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From the moment that Milton became a "pigeon of St. Paul's," all this would be familiar to him. The school-room, its walls and windows and inscriptions; the head-master's chair; the bust of Colet over it, looking down on the busy young flock gathered together by his deed and scheming a hundred years after he was dead; the busy young flock itself, ranged out in their eight forms, and filling the room with their ceaseless hum; the head-master and the sur-master walking about in their gowns, and occasionally perhaps the two surveyors from the Mercers dropping in to see-what man of any memory is there who does not know that this would impress the boy unspeakably, and sink into him so as never to be forgotten? For inquisitive boys, even the traditions of their school, if it has any, are of interest; and they soon become acquainted with them. And so in Milton's case, the names of old pupils of St. Paul's who had become famous, from Leland down to the still-living prodigy Camden, who (though he had been mainly educated elsewhere, had also for a time been a St. Paul's scholar) would be dwelt on with pleasure; and gradually also the names of the head-masters before Mr. Gill would come to be known in order, from Richard Mulcaster, Gill's immediate predecessor, back through Harrison, Malim, Cook, Freeman, and Jones, to John Rightwis, Lilly's successor and son-in-law, who had acted in a Latin play with his scholars before Wolsey, and so to Lilly himself, the great Abraham of the series, and the friend of Colet.
After all, however, the paramount influence of the school lay necessarily in the character and qualifications of the two masters for the time being. These, at the time with which we are concerned, were Mr. Gill, the head-master, and his son, Alexander Gill, the younger, then acting as usher.
Old Mr. Gill, as he now began to be called, partly to distinguish him from his son, and partly because he was verging on his fifty-seventh year, fully maintained the ancient credit of the school. According to Wood, he was "esteemed by most persons to be a learned man, a noted Latinist, critic and divine, and also to have such an excellent way of training up youth that none in his time went beyond it." Having looked over all that remains of the old gentleman to verify or disprove this judgment—to wit, three works published by him at intervals during his life—we can safely say that the praise does not seem overstated. The first of these works is a tract or treatise, originally published by him in 1601, seven years before his appointment to St. Paul's School, and written in 1597, when he was living as a teacher at Norwich. The tract is entitled "A Treatise concerning the Trinity of Persons in Unitie of the Deitie," and is in the form of a metaphysical remonstrance with one Thomas Mannering, an Anabaptist of Norwich, who "denied that Jesus is very God of very God," but said that he was "but man only, yet endued with the infinite power of God." Far more interesting, in reference to Gill's qualifications as a teacher, is his next work, the first edition of which was published in 1619, or just before the time with which we have to do. It is entitled "Logonomia Anglica," and is dedicated to King James. Part of the work is taken up with an argument on that new-old subject, the reform of the English Alphabet, so as to bring the spelling of words into greater consistency with their sound; and those who are interested in this subject will find some sensible matter upon it in Gill's book. By adding to the English Alphabet the two Saxon signs for the two sounds of th and another Saxon sign or two, and by farther using points over the vowels to indicate their various sounds, he contrives an Alphabet somewhat like those of
our modern phonetic reformers, but less liable to objection from the point of view of Etymology; and he illustrates this Alphabet by spelling all the English words and passages in his book according to it. But the Spelling-Reform is by no means the main purpose of the book. It is, in fact, what we should now call a systematic grammar of the English tongue, written in Latin. Accordingly it is only in the first part that he propounds his spelling-reform; and the parts on Etymology, Syntax, and Prosody, possess quite a separate value. If Gill was only half as interesting in his school-room as he is in his book, he must have been an effective and even delightful teacher. For example, as an appendix to Syntax in general, he has a chapter on what he calls Syntaxis Schematistica, in which he trenches on what is usually considered a part of Rhetoric, and enumerates and explains the so-called tropes and figures of speech-Metaphor, Metonymy, Allegory, Irony, Climax, etc. This part of the book is studded with examples from the English poets, and above all from Spenser, showing a really fine taste in the selection.
The subsequent part of the work, on English Prosody, is, in like manner, illustrated by well-chosen examples; and, among other things, Gill discusses in it the compatibility of classical meters with the genius of the English tongue. The following passage, in which he refers to the supposed influence of Chaucer, exhibits what was apparently another of his crotchets, besides spelling-reform— to wit, the necessity of preserving the Saxon purity of our tongue against Latinisms. After maintaining that, even during the Danish and Norman invasions, the Saxon or English tongue of our island remained pure, he proceeds (we again translate from his Latin) thus:
"At length about the year 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer, of unlucky omen, made his poetry famous by the use in it of French and Latin words. Hence has come down this new mange in our speaking and writing. * * O harsh lips, I now hear all around me such words as common, vices, envy, malice; even virtue, study, justice, pity, mercy, compassion, profit, commodity, color, grace, favor, acceptance. But whither, pray, in all the world have you banished those words which our forefathers used for these new-fangled ones? Are our words to be exiled like our citizens? Is the new barbaric invasion to extirpate the English tongue? O ye Englishmen, on you, I say, I call, in whose veins that blood flows, retain, retain what yet remains of our native speech, and, whatever vestiges of our forefathers are yet to be seen, on these plant your footsteps."
While thus working mainly in Philology, Mr Gill had not quite abandoned his Metaphysics. Some fifteen years after the time at which we have now arrived, he brought out his last and largest work, the "Sacred Philosophy of the Holy Scriptures"-a kind of detailed demonstration, as against Turks, Jews, Infidels, Heretics, and all gainsayers whatsoever, of the successive articles of the Apostles' Creed, on the principles of pure reason. It is not to be supposed but that in those days, when the idea of severing the secular from the religious in schools had not yet been heard of, his pupils would now and then have a touch of his Metaphysics as well as of his Philology. They were lucky if they had not also a touch of something else. "Dr. Gill, the father," says Aubrey in one of his MSS., was a very ingeniose person, as may appear by his writings; notwithstanding, he had his moods and humors, as particularly his whipping fits. Often Dr. G. whipped Duncombe, who was afterwards a Colonel of Dragoons at Edgehill fight."
Young Gill, the usher or sur-master, was by no means so steady a man as his father. Born about 1597, he had been educated at St. Paul's School; had gone thence, on one of the Mercers' Exhibitions, to Trinity College, Oxford; and, after completing his course there, and taking orders, had come back to town about 1619, and dropped conveniently into the place of his father's assistant. For a time, either before or after this, he assisted the famous Farnabie in his school.
Such were the two men, not uninteresting in themselves, to whose lot it fell to be Milton's schoolmasters. He was under their care, as we calculate, at least four years-from 1620, when he had passed his eleventh year, to the winter or spring of 1624-5, when he had passed his sixteenth. During a portion of this time-most probably till 1622-he had the benefit also of Young's continued assistance at home.
St. Paul's School, it is to be remembered, was strictly a grammar-schoolthat is, a school for classical instruction only. But since Colet's time, in virtue of the great development which classical studies had received throughout the nation at large, the efficiency of the school within its assigned limits had immensely increased. Instead of peddling over Sedulius, and other such small practitioners of later or middle-age Latinity, recommended as proper class-books by Colet, the scholars of St. Paul's, as of other contemporary schools, were now led through very much the same list of Roman prose-writers and poets tlfat are still honored in our academies. The practice of writing pure classical Latin, or what might pass for such, both in prose and in verse, was also carried to a perfection not known in Colet's time. But the improvement in Latin was as nothing compared with what had taken place in Greek. Although Colet in his testamentary recommendations to the Mercers had mentioned it as desirable that the head-master should know Greek as well as Latin, he had added, "if such a man can be gotten." That, indeed, was the age of incipient Greek in England. Colet had none himself; and that Lilly had mastered Greek, while residing in earlier life in Rhodes, was one of his distinctions. Since that time, however, the passion for Greek had spread; the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans, as the partizans of the new learning and its opponents were respectively called, had been fought out in the days of Ascham and Elizabeth; and, if Greek scholarship still lagged behind Latin, yet, in St. Paul's and other schools, Greek authors were read in fragments, and Greek exercises written, in anticipation of the more profound labors of the Universities. Probably Hebrew was taught optionally to a few of the highest boys.
Whatever support other instances may afford to the popular notion that the studious boys at school do not turn out the most efficient men in after life, the believers in that notion may save themselves the trouble of trying to prove it by means of Milton's boyhood.
Milton's own account of his habits as a schoolboy.-"My father destined me while yet a little boy for the study of humane letters, which I seized with such eagerness that from the twelfth year of my age I scarcely ever went from my lessons to bed before midnight; which, indeed, was the first cause of injury to my eyes, to whose natural weakness there were also added frequent headaches. All which not retarding my impetuosity in learning, he caused me to be daily instructed both at the grammar-school and under other masters at home; and then, when I had acquired various tongues, and also some not insignificant taste for the sweetness of philosophy, he sent me to Cambridge, one of our two national universities."
Aubrey's account.-"When he went to school, when he was very young, he studied very hard, and sat up very late, commonly till twelve or one o'clock at night; and his father ordered the maid to sit up for him."
Wood's account."There (at Cambridge) as at school for three years before, 'twas usual with him to sit up till midnight at his book, which was the first thing that brought his eyes into danger of blindness. By this his indefatigable study he profited exceedingly."
Phillips' account.-(At Paul's School) "he was entered into the rudiments of learning, and advanced therein with * * admirable success, not more by the discipline of the school and the good instructions of his masters * * than by his own happy genius, prompt wit and apprehension, and insuperable industry; for he generally sat up half the night, as well in voluntary improvements of his own choice, as the exact perfecting of his school-exercises; so that at the age of fifteen he was full ripe for academical training."
The boy's studies were not confined to the classic tongues. "When at your expense," he says in a Latin poem addressed to his father in later years, "I had obtained access to the eloquence of the tongue of Romulus, and to the delights of Latium, and the great words, becoming the mouth of Jove, uttered by the magniloquent Greeks, you then advised me to add the flowers which are the pride of Gaul, and the speech which the new Italian, attesting the barbarian inroads by his diction, pours forth from his degenerate mouth, and the mysteries which are spoken by the prophet of Palestine." The application of these words extends beyond Milton's mere school-days; but it is probable that before they were over he had learnt to read French and Italian, and also something of Hebrew. In the letter to Young at Hamburg, already referred to, written in March, 1625, he acknowledges the gift of a Hebrew Bible which Young had sent him.
It is not to be supposed that the literature of his own country remained a closed field to a youth so fond of study, and who had already begun to have dreams for himself of literary excellence. Accordingly there is evidence that Milton in his boyhood was a diligent reader of English books, and that before the close of his school-time in 1624, he had formed some general acquaintance, at least, with the course of English literature from its beginnings to his own time.
MILTON AT CAMBRIDGE.
Milton was admitted a Pensioner of Christ's College, Cambridge, on the 12th of February, 1624-5.* He was one of the fourteen students whose names appear in the entry-book of the College as having been admitted during the half-year between Michaelmas, 1624, and Lady-day, 1625. In the remaining half of the same academic year—namely, from Lady-day to Michaelmas, 1625— there were thirty fresh entries. Milton, therefore, was one of forty-three students who commenced their academic course at Christ's College, in the year 1624-5.
Eight of these fourteen students who were admitted before Lady-day, enter
*It may be well here to remind the reader of the reason for this double mode of dating. Prior to 1752, the year in England was considered to begin, not on the 1st of January, but on the 25th of March. All those days, therefore, intervening between the 31st of December and the 25th of March, which we should now date as belonging to a particular year, were then dated as belonging to the year preceding that. According to our dating, Milton's entry at Christ's College took place on the 12th of February, 1625; but in the old reckoning, that day was the 12th of February, 1624.
as "lesser pensioners," four as "sizars," and but one as a "greater pensioner." The distinction is one of rank. All the three grades pay for their board and education; and, in this respect, are distinct from the scholars, properly so called, who belong to the foundation. But the "greater pensioners," or "fellow-commoners," pay most; they are usually the sons of wealthy families; and they have the privilege of dining at the upper table in the common hall along with the fellows. The "sizars," on the other hand, are poorer students; they pay least; and, though receiving the same education as the others, have a lower rank, and inferior accommodation. Intermediate between the greater pensioners and the sizars, are the "lesser pensioners;" and it is to this class that the bulk of the students in all the Colleges at Cambridge belong. Milton, as the son of a London scrivener in good circumstances, took his natural place in becoming a "lesser pensioner." His school-fellow at St. Paul's, Robert Porey, who entered the College in the same year and month, and chose the same tutor, entered in the same rank. Milton's father and Porey's father must have made up their minds, in sending their sons to Cambridge, to pay, each about £50 a year, in the money of that day, for the expenses of their maintenance there.*
Christ's College, although not the first in point of numbers, was one of the most comfortable colleges in the University; substantially built; with a spacious inner quadrangle, a handsome dining-hall and chapel, good rooms for the fellows and students, and an extensive garden behind, provided with a bowling-green, a pond, alcoves and shady walks, in true academic taste.
In the year 1624-5, when Milton went to Cambridge, the total population of the town may have been seven or eight thousand. Then, as now, the distinction between "town" and "gown" was one of the fixed ideas of the place. While the town was governed by its mayor and aldermen and common-council, and represented in Parliament by two burgesses, the University was governed by its own statutes as administered by the Academic authorities, and was represented in Parliament by two members returned by itself.
Into the little world of Christ's College-forming a community by itself, when all the members were assembled, of some two hundred and fifty persons, and surrounded again by that larger world of the total University to which it was related as a part-we are to fancy Milton introduced in the month of February, 1624-5, when he was precisely sixteen years and two months old. He was a little older, perhaps, than most youths then were on being sent to the University. Still it was the first time of his leaving home, and all must have seemed strange to him. To put on for the first time the gown and cap, and to move for the first time through unfamiliar streets, observing college after college, each different from the others in style and appearance, with the majestic Kings's conspicuous in the midst; to see for the first time the famous Cam, and to walk by its banks, these would be powerful sensations to a youth like Milton.
A matter of some importance to the young Freshman at College, after his choice of a tutor, is his choice of chambers. Tradition still points out at Christ's College the rooms which Milton occupied. They are in the older part of the building, on the left side of the court, as you enter through the street
In the autobiography of Sir Simonds D'Ewes, he tells us that, when he went as a fellow. commoner to St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1618, his father would not make him a larger allowance than £50 a year, which, with the utmost economy, he could barely make sufficient. If this was a stingy sum for a "fellow-commoner," it was probably about the proper sum for a "lesser pensioner."