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which must now chiefly work my pardon, that I am-your true and unfeigned friend.'1
'Since you the day before yesterday presented me with an elegant and beautiful poem in hendecasyllabic verse, which far exceeds the worth of gold, you have increased my solicitude to discover in what manner I may requite the favour of so acceptable a gift. I had by me at the time no composition in a like style, which I thought at all fit to come in competition with the excellence of your performance. I send you, therefore, a composition which is not entirely my own, but the production of a truly inspired bard, from whom I last week rendered this ode into Greek heroic verse, as I was lying in bed before the day dawned, without any previous deliberation, but from I know not what sudden impulse. By his help who does not less surpass you in his subject than you do me
This interesting letter, the only one in English which has come down to us, preserved in Milton's autograph in Trinity College Library, Cambridge, and two drafts of which are given in Birch's edition, vol. I. iv.-vi., was written in reply to a friend who had remonstrated with him for his aimless life, and importuned him to take Orders. Its great autobiographical value is apparent. Was it addressed to his tutor Young, whom, we know from the date of his fourth Latin letter, he was visiting two years previously?
WRITES TO HIS TUTOR.
in the execution, I have sent something which may serve to restore the equilibrium between us. If you see reason to find fault with any particular passage, I must inform you that, from the time I left your school, this is the first and the last piece I have ever composed in Greek; since, as you know, I have attended more to Latin and to English composition. He who at this time employs his labour and his time in writing Greek is in danger of writing what will never be read (singing to the deaf). Adieu, and expect to see me, God willing, at London, on Monday, among the booksellers. In the meantime, if you have interest enough with that doctor who is the master of the college, to promote my business, I beseech you to see him as soon as possible, and to act as your friendship for me may prompt.'1
1 Letter V. To Alexander Gill, i.e. the younger. We now follow Milton to Horton, where, we may remark, he wrote Comus, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas. His autobiography is here derived from the brief sketches in the Sec. Def. already given, and from three of his Latin letters. The one just quoted is dated, 'From our suburban residence, E nostro suburbano, December 4, 1634.' The Greek composition here alluded to is his translation of Ps. cxiv., his English version of which is his earliest poetical composition extant; it was written at the age of fifteen, as was also his version of Ps. cxxxvi., so well known in our hymn-books.
'I have many more excuses for not writing thàn you; for it is well known, and you well know, that I am naturally slow in writing, and averse to write ; while you, either from disposition or from habit, seem to have little reluctance in engaging in these literary addresses. It is also in my favour that your method of study is such as to admit of frequent interruptions, in which you visit your friends, write much, sometimes make a journey; but my genius is such that no delay, no love of ease, no care or thought almost of anything, holds me back that I should not arrive whither I am bound, and accomplish some great period of my studies. From this, and no other reasons, it has come to pass that I do not readily employ my pen in any gratuitous exertions; but I am not, nevertheless, O our Theodotus, a very sluggish correspondent; nor have I ever left any letter of yours unanswered till another But what I blame you for is, the not keeping your promise of paying me a visit when you left the city. What can occasion your silence? Is it ill health? Are there in those parts any literati with whom you may play and prattle, as we were wont together? How long do you stay among those
RETIRES TO HORTON.
Hyperboreans? Lately, when I was accidentally informed in London that you were in town, immediately, and as it were with a shout, I rushed to your rooms; but it was only the shadow of a dream, for you were nowhere to be found. Wherefore, fly hither quicker, and settle yourself in some place which may give me the hope that we may at least sometimes exchange visits. But this is as it pleases God. I have much to say to you concerning myself and my studies, but I would rather do it when we meet; and now, to-morrow, we are about to return to that country residence of ours (Horton), and the journey so presses, that I have but just time to scribble this.' 1
'It is impossible for me not to love men like you; for whatever the Deity may have bestowed upon me in other respects, He has certainly inspired me, if any ever were inspired, with a passion for the good and beautiful. Nor did Ceres, according to the fable, ever seek her daughter Proserpine with such unceasing solicitude as I have sought this idea of the beautiful in all the forms and appearances of things (for many are the shapes of
Letter VI. To Charles Diodati, London, Sept. 7 1637.
things divine). Day and night I am wont to continue my search, and I follow it leading me on with certain assured traces. Hence I feel an irresistible impulse to cultivate the friendship of him who, despising the prejudices and false conceptions of the vulgar, dares to think, to speak, and to be that which the highest wisdom has, in every age, taught to be the best. But if my disposition, or my destiny, were such that I could, without any conflict and by my own exertions, emerge to the highest pitch of distinction and praise, there would, nevertheless, be no prohibition, either human or divine, against my constantly cherishing and revering those who have either obtained the same degree of glory, or are successfully labouring to obtain it. But now I know you wish to have your curiosity satisfied. You make many anxious inquiries, even as to what I am thinking of. Hear me, Theodotus, but in your ear, lest I blush; and allow me for a little to speak big words to you. Do you ask what I am thinking of?—So may the good God help me, of Immortality. But what am I doing?—I am pluming my wings and preparing to fly; but my Pegasus has not yet feathers enough to bear it