« AnteriorContinuar »
The biography of Milton is so familiar to every reader, that I need only observe in this place, that he was born in 1608, and died in 1G74. His prose works are numerous, occupying two folio volumes. I shall enumerate them in the order in which they appeared.
1. Of Reformation in England, and the Causes that have hitherto hindered it; in two Books; written to a Friend ; 1641.
2. Of Prelatical Episcopacy; and whether it may be deduced from the apostolical times, by virtue of those testimonies which are alledged to that purpose in some late treatises; one whereof goes under the name pf James, archbishop of Armagh; 1641.
3. The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy ; in two Books ; 1642.—: from this piece I select the following admir•ble passage. It forms the latter part of the introduction to the second book; and is particularly remarkable, as it seems to give a prophetic assurance of the " Paradise Lost," thq proudest monument of his fame.
Concerning this -wayward subject against prelacy, the touching whereof is so distasteful and disquietous to a number of men; as, by what hath been said, I may deserve of charitable readers to be credited, thatj neither envy nor gall hath entered me on this controyersy; but the enforcement of conscience only, a'nd a preventive fear, lest the omitting of this duty should be against me, when I would store up to myself the good provision of peaceable hours. So, lest it should still be imputed to me, as I have found it hath been, that some self-pleasing humour of vain glory hath incited me to contest with men of high estimation, now while green years are upon my head—from this needless surmisal I shall hope' to dissuade the intelligent and equal auditor, if I can but say successfully that which in this exigent behoves pie; although I would be heard only, if it might be, by the elegant and learned reader, to whom principally for a while 1 shall beg leave I may address myself. To him it will be no new thing, though I tell him that if I hunted after praise, by the ostentation of wit and learning, I should not write thus out of
mine own season, when I have neither yet completed to my mind the full circle of my private studies; although I complain not of any insufficiency to the matter in hand; or were I ready to my wishes, it were a folly to commit any thing elaborately composed to the careless and interrupted listening of these tumultuous times. Next, if I were wise only to my own ends, I would certainly take such a subject as of itself might catch applause; wftcnas this hath all the disadvantages on the contrary, and such a subject as the publishing whereof might be delayed at pleasure, and time enough to pencil it over with all the curious touches of art, even to the perfection of a faultless picture; whenas in this argument, the not deferring is of great moment to the good speeding, that if solidity have leisure to do her office, art cannot have much. Lastly, I should not choose this manner of writing, wherein knowing myself inferior to myself, led by the genial power of nature to another task, I have the use, as I may account it, but of my left hand; and I shall be foolish in saying more to this purpose; yet since it will be such a folly as wisest men go about to commit, have only confessed and so committed, I may trust with more reason, because with more folly, to have courteous pardon. For although a poet, soaring in the high region of his fancies, with his garland and singing robes about him, might, without apology, speak
more of himself than I mean to do; yet for me sitting here below in the cool element of prose, a mortal thing among many readers, of no empyreal conceit, to venture and divulge unusual things of myself, I shall petition to the gentler sort it may not be envy to me. I must say, therefore, that after I had, from my first years, by the ceaseless diligence and care of my father, whom God recompence, been exercised to the tongues, and some sciences, as my age would suffer, by sundry masters and teachers, both at home and at the schools, it was found that whether aught was imposed me by them that had thi overlooking, or betaken to of my own choice in English, or other tongue, prosing or versing, but chiefly the latter, the style, by certain vital 'signs it had, was likely to live. But much latelier, in the private academies of Italy, whither I was favoured to resort, perceiving that some trifles which I had in memory, composed at under twenty or thereabout, (for the manner is that every one must give some proof of his wit and reading there) met with acceptance above what was looked fori and other things which I had shifted in scarcity of books and conveniences, to patch up among them—were received with, written encomiums, which the Italian is not forward to bestow on men of this side the Alps, I began thus far to assent both to them and divers of my friends here at home; and not less to an inward prompting,
vOL. III. N
which now grew daily upon me, that by labour and intent study, (which I take to be my portion in this life) joined to the strong propensity of nature, I might perhaps leave something so written, to after times, as they should not willingly let it die. These thoughts at once possessed me, and these other; that if I were certain to write as men buy leases, for three lives and downward, there ought no regard be sooner had than to God's glory, by the honour and instruction of my country. For which cause, and not only for that I knew it would be hard to arrive at the second rank among the Latins, I applied myself to that resolution which Ariosto followed against the persuasions of Bembo, to fix all the industry and art I could unite to the adorning of my native tongue; not to make verbal curiosities the end, that were a toilsome vanity; but te be an interpreter, and relater of the best and safest things among mine own citizens throughout this island, in the mother dialect. That what the greatest aad choicest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old did for their country, I, in my proportion, with thil over and above, of being a christian, might do for mine; not caring to be once named abroad, though perhaps I could attain to that, but content with these British islands as my world, whose fortune hath hitherto been, that if the Athenians, as some say, made their small deeds great and renowned by their