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LIFE OF JOHN MILTON.
JOHN MILTON was born on the morning of the 9th December 1608, in Bread Street, London.
He was of an ancient Oxfordshire family that lost its estates during the “ Wars of the Roses." His grandfather, a violent Romanist, was keeper of the forest of Shotover near Halton, in the ancestral county of the Miltons; and his father, on being disinherited for becoming a Protestant, established himself in London as a scrivener. To this profession he applied himself with so great success that he was at length able to retire from it with a considerable fortune ; but, at the same time, he cultivated the polite arts, particularly music, of which he was both a performer and a composer. Milton's father therefore belonged to that superior order of minds in which a taste for the beautiful coexists with a just appreciation of the useful, so that the gratification of the one interferes not with the pursuit of the other. His mother too is said to have been an excellent woman; and thus our poet enjoyed the inestimable blessing of being brought up under good parents. As his father, having suffered for changing his religion, no doubt strenuously maintained the rights of conscience, so this circumstance in the family history must be held as having recommended religious liberty to the future championship of the son.
Before being sent to St Paul's School, London, he was instructed at home by Thomas Young, a puritan, who afterwards became chaplain to the English merchants at Hamburgh, and this connexion probably tended to bias Milton's young mind against the established order of things in church and state. In his early studies Milton manifested, instead of the waywardness usually attributed to genius, rather the laboriousness which is allowed to be the appanage of talent; for we are informed that from his twelfth year he used to study till midnight, an excessive application which, if it made him a first-rate classical scholar by 1625, when he went to Christ's College, Cambridge, also weakened his eyesight, and indeed was probably the remote cause of the total blindness with which he was ultimately affected.
He remained seven years at the University, taking his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1629, and that of Master of Arts in 1632. Whether Milton was a favourite at Cambridge may be doubted from his subsequent hostility to the Universities ; but it is not true, as some of his opponents in fierce controversy afterwards alleged, that he was expelled, though Dr Johnson inclines to think that he was rusticated for some misdemeanour of which Milton himself however seems not to have been ashamed. It is superfluous to say that he became a proficient in mathematics ; but it is important to observe that his poetical exercises during these years of academic discipline, were characterized by the same maturity of thought and dignity of expression which pervade his later compositions. He therefore misjudged himself when, at the age of 23, he wrote, in a fit of dejection perhaps,
“ But my late spring no bud or blossom show'th,” and forecast his capabilities more justly at the age of nineteen, when in a vacation exercise he addresses the English language as desiring to make it the vehicle of some long and lofty flight. It would appear from the following extract, that the outlines of some grand conception, if not of Paradise Lost itself, were already floating in his brain :
" Yet I had rather, if I were to choose,
My servico in some greater subject use,
Listening to what unshorn Apollo sings
In willing chains and sweet captivity.” Milton's parents had destined him for the church ; but, at the close of his University career, he positively declined taking orders. This does not appear to have resulted from the absence of serious impressions; for, on his twenty-fourth birthday, he wrote thus solemnly of all he might have acquired,
“ All is, if I have grace to use it so
As ever in my great Taskmaster's eye.” He objected to the "servitude and forswearing" connected in his view with the clerical office; and it may therefore be concluded that he was unwilling to shackle his freedom of investigation by subscription to articles about some of which he might still have misgivings, or his freedom of action by formally identifying himself with an ecclesiastical system to which he already entertained a hostile disposition.
On leaving the University in 1632, he retired to his father's country residence at Horton, near Colebrook, Buckinghamshire, where he spent five years in a thorough review of both ancient and modern literature, music being his chief relaxation during this interval of learned retirement, as in his later years it was his chief solace. To this period belong his Comus, Arcades, Lycidas, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso. The first of these pieces, a Mask, was suggested by the Earl of Bridgewater's daughter missing her way during the night in the forest of Haywood; and, as it was represented at Ludlow Castle on Michaelmas