« PreviousContinue »
Latin and English poems were published. It is with regret we add that, after the execution of the King, Milton wrote a treatise to justify it to the Presbyterians, and to “ compose
the minds of the people.” He was right, however, in declaring that the Presbyterians had, in fact, brought about the King's death themselves. He was now suffering from gutta serena, which threatened him with loss of sight; but on being called on jy the Parliament in 1651 to answer the celebrated Salmasius's “ Defensio Regis," written at the request of Charles II. (then an exile at The Hague), he undertook the task, and pursued it steadily, knowing all the time that its cost would be his sight. But he believed it to be his duty, and from that he never flinched. He was rewarded for it with a present of a thousand pounds.
Cromwell now assumed the Protectorate, but Milton, who appears to have had at that time a sincere admiration for Oliver, and who must have seen that Government, in such a state of anarchy, could not be carried on without him, retained the Latin Secretaryship
It would be a weary task to chronicle all the controversial writings of Milton during the ensuing years; we will rather return to his domestic history. Three years after the death of Mary Powel he married again. His second wife appears to have won his whole affections. Her name was Katherine Woodcock, the daughter of Captain Woodcock of Hackney. But their happiness continued only a year: she died in giving birth to a child, and Milton deplored her loss in a pathetic sonnet, something resembling the famous one of Petrarch to his dead Laura.
Milton now set himself to three great works : preparing a Latin Dictionary, writing a History of England, and commencing his Epic. If an author of our own day had not shown us how possible research and study is even to the blind, we might marvel at such urdertakings being attempted by a sightless man, but we think a Prescott, and marvel no longer.
The Dictionary-probably the most difficult undertaking for him - was never finished; the History goes ɔnly to the Norman Con. quest; the Epic is the immortal “ Paradise Lost." He had already prepared the same subject for a drama or mystery, which was to begin with Satan's address to the Sun, but his increasing Puritanism, and the remembrance of his having reproached the dead King in the " Iconoclastes,” for making a companion of the works of
Shakespeare, probably caused him to turn the singular drama into an epic poem.
The death of Oliver Cromwell led to the Restoration, and Milton, who had retired from the service of the Parliament on a pension for life, was in considerable danger from his writings against the Royal cause. While all England held festival on the return of her exiled Sovereign, the great poet was obliged to seek safety in concealment; and it is said that his enemies were deceived by a report of his death and a mock funeral. Whether there is truth in this story cannot now be ascertained; but the Act of Oblivion, passed August 19, enabled him again to appear openly. A prosecution was commenced against him for his defence of the execution of the King, but it fell to the ground; Charles was not vindictive, and we perhaps owe to his easiness of temper the greatest poem in our language.
Milton retired to Jewin Street, near Aldersgate Street, and though now poor and blind, gained a third wife, who survived him Elizabeth Minshul, the daughter of a Cheshire gentleman. They lived happily, it is believed, but Philips, who remembered Mary Powel, says that the stepmother "oppressed her (Mary's) children in Milton's lifetime, and cheated them at his death."
In 1661, Milton published a school book, “ Accidence commenced Grammar,” to make grammar easy to children. About this time Elwood, the Quaker, was recommended to him as a reader; and he attended the poet every afternoon, except on Sundays. Milton, who hated to hear Latin read with the English accent, taught him to pronounce it in Italian, and his ear was so quick, that if the young Quaker did not understand a passage (Elwood relates this fact) Milton would find it out by the want of expression or emphasis, and would make him pause, that he might explain it to him.
Milton now removed to a house in Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill Fields, and set seriously to work at the “ Paradise Lost," the subject of which he says he had been “long choosing and begun late.”
But though Milton had passed out of the field of politics and Statecraft, his genius still brought him visitors of distinction, both from the Continent and of his own countrymen.
Richardson describes him as sitting before his door in warm cultry weather, to enjoy the fresh air, dressed in a grey coat of
coarse cloth; and there, as well as in his own rooms, be received his guests. It is supposed that “Samson Agonistes” was written about this time.
In 1665, the Plagne broke out in London, and Elwood, who wal living in the family of an opulent Quaker at Chalfont, in Bucks advised his friend to quit the city. Milton desired him to find his family a refuge in his neighbourhood, and it was at the temporary home thus selected that he finished the “ Paradise Lost." He gave the manuscript to Elwood to read. The young Quaker appreciated it, but added pleasantly, “Thou hast said much here of Paradise Lost,' but what hast thou to say of Paradise Found 'p” This hint, Milton afterwards told his friend, gave birth to the idea of “ Paradise Regained.”
On his return to London, Milton sold the copyright of his great poem to a bookseller, called Samuel Simmons, for £5 in hand; £5 more when 1,300 copies were sold, and the same sum on the publication of the second and third editions. The number of each edition was limited to 1,500 copies. Of this agreement Milton lived to receive £15; his widow sold her cl: ims for future editions for £8.
But though Milton gained but little pecuniary benefit from his masterpiece, it won him “golden opinions” from the best writers of the age,-Dryden, Marvel, and Denham. Yet the poem was never thoroughly brought before the public till after the Revolution, when Addison, by his elegant criticism in the Spectator, discovered to the nation the treasure so long hidden from them; which they were then far better able to value than in the troubled days when it first issued from the press.
In 1671, Milton published “ Samson Agonistes " and "Paradise Regained.” He preferred the latter poem to the “Paradise Lost," it is said.
We have a record of how the blind poet spent his day. He rose at four in summer and five in winter, and began each day by hearing a chapter in the Hebrew Bible; the man who read, then left him to meditation, and returning at seven, read or wrote for him till twelve. He then allowed himself an hour for exercise, generally walking, but sometimes he had recourse to a swing. After his early and temperate dinner, he was wont to play for a time on the organ or violoncello: he had a fine voice, and sang well.
It is said that his domestic relations were not happy. Philipo gives some clue to the home disturbances by his mention of the
stepmother's oppression of his two daughters, who were employed to read to him in languages they did not comprehend. When, however, the poet discovered how great this infliction was on his children, he released them from their detested task, and sent them to learn embroidery in gold and silver, so that they should be able to support themselves by a trade if required to do so. The youngest, Deborah, spoke with great affection of him after his death.
In July, 1674, he felt so ill that he sent for his brother Christopher, a Bencher of the Inner Temple, to explain his last wishes to him.
Brother," said he, “the portion due to me from Mr. Powel, my first wife's father, I leave to the unkind children I had by her. But I have received no part of it; and my will and meaning is that they shall have no other benefit of my estate than the said portion, and what I have besides done for them; they having been very
undutiful And all the residue of my estate I leave to the disposal of Elizabeth, my loving wife.” Such was the brief testament of the great poet. He sold his books before his death, and left £1,500 to his widow. The daughters received from their stepmother £100 each.
On the 15th November, 1674, on Sunday night, quietly and silently, John Milton passed away from earth. He was buried in the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, attended by a numerous concourse of friends.
Of his family, Anne, the eldest daughter, who was deformed, married a master.builder, and died in childbirth. Mary died single. Deborah married Abraham Clark, a weaver in Spitalfields, and died in August, 1727. She had seven children, but all died child. less except Caleb and Elizabeth. The latter married Thomas Foster, a weaver in Spitalfields, and had seven children, who all died. Caleb went to India and had two sons; it is said that the last descendant of Milton died a parish clerk at Calcutta, but we know of no authority for the assertion beyond an East Indian rumour. Milton's brother took the opposite side in the politics of the time,
nd when the Republican Party was in the ascendant, his brother's influence enabled him to live quietly. He supported himself so honourabiy by chamber practice, that soon after the accession of Janies II. he was knighted and made a judge, but retired shortly
| Literary Miscellany, 1812
afterwards intv private life, on account of bad health. He was thus saved from the difficulties which beset the path of conscientious judges wh:n Jeffreys was head of the law. Both the nephews of Milton became authors : one his biographer.
The judgment of two centuries and of all Europe has decided as to the merits of Milton. A word from us on the subject of his poems is therefore superfluous. But of his prose, few general readers know much. His controversial writings were chiefly in Latin, and of those in English many would be objectionable and tedious in the present day; nevertheless, he wrote English prose with as masterly a pen as he wrote poetry, and when the subject was worthy of his genius, his style was as charming as it is in the "Allegro" or in "Comus," and as noble as in the “ Paradise Lost." We believe we shall be satisfying a want in giving our readers a specimen of it; and we select a portion of his fine pamphlet on the Liberty of the Press :
“ I deny not but that it is of the greatest concernment in thu church and commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how books demean themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, im. prison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors; for books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them, to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are ; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon's teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book : who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many
man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. 'Tis true no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse. We should be wary, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how spill that seasoned life of man, preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of humicide may be thus committed; sometimes & kind of martyrdom; and if it extended to the whole impression, a