Page images

firmed belief of the inmediate and occasional agency of Providence, yet grew ed without any visible worship. In the distribution of his hours, there was no hour of prayer, either-solitary, or with his household; omitting public praters, lie omitted all.

Of this oneissio, the reason has been sought, upon a supposition which ought !

never to be made, that men live with their own approbation, and justify their

conduct to themselves. Prayer certainly was not thought superfluous by bim, | who represents our first parents as praying acceptably in that state of inno

cence, and efficaciously 'after their fall. That he lived without prayer can hardly be affirmed; his studies and meditations were an habitual prayer. The neglect of it in his family was probably a fault for which he condemned himself, and which he intended to correct, but that death, as too often happens, intercepted his reformation.

His political notions were those of an acrimonious and surly republicari, for which it is not known that he gave any better reason than that a popular governa ment was the most frugal; for the trappings of a monarchy would set up un ordinary Commonwealth It is surely very shallow policy, that supposes money to be the chief good; and even this, without considering that the support and expence of a Court is, for the most part, only a particular kind of traffick, for which money is circulated, without any national impoverishment.

Milton's republicanism was, I am afraid, founded on an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence ; in petulance impatient of controul, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs in the state, and prelates in the church; for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected, that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority.

It has been observed, that they who most loudly clamour' for liberty do not most liberally grant it. What we know of Milton's character, in domestic relations, is, that he was severe and arbitrary. His family consisted of women; and there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females, as subordinate and inferior beings. That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education. He thought woman made only for obedience, and man only for rebellion.

Of his family some account may be expected. His sister, first married to Mr. Philips, afterwards married Mr. Agar, a friend of her first husband, who succeeded him in the Crown-office. She had by her first husband Edward and John, the two nephews whom Milton educated; and by her second, two daughters.

His brother, Sir Christopher, had two daughters, Mary and Catherine*; and a son Thomas, who succeeded Agar in the Crown-office, and left a daughter living in 1749 in Grosvenor-street.

* Both these persons were living at Holloway, about the year 1734, and at that time pos. xssed such a degree of health and strength, as enabled them on Sundays and Prayer-days to walk a mile up a steep hill to Highgate chapel. One of them was Ninety-two at the time of ber death. Their parentage was known to few, and their names were corrupted into Melton, By the Crown-office mentioned in the two last paragraphs, we are to understand the Growncance of the Court of Chancery. H.


Milton had children only by his first wife; Anne, Mary, and Deboralı. Anne, though deformed, married a master-builder, and died of her first child. Mary died single. Deborah married Abraham Clark, a weaver in Spital-fields, and lived seventy-six years, to August 1727. This is the daughter of whom public mention has been made. She could repeat the first lines of Homer, the Metamorphoses, and some of Euripides, by having often read them. Yet here incredulity is ready to make a stand. Many repetitions are necessary to fix in memory lines not understood; and why should Milton wish or want to hear them so often! These lines were at the beginning of the poems. Of a book written in a language not understood, the beginning raises no more attention than the end ; and as those that understand it know commonly the beginning best, its rehearsal will seldom be necessary. It is not likely that Milton required any passage to be so much repeated as that his daughter could learn it; nor likely that he desired the initial lines to be read at all; nor that the daughter, weary of the drudgery of pronouncing unideal sounds, would voluntarily commit them to memory.

To this gentlewoman Addison made a present, and promised some establishment; but died soon after. Queen Caroline sent her fifty guineas. She had seven sons and three daughters; but none of them had any children, except her son Caleb and her daughter Elizabeth. Caleb went to Fort St. George in the East Indies, and had two sons, of whom nothing is now known. Elizabeth married Thomas Foster, a weaver in Spital-Fields; and had seven children, who all died. She kept a petty grocer's or chandler's shop, first at Holloway, and afterwards in Cock-lane near Shoreditch Church. She knew little of her grandfather, and that little was not good. She told of his harshness to his daughters, and his refusal to have them taught to write; and, in opposition to other accounts, represented him as delicate, though teinperate, in his diet.

In 1750, April 5, Comus was played for her benefit. She had so little acquaintance with diversion or gaiety, that she did not know what was intended when a benefit was offered her. The profits of the night were only one hundred and thirty pounds, though Dr. Newton brought a large contribution; and twenty pounds were given by Tonson, a man who is to be praised as often as he is named. Of this sum one hundred pounds were placed in the stocks, after some debate between her and her husband in whose name it should be entered; and the rest augmented their little stock, with which they removed to Islington. This was the greatest benefaction that Paradise Lost ever procured the author's descendants; and to this he, who has now attempted to relate his Life, had the honour of contributing a Prologue.

IN the examination of Milton's poetical works, I shall pay so much regard to time as to begin with his juvenile productions. For his early pieces he seems to have had a degree of fondness not very laudable : what he has once written he resolves to preserve, and gives to the public an unfinished poem, which he broke off because he was nothing satisfied with what he had done, supposing his readers less nice than himself. These preludes to his future labours are in Italian, Latin, and English. Of the Italian I cannot pretend to speak as a


Titick; but I have heard them commended by a man well qualified to decide their merit. The Latin pieces are lusciously elegant; but the delight which they afford is rather by the exquisite imitation of the ancient writers, by the parity of the diction, and the harmony of the nunbers, than by any power of iorention, or vigour of sentiment. They are not all of equal value. The degies excell the odes; and some of the exercises on Gunpowder Treason might have been spared.

The English poems, though they make no promises of Paradise Lost, have this evidence of genius, that they have a cast original and unborrowed. But their peculiarity is not excellence: if they differ from verses of others, they differ for the worse ; for they are too often distinguished by repulsive harshness; the combinations of words are new, but they are not pleasing ; the rhymes and epithets seem to be laboriously sought, and violently applied.

That in the early parts of his life he wrote with mạch care appears from his manuscripts, happily preserved at Cambridge, in which many of his smaller works are found as they were first written, with the subsequent corrections. Sach reliques shew how excellence is acquired; what we hope ever to do with ezze, we must learn first to do with diligence.

Those who admire the beauties of this great poet, soinetimes force their twn judgement into false approbation of his little pieces, and prevail upon hemselves to think that admirable which is only singular. All that short compositions can commonly attain is neatness and elegance. Milton never learned the art of doing little things with grace; be overlooked the milder excellence of suavity and softness; he was a Lion that had no skill in dandling the Kid.

One of the poems on which much praise has been bestowed is Lycidas; of which the diction is harsh, the rhymnes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What beauty there is, we must therefore seek in the sentiments and images. It is not to be considered as the effusion of real passion; for passion runs not after remote allusions and obscure opinions. Passion plucks no berries from the myrtle and ivy, nor calls upon Arethuse and Minucius, nor tells of rough satyrs and fauns with cloven heel. Where there is leisure for fiction there is little grief.

In this poem there is no nature, for there is no truth, there is no art, for there is nothing new. Its form is of that a of pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting; whatever images it can supply, are long ago exhausted; and its inherent improbability always forces dissatisfaction on the mind. When Cow ley tells of Hervey that they studied together, it is easy to suppose how much he must miss the companion of his labours, and the partner of his discoveries ; but what image of tenderness can be excited by these lines !

We drove a field, and both together heard
What time the grey fly winds her sultry horni

Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night. We know that they never drove a field, and that they had no flocks to batten; and though it be allowed that the representation may be allegorical, the true meaning is so uncertain and remote, that it is never sought because it cannot be known when it is found.


Among the Rocks, and copses, and flowers, appear the heathen deities; Jove and Phæbus, Neptune and Æolus, with a long train of mythological imagery: such as a College easily supplies. Nothing can less display knowledge, or less exercise inventions, than to tell how a shepherd has lost his companion, and must now feed his flocks alone, without any judge of his skill in piping, and how one god asks another god what is becoine of Lycidas, and how neither god can tell. He who thus grieves will excite no sympatlıya; he who thus praises will confér no honour.

This poem has yet á grosser fauit. With these trifling fictions are mingled the most awful and sacred truths, such as oright never to be polluted with such irreverend combinations. The shepherd likewise is now a feeder of sheep, and afterwards an ecclesiastical pastor, a superintendant of a Christian flock. Such equivocations are always unskilful; but here they are indecent, and at least approach to impiety, of which, however, I believe the writer not to have been conscious.

Such is the power of reputation justly acquired, that its blaze drives away the eye from nice examination. Surely no man couid have fancied that he read Lycidas with pleasure, had be nor known its author:

Of the two pieces, L' Allegro and Il Ponseroso, I believe opinion is uniform; every man that reads them, reads them with pleasure. The author's design is not, what Theobald has remarked, merely to shew how objects derive their colours from the mind, by representing the operation of the same things upon the gay and the melancholy temper, or upon the same man as he is differently disposed; but rather how, among the successive variety of appearances, every disposition of mind takes hold on those by which it may be gratified:

The chearful man hears the lark in the morning; the pensive man hears the nightingale in the evening. The chearful' man sees the cock strut, and hears the Horn and lounds.echo in the wood; then walks not unseen to observe the glory. of the rising sun, or listen to the singing milk-maid, and view the labours of the ploughman and the mower; then casts his eves about him over scenes of smiling plenty, and looks up to the distant tower, the residence of sotne fair inhabitant; thus he pursues rural gaiety through a day of labour or of play, and delights himself at night with the fanciful narratives of superstitious ignorance.

The pensive man, at one time, walks unseen to muse at midnight; and at another heats the sullen curfew. If the weather drives him home, he sits in a room lighted only by glowing embers, or by a lonely lamp outwatches the North Star, to discover the habitation of separate souls, and varies the shades of medita. tion, by contemplating the magnificent or pathetic scenes of tragick and epick poetry. When the morning comes, 1 morning gloomy with rain and wind, he walks into the dark trackless woods, falls asleep by some murmuring water, and with melancholy enthusiasm expects some dream of prognostication, or some music played by aerial performers.

Both Mirth and Melancholy are solitary, silent inhabitants of the breast; that neither receive nor transmit communication; no mention is therefore made of a philosophical friend, or a pleasant companion. The seriousness


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

does not arise from any participation of calamity, nor the gaiety from the pleasures of the bottle.

The man of chearfulness, having exhausted the country, tries what towered cities will afford, and mingles with scenes of splendor, gay assemblies, and nuptial festivities; but le mingles a mere spectator, as, when the learned comedies of Jonson, of the wild dramas of Shakspeare, are exhibited, be attends the theatre.

The pensive man never loses himself in crowds, but walks the cloister, or frequents the cathedral. Milton probably had not yet forsaken the Church.

Both his characters delight in musick, but he seems to think that chearfal notes would have obtained from Pluto a compleat dismission of Eurydice, of whom sclemn sounds only procured a conditional release.

For the old age of Chearfulness he makes no provision; but Melancholy he conducts with great dignity to the close of life. His Chearfulness is without levity, and his Pensiveness without asperity,

Through these two poems the images are properly selected, and nicely distinguished; but the colours of the diction seem not sufficiently discriminated. I know not whether the characters are kept sufficiently apart. No mirth can, indeed, be found in his melancholy; but I am afraid that I always meet some melancholy in his mirth. They are two noble efforts of imagination *.

The greatest of his juvenile performances is the Mask of Comus; in which may very plainly be discovered the dawn or twilight of Paradise Lest. Milton appears to have formed very early that system of diction, and mode of verse, which his maturer judgement approved, and from which he never endeavoured nor desired to deviate.

Nor does Comus afford only a speciinen of his language ; it exhibits likewise his power of description and his vigour of sentiment, employed in the praise and defence of virtue. A work more truly poetical is rarely found; allusions, images, and descriptive epithets, embellish almost every period with lavish do coration. As a series of lines, therefore, it may be considered as worthy of all tbe admiration with which the votaries have received it.

As a drama it is deficient. The action is not probable. A Masque, in those parts where supernatural intervention is admitted, must indeed be given up to all the freaks of imagination : but, so far as the action is merely human, it ought to be reasonable, which can hardly be said of the conduct of the two brothers; who, when their sister sinks with fatigue in a pathless wilderness, wander both away together in search of berries too far to find their way back, and leave a helpless Lady to all the sadness and danger of solitude. This however is a defect over balanced by its convenience.

What deserves more reprehension is, that the prologue spoken in the wild wood by the attendant Spirit is addressed to the audience; a mode of com

• Mr. Warton intimates (and there can be little doubt of the truth of his conjecture) that Mil. ton borrowed many of the images in these two fine poems from “ Burton's Anatomy of Melan. choły," a book published in 1624, and at sundry times since, abounding in learning, curious information, and pleasantry. Mr. Warton says, that Milton appears to have been an attentive reader thereof; and to this assertion I add of my own knowledge, that it was a book that Dr. John. von frequently resorted to, as many others have done, for amusement after the fatigre of study. H. Vol. 1



« PreviousContinue »