Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

Then, Hypanis and Dymas, wounded by
Their friends ; nor thee, Pantheus, thy piety,
Nor consecrated mitre, from the same
Ill fate could save; my country's funeral flame
And Troy's cold ashes I attest, and call
To witness for myself, that, in their fall,
No foes, no death, nor danger, I declin’d,
Did and deserv'd no less, my fate to find.

From this kind of concatenated metre he afterwards refrained, and taught his followers the art of concluding their sense in couplets; which has perhaps been with rather too mach constancy pursued.

This passage exhibits one of those triplets which are not unfrequent in this first essay, but which it is to be supposed his maturer judgment disapproved, since in his latter works he has totally forborne them.

His rhymes are such as seem found without difficulty, by following the sense ; and are, for the most part, as exact at least as those of other poets, though now and then the reader is shifted off with what he can get:

O how transform'd!
How mach unlike that Hector, who return'd
Clad in Achilles' spoils !

And again :

From thence a thousand lesser poets sprung,
Like petty princes from the fall of Rome.

Sometimes the weight of rhyme is laid upon a word too feeble to sustain it:

Troy confounded falls
From all her glories : if it might have stood
By any power, by this right hand it shou'd.
“And though my outward state misfortune hutk
Deprest thus low, it cannot reach my faith.
Thus, by his fraud and our own faith o'ercome,
A feigned tear destroys us, against whom
Tydides nor Achilles could prevail,
Nor ten years conflict, nor a thousand sail.

He is not very careful to vary the ends of his verses ; in one passage the word die rhymes three couplets in six.

Most of these petty faults are in bis first productions, when he was less skilful, or at least less dextrous in the use of words; and, though they had been more frequent, they could only bave lessened the grace, not the strength, of his composition. He is one of the writers that improved our taste, and advanced our language, and whom we ought therefore to read with gratitude, though, having donę much, he left much to do.

MILTON.

The LIFE OF MILTON has been already written in so many forms, and with such minute inquiry, that I might perhaps more properly have contented myself with the addition of a few notes on mr. Fenton's elegant abridgment, but that a new narrative was thought necessary to the uniformity of this edition.

JOHN MILTON was by birth a gentleman, descended from the proprietors of Milton, near Thame, in Oxfordshire, one of whom forfeited his estate in the times of York and Lancaster. Which side he took I know not; his descend. ant inherited no veneration for the white rose.

His grandfather, John, was keeper of the forest of Shotover, a zealous papist, who disinherited his son, because he had forsaken the religion of his ancestors.

His father, John, who was the son disinherited, had recourse for his support to the profession of a scrivener. He was a man eminent for his skill in music, many of his compositions being still to be found; and his reputation in his profession was such, that he grew rich, and retired to an estate. He had probably more than common literature, as his son addresses him in one of his most elaborate Latin poems. He married a gentlewoman of the name of Caston, a Welsh family, by whom he had two sons, John the poet, and Christopher, who studied the law, and adhered, as the law taught him, to the king's party, for which he was a while persecuted; but having, by his brother's interest, obtained permission to live in quiet, he supported himself so honourably by chamber-practice, that, soon after the accession of king James, he was knighted, and made a judge ; but, his constitution being too weak for business, he retired before any disreputable compliances became necessary.

He bad likewise a daughter, Anne, whom he married, with a considerable fortune, to Edward Philips, who came from Shrewsbury, and rose in the crown office to be secondary. By him she had two sons, John and Edward, who were educated by the poet, and from whom is derived the only authentic account of his domestic manners.

John, the poet, was born in his father's house, at the Spread-Eagle in Bread-street, Dec. 9, 1608, between six and seven in the morning. His father appears to have been very solicitous about his education; for he was instructed at first by private tuition under the care of Thomas Young, who was afterwards chaplain to the English merchants at Hamburgh, and of whom we have reason to think well, since his scholar considered him as worthy of an epistolary elegy.

He was then sent to St. Paul's school, under the care of mr. Gill; and removed, in the beginning of his sixteenth year, to Christ's college in Cambridge, where he entered a sizar, Feb. 12, 1624.

He was at this time eminently skilled in the Latin tongue; and he himself, by annexing the dates to his first compositions, a boast of which the learned Politian had given him an example, seems to commend the earliness of his own proficiency to the notice of posterity. But the products of his vernal fertility have been surpassed by many, ticularly by his contemporary Cowley. Of the powers of the mind it is difficult to form an estimate: many have excelled Milton in their first essays, who never rose to works like Paradise Lost.

At fifteen, a date which he uses till he is sixteen, he translated or versified two psalms, 114 and 136, which he thought worthy of the public eye; but they raise no great expectations. They would in any numerous school have obtained praise, but not excited wonder.

Many of his elegies appear to have been written in his eighteenth year, by which it appears that he had then read the Roman authors with very nice discernment. I once heard mr. Hampton, the translator of Polybius, remark, what I think is true, that Milton was the first Englishman who, after the revival of letters, wrote Latin verses with classic elegance. If any exceptions can be made, they are very few: Haddon and Ascham, the pride of Elizabetli's

and par

reign, however they have succeeded in prose, no sooner attempt verse than they provoke derision. If we produced any thing worthy of notice before the elegies of Milton, it was perhaps Alabaster's Roxana.

of the exercises which the rules of the university required, some were published by him in his maturer years. They had been undoubtedly applauded; for they were such as few can perform; yet there is reason to suspect that he was regarded in his college with no great fondness. Thrat he obtained no fellowship is certain; but the unkindness with which he was treated was not merely negative. I am ashamed to relate, what I fear is true, that Milton was one of the last students in either university that suffered the public indignity of corporal correction.

It was, in the violence of controversial hostility, objected to him, that he was expelled. This he steadily denies, and it was apparently not true; but it seems plain, from his own verses to Diodati, that he had incurred rustication, a temporary dismission into the country, with perhaps the loss of a term.

Me tenet urbs refluâ quam Thamesis alluit ondâ,

Meque, nec invitum, patria dulcis habet.
Jam nec arundiferum mihi cura revisere Camum,

Nec dudım vetiti me laris angit amor.-
Nec duri libet usque minas perferre magistri,

Cæteraque ingenio non subeunda meo.
Si sit hoc exilium, patrios adisse penates,

Et, vacuum curis, otia grata sequi,
Non ego vel profugi nomen sortemve recuso,

Lætus et exilii conditione fruor.

I cannot find any meaning but this, which even kindness and reverence can give the term vetiti laris, “ a habitation from which he is excluded;" or how exile can be otherwise interpreted. He declares yet more, that he is weary of enduring the threats of a rigorous master, and something else, which a temper like his cannot undergo. What was more than threat was probably punishment. This poem, which mentions his exile, proves likewise that it was not perpetual: for it concludes with a resolution of returning some

« AnteriorContinua »