My principal aim in my former Lecture was, to prove that Milton is the sublimest of poets. To evince this truth, I used the strongest arguments that I could form, and arrange, myself: but it was proved by more powerful authorities; by the just and elegant Addison; and by the prejudiced, and inconsistent Johnson, in spite of himself; and I produced examples, to confirm the preceding observations. I shall open this Lecture with a transition from the essence to the form of Milton's poetry.
The mode of verse which a poet chuses is so important an object, that I must take some notice of the versification of Paradise Lost. Blank verse had been little used, except in dramatick poetry; and was of no repute in this country, till Milton wrote. With that rapid progress which is peculiar to rare genius, he at once brought our epick poetry, and its measure to perfection. A very few, indeed, of his lines are unharmonious: they are marked with the comparative rudeness of the times. For instance, we have, in Paradise Lost
Universal reproach; far worse to bear.
B. VIth. v. 34.
Evening, and morn, solemnized the fifth day.
B. VIIth. v. 445.
In the visions of God. It was a hill.
B. XIth. v. 337.
but, in general, his verse hath a sounding and a noble flow. If justice was done to the lines which I have quoted, in reading them, nothing could be produced, of more distinct measure; nothing more musical, in English poetry. Dr. Johnson never shows more absurdity, and less taste; less poetical ear, than where he criticises Milton's verse. "The music of the English heroick line (says he) strikes the ear so faintly, that it is easily lost unless all the syllables of every line co-operate together;" (that is his expression;) "this co-operation can only be obtained by the preservation of every verse unmingled with another, as a distinct system of sounds; and this distinctness is obtained, and preserved by the artifice of rhyme. The variety of pauses so much boasted by the lovers of blank verse, changes the measures of an English poet to the periods of a declaimer; and there are only a few skillful, and happy readers of Milton, who enable their audience to perceive where the lines end, or begin. Blank verse, said an ingenious critick, seems to be verse only to the eye." Pp. 219; 220. — This is the language of prejudice, and errour; and therefore it deserves not a particular answer. Good English heroick verse, when it is not terminated in rhyme, strikes the ear and the mind, with a strength sufficient to give them the impression of measure, and harmony. By careless or injudicious reading; or, indeed, by too closely accompanying the flow of the sense, when the sense of one line flows into that of another; it may frequently happen that the measures of a Greek, and Latin, as well as of an English poet, may be changed into the periods of a declaimer. But even excellent poetry is not essentially dishonoured when one of its periods is occasionally mistaken for fine declamation. He who cannot read so tolerably, as to let his audience distinctly perceive where the lines in blank verse end, or begin, is not worthy to open a volume of Milton. Dr. Johnson's ingenious critick tells us that blank verse seems to be verse only to the eye. What a miserable creature must this have been (for I know not its name) to hold high converse with a poet! an eye, it seems, he had; but I deny that he had a mind. When we read the animated, and highly coloured strains of Young; of Thomson; of Milton; do we feel (for I am not addressing myself to stocks, and stones) do we feel that they are poetry; that they are "verse only to the eye?" If such cavils; such objections had not been made by Johnson, they would have been treated by the publick, as they should have been treated by me, with a silent, and supreme contempt.
"Poetry" (continues Johnson) "may subsist without rhyme; but English poetry will not often please." — Always, when it is written by a real poet, who is master of that kind of modulation. "Nor can rhyme, (adds he) ever be safely spared, but where the subject is able to support itself." — p. 220. This assertion, in the spirit of good sense, has no farther propriety, than that blank verse is peculiarly adapted to subjects of dignity, and grandeur. As we have, at present, a poetical subject which is by no means, insignificant, I must here give some attention to a fact, of which I have no doubt that you will all be convinced; but which I should suppose, was never considered by Dr. Johnson. It appears to me, evident, and indisputable, that the genius of some poets is peculiarly happy in blank verse; and the genius of others, in rhyme. This difference only shows, in one, among many instances, the variety of the stamina, or modifications of our internal frame. I do not pretend to account for it; for I do not pretend to analyze, and exhibit, the arcana of the human mind. Milton, Young, and Thomson, are greater in blank verse than they are in rhyme. Congreve, with a singular felicity, while he was a very young man, wrote the first comedies in the English, or perhaps, in any other language. But in the strict sense of the glorious title, he was but an inconsiderable poet. His Mourning Bride is rather a specious, than a noble tragedy: it has a deal of pomp, and show; and fine artificial horrours; but it unlocks none of the springs of the soul; it "plays round the head;" it "affects not the heart." What he writes in blank verse, however, is far superiour to what he writes in rhyme; which, indeed, is very indifferent. I am almost certain that Mr. Pope, the first of poets in rhyme, and, absolutely, one of the first of poets, would not have written with so charming, and powerful a vein; if he had written in our less restrained heroick verse. Therefore, the question is not, whether blank verse is more adapted to one subject than another; but whether it is more adapted to the genius of one poet than another. In this mode of writing, a true poet will give interest, and relief, to a light, or humble theme, by the force of his invention, or imagination. "He that thinks himself capable of astonishing" (continues Johnson) "may write blank verse." Surely Philips, in his Splendid Shilling, did not mean to astonish; he meant only to entertain; he obtained his end; and Johnson gives that poem the praise which it deserves. Neither did Armstrong intend to astonish us, when he wrote that elegant didactick poem, "The Art of Preserving Health." "Those that hope only to please" (says the Doctor) "must condescend to rhyme." — "Difficilia quae pulchra." In giving this precept, it appears that Johnson thought it more difficult to write poetry in blank verse than in rhyme. If he was of this opinion, then I had an opportunity of knowing when he was of a different opinion The anecdote is intimately connected with our present subject; but as I bear a part in it, pardon me for relating it.
In the year 1770, I published a translation of Tasso's Aminta. As the good old Lord Littleton was a polite scholar, and an elegant authour, I sent him a copy of my translation. In two or three days after, he honoured me with a visit. Literature, and poetry were naturally, the subjects of our conversation. Amongst other particulars of that interview, which he made very agreeable, and interesting to a man of letters, he told me, that in a visit to Mr. Pope, while that great poet was translating the Iliad, he expressed to him a degree of surprize, that he had not determined to translate that poem into blank verse; especially as Milton had set him the example, in writing his heroick poem. Pope replied, that "he could, with more ease, translate Homer into poetry that rhymed." I, one day, communicated to Dr. Johnson this information which I had from Lord Littleton. — "Sir," (said he,) "when Pope said that, he knew that he lied." These were his very words; they are much in his manner; and they show that he did not apprehend that different kinds of versification might be respectively adapted to a diversity of genius; a position, of the truth of which I cannot but be convinced.
In Dr. Newton's dull, and heavy life of Milton, we have this curious passage. — "Such a man as Bishop Burnet maketh it a sort of objection to Milton, that he affected to write in blank verse, without rhyme." Life of Milton: page 56. It can, indeed, only be, at the best, a sort of objection: it is easy, however, to account for the objection, such as it is: Bishop Burnet knew no more of poetry than a man born blind knows of colours. But, then, says one bishop of another: — Such a man as Bishop Burnet! It is very certain that prelatical consecration does not, in general, inspire a poetical taste; it is not, indeed, expected from its office: would to God, that in general, it inspired better graces!
From my ardent, and uniform zeal for the first of poets; not, I assure you, from my love of disputation; I cannot yet take my leave of Dr. Johnson, as a critick on the Paradise Lost. The highest opinion that can be conceived of the importance of this poem to human nature has been warmly entertained; and as warmly, and amply expressed, both by Addison, and by Johnson. Both these writers have been industrious to show, that nothing can be imagined more splendid, and sublime, than the sentiments, and imagery which it contains; and which, therefore, must be extremely captivating to the mind of man. They both agree that it represents to us, in the most lively, instructive, and awful colours, our temporal, and eternal fate; and that it, therefore speaks, in the most interesting eloquence, to the human heart; to our ultimate hopes, and fears; to our well-regulated, and best affections. After this abstract of a great part of what has been justly advanced to the honour of Milton; I shall quote some additional sentiments of Johnson, on the same subject; for a warrantable; nay, for a cogent reason, which I shall soon lay before you. He remarks, that "the moral of other poems is incidental, and consequent; in Milton's only, it is essential, and intrinsick: his purpose was the most useful, and the most arduous; to vindicate the ways of God to man: to show the reasonableness of religion; and the necessity of obedience to the divine law." Page 172. In another place, he thus expresses himself: — "Here is a full display of the united force of study, and genius; of a great accumulation of materials; with judgement to digest, and fancy to combine them. Milton was able to select from nature, or from story; from ancient fable; or from modern science; whatever could illustrate, or adorn his thoughts. An accumulation of knowledge impregnated his mind; fermented by study, and sublimed by imagination." It has been, therefore, said, without an indecent hyperbole, by one of his encomiasts, that in reading Paradise Lost, we read a book of universal knowledge." After all that I have fairly exhibited, who, that with the maturest judgement, and reflexion, estimates the merit of an authour, and gives him that steady, and consistent admiration, which the highest merit claims, would expect what immediately, and subsequently follows? — "But original deficience cannot be supplied. The want of human interest is always felt. Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires; and lays down; and forgets to take up again. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction; retire, harassed, and overburdened; and look elsewhere for recreation. We desert our master, and seek for companions." Pages 200; 201; 202. But yet we should less expect the following most absurd of all positions: viz: that Milton's Paradise Lost is "a book, which is the favourite of children; and gradually neglected, as knowledge is increased." This gross absurdity; doubly gross, as it is a palpable contradiction all his eulogy on Milton, hardly deserves any serious animadversion. How can the book of universal knowledge be gradually neglected, as knowledge is increased? and as to its being the favourite of children, that is impossible. There is no book of poetry in the world so unfit for children as Paradise Lost; no book so well calculated to give the noblest pleasure, and instruction to the human mind, when it is matured by years, and cultivated by a commonly good education. Poetry should always be perspicuous, and should always affect; it should not only easily, and amiably meet the understanding; but likewise the sentiments of the reader. No poet is, in general, more perspicuous than Milton; he rolls an "orellana;" but it is as clear as it is capacious. Fine poetry; and great poetry, demand a reader of, at least, a well-informed adolescence; because they are conversant with accumulating, and acquired ideas; because they soar over regions of diversified fertility; which are unknown to children. If the sense of an authour is frequently not obvious, that authour is no poet. Nor is it possible to write as a poet, with proper strength, and effect; unless the mind is previously stored with a variety of important knowledge. But ideas must find ideas; and genially coalesce with them; otherwise there can be no reciprocation of intellect, or sentiment; there can be no fine fermentation of mind; no pleasure can be given, and received; the images of the muse must be lavished, and wasted, on inanity. Hence, it would be impossible for a poet, who had poetically availed himself of such knowledge as I have mentioned, to strike the minds of children with its ornaments, and colouring; without a miracle. The poetry that is calculated to please children, must, indeed be very simple; very confined, in its range; and, consequently, by no means, vigorous, and sublime. Therefore, the least adapted, of all poems in the world, to please children, is, Paradise Lost.
Such glaringly inconsistent sentiments; such ridiculously absurd strictures as those which I have quoted from Johnson, would be disgraceful to a writer of common sense; much more so, to a scholar, and a man of genius.
Why must the glory; why must the divine genius of Milton, be profanely degraded, disparaged, and debased; for the indolence; the superficiality; the stupidity of mankind? I should be glad to know, Mr. Johnson, what attention is, in general, devoted to your favourite, Homer, after we have read him at school; when we have deserted the blooming, and salutary regions, of innocence, and fancy; and have plunged into business, care, and dissipation? the capital English authours, both in prose, and verse, of the highest reputation, who directly address those passions which are almost the continual objects of life, are, by far the greater number of us, little read, after the first perusal. None but true scholars, (I do not mean to confine learning to what we call the learned languages,) none but distinguishing, and manly minds, habituated to study, and to think, will repeatedly, and carefully peruse an excellent authour: and such minds will often return to Milton, with new pleasure. Horace thus advises the Romans;
—vos exemplaria Graeca
Nocturna versate manu; versate diurua.
It were to be wished that this advice applied to Englishmen, and to English writers, were followed here: for no nation upon earth, ever produced greater intellectual luminaries than our country can boast, both in verse, and prose; eloquent men, as Akenside terms them;
Those honours with increase of ages grow;
As streams roll on, enlarging as they flow.
What is now in my mind, brings to my recollection what I lately, and accidentally read. Mr. Sherlock's book of travels contains the following acute, and distinguishing passage. "Considering all the arts collectively," (says this ingenious gentleman,) "I should give the first place to Greece; the second to Italy; the third to France; and the fourth to England." This one period of his book, without animadverting on the rest of his French, and Italian frippery, may convince every person of genuine, and well established taste, how completely qualified he was, like many of our modern ramblers, to travel.
If, with an equal destitution of judgement, and generosity, we appreciate a writer, only as he is the object of reading, and conversation, what are we to infer from the temporary fate of the illustrious and immortal Richardson? I now bring, more, or less, to your attention, that species of composition (if, in general, it deserves that respectable appellation) which is expressly written, universally to attract the heart, and the imagination, by appealing to the favourite passions, and persuits of the multitude. While I am preparing a warm, and grateful tribute, to the memory of this great man; I am not at all ignobly descending; he is worthy to be mentioned after Milton. If a man has an immense ambition for literary fame; not the glittering, perishable meteor of prejudice, and conceit; but the clear, and steady glory, which is to shine through let him produce, if he can, a work equal to Clarissa. His fable and characters flow so purely from the sacred source of nature; so intimately do they mix with all the recesses of the heart; that it is with difficulty that we undeceive ourselves; and find that they are imaginary. There never was a more masterly painter of human nature; there never was a more eloquent, and powerful advocate for virtue. Every word is marked with an apparently inactive simplicity; yet every word immediately insinuates itself; or glides; or penetrates to the soul. I am happy to have my humble encomium on this charming, and astonishing writer, warranted, and dignified by the rapturous eulogy of Rousseau. I have heard the severe Johnson, too, extremely warm in the praise of his departed friend. But the praise which he gives him in the Rambler, where he introduces one of his Letters to the Publick, is an "instar omnium:" it is as elegant as it is just. "He hath enlarged the knowledge of human nature" (saith he,) "and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue." — But my admiration of him is most decisively, most oracularly authorized by the profuse, and luxurious tears of all who read him; those excepted, who have hearts of marble.
Yet Grandison, and Clarissa, are, for the present, almost neglected; while curiosity pants for the innumerable mushrooms of novels; whose authours, instead of exhibiting passions; life; characters, and manners, with interesting art; cloy you with pastoral, or harass you with horrible description. Whenever they attempt human nature, they give you some grotesque, incongruous, distorted figures. But their productions include every recommendation in one; novelty. I am sorry to remark (if I am just, you will excuse me for remarking) that this resistless charm of novelty operates with equal effect through the higher departments of our modern literature. There never was a epocha so fruitful of genius, as the present. The literary prodigies are introduced into the world by novelty; a train of fortunate circumstances accompany them, in society; they never utter a harsh, though salutary truth; they are as great adepts in the bowing faculty as Sir Pertinax is in the play; fashion; the perpetual dictator, in gay, superficial times, shades their brows with a laurel of deciduous verdure. In a highly civilized, and polished community, in proportion as there is little application to useful, and important knowledge, in an inverse ratio, there are many publications; characteristick of the intellectual exertion of the age. An undistinguishing curiosity, is an inseparable companion of superficiality. The sale of those publications is often rapid; the reading of them is desultory. Such as the teachers are, such are the scholars. These times are extremely propitious to booksellers, and sciolists; but they are very unfavourable to free, independent genius; introduced, and recommended, to the world, only by its own merit.
From that indifference to the novels of Richardson, which is a living satire on the times, one might imagine that the taste of the times was partly poisoned by the pen of a gentleman who wrote one excellent comedy; and who has been, for many years, a very great writer — in quantity. This authour has discovered that Fielding is a greater novelist than Richardson. None of his remarks demand a diligent refutation; therefore, I shall only remark, in my turn, that both the geniuses were invaluable diamonds; but that Richardson was a diamond of a finer water. And he is very remote from the truth, when he says that Tom Jones is universally preferred to Clarissa. As I doubt not that his jealousy for virtue, is sincere, and humane; if he is not blinded by prejudice, and partiality, he certainly must acknowledge that virtue is enforced with far more delicacy of pathos, in the latter novel, than in the former. He talks of the pedantick letters, and pedantick characters, of which the reading of Clarissa has been the cause. The book is free, from every kind of pedantry; unless the word can, with propriety be applied to simplicity, and perspicuity of language; to the purest, and most exalted sentiments; and to heroick virtue. But if unexperienced youth, and giddy heads, mistake their situation, they may pervert the naturally good effects of every forcible writer into pedantry, and affectation. He finds fault with the epistolary mode of the narrative; no reasonable fault can be found with it; for it is, throughout, well connected; unembarrassed; distinct, and clear. "The incidents," (he says) "are better conceived, than executed." They are so executed, that they always interest, and affect extremely. — "As to the characters of Lovelace; of the heroine herself; and of the heroine's parents, he takes them all to be beings of another world." — One would suppose that he had dropt from the moon himself. His example is one proof more, that a great genius who has, comparatively, but indifferent opportunities to be acquainted with mankind, will know them better than an inferiour being, whose higher situations bring them more variously, and collectively, under his view. The conduct of obstinate, proud and profligate persons, on the stage of this world; and the grief, and indignation of all virtuous, and feeling readers, prove that these characters are drawn from life, and nature, which this hypercritical gentleman would banish to another sphere. The letters, in general, are those of a master of human nature. The letters of Lovelace are particularly fraught with force, and splendour of talents. He says that "the novel is wire-drawn into such prolixity." — This is a weak, and stale objection; and unworthy of a liberal and distinguishing critick. I should regret the loss of any one letter of Clarissa, very subordinate, or inferiour letter, contributes, in some degree, to make the narrative, and characters more interesting, and consequently, the entertainment more lively, and impressive. There are eight volumes of Clarissa: I wish, that there had been as many more, as well written as the eight with which we were favoured by the authour. He mentions a young lady who made her will; wrote "an inscription for the plate of her own coffin; and forswore all mankind, at the age of sixteen." — This only tends to prove the powers of Richardson, as a writer; it surely proves nothing against him: if a work of imagination were so guarded by judgement, as to be impregnable to the attacks of the most petulant critick, its authour would not, for he could not, be responsible for its effects on a weak, and romantick mind. We may make the most salutary nourishment of the soul, as well as that of the body, our poison. What use; what abuse hath been made, of the celestial morality of the New Testament, by selfish, and ambitious priests, practising on feeble, superstitious. and enthusiastick minds!
But we need not wonder that an industrious, and indefatigable advocate for the slavery; for the inexpressible distresses, and torments, of the most unfortunate Africans; was insensible to the benevolent, the humane; the christian pathos, of Richardson.
What would a stern critick say of this transition from my main subject, who would not endure a digression, or an episode of Milton? Let me, then, close it, at last, by reminding you, that the conceited, and fastidious objections to the unequalled novel of Clarissa; to which objections, I fear, that I have given too much attention, are always overpowered, and effaced, by the sluices of the heart. Some of our most excellent poets, and prose-writers are now treated with an ungenerous, and impertinent contempt. But in the words of my Lord Bolinbroke, "I have singled one man out from among the moderns; because he has had the foolish presumption to censure Richardson, and to write novels, himself; and you will forgive this — I cannot say — short excursion, in honour of a favourite authour."
Let me, at length, return to Milton. The transition is not violent from one great luminary to another.
The Paradise Regained is a poor performance. Dr. Newton, with the weakest of critical superstitions, makes it a doubt whether it is not equal to Paradise Lost. All who are acquainted with the two poems, will deem this doubt a contemptible trifle. It contains, indeed, very little poetical matter. When Johnson made his observations on it, he had the warm fit of praising upon him. — "Had this poem, (said he) been written, not by Milton, but by some imitator, it would have claimed, and received universal praise." — One man hath as good a right to assert, as another; and it would be impertinent to obtrude arguments, on a respectable audience, in a clear case, where they would be superfluous. If the Paradise Regained had not been written by Milton, it would have had very little publick notice. I will suppose that Johnson, in his esteem of this poem, was amiably prejudiced by his religion. I wish that the same prejudice had supplied the deficiency of good sense, where he is absurdly inconsistent in his opinion of the great poem. He would not then have told us, that it was only fit for children.
When he wrote Paradise Regained, the decline of genius evidently operated against its happy execution. Besides, he had, as it were, exhausted, his great sacred sentiments, and images in his former poem. The New Testament, likewise, is not fertile of poetical stores The great object of that heavenly code, is, to make us virtuous and happy; not to stimulate, and enrich the fancy. I make these remarks on Paradise Regained, without much regret; Milton is crowned, shadowed, with genuine rays; therefore he may spare a few sprigs of bastard laurel. Unfortunately, I must often differ from Dr. Johnson, unless I violate sincerity. He treats Milton's juvenile poetry with contempt. I think that it deserves high praise. Let a good, and unprejudiced critick read his elegy on the death of a fair infant, which he wrote when he was in his seventeenth year, and I am almost confident that he will find in it such proofs of a strong, and luxuriant imagination as indicated his future greatness.
Most of his Latin poems were written before he had exceeded his twentieth year. Johnson speaks of them in terms of disparagement. He acknowledges, however, that they are lusciously elegant. In elegance, indeed, they almost rival the Latin poetry of the great Buchanan; and they are animated with the genius of that classical writer. When we recollect that Milton, in his early youth, wrote Italian, Latin, and Greek verses, like a master of those languages; and like a fine poet; and that he, afterwards, was the authour of Paradise Lost; he grows still more astonishing, to our view.
His Lycidas is a most beautiful elegy; it is the very perfection of pastoral writing; if we except some passages distinguished by an elevation of sentiment, and a knowledge of life, which are incompatible with the shepherd's character. But these are the honourable excesses of a Virgil, and a Pope. It abounds, however, with the finest rural imagery, and personification. This monody, likewise, bears a most respectable testimony to the heart of its authour: it shows the kindest remembrance of an amiable youth; whose mind had long been united to his own by the sacred ties of literature, and virtue.
Nothing can be imagined more petulant, and unjust than Johnson's remarks on Milton's Lycidas. He treats the whole with a supercilious contempt; which is so destitute of foundation, that I will not waste your time, and mine, by giving it my particular animadversion. For this glaring injustice to Lycidas, I have two reasons in my eye, which I think almost incontrovertible. Johnson, plainly, from party motives, is, on many occasions, industrious to depress both the moral, and poetical reputation of Milton. And our poet, in this elegy, takes an opportunity severely to censure, and expose the indolence, and epicureism; and the necessarily concomitant dullness, of the superiour clergy. Now, it is well known that Johnson as a high-churchman, was an archbishop Laud; without the excuse of having lived in his bigoted, and superstitious age. Indeed, his latter reason for tearing this unfortunate pastoral to pieces, is evident from a passage in his life of Milton, where he mentions the year in which Lycidas was published. He says that "his malignity to the church may be discovered by some lines which are interpreted, as threatening its extermination." Life: Page 16. A passage or two from the poem will be the best refutation of this critical calumny.
Thee, shepherd, thee, the woods, and desert caves
With wild thyme, and the gadding vine o'er-grown,
And all their echoes mourn.
The willows, and the hazel copses green,
Shall now no more be seen
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays:
As killing as the canker to the rose;
Or taint-worm to the weanling herds that graze,
Or frost to flowers that their gay wardrobe wear
When first the white thorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to shepherd's ear. V. 9.
In the following passage, it is difficult to say, whether the heroick perseverance of poetical ambition, or our ultimate hope in heaven for the merited reward of our unshaken virtue, is more elegantly described, or more forcibly recommended.
Alas! what boots it, with incessant care
To tend the homely slighted shepherd's trade;
And strictly meditate the thankless muse!
Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis, in the shade;
Or with the tangles of Neaera's hair!
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise;
(That last infirmity of noble mind!)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days;—
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze;
Comes the blind fury, with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. But not the praise,
Phoebus replied; and touched my trembling ears;
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil;
Nor in the glistering foil,
Set off to the world; nor in broad rumour lies;
But lives, and spreads aloft, by those pure eyes,
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed.
This enchanting pastoral thus concludes:
Thus sang the uncouth swain to the oaks, and rills
While the still morn went out, with sandals grey;
He touched the tender stops of various quills;
With eager thought warbling his Dorick lay;
And now the sun had stretched out all the hills;
And now was dropt into the western bay;
At last, he rose, and twitched his mantle blue;
To-morrow, to fresh woods, and pastures new.
All the other parts of Lycidas are worthy companions of what I have now recited. Therefore, if they are not charming poetry, I am ready, with all proper deference and humility, to give up my poetical taste (and God knows I have little to resign) to Dr. Johnson, in his paroxysms of spleen; or to Bishop Newton; or even to such a man as Bishop Burnet; or to any other of my Right Reverend Fathers.
"Milton" (says Johnson) "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 dandling the kid." p. 153. Rembrandt, or Rubens never drew more faithful strokes of their own likeness, than the Doctor here exhibits of himself. Witness those passages of the Rambler, where he attempts to be humorous, and playful. In those passages, he gambols unwieldily. He knew nothing of the art of catching the manners living as they rise. But in grave, comprehensive, and energetick morality, the Rambler is an immortal monument of genius. His charge against Milton, that he had not the talent of conducting the easier, and more familiar poetry, is completely disproved by the poem which I have been defending; and by many other examples which have been fortunately transmitted to posterity.
Alluding to Lycidas, he says, "where there is leisure for fiction, there is little grief." I deny the truth of the remark. There is a new, and violent grief, which distracts the mind, and certainly renders it incapable of poetical composition. But there is likewise a calm, and rational grief; or deep concern; which not only does not obstruct, but speeds, and strengthens, the pathos of the muse. Another of his remarks teems with still more absurdity. With reference to the same elegy, "we know" (saith he) that they never drove a-field; and that they had no flocks to batten." — Is this childish petulance worthy of an answer? "And though it be allowed, (he continues) that the [rural] 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." I shall say nothing directly, and particularly to this quotation; because I cannot think it better than absolute nonsense: I give it only to show you, as more of his unmeaning declamation evinces, that he lays the axe to the root of the blooming tree of pastoral poetry. But I hope that he has not cut it down. A true poet can always vary a fine, though beaten subject; sufficiently, to make it entertaining. And the human mind will always be very sensibly affected, and pleased with those objects, which are most friendly to its nature; which are most happily calculated to delight the uncorrupted imagination; which inspire innocence, poetry, and peace.
It is not Milton alone that falls a victim to the dictatorship of this literary Scylla. Every unfortunate pastoral poet; from Theocritus, down to Gay, is found guilty of high treason against the state of poetry; and is decapitated, with the realized wish of a literary Caligula; or with the equally promiscuous execution of a French guillotine.
I should be impertinent, if I offered you any studied encomium on Comus; on L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso; poems, which abound with as many beautiful poetical images, as to the extent of those poems, were ever displayed. Johnson speaks highly of the poetical merit of Comus; much of his dramatick censure of it is just its excellences are striking, and many; for its faults I can only apologize by observing that it was written for a gay, festal occasion; when the poet, like his actors, and audience, would be, naturally more attentive to poetical beauty, and scenery, than to the more accurate, and severe laws of composition. Nor is Johnson parsimonious of his praise to the Allegro, and Penseroso: he allows that "they are two noble efforts of the imagination." — The faults which he finds in them, are futile, and imaginary. In criticizing the Allegro, he falls into a blunder that one would have thought he could not have committed. He supposes himself, and, therefore, he makes Milton suppose, that the cheerful, as well as the melancholy man, is naturally, a lover of solitude. The supposition is grossly absurd; it never arose in the mind of Milton. He only selects those rural objects with which the cheerful man is naturally delighted.
No good judge of poetry, after he has read these two poems will say that Milton was not a master of rhyme as well as of blank verse. That such a prosaick being as Dr. Newton, should fancy that he had not a talent for rhyming like a true poet, is not at all singular: but I am not a little surprized that it was not allowed him, by Dryden, and by Pope.
Dr. Johnson, in his criticism on the sonnets of Milton, shows his frequent injustice to our poet. Some of the sonnets he wrote in his juvenile, and others, in his maturer age. He who reads them, will be satisfied that they have considerable merit. They are infinitely superiour to the sonnets of Shakespeare; which, in general, are puerile, embarrassed, and obscure.
I cannot but think that the Samson Agonistes deserves more praise than is given to it by Johnson. We cannot approve the structure of this tragedy; which is on the model of the Greek drama; — a model not well calculated to fix an interested attention; to excite the passions, and affections; and keep them in forcible action. Yet the piece, on the whole, is extremely pleasing; the dialogue is vigorous, poetical, and impassioned: it is by no means deficient in the pathetick; its hero is venerable; and its catastrophe is great, and awful. It is to be feared, that, in drawing the character of Samson, Milton had a feeling, and painful sense of his own domestick situation. My opinion of the Samson Agonistes will be well, and respectably supported by the suffrage of Mr. Mason. "The success of this poem, (says he) was what one might have expected [he means, from its formation on the Greek school] — the age it appeared in treated it with total neglect; neither hath that posterity to which he appealed, and which has done justice to most of his other writings, as yet given to this excellent piece, its full measure of popular, and universal fame." — Letter 2nd prefixed to Mason's Elfrida.
Dr. Johnson thinks that "Milton would not have excelled in dramatick writing." He says that "he knew human nature only in the gross; and had never studied the shades of character; nor the combinations of concurring, or the perplexity of contending passions. He had read much; and knew what books could teach; but had mingled little in the world; and was deficient in the knowledge which experience must confer." — He has adapted almost this whole paragraph, without intending it, to himself. Milton's great reading was, indeed not applicable to Johnson. I am satisfied that Milton was better acquainted with human nature than the Doctor was; most of the glorious part of Johnson's life, was personally, passed in obscurity. He did not mix in splendid circles till he was an old man. From them he could acquire as little knowledge of mankind, as is obtained by kings. For they worshipped him, partly from an indistinct, and confused admiration; and partly from their fear of his rude, and domineering manners.
Before we retire from the great object of this Lecture, will you give me leave to take a view of the moral character of Milton? In so doing, I shall rather proceed, than deviate; for the moral is more connected with the intellectual frame of an authour, and consequently, with his literary glory, than they will easily imagine, who are but slightly acquainted with the theory of man. I should be sorry to extend my Lecture to an injudicious prolixity; I should be sorry to deform it with one half of the railing accusations, which Dr. Johnson brings against this good as well as great; against this excellent man. All that virulence, and acrimony of a partizan with which Dr. Johnson vehemently charges Milton, when the passions of men were naturally heated, and inflamed, rankled in the breast of no man more than in his own, long after the sanguinary war of parties had expired. Some of the polite compliments which our celebrated biographer pays to Milton, I shall take the trouble to collect: — they are very remarkable, and curious, when we reflect that they are applied by Johnson. "He had" (it seems) "a lofty, and steady confidence in himself; perhaps, not without some contempt of others." — p. 19. "He had adopted the puritanical savageness of manners." — p. 34. "Such is his malignity, that hell grows darker at his frown." — p. 39. "Milton's republicanism was founded in petulance impatient of controul; and pride disdainful of superiority." — p. 143. There are many persons now living, who remember the manners of Dr. Johnson. I hope I have at present such liberal hearers, that they will not think me wrong for spurning the undistinguishing servility of Mr. Boswell. For my own part, when I see people exactly copying their own gross faults, while they are charging those faults on others; I almost wish, with honest Juvenal, "to fly beyond the Sauromatae, and the icy ocean." — Milton pathetically complains that "he was compassed round with darkness." — "This darkness, (says Johnson) had his eyes been better employed, had undoubtedly deserved compassion." — p. 111. To this passage I may spare myself the pain of applying its proper, and well merited epithets. Imagine Milton, for a moment; and your hearts will apply them. This was the philosopher who taught the world christian benevolence, and humanity. Surely you will not easily be misled by such a biographer. To gratify his disposition towards Milton, you may fairly suppose that he will enlarge on facts; and hastily confound idle, and malevolent rumour with truth.
I shall take notice of a few charges more which are brought against him by Johnson; that I may have the pleasure of refuting calumny, and of establishing the moral eminence of our illustrious man.
The conscientious, and candid gentleman "is ashamed to relate what he fears is true; that Milton was the last student in either university, that suffered the publick indignity of corporal punishment." p. 8. — He had much more reason to be ashamed of what, in many other passages, he confidently, and falsely asserts, and relates of him. He had no good authority for this idle story, and if it was true, it only discredits the discipline of the university; not the honour, and virtue of a young academician.
He tells us, that "it is plain, from his own verses to Diodati, that he had incurred rustication from Cambridge." — It is, by no means plain. In the expression of "Vetiti Laris," in his first elegy, addressed to Diodati, some one, of many interdictions, may be couched, besides that of expulsion, or rustication. "That authour" (say the compilers of the Biographia Britannica) "must be stark mad with malice, that, from this elegy, could infer his expulsion from the university." Biog. Britan. Milton, at note H. In his apology for Smectymnnus, it is almost demonstrated, that he was neither expelled, nor rusticated; where "he thanks his antagonist for the slander which he had thrown out against him, of having passed his youth in idleness, and debauchery; since it gave him an apt occasion to acknowledge publickly, with all grateful mind, that more than ordinary favour, and respect, which he found, above any of his equals, at the hands of those courteous, and learned men; the fellows of that college wherein he had spent some years, and to those ingenuous, and friendly men, who were ever the countenancers of virtuous, and hopeful wits, he wishes the best, and happiest things that friends in absence wish one to another." Biog. Britan, ibid. at note E.
"Of his praise he was very frugal," (says Johnson,) "for scarcely any man ever wrote so much, and praised so few." Page 19. To tax a generous, and noble mind with frugality of praise, ill becomes the man, who, by m eagerness to injure that mind, is driven to the very dotage of malevolence. Many of his poetical productions are full of the warmest, of the highest praise, to living, and departed friends. If we examine his works, both in verse, and prose, we shall find that more numerous, and larger tributes of esteem; more indisputable proofs of a grateful, and affectionate heart, are not to be met with, in the writings of any man.
Dr. Newton, in his treatment, and opinion of Milton, differs very justly, and amiably, from Dr. Johnson. — "At the university," (says that biographer,) "he excelled [in literature, and talents] more, and more; and by his obliging behaviour, added to his great learning and ingenuity, he deservedly gained the affection of many; and the admiration of all." Life of Milton: Page 4. Let me, here, do justice to Newton: let me observe that he has been as careful, and accurate, as Johnson has been precipitate, and superficial, in writing the Life of Milton; that he has, throughout, acknowledged the generosity, and greatness of his heart, as well as the lustre, and sublimity of his talents; and that the mild, and candid bishop, was fair, and liberal, to the zealous, and ardent republican, while the proud, and prejudiced layman, was intolerant, and inquisitorial.
Milton, soon after his return to England, from his travels, taught about six young gentlemen, (among whom were his two nephews,) French, and Italian; and the learned languages. This important office he undertook, and executed, on a plan worthy of himself; without any reward. — "This is the period of his life," (says Johnson,) "from which all his biographers seem inclined to shrink: they are unwilling that Milton should be degraded to a school-master." This reflexion is false, in what it directly asserts of his biographers; and it is equally false, as far as it introduces an evident injustice to himself. His honest, and unprejudiced biographers relate the fact, as it was; that he taught his pupils, without any lucrative recompence; but as the Doctor thinks proper to shrink from truth himself, he endeavours to throw the odium of disingenuity upon others. For he asserts that Milton condescended to this employment, to enlarge his narrow circumstances: and his own assertion, which contradicts the most respectable authority, stands by itself; it is totally unauthorized. It does not at all appear that any one of the writers of his life were so foolish as to think that Milton was degraded by being a school-master. Let me here apply a little of good Bishop Newton's Balm of Gilead, to correct the bilious indisposition of Johnson. — "He," (says Newton,) who could not easily deny any thing to his friends, and who knew that the greatest men in all ages, had delighted in teaching others the principles of knowledge, and virtue, undertook the office; not out of any sordid, and mercenary views; but merely from a benevolent disposition, and a desire to do good." Life: Page 17.
If in this proper light, we view his compliance with the request of his friends, the expansion of his benevolence is worthy of the vast genius to which it was united. Next to virtue, learning is important to the reputation, and happiness of youth But a man of great talents can hardly be employed as a teacher, without a kind of stoicism in practical philosophy. The contemptuous language of Johnson cannot obscure transcendent merit: Milton, while he generously discharged the office of a tutor to a few of his young friends, atoned for our want of all the immortal poetry which he might have written in that time, by a soul, in active harmony with the good of the human kind.
I must, however, request you to endure a little more of the fermentation of Johnson's mind. — "Let not our veneration," (saith he,) "for Milton forbid us to look, with some degree of merriment, on great promises, and small performances; on the man who hastens home, because his countrymen are contending for their liberty; and when he reaches the scene of action, vapours away his patriotism in a private boarding-school." The merriment, indeed, is too poor for criticism; and hardly deserves, for a moment, indignant contempt. It includes, likewise, a gross violation of truth. For when he was in this retired situation, he published several political treatises: when Johnson talks of great promises, and small performances, one would think that he had forgotten all Milton's great exertions in the cause to which he was devoted. Probably, you will, all, be of opinion, from the illiberal sneer, and indubitable misrepresentations, to which I have just referred, that a remark of Johnson, where he adopts a very ill-grounded suspicion of Milton's integrity, might have been a salutary warning to himself. — "Faction seldom leaves a man honest," (says our moral censor,) "however it may find him."
It is reported that Milton joined his influence with Bradshaw's, to prevail with a printer spuriously to insert in the [Greek characters, Eikon Basilike] a prayer from Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia. It is a fine prayer; and the original, and genuine insertion of it could only have injured the memory of Charles the First, in fanatical, and gloom times. The interpolation, however, of that prayer, to vilify the deceased, was base act. Dr. Johnson apparently believes that Milton was concerned in that interpolation; but what sensible, and equitable man will believe it, who opposes our poet's tenacious virtue, and piety, to an idle, and vague report? It was Johnson's moral, and christian duty, wholly to disbelieve that report, which deeply wounded the character of a man, "who appeared to him," (I am going to use his own words,) "to have a full conviction of the truth of christianity; and to have regarded the holy scriptures with the profoundest veneration; to have been untainted by any heretical peculiarity of opinion; and to have lived in a confirmed belief of the immediate, and occasional agency of providence." Pages 140; 141. He ought to have entertained a general high opinion of the heart, and moral conduct of the man, who extorted from him the following honourable testimony; notwithstanding his ardent zeal for our established church. — "That he lived without prayer, can hardly be affirmed. His studies, and meditations were an habitual prayer." Pages 141; 142.
It must be pleasing to the admirers of genius to recollect what a profound homage it received at the restoration, by the inclusion of Milton in the act of oblivion; who had been so zealous, and great a literary champion against the royal cause. The fool, Burnet, (God forgive me for the profane misnomer; for calling a Bishop a fool!) Burnet thinks that he was forgotten! this is of a piece with his "one, Prior;" for which he is immortalized as he deserves, by Pope. He was so far from being forgotten, that he was remembered, much to his honour. The office of Latin secretary, which he held under Cromwell, was generously, and nobly offered to him by Charles the Second. The offer, however, he did not accept; though he was far from being affluent; his circumstances, indeed, had been much impaired. But he thought that he could not hold that office consistently with honesty, and decorum. Such was his obedience to the dictates of his conscience; such was his regard to his reputation. For this fact we have the most respectable authority; but you will not be surprized if Johnson affects to disbelieve it; — He sinks it into "an obscure story."
Permit me to remind you of another anecdote which does infinite honour to Milton; and which is so substantially, and incontrovertibly ascertained, that even Johnson is obliged, though with evident reluctance, to acknowledge its truth. The family of his first wife were cavaliers; with whom she lived, after she had deserted her husband, and refused to return to him. By her pathetic submission, at an unexpected interview, his feeling heart was easily reconciled to her. When the royal cause was decisively unsuccessful, he hospitably, and kindly entertained her relations, in his house; and by his interest with the fortunate, and ruling party, which he warmly, and actively exerted in their favour, they were restored to their former security, and circumstances. And if we consider the provocation which he had received from the persons whom he thus befriended; and the violent party-spirit of the times in which he lived; we must allow, that the fact which I have now mentioned, is a most disinterested, and magnanimous example of private, and publick virtue.
The homage which he payed to Cromwell I cannot entirely defend. Here Johnson triumphs, and exults; it deserves not, however, the untempered severity with which it is stygmatized by him, Is perfection, especially, at trying junctures, to be expected from mortality? Milton, and Cromwell, were independents, in the profession of religion. The arbitrary power of Cromwell it was not in the power of Milton to resist. Usurped, and arbitrary power were never more gloriously exercised, Civil justice was administered at home with a sacred impartiality. England was in her meridian splendour. She was the terrour, and the glory of Europe. Therefore, if we recollect the tenets of Milton, and the tenour of his preceding conduct, he can be taxed with profligacy of heart for his panegyrick on Cromwell, only by those crouching slaves, at once abject, and insolent, who worship " the right divine of kings to govern wrong."
In all that I have now been urging relatively to Milton's character, as a man, I flatter myself that I have not been widely deviating from my literary engagement. I have related some facts which are greatly to his honour; I have endeavoured to remove the obloquy of Johnson; from a desire to obliterate any unfair impressions of him which may have sunk into the minds of the publick. I have likewise observed that moral is more intimately connected with intellectual excellence than is commonly imagined. I wish that I had eloquence enough to fire the young literary part of this company, if I am favoured with such auditors, with an illustrious example. I wish to convince them, that to be Miltons as men, is one grand preparative and auxiliary, to be Miltons, as poets.
I shall give you as plainly, and concisely as possible, the substance of Milton's habits, and character. They so forcibly convey, with themselves, their own encomium, that they need no recommendation from eloquence; if I possessed it; and as moral, and intellectual examples, they are of the utmost consequence to our happiness, and our fame. His temperance was extreme; in so much the more vigour would his health be preserved; and consequently, the powers of his mind. I need not observe to you, that he was a prodigy of study, and of learning. The idle, and the vain presume to expect admission to the temple of glory through the level, and flowery walks, of pleasure, and dissipation; but that temple is, seated on a high rock; and generous, and truly aspiring minds hope, at length to gain it, only by the arduous, and indispensable road. He was a uniform, and firm believer in divine revelation. And if his worship of the Deity became, in time, a species of quietism; if he detached it from ordinances, and forms; he thus modified his devotional piety, from his abstracted, and awful idea of the Divine Majesty; whom he thought improperly adored by material, and personal homage; and that his most worthy temple, and altar, and reasonable service, were in the minds of the faithful. His spirit, and his conduct were such, as must characterize every man of a powerful, and cultivated understanding, whose faith is complete, and impregnable, in God, and in his Saviour. His spirit was independent, and by a consequence almost necessary, the tenour of his actions was in the extreme of honour, and generosity. If, sometimes, in his religious, and political disputes, his warmth seems to be intemperate; we must acknowledge, that on some trying occasions, an honest indignation is inseparable from virtue. He was as publickly as he was falsely accused by his enemies, of crimes which inflict the last, and most fatal disgrace on human nature. But his great soul was incapable of any lasting personal resentment: the man, whose wants were few; who loved a learned retirement; the authour of Paradise Lost; the man who was almost continually holding high converse with angels and with God; must have soared above the durable, and tyrannical influence of any low, sublunary passion. Is it not then easy to perceive, that the temperance which gives health to the body, will invigorate the wings of the fancy; — is it not easy to perceive that an independent, spirited, and generous conduct, is another most powerful, and propitious cause, congenially, and completely, to meet, to feel the sublime, in the writings of others; or to exemplify it in our own?
I shall now give you some sentiments of Milton, which are perfectly agreeable to the disposition, and habitudes which I have ascribed to him. In his Reason of Church- Government; p. 63. He tells us, that "he had proposed something, in general, of highest hope, and hardest attempting." — In a letter to Diodati, dated the 23rd of September, 1637; "he declares himself a zealous follower of moral beauty, and virtue; with a thorough contempt for the opinions of the mere vulgar; and with a just consciousness of his own powers; and a presentiment of the important rank which the cultivation of them would, one day, advance him to, in his own age, and all future ages; intimating that the object of his thoughts was no less than immortality." — Biog. Brit. p. 3108. note K. — In his Reason of Church-Government, p. 62: he thus writes of himself. — "I begun thus far to assent both to them" [to the Italians] "and diverse of my friends here at home" [with respect to their opinion of his talents] "and not less to an inward prompting; which now grew daily upon me; that by labour, and intent study, which I take to be my portion in this life; joined with a strong propensity of nature; I might perhaps leave something, so written, to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die." — What might not be atchieved by such a conscious, and well-grounded ambition, which deemed its own efforts unavailing, without the assistance of God! For in his Reason of Church Government (p. 64.) he has a very remarkable passage, which Dr. Johnson thus introduces to the reader. "In this book" (in the Reason of Church-Government) "he discovers, not with ostentatious exultation, but with calm confidence, his high opinion of his own powers; and promises to undertake something, he yet knows not what, that may be of use, and honour, to his country. — 'This (says he) is not to be obtained but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit that can enrich with all utterance, and knowledge; and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch, and purify the lips of whom he pleases. To this must be added industrious, and select reading; steady observation, and insight into all seemly, and generous arts, and affairs; till which, in some measure, be compast, I refuse not to sustain this expectation."' — "From a promise like this," (adds Johnson) "at once fervid, pious, and rational, might be expected The Paradise Lost." p. 34; 35.
Longinus, and Milton, give the same rational, and moral advice to those who are ambitious to be great poets. — "It is difficult (says the great Grecian critick) to acquire a distinguishing, and masterly knowledge of the sublime; it is the result of much mental application." [Greek characters, "On the Sublime"]: Sect. 6. And afterwards he thus nobly expresses the importance of the moral tone of the mind, in producing the sublime in composition. — As the first "of objects, I mean the sublime, is preferable to all others, it should be our care, though great genius is rather given by nature, than acquired by art, to habituate our minds to exalted ideas, by moral culture; to keep them, as it were, always pregnant with sublime sentiments." Sect. 9th.
The sublimest of poets, in his apology for Smectymnus, speaks the same language with the sublimest of criticks. — "He who would not be frustrate of his hope" (says he) "to write well in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition of the best, and honourablest things; and have in himself, the experience, and practice, of all that which is praiseworthy."
What an extraordinary being was this man, whether we view him in his moral, religious, or poetical character! It is almost impossible for an unprejudiced, good, and susceptible mind, which is powerfully actuated with the love of poetry, and virtue; it is almost impossible for such a mind to recollect the full memory of Milton, without paying to that memory an enthusiastick homage; a kind of inferiour adoration. I should suppose that no sensible, and feeling mind could read the following little plain account of him which is transmitted to us, from Dr. Wright, an old clergyman of Dorsetshire, without strong emotions. The Doctor tells us that "Milton lived in a small house; with but one room, as he thought, on a floor; where he found him up one pair of stairs; in a chamber hung with rusty green; sitting in an elbow chair; black cloaths; but neat enough; pale, but not cadaverous; his hands, and fingers, gouty, and with chalkstones; and that among other discourse, he expressed himself to this purpose; that were he free from the pain which the gout gave him, his blindness would be tolerable." See Biog: Brit: page 3116: note at SS. Compared with this poor small house; and with its faded hangings of rusty green, how does the splendour of what Versailles was; how does the pomp of the Escurial shrink; and how are they obscured, to a vigorous, and well-regulated understanding; and to an active, and generous fancy! thus compared, to what an insignificance does a Charles the Fifth; to what an insignificance does a Louis the Fourteenth sink; before the august inhabitant of that humble tenement! before our moral, and poetical hero!
Blush, grandeur, blush proud courts withdraw your blaze!
Ye little stars, hide your diminish'd rays!
Pope's Epistle to Lord Bathurst.
Who that now hears me, would not have been proud to have given his attention; I may venture to add, his attendance, to this venerable old man; sitting in his little apartment! who of us would not have adopted, for his own language, and have applied to him the beautiful lines in which his Manoah expresses his affection for his Samson!
It shall be my delight to tend his eyes
And view him sitting in the house, ennobled
With all those high exploits, by him atchieved!
Samson Agonistes: v. 1490.
Those allowances being made for human fallibility, and frailty, which are easily granted by liberal minds, we shall be satisfied that the conduct of Milton flowed parallel with his pure, and sublime theory. One of his severe accusers ought to have been very cautious when he brought particular, and heavy charges against him. For his homage to Cromwell he gives him no quarter. The guilt of that homage I have endeavoured to extenuate; not partially, and sophistically; but equitably, and fairly. It is certain that in very trying circumstances he retained his integrity. He was so far from accepting a pension from a minister who was a native of a country, which in his heart he hated; he was so far from accepting such a pension from a government which in his heart he hated; and after the very name, and idea of pensioner had, by himself been publickly proscribed; he was so far from submitting to this condescension, that when his finances were poor, and shattered, he refused to he reinstated in his office of Latin secretary under Charles the Second; to which office a salary of two-hundred pounds a year was annexed; a considerable income for a literary man in those days; but a paltry sum, when it was to be given as an equivalent for the great publick services which might have been performed by the learning, and the talents of Milton. He wrote no pamphlets, (they deserve not the epithet, political,) to serve a family, with whom all his former language; all his former habits, had been in perpetual hostility. Nor did his violent prejudices prevent him from comprehending the true principles, and the true spirit, of civil freedom; they did not preclude from his mind all that political knowledge which is most useful, and salutary to mankind. Surely these abrupt, and deep descents, to which very ungenerous aspersions have obliged me to allude, (especially, if we comparatively take a view of different times, and circumstances,) preponderate our poet's eulogy on Cromwell. For all this honest censure, it is possible that I may be harshly arraigned myself. I shall be the easier under this apprehension, as I am conscious that the censure was purely dictated by a love of impartiality, and justice. The memory of John Milton ought certainly to be as dear to us as that of Samuel Johnson: and a man is well employed. (he surely deserves not a single frown from any individual of a great community,) while he urges every fair topick, and argument, in vindication of a sacred character; for peculiarly sacred I must ever deem a character which unites genius. and virtue. And I should suppose that nothing tends more to blunt the stings of obloquy, than to show that they have been darted by one, who lived, in some respects, in a total moral ignorance of himself: and such a person is, on several occasions, merely a grown child; spoiled by himself, and by the flattery of others and, therefore, very apt to lose all sight of temper, and justice, to those who, unfortunately will not submit to his prejudices, and humours, How far such a person is qualified to write the life of one, whose religious, and political tenets were diametrically opposite to his own, it is superfluous expressly to determine.
Having seen many years; and having had much painful experience of life; I have taken the liberty deliberately to view those objects which, of all others, are most worthy of our attention, and of our best ambition. I beg leave particularly to recommend them to the serious consideration of young men; especially of those who anticipate emoluments, and honours from talents, and from learning. If we mean to make the most of this present, and transitory state; if we mean to make it a garden of perennial flowers, instead of a vale of tears; let us brighten, and fortify our souls, with pure, and determined virtue: health, peace, competence, and the glorious sallies and excursions of the mind, are its offspring: it keeps us independent of the vulgar; that is, of the great majority; it makes us, under God, sufficient for ourselves: it is a Panacea for curing all evil; it is a Catholicon, for atchieving all good. By it, we are always in "utrumque patrati;" to act, or to write; to live, or to die.
I hope that you will excuse; I should rather hope that you will approve the ingenuous liberty which I have taken; and which I may, hereafter take, with those who have been, in any way, highly elevated in society. I never can forego those frank, and open sentiments, which every ingenuous mind ought to feel, and express, on momentous occasions. There fore I shall now observe, that they who may pretend that I should have spared Johnson, at the expence of the honour, at the expence of the justice which is due to Milton; will, in fact, be more unfavourable, and uncandid to me, than sincerely respectful either to the memory of the one, or the other. I shall never make an unreserved animadversion, from pride, or from envy; but from a pure, and independent love of equity, and of truth. And whether I have been thus-; actuated, will be clearly seen, from the whole tenour of these Lectures, comprehensively viewed by those who may honour them with an unprejudiced, and dispassionate attention. This honest, and fair freedom (without any partiality to myself I speak it) certainly deserves the esteem, and encouragement of the public. Hypocritical politeness, and affected candour, may do very well to glide along the common, and slight surface of life; but they are too flimsy to penetrate, and unfold useful, and respectable subjects: they will never effectually serve the cause of important, and sacred truth; they will never thoroughly vindicate the reputation of good, and great men. These excellent objects can only be accomplished by those who endeavour to keep their minds free from any sinister influence; by those who have no improper; no servile, or selfish respect for persons.