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JOHN MILTON, the justly celebrated Author of the following Poems, was born December 9th, 1608, in Bread Street, London. His grandfather was so rigid a Papist, that be, in consequence of difference of religious opinions, disinherited his son, (the father of our Poet) who was compelled to follow the profession of a scrivener. He married a lady of the name of Caston, by whom he had three children, John, the Poet, Christopher, and Anne. Milton received the rudiments of his education from Mr. Thomas Young, afterwards Chaplain to the resident English Merchants, at Hamburgh: on leaving this gentlemen he went to St. Paul's School, then under the superintendance of Mr. Gill; from whence he removed to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he was admitted as a pensioner, in February 1624. soon exhibited his accurate knowledge of Latin, and is considered to have been the first Englishman who wrote with classic elegance and taste in that language. In 1628 be obtained the degree of Bachelor, and in 1632, that of Master of Arts. He appears to have taken great antipathy to the University, on account of some imagined severity towards him. Certain it is, he determined to quit it, and at the same time, he resigned all idea of entering the church, which at one time he intended. Upon his leaving College, he returned to his father's house at Horton,
in Buckinghamshire, where he remained about five years, studying the Greek and Roman authors, and occasionally exercising himself in Poetry.
In the year 1634, he produced "Comus," a Mask; and three years after, " Lycidas," which was written upon the death of a son of Sir J. King, Secretary for Ireland; and about this time he wrote his "Arcades."
Upon the death of his mother, he obtained his father's consent to travel, and in 1638 he left England for Paris, where he was introduced to the celebrated Grotius, who was then ambassador from the court of Sweden. He prosecuted his journey as far as Italy, and returned to his native country, after an absence of fifteen months.
England at this period was the scene of civil disturbance, and Milton, being hostile to monarchial principles, wrote boldly and ably in support of the republican party. On his return to his native country, he hired a house in Aldersgate Street, where he took pupils, amongst whom were two sons of his sister, Phillips. The religious controversies of the time had their effect on our Author, who published his treatise on the Reformation, in favour of the Puritans, in 1641.
About the thirty-fifth year of his age he married a daughter of Mr. Powell, of Forest Hill, Oxfordshire, a justice of the peace, and an inflexible Royalist. This marriage, to the daughter of a man whose political principles were diametrically opposite to his own, is a circumstance far more remarkable, than the separation which took place about a month after their union. The desertion of his wife so greatly irritated him, that he is said to have sought a divorce: and, in consequence of this event, he published his three treatises on that subject, in order to justify the step he bad in contemplation. His wife, however, sought an opportunity of humbling herself to him, and finally effected a cordial reconciliation, not only for herself, but also for her family, who at the time,
when the Royalists were hard pressed, found refuge and succour in the house of Milton.
In the year 1645, he published a collection of Latin and English Poems, in which the "Allegra," and "Penseroso," were included. Shortly after the execution of Charles the First, Cromwell appointed him Latin Secretary to himself and the Parliament, which office he held until the Restoration. He lived with his family for some time in Whitehall; bu he was compelled to take lodgings in St. James' Park, in consequence of ill health. While residing here he lost his wife, in child-bed, who left him three daughters: this affliction was speedily followed by another the loss of sight. Under these distressing circumstances, he gained the affections of a Miss Hancock, of Hackney, whom he married, and whose loss he had to deplore in less than twelve months, from a similar cause to that which had occasioned the death of bis former wife, This deprivation the Poet beautifully alludes to, in his eighteenth
Being now at the age of forty-seven, freed from external interruption, through his loss of sight, he determined to prosecute the design he had long formed of three works; the History of his Country, a Latin Dictionary, and an Epic Poem. His Latin Dictionary he never finished: but the three folio volumes which he left behind, were of the greatest use to the compilers of the "Cambridge Dictionary." The wonder is, not that he did not complete it, but that, with the disadvantages under which he laboured, of using the sight of others for the purpose of reference, be completed so large a portion. To this circumstance may also be attributed the small progress he made in his history, which only reached the period of the conquest. The subject which he at length chose for his Epic, was "Paradise Lost."
Upon the Restoration, Milton being apprehensive of the vengeance of the Royalists, concealed himself in Bartholemew Close, where he remained until after,
the passing of the act of oblivion. About this period he married for the third time; but this event was productive of any thing but comfort and consolation to him. He had a house in Jewin Street for some time, from whence he removed to Artillery Walk, near Bunhill Fields, where he resided during the remainder of his life.
Upon quitting the office of Latin secretary, his time became free for the cultivation of his literary pursuits; and he then, in good earnest applied the fruitful resources of his elegant and accomplished mind to composition. The "Paradise Lost" was written at different times, and was sold on the 27th of April, 1667, to Samuel Simmons, for five pounds, with an agreement for the same sum when fifteen hundred copies should be disposed of: and again five pounds when the same number should be sold of a second edition, and another five pounds after a similar sale of the third. All the editions were limited to fifteen hundred copies. The third was published in 1678, and the widow, to whom the copyright then devolved, sold all her right in the work to Simmons, for eight pounds: whence it appears that twenty-eight pounds was the remuneration received for a work which immortalized the poet, and the nation which gave him birth!
In the year 1671, four years after the publication of the "Paradise Lost," he produced his "Paradise Regained," and "Samson Agonistes." Some years after, be printed his "Familiar Epistles," in Latin, to which, in order to form a volume, he added some Latin Exercises.
Like Homer, Milton appears not to have formed a just opinion of his own writings. As the former preferred the Odyssey, so the latter considered the "Paradise Regained" to be his best production. An extraordinary fact-which shows, how highly gifted soever an author may be, and however competent to judge on other matters, that he is not so on the subject of his own compositions.
Towards the close of his life he was greatly troubled with the gout, which in the year 1674 caused his death. He died on the 10th of November, in the most quiet and placid manner, in his 66th year, and was buried in the chancel of St. Giles', Cripplegate, next to the grave of his father; and a tablet with an inscription has lately been placed there to his A monument also was erected in West-> minster Abbey ;-but he left one behind him in his works, far more durable than any that human art could erect and by no one can the line of Horace be more properly or justly claimed :
"Exegi Monumentum Ære perennius."
Milton when young was exceedingly handsome : the writer of this brief sketch has in his possession, a copy, from an enamel minature, taken apparently when he was about thirty. His complexion was fair and ruddy, with every appearance of health, light brown flowing hair; blue eyes, of marked expression; long eyelashes; arched eyebrows; and a beautifully formed forebead.
In his babits he was strict, and in his diet particularly abstemious: he scrupulously avoided spirituous liquors, being convinced of their destructive tendency to individuals of sedentary occupations. His health having suffered by night studies in his youth, he was accustomed to retire early (seldom later than nine) to bed; and rose generally at five in summer, and six in winter. When blindness prevented his taking other exercises, he had a machine to swing on, and amused himself with playing on an organ. His deportment was erect, open, and affable; his conversation easy, cheerful, and instructive; his wit was always at command, facetious, grave, or satirical, as the subject required. His judgment was just, his apprehension quick, and his memory peculiarly retentive. Of the English poets he preferred Spenser, Shakspeare, and Cowley. "Paradise Lost" too much praise cannot be bestowed,