« PreviousContinue »
LIFE OF JOHN MILTON.
From a family and town of his name in Oxfordshire, our author derived his descent; but he was born at London, in the year 1608. His father, John Milton, by profession a scrivener, lived in a reputable manner on a competent estate, entirely his own acquisition, having been early disinherited by his parents in renouncing the communion of the church of Rome, to which they were zealously devoted.
Our author was the favourite of his father's hopes, who, to cultivate the great genius which early displayed itself, was at the expense of a domestic tutor; whose care and capacity his pupil hath gratefully celebrated in an excellent Latin elegy. At his initiation he is said to have applied himself to letters with such indefatigable industry, that he rarely was prevailed upon to quit his studies before midnight: which not only made him frequently subject to severe pains in his head, but likewise occasioned that weakness in his eyes, which terminated in a total privation of sight. From a domestic education he was removed to St. Paul's School, to complete his acquaintance with the classics, under the care of Dr. Gill; and after a short stay there, was transplanted to Christ College in Cambridge, where he distin
guished himself in all kinds of academical exercises. Of this society he continued a member till he commenced Master of Arts: and then, leaving the university he returned to his father, who had quitted the town and lived at Horton in Buckinghamshire, where he pursued his studies with unparalleled assiduity and success.
After some years spent in this studious retirement, his mother died, and then he prevailed with his father to gratify an inclination he had long entertained of seeing foreign countries. Sir Henry Wotton, at that time provost of Eton College, gave him a letter of advice for the direction of his travels. Having employed his curiosity about two years in France and Italy, on the news of a civil war breaking out in England, he returned, without taking a survey of Greece and Sicily, as at his setting out the scheme was projected. At Paris the Lord Viscount Scudamore, ambassador from King Charles I. at the court of France, introduced him to the acquaintance of Grotius, who at that time was honoured with the same character there by Christiana, Queen of Sweden. In Rome, Genoa, Florence, and other cities or Italy, he contracted a familiarity with those who were of highest reputation for wit and learning, several of whom gave him very obliging testimonies of their friendship and esteem.
Returning from his travels, he found England on the point of being involved in blood and confusion. He retired to lodgings provided for him in the city; which being commodious for the reception of his sister's sons, and some other young gentlemen, he undertook their education.
In this philosophical course he continued, without a wife, till the year 1643 when he married Mary
the daughter of Richard Powel, of Forrest-hill in Oxfordshire, a gentleman of estate and reputation, in that county, and of principles so very opposite to his son-in-law, that the marriage is more to be wondered at, than the separation which ensued, in little more than a month after she had cohabited with him in London. Her desertion provoked him both to write several treatises concerning the doctrine and discipline of divorce, and also to pay his addresses to a young lady of great wit and beauty; but before he had engaged her affections to conclude the marriage treaty, in a visit to one of his relations, he found his wife prostrate before him, imploring forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not to be doubted but an interview of that nature, so little expected, must wonderfully affect him; and, perhaps, the impressions it made on his imagination, contributed, much to the painting of that pathetic scene in Paradise Lost, in which Eve addresseth herself to Adam for pardon and peace. At the intercession of his friends, who were present, after a short reluctance, he generously sacrificed all his resentment to her
"Soon his heart relented
Towards her, his life so late and sole delight,
And after this re-union, so far was he from retaining any unkind memory of the provocations which he had received from her ill conduct, that when the king's cause was entirely suppressed, and her father who had been active in his loyalty, was exposed to sequestrations, Milton received both him and his family to protection, and free entertainment, in his own house, till their affairs were accommodated by his interest in the victorious faction.
* Book X.
A commission to constitute him Adjutant General to Sir William Waller, was promised, but soon superseded, by Waller's being laid aside, when his masters thought it proper to new-model their army. However, the keenness of his pen had so effectually recommended him to Cromwell's esteem, that when he took the reins of government into his own hands, he advanced him to be Latin Secretary, both him self and the Parliament; the former of these prefer ments he enjoyed both under the usurper and his son, the other until King Charles II. was restored. For some time he had an apartment for his family at Whitehall; but his health requiring a freer accession of air, he was obliged to remove thence to lodgings which opened into St. James' Park. Not long after his settlement there his wife died in child-bed, and much about the time of her death, a gutta serena, which had for several years been gradually increasing, totally extinguished his sight. In this melancholy condition, he was easily prevailed with to think of taking another wife, who was Catharine, the daughter of Captain Woodcock, of Hackney; and she too, in less than a year after their marriage, died in the same unfortunate manner as the former had done; and in his twenty-third sonnet he does honour to her memory.
Being a second time a widower, he employed his friend Dr. Paget to make choice of a third consort, on whose recommendation he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Mr. Minshul, a Cheshire gentleman, by whom he had no issue. Three daughters, by his first wife, were then living; the two elder of whom are said to have been very serviceable to him in his studies: for having been instructed to pronounce not only the modern, but also the Latin, Greek, and Ilebrew languages, they read in their respective ori