페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

Were better, and most likely if from me
Thou sever not; trial will come unsought.
Wouldst thou approve thy constancy ? approve
First thy obedience ; the other who can know
Not seeing thee attempted—who attest?
But if you think trial unsought may find
Us both securer, than thus warn’d thou seemest,
Go; for thy stay, not free, absents thee more;
Go in thy native innocence; rely
On what thou hast of virtue--summon all--
For God towards thee hath done his part; do thine.

To his second wife, and the only one he is said to have ever loved, he addressed the following sonnet, rather a dull one in its way, after her death :

Methought I saw my late espoused saint

Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,

Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescued from death by force, tho' pale and faint.
Mine, as whom wash'd from spot of child-bed taint

Purification in the old law did save,

And such as yet once more I hope to have
Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind :

Her face was veiled, yet to my fancied sight,

Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin'd
So clear, as in no face with more delight.

But oh! as to embrace me sbe inclin'd,
I wak’d, she fed, and day brought back my night.

The restoration of Charles the II. put an end to Milton's political career; and even filled him with fears for the safety of his person, which few men who consider either the boldness of his past writings, or the station he filled, will think altogether groundless. But every cause for apprehension was soon removed; for except the cerisure reflected upon him by the order, which condemned his principal party work, the Defence of the People,' to be burned by the common hangman, no notice whatever was taken of his conduct; and the Act of Oblivion, as it was termed, soon gave security to his person.

Two stories are told to account for the ease with which he was permitted to glide into safe retirement; but neither the one nor the other can be traced to an authority. The first relation is, that Milton's interposition saved Sir William Davenant's life dur. ing the Commonwealth, and that Davenant returned the obligation by interceding for Milton after the Restoration. The other account reports, that in order to divert the pursuit of his enemies, he feigned himself dead, and had his funeral publicly celebrated, a jocular expedient, which preserved his retreat undisturbed until the first heats of the triumphant party were over, and then so amused the King, that he interdicted any farther molestation. All this seems very improbable, and may perhaps be set down as raw gossip. It appears certain, however, that the House of Commons ordered the Attorney-general to prosecute him, that he was actually in the custody of the Sergeant-at-arms in December, 1659, and that he was brought up to the bar of the House for refusing to pay his fees when released. But how this release was effected, and how the question of fees was disposed of, are points utterly unknown.

This lenity was not without effects upon which no Englishman can reflect without exultation. Henceforward Milton almost entirely abandoned the rough paths of controversy, political as well as religious, and took up a studious residence in Bunhill-fields, somewhere about 1662. Though reduced in fortune, and totally blind, the vigour of his mind was still unimpaired; and there he was to be seen sitting at his door in a loose coat of grey or coarse cloth, to enjoy the freshness of the air, and receive the visits of his friends; among whom he ranked many that were learned, and some that were titled. There, too, he composed his · Paradise Lost,' under increased difficulties; for the gout, which had long troubled him, now became so painful, that it deprived him of the use of his limbs, and he was obliged to be swung in a chair for exercise. In this melancholy state his only recreation was to play on an organ after dinner: his favourite hours for composing were early in the morning, and before he slept at night; and what he had put together in his mind, was casually reduced

to paper by the first hand that came to him. The rest of his time he spent in hearing his daughters read ; and to so extraordinary a pitch did he succeed in training them, that though unable to write, and unacquainted with any of the languages, he nevertheless accustomed them to read Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and Italian, all with sufficient fluency to be well · understood.

• Paradise Lost,' though finished in 1665, did not make its appearance until 1667. It was sold to Samuel Simmons for five pounds, with a reservation of five pounds after the sale of each of the three first editions, which were limited to 1500 copies a-piece. The right of copy, after this third edition, was to revert to the author, who did not, however, live to enjoy the title, and his widow sold all claim to it for eight pounds, in 1690. The miserable amount of these different payments, and the time that elapsed between each of them, have induced a common belief, that the merit of this sublime poem, beyond all comparison the first that has ever been written, was scarcely known until the time of Addi. son's meridian. Had such been the fact, it were an indelible disgrace upon the nation ; but, perhaps, a few observations from Dr. Johnson may be enough to show that the case is really not so bad. Addison was certainly the first man either of talent or rank, who paid the compliment of his public praise to the beauties of Paradise Lost ;' but this by no means unequivocally condemns either the taste or judgments of his predecessors, particularly when we recollect how absolute the crown was before the revolution, and that Milton, at the Courts of Charles the II. and James the II. was held as little better than one of their father's regicides. A man of letters then had scarcely a hope of competent support without the patronage of his sovereign; and who that was honest enough to praise Milton, could be vain enough to expect promotion ? But the principal point for consideration, in the matter of this national justification, is whether 4500 copies was a sufficient sale for the time. Education then was far different, and incomparably more limited than it is now; and even amongst the greater part of those who enjoyed the blessings of it; almost every thing that was liberal, polite, and exalted, was discountenanced either by the crudeness of religious sectaries, or the affectation of foreign tastes. Hence, perhaps, it ought in candour

to be acknowledged, that, though far under the circulation its transcendent merit entitled it to, still, that the sale of Paradise Lost,' was, under all circumstances, sufficiently extensive to save the nation from the reproach of insensibility to a work of such superiority.

To enter into any disquisition upon a poem now at least so well known, and so thoroughly appreciated-to recapitulate its sublimities, and to attempt to enumerate its beauties; or even to pick out those faults which are to be detected in it, because they must unavoidably accompany every process of human ingenuity, would be the labour of supererogation. It may then suffice to add, that in so short a period as three years, Milton produced a • History of England,' Sampson Agonistes,' and · Paradise Regained. Of the two last it is said, that the former is generally praised above its desert, and the other is far less considered, than its excellence deserves. Critics may think as they please of the estimation in which the tragedy ought to be held, but, it cannot be doubted that Paradise Regained' is greatly undervalued by the generality of readers. Milton fancied it the happiest of all his poems; the world scarcely deign to commend it, because it is inferior to · Paradise Lost:' and yet it is but probable that, had it emanated from any other mind, public opinion would have more justly elevated it into competition with its predecessor. As the rase stands, it only furnishes another exemplification of the truth of that forcible proverb, which declares that a man's greatest enemy is himself,

Such was the condition in which Milton approached the end of his days. He lived retired, but respected ; in his youth brightened by an almost precocious reputation, in his middle life hum. bled and disappointed; but in his old age, though slowly, still securely overcoming the rugged ascent to everlasting fame. He died in quiet, on the 10th of November, 1677, in the 66th year of his age, and was buried with many marks of tenderness and splendour, in the chancel of St. Giles's Church, Cripplegate.

Thus far only the more prominent passages of Milton's life and the more memorable of his writings have been sketched : a catalogue of those works, not already noticed, is therefore subjoined, according to the order in which they were printed. In 1641, he brought forward · A Treatise of Reformation,' in two books, which was designed to aid the Puritans against the established church. This was followed by Of Prelatical Episcopacy, and whether it be deduced from the Apostolic Times, by virtue of those Testimonies, which are alleged to that Purpose in some late Treatises, one whereof goes under the Name of James Lord Bishop of Armagh.' In 1642 appeared • The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy,' by Mr. John Milton ; to which, in consequence of the remarks with which it was assailed, he added two more pamphlets upon the same subject during the course of the year. The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,' was succeeded by “The Judgment of Martin Bucer, concerning Divorce, in 1644 ; and in 1645, appeared • Tetrachordon, Expositions upon the four chief Places of Seripture which treat of Marriage. These were the publications by which he appeared to smooth a way for the repudiation of his first wife; they were severely animadverted upon by the clergy, who petitioned the House of Peers to call the author to their bar, a suit which, though granted, appears to have availed little, for he was speedily dismissed, either out of favour or indifference. To this year, 1645, has also been ascribed · Areopagitica, a Speech by Mr. John Milton, for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing,' and the volume of Latin and English poems, in which • L'Allegro' and • Il Penseroso’ were first inserted. A Treatise to compose the minds of the People after the King's death; * Remarks on the Articles of Peace between Ormond and the Irish Rebels ;' and • Iconoclastes,' a critical censure of Icon Basilike,' instigated by the Council of State, came next in rotation. Being required by the same authority to prepare an answer to the · Defensio Regis,' published by Salmasius, at Leyden, he finished, in 1651, Defensio Populi,' a work highly praised for style, but little thought of for argument. The same remark applies to the ‘ Defensio Secunda,' which he completed three years after. “A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Cases, and the Means of removing HireJings out of the Church,' was sent to the press in 1659; and the Protectorate of Richard Cromwell was graced with two minor pamphlets—A ready and easy way to establish a free Commonwealth ;' and · Notes upon a Sermon preached by one Griffiths, entitled “The Fear of God and the King.' In 1661, he aided the labours of the schoolboy, by a little book, · Accidence com

« 이전계속 »