and preparation for astonishing productions.
Such austerity and moroseness have been falsely attributed to Milton, that a reader, acquainted with him only as he appears in the page of Johnson, must suppose him little formed for love ; but his poetry in general, and especially the compositions we are now speaking of, may convince us, that he felt, with the most exquisite sensibility, the magic of beauty, and all the force of female attraction. . His seventh Elegy exhibits a lively picture of his first passion; he represents himself as captivated by an unknown fair, who, though he saw her but for a moment, made a deep impression on his heart.
Protinus insoliti fubierunt corda furores,
Uror amans intus, flammaque totus eram.
Ablata eft oculis non reditura meis.
Et dubius volui fæpe referre pedem.
Raptaque tam subito gaudia flere juvat.
The juvenile poet then addresses himself to love, with a request that beautifully expresses all the inquietude, and all the irresolution, of hopeless attachment.
Deme meos tandem, verum nec deme, furores;
Nescio cur, miser est suaviter omnis amans.
Remove, no, grant me still this raging woe;
After having contemplated the youthful fancy of Milton under the influence of a sudden and vehement affection, let us survey him in a different point of view, and admire the purity and vigour of mind, which he exerted at the
of twenty-three, in meditation on his past and his future days.
To a friend, who had remonstrated with him on his delay to enter upon active life, he ascribes that delay to an intense defire of rendering himself more fit for it.
" Yet (he says) " that you may see that I am something suspicious of myselfe, « and doe take notice of a certain belatednesse in
“ the bolder to send you some of my night-ward thoughts, “ some while since, because they come in not altogether “ unfitly, made up in a Petrarchian stanza, which I told you
How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol'n on his wing my three and twentieth year !
My hasting days fly on with full career,
That I to manhood am arriv'd so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
Yet be it less or more, or foon or slow,
To that same lot, however mean or high,
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
This fonnet may be regarded, perhaps, as a refutation of that injurious criticism, which has asserted, “ the best sonnets of Milton are entitled only to this negative commendation, that they are not bad;" but it has a superior value, which induced me to introduce it here, as it seems to reveal the ruling principle, which gave bias and energy to the mind and conduct of Milton ; I mean the habit, which he so early adopted, of confidering himself
“ As ever in his great talk master's eye.”
It was, perhaps, the force and permanency with which this persuasion was impressed on his heart, that enabled him to afcend the sublimest heights, both of genius and of virtue.
When Milton began his course of academical study, he had views of foon entering the church, to “whose service,” he says, “ by the intentions of my parents and friends, I was
destined of a child, and in mine' own resolutions.” It was a religious scruple that prevented him from taking orders; and though his mode of thinking may be deemed erroneous, there is a refined and hallowed probity in his conduct on this occasion, that is entitled to the highest esteem; particularly when we consider, that although he declined the office of a minister, he devoted himself, with intense application, to what he considered as the interest of true religion. The sincerity and fervour with which he speaks on this topic must be applauded by every candid person, however differing from him on points that relate to our religious establish
“For me (says this zealous and disinterested advocate for
simple christianity) I have determined to lay up, as the beft “ treasure and solace of a 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
the church's good.” In the polemical writings of Milton there is a merit to which few polemics can pretend; they were the pure dictates of conscience, and produced by the facrifice of his favourite pursuits : this he has stated in the following very forcible and interesting language :
“Concerning therefore this wayward subject against pre“ laty, the touching whereof is so distasteful 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, “ left 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 estima” tion, 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 so 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 < oftentation of wit and learning, I should not write thús « out of mine own season, when I have neither yet com“
pleted to my mind the full circle of my private studies
(although I complain not of any insufficiency to the mat" ter in hand) or were I ready to my wishes, it were a folly “ to commit any thing elaborately composed to the careless s and interrupted listening of these tumultuous times. Next, " if I were wise only to my own ends, I would certainly “ take such a subject, as of itself might catch applause ; so whereas this has all the disadvantages on the contrary;