Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

his country on account of his religious opinions, became Chaplain to the English merchants at Hamburgh; but afterwards returned, and during the usurpation of Cromwell was master of Jesus College, Cambridge. Of the pupil's affection for his early tutor, his fourth elegy, and two Latin epistles, are publick testimonies. Mr. Hayley considers the por trait of Milton by Cornelius Jansen, drawn when he was only ten years old, at which age Aubrey affirms he was a poet,as having been executed in order to operate as a powerful incentive to the future exertion of the infant author. This supposition is very probable: And, as the portrait was drawn by a paintero then rising into fame, and whose price for a head was five broad pieces, the mark of encouragement was rendered more handsome and more conspicuous.

From the tuition of Mr. Young, Milton was removed to St. Paul's School, under the care of Alexander Gill, who at that time was the master; to whose son, who was then usher and afterwards master, and with whom Milton was a favourite scholar, are addressed, in friendship, three of the poet's Latin epistles. There is no register of ad

• Jansen's first works in England are said to be dated about 1618; the year, in which the young poet's portrait was drawn. See Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting, Works, vol. iii. p. 149. edit. 1798.

P. As I found, upon inquiry of the Rev. Dr. Roberts, the late Head Master.

missions into St. Paul's School só far back as the beginning of the seventeenth century. But, as Milton's domestick preceptor quitted England in 1623, it is probable that he was then admitted into that seminary; at which time he was in his fifteenth year. He had already studied with uncommon avidity; but at the same time with such inattention to his health, seldom retiring from his books before midnight, that the source of his blindness may be traced to his early passion for letters. In his twelfth year, as 9 he tells us, this literary devotion began; from which he was not to be deterred either by the natural debility of his eyes, or by his frequent head-aches. The union of genius and application in the same person was never more conspicuous.

erson was

Sam

* In 1623 he produced his first poetical attempts, the Translations of the 114th and 136th Psalms, to which, as to some other juvenile productions, he

9 “ Pater me puerulum humaniorum literarum studiis desti, navit; quas ita avidè arripui, ut ab anno ætatis duodecimo vix unquam ante mediam noctem à lucubrationibus cubitum discederem; quæ prima oculorum pernicies fuit, quorum ad naturalem debilitatem accesserant et crebri capitis dolores ; quæ omnia cùm discendi impetum non retardarent, et in ludo literario, et sub aliis domi magistris erudiendum quotidiè curavit.” Def. Sec. ut supr. Aubrey also relates, that “ when Milton went to schoole, and when he was very younge, he studied very hard, and sate up very late, commonly til twelve or one o'clock; and his father ordered the maid to sitt up for him.” MS. Ashmol. Mus. ut supr. His early reading was in poetical books. Humphry Lownes, a printer, living in the same street with his father, supplied him at least with Spenser and Sylvester's Du Bartas.

has annexed the date of his age. It has been uncandidly supposed, that he intended, by this method, to obtrude the earliness of his own proficiency on the notice of posterity. Dr. Johnson calls it “ a boast, of which Politian has given him an example.” Milton and Politian have followed classical authority. Lucan' thus speaks of himself:

“ Est mihi, crede, meis animus constantior annis,
“Quamvis nunc juvenile decus mihi pingere malas
“ Coperit, et nondum vicesima venerit æstas.”

But who will deny, that in these Translations the dawning of real genius may be discerned; or that his Ode, On the Death of a fair Infant, written soon after, displays, as a poetical composition, the vigour and judgement of maturer life? The verses also, At a Vacation Exercise in the College, written at the age of nineteen, have been repeatedly and justly noticed as containing indications of the future bard, “ whose genius was equal to a subject that carried him beyond the limits of the world.”

Few readers will be inclined to admit that Cowley and other poets have surpassed, in “ products of vernal fertility,” the efforts of Milton. Nor will many regard, without aversion, the unfair s comparison of Milton's juvenile effusions with those of Chatterton. Milton, as he is the most learned of modern poets,

* Lucanus de seipso, in Panegyrico ad Calpurnium Pisonem. Epigr. et Poem. Vet. Paris, 1590, p. 121. . s In the Biograph. Brit. vol. iv. p. 591, edit. Kippis.

may perhaps retain his princely rank also in the list of those who have written valuable pieces at as early or an earlier age; and Politian, Tasso, Cowley, Metastasio, Voltaire, and Pope, may bow to him, “ as to superiour Spirits is due.”

In the 17th year of his age, distinguished as a classical scholar, and conversant in several languages, he was sent, from St. Paul's School, to Cambridge ; and was admitted a Pensioner at Christ College on the 12th of February, 1624-5, under the tuition of Mr. William Chappel, afterwards Bishop of Cork and Ross in Ireland. Here he attracted particular notice by his academical exercises, as well as by several copies of verses, both Latin and English, upon occasional subjects. He neglected indeed no part of literature, although his chief object seems to have been the cultivation of his poetical abilities. “ This good hap I had from a careful education,” he says; “ to be inured and seasoned betimes with the best and elegantest authors of the learned tongues; and thereto brought an ear that could measure a just cadence, and scan without articulating; rather nice and humourous in what was tolerable, than patient to read every drawling versifier."

t“ Johannes Milton, Londinensis, filius Johannis, institutus fuit in Literarum elementis sub Magro. Gill, Gymnasii Paulini Præfecto, admissus est Pensionarius Minor Feb. 12o. 1624, sub Mro. Chappell, solvitque pro Ingr. 0. 10. 8.Extract from the College Register.

To his eminent skill, at this time, in the Latin tongue Dr. Johnson affords his tribute of commendation. “Many of his elegies appear to have been written in his eighteenth year; by which it appears that he had then read the Roman authors with nice discernment. I once heard Mr. Hampton, the translator of Polybius, remark, what I think is true, that Milton was the first Englishman who, after the revival of letters, wrote Latin verses with classick elegance.” Milton's Latin exercises, which he recited publickly, are also marked with characteristick animation. From some remarkable passages in these, as Mr. Hayley observes, it appears “ that he was first an object of partial severity, and afterwards of general admiration, in his college. He had differed in opinion concerning a plan of academical

studies with some persons of authority in his Col· lege, and thus excited their displeasure. He speaks

of them as highly incensed against him; but expresses, with the most liberal sensibility, his surprise, delight, and gratitude, in finding that his enemies forgot their animosity to honour him with unexpected applause.” .

[ocr errors]

But incidents unfavourable to the character of Milton, while a student at Cambridge, have been positively asserted to be contained in his own words; and the poet has been summoned to prove his own flagellation and banishment in the following verses, in his first elegy:

« PreviousContinue »