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teaching the ancient languages, he improved himself in them; and he learned Hebrew, Chaldæan, and Syriac. In 1640, at the meeting of the Long Parliament, he made his debut as a polemical writer, and pleaded the cause of religious liberty against the Established Church. His work, addressed to a friend, was divided into two books, and entitled, “ Of Reformation touching Church Discipline, and the Causes which have hitherto prevented it.” He afterwards published three treatises,“Of Prelatical Episcopacy,” “ The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy,” and “ Apology for Smectymnuus.”. This name is composed of the initials of the five ministers who adopted it in their reply to Bishop Hall's “ Humble Remonstrance,” in defence of episcopacy. For readers of the present day, there is nothing of interest in these works, unless it be what Milton says in the “ Reason of Church Government” concerning his intention of writing a poem in English.
“ The thing which I had to say, and those intentions which have lived within me ever since I could conceive myself any thing worth to my country, I return to crave excuse that urgent reason hath pluckt from me by an abortive and fore-dated discovery; and the accomplishment of them lies not but in a power above man's to promise. Neither do I think it shame to covenant with any knowing reader that for some few years yet I may go on trust with him toward the payment of what I am now indebted, as being a work not to be raised from the heat of youth or the vapours of wine ; nor to be obtained by the invocations of Dame Memory and her seven daughters; but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and send out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases.” In another place, speaking of his travels in Italy, and the encomiums with which his writings were received there, he says, “I began to assent both to them and divers of my friends here at home, and not less to an inward prompting, which now grew daily upon me, that, by labour and intent study (which I take to be my portion in this life), joined with the strong propensity of nature, 1 might perhaps leave something so written to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die. These thoughts at once possessed me, and these other ...... to fix all the industry and art I could unite to the adorning of my native tongue; ........ that, what the greatest and choicest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old, did for their country, I, in my proportion, with this 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.”
Milton did not make so good a market of his renown as Shakspeare, The latter delights us by the carelessness of his life : on the other hand, we love to see a genius yet unknown, foretelling his own fame, when after-times, confirming the prediction, reply,—“No! we have not let die that something which thou hast written.”
Unfortunately, Milton, carried away by the impetuosity of his temper in this religious dispute, treats with disdain the learned and venerable Archbishop Usher, to whom science is indebted for an admirable work on the History of Chronology.
At the age of nineteen, Milton wrote his seventh Latin elegy, in which he says :
It was the spring, and newly risen day
But one I mark’d,—then peace forsook my breast-
A fever new to me of fierce desire
Till Learning taught me in his shady bower
This frost, however, was not continual, or we should be obliged to suppose that he loved none of his three wives ; for he was thrice married. But who was the maiden who had so suddenly vanished ? Perhaps that celestial companion, who visited the British Homer at night, and dictated his tenderest verses. In an excellent portraiture of Milton, M. Pichot relates that this mysterious sylph was Leonora, the Italian. The author of the “ Pilgrimage to Cambridge” has founded a pathetic historical tale on this idea. The Rev. Mr. Bowles and Bulwer have worked up the same fiction.
The Earl of Essex having taken Reading in 1643, Milton's father and mother, who had retired to that town, returned to London and took up their residence with the poet. Milton was then thirty-five years old. One day, he stole away from home wholly unattended. His absence lasted a month, at the expiration of which he returned a married man to that abode which he quitted a bachelor. He had married the eldest daughter of Richard Powell, a justice of the peace, of Forest Hill, near Shotover, in Oxfordshire. Powell had borrowed of Milton's father five hundred pounds, which he never repaid; but he considered that he should settle the account by giving his daughter to the son of his creditor. This match, contracted