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Aubrey says, Milton was a poet when only ten years old. Those who are interested in watching the early dawning of genius as it opens on the youthful mind; and in comparing the different periods in which great talents have displayed both the promise, and the direction of their future power ; will not be displeased at my recalling to their memory the passage in that elegant biography of Cowley, which Spratt addressed to their mutual friend Martin Clifford, and in which he mentions the age when Cowley first became inspired by the muse, and the book that excited his youthful imagination. There is a singular coincidence between these two great contemporaries, in the dates assigned by their respective biographers. Vix dum decennis,' says Spratt,“ Poeta factus est.' We shall be less surprised to hear that Spenser was alike the object of their early admiration— legendo Spensero nostro, Scriptore sane illustri, et vel adultis difficili. Happy had it been for Cowley's fame, had he not early wandered away from the instructor of his youth; and left, for Epic and Pindaric flights, that which even now delights, and must for ever please—his moral song, the voice of nature and of truth, the language of his heart. V
In 1623, Milton produced his translations of the 114th and 136th Psalms; and in his seventeenth 10 year, he was sent from St. Paul's school, and admitted a pensioner at Christ's College, Cambridge, on the 12th of February, 1624.11 He was there early distinguished for the elegance of his versification, and his unusual skill in the Latin tongue. A well-known passage in
them beautifully. Du Bartas's fame is now in full blossom in Germany, and has received the praise of GOETHE himself. He is considered at Dresden and at Weimar as one of the greatest poets that ever appeared.
10 Anthony Wood and Toland assert that he was sent to Cambridge in his fifteenth year, but erroneously. See Birch's Life, p. 3.
11 He was admitted Pensionarius minor, under Mr. William Chappell, afterwards provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and dean of Cassels, and at last bishop of Cork, to whom, among others, the celebrated treatise of the Whole Duty of Man has been imputed. See Birch's Life, p. 111. Milton took his first degree in Jan. 1628–9, and that of Master of Arts in 1632. See Symmons's Pref. to Life, p. 5—7. Ile was transferred from Mr. Chappell (though contrary to the rules of the college) to Mr. Tovell, (Tovey), v. Aubrey, Lett. iii. p. 445; he was admitted A. M. at Oxford, in 1635, v. Wood's Fasti, i. p. 262.
his first Elegy certainly betrays some displeasure which he felt, or alludes to some indignities which he suffered from the severity of Collegiate discipline: this was probably occasioned by the freedom of his censures on the established system of education,12 and his reluctance to conform to it. In his Reason of Church Government, he says, 'their honest and ingenuous natures, coming to the Universities to store themselves with good and solid learning, are there unfortunately fed with nothing else but the scragged und thorny lectures of monkish and miserable sophistry; were sent home again with such a scholastical bur in their throats, as hath stopped and hindered all true and generous philosophy from entering; cracked their voices for ever with metaphysical gargarisms; hath made them admire a sort of formal outside men, prelatically addicted, whose unchastened and over-wrought minds were never yet initiated, nor subdued under the true love of moral or religious virtue, which two are the best and greatest points of learning : but either slightly trained up in a kind of hypocritical and hackney course of literature to get their living by, and dazzle the ignorant, or else fondly over-studied in useless controversies, except those which they use, with all the specious and delusive subtlety they are able, to defend their prelatical Sparta.'—And in his Apology for Smectymnus, he says,—“That suburb wherein I dwell shall be in my accounts a more honourable place, than his University ; which as in the time of her better health, and mine own younger judgment, I never greatly admired, so now much
;"13—and in his third letter to his friend and tutor Alexan
12 The author of a Modest Confutation against a Slanderous and Scurrilous Libel, first charged him with being vomited out of the university, after an inordinate and riotous youth spent there; and the author of "Regii Sanguinis Clamor’ repeated the calumny. * Aiunt hominem Cantabrigiensi academia ob flagitia pulsum, dedecus, et patriam fugisse et in Italiam commigrasse.' "The former tract,’ Milton says, in his Apology for Smectymnus, ' was reported to be written by the son of Bishop Hall.'
13 See his Tractate on Education, where he speaks against the preposterous exaction of composing Themes and Orations, and the ill habit they got of wretched barbarizing against the Greek and Latin idioms,—and then having really left grammatical flats and shallows, to be presented with the most intellectual abstractions of logic and metaphysics, to be tossed and turmoiled in the fathomless deeps of controversy, to be deluded with
der Gill, he expresses the same opinion, concerning the superficial and smattering learning of the University and of the manner in which the clergy engage with raw and untutored judgments in the study of theology, patching together a sermon with pilfered scraps, without any acquaintance with criticism or philosophy. Again, in his Animadversions on the Remonstrant's Defence, he says,— What should I tell you how the Universities, that men look should be the fountains of learning and knowledge, have been poisoned and choked under your governance ?
Milton's natural genius, cultivated by the care of those excellent scholars, who had conducted his education, and enriched by his own indefatigable study, had doubtless made great advances in those branches of knowledge at once congenial to his mind, and conducive to its improvement; and he might feel unwilling to be diverted from them, into the barren and unprofitable pursuits, which the old system of collegiate education too often required ;14 that which he disliked or despised, his ragged notions and babblements, to be dragged to an asinine feast of sow-thistles and brambles.'— With these opinions, when called upon by the college for Latin themes on logical and metaphysical subjects (see his Prolusiones), cannot we easily conceive the rebellion or discontent, the out-breaks and flashes of his fiery mind?
14 The following passage in Milton's Prolusiones has been overlooked, which throws some light on the subject of his discussion with the college, and his renewed union. (v. p. 115.) He disliked some parts of their studies, probably their logical and metaphysical Theses, and expressed his opinion too freely, or perhaps did not perform the tasks that were required. I feel convinced that the whole ground of offence, so niuch disputed, is to be found in this point.
* Tum nec mediocriter me pellexit, et invitavit ad has partes subeundas vestra, (vos qui ejusdem estis mecum Collegii) in me nuperrime comperta facilitas, cum enim ante præteritos menses, aliquam multos oratorio apud vos munere perfuncturus essem, putaremque lucubrationes meas qualescunque etiam ingratas propemodum futuras, et mitiores habituras judices facum et Minoa, quam e vobis fere quemlibet, sane præter opinionem meam, præter meam si quid, erat speculæ, non vulgari sicuti ego accepi, imo ipse sensi omnium plausu exceptæ sunt immo eorum qui in mc alias propter studiorum dissidia essent prorsus infenso, et inimico animo; generosum utique simultatis exercendæ genus, et regio pectore non indignum, siquidem cum ipsa amicitia plerumque multa inculpate facta detorquere soleat, tunc profectio acris et infesta inimicitia errata forsitan multa, et haud pauca sine dubio indiscrte dicta, leniter et clementius quam moum erat meritum interpretari non gravabatur. Jam semel unico hoc exemplo vel ipsa demens ira mentis compos fuisse videbatur, et hoc facto furoris infamiam abluisse. At vero summopere oblector, et mirum in modum voluptate perfundor, cum videam tantà doctissimorum hominum frequentiâ circumfusum me, et undique stipatum,' &c.
love of freedom on all subjects, and in every situation, forbade him to conceal. It is probable that he underwent a temporary rustication. This however is certain,—that all misunderstanding was removed, and that he soon acquired the kindness and respect of the society with which he lived : he says,—“ It hath given me an apt occasion to acknowledge publicly with all grateful mind, that more than ordinary favour and respect, which I found above any of my equals at the hands of these courteous and learned men, the fellows of the 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, if I would stay, as by many letters full of kindness, and loving respect, both before that time and long after, I was assured of their singular good affection towards me :”—and in another place he speaks of himself, as
* Procul omni flagitio, bonis omnibus probatus.'
In 1628, he wrote some lines on the subject, 'Naturam non pati senium,' as an Academical exercise, to oblige one of the fellows of the college ; and T. Warton says of it, that it is replete with fanciful and ingenious allusions, it has also a vigour of expression, a dignity of sentiment, and elevation of thought rarely found in very young writers.' This praise is just : but its Latinity is not so flowing, or elegant, as that of his later poems.
Milton was designed by his parents for the profession of the church; but during his residence at the University, he changed his intention. Dr. Newton considers that he had conceived early prejudices against the doctrine and discipline of the church; but Johnson seems to think that his objections lay not so much against subscription to the articles, but related to canonical obedience. His own account is as follows ;15 “By the intention of my parents and friends, I was destined of a child to the service of the church, and in mine own resolutions. Till coming
15 See Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy. Vol. i. p. 123
to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded the church, that he who would take orders, must subscribe Slave, and take an oath withal, which unless he took with a conscience that he would relish, he must either straight perjure or split his faith ; I thought better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing."
In whatever line his objections lay, his youthful decisions seem to have been but little controlled by the exercise of parental authority; for in the beautiful lines which he addresses to his father, in the Latin language, he says,
Neque enim, Pater, ire jubebas,
Phabæo lateri comitem sinis ire beatum :)
In 1632, he left the University, and retired to his father's house at Horton,16 in Buckinghamshire, making occasional visits to London to meet his friends, to buy books, or to learn something new in mathematics or music. Here he resided five years, passing his time in regular and severe study; for he is said to have read over all the Greek and Latin writers : Johnson says, “ that this account must be received with limitations ;' but five years well employed would leave few of the ancient authors unperused : I think Wyttenbach has mentioned his having read through Athenæus in fourteen days; and Joseph Scaliger
16 This house at Horton was pulled down about fourteen years ago. See Symmons's Life, p. 93. Milton's father had some country house besides this, nearer to London, of which we have had no notice. Milton's letter to A. Gill is dated' E nostro Suburbano, Dec. 4, 1634. And see his Elegy i, ver. 50.
Nos quoque lucus habet vicina consitus ulmo,
Atque Suburbani nobilis umbra loci.' and in Prolusiones (p. 136.) he says, “Testor ipse lucos, et flumina, et dilectas rillarum ulmos, sub quibus æstate proxime præterita (si dearum arcana eloqui liceat), summam cum musis gratiam habuisse me jucunda memoria recolo, ubi et ego inter rura, et semotos saltus velut occulto uvo crescere mihi potuisse visus sum.'