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77. Let the reader consider the whole passage. Milton's wife, a month after marriage, leaves him ; but her absence gives him little concern. And how happens this? Why, he pursues his studies. But did not his heart, whose sensibilities had just been roused by female society, require something to love ? Oh, he now and then visits the Lady Margaret Leigh, whom he has celebrated in one of his sonnets! Is not the inference clear? It may, however, be worth while to inquire, who was the Lady Margaret Leigh ? Does she seem to have been a person accustomed to console husbands for the loss of their wives ? It appears she was the daughter of the Earl of Marlborough, High Treasurer of England, under James I. Having married a Captain Dobson, she, according to custom, preserved her title: and being celebrated for her talents and learning, her house would seem to have been the resort of the principal literary men of the day, among whom Milton was one; so that his visits resolve themselves into being present at, what in fashionable phrase, would perhaps be termed her Conversazioni. But if, after all, Johnson means nothing particular in this passage, it must be admitted he has arranged his words in a very curious manner, and is at least liable to the charge of unskilfulness.
78. And what is meant by “spare diet and hard study ?” Is it intended to be insinuated that Mrs. Milton was stinted by her husband in beef and mutton? Or is the whole only the hallucination of an epicure, whose imagination instantly takes
the alarm at the least hint of abstemiousness? And with respect to the hard studying, what are we to infer?—that, during the honeymoon, Milton sought to impose on his wife the task of conjugating Hebrew verbs, or of wading through those “Locrian Remnants,” which he shortly afterwards recommended to the world ? If on the first bringing home of a gay young wife, and in the midst of that flutter of spirits which his condition must necessarily have caused, he could himself study hard, I will answer for the harmlessness of his visits to the Lady Margaret Leigh, or any other lady; and am truly sorry the doctor should have suffered his mind to be distressed by a circumstance in itself so innocent.
79. It is impossible to be serious in rebutting insinuations so absurd. Johnson was in an ill humour all the time he was employed in writing this Life, and saw every thing in a wrong light. Consequently, even as a rhetorical pleading, written ad captandum vulgus, his work, notwithstanding that he was a distinguished proficient in the art, is
which he who advocates a bad cause must principally rely. He does not sufficiently cloak his hatred; frequently becomes confused, and contradicts himself, which, in such a case, has the worst possible appearance; grows abusive, and calls names; and in his eagerness to blacken Milton's memory, makes assertions which, unfortunately for him, every person has the means of proving to be untrue. This is grievously to sin against the ars sophistica, where all stabbing should be performed adroitly in the dark, or with a smile, as if only in jest. I suspect, however, that his dialectic powers have been very much overrated. He dances the literary Pyrrhic awkwardly, allowing his adversary a hundred opportunities of hitting him, even when he fancies himself best prepared.
80. I have already explained the grounds of Johnson's antipathy to Milton: he hated him because he was the advocate of good government, and he hated all men of similar predilections. But if, independently of politics, he considered him a good, religious man, he should have abstained from writing his life, knowing it is impossible we should do justice to him whom we hate. If, on the other hand, he rated him low in point of virtue and morality, it was his duty to say so, and make that the foundation of his attack; for, by proving his position, he would have emancipated us from what he esteemed the absurd veneration in which we have been accustomed to hold the name of Milton. Instead of doing this, however, he puts on the armour, and takes up the weapons of a sophist. He pretends to participate in our reverence, and, had his powers been equal to the task, would have created in us the belief that nothing could have been more painful to him than to kill an illustrious reputation.
81. But his mask is too thin to conceal the joy he feels when he supposes he has his great enemy at disadvantage; that he hugs and fondles his victim only to feel where he is most vulnerable ; that he coaxes and flatters solely to put him off his guard. Sometimes he amuses him with the hope that he may be allowed to keep his virtue, if he will suffer his political wisdom to be demolished. Anon he places him between the horns of a dilemma in this way :—if he understood not the import of what he said, he was an ignoramus; if he did, he was guilty of voluntary impiety. Or he undertakes, by the following ingenious method, to convict him of falsehood :-Milton had been accused of having subjected himself to personal chastisement at the University; in his writings he solemnly denies the charge; but he says also, in one of his juvenile poems, that there were other things besides threats which he disliked in a college life: Johnson, by altering his words, says what was more than threats, was probably punishment; ergo, Milton must be thought, what I think it impiety to write.
82. It is a common artifice for a pleader to aim at irritating the judges against his opponent. Johnson has recourse to this hackneyed trick, where he insinuates that Milton's high opinion of himself was, perhaps, mingled with some contempt for others; “ for scarcely any man ever wrote so much and praised so few.” And, lest the reader should forget it, he again repeats that he is very frugal of his praise. Now, of two things, one is certain : either Johnson had not read the prose works of Milton, and therefore knew not whom he might have praised or blamed; or, if he had read them, he was on easy terms with his conscience, and
wrote like a Jesuit. He pleased himself, however, with the reflection that, whether what he said were true or not, it would be difficult to convict him; for whatever number of writers you might reckon up, as praised by Milton, he might still answer that he considered them but few. Nevertheless, they are so many, that one might, I think, almost fill a page with their names.
83. The biographer next intimates his belief that Milton had been guilty of the most nefarious action of interpolating king Charles's posthumous work,—the Eikon Basiliké, if it was, indeed, written by him,--and then, when he came to write against it, of condemning the monarch for the impiety of his own interpolation! This accusation is made in a most extraordinary sentence, such as none but a sophist could have written. He desires the reader to infer that Milton was rendered dishonest by faction: but the reason he subjoins is absurd ; for he was suspected, says he, of having interpolated the Eikon Basiliké. Now, no man is dishonest because he may be suspected of this or that; he is dishonest if he has performed a dishonest action; otherwise, he who, without evidence, accuses him of such an act, is himself dishonest, and should bear the penalty attached to such a character.
84. In the next paragraph he sets all logic at defiance; the use of the interpolated prayer, Dr. Johnson contends, was perfectly innocent; “ and they,” he adds, “who could so noisily censure it, with a little extension of their malice, could con