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T is agreed among all writers, that the family of Mil
from which of the Miltons is not altogether fo 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 feen in Milton-church. But that Milton is not in Oxfordshire, but in Barkshire; 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 florished several years, till at laft the estate was fequeftered, 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 forest 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 fon, the poet's father, named likewife John Milton, settled 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 amufements, as in the least to neglect his business, but by his diligence and œconomy acquired a competent estate, which enabled him afterwards to retire, and live in the country. He was by all accounts a very worthy man; and mar
ried an excellent woman, Sarah of the antient family of the Bradshaws, says Mr. Wood; but Mr. Philips, our author's nephew, who was more likely to know, fays, of the family of the Caflons derived originally from Wales. Whoever she was, fhe is faid to have been a woman of incomparable virtue and goodness; and by her, her hufband 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 sign of the spread eagle, which was also 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 fhare 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 progrefs in his ftudies at home, he was fent to St. Paul's School to be fitted for the univerfity under the care of Mr. Gill, who was the master at that time, and to whose fon are addreffed fome 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 says himself in his fecond Defense) was the firft ruin of his eyes, to whofe natural debility too were added frequent head-akes: but all could not extinguish or abate his laudable paffion for letters. It is very seldom seen, that such application and such 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 claffical scholar and master of feveral languages, when he was sent to the univerfity 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 Ross in Ireland. He continued above seven years at the university, and took two degrees, that of Batchelor 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 exercifes are rather more encouraged at Oxford, yet most 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 distinguished himself by several copies of verfes upon occafional fubjects, as well as by all his academical 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 defervedly 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 moft 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 adverfaries, that he was expelled from the univerfity 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 perfon fo engaged in religious and political controverfies as he was, fhould be calumniated and abused 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 difciplin 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 sciences, 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 eftate which he had purchafed 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 Defenfe, and the 7th of his familiar Epiftles) read over all the Greek and Latin authors, particularly the historians; but now and then made an excurfion to London, fometimes to buy books or to meet his friends from Cambridge, and at other times to learn fomething new in the mathematics or mufic, 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
Ludlow-Castle. There was formerly a prefident of Wales, and a fort of a court kept at Ludlow, which has fince been abolished; and the president at that time was the Earl of Bridgwater, before whom Milton's Mask was presented on Michaelmas night, and the principal parts, those of the two brothers, were performed by his Lordfhip's fons the Lord Brackly and Mr. Thomas Egerton, and that of the lady by his Lordship's daughter the Lady Alice Egerton. The occafion of this poem feemeth to have been merely an accident of the two brothers and the lady having loft one another in their way to the caftle: and it is written very much in imitation of Shakespear's Tempest, and the Faithful Shepherdefs of Beaumont and Fletcher; and though one of the firft, is yet one of the most beautiful of Milton's compofitions. It was for fome time handed about only in manufcript; but afterwards to fatisfy the importunity of friends and to fave the trouble of transcribing, it was printed at London, though without the author's name, in 1637, with a dedication to the Lord Brackly by Mr. H. Lawes, who composed the music, and played the part of the attendent Spirit. It was printed likewife at Oxford at the end of Mr. R's poems, as we learn from a letter of Sir Henry Wotton to our author; but who that Mr. R. was, whether Randolph the poet or who elfe, is uncertain. It has lately, tho' with additions and alterations, been exhibited on the ftage feveral times; and we hope the fine poetry and morality have recommended it to the audience, and not barely the authority of Milton's name; and we wifh for the honor of the nation, that the like good tafte prevailed in every thing.
In 1637 he wrote another excellent piece, his Lycidas, wherein he laments the untimely fate of a friend, who was unfortunately drowned that fame year in the month of Auguft, on the Irish feas, in his paffage from Chefter. This friend was Mr. Edward King, fon of Sir John King,