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been injured and illbedighted; for having no other shift, what help but to turn the inside outwards, especially if the lining be of the same, or, as it is sometimes, much better? So if my name and outward demeanour be not evident enough to defend me, I must make trial if the discovery of my inmost thoughts can : wherein of two purposes both honest, and both sincere, the one perhaps I shall not miss; although I fail to gain belief with others, of being such as my perpetual thoughts shall here disclose me, I may yet not fail of success in persuading some to be such really themselves, as they cannot believe me to be more than what I feign.
24. I had my time, readers, as others have, who have good learning bestowed upon them, to be sent to those places where, the opinion was, it might be soonest attained ; and as the manner is, was not unstudied in those authors which are most commended. Whereof some were grave orators and historians, whose matter methought I loved indeed, but as my age then was, so I understood them; others were the smooth elegiac poets, ("9) whereof the schools are not scarce, whom both for the pleasing sound of their numerous writing,
(19) Among the elegiac poets his favourite was Ovid, at which no one will wonder who is acquainted with all the merits of that various and pleasing writer. Sir Egerton Brydges agrees with Warton,-he generally agrees with him," that it would have been more probable that he would have taken Lucretius and Virgil, as more congenial to him.” Life of Milton, p. 29. These, indeed, are great poets, but not very likely to become the favourites of a youth of ardent temperament and genius.
which in imitation I found most easy, and most agreeable to nature's part in me, and for their matter, which what it is, there be few who know not, I was so allured to read, that no recreation came to me better welcome. For that it was then those years with me which are excused, though they be least severe, I may be saved the labour to remember ye. Whence having observed them to account it the chief glory of their wit, in that they were ablest to judge, to praise, and by that could esteem themselves worthiest to love those high perfections, which under one or other name they took to celebrate; I thought with myself by every instinct and presage of nature, which is not wont to be false, that what emboldened them to this task, might with such diligence as they used embolden me; and that what judgment, wit, or elegance was my share, would herein best appear, and best value itself, by how much more wisely, and with more love of virtue I should choose (let rude ears be absent) the object of not unlike praises. For albeit these thoughts to some will seem virtuous and commendable, to others only pardonable, to a third sort perhaps idle; yet the mentioning of them now will end in serious.
25. Nor blame it, readers, in those years to propose to themselves such a reward, as the noblest dispositions above other things in this life have some
Besides, if he wanted a model for poetical epistles, it would have been strange to find him groping among the atoms of Epicurus, or the details of agriculture, for something to suit his purpose.
times preferred: whereof not to be sensible when good and fair in one person meet, argues both a gross and shallow judgment, and withal an ungentle, and swainish breast. For by the firm settling of these persuasions, I became, to my best memory, so much a proficient, that if I found those authors any where speaking unworthy things of themselves, or unchaste of those names which before they had extolled; this effect it wrought with me, from that time forward their art I still applauded, but the men I deplored ; and above them all, preferred the two famous renowners of Beatrice (20) and Laura, who never write but honour of them to whom they devote their verse, displaying sublime and pure thoughts, without transgression. And long it was not after, when I was confirmed in this opinion, that he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy. These reasonings, together with a certain niceness of nature, an honest haughtiness, and self-esteem either of what I was, or what I might be, (which let envy call pride,) and lastly that modesty, whereof though not in the title-page, yet here I may be excused to make some beseeming profession; all these uniting the supply of their natural aid together, kept me still above
(?) Dante and Petrarch.
those low descents of mind, beneath which he must deject and plunge himself, that can agree to saleable and unlawful prostitutions.
26. Next, (for hear me out now, readers,) that I may tell ye whither my younger feet wandered ; I betook me among those lofty fables and romances,(?) which recount in solemn cantos the deeds of knighthood founded by our victorious kings, and from hence had in renown over all Christendom. There I read it in the oath of every knight, that he should defend to the expense of his best blood, or of his life, if it so befel him, the honour and chastity of virgin or matron; from whence even then I learned what a noble virtue chastity sure must be, to the defence
(21) It has sometimes been thought matter of wonder that, in spite of his high classical predilections, Milton should have delighted in the romances of chivalry. But he had a catholic taste, and loved excellence wherever it was to be found. Besides, those romances were still so much read in his age, that we find even Bunyan covertly alluding, in the Pligrim's Progress, to circumstances which prove he was familiar with them. Every one, in fact, who possesses a spark of imagination, must find pleasure in the wild adventures they describe, and which, as far as they are natural, are in perfect harmony with the no less romantic enterprises of the ancients. To allude to a few examples only, what can be conceived more in the spirit of knighterrantry, than the Argonautic expedition, the wanderings of Hercules and Bellerophon, the daring undertaking of those young men who penetrated into the heart of Africa, the voyage of Hanno, the travels of Euhemerus, or the fanatic expedition of Apollonius of Tyana to the country of the Gymnosophists ? In the Areopagitica, where, with the skill of an orator, he is beating down Plato's arguments for a censorship, he mentions two of these romances,—the Arcadia and Monte Mayor,which were, perhaps, among his favourites.
of which so many worthies, by such a dear adventure of themselves, had sworn. And if I found in the story afterward, any of them, by word or deed, breaking that oath, I judged it the same fault of the poet, as that which is attributed to Homer, to have written indecent things of the gods.(22) Only this my mind gave me, that every free and gentle spirit, without that oath, ought to be born a knight, nor needed to expect the gilt spur, or the laying of a sword upon his shoulder to stir him up both by his counsel and his arms, to secure and protect the weakness of any attempted
(22) He here alludes to a passage in the second book of Plato's Republic : (t. vi. 69, et seqq. edit. Bekk.) where the philosopher introduces Adeimantus animadverting with just severity on the absurdity and immorality sometimes found in the works of the poets, “who, though they praise virtue, represent it, nevertheless, as difficult and laborious, and much inferior to vice in administering delight. They agree also with the multitude in considering injustice more profitable than justice; and, while they despise the poor and uninfluential, whom, at the same time, perhaps, they admit to be superior in virtue, all their praise and admiration, both in public and private, are lavished on the rich and powerful. But most extraordinary of all, are their discourses concerning virtue and the gods, who, according to them, frequently overwhelm the good with misfortune, and rain plenty and prosperity upon the impiously wicked.” He then, in a very curious passage, too long to be here inserted, describes how the holy quacks of antiquity, true prototypes of the Pope, sold indulgences to the wealthy, and undertook, for a consideration, to free the souls of their ancestors from purgatory, or to avenge them upon their enemies, whether good or bad, by purchasing or compelling the connivance of the gods, 'eraywyaic tioi kai katadeouous, that is, “by certain allurements and magical charms.” In these unworthy sentiments, Homer, he says, participated, representing the gods as diverted from their purpose by prayers and sacrifices.