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Fancy can hardly forbear to conjecture with what temper Milton surveyed the silent progress of his work, and marked its reputation stealing its way in a kind of subterraneous current through fear and silence. I cannot but conceive him calm and confident, little disappointed, not at all dejected, relying on his own merit with steady consciousness, and waiting without impatience the vicissitudes of opini. on, and the impartiality of a future generation.
In the mean time he continued his studies, and supplied the want of sight by a very odd expedient, of which Philips gives the following account:
Mr. Philips tells us, “ that though our author had daily about him one or other to read, some persons of man's estate, who, of their own accord, greedily catched at the opportunity of being his readers, that they might as well reap the benefit of what they read to him, as oblige him by the benefit of their reading; and others of younger years were sent by their parents to the same end; yet excusing only the eldest daughter by reason of her bodily infirmity and difficult utterance of speech, (which, to say truth, I doubt was the principal cause of excusing her) the other two were condemned to the performance of reading and exactly pronouncing of all the languages of whatever book he should, at one time or other, think fit to peruse, viz. the Hebrew, (and I think the Syriac) the Greek, the Latin, the Italian, Spanish, and French. All which sorts of books to be confined to read, without understanding one word, must needs be a trial of patience almost beyond endurance. Yet it was endured by both for a long tims, though the irksomeness of this employment could not be always concealed, but broke out more and more into expressions of un. easiness; so that at length they were all, even the eldest also, sent out to learn some curious and ingenious sorts of manufacture, that are proper for women to learn, par, ticularly embroideries in gold or silver.” ' In the scene of misery which this mode of intellectual labour sets before our eyes, it is hard to determine whether the daughters or the father are most to be lamented. A language not understood can never be so read as to give pleasure, and very seldom so as to convey meaning. If few men would have had resolution to write books with such embarrassments, few likewise would have wanted ability to find some better expedient.
Three years after his Paradise Lost (1667), he published his History of England, comprising the whole fable of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and continued to the Nor. man Invasion. Why he should have given the first part, which he seems not to be lieve, and which is universally rejected, it is difficult to conjecture. The style is harsh; but it has something of rough vigour, which perhaps may often strike, though it cannot please.
On this history the licenser again fixed his claws, and before he would transmit it to the press tore out several parts. Some censures of the Saxon monks were taken away, lest they should be applied to the modern clergy; and a character of the Long Parliament and Assembly of Divines was excluded; of which the author gave a copy to the Earl of Anglesey, and which, being afterwards published, has been since inserted in its proper place.
The same year were printed, Paradise Regained, and Sampson Agonistes, a tragedy written in imitation of the ancients, and never designed by the author for the stage. As these poems were published by another bookseller, it has been asked,
whether Simmons was discouraged from receiving them by the slow sale of the former. Why a writer changed his bookseller a hundred years ago, I am far from hoping to discover. Certainly, he who in two years sells thirteen hundred copies of a volume. in quarto, bought for two payments of five pounds each, has no reason to repent his purchase.
When Milton showed Paradise Regained to Elwood, “ This,” said he, “is owing to you; for you put it in my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which otherwise I had not thought of.”
His last poetical offspring was his favorite. He could not, as Elwood relates, endure to hear Paradise Lost preferred to Paradise Regained. Many causes may vitiate a writer's judgment of his own works. On that which has cost him much la. bour he sets a high value, because he is unwilling to think that he has been diligent in vain; what has been produced without toilsome efforts is considered with delight, as a proof of vigorous faculties and fertile invention; and the last work, whatever it be, has necessarily most of the grace of novelty. Milton, however it happened, had this prejudice, and had it to himself.
To that multiplicity of attainments, and extent of comprehension, that entitled this great author to our veneration, may be added a kind of humble dignity, which did not disdain the meanest services to literature. The epic poet, the controvertist, the politician, having already descended to accommodate children with a book of ru. diments, now, in the last years of his life, composed a book of logic for the initiation of students in philosophy; and published (1672) Artis Logicæ plenior Institutio ad Petri Rami Methodum concinnata ; that is, “ A new Scheme of Logic, according to the method of Ramus." I know not whether, even in this book, he did not intend an act of hostility against the universities; for Ramus was one of the first oppugners of the old philosophy, who disturbed with innovations the quiet of the. schools.
His polemical disposition again revived. He had now been safe so long, that he forgot his fears, and published a Treatise of true Religion, Heresy, Schism, Tols eration, and the best Means to prevent the Growth of Popery.
But this little tract is modestly written, with respectful mention of the church of England, and an appeal to the thirty-nine articles. His principle of toleration is, agreement in the sufficiency of the scriptures; and he extends it to all who, what. ever their opinions are, profess to derive them from the sacred books. The Papists appeal to other testimonies, and are therefore, in his opinion, not to be permitted the liberty of either public or private worship; for though they plead conscience, we have no warrant,” he says, “ to regard conscience which is not grounded in scripture.”
Those who are not convinced by his reasons, may be perhaps delighted with his wit. The term Roman Catholic is, he says, “one of the pope's bulls; it is particu. Jar universal, or catholic schismatic."
He has, however, something better. As the best preservative against popery, he recommends the diligent perusal of the scriptures, a duty from which he warns the busy part of mankind not to think themselves excused.
He now reprinted his juvenile poems, with some additions.
In the last year of his life he sent to the press, seeming to take delight in publication, a collection of Familiar Epistles in Latin; to which, being too few to make a
volume, he added some academical exercises, which perhaps he perused with pleasure, as they recalled to his memory the days of youth, but for which nothing but veneration for his name could now procure a reader.
When he had attained his sixty-sixth year, the gout, with which he had been long tormented, prevailed over the enfeebled powers of nature. He died by a quiet and silent expiration, about the tenth of November, 1674, at his house in Bunhill. fields; and was buried next his father in the chancel of St. Giles at Cripplegate. His funeral was very splendidly and numerously attended.
Upon his grave there is supposed to have been no memorial; but in our time a monument has been erected in Westminster Abbey To the Author of Paradise Lost, by Mr. Benson, who has in the inscription bestowed more words upon himself than upon Milton.
When the inscription for the monument of Philips, in which he was said to be, soli Miltono secundus, was exhibited to Dr. Sprat, then dean of Westminster, he refused to admit it; the name of Milton was, in his opinion, too detestable to be read on the wall of a building dedicated to devotion. Atterbury, who succeeded him, being author of the inscription, per.nitted its reception. *6 And such has been the change of public opinion,” said Dr. Gregory, from whom I heard this account, « that I have seen erected in the church a statue of that man, whose name I once knew considered as a pollution of its walls.”
Milton has the reputation of having been in his youth eminently beautiful, so as to have been called the Lady of his college. His hair, which was of a light brown, parted at the fore-top, and hung down upon his shoulders, according to the picture which he has given of Adam. He was, however, not of the heroic stature, but rather below the middle size, according to Mr. Richardson, who mentions him as having narrowly escaped from being short and thick. He was vigorous and active, and delighted in the exercise of the sword, in which he is related to have been emi. nently skilful. His weapon was, I believe, not the rapier, but the back-sword, of which he recommends the use in his book on education.
His eyes are said never to have been bright: but, if he was a dextrous fencer, they must have been once quick.
His domestic habits, so far as they are known, were those of a severe student. He drank little strong drink of any kind, and fed without excess in quantity, and in his earlier years without delicacy of choice. In his youth he studied late at night; but afterwards changed his hours, and rested in bed from nine to four in the sum. mer, and five in the winter. The course of his day was best known after he was blind. When he first rose, he heard a chapter in the Hebrew Bible, and then studi. ed till twelve; then took some exercise for an hour; then dined, then played on the organ, 'and sang, or heard another sing; then studied to six ; then entertained his visitors till eight; then supped, and, after a pipe of tobacco and a glass of water, went to bed.
So is his life described : but this even tenour appears attainable only in colleges. He that lives in the world will sometimes have the succession of his practice broken and confused. Visitors, of whom Milton is represented to have had great numbers, will come and stay unseasonably; business, of which every man has some, must be done when others will do it.
When he did not care to rise early, he had something read to him by his bed side ; perhaps at this time his daughters were employed. He composed much in the morning, and dictated in the day, sitting obliquely in an elbow chair, with his leg thrown over the arm.
Fortune appears not to have had much of his care. In the civil wars he lent his personal estate to the parliament; but when, after the contest was decided, he soa licited repayment, he met not only with neglect, but “ sharp rebuke;" and, having tired both himself and his friends, was given up to poverty and hopeless indignation, till he showed how able he was to do greater service. He was then made Latin secretary, with two hundred pounds a year; and had a thousand pounds for his Defence of the People. His widow, who, after his death, retired to Namptwich in Cheshire, and died about 1729, is said to have reported that he lost two thou. sand pounds by intrusting it to a scrivener ; and that, in the general depredation upon the church, he had grasped an estate of about sixty pounds a year belonging to Westminster Abbey, which, like other sharers of the plunder of rebellion, he was afterwards obliged to return. Two thousand pounds, which he had placed in the Exciseoffice, were also lost. There is yet no reason to believe that he was ever reduced to indigence. His wants being few, were competently supplied. He sold his li. brary before his death, and left his family fifteen hundred pounds, on which his widow laid hold, and only gave one hundred to each of his daughters.
His literature was unquestionably great. He read all the languages which are considered either as learned or polite; Hebrew with its two dialects, Greek, Latin, Italian, French and Spanish. In Latin his skill was such as places him in the first rank of writers and critics; and he appears to have cultivated Italian with un. common diligence. The books in which his daughter, who used to read to him, represented him as most delighting, after Homer, which he could almost repcat, were Ovid's Metamorphoses and Euripides. His Euripides is, by Mr. Cradock's kind. ness, now in my hands: the margin is sometimes noted; but I have found nothing remarkable.
Of the English poets he set most value upon Spenser, Shakspear and Cowley. Spenser was apparently his favourite; Shakspear he may easily be supposed to like, with every other skilful reader; but I should not have expected that Cowley, whose ideas of excellence were so different from his own, would have had much of his approbation. His character of Dryden, who sometimes visited him, was, that he was a good rhymist, but no poet.
His theological opinions are said to have been first Calvinistical; and afterwards, perhaps when he began to hate the presbyterians, to have tended towards Armini. anism. In the mixed questions of theology and government, he never thinks that he ean recede far enough from popery or prelacy: but what Baudius says of Erasmus seems applicable to him, magis habuit quod fugeret, quam quod sequereturHe had determined rather what to condemn, than what to approve. He has not associated himself with any denomination of protestants: we know rather what he was not, than what he was. He was not of the church of Rome; he was not of the church of England.
To be of no church is dangerous. Religion, of which the rewards are distant, and which is apimated only by faith and hope, will glide by degrees out of the
mind, unless it be invigorated and reimpressed by external ordinances, by stated calls to worship, and the salutary influence of example. Milton, who appears to have had full conviction of the truth of Christianity, and to have regarded the holy scriptures with the profoundest veneration, to have been untainted by any heretical peculiarity of opinion, and to have lived in a confirmed belief of the immediate and occasional agency of Providence, yet grew old without any visible worship. In the distribution of his hours, there was no hour of prayer, either solitary or with his household ; omitting public prayers, he omitted all.
Of this omission the reason has been sought upon a supposition which ought never to be made, that men live with their own approbation, and justify their conduct to themselves. Prayer certainly was not thought superfluous by him, who represents our first parents as praying acceptably in the state of innocence, and efficaciously after their fall. That he lived without prayer can hardly be affirmed; his studies and meditations were an habitual prayer. The neglect of it in his fa. mily was probably a fault for which he condemned himself, and which he intended to correct, but that death, as too often happens, intercepted his reformation.
His political notions were those of an acrimonious and surly republican, for which it is not known that he gave any better reason than that a popular government was the most frugal; for the trappings of a monarchy would set up an ordinary commonwealth. It is surely very shallow policy that supposes money to be the chief good; and even this, without considering that the support and expense of a court is, for the most part, only a particular kind of traffic, for which money is circulated with. out any national impoverishment.
Milton's republicanism was, I am afraid, founded in an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence; in petulance impatient of control, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs in the state, and prelates in the church; for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected, that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority.
It has been observed, that they who most loudly clamour for liberty do not most liberally grant it. What we know of Milton's character, in domestic relations, is, that he was severe and arbitrary. His family consisted of women; and there appcars in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females, as subordinate and inferior beings. That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education. He thought women made only for obedience, and man only for rebellion.
OF his family some account may be expected. His sister first married to Mr. Philips, afterwards married to Mr. Agar, a friend of her first husband, who succeeded him in the Crown-office. She had by her first husband, Edward and John, the two nephews whom Milton educated; and, by her second two daughters.
His brother, sir Christopher, had two daughters, Mary and Catherine 5 ; and a son Thomas, who succeeded Agar in the Crown-office, and left a daughter living in 1749, in Grosvenor-street.
3 Both these persons were living at Holloway about the year 1734, and at that time possessed such a degree of health and strength as enabled them on Sundays and prayer-days to walk a mile up a steep hill to Highgate chapel. One of them was ninety-two at the time of her death. Their parentage was known to few, and their names were corrupted into Melton. By the Crown-office mentioned in the two last paragraphs, we are to understand the Cruwn-office of the Court of Chancery. H.