« EdellinenJatka »
ideas. It would also appear from what he says on the subject, that the compositions should be altogether or chiefly in the vernacular language, of the culture of which however he nowhere speaks; but it is hard to believe that at that time Latin composition, at least in prose, should have been neglected. We much doubt however if he would have included verse-making, a practice which must be offensive to every true poet. Lastly, he is to be commended for including science as well as literature in his course of studies, a matter too much neglected at many of our schools. He makes, as we may observe, the same mistake here as in his own teaching, by commencing with the cultivation of the reason, rather than the imagination; but perhaps he may have thought that before the age of twelve that faculty would have been sufficiently developed by works in the mother tongue. We cannot conclude without expressing our approval of the regard shown to religion in this system of education.
The present seems to be the most suitable place for making some observations with respect to the extent of this great poet's learning, concerning which opinions seem to be somewhat vague and indefinite. In Greek and Latin there was probably not a single author that he had not read. He appears to have been quite familiar with Plato while he was at Cambridge; and from two places of Comus we may infer, that while at Horton, if not before, he had read Athenaeus and Tzetzes' comment on Lycophron.” We have also seent his own assertion, that he carried his studies of the writers of these languages down into the Middle Ages. Beside Homer, it is inferred—chiefly, we believe, from the circumstance of his copy, with his marginal annotations, being in existence—that Euripides was his great favourite; but this inference is not borne out by a perusal of his writings, which would rather lead to the conclusion that Æschylus and Sophocles stood higher in his favour. In Latin there can be little doubt but that he had a great partiality for Ovid, and who with poetic feeling has not?—for in his Prolusions he styles him, “poetarum elegantissimus;” and his daughter Deborah said that Ovid was, with Isaiah and Homer, the book she and her sister were most frequently called on to read to their father. It is probable that Milton learned Hebrew in his boyhood; we have seen” that he was familiar with it when he went to Cambridge. He also, as we learn from Phillips, acquired, we know not at what time, but most probably when he was studying with a view to taking orders, the Rabbinical Hebrew and the Syriac; but we have no means of ascertaining how far his studies in the writings of the Rabbin proceeded. We have not met with any certain traces of such learning in his poems; but the following passage in his Doctrine of Divorce (ii. 18) would seem to indicate something more than a mere superficial acquaintance with them. Speaking of the passage in Judges, where the Levite's wife is said to have played the whore against him, he adds, “which Josephus and the Septuagint, with the Chaldean, interpret only of stubbornness and rebellion against her husband; and to this I add, that Kimchi, and the two other Rabbies, who gloss the text, are in the same opinion.” We feel sure that he would never have expressed himself in this manner if he were only relating at second-hand. There can be no doubt but that Milton's knowledge of the Italian writers was both extensive and accurate. Mr. Mitford informs us, that he had seen a copy of the Sonetti of Warchi, which had belonged to him, “in which,” he says, “the most curious expressions, and the most poetical passages, were underlined and marked with extraordinary care.” Of his knowledge of French and Spanish we are informed by others rather than by himself, for he never makes any allusion to any writers in these languages, except in his notice of The Verse prefixed to Paradise Lost, where he says, “Some, both Italian and Spanish poets, have rejected rime;” in which, as we will show hereafter, he probably alluded to Boscan and Jauragui, which writers of course he must have read. It is, in our opinion, hardly possible that he was not acquainted with Cervantes and with Rabelais, Marot, and Montaigne. As Milton in his History of England makes frequent reference to the Saxon Chronicle, we may perhaps venture to infer that he had some knowledge of the AngloSaxon language. He was also well read in the various Latin Annals and Chronicles in which the events of English history had been registered. We need hardly say that his acquaintance with the writers in his own language was most extensive. In the Apology for Smectymnuus, he alludes to the Vision and Creed of Pierce Plowman, in a way which proves that he must have read them. In the same piece he quotes a passage, of some length, from old Gower, and he often quotes or refers to Chaucer. His admiration for Shakespeare is well known ; and Dryden says that “he acknowledged to him that Spenser was his original,” which of course can only mean that this was the English poet in whom he took most delight, and whom he studied most ; for every man's style is his own, a part of his being. It is rather strange that Cowley should be said to have been one of his favourites; but in literature, as in love, we often prefer our opposites. One of the most money-loving men we ever knew, was devotedly fond– of Horace
* Comus, v. 95 seq. (see our Mythol. of Greece and Italy, p. 48, third edit.) and v. 879 seq. (ibid. p. 240). Mr. Mitford says, that Lord Charlemont possessed Milton's Lycophron, with some of his critical remarks. + Above, page 10.
* See above, p. 6. One of our most distinguished men of science was taught Hebrew, actually in his childhood, by his uncle, who educated him. When we first knew him he was about nine years old, and he could then read and translate the Hebrew Psalter wherever it was opened. We remember him at the same time learning fifty lines of the Ilias, with only the aid of a lexicon, in about half an hour.
Milton, as is well known, has references in both his prose and poetry to books of chivalry, and he once meditated a poem on the subject of Arthur. Hence his biographers in general have taken occasion to assert that he was deeply read in the old romances of the cycles of Arthur and Charlemagne, and of the Amadises, Palmerins, and others of Spain. We doubt however if his reading was so extensive; at least it is not proved by the following passage of the Apology for Smectymnuus, on which the critics seem to rest.
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 all over Christendom. There I read it in the oath of every knight, that he should defend to the expense of his best blood the honour and chastity of virgin or matron.
We may observe that Milton, who never uses his words at random, employs that of cantos in speaking of these romances; from which it is quite evident that it was poems he had chiefly in view, and these could only be the Orlando Innamorato and Furioso, and the Faerie Queen—more especially this last, and possibly the Amadigi and some others of the romantic poems of Italy. The only prose romance that it appears certain that he read, was the Mort d’Arthur; for there is an evident reference to it in Paradise Regained, and which proves what an enduring impression it had made on his memory.” It has however never, we believe, been observed
* In one of his Academic Prolusions we meet the following passage: “Nec validissimi illi regis Arthorii pugiles igniti et flammigerantis castelli incantimenta vicerunt facilius et dissiparunt.” We cannot tell