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liate the protection of the high royalist party, he was compelled to retire before the popular resentment to the West Indies, where he is reported to have perished under the oppression of penury and contempt. The fate of his coadjutor was far more prosperous
Ille crucem tulit-hic diadema.Johnson survived the disgrace of his infamous alliance to enjoy the opportunity of attempting, with much deeper, though not more effectual wounds, the impassible reputation of Milton.
To vindicate him from the imputation, to which he became exposed by his intercourse with Lauder, it has been urged by Johnson's friends that the zeal with which he espoused the necessities of Milton's descendant, Mrs. Foster, and the praise which he has assigned to the great poet's muse place him above the suspicion of being actuated, in this instance of his conduct, by malice. I must be forgiven if I remark that this offer of vindication is both irrelevant and defective; irrelevant, as benevolence to the living, allowing it to be unalloyed with any base mixture of ostentation or interest, may unite, in perfect consistency, with enmity to
the dead ;-defective, as the praise, to which the appeal has been so confidently made, is evidently penurious, reluctant, compelled by the demand of the critic's own character, and uniformly dashed and qualified with something of an opposite nature :
medio de fonte leporum
While he was depreciating the fame of the illustrious ancestor, Johnson could not act more prudently, or in a way more likely to lead him to his final object, than by acquiring easy credit as the friend of the distressed grandchild; and the prologue which he wrote for her benefit, and which is little more than a versification of what he had before attached to the pamphlet sullied with Lauder's malignity and forgeries, has fully answered the writer's purposes by the imputed liberality, which it has obtained for him, and the means with which it has thus supplied him of striking, during the repose of suspicion, the more pernicious blow. Avowed hostility generally defeats its own object; and the semblance of kindness has commonly been assumed by the efficient assassin for the perpetration of his design. Whether, in
short, in the instance before us, Johnson indulged, as his friends would persuade us to believe, the charitable propensities of his own heart, or availed himself of the opportunity to provide for the interests of his own character, the measure may be allowed to have been good, or to have been wise, but cannot be admitted, in opposition to the testimony of formidable facts, to have been demonstrative of his favourable disposition to wards Milton.
If Johnson's conduct, as a critic on the poetic works of our great bard, be made the subject of our attention, we shall examine it in vain for the proof of that regard which it is said to exhibit for the reputation of the author of Paradise Lost. Let us recollect that the smaller poems of our illustrious writer were pronounced by Johnson to be “ peculiar without excellence, and, if differing from the verses of others, differing for the worse;" that in Milton's latin poetry the critic saw nothing but what was inferior to the latin compositions of Cowley, and of May; that he made the Lycidas the object of his perverse censure, and affected to hold its admirers in contempt; that his applause of L’Allegro and Il Penseroso was formal
and jejune; that he detracted, as much as a sense of decency would permit him, from the merit of the Comus; that his strictures on the Samson Agonistes were severe; and that his high and splendid panegyric on the Paradise Lost was connected with a remark, which on its admission, would, at once, lay the lofty edifice of praise in the dust, and by proving that this glorious epic was destitute of the first great requisite of poetry, the power of pleasing, would demonstrate that, in fact, with all its imputed excellencies, it was an indifferent poem:- let us recollect all this, and then let the most candid among
us seriously determine whether the critic be - superior to the suspicion of wishing for an
opportunity to blast the laurels of Milton."
* If we are desirous of positive and precise testimony respecting the existence, at the period in question, of malevolence to the fame of Milton in the breast of Johnson, we have only to turn to the 276th page of Sir John Hawkins's life of this author. “ While the book" (Lauder's Essay) “ was in the press, the proof sheets were submitted to the inspection," says this biographer, “of our club by a member of it who had an interest in its publication, and I could all along perceive that Johnson seemed to approve, not only of the design, but of the argument, and seemed to exult in a persuasion, that the repu. tation of Milton was likely to suffer by this discovery."—To this assertion made by a person immediately conversant with the fact, and not interested to misrepresent it-by a person, who
In Johnson's defence it is idle to adduce the high terms in which he has occasionally mentioned our epic bard: Lauder himself has extolled him with panegyric equaily lofty;" and the result of strong censure, or was the intimate of Johnson throughout his life, and was appointed one of his executors by his will, nothing has been or can be opposed but the futile evidence of that praise with which Johnson, as a critic, has occasionally spoken of the poetry of Milton.
y For the proof of this assertion I will not rapsack Lauder's first papers in the Gentleman's Magazine, where it might be found, but will transcribe his epitaph on the author of Paradise Lost.
Virorum maximus, JOHANNES MILTONUS, Poeta celeberrimus;—non Angliæ modo, soli natalis, verùm generis humani ornamentum :-cujus eximius liber, Anglicanis versibus conscriptus, vulgo PARADISUS AMIssus, immortalis illud ingenii nonumentum, cum ipsâ ferè æternitate perennaturum est opus !-Hujus memoriam Anglorum primus, post tantum, proh dolor! ab tanti excessu poetæ intervallum, statuâ elegaoti in loco celeberrimo, cænobio Westmonasterier si, positâ regam, principum, antistitum, illustriumque Angliæ virorum cæmeterio, vir ornatissimus Gulielmus Benson prosecutus est.
The remarks, which Lauder makes on this evidence of bis veneration for Milton, are worthy also of our notice. “A character as high and honourable as ever was bestowed upon him by the most sanguine of his admirers! and as this was my cool and sincere opinion of that wonderful man formerly, so I declare it to be the same still, and ever will be, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, occasioned merely by passion and resentment; which appear, however, by the “ Postscript" to the Essay, to be so far from extending to the posterity of Milion, that I recommend his only remaining descendant, in the warmest terms, to the public."