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Lost, which had also, until then, experienced a considerable share of neglect,—took no pains to rescue the prose treatises from the same fate. But
shade were still in operation. And though, soon after the Revolution of 1688, Toland had meritoriously sought to bring them once more into notice, his success was extremely partial; for few or no references are made to any of them by the writers of what has been absurdly called the Augustan age of English literature.
64. In the year 1738, however, when the minister was supposed to be meditating some grievous restrictions on the press, Thompson the poet, an ardent lover of liberty, published an edition of the Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, with a spirited preface. Dr.Birch had, indeed, a few years earlier edited the whole of the prose works, first in folio, and, a second time, in quarto, with a laborious biography of the author prefixed. Gradually, from that period to the present, these trophies of the Commonwealth have attracted, among the lovers of literature, more and more notice; and it should not be forgotten that among those who have done most service in this way are several clergymen of the Church of England.
65. Of Dr. Johnson, who, unfortunately for bimself, is numbered among those that have written the life of Milton, I must necessarily speak; but, though of all his adversaries, from the days of Salmasius and Dumoulin to the present, he may
it is very far from being my desire to remember his hostility with bitterness : for he too, in spite of many failings, was a good man, and a distinguished writer. It is now, however, very generally acknowledged, that in undertaking a Life of Milton he ventured upon what he was unfit to execute; and if, at the same time, his libel were omitted in the Lives of the Poets, and condemned to the oblivion it deserves, the following remarks would be in some measure unnecessary. But so long as that production is reprinted, and circulated, every honest and impartial man, however favourably disposed in other respects towards Johnson, must, when Milton is his subject, do his best to defend him from its envenomed calumnies.
66. Dr. Johnson, no matter how, and perhaps both the cause and manner were unknown even to himself, bad early imbibed principles favourable to arbitrary power; and, notwithstanding that he accepted of a pension from a prince of the House of Hanover, is suspected of having been secretly a Jacobite. He was, besides, constitutionally averse from the sportive pranks of freedom, which, by demanding the grounds of opinions in reality based upon a cloud, would have seriously ruffled his gravity. He loved to exercise, in his own person, a sort of dictatorship; and, with a consistency not often found in such petty despots, was willing the government should exercise the same despotic authority over him. In Milton, however, he discovered a man the most impatient of servitude ; who had, moreover, contributed, in no small degree, to the downfall of the Stuarts, defended the tyrannicide of his countrymen, and overwhelmed with contempt all who thought as Johnson thought. It was, therefore, natural, and almost excusable, in the successful essayist and biographer, to aim at crushing the reputation of the old democratical puritan, by accusing him of plagiarism, domestic tyranny, laxity of morals, and insinuating, cautiously, a charge of irreligion.
67. The only motive which, had he well calculated, might have deterred him, would have been a consideration of the irreparable injury he must thus inflict on bis own fame, by passing down to posterity as a wrong-headed sophist, insensible to the beauty of liberty and truth, destitute of sympathy for mankind at large, and sold, no matter for what reward, to the enemies and oppressors of the people. Such, at least, has been the result, such his punishment; and as Milton rises higher and higher towards the zenith, Johnson must set. They cannot dwell together in the same heaven of fame, or if they do, Johnson's star must “pale its ineffectual fire” in the neighbourhood of Milton's glory.
68. This, in many respects no doubt, is to be .regretted ; but some good will spring from it, if it teach us, as the example of an execution teaches, to blame with less acrimony the illustrious dead. With respect to myself, no example is necessary to cause me to speak of Johnson with moderation, for I honour his memory, as I do that of every other good man; but as I honour Milton's much more, as that of one every way greater and better, the reader, I trust, will pardon me the warmth I cannot but feel when dishonour and obloquy are attempted to be tbrown, by what hand soever, upon his most venerable name. At first sight, Johnson's attack appears to be grave, and conducted without any remarkable outrage on public decency. It has little of the buffoonery, scurrility, and coarse invective with which Aristophanes attacks Socrates. He does not accuse the poet of filching a cloak, of measuring flea-leaps, of causing himself to be suspended in a basket between heaven and earth, to escape, while under the oestrum of meditation, the hebetating influence of the grosser atmosphere. His charges of impiety are less broadly insinuated, though introduced with inferior skill; but, in several points, no less likely in modern times to tell against the accused, he excels the ancient libeller in adroitness. Knowing how preeminently loyal and attached to their kings the English are accounted, he substitutes, in his pleading, the word “ regicide” for “ tyrannicide ;” represents the poet devoured by the most offensive vanity, which, he says, not only led him to entertain ridiculously lofty ideas of himself, but enviously and grudgingly to defraud other men of their just praise ; affirms, that in his domestic government, he was a tyrant, a bad husband, a bad father, one who, with the means of doing better in his possession, gave his children a wretched penurious education ; that, on returning from his travels, he most unpatriotically engaged in the instruction of youth ; which Johnson, who had tried it himself, endeavours to confound with mechanical employments by calling it a “trade;" nay, more, that he pushed his republican habits so far as to adopt an abstemious system of diet, which to an elegant epicure
still worse than writing against the bishops. To crown all, to sum up his numerous delinquencies in one fearful word, he insinuates, but hesitates to assert positively, that Milton was POOR—that he suffered hunger; but that yet, in the midst of his indigence, his proud heathenish spirit looked with intolerable scorn upon tyrants and slaves, and dared to dream of eternal fame.
69. The fox which, in the fable, escaped from a trap with the loss of his nether bushy appendage, abhorred ever after all allusion to tails. So Johnson felt out of temper when the course of his narrative led him to speak of poverty. Nevertheless, he who, in writing to a bookseller, could subscribe himself the “ Dinnerless,” might have been expected to exhibit some sympathy for genius in distress. But this, perhaps, was weakness. The recollection of how frequently he had sat down hungry,—not with Philosophy, for that he never knew,—but with Criticism and Biography, was no doubt painful; and, falling on better days, he was tempted to despise the wisdom which, like his own erewhile, knew not how to provide itself with a dinner.
70. Another sore point with Johnson was, that Milton should be said to have' rejected, after the