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Ad altri studi, onde poi speme hauea
Rinaldo, Canto xii. st. 90.
Dr. Newton thinks that he had too free a spirit to be limited and confined; that he was for comprehending all sciences, but professing none. His conduct, however, on these occasions is a proof of the sincerity with which he had resolved to deliver his sentiments. “ For me, I have determined to lay up as the best treasure and solace of a good old age, if God vouchsafe it me, the honest liberty of free speech from my youth.”
Having taken the degree of i M.A. in 1632, he left the university, and retired to his father's house in the country; who had now quitted business, and lived at an estate which he had purchased at Horton near Colnebrooke, in Buckinghamshire. Here he resided five years ; in which time he not only, as he himself informs us, read over the Greek and Latin authors, particularly the historians, but is also believed to have written his Arcades, Comus, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas. The pleasant retreat in the country excited his most poetick feelings; and he has proved himself able, in his pictures
* Prose-Works, vol. i. p. 220, edit. 1698. :
i He was admitted to the same degree at Oxford in 1635. See Wood, Fasti, vol. I, p. 262.
of rural life, to rival the works of Nature which he contemplated with delight. In the neighbourhood of Horton the Countess Dowager of Derby resided ; and the Arcades was performed by her grandchildren at this seat, called Harefield-place. It seems to me, that Milton intended a compliment to his fair neighbour in his L'Allegro ;
“ Towers and battlements it sees
The woody scenery of " Harefield, and the personal accomplishments of the Countess, are not unfavourable to this supposition; which, if admitted, tends to confirm the opinion, that L'Allegro and Il Penseroso were composed at Horton.
The Mask of Comus, and Lycidas, were certainly produced under the roof of his father. It may be observed that, after his retirement to private study, he paid great attention, like his master Spenser, to the Italian school of poetry. Dr. Johnson remarks, that his acquaintance with the Italian writers may be discovered by the mixture of longer and shorter verses in Lịcidas, according to the rules of Tuscan poetry. In Comus also the sweet rhythm and cadence of the Italian language are no less observable. I must here mention that the house, in which Milton
* See Lysons's Middlesex, 1800. Harefield, p. 108.
drew such enchanting scenes, was about the year 1798 pulled down; and that, during his residence at Horton, he had occasionally taken lodgings in London, in order to cultivate musick and mathematicks, to meet his friends from Cambridge, and to indulge his passion for books.
It seems to have been the notion, however, of the late Sir William Jones, that we are indebted, not to Horton, but to Forest Hill, for Milton's descriptive pictures of the country. That accomplished scholar has thus delivered his opinion in a letter to Lady Spencer, dated from Oxford, Sept. 7, 1769.
“ m The necessary trouble of correcting the first printed sheets of my history, prevented me to-day from paying a proper respect to the memory of Shakspeare, by attending his jubilee. But I was resolved to do all the honour in my power to as great a poet; and set out in the morning in company with a friend to visit a place, where Milton spent some part of his life, and where, in all probability, he composed several of his earliest productions. It is a small village on a pleasant hill, about three miles from Oxford, called Forest Hill, because it formerly lay contiguous to a forest, which has since been cut down. The poet chose this place of retirement after his first marriage, and he describes
As I was obligingly informed by letter in 1808 from the Rector of Horton.
m Lord Teignmouth's Life of Sir William Jones, 8vo. edit. p. 83. the beauties of his retreat, in that fine passage of his L’Allegro:
“ Sometime walking, not unseen,
“ It was neither the proper season of the year, nor time of the day, to hear all the rural sounds, and see all the objects mentioned in this description ; but, by a pleasing concurrence of circumstances, we were saluted, on our approach to the village, with the musick of the mower and his scythe; we saw the ploughman intent upon his labour, and the milk-maid returning from her country employment.
“ As we ascended the hill, the variety of beautiful objects, the agreeable stillness and natural simplicity
of the whole scene, gave us the highest pleasure. We at length reached the spot, whence Milton undoubtedly took most of his images ; it is on the top of the hill, from which there is a most extensive prospect on all sides: the distant mountains that seemed to support the clouds, the villages and turrets, partly shaded with trees of the finest verdure, and partly raised above the groves that surrounded them, the dark plains and meadows of a greyish colour, where the sheep were feeding at large, in short, the view of the streams and rivers, convinced us that there was not a single useless or idle word in the above-mentioned description, but that it was a most exact and lively representation of nature. Thus will this fine passage, which has always been admired for its elegance, receive an additional beauty from its exactness. After we had walked, with a kind of poetical enthusiasm, over this enchanted ground, we returned to the village.
“ The poet's house was close to the church; the greatest part of it has been pulled down; and what remains, belongs to an adjacent farm. I am informed that several papers in Milton's own hand were found by the gentleman who was last in possession of the estate. The tradition of his having lived there is current among the villagers : one of them shewed us a ruinous wall that made part of his chamber, and I was much pleased with another who had forgotten the name of Milton, but recollected him by the title of The Poet.