« AnteriorContinuar »
As secretary to the Protector he is supposed to have written the Declaration of the reasons for a war with Spain. His agency was considered as of great importance ; for when a treaty with Sweden was artfully suspended, the delay was publickly imputed to Mr. Milton's indisposition; and the Swedish agent was provoked to express his wonder, that only one man in England could write Latin, and that man blind.
Being now forty-seven years old, and seeing himself disencumbered from external interruptions, he seems to have recollected his former purposes, and to have resuined three great works which he had planned for liis future emplov. ment: an epick poem, the history of his country, and a dictionary of the Latin tongue.
To collect a dictionary, seems a work of all others least practicable in a stato of blindness, because it depends upon perpetual and minute inspection and collation. Nor would Milton probably have begun it, after he had lost his eyes; but having had it always before him, he continued it, says Philips, almost to his dying-day; but the papers were so discomposed and deficient, that they could not be fitted for the press. The compilers of the Latin dictionary printed at Cambridge, had the use of those collections in three folios; but what was their fate afterwards is not known *.
To compile a history from various authors, when they can only be consulted by other eyes, is not easy, nor possible, but with more skilful and attentive help than can be commonly obtained; and it was probably the difficulty of consulting and comparing, that stopped Milton's narrative at the Conquest ; a period at which affairs were not yet very intricate, nor authors very numerous.
For the subject of his epick poem, after much deliberation, long choosing, and beginning late, he fixed upon Paradise Lost; a design so comprehensive, that it could be justified only by success. He had once designed to celebrate King Arthur, as he hints in his verses to Mansus, but Arthur was reserved, says Fenton, to another destiny t:
It appears, by some sketches of poetical projects left in manuscript, and to be seen in a library I at Cambridge, that he had digested his thoughts on this subject into one of those wild dramas which were anciently called Mystéries; and Philips had seen what he terms part of a tragedy, beginning with the first ten lines of Satan's address to the Sun. These mysteries consist of allegorical persons; such as Justice, Mercy, Faith. Of the tragedy or inystery of Paradise Lost there are two plans:
• The Cambridge Dictionary, published in 4to 1693, is no other than a copy, with some small additions, of that of Dr. Adam Littleton in 1685, hy sundry person, of whom, though their names are concealed, there is great reason to conjecture that Milton's nephew, Edward Philips, is one; for it is expressiy said by Wood, Fasti, vol. I. p. 266, that Milton's " Thesaurus" came to his hands, and it is asserted in the preface thereto, that the editors thereof had the use of three large folios in manuscript, collected and digested into alphabetical order by Mr. John Milton.
It has been remarked, that the additions, together with the preface above mentioned, and a Jarge part of the citle of the “ Cambridge Dictionary," have been incorporated and printed with the subsequent editions of “ Littleton's Dictionary," till that of 1735. Vid. Biogr. Brit. 2985, in not. So that fur aught that appears to the contrary, Philips was the last possessor of Wilton's MS. H.
† Id est, to be the subject of an heroic poem, written by Sir Richard Blackmore. H. : Trinity College. E.
The Persons. The Persons. Chorus of Angels singing a bymn of the Michael Moses,
Chorus sing the marriage-song, and de-
Lucifer contriving Adam's ruin.
Chorus fears for Adam, and relates Lucifer's
rebellion and fall. Dicontent, i Matos Labour,
ACT IV. Ignorance Sickness,
Adam, with others; Discontent,
Conscience cites them to God'sexamination, Hope.
Chorus bewails, and tells the good Adam L'harity. Death;
Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise.
presented by an angel with Paradise Lost.
Labour, Grief, Hatred, Envy, War,
Famine, Pestilence, Sickness, Dis-
content, Ignorance, Fear, Death, sumed his true body; thac it corrupts not, To whom he gives their names. Likewise because it is with God in the mount; declares Winter, Heat, Tempest, &s. the üze with Enoch and Elijah; besides the Faith, perity of the place, that certain pure winds, Hope, comfort him and instruct him. dews, and clouds, preserve it from corrup. Charity, tion; whence exhorts to the sight of God; Chorus briefly concludes, al's they cannot see Adam in the state of
Such was his first design, which could arocence, by reason of their sin,
have produced only an allegory, or mystery. debating what should become The following sketch seems to have attained s of man, if he fall. more maturity;
Adam unparadised: The angel Gabriel, either descending or entering; shewing, since this globe was created, his frequency as much on earth as in heaven; describes Paradise. Next
, the Chorus, shewing the reason of his coming to keep his watch in Paradise, ifter Lucifer's rebellion, by command from God; and withal expressing his deere to see and know more concerning this excellent new creature, man. The ingel Gabriel, as by his name signifying a prince of power, tracing Paradise with
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 ta man. The Chorus prepare resistance at his first approach. At last, after discourse of enmity on either side, he departs: whereat the Chorus sings of the battle aid victory in heaven, against him and his accomplices : as before, after the firse
act, was sung a hymn of the creation. Here again may appear Lucifer, relating and insulting in what he had done to the destruction of man. Man next, and Eve having by this time been seduced by the Serpent, appears confusedly covered with leaves. Conscience, in a shape, accuses him; Justice cites him to the place whither Jehovah called for him. ' In the mean while, the Chorus entertains the stage, and is informed by some angel the manner of the Fall. Here the Chorus bewails Adam's fall; Adam then and Eve return; accuse one another ; but especially Adam lays the blame to his wife ; is stubborn in his Offence. Justice appears, reasons with him, convinces him. The Chorus admonishes 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 tepents; 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 semninal state, pregnant with latent possibilities of escellence; 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 accidental hints, and sometimes slowly improved by steady meditation.
Invention is almost the only literary labout which blindness cannot obstructi and therefore he naturally solaced his solitüde 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 help from books; had he retained the power of perusing them.
But 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 Gabinet Council; and next year gratified his malevolence to the clergy, by a Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Cases, and the Means of removing Hirelings cut of the Church.
Oliver was now dead; Richard was constrained to resign: the system of extemporary government, which had been held together only by force, naturally fell into fragments when that force was taken 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 such 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, båt 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 conşidered 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 Rese toration, Notes apon a sermon preached by one Griffiths, intituled, The Fear of Ged and the King. To these notes an answer was written by L'Estrange, in 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 bouse 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 hiinself for a time in Bartholomew-Close, by West Smithfield.
I cannot but remark 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 honouri
ed by his presence
The King, with lenity of which the world has had perhaps no other examnia ple, declined 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 parlia. ment should except; and the parliament doomed none to capital punishment but the wretches who had imidediately co-operated in the murder of the King Milton was certainly not one of them; he had only justified what they had done.
This justification was indeed sufficientiy 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 attorney-general was ordered to prosecute the authors; but Milton was not seized, nor perhaps very diligently pursued.
Not long after (August 19) the Autter of innumerable bosoms was 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 nineteen more, as incapacitated for any public trust; but of Milton there was no exception.
Of this tenderness shown to Milton, the curiosity of mankind has not for: born to enquire the reason. Burnet thinks he was forgotten; but this is anotliet instance which may confirm Dalrymple's observation, who says, “ that when. "erer 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 Clargesį and endoubtedly a man like him must have had influence. A very particular story is told by Richardson in his Memoirs, which he received from Pope, as de. livered by Betterton, who might have heard it from Davenant. In the war between the King and Parliament, Davenant was made prisoner and cor
demned ro die; but was spared at the request of Milton. When the turn 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 si 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 Davenant is certain froin 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 froin 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; and who would pursue with violence an illustrious enemy, depressed by fortune, and disarined by nature'* ?
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 custcdy of the serjeant in December; and, when he was released, upon his refusal of the fees demanded, he and the serjeant were called before the House. He was now safe within the shade of oblivion, and kisew 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 therefore, by the recommendation of Dr. Paget, married Elizabeth Minshul, of & gentleman'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 terror; 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
A different account of the means by whichi Milton secured himself is given by an historian 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 “ funeral procession. The king applauded his policy in escaping the punishment of death, by : is seasonable shew of dying." Cunningham's History of Great Britain, Vol. 1. p. 14. E.