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and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in man's will what he shall say or what he shall conceal.”h
Milton plunged into controversy with the desperate resolution of a man who is 66 settled and has bent
“ Each corporal agent to the terrible feat:"
but he returns to his own proper inclination with the elasticity of a bow on the rupture of its string. His descent, if descent it may be called, was “ with compulsion and laborious flight;" but we behold him, after a long immersion in the 'pool of discord, “springing upward like a pyramid of fire;" and showing us “ that in his
motion he ascends."
But have we, after all, any just reason to lament this temporary defection of our great poet from his more pleasing and congenial studies? I hesitate in my answer; and, were I to obey the rigour of my judgment rather than to attend to the suggestions of my taste, I should be disposed to determine that we have not. By the appropriation of his powers to controversy, during the high noon of his manhood, we have lost, as we
R. of Church G. P. W. i. 115.
may be certain, many a rich effusion of fancy on which we might have dwelt with exquisite delight: but we have gained by it the spectacle of a magnificent mind in a new course of action, throwing its roaring fulness over a strange country, and surprising us with the force and the flexibility of the human intellect. We are presented by it also with the affecting exhibition of very extraordinary magnanimity and self-devotion; and we may perhaps number the political writings of Milton, how erroneous soever and incompatible with the present system and happiness of Britain may be their principles, among that mass of incongruous materials and events, from the collision and conflict of which have arisen the beauty, the harmony, the vigour and the self-balanced integrity of the English constitution.
On his arrival in England, preferring the busy scene of the capital as better suited to his present views than the retirement of his father's country seat, he hired lodgings in St. Bride's church-yard, and consented to receive as his pupils his two nephews, Edward and John Philips. By this measure, and by his subsequent assent to the importunity of some of his most intimate friends to allow their sons also the benefit of his instruction, he has exposed himself to the title of schoolmaster, which his enemies, who employed it as a reproach, conceived to be of a nature to degrade him. Whether he received money from his pupils cannot now be certainly known; but, while the universality of the practice and the acknowledged narrowness of his income might induce the belief that he did, that singular disinterestedness, stamped on every action of his life, and that enthusiastic desire of communicating knowledge, which could induce him when covered with literary glory to publish an accidence for the instruction of children, would urge us to entertain the contrary opinion, and to conclude that he made a gratuitous communication of the treasures of his mind. This was the report' in the time of Richardson; and a mere feather thrown into this scale must infallibly, as I think, give it the preponderance. Let us hear what he says on the subject of converting his learning and talents into the means of pecuniary profit, and then let us reject a report, so perfectly in harmony with his sentiments, if we
“ Do they think that all these meaner and superfluous things come from God, and the divine gift of learning from the den of Plutus or the cave of Mammon? Certainly never any clear spirit, nursed up in brighter influences, with a soul enlarged to the dimensions of spacious art and high knowledge, ever entered there but with scorn, and thought it ever foul disdain to make pelf or ambition the reward of his studies; it being the greatest honour, the greatest fruit and proficiency of learned studies to despise these things.”*
i Rich. Remarks on Milton, &c. p. Ixxi.
Let this point however be determined at the reader's pleasure. Milton in his little circle of scholars was usefully, if not splendidly engaged ; and he could not perhaps conceive, while he was essentially promoting the highest interests of some of his species, that he was degrading himself in the estimation of the rest. In his conduct to his pupils, as we are informed by Aubrey, severity was happily blended with kindness: he was familiar and free where he could be; distant, and rigid where he was compelled to be. His plan of instruction was formed on a peculiar, and, in my judgment, an erroneous principle. It respected things more than words, and attempted to communicate knowledge when
k Animad. upon the Remons. Def. P. W. i. 194.
the understanding was perhaps incapable of receiving more than the key which opened the important gate.
Many able men, offended at the number of
years devoted by our public schools to the attainment of language, have indulged in some similar speculations, and have endeavoured to crowd the immature and growing mind with a variety of intellectual food, adapted to oppress rather than to nourish it. But the success of these philanthropic projectors has been very partial, and calculated on the whole to attest the wisdom of our established system; which, instilling into the boy the first principles of religion and, with them, the sanctions and the objects of moral duty, contents itself with cultivating the attention and the taste of its pupil, and with giving him the means of access to the knowledge of his riper years.
But Milton's benevolence was always restless in the pursuit of innovation as it tended to improvement; and, like Cæsar in the field, he never thought any thing done while any thing more in his opinion remained to be done. Not content with the common school authors, he placed in the hands of boys from ten to fifteen years of age such writers as, not remarkable for the