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plied to such academies all over the land where languages and arts may be taught together; so that youth may be at once brought up to a competency of learning and an honest trade, by which means such of them as had the gift, being enabled to support themselves (without tithes) by the latter, may, by the help of the former, become worthy preachers.
One of his objections to academical education, as it was then conducted, is, that men designed for orders in the church were permitted to act plays, writhing and unboning their clergy limbs to all the antick and dishonest gestures of Trincalos*, buffoons, and bawds, prostituting the shame of that ministry which they had, or were near having, to the eyes of courtiers and court-ladies, their grooms and mademoiselles,
This is sufficiently peevish in a man, who, when he mentions his exile from the college, relates, with great luxuriance, the compensation which the pleasures of the theatre afford him. Plays were therefore only criminal when they were acted by academicks.
He went to the university with a design of entering into the church, but in time altered his mind; for he declared, that whoever became a clergyman, must “subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that could
* By the mention of this name, he evidently refers to Albumazar, acted at Cambridge in 1614. Ignoramus and other plays were performed at the same time. The practice was then very frequent. The last dramatick performance at either university was The Grateful Fair, written by Christopher Smart, and represented at Pembroke College, Cambridge, about 1747.
- not retch, he must straight perjure himself. He thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing." 1. These expressions are, I find, applied to the subscription of the Articles; but it seems more probable that they relate to canonical obedience. I know not any of the Articles which seem to thwart his opinions: but the thoughts of obedience, whether canonical or civil, raised his indignation.
His unwillingness to engage in the ministry, perhaps not yet advanced to a settled resolution of declining it, appears in a letter to one of his friends, who had reproved his suspended and dilatory life, which he seems to have imputed to an insatiable curiosity, and fantastic luxury of various knowledge. To this he writes a cool and plausible answer, in which he endeavours to persuade him, that the delay proceeds not from the delights of desultory study, but from the desire of obtaining more fitness for his task; and that he goes on, not taking thought of being late, so it gives advantage to be more fit.
When he left the university, he returned to his father, then residing at Horton in Buckinghamshire, with whom he lived five years, in which time he is said to have read all the Greek and Latin writers. With what limitations this universality is to be understood, who shall inform us?
It might be supposed, that he who read so much should have done nothing else; but Milton found time to write the Masque of Comus, which was presented at Ludlow, then the residence of the Lord President of Wales, in 1634; and had the honour of being acted by the Earl of Bridgewater's sons and daughter. The fiction is derived from Homer's Circe*; but we never can refuse to any modern the liberty of borrowing from Homer:
a quo ceu fonte perenni
Vatum Pieriis ora rigantur aquis. His next production was Lycidas, an elegy, written in 1637, on the death of Mr. King, the son of
* It has nevertheless its foundation in reality. The Earl of Bridgewater being President of Wales in the year 1634, had his residence at Ludlow-castle in Shropshire, at which time Lord Brackly and Mr. Egerton, his sons, and Lady Alice Egerton, his daughter, passing through a place called the Hay-wood forest, or Haywood in Herefordshire, were benighted, and the lady for a short time lost: this accident being related to their father upon their arrival at his castle, Milton, at the request of his friend Henry Lawes, who taught musick in the family, wrote this masque. Lawes set it to musick, and it was acted on Michaelmas night; the two brothers, the young lady, and Lawes himself, bearing each a part in the representation.
The Lady Alice Egerton became afterwards the wife of the Earl of Carbury, who, at his seat called Golden-grove, in Caermarthenshire, harboured Dr. Jeremy Taylor in the time of the Usurpation. Among the doctor's sermons is one on her death, in which her character is finely portrayed. Her sister, Lady Mary, was given in marriage to Lord Herbert of Cherbury.
Notwithstanding Dr. Johnson's assertion, that the fiction is derived from Homer's Circe, it may be conjectured, that it was rather taken from the Comus of Erycius Puteanus, in which, under the fiction of a dream, the characters of Comus and his attendants are delineated, and the delights of sensualists exposed and reprobated. This little tract was published at Lovain in 1611, and afterwards at Oxford in 1634, the very year in which Milton's Comus was written.
Milton evidently was indebted to the Old Wives Tale of George Peele for the plan of Comus.
Sir John King, secretary for Ireland in the time of Elizabeth, James, and Charles. King was much a favourite at Cambridge, and many of the wits joined to do honour to his memory. Milton's acquaintance with the Italian writers may be discovered by a mixture of longer and shorter verses, according to the rules of Tuscan poetry, and his malignity to the church by some lines which are interpreted as threatening its extermination.
He is supposed about this time to have written his Arcades; for while he lived at Horton he used sometimes to steal from his studies a few days, which he spent at Harefield, the house of the Countess Dowager of Derby, where the Arcades made part of a dramatic entertainment.
He began now to grow weary of the country, and had some purpose of taking chambers in the inns of court, when the death of his mother set him at liberty to travel, for which he obtained his father's consent, and Sir Henry Wotton's directions; with the celebrated precept of prudence, i pensieri stretti, ed il viso sciolto; “ thoughts close, and looks loose.'
In 1638 he left England, and went first to Paris; where, by the favour of Lord Scudamore, he had the opportunity of visiting Grotius, then residing at the French court as ambassador from Christina of Sweden. From Paris he hasted into Italy, of which he had with particular diligence studied the language and literature; and, though he seems to have intended a very quick perambulation of the country, staid two months at Florence; where he found his way into the academies, and produced his compositions with such applause as appears to have exalted him in his own opinion, and confirmed him in the hope, that, “by labour and intense study, which," says he, “ I take to be my portion in this life, joined with a strong propensity of nature,” he might “ leave something so written to after-times, as they should not willingly let it die."
It appears, in all his writings, that he had the usual concomitant of great abilities, a lofty and steady confidence in himself, perhaps not without some contempt of others; for scarcely any man ever wrote so much, and praised so few. Of his praise he was very frugal; as he set its value high, and considered his mention of a name as a security against the waste of time, and a certain preservative from oblivion.
At Florence he could not indeed complain that his merit wanted distinction. Carlo Dati presented him with an encomiastick inscription, in the tumid lapidary style ; and Francini wrote him an ode, of which the first stanza is only empty noise; the rest are perhaps too diffuse on common topicks : but the last is natural and beautiful.
From Florence he went to Sienna, and from Sienna to Rome, where he was again received with kindness by the learned and the great. Holstenius, the keeper of the Vatican library, who had resided three years at Oxford, introduced him to Cardinal Barberini: and he, at a musical entertainment, waited for him at the door, and led him by the hand into the assembly. Here Selvaggi praised him in a distich, and Salsilli in a tetrastick: neither of them of much value. The Italians were gainers by