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JOHN MILTON. 1608—1674.
Is not each great, each amiahle Muse
Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart:
Far above all the poets of his own age, and, in learning, invention, and sublimity, without an equal in the whole range of English literature, stands JOHN Miltox. He was born in London, December 9, 1608. His father, who was a scrivener, and who had suffered much for conscience' sake, doubtless infused into his son those principles of religious freedom which made him, in subsequent years, the bulwark of that holy cause in England. He was also early instructed in music, to which may doubtless be attributed that richness and harmony of his versification which distinguished him as much as his learning and imagination. His early education was conducted with great care. At sixteen he entered the University of Cambridge. After leaving the university, where he was distinguished for his scholarship, he retired to the house of his father, who had relinquished business, and had purchased a small property at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Here he lived five years, devoting his time most assiduously to classical literature, raking the wellknown remark that he “CARED NOT HOW LATE HE CAME INTO LIFE, ONLY THAT IB CAME FIT." While in the university he had written his grand “ Hymn on the Nativity, any one verse of which was sufficient to show that a new and great light was about to rise on English poetry:" and there, at his father's, he wrote his “Comus,” and “ Lycidas," his « L'Allegro," and "Il Penseroso," and his « Arcades."
In 1638 he went to Italy, the most accomplished Englishman that ever visited her classical shores. Here his society was courted by “the choicest Italian wits," and he visited Galileo, then a prisoner in the Inquisition. On his return home, he opened a school in London, and devoted himself with great assiduity to the business of instruction. In the mean time, he entered into the religious disputes of the day, engaging in the controversy singlehanded against all the royalists and prelates; and though numbering among his antagonists such men as Bishop Hall and Archbishop Usher, proving bim. self equal to them all. In 1643 he married the daughter of Richard Powell, a nigh royalist; but the connection did not prove a happy one, bis wise being utterly incapable of appreciating the loftiness and purity of the poet's character. In 1649 he was appointed foreign secretary under Cromwell, which office he held till the death of Cromwell, 1658.
1 "The Tuscan artist.”
Paradise Lost, book 1. Iine 288.
For ten years Milton's eyesight had been failing, owing to the “ wearisome studies and midnight watchings" of his youth. The last remains of it were sacrificed in the composition of his " Defensio Populi," (Defence of the People of England;) and by the close of the year 1652 he was totally blind : « Dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon." At the Restoration he was obliged to conceal himself till the publication of the act of oblivion released him from danger. He then devoted himself exclusively to study, and especially to the composition of “Paradise Lost." The idea of this unequalled poem was probably conceived as early as 1642. It was published in 1667. For the first and second editions the blind poet received but the sum of five pounds each! In 1671 he produced his “ Paradise Regained,” and “Samson Agonistes.” A long sufferer from an hereditary disease, his life was now drawing to a close. His mind was calm and bright to the last, and he died without a struggle, on Sunday, the Sth of November, 1674.
It is hardly necessary here to make any criticisms upon the works of this “ greatest of great men,' as essays almost numberless may be found upon his life and writings." His chief poetical works are-1. His « Paradise Lost," in twelve books, which is an account of the temptation and fall of our first parents. 2. « Paradise Regained," in four books, depicting the temptation and criumph of “ the second Adam, the Lord from Heaven.” 3. “Samson Agonistes,"2 a dramatic poem, relating the incidents of the life of the great chame pion of the Israelites, from the period of his blindness to the catastrophe that ended in his death. 4. "Lycidas," a monody on the death of a beloved
1 The best edition of Milton's poetry is that of Todd: London, 1809, 7 vols. This contains the invaluable verbal index. Another excellent edition has been edited by Sir Egerton Brydges, in 6 vols., the first volume of which is taken up with his life, written with that taste and discrimination so characteristic of the author, to whom English literature is under lasting obligations. The best edstion of his prose works is by Symmons, 7 vols. 8vo. His prose and poetry have been publisbed in London in one large royal 8vo. An edition of his prose works has been edited in this country by the Rev. Rufus W. Griswold. An eloquent Essay on Milton may be found in Macaulay's Miscells. nies; another in the Retrospective Review, xiv. 282; and another in the London Quarterly, xxxvi. 29. In the following numbers of the Spectator, Addison has written a series of admirable criticisms on the "Paradise Lost:" 262, 267, 273, 279, and so on for fifteen more numbers, at intervals of six, being published every Saturday, In No. 76 of the Observer, by Cumberland, there are some remarks upon the "Samson Agonistes." Consult, also, Hallam's "Literature of Europe;" and read an admirable article on Milton in Dr. Channing's works.
of Johnson's “Life," Sir Egerton Brydges justly remarks: “It is written in a bad, malignant, and even vulgar spirit. The langunge is sometimes coarse, and the humor pedantic and gross. The criticism on the Paradise Lost is powerful and grand : the criticism on the other poems is mean, false, and execrable."- Imaginative Biography, i. 149. Or Addison's "Essay," the same writer says: "It ought to be studied and almost got by heart by every cultivated mind which understands the English language. It is in all respects a masterly performance; just in thought, full of taste and the finest sensibility, eloquent and beautiful in composition, widely learned, and so clearly explanatory of the true principles of poetry, that whoever is master of them cannot mistake in his decision of poetical merit. It puts Milton above all other poets on such tests as cannot be resisted. Life, 1. 221.
9 Tbat in, «the champion," "the combatant," from the Greek ayw VLOTOS, (agonites,) "a combatan at the public games."
friend, (Mr. Edward King,) who was shipwrecked in the Irish Sea. 5. « L'Allegro," an ode to mirth. 6. «Il Penseroso," an ode to melancholy. 7. «Comus, a mask," the purest and most exquisite creation of the imagination and fancy in English literature. 8. “ Arcades,”?! a part of a mask. 9. «Hymn on the Nativity.” 10. “ Sonnets."
ODE ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY..
This is the month, and this the happy morn,
Wherein the Son of Heaven's eternal King,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,
To sit the midst of Trinal-Unity,
He laid aside; and, here with us to be,
Say, heavenly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
To welcome him to this his new abode,
See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odors sweet;
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honor first thy Lord to greet,
1 « Arcades," that is, the Arcadian shepherds: Of course, it is of a pastoral character.
9* When it is recollected that this plece was produced by the author at the age of twenty-one, all deep thinkers, of fancy and sensibility, must pore over it with delighted wonder. The vigor, the grandeur, the imaginativeness of the conception; the force and maturity of language; the bound, the gathering strength, the thundering roll of the metre; the largeness of the views; the extent of the learning; the solemn and awful tones; the enthusiasm, and a certain spell in the epithets, which puts the reader into a state of mysterious excitement, all these may be better felt than descrihed."-Sir Egerton Brydger.
It was the winter wild,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies; .
With her great Master so to sympathize;
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
But peaceful was the night,
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,
Bending one way their precious influence;
Or Lucifer, that often warn'd them thence;
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row;
Was kindly come to live with them below;
As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The oracles are dumb,
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
The parting Genius is with sighing sent:
The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint;
Affrights the Flamens at their service quaint;
Time is, our tedious song should here have ending:
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending,
LYCIDAS. In this Monody, the author bewails a learned friend, unfortunately drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish seas, 1637: and by occasion foretells the ruin of our corrupted clergy, then in their highth.
Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
1 This poem was made upon the unfortunate and untimely death of Mr. Edward King, son of Sir John King, Secretary for Ireland, a fellow collegian and intimate friend of Milton, who, as he was going to visit his relations in Ireland, was drowned, August 10, 1637, in the 25th year of his age. Dr. Newton has observed, that Lycidas is with great indgment made of the pastoral kind, as both ME.