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What he might have accomplished in his own school, if he had converted it into an “ ACADEMY," such as he described in his Tractate, which was to be “ at once both school and university for a complete and generous education,” except in mere professional training; had he devoted himself unreservedly, for any considerable time, tọ this work, with text-books of his own composing,* and with pupilst capable of receiving his instruction with the same acuteness of wit and apprehension, the same industry and thirst after knowledge as the instructor was imbued with," is now only left to conjecture. Apart from the direct fruit of his teaching, in giving to his country a succession of well-trained youth, a portion, at least, imbued with his own ingenuous and noble ardor, “inflamed with the love of learning and the admiration of virtue, and stirred up with high hopes of living to be brave men and worthy patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages,"—his example would indirectly have elevated the office of educator of the young in public estimation, and demonstrated the wisdom of securing for it the best talent and highest culture of the community. But the times called for such talents and scholarship as he possessed, in other walks less retired and peaceful; and," when God commands to take the trumpet and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in man's will what he shall say, or what he shall conceal.” And, he did take the trumpet, and, in defence of the people of England, and of their right to institute a republican government, and of the liberty of the press, and of conscience in matters of religion, against prelates, priests, and kings, and their hirelings, he blew a blast, again and again,“ of which all Europe rang, from side to side.” And, although it was his lot to
“ evil times and evil tongues,”—to see " the good old cause of the commonwealth shipwrecked, and every species of licentiousness roll in like a flood over the land which he would gladly have made to smile with the triumphs of temperance, frugality, knowledge, and liberty, yet, not bating one jot of heart or hope, in his blindness and disappointment, he addressed himself to the achievement of his great poem, the Paradise Lost.
Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Milton, with that spirit of depreciation which breathes throughout his notice of Milton's opinions, character and life, and which was prompted by his hatred of the great poet's religious and political sentiments, makes the following remarks on the educational labors of our author.
“Let not our veneration for Milton forbid us to look with some degree
* Milton was the author of a Latin Grammar, a Treatise on Logic, and a Latin Lexicon.
* This is the language of one of his pupils, who adds that such teaching, with the right sort of youth, would have produced "prodigies of wit (mind) and learning."
of merriment on great promises and small performance, on the man who hastens home, because his countrymen are contending for their liberty, and, when he reaches the scene of action, vapors away
his patriotism in a private boarding-school. This is the period of his life from which all his biographers seem inclined to shrink. They are unwilling that Milton should be degraded to a school-master; but, since it cannot be denied that he taught boys, one finds out that he taught for nothing, and another that his motive was only zeal for the propagation of learning and virtue; and, all tell what they do not know to be true, only to excuse an act which no wise man will consider as, in itself, disgraceful. His father was alive; his allowance was not ample, and he supplied its deficiencies by an honest and useful employment.
It is told that, in the art of education, he performed wonders; and, a formidable list is given of the authors, Greek and Latin, that were read in Aldergate street by youth between ten and fifteen or sixteen years of age. Those who tell or receive these stories should consider that nobody can be taught faster than he can learn. The speed of the horseman must be limited by the power of the horse. Every man that has ever undertaken to instruct others can tell what slow advances he has been able to make, and how much patience it requires to recall vagrant inattention, to stimulate sluggish indifference, and to rectify absurd misapprehension.
The purpose of Milton, as it seems, was to teach something more solid than the common literature of schools, by reading those authors that treat of physical subjects : such as the Georgick, and astronomical treatises of the ancients. This was a scheme of improvement which seems to have busied many literary projectors of that age. Cowley, who had more means than Milton of knowing what was wanting to the embellishments of life, formed the same plan of education in his imaginary college.
But, the truth is, that the knowledge of external nature, and the sciences which that knowledge requires or includes, are not the great or the frequent business of the human mind. Whether we provide for action or conversation, whether we wish to be useful or pleasing, the first requisite is the religious and moral knowledge of right and and wrong; the next is an acquaintance with the history of mankind, and with those examples which may be said to embody truth, and prove by events the reasonableness of opinions. Prudence and Justice are virtues and excellencies of all times and of all places; we are perpetually moralists, but we are geometricians only by chance. Our intercourse with intellectual nature is necessary; our speculations upon
matter are voluntary, and at leisure. Physiological learning is of such rare emergency that one may know another half his life, without being able to estimate his skill in hydrostatics or astronomy; but, his moral and prudential character immediately appears.
Those authors, therefore, are to be read at schools that supply most axioms of prudence, most principles of moral truth, and most materials for conversation; and, these purposes are best served by poets, orators, and historians.
Let me not be censured for this digression, as pedantic or paradoxieal; for, if I have Milton against me, I have Socrates on my side. It was his labor to turn philosophy from the study of nature to speculations upon life; but, the innovators whom I oppose are turning off attention from life to nature. They seem to think that we are placed here to watch the growth of plants, or the motions of the stars. Socrates was rather of opinion that what we had to learn was, how to do good, and avoid evil.
Οσλι σοι εν μεγαροισι κακον7’ αγαθονε σεσυκλαι. Of institutions, we may judge by their effects. From this wonder, working academy, I do not know that there ever proceeded any man very eminent for knowledge: its only genuine product, I believe, is a small history of poetry, written in Latin, by his nephew, Philips, of which, perhaps, none of my readers has ever heard.*
That in his school, as in every thing else which he undertook, he labored with great diligence, there is no reason for doubting. One part of his method deserves general imitation. He was careful to instruct his scholars in religion. Every Sunday was spent upon theology; of which he dictated a short system, gathered from the writers that were then fashionable in the Dutch universities.
He set his pupils an example of hard study and spare diet; only now and then he allowed himself to pass a day of festivity and indulgence with some gay gentlemen of Gray's Inn."
To these disparaging remarks we add a few sensible comments, by Rev. John Mitford, in his elegantly written life, prefixed to Pickering's Aldine edition of Milton's Poetical Works.
“The system of education which he adopted was deep and comprehensive; it promised to teach science with language, or rather, to make the study of languages subservient to the acquisition of scientific knowledge. Dr. Johnson has severely censured this method of instruction, but with arguments that might not unsuccessfully be met.
We may be sure, at least, that Dr. Johnson had never seen the book he speaks of; for it is entirely composed in English, though its title begins with two Latin words, “ Theatrum Poetarum; or, a complete Collection of the Poets, &c.," a circumstance that probably misled he biographer of Milton.
The plan recommended by the authority of Milton seems to be chiefly liable to objection, from being too extensive; and, while it makes authors of all ages contribute to the development of science, it, of course, must reject that careful selection, which can alone secure the cultivation of the taste. We may also reply to Johnson that, although all men are not designed to be astronomers, or geometricians, a knowledge of the principles on which the sciences are built, and the reasonings by which they are conducted, not only forms the most exact discipline which the mind can undergo, giving to it comprehension and vigor; but, is the only solid basis on which an investigation of the laws of nature can be conducted, or those arts improved that tend to the advantage of society, and the happiness of mankind.
Johnson says, we are not placed here to watch the planets, or the motion of the stars, but to do good. But, good is done in various ways, according to opportunities offered, and abilities conferred; a man whose natural disposition, or the circumstances of whose education lead to pursue astronomical discoveries, or the sublime speculations of geometry, is emphatically doing good to others, as he is extending the boundaries of knowledge, and to himself, as he is directing the energies of his mind to subjects of the most exalted contemplation."
Having, in the foregoing extract from Dr. Johnson, introduced an ungenerous fling of that great but prejudiced writer against the patriotism of John Milton, because, in the absence of any other opportunity of being equally useful to the cause in which his heart was enlisted, and until he was summoned by the parliament of England and its great Protector, “to address the whole collective body of people, cities, states, and councils of the wise and eminent, through the wide expanse of anxious and listening Europe,” he saw fit to employ his great abilities in illustrating, by pen and example, the true principles and method of a generous and thorough education, “ the only genuine source of political and individual liberty,—the only true safeguard of states," and to defend the cause of civil and religious freedom by his publications,—we will let the great champion of the commonwealth of England speak for himself, and refresh the patriotism of our own times by a few of his burning words, uttered over two hundred years ago in his “ Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano."
“But against this dark array of long received opinions, superstitions, obloquy, and fears, which some dread even more than the enemy himself, the English had tu contend ; and all this under the light of better information, and favored by an impulse from above, they overcame with such singular enthusiasm and bravery, that, great as were the numbers engaged in the contest, the grandeur of conception and loftiness of spirit which were universally displayed, merited for each individual more than a mediocrity of fame ; and Britain, which was formerly styled the hot bed of tyranny, will hereafter deserve to be celebrated for endless ages, as a soil most genial to the growth of liberty. During the mighty struggle, po anarchy, no licentiousness was seen; no illusions of glory, no extravagant emulation of the ancients inflamed them with a thirst for ideal liberty ; but the rectitude of their lives, and the sobriety of their habits, taught them the only true and safe road to real liberty, and they took up arms only to defend the sanctity of the laws and the rights of conscience.
Relying on the divine assistance, they used every honorable exertion to break the yoke of slavery; of the praise of which, though I claim no share to myself, yet I can easily repel any charge which may be adduced against me, either of want of courage or want of zeal. For though I did not participate in the toils or dangers of the war, yet I was at the same time engaged in a service not less hazardous to myself, and more beneficial to my fellow citizens, nor, in the adverse turns of our affairs, did I ever betray any symptoms of pusilanimity and dejection, or show myself more afraid than became me of malice or of death; for since from my youth I was devoted to the pursuits of literature, and my mind had always been stronger than my body, I did not court the labors of a camp, in which any common person would have been of more service than myself, but resorted to that employment in which my exertions were likely to be of most avail. Thus, with the better part of my frame I contributed as much as possible to the good of my country, and to the success of the glorious cause in which we were engaged ; and I thought if God willed the success of such glorious achievements, it was equally agreeable to his will that there should be others by whom those achievements should be recorded with dignity and elegance; and that the truth which had been defended by arms, should also be defended by reason, which is the best and only legitimate means of defending it. Hence, while I applaud those who were victorious in the field, I will not complain of the province which was assigned me, but rather congratulate myself upon it and thank the Author of all good for having placed me in a station which may be an object of envy to others rather than of regret to myself.
I am far from wishing to make any vain or arrogant comparisons, or to speak ostentatiously of myself; but, in a cause so great and glorious, and particularly on an occasion when I am called by the general suffrage to defend the very defenders of that cause, I can hardly refrain from assuming a more lofty and swelling tone than the simplicity of an exordium may seem to justify: and as much as I may be surpassed in the powers of eloquence and copiousness of diction, by the illustrious orators of antiquity, yet the subject of which I treat was never surpassed in any age, in dignity or in interest. It has excited such general and such ardent expectation, that I imagine myself not in the forum or on the rostra, surrounded only by the people of Athens or of Rome, but about to address in this as in my former defence, the whole collective body of people, cities, states, and councils of the wise and eminent, through the wide expanse of anxious and listening Europe. I seem to survey, as from a towering height, the far extended tracts of sea and land, and innumerable crowds of spectators, betraying in their looks the liveliest, and sensations the most congenial with my own. Here I behold the stout and manly prowess of the Gernian, disdaining servitude; there the generous and lively impetuosity of the French ; on this side, the calm and stately valor of the Spaniard ; on that, the composed and wary magnanimity of the Italian. Of all the lovers of liberty and virtue, the magnanimous and the wise, in whatever quarter they may be found, some secretly favor, othesr openly approve ; some greet me with congratulation and applause ; others who had long been proof against conviction, at last yield themselves captive to the force of truth. Surrounded by congregated multitudes, I now imagine that, from the columns of Hercules to the Indian Ocean, I behold the nations of tho earth recovering that liberty which they so long had lost; and that the people of this island are transporting to other countries a plant of more beneficial qualities, and more noble growth than that which Triptolemus is reported to have carried from region to region; that they are disseminating the blessings of civilization and freedom among cities, kingdoms, and nations."