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in the society of a maid-servant, with whom tirey combined against their father, and advised her to cheat him with a false account of the marketings. • They made away, it is added, "with some of his books, and would have sold the rest to the dunghill women.'* So cruelly and so incessantly, indeed, is he said to have been annoyed and preyed upon, that he was obliged to marry a third wife, merely to .protect himself from the insults and rapacity of his daughters.t And their conduct is represented as peculiarly ungrateful, because, as it is said, in the same documents, Milton expended the greatest part of his estate in providing for them;' gave them an excellent education; and, what seems to be thought uncommonly generous, put them out to learn the trade of needlework. That these daughters were guilty of the filial impiety thus laid to their charge, we are not yet prepared to believe. Milton's works are replete with allusions to his domestic affairs; yet we never find him complaining of abuse from any member of his family; and, as to the nuncupative will, upon which the charge is solely founded, we think a brief examination of the circumstances, under which it is said to have been made,--the cha. racter of the witness, who attests its authenticity, and the nature and consistency of the facts, which they disclose,—will sufficiently show how little such a document is worthy of credit.
Christopher Milton, as we have said before, was a practiser of law in the Inner Temple; and spent all his vacations at Ipswich. He deposes, that, on the 20th of July, 1674, when on the eve of quitting London, he paid a visit to our poet; who, he says, addressed to him the following words, in a serious manner, as if he intended them for his last will: • Brother, the portion due to me from Mr. Powell, my former wife's father, I leave to the unkind chil. dren I had by her: but I have received no part of *Godw. Phh. p. 129. * Id. ibid. Godw. p. 127-8.
it, and my will and meaning is, 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 to me. And all the residue of my estate I leave to the disposal of Elizabith, my love. ing wife.'* Christupher Milton reduced this testament to writing, the last of November, 1674;t and it is a little singular, we observe, in the first place, that he should have suffered the solemn declaration of what he believed to be his brother's last will to remain more than three months, committed to no. thing but the frailty of his own recollection. It is singular, too, that such a man as Milton, when in no more fear of immediate death, than was induced by a usual fit of the gout, should leave his relations to fight over his grave, by giving his last will thus literally to the wind; and the singularity is greatly en. hanced, when we come to be told, by the corrobo. rating witnesses, that, though he lived more than three months after making this pretended declaration, he never took any steps to render it more certain, by writing the few lines, in which it might have been embraced; but, almost to the day of his death, continued to cite it as a thing indisputably settled. This is not the conduct of any prudent man. It is a wise rule of law, that no nuncupative will shall be considered as valid, unless it be made in the last sickness of the party; and this will of Milton was, accordingly, set aside, by the prerogative court, in England.
We have stated but few, however, of the objec. tions, to which it is obnoxious. We do not believe, that Milton's last wife was such an angel as she is represented to have been; and we are afraid, that the integrity of Christopher Milton was not so irrefragable, as one feels predisposed to wish. Richardson says, that Milton's widow was a termagant;* and Phillips relates, rather rashly,' as Mr. Warton thinks, that she persecuted his children in his lifetime, and cheated them at his death.'t We have no positive testimony to the excellence of her disposition; and, if it should turn out, that she was ready to abuse, or even to defraud, the children of a for mer wife, we suppose it will not be considered as a very monstrous exception to the usual character of stepmothers.
* Todd, vol. i. pp. 172-3. These documents were first published by Mr. Warton, in the ad edition of Milton's Smaller Poems. 1791.
+ Todd, vol. i. p. 176.
How she contrived to enlist Christopher Milton in her cause, we could not at first divine; but, when we found, by his own deposition, that, after his return to London, she told him, her husband, whose whole estate amounted to 1500 pounds, had, in his absence, directed her to give him all above 1000,$ we began to think, that her means of seduction were not altogether so contemptible; and that, as he had not, before, any interest in the establishment of such a will, we need not any longer wonder at the tardiness, with which he committed it to paper. He says, it was in this Michaelmas terme last past,' that he received the precious information just mentioned ;ll and it was on the 23d of November, that he reduced the will to writing. Michaelmas term begins on the 6th, and ends on the 28th, of November. Milton died on the 8th; and his brother must, therefore, have been in town, two days before that event. If the will was not an afterthought, why was it not attended to within these two days? Why should it be forgotten till the 23d? And why was it, that Christopher Milton, who had hitherto been so excessively neglectful, should, on a sudden, take an active interest in the business, and even
* Rich. Life of Milt, p. 39. | Ph. ap. Godw. p. 381.
+ Todd, vol. i. p. 186, note. $Todd, vol. i. p. 175.
Ibid. p. 176.
lend the widow money to carry on the law-suit?* He undoubtedly expected to get it back with an abundant premium; and, though it would not have done to show his interest directly upon the face of the will, because his testimony would then have lost. its force; yet, as it makes the testator give his property,—not simply, as is usual, to Elizabeth Milton, but to the disposal of his loveing wife,' Christo. pher well knew, that, by thus wording the instru. ment, the widow, after what she had already told him, could not withhold the surplus 500 pounds, under the pretence of an absolute gift to herself,
We have always thought, that Milton was, at least, a man of magnanimity. This is the account of all his biographers; and even Dr. Johnson quotes the passage of Phillips, in which he says, his uncle was
of a generous nature, more inclinable to reconciliation than to perseverance in anger and revenge.'t We had thought, too, that the last will of every person was the place to forgive all injuries. Is it probable, then, that such a man as Milton, after remaining silent twenty years, should choose the last, the most solemn, act of his life, to fix an immortal stigma upon the characters of his own offspring? Had the instrument been prolix, and had his displeasure, as is usual in such cases, been inferrable rather from its general tenor, than from any express declaration, there would have been more probability on its side: but here is a will of scarcely a half a dozen lines; and we are called upon to believe, that the malice of Milton was so vindictive, as to tell posterity twice, in so short a space, how ungratefully and unkindly he had been treated by his children. If any thing can heighten the absurdity of this, it is the circumstance, that the testator includes all three of his daughters in the same general curse,--when it
is known, that the eldest was a cripple, and the youngest a favourite. Anne, the first, not only had an impediment in her speech,—but was rendered completely helpless by the imbecility of her limbs.* Surely it was a strange kind of generosity, that could prompt a man to utter his last breath in a malediction against such a child. Deborah, the youngest, was his amanuensis.f She was the only one of the three, whom he taught to understand Latin ;' and, when, many years after his death, she was shown one of his portraits, notwithstanding her disinhe. ritance, she burst into exclamations of love, and said, he was delightful company, the life of the conversation, and that on account of a flow of subject, and an unaffected cheerfulness and civility.'S. We cannot believe, that such a daughter could have treated her father with irreverence and cruelty ;and it is not our least objection to the genuineness of this will, that no distinction is made between the good and the bad; that all three are embraced in the same unqualified and sweeping sentence of condemnation.
Nor do the witnesses to this instrument contribute to remove our distrust of its authenticity. The first is Maria Fisher, a waiting maid from Bricklane, in Old street; who says, that she was acquainted with Milton about a year before his death; and that,
on such a day, about noon,' while he and his wife were at dinner, he said, among other things, 'Make much of me as long as I live, for thou knowest I have given thee all when I dye at thy disposal.' She adds, that he was, “at that time, of perfect mind and memory; talked and discoursed sensibly and well; was very merry, and seemed to be in good health of body.'| Her sister Elizabeth, she continues, was then in the room with her;-and, ac