Page images



A Poem,







[merged small][ocr errors]

John MILTON was born in Bread-street, London, on the 9th of December, 1608. He was descended from a respectable family long resident at Milton, in Oxfordshire. His father, John Milton, the celebrated composer, was disinherited in consequence of his embracing the Protestant religion, and was compelled to abandon the prosecution of his studies at Oxford, to seek the means of subsistence in London, where he adopted the profession of a scrivener. The son owed much to the early advantages which he enjoyed in the assiduous cares of his parent, and he has recorded his fililal obligations in the elegant Latin poem AD PATREM. His father, as Milton himself informs ūs, very early destined him to the study of elegant literature; and so eagerly did be engage in it, that he seldom quitted bis studies for bis bed till the middle of the night: this excessive application injured his eyes, and laid the foundation of his subsequent blindness; but nothing could restrain his ardour for learning; and his father, correctly appreciating these indications of future eminence, spared no expense in providing for bis education.

After passing some time under the superintendance of the Rev. Thomas Young, and subsequently at St. Paul's school, be was entered a pensioner at Christ's College, Cambridge, on the 12th of February, 1624-5, being already, although only in his seventeenth year, an accomplished scholar. He took his bachelor's degree in January, 1628-9, and that of master of arts three years after. He then retired to his father's house at Horton, in Buckingbamshire, leaving behind him a moral character untarnished, and a memory cherished with affection and respect by the fellows of his college. His religions and political opinions bad however subjected him to the disapprobation and even the enmity of some of his superiors in the university, an enmity wbich parsued him with detraction when he was placed beyond the limits of authority.

Wilton, it is said, when only ten years old, discovered a lalent for versification; but the earliest specimen of his genius extant, is bis translation of the cxxxvth Psalm, which evinces his progress in poetical expression at the age of fifteen. During the five happy. years of romantic leisure that be passed in Backinghamshire ander bis father's roof, he composed the Comas in 1634, the Lycidas in 1637, and probably about the same period, the Arcades, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso. There

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

is no doubt that the landscape, in the last two poems, is from nature: it has all the vividness of reality, and all the redolence of genuine feeling.

In 1638, having recently lost bis mother, Milton resolved on visiting the Continent. He was received at Paris with distinction by Lord Scudamore, the ambassador from England, by whom he was introduced to the celebrated Grotius. From thence he proceeded to Genoa, to Florence, and to Rome, attended by the applauses and the compliments of the literati of Italy. Ai Naples he became the inmate of the venerable Manso, Marqnis of Villa, the friend and biographer of Tasso and of Marino: an epistle to this distinguished nobleman is among his Latin poems. As he was preparing to pass from Naples into Sicily and Greece, the intelligence from England of the civil war recalled him to his native country, “ for he esteemed it," as he himself expresses it, “ dishonourable for him to be lingering abroad, even for the improvement of his mind, while his fellow citizens were contending for their liberty at home.”

On his arrival in England, Milton resided in St. Bride's Church Yard, where he undertook the education of his two nephews, Edward and John Philips, and the children of some other friends; but he soon afterwards removed to Aldersgatestreet; at this time, while occupied with the fatiguing duties of an instructor of boys, he commenced the career of his public life as a polemic writer, in a controversy concerning episcopal government, with Bishop Hall and Archbishop Usher.

In 1643, he married Mary, the daughter of Mr. Richard Powel, a zealous royalist, of Forest Hill, near Shotover, in Oxfordshire. Her desertion of him, soon after he brought her home to London, under the pretence of revisiting ber family, was the occasion of his publications on the “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” which drew down upon him the indignation of the Presbyterian clergy, regardless of whose oppo. sition he proceeded to prefer his addresses to a beautifnl and accomplished young lady, the daughter of a Doctor Davis. Before however be bad engaged her affections so far as to gain her consent to the marriage treaty, while visiting at the house of a relation, he found his wife prostrate before him, imploring his forgiveness;

Soon his heart relented
Towards her, his life so late, and sole delight,
Now at bis feet submissive in distress,

Paradise Lost, Book X.
nor did his renovated love alone content itself with this single
triumph over his resentment: he extended both his protection

« PreviousContinue »