Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

seen what he terms part of a tragedy, beginning with the first ten lines of Satan's address to the San. These mysteries consist of allegorical persons; such as Justice, Mercy, Faith, of the tragedy or mystery of Paradise Lost there are two plans : TIIE PERSONS.

THE PERSONS.
Michael.

Moses.
Chorus of Angels.

Divine Justice, Wisdom, Heavenly
Heavenly Love.

Love.
Lucifer.

The Evening Star, Hesperus.
Adam

Chorus of Angels.
Eve,

Lucifer.
Conscience.

Adam.
Death.

Eve.
Labour, 7

Conscience.
Sickness,

Labour,
Discontent, Mutes.

Sickness,
Ignorance,

Discontent,

Mutes,
with others; )

Ignorance,
Faith.
Hope.

Death,
Charity,

Faith.
Hope.
Charity,

Fear,

PARADISE LOST.

THE PERSONS.

Moses tipoyissi, recounting how he assumed his true body; that it rupts not, because it is with God in the mount; declares the like with Enoch and Elijah; besides the purity of the place, that certain pure winds, dews, and clouds, preserve it from corruption; whence exhorts to the sight of God; tells they cannot see Adam in the state of innocence by reason of their sin.

Justice,
Mercy, debating what should become of man, should he fall,
Wisdom,
Chorus of Angels singing a hymn of the Creation,

ACT II.
Heavenly Love.
Evening Star.
Chorus sing the marriage-song, and describe Paradise.

ACT III.

Lucifer contriving Adam's ruin.
Chorus fears for Adam, and relates Lucifer's rebellion and fall.

[blocks in formation]

Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise. presented by an angel with

Mutes. Discontent, Ignorance, Fear, Death, To whom he gives their names. Likewise, Winter, Heat, Tempest, &c. Faith, Hope,

comfort him and instruct him. Charity, Chorus briefly concludes.

Such was his first design, which could have produced only an allegory, or mystery. The following sketch seems to have attained more maturity.

ADAM UNPARADISED.

The angel Gabriel, either descending or entering; showing, since this globe was created, his frequency as much on Earth as in Heaven; describes Paradise. Next, the Chorus, showing the reason of his coming to keep his watch in Paradise, after Ln. cifer's rebellion, by command from God; and withal expressing his desire to see and know more concerning this excellent new creature, man. The angel Gabriel, as by his name signifying a prince of power, tracing Paradise with a more free office, passes by the station of the Chorus, and, desired by them, relates what he knew of man; as the creation of Eve, with their love and marriage. After this, Lucifer appears; after his overthrow, bemoans himself, seeks revenge on man. The Chorus prepare resistance on his first approach. At last, after discourse of enmity on either side he departs: whereat the Chorus sings of the battle and victory in Heaven, against him and his accomplices : as before, after the first act, was sung a hymn of the creation. Here again may appear Lucifer, relating and exulting in what he had done to the destruction of man. Man next, and Eve, having by this time been se. duced by the Serpent, appears confusedly covered with leaves. Conscience in a shape accuses him; Justice cites him to a place whither Jehovah called for him. In the mean while, the Chorus entertains the stage, and is infornied by some angel the manner of the fall. Here the Chorus bewails Adam's fall; Adam then and Ere return; accuse one another; but especially Adam Jays the blame to his wife; is stubborn in his offence. Justice appears, reasons with him, convinces him. The Chorus admonisheth Adam, and bids him beware Lucifer's example of impenitence. The angel is sent to banish them out of Paradise ; but before, causes to pass before his eyes, in shapes, a mask of all the evils of this life and world. He is humbled, relents, despairs : at last appears Mercy, comforts him, promises the Messiah;

then calls in Faith, Hope, and Charity; instructs him, he repents, gives God the glory, submits to his penalty. The Chorus briefly concludes. Compare this with the former draught.

These are very imperfect rudiments of Paradise Lost; but it is pleasant to see great works in their seminal state, pregnant with latent possibilities of excellence; nor could there be any more delightful entertainment than to trace their gradual growth and expansion, and to observe how they are sometimes suddenly advanced by acci. dental hints, and sometimes slowly improved by steady meditation.

Invention is almost the only literary labour which blindness cannot obstruct, and therefore he naturally solaced his solitude by the indulgence of his fancy, and the melody of his numbers. He had done what he knew to be necessarily previous to poetical excellence; he had made himself acquainted with seemly arts "and affairs ; his comprehension was extended by various knowledge, and his memory stored with intellectual treasures. He was skilful in many languages, and had by reading and composition attained the full mastery of his own. He would have wanted little belp from books, had he retained the power of perusing them.

Bnt while his greater designs were advancing, having now, like many other authors, caught the love of publication, he amused himself, as he could, with little productions. He sent to the press (1658) a manuscript of Raleigh, called The Cabinet Council; and next year gratified his malevoleuce to the clergy by a Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Cases, and the means of removing Hirelings out of the Church.

Oliver was now dead ; Richard now constrained to resign: the system of extemporary government, which had been held together only by force, naturally fell into fragments when that force was takes away ; and Milton saw himself and his cause in equal danger. But he had still hope of doing something. He wrote letters, which Toland has published, to sach men as he thought friends to the new commonwealth ; and even in the year of the Restoration he bated no jot of heart or hope, but was fantastical enough to think that the nation, agitated as it was, might be settled by a pamphlet, called A ready and easy way to establish a free Commonwealth; which was, however enough considered to be both seriously and ludicrously answered.

The obstinate enthusiasm of the commonwealthmen was very remarkable. When the king was apparently returning, Harrington, with a few: associates as fanatical as himself, used to meet, with all the gravity of political importance, to settle an equal government by rotation ; and Milton, kicking when he could strike no longer, was foolish enough to publish, a few weeks before the restoration, Notes upon a sermon preached by one Griffiths, entituled, The Fear of God and the King. To these notes an answer was written by L'Estrange, in a pamphlet petulantly called, No Blind Guides.

But whatever Milton could write, or men of greater activity could do, the king was now about to be restored, with the irresistible approbation of the people. He was therefore no longer secretary, and was consequently obliged to quit the house which he held by his office ; and, proportioning his sense of danger to his opinion of the importance of his writings, thought it convenient to seek some shelter, and hid himself for a time in Bartholomew-Close, by West-Smithfield.

I cannot but remarks a kind of respect, perhaps unconsciously, paid to this great

man by his biographers; every house in which he resided is historically mentioned as if it were an injury to neglect naming any place that he honoured by his pre. sence.

The king, with lenity of which the world has had perhaps no other example, de, clined to be the judge or avenger of his own or his father's wrongs; and promised to admit into the act of oblivion all, except those whom the parliament should except; and the parliament doomed none to capital punishment but the wretches who had immediately cooperated in the murder of the king. Milton was certainly not one of them; he had only justified what they had done. I

This justification was indeed sufficiently offensive; and (June 16) an order was issued to seize Milton's Defence, and Goodwin's Obstructors of Justice, another book of the same tendency, and burn them by the common hangman. The attorneygeneral was ordered to prosecute the authors; but Milton was not seized, nor perhaps very diligently pursued.

Not long after (August 19) the flutter of innumerable bosoms were stilled by an act, which the king, that his mercy might want no recommendation of elegance, rather called an Act of Oblivion than of Grace. Goodwin was named, with nine, teen more, as incapacitated for any public trust; but of Milton there was no ex. ception.

Of this tenderness shown to Milton, the curiosity of mankind has not forborn to inquire the reason. Burnet thinks he was forgotten: but this is another instance which may confirm Dalrymple's observation, who says, “ that whenever Burnet's narrations are examined, he appears to be mistaken.” .

Forgotten he was not; for his prosecution was ordered; it must be therefore by design that he was included in the general oblivion. He is said to have had friends in the house, such as Marvel, Morrice, and sir Thomas Clarges : and undoubtedly a man like him must have had influence. A very particular story of his escape is told by Richardson in his Memoirs, which he received from Pope, as delivered by Betterton, who might have heard it from Davenant. In the war between the king and parliament Davenant was made prisoner, and condemned to die; but was spared at the request of Milton. When the tura of success brought Milton into the like danger, Davenant repaid the benefit by appearing in his favour. Here is a reciprocation of generosity and gratitude so pleasing, that the tale makes its own way to credit. But, if help were wanted, I know not where to find it. The danger of Da. venant is certain from his own relation ; but of his escape there is no account. Betterton's narration can be traced no higher; it is not known that he had it from Davenant. We are told that the benefit exchanged was life for life; but it seems not certain that Milton's life ever was in danger. Goodwin, who had committed the same kind of crime, escaped with incapacitation; and, as exclusion from public trust is a punishment which the power of government can commonly inflict without the help of a particular law, it required no great interest to exempt Milton from a censure little more than verbal. Something may be reasonably ascribed to veneration and compassion, to veneration of his abilities, and compassion for his distresses, which made it fit to forgive his malice for his learning. He was now poor and blind;

. It was told before by A. Wood in Ath. Oxon. Col. II. p. 412, 2d edit. C. VOL. VII.

[ocr errors]

and who would pursue with violence an illustrious enemy, depressed by fortune and disarmed by nature 3 ?

The publication of the Act of Oblivion put him in the same condition with his fellow-subjects. He was, however, upon some pretence now not known, in the custody of the sergeant in December; and when he was released, upon his refusal of the fees demanded, he and the sergeant were called before the House. He was now safe within the shade of oblivion, and knew himself to be as much out of the power of a griping officer as any other man. How the question was determined is not known. Milton would hardly have contended, but that he knew himself to have right on his side.

He then removed to Jewin-street, near Aldersgate-street; and being blind, and by no means wealthy, wanted a domestic companion and attendant; and there. fore, by the recommendation of Dr. Paget, married Elizabeth Minshul, of a gentle. man's family in Cheshire, probably without a fortune. All his wives were virgins : for he has declared that he thought it gross and indelicate to be a second husband : upon what other principles his choice was made cannot now be known; but marriage afforded not much of his happiness. The first wife left him in disgust, and was brought back only by terrour; the second, indeed, seems to have been more a favourite, but her life was short. The third, as Philips relates, oppressed his children in his life-time, and cheated them at his death.

Soon after his marriage, according to an obscure story, he was offered the continuance of his employment, and, being pressed by his wife to accept it, answered, " You, like other women, want to ride in your coach; my wish is to live and die an honest man.” If he considered the Latin secretary as exercising any of the powers of government, he that had shared authority, either with the parliament or Crom. well, might have forborn to talk very loudly of his honesty ; and if he thought the office purely ministerial, he certainly might have honestly retained it under the king. But this tale has too little evidence to deserve a disquisition ; large offers and sturdy rejections are among the most common topics of falsehood.

He had so much either of prudence or gratitude, that he forbore to disturb the new settlement with any of his political or ecclesiastical opinions, and from this time devoted himself to poetry and literature. Of his zeal for learning in all its parts, he gave a proof by publishing, the next year (1661), Accidence commenced Grammar : a little book which has nothing remarkable, but that its author, who had been lately defending the supreme powers of his country, and was then writing Paradise Lost, could descend from his elevation to rescue children from the perplexity of grammatical confusion, and the trouble of lessons unnecessarily repeated,

About this time Elwood the quaker, being recommended to him as one who would read Latin to him for the advantage of his conversation, attended him every afternoon except on Sundays. Milton, who, in his letter to Hartlib, had declared that, to read Latin with an English mouth is as ill a hearing as law French, required that Elwood should learn and practise the Italian pronunciation, which, he said,

3 A different account of the means by which Milton secured himself is given by an historia lately brought to light. “ Milton, Latin secretary to Cromwell, distinguished by his writings in favour of the rights and liberties of the people, pretended to be dead, and had a public funera procession. The king applauded his policy in escaping the punishment of death, by a seasonable show of dying.” Cunningham's History of Great Britain, vol. I. p. 14. R.

« PoprzedniaDalej »