The British nation, which has produced the greatest men in every profession, before the appearance of Milton could not enter into any competition with antiquity, with regard to the sublime excellencies of poetry. Greece could boast an Euripides, Eschylus, Sophocles and Sappho; England was proud of her Shakespear, Spenser, Johnson and Fletcher; but then the ancients had still a poet in reserve superior to the rest, who stood unrivalled by all succeeding times, and in epic poetry, which is justly esteemed the highest effort of genius, Homer had no rival. When Milton appeared, the pride of Greece was humbled, the competition became more equal, and since Paradise Lost is ours; it would, perhaps, be an injury to our national fame to yield the palm to any state, whether ancient or modern.
The author of this astonishing work had something very singular in his life, as if he had been marked out by Heaven to he the wonder of every age, in all points of view in which he can be considered. He lived in the times of general confusion; he was engaged in the factions of state, and the cause he thought proper to espouse, he maintained with unshaken firmness he struggled to the last for what he was persuaded were the rights of humanity; he had a passion for civil liberty, and he embarked in the support of it, heedless of every consideration of danger; he exposed his fortune to the vicissitudes of party contention, and he exerted his genius in writing for the cause he favoured.
There is no life, to which it is more difficult to do justice, and at the lame time avoid giving offence, than Milton's, there are forms who have considered him as a regicide, ethers have extolled him as a patriot, and a friend to mankind: Party-rage seldom knows any bounds, and differing factions have praised or blamed him, according to their principles of religion, and political opinions.
In the course of this life, a dispassionate regard to truth, and an inviolable candour shall be observed. Milton was not without a share of those failings which are inseparable from human nature; those errors sometimes exposed him to censure, and they ought not to pass unnoticed; on the other hand, the apparent sincerity of his intentions, and the amazing force of his genius, naturally produce an extream tenderness for the faults with which his life is chequered: and as in any man's conduct fewer errors are seldom found, so no man's parts ever gave him a greater right to indulgence.
The author of Paradise Lost was descended of an ancient family of that name at Milton, near Abingdon in Oxfordshire. He was the ion of John Milton a money-scrivener, and born the 9th of December, 1608. The family from which he descended had been long seated there, as appears by the monuments still to be seen in the church of Milton, 'till one of them, having taken the unfortunate side in the contests between the houses of York and Lancaster, was deprived of all his estate, except what he held by his wife. Our author's grandfather, whose name was John Milton, was under-ranger, or reaper of the forest of Shotover, near Halton in Oxfordshire: but a man of Milton's genius needs not have the circumstance of birth called in to render him illustrious; he reflects the highest honour upon his family, which receives from him more glory, than the longest descent of years can give. Milton was both educated under a domestic tutor, and likewise at St. Paul's school under Mr. Alexander Gill, where he made, by his indefatigable application, an extraordinary progress in learning. From his 12th year he generally sat up all night at his studies, which, accompanied with frequent head-aches, proved very prejudicial to his eyes. In the year 1625 he was entered into Christ's College in Cambridge, under the tuition of Mr. William Chappel, afterwards bishop of Ross in Ireland, and even before that time, had distinguished himself by several Latin and English poems. After he had taken the degree of master of arts, in 1632 he left the university, and for the space of five years lived with his parents at their house at Horton, near Colebrook in Buckinghamshire, where his father having acquired a competent fortune, thought proper to retire, and spend the remainder of his days. In the year 1634 he wrote his Masque of Comus, performed at Ludlow Castle, before John, earl of Bridgwater, then president of Wales. It appears from the edition of this Masque, published by Mr. Henry Lawes, that the principal performers were, the Lord Barclay, Mr. Thomas Egerton, the Lady Alice Egerton, and Mr. Lawes himself, who represented an attendant spirit.
The Prologue, which we found in the General Dictionary, begins with the following lines.
Our stedfast bard, to his own genius true,
Still bad his muse fit audience find, tho' few;
Scorning the judgment of a trifling age,
To choicer spirits he bequeath'd his page.
He too was scorned, and to Britannia's shame,
She scarce for half an age knew Milton's name;
But now his fame by every trumpet blown,
We on his deathless trophies raise our own.
Nor art, nor nature, could his genius bound:
Heaven, hell, earth, chaos, he survey'd around.
All things his eye, thro' wit's bright empire thrown,
Beheld, and made what it beheld his own.
In 1637 our author published his Lycidas; in this poem he laments the death of his friend Mr. Edward King, who was drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish seas in 1637; it was printed the year following at Cambridge in 4to. in a collection of Latin and English poems upon Mr. King's death, with whom he had contracted the strongest friendship. The Latin epitaph informs us, that Mr. King was son of Sir John King, secretary for Ireland to Queen Elizabeth, James I. and Charles I. and that he was fellow in Christ's-College Cambridge, and was drowned in the twenty-fifth year of his age. But this poem of Lycidas does not altogether consist in elegiac strains of tenderness; there is in it a mixture of satire and severe indignation; for in part of it he takes occasion to rally the corruptions of the established clergy, of whom he was no favourer; and first discovers his acrimony against archbishop Laud; he threatens him with the loss of his head, a fate which he afterwards met, thro' the fury of his enemies; at least, says Dr. Newton, I can think of no sense so proper to be given to the following verses in Lycidas;
Besides what the grim wolf, with privy paw,
Daily devours apace, and nothing said;
But that two-handed engine at the door,
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.
Upon the death of his mother, Milton obtained leave of his father to travel, and having waited upon Sir Henry Wotton, formerly ambassador at Venice and then provost of Eaten College, to whom he communicated his design, that gentleman wrote a letter to him, dated from the College, April 18, 1638, and printed among the Reliquiae Wottonianae, and in Dr. Newton's life of Milton. Immediately after the receipt of this letter our author set out for France, accompanied only with one man, who attended him thro' all his travels. At Paris Milton was introduced to the famous Hugo Grotius, and thence went to Florence, Siena, Rome and Naples, in all which places he was entertained with the utmost civility by persons of the first distinction.
When our author was at Naples he was introduced to the acquaintance of Giovanni Baptista Manso, Marquis of Villa, a Neapolitan nobleman, celebrated for his taste in the liberal arts, to whom Tasso addresses his dialogue on friendship, and whom he likewise mentions in his Gierusalemme liberata, with great honour. This nobleman shewed extraordinary civilities to Milton, frequently visited him at his lodgings, and accompanied him when he went to fee the several curiosities of the city. He was not content with giving our author these exterior marks of respect only, but he honoured him by a Latin distich in his praise, which is printed before Milton's Latin poems. Milton no doubt was highly pleased with such extreme condescension and esteem from a person of the Marquis of Villa's quality and as an evidence of his gratitude, he presented the Marquis at his departure from Naples, his eclogue, entitled Mansus; which, says Dr. Newton, is well worth reading among his Latin poems; so that it may be reckoned a peculiar felicity its the Marquis of Villa's life to have been celebrated both by Tasso and Milton, the greatest poets of their nation. Having seen the finest parts of Italy, and convened with men of the first distinction, he was preparing to pass over into Sicily and Greece, when the news from England, that a civil war was like to lay his country in blood, diverted his purpose; for as by his education and principles he was attached to the parliamentary interest, he thought it a mark of abject cowardice, for a lover of his country to take his pleasure abroad, while the friends of liberty were contending at home lot the rights of human nature. He resolved therefore to return by way of Rome, tho' he was dissuaded from pursuing that resolution by the merchants, who were informed by their correspondents, that the English jesuits there were forming plots against his life, in case he should return thither, on account of the great freedom with which he had treated their religion, and the boldness he discovered in demonstrating the absurdity of the Popish tenets; for he by no means observed the rule recommended to him by Sir Henry Wotton, of keeping his thoughts close, and his countenance open. Milton was removed above dissimulation, he hated whatever had the appearance of disguise, and being naturally a man of undaunted courage, he was never afraid to assert his opinions, nor to vindicate truth tho' violated by the suffrage of the majority.
Stedfast in his resolutions, he went to Rome a second time, and stayed there two months more, neither concealing his name, nor declining any disputations to which his antagonists in religious opinions invited him; he escaped the secret machinations of the jesuits, and came safe to Florence, where he was received by his friends with as much tenderness as if he had returned, to his own country. Here he remained two months, as he had done in his former visit, excepting only an excursion of a few days to Lucca, and then crossing the Appenine, and passing thro' Bologna, and Ferrara, he arrived at Venice, in which city he spent a month and having shipped off the books he had collected in his travels, he took his course thro' Verona, Milan, and along the Lake Leman to Geneva. In this city he continued some time, meeting there with people of his own principles, and contracted an intimate friendship with Giovanni Deodati, the most learned professor of Divinity, whose annotations on the bible are published in English; and from thence returning to France the same way that he had gone before, he arrived safe in England after an absence of fifteen months, in which Milton had seen much of the world, read the characters of famous men, examined the policy of different countries, and made more extensive improvements than travellers of an inferior genius, and less penetration, can be supposed to do in double the time. Soon after his return he took a handsome house in Aldersgate-street, and undertook the education of his sister's two sons, upon a plan of his own. In this kind of scholastic solitude he continued some time, but he was not so much immersed in academical studies, as to stand an indifferent spectator of what was acted upon the public theatre of his country. The nation was in great ferment in 1641, and the clamour against episcopacy running very high, Milton who discovered how much inferior in eloquence and learning the puritan teachers were to the bishops, engaged warmly with the former in support of the common cause, and exercised all the power of which he was capable, in endeavouring to overthrow the prelatical establishment, and accordingly published five tracts relating to church government; they were all printed at London in 4to. The first was intitled, Reformation touching Church Discipline in England, and the Causes that have hitherto hindered it: two books written to a friend. The second was of Prelatical Episcopacy, and whether it may be deduced from Apostolical Times, by virtue of those Testimonies which are alledged to that purpose in some late treatises; one whereof goes under the name of James Usher archbishop of Armagh. The third was the Reason of Church Government urged against the Prelacy, by Mr. John Milton, in two books. The fourth was Animadversions upon the Remonstrants Defence against Smectymnuus; and the fifth an Apology for a Pamphlet called, a Modest Confutation of the Animadversions upon the Remonstrants against Smectymnuus; or as the title page is in some copies, an Apology for Smectymnuus, with the Reason of Church Government, by John Milton.
In the year 1643 Milton married the daughter of Richard Powel, Esq; of Forrest-hill in Oxfordshire; who not long after obtaining leave of her husband to pay a visit to her father in the country, but, upon repeated messages to her, refusing to return, Milton seemed disposed to marry another, and in 1644 published the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce the judgment of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce, and the year following his Tetrachordon and Colasterion. Mr. Philips observes, and would have his readers believe, that the reason of his wife's aversion to return to him was the contrariety of their state principles. The lady being educated in loyal notions, possibly imagined, that if ever the regal power should flourish again, her being connected with a person to obnoxious to the King, would hurt her father's interest; this Mr. Philips alledges, but, with submission to his authority, I dissent from his opinion. Had she been afraid of marrying a man of Milton's principles, the reason was equally strong before as after marriage, and her father must have seen it in that light; but the true reason, or at least a more rational one, seems to be, that she had no great affection for Milton's person.
Milton was a stern man, and as he was so much devoted to study, he was perhaps too negligent in those endearments and tender intercourses of love which a wife has a right to expect. No lady ever yet was fond of a scholar, who could not join the lover with it; and he who expects to secure the affections of his wife by the force of his understanding only, will find himself miserably mistaken: indeed it is no wonder that women who are formed for tenderness, and whose highest excellence is delicacy, should pay no great reverence to a proud scholar, who considers the endearments of his wife, and the caresses of his children as pleasures unworthy of him. It is agreed by all the biographers of Milton, that he was not very tender in his disposition; he was rather boldly honourable, than delicately kind; and Mr. Dryden seems to insinuate, that he was not much subject to love. "His rhimes, says he, flow stiff from him, and that too at an age when love makes every man a rhymster, tho' not a poet. There are, methinks, in Milton's love-sonnets more of art than nature; he seems to have considered the passion philosophically, rather than felt it intimately."
In reading Milton's gallantry the breast will glow, but feel no palpitations; we admire the poetry, but do not melt with tenderness; and want of feeling in an author seldom fails to leave the reader cold; but from whatever cause his aversion proceeded, the was at last prevailed upon by her relations, who could foresee the dangers of a matrimonial quarrel, to make a submission, and she was again received with tenderness.
Mr. Philips has thus related the story. — "It was then generally thought, says he, that Milton had a design of marrying one of Dr. Davy's daughters, a very handsome and witty gentlewoman, but averse, as it is said, to this motion; however the intelligence of this caused justice Powel's family to set all engines at work to restore the married woman to the station in which they a little before had planted her. At last this device was pitched upon. There dwelt in the lane of St. Martin's Le Grand, which was hard by, a relation of our author's, one Blackborough, whom it was known he often visited, and upon this occasion the visits were more narrowly observed, and possibly there might be a combination between both parties, the friends on both sides consenting in the same action, tho' in different behalfs. One time above the rest, making his usual visits, his wife was ready in another room; on a sudden he was surprized to see one, whom he thought never to have seen more, making submission, and begging pardon on her knees before him. He might probably at first make some shew of aversion, and rejection, but partly his own generous nature, more inclinable to reconciliation than to perseverance in anger and revenge, and partly the strong intercession of friends on both sides, soon brought him to an act of oblivion and a firm league of peace for the future and it was at length concluded that she should remain at a friend's house, till he was settled in his new house in Barbican, and all things prepared for her reception. The first fruits of her return to her husband was a brave girl, born within a year after, tho', whether by ill constitution, or want of care, she grew more and more decrepit."
Mr. Fenton observes, that it is not to be doubted but the abovementioned interview between Milton and his wife must wonderfully affect him; and that perhaps the impressions it made on his imagination contributed much to the painting of that pathetic scene in Paradise Lost, b. 10. in which Eve addresses herself to Adam for pardon and peace, now at his feet submissive in distress.
About the year 1644 our author wrote a small piece in one sheet 4to, under this title, Education, to Mr. Samuel Hartly, reprinted at the end of his Poems on several occasions; and in the same year he published at London in 4to, his Areopagitica , or a speech of Mr. J. Milton for the liberty of unlicensed printing, to the Parliament of England.
In 1654 his juvenile Poems were printed at London, and about this time his zeal for the republican party had so far recommended him, that a design was formed of making him adjutant-general in Sir William Waller's army; but the new modelling the army proved an obstruction to that advancement. Soon after the march of Fairfax and Cromwell with the whole army through the city, in order to suppress the insurrection which Brown and Massey were endeavouring to raise there, against the army's proceedings, he left his great house in Barbican, for a smaller in High Holborn, where he prosecuted his studies till after the King's trial and death, when he published his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates His Observations on the Articles of peace between James Earl of Ormond for King Charles I. on the one hand, and the Irish Rebels and Papists on the other hand; and a letter sent by Ormond to colonel Jones governor of Dublin; and a representation of the Scotch Presbytery at Belfast in Ireland.
He was now admitted into the service of the Commonwealth, and was made Latin Secretary to the Council of State, who resolved neither to write nor receive letters but in the Latin tongue, which was common to all states.
"And it were to be wished, says Dr. Newton, that succeeding Princes would follow their example, for in the opinion of very wise men, the universality of the French language will make way for the universality of the French Monarchy. Milton was perhaps the first instance of a blind man's possessing the place of a secretary; which no doubt was a great inconvenience to him in his business, tho' sometimes a political use might be made of it, as men's natural infirmities are often pleaded in excuse for their not doing what they have no great inclination to do. Dr. Newton relates an instance of this. When Cromwell, as we may collect from Whitlocke, for some reasons delayed artfully to sign the treaty concluded with Sweden, and the Swedish ambassador made frequent complaints of it, it was excused to him, because Milton on account of his blindness, proceeded slower in business, and had not yet put the articles of treaty into Latin. Upon which the ambassador was greatly surprized that things of such consequence should be entrusted to a blind man; for he must necessarily employ an amanuensis, and that amanuensis might divulge the articles and said, it was very wonderful there should be only one man in England who could write Latin, and he a blind one."
Thus we have seen Milton raised to the dignity of Latin Secretary. It is somewhat strange, that in times of general confusion, when a man of parts has the fairest opportunity to play off his abilities to advantage, that Milton did not rise sooner, nor to a greater elevation; he was employed by those in authority only as a writer, which conferred no power upon him, and kept him in a kind of obscurity, who had from nature all that was proper for the field as well as the cabinet for we are assured that Milton was a man of confirmed courage.
In 1651 our author published his Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio, for which he was rewarded by the Commonwealth with a present of a thousand pounds, and had a considerable hand in correcting and polishing a piece written by his nephew Mr. John Philips, and printed at London 1652, under this title, Joannis Philippi Angli Responsio ad Apologiam Anonymi cujusdam Tenebrionis pro Rege & Populo Anglicano infantisimam. During the writing and publishing this book, he lodged at one Thomson's, next door to the Bull-head tavern Charing-Cross; but he soon removed to a Garden-house in Petty-France, next door to lord Scudamore's, where he remained from the year 1652 till within a few weeks of the Restoration. In this house, his first wife dying in child-bed, 1652, he married a second, Catherine, the daughter of Captain Woodcock of Hackney, who died of a consumption in three months after she had been brought to bed of a daughter. This second marriage was about two or three years after he had been wholly deprived of his sight; for by reason of his continual studies, and the head-ach, to which he was subject from his youth, and his perpetual tampering with physic, his eyes had been decaying for twelve years before.
In 1654 he published his Defensio Secunda; and the year following his Defensio pro Se. Being now at ease from his state adversaries, and political controversies, he had leisure again to prosecute his own studies, and private designs, particularly his History of Britain, and his new Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, according to the method of Robert Stevens, the manuscript of which contained three large volumes in folio, and has been made use of by the editors of the Cambridge Dictionary, printed 4to, 1693.
In 1658 he published Sir Walter Raleigh's Cabinet Council; and in 1659 a Treatise of the Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes, Lond. 12mo. and Considerations touching the likeliest Means to remove Hirelings out of the Church; wherein are also Discourses of Tithes, Church-fees, Church-Revenues, and whether any Maintenance of Ministers can be settled in Law, Lond. 1659, 12mo.
Upon the dissolution of the Parliament by the army, after Richard Cromwell had been obliged to resign the Protectorship, Milton wrote a letter, in which he lays down the model of a commonwealth; not such as he judged the best, but what might he the readiest settled at that time, to prevent the restoration of kingly government and domestic disorders till a more favourable season, and better dispositions for erecting a perfect democracy. He drew up likewise another piece to the same purpose, which seems to have been addressed to general Monk and he published in February 1659, his ready, and easy way to establish a free Commonwealth. Soon after this he published his brief notes upon a late sermon, entitled, the Fear of God and the King, printed in 4to, Lond. 1660. Just before the restoration he was removed from his office of Latin secretary, and concealed himself till the act of oblivion was published; by the advice of his friends he absconded till the event of public affairs should direct him what course to take, for this purpose he retired to a friend's house in Bartholomew-Close, near West-Smithfield, till the general amnesty was declared.
The act of oblivion, says Mr. Phillips, proving as favourable to him, as could be hoped or expected, through the intercession of some that stood his friends both in Council and Parliament; particularly in the house of Commons, Mr. Andrew Marvel member for Hull, and who has prefixed a copy of verses before his Paradise Lost, acted vigorously in his behalf, and made a considerable party for him, so that together with John Goodwin of Coleman-Street, he was only so far excepted as not to bear any office in the Commonwealth; but as this is one of the most important circumstances in the life of our author, shall give an account of it at large, from Mr. Richardson, in his life of Milton, prefixed to his Explanatory Notes, and Remarks on Paradise Lost.
His words are
"That Milton escaped is well known, but not how. By the accounts we have, he was by the Act of Indemnity only incapacitated for any public employment. This is a notorious mistake, though Toland, the bishop of Sarum, Fenton, &c. have gone into it, confounding him with Goodwin; their cases were very different, as I found upon enquiry. Not to take a matter of this importance upon trust, I had first recourse to the Act itself. Milton is not among the excepted. If he was so conditionally pardoned, it must then be, by a particular instrument. That could not be alter he had been purified entirely by the general indemnity, nor was it likely the King, who had declared from Breda, he would pardon all but whom the Parliament should judge unworthy of it, and had thus lodged the matter with them, should, before they came to a determination, bestow a private act of indulgence to one so notorious as Milton. It is true, Rapin says, several principal republicans applied for mercy, while the Act was yet depending, but quotes no authority; and upon search, no such pardon appears on record, though many are two or three years after, but then they are without restrictions; some people were willing to have a particular, as well as a general pardon; but whatever was the case of others, there was a reason besides what has been already noted, that no such favour would be shewn to Milton. The house of Commons, June 16, 1660, vote the King to be moved to call in his two books, and that of John Goodwin, written in justification of the murder of the King, in order to be burnt, and that the Attorney General do proceed against them by indictment. June 27, an Order of Council reciting that Vote of the 16th, and that the persons were not to be found, directs a Proclamation for calling in Milton's two books, which, are here explained, to be that against Salmasius, and the Eikon Basilike, as also Goodwin's book and a Proclamation was issued accordingly, and another to the came purpose the 13th of August: as for Goodwin he narrowly escaped for his life, but he was voted to be excepted out of the Act of Indemnity, amongst the twenty designed to have penalties inflicted short of death, and August 27, these books of Milton and Goodwin were burnt by the hangman. The Act of Oblivion, according to Kennet's Register, was passed the 29th. It is seen by this account, that Milton's person and Goodwins are separated, tho' their books are blended together. As the King's intention appeared to be a pardon to all but actual regicides, as Burnet says, it is odd, he should assert in the same breath, almost all people were surprized that Goodwin and Milton escaped censure. Why should it be so strange, they being not concerned in the King's blood? that he was forgot, as Toland says, some people imagined, is very unlikely. However, it is certain, from what has been shewn from bishop Kennet, he was not. That he should be distinguished from Goodwin, with advantage, will justly appear strange; for his vast merit, as an honest man, a great scholar, and a most excellent writer, and his fame, on that account, will hardly be thought the causes, especially when it is remembered Paradise Lost was not produced, and the writings, on which his vast reputation stood, are now become criminal, and those most, which were the main pillars of his fame. Goodwin was an inconsiderable offender, compared with him; some secret cause must be recurred to in accounting for this indulgence. I have heard that secretary Morrice, and Sir Thomas Clarges were his friends, and managed matters artfully in his favour; doubtless they, or some body else did, and they very probably, as being powerful friends at that time. But still how came they to put 'their interest at such a stretch, in favour of a man fin notoriously obnoxious? perplexed, and inquisitive as I was, I at length found the secret. It was Sir William Davenant obtained his remission, in return of his own life, procured by Milton's interest, when himself was under condemnation, Anno 1650. A life was owing to Milton (Davenant's) and it was paid nobly; Milton's for Davenant, at Davenant's intercession. The management of the affair in the house, whether by signifying the King's desire, or otherwise, was, perhaps by those gentlemen named."
This account Mr. Richardson had from Mr. Pope, who was informed of it by Betterton, the celebrated actor, who was first brought upon the stage by Sir William Davenant, and honoured with an intimacy with him, so that no better authority need be produced to support any fact.
Milton being secured by his pardon, appeared again in public, and removed to Jewin-street, where he married his third wife, Elizabeth, the daughter of Mr. Minshul of Cheshire, recommended to him by his friend Dr. Paget, to whom he was related, but he had no children by her soon after the restoration he was offered the place of Latin secretary to the King, which, notwithstanding the importunities of his wife, he refused: we are informed, that when his wife pressed him to comply with the times, and accept the King's offer, he made answer, "You are in the right, my dear, you, as other women, would ride in your coach; for me, my aim is to live and die an honest man." Soon after his marriage with his third wife, he removed to a house in the Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill-fields, where he continued till his death, except during the plague, in 1665, when he retired with his family to St. Giles's Chalfont Buckinghamshire, at which time his Paradise Lost was finished, tho' not published till 1667. Mr. Philips observes, that the subject of that poem was first designed for a tragedy, and in the fourth book of the poem, says he, there are ten verses, which, several years before the poem was begun, were shewn to me, and some others, as designed for the very beginning of the tragedy. The verses are,
O thou that with surpassing glory crown'd
Look'st from thy sole dominion like the god,
Of this new world; at whose sight all the stars
Hide their diminish'd heads; to thee I call,
But with no friendly voice, and add thy name,
O Sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams,
Which brings to my remembrance, from what state
I fell; how glorious once above thy sphere,
'Till pride, and worse ambition, threw me down,
Warring in Heaven, 'gainst Heav'ns matchless King.
Mr. Philips further observes, that there was a very remarkable circumstance in the composure of Paradise Lost, which, says he, "I have particular reason to remember, for whereas I had the perusal of it from the very beginning, for some years, as I went from time to time to visit him, in a parcel of ten, twenty, or thirty verses at a time, which being written by whatever hand came next, might possibly want correction, as to the orthography and pointing; having, as the summer came on, not been shewn any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal, and that whatever he attempted at other times, was never to his satisfaction, though he courted his fancy never so much; so that in all the years he was about his poem, he may be said to have spent but half his time therein." Mr. Toland imagines that Mr. Philips must be mistaken in regard to the time, since Milton, in his Latin Elegy upon the Approach of the Spring, declares the contrary, and that his poetic talent returned with the spring. This is a point, as it is not worth contending, so it never can be settled; no poet ever yet could tell when the poetic vein would flow; and as no man can make verses, unless the inclination be present, so no man, can be certain how long it will continue, for if there is any inspiration now amongst men, it is that which the poet feels, at least the sudden starts, and flashes of fancy bear a strong resemblance to the idea we form of inspiration.
Mr. Richardson has informed us, "that when Milton dictated, he used to sit leaning backwards obliquely in an easy chair, with his legs flung over the elbows of it; that he frequently composed lying a-bed in a morning, and that when he could not sleep, but lay awake whole nights, he tried, but not one verse could he make; at other times flowed easy his unpremeditated verse, with a certain Impetus as himself used to believe; then at what hour soever, he rung for his daughter to secure what came. I have been also told he would dictate many, perhaps 40 lines in a breath, and then reduce them to half the number." I would not omit, says Mr. Richardson, the least circumstance; these indeed are trifles, but even such contract a sort of greatness, when related to what is great.
After the work was ready for the press, it was near being suppressed by the ignorance, or malice of the licenser, who, among other trivial objections, imagined there was treason in that noble simile, b. i. v. 594.
—As when the sun new ris'n
Looks thro' the horizontal misty air,
Shorn of his beams; or from behind the moon,
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
The ignorance of this licenser, in objecting to this noble simile, has indeed perpetuated his name, but it is with no advantage; he, no doubt, imagined, that "Perplexes Monarchs" was levelled against the reigning Prince, which is, perhaps, the highest simile in our language; how ridiculously will people talk who are blinded by prejudice, or heated by party. But to return. After Milton had finished this noble work of genius, which does honour to human nature, he disposed of it to a Bookseller for the small price of fifteen pounds; under such prejudice did he then labour, and the payment of the fifteen pounds was to depend upon the sale of two numerous impressions. This engagement with his Bookseller proves him extremely ignorant of that sort of business, for he might be well assured, that if two impressions sold, a great deal of money must be returned, and how he could dispose of it thus conditionally for fifteen pounds, appears strange; but while it proves Milton's ignorance, or inattention about his interest in this affair, it, at the same time, demonstrates the Bookseller's honesty; for he could not be ignorant what money would be got by two numerous editions. After this great work was published, however, it lay some time in obscurity, and had the Bookseller advanced the sum stipulated, he would have had reason to repent of his bargain. It was generally reported, that the late lord Somers first gave Paradise Lost a reputation; but Mr. Richardson observes, that it was known and esteemed long before there was such a man as lord Somers, as appears by a pompous edition of it printed by subscription in 1688, where, amongst the list of Subscribers, are the names of lord Dorset, Waller, Dryden, Sir Robert Howard, Duke, Creech, Flatman, Dr. Aldrich, Mr. Atterbury, Sir Roger L'Estrange, lord Somers, then only John Sonnets, esq; Mr. Richardson further informs us, that he was told by Sir George Hungerford, an ancient Member of Parliament, that Sir John Denham came into the house one morning with a sheet of Paradise Lost, wet from the press, in his hand, and being asked what he was reading? he answered, part of the noblest poem that ever was written in any language, or in any age; however, it is certain that the book was unknown till about two years after, when the earl of Dorset recommended it, as appears from the following story related to Mr. Richardson, by Dr. Tancred Robinson, an eminent physician in London, who was informed by Sir Fleetwood Sheppard, "that the earl, in company with that gentleman, looking over some books in Little Britain, met with Paradise Lost; and being surprized with some passages in turning it over, bought it. The Bookseller desired his lordship to speak in its favour, since he liked it, as the impression lay on his hands as waste paper. The earl having read the poem, sent it to Mr. Dryden, who, in a short time, returned it with this answer: This man cuts us all, and the ancients too."
Critics have differed as to the source from which our drew the first hint of writing Paradise Lost; Peck conjectures that it was from a celebrated Spanish Romance called Guzman, and Dr. Zachary Pearce, now bishop of Bangor, has alledged, that he took the first hint of it from an Italian Tragedy, called II Paradiso Perso, still extant, and printed many years before he entered on his design. Mr. Lauder in his Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns, has insinuated that Milton's first hint of Paradise Lost, was taken from a Tragedy of the celebrated Grotius, called Adamus Exul, and that Milton has not thought it beneath him to transplant some of that author's beauties into his noble work, as well as some other flowers culled from the gardens of inferior genius's; but by an elegance of art, and force of nature, peculiar to him, he has drawn the admiration of the world upon passages, which in their original authors, stood neglected and undistinguished. If at any time he has adopted a sentiment of a cotemporary poet, it deserves another name than plagiary; for, as Garth expresses it, in the case of Dryden, who was charged with plagiary, that, like ladies of quality who borrow beggars children, it is only to cloath them the better, and we know no higher compliment could have been paid to these moderns, than that of Milton's doing them the honour to peruse them, for, like a Prince's accepting a present from a subject, the glory is reflected on him who offers the gift, not on the Monarch who accepts it. But as Mr. Lauder's book has lately made so great a noise in the world, we must beg leave to be a little more particular.
Had Mr. Lauder pursued his plan of disclosing Milton's resources, and tracing his steps through the vast tracts of erudition that our author travelled, with candour and dispassionateness, the design would have been noble and useful; he then would have produced authors into light who were before unknown; have recommended sacred poetry, and it would have been extreamly pleasing to have followed Milton over all his classic ground, and seen where the noblest genius of the world thought proper to pluck a flower, and by what art he was able to rear upon the foundation of nature so magnificent, so astonishing a fabric: but in place of that, Mr. Lauder suffers himself to be overcome by his passion, and instead of tracing him as a man of taste, and extensive reading, he hunts him like a malefactor, and seems to be determined on his execution.
Mr. Lauder could never separate the idea of the author of Paradise Lost, and the enemy of King Charles. Lauder has great reading, but greater ill nature and Mr. Douglas has shewn how much his evidence is invalidated by some interpolations which Lauder has since owned. It is pity so much classical knowledge should have been thus prostituted by Lauder, which might have been of service to his country; but party-zeal seldom knows any bounds. The ingenious Moses Brown, speaking of this man's furious attack upon Milton, has the following pretty stanza.
The Owl will hoot that cannot sing,
Spite will displume the muse's wing,
Tho' Phoebus self applaud her;
Still Homer bleeds in Zoilus' page
A Virgil 'scaped not the Maevius' rage,
And Milton has his Lauder.
But if Lauder is hot and furious, his passion soon subsides. Upon hearing that the granddaughter of Milton was living, in an obscure situation in Shoreditch, he readily embraced the opportunity, in his postscript, of recommending her to the public favour; upon which, some gentlemen affected with the singularity of the circumstance, and ashamed that our country should suffer the granddaughter of one from whom it derives its most lasting and brightest honour, to languish neglected, procured Milton's Comus to be performed for her benefit at Drury Lane, on the 5th of April, 1750: upon which, Mr. Garrick spoke a Prologue written by a gentleman, who zealously promoted the benefit, and who, at this time, holds the highest rank in literature.
This prologue will not, we are persuaded, be unacceptable to our readers.
A PROLOGUE spoken by Mr. GARRICK, Thursday, April 5, 1750. at the Representation of COMUS, for the Benefit of Mrs. ELIZABETH FOSTER, MILTON'S Grand-daughter, and only surviving descendant.
Ye patriot crouds, who burn for England's fame,
Ye nymphs, whole bosoms beat at Milton's name,
Whose gen'rous zeal, unbought by flatt'ring rhimes,
Shames the mean pensions of Augustan times;
Immortal patrons of succeeding days,
Attend this prelude of perpetual praise!
Let wit, condemn'd the feeble war to wage
With close malevolence, or public rage;
Let study, worn with virtue's fruitless lore,
Behold this theatre, and grieve no more.
This night, distinguish'd by your smile, shall tell,
That never Briton can in vain excel;
The slighted arts futurity shall trust,
And rising ages hasten to be just.
At length our mighty bard's victorious lays
Fill the loud voice of universal praise,
And baffled spite, with hopeless anguish dumb,
Yields to renown the centuries to come.
With ardent haste, each candidate of fame
Ambitious catches at his tow'ring name:
He sees, and pitying sees, vain wealth bestow:
those pageant honours which he scorn'd below:
While crowds aloft the laureat dust behold,
Or trace his form on circulating gold.
Unknown, unheeded, long his offspring lay,
And want hung threat'ning o'er her slow decay.
What tho' she shine with no Miltonian fire.
No fav'ring muse her morning dreams inspire;
Yet softer claims the melting heart engage,
Her youth laborious, and her blameless age:
Hers the mild merits of domestic life,
The patient suff'rer, and the faithful wife.
Thus grac'd with humble virtue's native charms
Her grandsire leaves her in Britannia's arms,
Secure with peace, with competence, to dwell,
While tutelary nations guard her cell.
Yours is the charge, ye fair, ye wise, ye brave!
'Tis yours to crown desert — beyond the grave!
In the year 1670 our author published at London in 4to. his History of Britain, that part, especially, now called England; from the first traditional Beginning, continued to the Norman Conquest, collected out of the ancientest and best authors thereof. It is reprinted in the first volume of Dr. Kennet's compleat History of England. Mr. Toland in his Life of Milton, page 43, observes, that we have not this history as it came out of his hands, for the licensers, those sworn officers to destroy learning, liberty, and good sense, expunged several passages of it, wherein he exposed the superstition, pride, and cunning of the Popish monks in the Saxon times, but applied by the sagacious licensers to Charles IId's bishops. In 1681 a considerable passage which had been suppressed in the publication of this history, was printed at London in 4to under this title. Mr. John Milton's character of the Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines in 1651, omitted in his other works, and never before printed. It is reported, and from the foregoing character it appears probable, that Mr. Milton had lent most of his personal estate upon the public faith, which when he somewhat earnestly pressed to have restored, after a long, and chargeable attendance, met with very sharp rebukes; upon which, at last despairing of any success in this affair, he was forced to return from them poor and friendless, having spent all his money, and wearied all those who espoused his cause, and he had not, probably, mended his circumstances in those days, but by performing such service for them, as afterwards he did, for which scarce any thing would appear too great. In 1671 he published at London in 8vo. Paradise Regained, a Poem in four Books, to which is added Sampson Agonistes: there is not a stronger proof of human weakness, than Milton's preferring this Poem of Paradise Regained, to Paradise Lost, and it is a natural and just observation, that the Messiah in Paradise Regained, with all his meekness, unaffected dignity, and clear reasoning, makes not so great a figure, as when in the Paradise Lost he appears cloathed in the Terrors of Almighty vengeance, wielding the thunder of Heaven, and riding along the sky in the chariot of power, drawn, as Milton greatly expresses it, "with Four Cherubic Shapes; when he comes drest in awful Majesty, and hurls the apostate spirits headlong into the fiery gulph of bottomless perdition, there to dwell in adamantine chains and penal fire, who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms."
Dr. Newton has dissented from the general opinion of mankind, concerning Paradise Regained: "Certainly, says he, it is very worthy of the author, and contrary to what Mr. Toland relates, Milton may be seen in Paradise Regained as well as Paradise Lost; if it is inferior in poetry, I know not whether it is inferior in sentiment; if it is less descriptive, it is more argumentative; if it does not sometimes rise so high, neither doth it ever sink below; and it has not met with the approbation it deserves, only because it has not been more read and considered. His subject indeed is confined, and he has a narrow foundation to build upon, but he has railed as noble a superstructure, as such little room, and such scanty materials would allow. The great beauty of it is the contrast between the two characters of the tempter and Our Saviour, the artful sophistry, and specious insinuations of the one, refuted by the strong sense, and manly eloquence of the other." The first thought of Paradise Regained was owing to Elwood the Quaker, as he himself relates the occasion, in the History of his own Life. When Milton had lent him the manuscript of Paradise Lost at St. Giles's Chalfont, and he returned it, Milton asked him how he liked it, and what he thought of it? "which I modestly and freely told him (says Elwood) and after some further discourse about it, I pleasantly said to him, 'thou hast said much of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of a Paradise Found? He made me no answer, but sat some time in a muse, then broke off that discourse, and fell upon another subject.' When Elwood afterwards waited upon him in London, Milton shewed him his Paradise Regained, and in a pleasant tone said to him, this is owing to you, for you put it into my head by the question you put me at Chalfont, which before I had not thought of."
In the year 1672 he published his Artis Logicae plenior Institutio ad Rami methodum concinnata, London, in 8vo. and in 1673, a Discourse intitled, Of True Religion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration, and what best Means may be used against the Growth of Popery, London, in 4to. He published likewise the same year, Poems, &c. on several Occasions, both English and Latin, composed at several times, with a small Tractate of Education to Mr. Hartlib, London, 8vo. In 1674 he published his Epistolarum familiarium, lib. i. & Prolusiones quaedam Oratoriae in Collegio Christi habitae, London, in 8vo. and in the same year in 4to. a Declaration of the Letters Patent of the King of Poland, John III. elected on the 22d of May, Anno Dom. 1674, now faithfully translated from the Latin copy. Mr. Wood tells us, that Milton was thought to be the author of a piece called the Grand Case of Conscience, concerning the Engagement Stated and resolved; or a Strict Survey of the Solemn League and Covenant in reference to the present Engagement; but others are of opinion that the stile and manner of writing do not in the least favour that supposition. His State Letters were printed at London 1676 in 12mo. and translated into English, and printed 1694, a, his Brief History of Muscovy, and of their less known Countries, lying Eastward of Russia, as far as Cathay, was in 1682 in 8vo. His Historical, Poetical, and Miscellaneous Works were printed in three volumes in folio 1698 at London, though Amsterdam is mentioned in the title page with the life of the author, by Mr. Toland; but the most compleat and elegant edition of his prose works was printed in two volumes in folio at London 1738, by the rev. Mr. Birch, now secretary to the Royal Society, with an Appendix concerning two Dissertations, the first concerning the Author of the [Greek characters: Eikon Basilike], the Portraiture of his sacred Majesty in his solitude and sufferings; and the prayer of Pamela subjoined to several editions of that book; the second concerning the Commission said to be given by King Charles I. in 1641, to the Irish Papists, for taking up arms against the Protestants in Ireland. In this edition the several pieces are disposed according to the order in which they were printed, with the edition of a Latin Tract, omitted by Mr. Toland, concerning the Reasons of the War with Spain in 1655, and several pages in the History of Great Britain, expunged by the licensers of the press, and not to be met with in any former impressions. It perhaps is not my province to make any remarks upon the two grand disputations, that have subsisted between the friends and enemies of Charles I. about the author of the Basilike, and the Commission granted to the Irish Papists; as to the last, the reader, if he pleases, may consult at the Life of Lord Broghill, in which he will find the mystery of iniquity disclosed, and Charles entirely freed from the least appearance of being concerned in granting so execrable a commission; the forgery is there fully related, and there is all the evidence the nature of the thing will admit of, that the King's memory has been injured by so base an imputation. As to the first, it is somewhat difficult to determine, whether his Majesty was or was not the author of these pious Meditations; Mr. Birch has summed up the evidence on both sides; we shall not take upon us to determine on which it preponderates; it will be proper here to observe, the chief evidence against the King in this contention, is, Dr. Gauden, bishop of Exeter, who claimed that book as his, and who, in his letters to the earl of Clarendon, values himself upon it, and becomes troublesomely sollicitous for preferment on that account; he likewise told the two princes that the Basilike was not written by their father, but by him; now one thing is clear, that Gauden was altogether without parts; his Life of Hooker, which is the only genuine and indisputed work of his, shews him a man of no extent of thinking; his stile is loose, and negligently florid, which is diametrically opposite to that of these Meditations. Another circumstance much invalidates his evidence, and diminishes his reputation for honesty. After he had, for a considerable time, professed himself a Protestant, and been in possession of an English bishopric, and discovered an ardent desire of rising in the church, notwithstanding this, he declared himself at his death a Papist; and upon the evidence of such a man, none can determine a point in disputation; for he who durst thus violate his conscience, by the basest hypocrisy, will surely make no great scruple to traduce the memory of his sovereign.
In a work of Milton's called Icon Oclastes, or the Image broken, he takes occasion to charge the king with borrowing a prayer from Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, and placing it in his Meditations without acknowledging the favour. Soon after the sentence of the Regicides had been put in execution these Meditations were published, and as Anthony by shewing the body of murdered Caesar, excited the compassion of multitudes, and raised their indignation against the enemies of that illustrious Roman; so these Meditations had much the same effect in England. The Presbyterians loudly exclaimed against the murder of the King; they asserted, that his person was sacred, and spilling his blood upon a scaffold was a stain upon the English annals, which the latest time could not obliterate. These tragical complaints gaining ground, and the fury which was lately exercised against his Majesty, subsiding into a tenderness for his memory, heightened by the consideration of his piety, which these Meditations served to revive, it was thought proper, in order to appease the minds of the people, that an answer should be wrote to them.
In this task Milton engaged, and prosecuted it with vigour; but the most enthusiastic admirer of that poet, upon reading it will not fail to discover a spirit of bitterness, an air of peevishness and resentment to run through the whole. Milton has been charged with interpolating the prayer of Pamela into the King's Meditations, by the assistance of Bradshaw, who laid his commands upon the printer so to do, to blast the reputation of the King's book. Dr. Newton is of opinion that this fact is not well supported, for it is related chiefly upon the authority of Henry Hills the printer, who had frequently affirmed it to Dr. Gill, and Dr. Bernard, his physicians, as they themselves have testified; but tho' Hills was Cromwell's printer, yet afterwards he turned Papist in the reign of King James II. in order to be that King's Printer; and it was at that time he used to relate this story; so that little credit is due to his testimony. It is almost impossible to believe Milton capable of such disingenuous meanness, to serve so bad a purpose, and there is as little reason for fixing it upon him, as he had to traduce the King for profaning the duty of prayer, with the polluted trash of romances for in the best books of devotion, there are not many finer prayers, and the King might as lawfully borrow and apply it to his own purpose, as the apostle might make quotations from Heathen poems and plays; and it became Milton, the least of all men, to bring such an accusation against the King, as he was himself particularly fond of reading romances, and has made use of them in some of the best and latest of his writings.
There have been various conjectures concerning the cause that produced in Milton so great an aversion to Charles I. One is, that when Milton stood candidate for a professorship at Cambridge with his much esteemed friend Mr. King, their interest and qualifications were equal, upon which his Majesty was required by his nomination to fix the professor; his answer was, let the best-natured man have it to which they who heard him, immediately replied; "then we are certain it cannot be Milton's who was ever remarkable for a stern ungovernable man." — Whether this conjecture is absolutely true, we cannot determine; but as it is not without probability, it has a right to be believed, till a more satisfactory one can be given.
In whatever light Milton may be placed as a statesman, yet as a poet he stands in one point of view without a rival; the sublimity of his conceptions, the elevation of his stile, the fertility of his imagination, and the conduct of his design in Paradise Lost is inimitable, and cannot be enough admired.
Milton's character as a poet was never better pourtray'd than in the epigram under his picture written by Mr. Dryden.
Three poets in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England, did adorn.
The first in loftiness of thought surpass'd;
The next in majesty; in both the last:
The force of nature could no further go,
To make a third, she join'd the former two.—
This great man died at his house at Bunhill, Nov. 15, 1674, and was interred near the body of his father, in the chancel of the church of St. Giles, Cripplegate. By his first wife he had four children, a son and three daughters. The daughters survived their father. Anne married a master-builder, and died in child-bed of her first child, which died with her; Mary lived single; Deborah left her father when she was young, and went over to Ireland with a lady, and came to England again during the troubles of Ireland under King James II. She married Mr. Abraham Clark, a weaver in Spittal-fields, and died Aug. 24., 1727, in the 76th year of age. She had ten children, viz. seven sons, and three daughters, but none of them had any children except one of her sons named Caleb, and the youngest daughter, whose name is Elizabeth. Caleb went over to Fort St. George in the East-lndies, where he married and had two sons, Abraham and Isaac; of these Abraham the elder came to England with governor Harrison, but returned again upon advice of his father's death, and whether he or his brother be now living is uncertain. Elizabeth, the youngest child of Deborah, married Mr. Thomas Foster, a weaver, and lives now in Hog-lane, Shoreditch, for whom Comus, as we have already observed, was performed at Drury-Lane, and produced her a great benefit. She has had seven children, three sons and four daughters, who are all now dead. This Mrs. Foster is a plain decent looking Woman. Mr. John Ward, fellow of the Royal Society, and professor of rhetoric in Gresham-College, London, saw the above Mrs. Clark, Milton's daughter at the house of one of her relations not long before her death, when she informed me, says that gentleman, "That she and her sisters used to read to their father in eight languages, which by practice they were capable of doing with great readiness, and accuracy, tho' they understood no language but English, and their father used often to say in their hearing, one tongue was enough for a woman. None of them were ever sent to school, but all taught at home by a mistress kept for that purpose. Isaiah, Homer, and Ovid's Metamorphoses were books which they were often called to read to their father; and at my desire he repeated a great number of verses from the beginning of both these poets with great readiness. I knew who she was upon the first sight of her, by the similitude of her countenance with her father's picture. And upon my telling her so, she informed me, that Mr. Addison told her the same thing, on her going to wait on him; for he, upon hearing she was living sent for her, and desired if she had any papers of her father's, she would bring them with her, as an evidence of her being Milton's daughter; but immediately on her being introduced to him, he said, Madam, you need no other voucher; your face is a sufficient testimonial whose daughter you are; and he then made her a handsome present of a purse of guineas, with a promise of procuring for her an annual provision for life; but he dying soon after, she lost the benefit of his generous design. She appeared to be a woman of good sense, and genteel behaviour, and to bear the inconveniencies of a low fortune with decency and prudence."
Her late Majesty Queen Caroline sent her fifty pounds, and she received presents of money from several gentlemen not long before her death. Milton had a brother, Mr. Christopher Milton who was knighted and made one of the barons of the Exchequer in King James II's reign, but he does not appear to have been a man of any abilities, at least if he had any, they are lost to posterity in the lustre of his brother's.
There is now alive a grand-daughter of this Christopher Milton, who is married to one Mr. John Lookup, advocate at Edinburgh, remarkable for his knowledge of the Hebrew tongue. The lady, whom I have often seen, is extremely corpulent, has in her youth been very handsome, and is not destitute of a poetical genius. She has writ several copies of verses, published in the Edinburgh Magazines; and her face bears some resemblance to the picture of Milton.
Mr. Wood, and after him Mr. Fenton, has given us the following description of Milton's person.
"He was of a moderate size, well-proportioned, and of a ruddy complexion, light brown hair, and had handsome features, yet his eyes were none of the quickest. When he was a student in Cambridge, he was so fair and clear, that many called him the Lady of Christ's-College. His deportment was affable, and his gait erect and manly, bespeaking courage and undauntedness; while he had his sight he wore a sword, and was well skilled in using it. He had a delicate tuneable voice, an excellent ear, could pay on the organ, and bear a part in vocal and instrumental music."
The great learning and genius of Milton, have scarcely raised him more admirers, than the part he acted upon the political stage, has procured him enemies. He was in his inclination a thorough Republican, and in this he thought like a Greek or Roman, as he was very conversant with their writings. And one day Sir Robert Howard, who was a friend of Milton's, and a well wisher to the liberty of his country, asked him, how he came to side with the Republicans? Milton answered, among other things, "because theirs was the most frugal government; for the trappings of a Monarchy might set up an ordinary Commonwealth." But then his attachment to Cromwell must be condemned, as being neither consistent with his republican principles, nor with his love of liberty. It may be reasonably presumed, that he was far from entirely approving of Cromwell's proceeding but considered him as the only person who could rescue the nation from the tyranny of the Presbyterians, who he saw, were about to erect a worse dominion of their own upon the ruins of prelatical episcopacy; for if experience may be allowed to teach us, the Presbyterian government carries in it more of ecclesiastical authority, and approaches more to the thunder of the Vatican, than any other government under the sun. Milton was an enemy to spiritual slavery, he thought the chairs thrown upon the mind were the least tolerable; and in order to shake the pillars of mental usurpation, he closed with Cromwell and the independents, as he expected under them greater liberty of conscience. In matters of religion too, Milton has likewise given great offence, but infidels have no reason to glory. No such man was ever amongst them. He was persuaded of the truth of the christian religion; he studied and admired the holy scriptures, and in all his writings he plainly discovers a religious turn of mind.
When he wrote the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, he appears to have been a Calvinist; but afterwards he entertained a more favourable opinion of Arminius. Some have thought that be was an Arian, but there are more express passages in his works to overthrow this opinion, than any there are to confirm it. For in the conclusion of his Treatise on Reformation, he thus solemnly invokes the Trinity:
"Thou therefore that fittest in light and glory unapproachable, parent of angels and of men! next thee I implore omnipotent king, redeemer of that lost remnant, whose nature thou didst assume, ineffable and everlasting love! and thee the third subsistence of the divine infinitude, illuminating spirit, the joy and solace of created things one tri-personal god-head."
In the latter part of his life he was not a professed member of any particular sect of christians; he frequented no public worship, nor used any religious rite in his family; he was an enemy to all kinds of forms, and thought that all christians had in some things corrupted the simplicity and purity of the gospel. He believed that inward religion was the best, and that public communion had more of shew in it, than any tendency to promote genuine piety and unaffected goodness.
The circumstances of our author were never very mean, nor very affluent; he lived above want, and was content with competency. His father supported him during his travels. When he was appointed Latin secretary, his sallary amounted to £200 per ann. and tho' he was of the victorious party, yet he was far from sharing the spoils of his country. On the contrary, as we learn from his Second Defence, he sustained great losses during the civil war, and was not at all favoured in the imposition of taxes, but sometimes paid beyond his due proportion; and upon a turn of affairs, he was not only deprived of his place but also lost £2000 which he had for security, put into the Excise office.
In the fire of London, his house in Bread-street was burnt, before which accident foreigners have gone out of devotion, says Wood, to see the house and chamber where he was born. Some time before he died, he sold the greatest part of his library, as his heirs were not qualified to make a proper use of it, and as he thought he could dispose of it to greater advantage, than they could after his death. He died (says Dr. Newton) by one means or other worth £1500 besides his household goods, which was no incompetent subsistence for him, who was as great a philosopher as a poet.
Milton seems not to have been very happy in his marriages. His first wife offended him by her elopement; the second, whose love, sweetness, and delicacy he celebrates, lived not a twelvemonth with him; and his third was said to be a woman of a most violent spirit, and a severe step-mother to his children.
"She died, says Dr. Newton, very old, about twenty years ago, at Nantwich in Cheshire, and from the accounts of those who had seen her, I have learned that she confirmed several things related before; and particularly that her husband used to compose his poetry chiefly in the winter, and on his waking on a morning would make her write down sometimes twenty or thirty verses: Being asked whether he did not often read Homer and Virgil, she understood it as an imputation upon him for stealing from these authors, and answered with eagerness, that he stole from no body but the muse that inspired him; and being asked by a lady present who the muse was, she answered, it was God's grace and holy spirit, that visited him nightly. She was likewise asked, whom he approved most of our English poets, and answered, Spenser, Shakespear, and Cowley; and being asked what he thought of Dryden, she said Dryden used sometimes to visit him, but he thought him no poet, but a good rhimist."
The reader will be pleased to observe, that this censure of Milton's was before Dryden had made any great appearance in poetry, or computed those immortal works of genius, which have raised eternal monuments to him, and carried his name to every country where poetry and taste are known. Some have thought that Dryden's genius was even superior to Milton's: That the latter chiefly shines in but one kind of poetry; his thoughts are sublime, and his language noble; but in what kind of writing has not Dryden been distinguished? He is in every thing excellent, says Congreve, and he has attempted nothing in which he has not so succeeded as to be entitled to the first reputation from it.
It is not to be supposed, that Milton was governed by so mean a principle as envy, in his thus censuring Dryden. It is more natural to imagine, that as he was himself no friend to rhime, and finding Dryden in his early age peculiarly happy in the faculty of rhiming, without having thrown out any thoughts, which were in themselves distinguishedly great, Milton might, without the imputation of ill nature, characterise Dryden, as we have already seen.
These are the most material incidents in the life of this great man, who if he had less honour during the latter part of his life than he deserved, it was owing to the unfavourable circumstances under which he laboured. It is always unpleasing to a good man to find that they who have been distinguished for their parts, have not been equally so for their moral qualities; and in this case we may venture to assert, that Milton was good as well as great; and that if he was mistaken in his political principles, he was honestly mistaken, for he never deviated from his first resolution; no temptations could excite him to temporise, or to barter his honour for advantage; nor did he ever once presume to partake of the spoils of his ruined country. Such qualities as these are great in themselves, and whoever possesses them, has an unexceptionable claim to rank with the good.
We might have entered more minutely into the merit of Milton's poems, particularly the great work of Paradise Lost; but we should reckon it arrogant as well as superfluous in us, to criticise on a work whose beauties have been displayed by the hand of Mr. Addison. That critic has illustrated the most remarkable passages in Paradise Lost; such as are distinguished by their sublimity and elevation such whose excellence is propriety others raised by the nobleness of the language; and those that are remarkable for energy and strong reasoning.
A later critic, the ingenious author of the Rambler, has animadverted upon Milton's versification with great judgment; and has discovered in some measure that happy art, by which Milton has conducted so great a design, with such astonishing success.
From these two writers may be drawn all the necessary assistances for reading the Paradise Lost with taste and discernment and as their works are in almost in every body's hands, it would be needless to give any abstract of them here.