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That in the reigns of Charles and James the Paradise Lost received no pub. lic acclamations is readily confessed. Wit and literature were on the side of the Court: and who that solicited favour or fashion would venture to praise the defender of the regicides? All that he himself could think his due from evil tongues in evil days was that reverential silence which was generously preserved. Butit cannot be inferred that his poem was not read, or not, however unwillingly, admired.
The sale, if it be considered, will justify the public. Those who have no power to judge of past times but by their own, should always doubt their conclusions. The call for books was not in Milton's age what it is at present To read was not then a general amusement; neither traders, nor often gentlemen, thought themselves disgraced by ignorance. The women had not then aspired to literature, nor was every house supplied with a closet of knowledge. Those, indeed, who professed learning, were not less learned than at any other time; but of that middle race of students who read for pleasure or accomplishment, and who buy the numerous products of modern typography, the number was then comparatively small. To prove the paucity of readers, it may be sufficient to Temark, that the nation had been satisfied from 1623 to 1664, that is fortyone years, with only two editions of the works of Shakspeare, which probably did not together make one thousand copies.
The sale of thirteen hundred copies in two years, in opposition to so much recent enmity, and to a style of versification new to all and disgusting to many, was an uncommon example of the prevalence of genius. The demand did not immediately increase ; for many more readers than were supplied at first the nation did not afford. Only three thousand were sold in eleven years; for it forced its way without assistance: its admirers did not dare to publish their opinion; and the opportunities now given of attracting notice by advertisements were then very few; the means of proclaiming the publication of new books have been produced by that general literature wlich now pervades the nation through all its ranks.
But the reputation and price of the copy still advanced, till the Revolution: put an end to the secrecy of love, and Paradise Lost broke into open view with sufficient security of kind reception.
Fancy can hardly forbear to conjecture with what temper Milton surveyed the silent progress of his work, and marked its reputation stealing its way in a kind of subterraneous current through fear and silence. I cannot but conceive him calm and confident, little disappointed, not at all dejected, relying on his own merit with steady consciousness, and waiting, without impatience, the vicissitudes of opinion, and the impartiality of a future generation.
In the mean time he continued his studies, and supplied tho want of sight by a very odd expedient, of which Philips gives the following account:
Mr. Philips tells us, “ that though our author had daily about him one of « other to read, some person of man's estate, who, of their own accord, greedily
catched at the opportunity of being his readers, that they might as well reap “the benefit of what they read to him, as oblige him by the benefit of their " reading; and others of younger years were sent by their parents to the same
end; yet excusing only the eldest daugtiter by reason of her bodily ine “ firmity, and difficult utterance of speech, (which, to say truth, I doubt was * the principal cause of excusing her,) the other two were condomined to the " performance of reading, and exactly pronouncing of all the languages of “ whatever book he should, at one time or other, think fit to perusė, viz. tlid " Hebrew (and I think the Syriac), the Greek, the Latin, the Italian; Spanish; " and French. All which sorts of books to be confined to read, without under: * standing one word, must needs be a trial of patience almost beyond endurance " Yet it was endured by both for a long time, though the irksomeness of this de estiployment could not be always concealed, but bröke out more and more * into expressions of uneasiness'; so that at length tliey were all, even the eldesť "also, sent out to learn some curious and ingenious sorts of manufacture; that " are proper for women to learn ; particularly embroideries in gold and silver.”
In this seene of misery which this mode of intellectual labour sets before nur eyes, it is hard to determine whether the daughters or the father are most to be lamented. A language not understood can never be so read as to give pleasure, and very seldom so as to cohvey meaning. If few men would have had resolution to write books with such embarrassments, few likewise would have wanted ability to find some better expedients
Three years after his Paradise Lost (1667); he published his History of Englandi
, comprising the whole fable of Geoffry of Monmouthis, and continued to thie Norman invasion. Why lie should have given the first part, which lies seems not to believe, and which is universally rejected, it is difficult to conectute. The style is barsh; but it has something of rough vigour, which perhaps may often strike, though it cannot please.
On this history the licenser again fixed his class; and before he could transa mit it to the press tore out several parts. Some censures of the Saxon monks were taken away, lest they should be applied to the modern clergy; and a character of the Lorig Parliament, and Assembly of Divines, was excluded;: of which the author gave a copy to the earl of Anglosea, and which being afterwards published, has beeti since inserted in its proper place.
The same year were printed Paradise Regained, and Samson: Agonistes, a-ttaa gedy written in imitation of the Ancients, and never designed by the author for the stage. As these poems were publishedi by another bookseller, it has been asked, whethet Simmons was discouraged from receiving them by tije slow sale of the former. Why a writer charged his bookseller a hundred years ago, I am fær from-loping to discover. Certainly, he who in two years sells thirteen hundred copies of a voluine in quarto, bought for two payments of five pounds cacli, has no reason to repent his purchase.
When Milton shewed Paradist Regained to Elwood; « This,” said he is &
owing to you; for you put it in my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which otlierwise I had not thought of."
His last poetical offspring was his favourite. He could fiot, as Eiwood relates, endure to hear Paradise Lost preferred to Paradise Regained. Many causes may vitiate a writer's judgment of his own works. On that which has cost hiint Vol. s.
much labour he sets a high value, because he is unwilling to think that he has been diligent in vain ; what has been produced without toilsome efforts is co::sidered with delight, as a proof of vigorous faculties and fertile invention; and the last work, whatever it be, has necessarily most of the grace of novelty, Milton, however it happened, had this prejudice, and had it to himself.
To that multiplicity of attaininents and extent of comprehension, that entitle this great author to our vencration, may be added a kind of humble dignity, which did not disdain the meanest services to literature. The epic poet, the controvertist, the politician, liaving already descended to accomodate chil. dren with a book of rudiments, now in the last years of his life, composed a book of Logick, for the initiation of students in philosophy; and published (1672) Artis Logicæ plenior Institutio ad Petri Rami Methodum concinnata ; that is, “A new Scheme of Logick, according to the Method of Ramus.". I know not whether, even in this book, he did not intend an act of hostility against the Universities; for Ramus was one of the first oppugners of the old philosophy, who disturbed with innovations the quiet of the schools.
His polemical disposition again revived. He had now been safe so long, that he forgot his fears, and published a Treatise of true Riligion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration, and the best Means to prevent the Growth of Popery.
But this little tract is modestly written, with respectful mention of the Church of England, and an appeal to the thirty-nine articles. His principle of toleration is, agreement in the sufficiency of the Scriptures; and he extends it to all who, whatever their opinions are, profess to derive them from the sacred books. The papists appeal to other testiinonies, and are therefore in his opinion not to be permitted the liberty of either public or private worship; for though they plead conscience, we have no warrant, he says, 10 regard conscience, which is not grounded in Scripture.
Those who are not convinced by his reasons, may be perhaps delighted with his wit. The term Roman catholick is, he says, one of the Pope's bulls; it is pariicular universal, or catholick schismatick.
He has, however, something better. As the best preservative against Popery, he recommends the diligent perusal of the Scriptures; a duty, from which he warns the busy part of mankind not to think themselves excused.
He now reprinted his juvenile poems, with some additions.
In the last year of his life he sent to the press, seeming to take delight in publication, a collection of Familiar Epistles in Latin; to which, being too few to make a volume, he added some academical exercises, which perhaps he perused with pleasure, as they recalled to his memory the days of youth; but for which nothing but veneration for his name could now procure a reader.
When he had attained his sixty-sixth year, the gout, with which he had been long tormented, prevailed over the enfeebled powers of nature. He died by a quiet and silent expiration, about the tenth of November 1674, at his house in Bunhill-fields; and was buried next his father in the chancel of St. Giles at Cripplegate. His funeral was very splendidly and numerously attended
Upon his grave there is supposed to have been no memorial; but in our time a monument has been erected in Westminster-Abbey To the Author of Paradise Lost, by Mr. Benson, who has in the inscription bestowed more words apon himself than upon Milton.
When the inscription for the monument of Philips, in which he was said to be soli Miltono secundus, was exhibited to Dr. Sprat, then dean of Westminster, he refused to admit it; the name of Milton was, in his opinion, too detestable to be read on the wall of a building dedicated to devotion. Atterbury, who succeeded him, being author of the inscription, permitted its reception. “ And such has “ been the change of public opinion,” said Dr. Gregory," from whom I heard " this account, that I have seen erected in the church a statue of that man, whose name I once knew considered as a pollution of its walls."
Milton has the reputation of having been in his youth eminently beautiful, so a3 to have been called the Lady of his college. His hair, which was of a light brown, parted at the foretop, and hung down upon his shoulders, according to the picture which he has given of Adam. He was, however, not of the heroick stature, but rather below the middle size, according to Mr. Richardson, who mentions him as having narrowly escaped from being short and thick. He was vigorous and active, and delighted in the exercise of the sword, in which he is related to have been eminently skilful. His weapon was, I believe, not the rapier, but the back-sword, of which he recommends the use in his book on Education.
His eyes are said never to have been bright; but, if he was a dexterous fencer, they must have been once quick.
His domestick habits, so far as they are known, were those of a severe student. He drank little strong drink of any kind, and fed without excess in quan. tity
, and in his earlier years without delicacy of choice. In his youth he studied late at night; but afterwards changed his hours, and rested in bed from nine to four in the summer, and five in the winter. The course of his day was best known after he was blind. When he first rose, he heard a chapter in the Hebrew Bible, and then studied till twelve; then took some exercise for an hour; then dined, then played on the organ, and sung, or heard another sing ; then studied to six; then entertained his visitors till eight; then supped, and, after a pipe of tobacco and a glass of water, went to bed.
So is his life described; but this even tenour appears attainable only in Colleges. He that lives in the world will sometimes have the succession of his practice broken and confused. Visiters, of whom Milton is represented to have had great numbers, will come and stay unseasonably; business, of which every man has some, must be done when others will do it.
When he did not care to rise early, he had something read to him by hs bedside ; perhaps at this time his daughters were employed. He composed much in the morning, and dictated in the day, sitting obliquely in an elbowchair, with his leg thrown over tule arm.
Fortune appears not to have had much of his care. In the civil wars he lent: his personal estate to the parliament; but when, after the contest was decided, he solicited repayment, he met not only with neglect, but sharp rebuke; and, L 2
having tired both himself and his friends, was given up to poverty and hopeless indignation, till he shewed how able he was to do greater service. He was then made Latin secretary, with two hundred pounds a year; and had a thousand pounds for his Defence of the People. His widow, who, after his deatlı, retired to Namptwich in Cheshire, and died about 1729, iş said to have reported that he last two thousand pounds by entặusting it to a scrivener; and that, in the general depredation upon the Church, he had grasped an estate of about sixty pounds a year belonging to Westminster-Abbey, which, like other sharers of the plunder of rebellion, he was afterwards obliged to return. Two thousand pounds, which he had placed in the Excise-office, were also lost.
There is yet no reason to believe that he was ever reduced to indigence. His wants, being few, were competently supplied. He sold his library before his death, and left his family fifteen hundred pounds, on which his widow laid hold, and only gave one hundred to each of his daughters.
His literature was unquestionably great. He read all the languages which are considered either as learned or polite; Hebrew, with its two dialects, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish. In Latin his skill was such as places him in the first rank of writers and criticks; and he appears to have cultivated Italian with uncommon diligence. The books in which his daughter, who used to read to him, represented him as most delighting, after Homer, which he could almost repcat, were Ovid's Metamorphoses and Euripides. His Euripides is, by Ms. Cradock's kindness, now in my hands: the margin is sometimes noted; but I have found nothing remarkable.
Of the English poets he set most value upon Spenser, Shakspeare, and Cowley. Spenser was apparently his favourite : Shakspeare he may easily be supposed to like, with every skilful reader; but I should not have expected that Cowley, whose ideas of excellence were different from his own, would have had much of his approbation. His character of Dryden, who sometimes visited him, was, that he was a good rhymist, but no poet.
His theological opinions are said to have been first Calvinistical; and afterwards, perhaps when he began to hate the Presbyterians, to have tended towards Arminianism. In the mixed questions of theology and government, he never thinks he can recede far enough from popery, or prelacy; but what Baudius says of Erasmus seems applicable to hiin, magis habuit quod fugeret, quam quod sequeretur. He had determined rather what to condemn, than what to approve. He has not associated himself with any denomination of Protestant: we know rather what he was not than what he was. He was not of the church of Rome; he was not of the church of England.
To be of no church is dangerous. Religion, of which the rewards are distant, and which is animated only by Faith and Hope, will glide by degrees out of the mind, unless it be invigorated and reimpressed by external ordinances, by stated calls to worship, and the salutary influence of example. Milton, who appears to have had full conviction of the truth of Christianity, and to have regarded the Holy Scriptures with the profoundest veneration, to have been untainted by any heretical peculiarity of cpinion, and to have lived in a con