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LIFE of MILTON.
IT is agreed among all writers, that the family of Mil
ton came originally from Milton in oxfordshire; but from which of the Miltons is not altogether so certain. Some fay, and particularly Mr. Philips, that the family was of Milton near Abington in Oxfordshire, where it had been a long time feated, as appears by the monuments ftill to be seen in Milton-church. But that Milton is not in Oxfordshire, but in Barkfhire; and upon inquiry I find, that there are no such monuments in that church, nor any remains of them. It is more probable therefore that the family came, as Mr. Wood fays, from Milton near Halton and Thame in Oxfordshire: where it flourished several years, till at last the estate was fequefter'd, one of the family having taken the unfortunate fide in the civil wars between the houses of York and Lancafter. John Milton the poet's grand-father, was, according to Mr. Wood, an under-ranger or keeper of the foreft of Shotover, near Halton in Oxfordshire; he was of the religion of Rome, and fuch a bigot that he difinherited his fon only for being a proteftant. Upon this the son, the poet's father, named likewise John Milton, fettled in London, and became a scrivener by the advice of a friend eminent in that profeffion: but he was not fo devoted to gain and to business, as to lose all taste of the politer arts, and was particularly skilled in music, in which he was not only a fine performer, but is also celebrated for feveral pieces of his compofition: and yet on the other hand he was not fo fond of his mufic and amusements, as in the least to neglect his business, but by his diligence and economy acquired a competent eftate, which enabled him afterwards to retire, and live in the country. He was by all accounts a very worthy man;
and married an excellent woman, Sarah of the antient family of the Bradshaws, fays Mr. Wood; but Mr. Philips, our author's nephew, who was more likely to know, fays, of the family of the Caftons derived originally from Wales. Whoever fhe was, she is said to have been a woman of incomparable virtue and goodness; and by her her husband had two fons and a daughter.
The elder of the fons was our famous poet, who was born in the year of our Lord 1608, on the 9th of December in the morning between 6 and 7 o'clock, in Breadftreet London, where his father lived at the fign of the fpread eagle, which was alfo the coat of arms of the family. He was named John, as his father and grand-father had been before him; and from the beginning discovering the marks of an uncommon genius, he was defigned for a scholar, and had his education partly under private tutors, and partly at a public fchool. It has been often controverted whether a public or private education is best, but young Milton was fo happy as to share the advantages of both. It appears from the fourth of his Latin elegies, and from the first and fourth of his familiar epiftles, that Mr. Thomas Young, who was afterwards pastor of the company of English merchants refiding at Hamburg, was one of his private preceptors: and when he had made good progress in his ftudies at home, he was fent to St. Paul's School to be fitted for the university under the care of Mr. Gill, who was the mafter at that time, and to whose fon are addreffed some of his familiar epiftles. In this early time of his life fuch was his love of learning, and fo great was his ambition to surpass his equals, that from his twelfth year he commonly continued his ftudies till midnight, which (as he fays himself in his fecond Defense) was the first ruin of his eyes, to whofe natural debility too were added frequent head-akes: but all could not extinguish or abate his laudable passion for letters. It is very feldom feen, that fuch application and fuch a genius meet in the
fame person. The force of either is great, but both together must perform wonders.
He was now in the 17th year of his age, and was a very good classical scholar and master of several languages, when he was fent to the university of Cambridge, and admitted at Chrift's College (as appears from the register) on the twelfth of February 1624-5, under the tuition of Mr. William Chappel, afterwards Bishop of Cork and Rofs in Ireland. He continued above feven years at the university, and took two degrees, that of Bachelor of Arts in 1628-9, and that of Master in 1632. It is fomewhat remarkable, that tho' the merits of both our universities are perhaps equally great, and tho' poetical exercises are rather more encouraged at Oxford, yet moft of our greatest poets have been bred at Cambridge, as Spenfer, Cowley, Waller, Dryden, Prior, not to mention any of the leffer ones, when there is a greater than all, Milton. He had given early proofs of his poetic genius before he went to the university, and there he excelled more and more, and diftinguished himself by feveral copies of verfes upon occasional subjects, as well as by all his accademical exercifes, many of which are printed among his other works, and fhow him to have had a capacity above his years: and by his obliging behaviour added to his great learning and ingenuity he deservedly gained the affection of many, and admiration of all. We do not find however that he obtained any preferment in the university, or a fellowship in his own college; which feemeth the more extraordinary, as that fociety has always encouraged learning and learned men, had the most excellent Mr. Mede at that time a fellow, and afterwards boafteth the great names of Cudworth, and Burnet author of the Theory of the Earth, and several others. And this together with fome Latin verfes of his to a friend, reflecting upon the university feemingly on this account, might probably have given occafion to the reproach which was afterwards caft upon
him by his adversaries, that he was expelled from the university for irregularities committed there, and forced to fly to Italy: but he sufficiently refutes this calumny in more places than one of his works; and indeed it is no wonder, that a person fo engaged in religious and political controverfies as he was, fhould be calumniated and abufed by the contrary party.
He was defigned by his parents for holy orders; and among the manufcripts of Trinity College in Cambridge there are two draughts in Milton's own hand of a letter to a friend, who had importuned him to take orders, when he had attained the age of twenty-three: but the truth is, he had conceived early prejudices against the doctrin and disciplin of the Church, and fubfcribing to the articles. was in his opinion fubfcribing flave. This no doubt was a disappointment to his friends, who though in comfortable were yet by no means in great circumftances: and neither doth he seem to have had any inclination to any other profeffion; he had too free a spirit to be limited and confined; and was for comprehending all fciences, but profeffing none. And therefore after he had left the university in 1632, he retired to his father's house in the country; for his father had by this time quitted business, and lived at an estate which he had purchased at Horton near Colebrooke in Buckinghamshire. Here he refided with his parents for the space of five years, and, as he himself has informed us, (in his fecond Defense, and the 7th of his familiar Epistles) read over all the Greek and Latin authors, particularly the hiftorians; but now and then made an excurfion to London, sometimes to buy books or to meet his friends from Cambridge, and at other times to learn fomething new in the mathematics or music, with which he was extremely delighted.
His retirement therefore was a learned retirement, and it was not long before the world reaped the fruits of it. It was in the year 1634 that his mask was prefented at