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LIFE OF JOHN MILTON.
JOHN, son of John and Sara Milton, was born in Bread Street, Cheapside, on the oth of December 1608, and was baptized on the 20th at Allhallows Church. The elder John Milton was a scrivener, who had been disinherited by his father, the ranger of Shotover Park, near Oxford, for turning Protestant. Having settled in London, he acquired 'a plentiful estate' by his profession, in which was then included all work now done by law stationers, with the simpler branches of an attorney's business, such as drafting wills and leases. As a musician, he took rank with such composers as Byrd, Bull, Dowland (whom Shakespeare has immortalised), Gibbons and Ford; and, taught by him, his son became a skilful organist. Of the poet's mother scarcely anything is recorded. Her maiden name is variously given as Haughton, Bradshaw and Castor. That her sight was weak and her charity abounding are the two facts regarding her which have come down to us.
We are told by Aubrey that Milton was a poet at ten years old; and his portrait at that age by Cornelius Jansen was subsequently engraved with the lines from Paradise Regained (201-203) beneath it. His father destined him from a child to the study of letters, and ‘superintended his education both at the grammar-school and under masters at home. His first tutor was Thomas Young, 'a Puritan in Essex who cut his hair short?.' Young was a Scotchman of St. Andrew's University, afterwards Master of Jesus
1 Defensio Secunda.
2 Aubrey. From the portrait mentioned above, it would appear that Milton's hair is intended.
College, Cambridge, and a conspicuous Puritan divine. Milton has recorded his reverence for him in a Latin poem, wherein he is said to be 'dearer to his pupil than was Socrates to Alcibiades, Aristotle to Alexander, or Chiron to Achilles.' Young was still his master for some time after he was sent to St. Paul's School, then under Alexander Gill, “an ingeniose person, notwithstanding his humours, particularly his whipping fits.'
Milton was a hard student. For this we have his own testimony in his Defensio Secunda. 'From my twelfth year I scarcely ever went to bed before midnight, which was the first cause of injury to my eyes.' Before his school days were over it is probable that, besides Latin and Greek, he had learnt to read French and Italian, and also something of Hebrew.
The earliest specimens of his poetry which we possess are the translations of Psalms cxiv and cxxxvi (1624).
The year after (Feb. 12, 1625), he was admitted a lesser pensioner to Christ College, Cambridge, under the tutorship of William Chappell, afterwards Dean of Cashel and Bishop of Cork. A delay of two months occurred before his matriculation, and in the interval (April 9, 1625) he visited London, and thence wrote an affectionate letter to Young, acknowledging his present of a Hebrew Bible.
The next year (1626) occurred the incident of his temporary rustication, which has occasioned much discussion. Aubrey set down some particulars derived from Milton's brother Christopher. One note runs ‘His first tutor then was Mr. Chappell, from whom receiving some unkindness, etc.' Over the words 'some unkindness' is the interlineation 'whipt him. In the spring of 1626 Milton wrote a Latin letter to Diodati wherein he says “At present I care not to revisit the reedy Cam, nor does regret for my forbidden rooms grieve me.
Nor am I yet in the humour to bear the threats of a harsh master, and other things intolerable to my disposition. If this be exile
.... then I refuse neither the name nor the lot of a runaway, and gladly I enjoy my state of banishment.' Dr. Johnson, in his Lives of the Poets, taking the memorandum and the letter together, explicitly asserted that “Milton was
one of the last students at either University who suffered the public indignity of corporal punishment.' Mr. Masson (from whose copious Life this account of Milton's early years is taken), after a careful investigation, pronounces that the facts assume this form :-Towards the close of the Lent Term of 1625–26, Milton and his tutor Chappell had a disagreement : the disagreement was of such a kind that Dr. Bainbrigge, as Master of the College, had to interfere. The consequence was that Milton withdrew, or was sent, from college in circumstances equivalent to rustication. His absence extended probably over the whole of the Easter Vacation and part of the Easter Term; but at length an arrangement was made which permitted him to return and save that Term, and to exchange the tutorship of Chappell for that of Tovey.'
While at St. Paul's, Milton had formed a friendship with Charles Diodati, who left that school in February 1622 for Trinity College, Oxford. Diodati's father was a royal physician, and his uncle (best remembered by his Italian version of the Bible) was Professor of Hebrew at Geneva. To this school friend Milton wrote during the period of his rustication the letter just quoted, finding fault with the flat scenery of Cambridge and with the harsh discipline of the University, and giving an account of his London pleasures. He feels no regret for his banishment from college, whither it has been determined he shall return.
In this same spring-time (1626) was written the Elegy on a Fair Infant, the child of his sister Anne, who had married (in 1624) Edward Phillips, of the Crown Office in Chancery.
During the Long Vacation (Sept. 21, 1626) died Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester. His learning and moderation are commended by Fuller, and his name was joined with that of Ussher when Milton subsequently attacked the champions of episcopacy in his Reason of Church Government?
1 Milton had then forgotten his respect for Andrewes. He speaks of him as 'resorting to much ostentation of endless genealogies, as if he were the man St. Paul warns us against in Timothy .... I shall not refuse, therefore, to learn so much prudence as I find in the Roman soldier that attended the Cross, not to stand breaking of legs when the breath is quite out of the body. (Reason of Church Goverment, I.)
Soon afterwards (Oct. 5) departed Nicholas Felton, Bishop of Ely. On each prelate Milton bestowed a Latin elegy. Similar tributes from the same hand honoured the memory of the medical Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Gostlin, and that of the University Bedel, Richard Ridding, who also died during the autumn. The close of the year is marked by an elaborate
Latin, on the Gunpowder Plot. The next Long Vacation (1627), Young, then pastor of the English merchants at Hamburg, received a Latin letter from his sometime pupil. From the Biblical allusions therein we gather that Young had his share in the adversity which the ill-will of the High Churchmen brought upon the Puritan divines and lecturers. But the hope held out of a return to England and of better days was not frustrated. Young returned in March of the next year to be Vicar of Stowmarket, where tradition asserts that his pupil paid him not only the visit promised in a Latin epistle of July 1628, but many others during his incumbency.
The next trace of Milton is found in a slight love-adventure described by himself—a momentary glimpse of some beauty who passed him in some public place in London on May Day, 1628. But the wound of Cupid so eloquently bewailed was probably as conventional a passion as the hyperbolical joy with which he soon after acknowledged (May 20) the receipt of Gill's 'truly great and Virgilian verses' on some now forgotten victory of Henry of Nassau. He is uncertain whether he should rather congratulate that hero on his success itself, or on these glorious strains occasioned by it. The failure of our own arms glanced at in Milton's letter was, with other grievances, the subject of those stormy debates which preluded in the memorable scene of the 5th of June, when old Sir Edward Coke, with passionate sobs, named the Duke of Buckingham to the assenting and excited Commons as the cause of the national calamities. A few days later, Charles I. thought it well to give a direct assent to the Petition of Right.
The same year (1628), while still an undergraduate, Milton wrote some Latin verses for a certain Fellow of his college, who ' being past the age for such trifles' had yet to act