« PreviousContinue »
for you put it in my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which otherwise I had not thought of."
and exactly pronouncing of all the languages of whatever book he should, at one time or other, think fit to peruse; viz. the Hebrew (and, I think, the Syriac,) the Greek, the Latin, the His last poetical offspring was his favourite. Italian, Spanish, and French. All which sorts He could not, as Elwood relates, endure to hear of books to be confined to read, without under-" Paradise Lost" preferred to "Paradise Restanding 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 employment could not be always concealed, but broke out more and more into expressions of uneasiness; so that at length they were all, even the eldest also, sent out to learn some curious and ingenious sorts of manufacture, that are proper for women to learn, particularly embroideries in gold or sil
In the scene of misery which this mode of intellectual labour sets before our 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 convey meaning. If few men would have had resolution to write books with such embarrassments, few likewise would have wanted ability to find some better expedient.
Three years after his "Paradise Lost" (1667,) he published his "History of England," comprising the whole fable of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and continued to the Norman Invasion. Why he should have given the first part, which he seems not to believe, and which is universally rejected, it is difficult to conjecture. The style is harsh; but it has something of rough vigour, which perhaps may often strike, though it cannot please.
On this history the licenser again fixed his claws, and before he would transmit 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 Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines was excluded; of which the author gave a copy to the Earl of Anglesey, and which, being afterwards published, has been since inserted in its proper place.
The same year were printed, " Paradise Regained" and "Samson Agonistes," a tragedy written in imitation of the ancients, and never designed by the author for the stage. As these poems were published by another bookseller, it has been asked whether Simmons was discouraged from receiving them by the slow sale of the former. Why a writer changed his bookseller a hundred years ago, I am far from hoping to discover. Certainly, he, who in two years sells thirteen hundred copies of a volume in quarto, bought for two payments of five pounds each, has no reason to repent his purchase.
When Milton showed "Paradise Regained" to Elwood, "This," said he, " is owing to you;
gained." Many causes may vitiate a writer's judgment of his own works. On that which has cost him 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 considered 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 attainments, and extent of comprehension, that entitled this great author to our veneration, may be added a kind of humble dignity, which did not disdain the meanest services to literature. The epic poet, the controvertist, the politician, having already descended to accommodate children with a book of rudiments, now, in the last years of his life, composed a book of logic 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 Logic, 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 Religion, 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 testimonies, 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, "to 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 Catholic is, he says, "one of the Pope's bulls; it is particular universal, or catholic schismatic."
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 | strong drink of any kind, and fed without excess not to think themselves excused. in quantity, and in his earlier years without deliHe now reprinted his juvenile poems, with cacy of choice. In his youth he studied late at 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.
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 sang, or heard another sing, then studied till six; then entertained his visitors till eight; then supped, and, after a pipe of tobacco and a glass of water, went to bed.
When he had attained his sixty-sixth year, the gout, with which he had been long tormented, So is his life described: but this even tenor apprevailed over the enfeebled powers of nature. pears attainable only in colleges. He that lives He died by a quiet and silent expiration, about in the world will sometimes have the succession the 10th of November, 1674, at his house in of his practice broken and confused. Visitors, Bunhill-fields; and was buried next his father of whom Milton is represented to have had great in the chancel of St. Giles, at Cripplegate. His numbers, will come and stay unseasonably; bufuneral was very splendidly and numerously at-siness, of which every man has some, must be tended. done when others will do it.
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 upon 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 as 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 heroic 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 domestic habits, so far as they are known, were those of a severe student. He drank little
When he did not care to rise early, he had something read to him by his bedside; perhaps at this time his daughters were employed. He composed much in the morning, and dictated in the day, sitting obliquely in an elbow-chair, with his leg thrown over the 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, having tired both himself and his friends, was given up to poverty and hopeless indignation, till he showed 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 death, retired to Namptwich, in Cheshire, and died about 1729, is said to have reported that he lost two thousand pounds by entrusting 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 critics; 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 repeat, were Ovid's Metamorphoses and Euripides. His Euripides is by Mr. 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 other skilful reader; but I should not have expected that Cowley, whose ideas of excellence were so 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 that he can recede far enough from popery or prelacy: but what Baudius says of Erasmus seems applicable to him, 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 protestants; 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, and to have been untainted by any heretical peculiarity of opinion, and to have lived in a confirmed belief of the immediate and occasional agency of Providence, yet grew old without any visible worship. In the distribution of his hours, there was no hour of prayer, either solitary, or with his household; omitting public prayers, he omitted
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 republican, for which it is not known that he gave any better reason than that "a popular government was the most frugal; for the trappings of a monarchy would set up an 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 expense of a court is, for the most part, only a particular kind of traffic, for which money is circulated without any national impoverishment.
Milton's republicanism was, I am afraid, founded in an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence; in petulance impatient of control, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs in the state, and prclates 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 women 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 to 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 Catharine; and a son, Thomas, who succeeded Agar in the Crown
Of this omission 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 him, who represents our first parents as praying acceptably in the state of innocence, hill to Highgate Chapel. One of them was ninety
That he lived
and efficaciously after their fall. without prayer can hardly be affirmed; his studies and meditations were an habitual prayer. The neglect of it in his family was
Both these persons were living at Holloway, about the year 1734, and at that time possessed such a degree of health and strength as enabled them on Sundays and prayer-days to walk a mile up a steep
two at the time of her 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 Crownoffice of the Court of Chancery.-H.
office, and left a daughter living, in 1749, in the author's descendants; and to this he who Grosvenor-street.
Milton had children only by his first wife; Anne, Mary, and Deborah. Anne, though deformed, married a master-builder, and died of her first child. Mary died single. Deborah married Abraham Clark, a weaver in Spitalfields, 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 the 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 Spitalfields; 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 temperate, in his diet.
In 1750, April 4, "Comus" was played for her benefit. She had so little acquaintance with diversion or gayety, 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
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 so 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 critic; 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 purity of the diction, and the harmony of the numbers, than by any power of invention, or vigour of sentiment. They are not all of equal value; the elegies excel 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 the 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 much 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. Such relics show how excellence is acquired; what we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.
Those who admire the beauties of this great poet sometimes force their own judgment into false approbation of his little pieces, and prevail upon themselves 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; he overlooked the milder excellence of suavity and softness; he was a lion that had no skill in dangling the kid.
One of the poems on which much praise has been bestowed, is "Lycidas;" of which the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What beauty there is we
* With the exception of " Comus," in which, Dr. Johnson afterwards says, may very plainly be discovered the dawn of twilight of " Paradise Lust."- C.
must therefore seek in the sentiments and im- that reads them, reads them with pleasure. The ages. It is not to be considered as the effusion Author's design is not, what Theobald has reof real passion; for passion runs not after re-marked, merely to show how objects derive their mote allusions and obscure opinions. Passion colours from the mind, by representing the operplucks no berries from the myrtle and ivy, nor ation of the same things upon the gay and the calls upon Arethuse and Mincius, nor tells of melancholy temper, or upon the same man as he rough satyrs and "fauns with cloven heel." is differently disposed: but rather how, among Where there is leisure for fiction there is little the successive variety of appearances, every disgrief. position of mind takes hold on those by which it may be gratified.
In this poem there is no nature, for there is no truth; there is no art, for there is nothing Its form is that of a 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 Cowley 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
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 flocks, and copses, and flowers, appear the heathen deities; Jove and Phoebus, Neptune and Æolus, with a long train of mythological imagery, such as a college easily supplies. Nothing can less display knowledge, or less exercise invention, 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 has become of Lycidas, and how neither god can tell. He who thus grieves will excite no sympathy; he who thus praises will confer
This poem has yet a grosser fault. With these trifling fictions are mingled the most awful and sacred truths, such as ought never to be pol
The cheerful man hears the lark in the morning; the pensive man hears the nightingale in the evening. The cheerful man sees the cock strut, and hears the horn and hounds 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 eyes about him over scenes of smiling plenty, and looks up to the distant tower, the residence of some fair inhabitant; thus he pursues real gayety 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 hears 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 meditation, by contemplating the magnificent or pathetic scenes of tragic and epic poetry: When the morning comes, into the dark trackless woods,* falls asleep by a morning gloomy with rain and wind, he walks some murmuring water, and with melancholy enthusiasm expects some dream of prognostication, or some music played by aerial performers.
inhabitants of the breast, that neither receive nor Both Mirth and Melancholy are solitary, silent transmit communication: no mention is therefore made of a philosophical friend, or a pleasant companion. The seriousness does not arise from any participation of calamity, nor the gayety from the pleasures of the bottle.
The man of cheerfulness, having exhausted the and mingles with scenes of splendour, gay ascountry, tries what towered cities will afford, semblies, and nuptial festivities; but he mingles a mere spectator, as, when the learned comedies of Jonson, or the wild dramas of Shakspeare, are exhibited, he attends the theatre.
luted with such irreverent combinations. The shepherd likewise is now a feeder of sheep, and afterwards an ecclesiastical pastor, a superintendent of a Christian flock. Such equivocations are always unskilful; but here they are indecent, The pensive man never loses himself in and at least approach to impiety, of which, how-crowds, but walks the cloister, or frequents the ever, I believe the writer not to have been concathedral. Milton probably had not yet forscious. saken the church.
Such is the power of reputation justly acquired, that its blaze drives away the eye from nice examination. Surely no man could have fancied that he read "Lycidas" with pleasure, had he not known the Author.
Of the two pieces, "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," I believe opinion is uniform; every man