Page images
PDF

made his wife sing, who (he said) had a good voice but no ear; and then he went up to study again till six, when his friends came to visit him and sat with him perhaps till eight; then he went down to supper, which was usually olives or some light thing; and after supper he smoked his pipe, and drank a glass of water, and went to bed. He loved the country, and commends it, as poets usually do; but after his return from his travels, he was very little there, except during the time of the plague in London. The civil war might at first detain him in town; and the pleasures of the country were in a great measure lost to him, as they depend mostly upon sight, whereas a blind man wants company and conversation, which is to be had better in populous cities. But he was led out sometimes for the benefit of the fresh air, and in warm sunny weather he used to sit at the door of his house near Bunhill Fields, and there as well as in the house received the visits of persons of quality and distinction; for he was no less visited to the last both by his own countrymen and soreigners, than he had been in his flourishing condition before the Restoration. Some objections, indeed, have been made to his temper; and I remember there was a tradition in the university of Cambridge, that he and Mr. King (whose death he laments in his Lycidas) were competitors for a fellowship, and when they were both equal in point of learning, Mr. King was prefer1ed by the college for his character of good nature, which was wanting in the other; and this was by Milton grievously resented. But the difference of their ages, Milton being at least four years older, renders this story not very probable; and besides, Mr. King was not elected by the college, but was made fellow by a royal mandate, so that there can be no truth in the tradition; but if there was any, it is no sign of Milton's resentment, but a proof of his generosity, that he could live in such friendship with a successful rival, and afterwards so passionately lament his decease. His method of writing controversy is urged as another argument of his want of temper: but some allowance must be made for the customs and manners of the times. Controversy, as well as war, was rougher and more barbarous in those days, than it is in these. And it is to be considered, too, that his adversaries first began the attack; they loaded him with much more personal abuse, only they had not the advantage of so much wit to season it. If he had engaged with more candid and ingenuous disputants, he would have preferred civility and fair argument to wit and satire: “to do so was my choice, and to have done thus was my chance,” as he expresses himself in the conclusion of one of his controversial pieces. All who have written any accounts of his life agree, that he was affable and instructive in conversation, of an equal and cheer

ful temper; and yet I can easily believe, that he had a sufficient sense of his own merits, and contempt enough for his adversaries. His merits indeed were singular; for he was a man not only of wonderful genius, but of immense learning and erudition; not only an incomparable poet, but a great mathematician, logician, historian, and divine. He was a master not only of the Greek and Latin, but likewise of the Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac, as well as of the modern languages, Italian, French, and Spanish. He was particularly skilled in the Italian, which he always preferred to the French language, as all the men of letters did at that time in England; and he not only wrote elegantly in it, but is highly commended for his writings by the most learned of the Italians themselves, and especially by the members of that celebrated academy called della Crusca, which was established at Florence, for the refining and perfecting of the Tuscan language. He had read almost all authors, and improved by all, even by romances, of which he had been fond in his younger years; and as the bee can extract honey out of weeds, so (to use his own words in his Apology for Smectymnuus) “those books, which to many others have been the fuel of wantonness and loose living, proved to him so many incitements to the love and observation of virtue.” His favourite author after the Holy Scriptures, was Homer. Homer he could repeat almost all without book; and he was advised to undertake a translation of his works, which no doubt he would have executed to admiration. But (as he says of himself in his postscript to the Judgment of Martin Bucer) “he

never could delight in long citations, much less in .

whole traductions.” And accordingly there are few things, and those of no great length, which he has ever translated. He was possessed too much of an original genius to be a mere copyer. “Whether it be natural disposition,” says he, “ or education in me, or that my mother bore me a speaker of what God made my own, and not a translator.” And it is somewhat remarkable, that there is scarce any author, who has written so much, and upon such various subjects, and yet quotes so little from his contemporary authors, or so seldom mentions any of them. He praises Selden, indeed, in more places than one, but for the rest he appears disposed to censure rather than commend. After his severer studies, and after dinner, as we observed before, he used to divert and unbend his mind with playing upon the organ or bass-viol, which was a great relief to him after he had lost his sight; for he was a master of music, as was his father, and he could perform both vocally and instrumentally, and it is said that he composed very well, though nothing of this kind is handed down to us. It is also said, that he had some skill in painting as well as in music, and that somewhere or other there is

[ocr errors]

a head of Milton drawn by himself: but he was blessed with so many real excellences, that there is no want of fictitious ones to raise and adorn his character. He had a quick apprehension, a subJime imagination, a strong memory, a piercing judgment, a wit always ready, and facetious or grave as the occasion required: and I know not whether the loss of his sight did not add vigour to the faculties of his mind. He at least thought so, and often comforted himself with that reflection. But his great parts and learning have scarcely gained him more admirers, than his political principles have raised him enemies. And yet the darhing passion of his soul was the love of liberty; this was his constant aim and end, however he might be mistaken in the means. He was indeed very zealous in what was called the good old cause, and with his spirit and his resolution, it is somewhat wonderful, that he never ventured his person in the civil war; but though he was not in arms, he was not inactive, and thought, I suppose, that he could be of more service to the cause by his pen than by his sword. He was a thorough republican, and in this he thought like a Greek or Roman, as he was very conversant with their writings. And one day Sir Robert Howard, who was a friend to Milton, as well as to the liberties of his country, and was one of his constant visiters to the last, inquired of him how he came to side with the republicans. Milton answered, among other reasons, because their's was the most frugal government, for the trappings of a monarchy might set up an ordinary commonwealth. But then his attachment to Cromwell must be condemned, as being neither consistent with his republican principles, nor with his love of liberty. And I know no other way of accounting for his conduct, but by presuming (as I think we may reasonably presume) that he was far from entirely approving of Cromwell's proceedings, but considered him as the only person who could rescue the nation from the tyranny of the Presbyterians, who he saw were erecting a worse dominion of their own upon the ruins of prelatical episcopacy; and of all things he dreaded spiritual slavery, and therefore closed with Cromwell and the Independents, as he expected under them greater liberty of conscience. And though he served Cromwell, yet it must be said for him, that he served a great master, and served him ably, and was not wanting from time to time in giving him excellent good advice, especially in his second Defence: and so little being said of him in all Secretary Thurloe's state-papers, it appears that he had no great share in the secrets and intrigues of government: what he despatched was little more than matters of necessary form, letters and answers to foreign states; and he may be justified for acting in such a station, upon the same principle as Sir Matthew Hale, for holding

a judge's commission under the usurper; and in the latter part of his life he frequently expressed to his friends his entire satisfaction of mind, that he had constantly employed his strength and faculties in the defence of liberty, and in opposition to slavery. In matters of religion too he has given as great offence, or even greater, than by his political principles. But still let not the infidel glory: no such man was ever of that party. He had the advantage of a pious education, and ever expressed the profoundest reverence of the Deity in his words and actions, was both a Christian and a Protestant, and studied and admired the Holy Scriptures above all other books whatsoever; and in all his writings he plainly shows a religious turn of mind, as well in verse as in prose, as well in his works of an earlier date as in those of later composition. When he wrote the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, he appears to have been a Calvinist; but afterwards he entertained a more favourable opinion of Arminius. Some have inclined to believe, that he was an Arian; but there are more express passages in his works to overthrow this opinion, than any there are to confirm it. For in the conclusion of his Treatise of Reformation he thus solemnly invokes the Trinity; “Thou therefore that sittest in light and glory unapproachable, parent of angels and men! next thee I implore Omnipotent King, Redeemer of that lost remnant whose mature thou didst assume, ineffable and everlasting love! And thou the third subsistence of divine infinitude illumining Spirit, the joy and solace of created things! one tri-personal Godhead! look upon this thy poor, and almost spent and expiring Church, &c.” And in his tract of Prelatical Episcopacy he endeavours to prove the spuriousness of some epistles attributed to Ignatius, because they contained in them heresies, one of which heresies is, that “he condemns them for ministers of Satan, who say that Christ is God above all.” And a little after in the same tract he objects to the authority of Tertullian, because he went about to “prove an imparity between God the Father, and God the Son.” And in the Paradise Lost we shall find nothing upon this head, that is not perfectly agreeable to Scripture. The learned Dr. Trap, who was as likely to cry out upon heresy as any man, asserts that the poem is orthodox in every part of it; or otherwise he would not have been at the pains of translating it. Neque alienum ridetur a studiis rini theologi poema magna er parte theo. logicum; omnier parte (rideant, per me licet, atgue ringantur athei et infideles) orthodorum. Milton was indeed a dissenter from the Church of England, in which he had been educated, and was by his parents designed for holy orders, as we related before; but he was led away by early prejudices against the doctrine and discipline of the Church,

and in his younger years was a favourer of the Presbyterians; in his middle age he was best pleased with the Independents and Anabaptists, as allowing greater liberty of conscience than others, and coming nearest in his opinion to the primitive practice; and in the latter part of his life he was not a professed member of any particular sect of Christians, he frequented no public worship, nor used any religious rite in his family. Whether so many different forms of worship as he had seen, had made him indifferent to all forms; or whether he thought that all Christians had in some things corrupted the purity and simplicity of the Gospel; or whether he disliked their endless and uncharitable, lisputes, and that love of dominion and inclination to persecution, which he said was a piece of popery inseparable from all churches; or whether he believed, that a man might be a good Christian without joining in any communion; or whether he did not look upon himself as inspired, as wrapt up in God, and above all forms and ceremonies, it is not easy to determine: to his own master he standet, or falleth: but if he was of any denomination, he was a sort of a Quietist, and was full of the interior of religion though he so little regarded the exterior; and it is certain was to the last an enthusiast rather than an infidel. As enthusiasm made Norris a poet, so poetry might make Milton an enthusiast. His circumstances were never very mean, nor very great; for he lived above want, and was not intent upon accumulating wealth; his ambition was more to enrich and adorn his mind. His father supported him in his travels, and for some time after. Then his pupils must have been of some advantage to him, and brought him either a certain stipend, or considerable presents at least; and he had scarcely any other method of improving his fortune, as he was of no profession. When his father died, he inherited an elder son's share of his estate, the principal part of which, I believe, was his house in Bread-street: And not long after, he was appointed Latin Secretary, with a salary of two hundred pounds a year; so that he was now in opulent circumstances for a man who had always led a frugal and temperate life, and was at little unnecessary expense besides buying of books. Though he was of the victorious party, yet he was far from sharing in the spoils of his country. On the contrary, (as we learn from his second Defence) he sustained greater losses during the civil war, and was not at all favoured in the imposition of taxes, but sometimes paid beyond his due proportion. And upon a turn of affairs he was not only deprived of his place, but also lost two thousand pounds, which he had, for security and improvement, put into the Excise Office. He lost, likewise, another considerable sum for want of proper care and management, as persons of Mil

ton's genius are seldom expert in money matters. And in the fire of London his house in Breadstreet was burnt, before which accident, foreigners have gone, out of devotion, (says Wood) to see the house and chamber where he was born. His gains were inconsiderable in proportion to his losses; for excepting the thousand pounds, which were given him by the government for writing his Defence of the people against Salmasius, we may conclude that he got very little by the copies of his works, when it does not appear that he received any more than ten pounds for Paradise Lost. Some time before he died he sold the greatest part of his library, as his heirs were not qualified to make a proper use of it, and as he thought that he could dispose of it to greater advantage than they could after his decease. And finally, by one means or other, he died worth one thousand five hundred pounds, besides his household goods, which was no incompetent substance for him, who was as great a philosopher as a poet. To this account of Milton it may be proper to add something concerning his family. We said before, that he had a younger brother and a sister. His brother, Christopher Milton, was a man of totally opposite principles; was a strong royalist, and after the civil war made his composition through his brother's interest; had been entered young a student in the Inner Temple, of which house he lived to be an ancient bencher; and being a professed papist, was, in the reign of James II, made a judge, and knighted; but soon obtained his quietus by reason of his age and infirmities, and retired to Ipswich, where he lived all the latter part of his life. His sister, Anne Milton, had a considerable fortune given her by her father in marriage with Mr. Edward Philips, (son of Mr. Edward Philips, of Shrewsbury,) who, coming young to London, was bred up in the Crown Of. fice in Chancery, and at length became secondary of the office under Mr. Bembo. By him she had, besides other children who died infants, two sens, Edward and John, whom we have had frequent occasion to mention before. Among our author's juvenile poems there is a copy of verses on the death of a fair infant, a nephew, or rather niece of his, dying of a cough; and this being written in his seventeenth year, as it is said in the title, it may naturally be inferred that Mrs. Philips was elder than either of her brothers. She had likewise two daughters, Mary, who died very young, and Anne, who was living in 1694, by a second husband, Mr. Thomas Agar, who succeeded his intimate friend Mr. Philips in his place in the Crown Office, which he enjoyed many years, and left to Mr. Thomas Milton, son of Sir Christopher before mentioned. As for Milton himself he appears to have been no enemy to the fair sex by having had three wives.

What fortune he had with any of them is no where said, but they were gentlemen's daughters; and it is remarkable that he married them all maidens, for (as he says in his Apology for Smectymnuus, which was written before he married at all) he “thought with them, who both in prudence and elegance of spirit would choose a virgin of mean fortunes, honestly bred, before the wealthiest widow.” But yet he seemeth not to have been very happy in any of his marriages; for his first wife had justly offended him by her long absence and separation from him; the second, whose love, sweetness, and goodness he commends, lived not a twelvemonth with him; and his third wife is said to have been a woman of a most violent spirit, and a hard mother-in-law to his children. She died very old, at Nantwich, in Cheshire: and from the accounts of those who had seen her, I have learned, that she confirmed several things which have been related before; and particularly that her husband used to compose poetry chiefly in winter, and on his waking in a morning would make her write down sometimes twenty or thirty verses; and being asked whether he did not often read Homer and Virgil, she understood it as an imputation upon him for stealing from those authors, and answered with eagerness, that he stole from no body but the Muse who inspired him; and being asked by a lady present who the Muse was, replied, it was God's grace, and the Holy Spirit that visited him nightly. She was likewise asked whom he approved most of our English poets, and answered, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Cowley: and being asked what he thought of Dryden, she said Dryden used sometimes to visit him, but he thought him no poet, but a good rhymist: but this was before Dryden had composed his best poems, which made his name so famous afterwards. She was wont, moreover, to say, that her husband was applied to by message from the King, and invited to write for the Court, but his answer was, that such a behaviour would be very inconsistent with his former conduct, for he had never yet employed his pen against his conscience. By his first wife he had four children, a son, who died an infant, and three daughters, who survived him; by his second wife he had only one daughter, who died soon after her mother, who died in childbed; and by his last wife he had no children at all. His daughters were not sent to school, but were instructed by a mistress kept at home for that purpose: and he himself, excusing the eldest on account of an impediment in her speech, taught the two others to read and pronounce Greek and Latin, and several other languages, without understanding any but English, for he used to say that one tongue was enough for a woman: but this employment was very irksome to them, and this, together with the sharpness and severity of their mother-in-law, made them very uneasy at home; and therefore they were all

sent abroad to learn things more proper for them, and particularly embroidery in gold and silver, As Milton at his death left his affairs very much in the power of his widow, though she acknowledged that he died worth one thousand five hundred pounds, yet she allowed but one hundred pounds to each of his three daughters. Anne, the eldest, was decrepit and deformed, but had a very handsome face; she married a master-builder, and died in childbed of her first child, who died with her. Mary, the second, lived and died single. Deborah, the youngest, in her father's life time went over to Ireland with a lady, and afterwards was married to Mr. Abraham Clarke, a weaver in Spittle Fields, and died in August, 1727, in the seventy sixth year of her age. She is said to have been a woman of good understanding, and genteel behaviour, though in low circumstances. As she had been often called upon to read Homer and Ovid's Metamorphoses to her father, she could have repeated a considerable number of verses from the beginning of both those poets, as Mr. Ward, Professor of Rhetoric in Gresham College, relates upon his own knowledge; and another gentleman has informed me, that he has heard her repeat several verses likewise out of Euripides. Mr. Addison, and the other gentlemen, who had opportunities of seeing her, knew her immediately to be Milton's daughter, by the similitude of her countenance to her father's picture: and Mr. Addison made her a handsome present of a purse of guineas with a promise of procuring for her some annual provision for her life; but his death happening soon after, she lost the benefit of this generous design. She received presents likewise from several other gentlemen, and Queen Caroline sent her fifty pounds by the hands of Dr. Friend, the physician. She had ten children, seven sons and three daughters; but none of them had any children, except one of her sons named Caleb, and one of her daughters named Elizabeth. Caleb went to Fort St. George, in the East Indies, where he married, and had two sons, Abraham and Isaac; the elder of whom came to England with the late governor Harrison, but returned upon advice of his father's death, and whether he or his brother be now living is uncertain. Elizabeth, the youngest child of Mrs. Clarke, was married to Mr. Thomas Foster, a weaver in Spittle Fields, and had seven children who are all dead; and she herself is aged about sixty, and weak and infirm. She seems to be a good, plain, sensible woman, and has confirmed several particulars related above, and informed me of some others, which she had often heard from her mother: and her granfather lost two thousand pounds by a money-scrivener, whom he had intrusted with that sum, and likewise an estate at Westminster of sixty pounds a year, which belonged to the Dean and Chapter, and

was restored to them at the Restoration: that he was very temperate in his eating and drinking, but what he had he always loved to have of the best: that he seldom went abroad in the latter part of his life, but was visited even then by persons of distinction, both foreigners and others: that he kept his daughters at a great distance, and would not allow them to learn to write,which he thought unnecessary for a woman: that her mother was his greatest favourite, and could read in seven or eight languages, though she understood none but English: that her mother inherited his headachs and disorders, and had such a weakness in her eyes, that she was forced to make use of spectacles from the age of eighteen; and she herself, she says, has not been able to read a chapter in the Bible these twenty years: that she was mistaken in informing Mr. Birch, which he had printed upon her authority, that Milton's father was born in France; and a brother of hers who was then living was very angry with her for it, and, like a true born Englishman, resented it highly, that the family should be thought to bear any relation to France: that Milton's second wife did not die in childbed, as Mr. Philips and Toland relate, but above three months after of a consumption; and this too Mr. Birch relates upon her authority; but in this particular she must be mistaken, as well as in the other, for our author's sonnet on his deceased wife plainly implies that she did die in childbed. She knows nothing of her aunt Philips or Agar's descendants, but believes that they are all extinct: as is likewise Sir Christopher Milton's family, the last of which, she says, were two maiden sisters, Mrs. Mary and Mrs. Catharine Milton, who lived and died at Highgate; but unknown to her there is a Mrs. Milton living in Grosvenor-street, the grand-daughter of Sir Christopher, and the daughter of Mr. Thomas Milton before mentioned: and she herself is the

tise on the Game of Whist, after having disposed of all the first impression, sold the copy to the bookseller, as I have been informed, for two hundred guineas.

As we have had occasion to mention more than once Milton's manuscripts preserved in the library of Trinity College in Cambridge, it may not be ungrateful to the reader, if we give a more particular account of them, before we conclude. There are, as we said, two draughts of a letter to a friend who had importuned him to take orders, together with a sonnet on his being arrived to the age of twenty-three; and by there being two draughts of this letter with several alterations and additions, it appears to have been written with great care and deliberation; and both the draughts have been published by Mr. Birch in his Historical and Critical Account of the life and writings of Milton. There are also several of his poems, Arcades, At a solemn music, On time, Upon the circumcision, the Mask, Lycidas, with five or six of his sonnets, all in his own hand writing: and there are some others of his sonnets written by different hands, being most of them composed after he had lost his sight. It is curious to see the first thoughts and subsequent corrections of so great a poet as Milton: but it is remarkable in these manuscript poems, that he does not often make his stops, or begin his lines with great letters. There are likewise in his own hand-writing different plans of Paradise Lost in the form of a tragedy: and it is an agreeable amusement to trace the gradual progress and improvement of such a work from its first dawnings in the plan of a tragedy to its full lustre in an epic poem. And together with the plans of Paradise Lost there are the plans or subjects of several other intended tragedies, some taken from

the Scripture, others from the British or Scottish

only survivor of Milton's own family, unless there histories; and of the latter the last mentioned is be some in the East Indies, which she very much Macbeth, as if is he had an inclination to try his questions, for she used to hear from them some-strength with Shakspeare; and to reduce the play times, but has heard nothing now for several years; more to the unities he proposes, “beginning at the so that, in all probability, Milton's whole family arrival of Malcolm at Macduff; the matter of will be extinct with her, and he can live only in Duncan may be expressed by the appearing of his his writings. And such is the caprice of fortune, 'ghost.” These manuscripts of Milton were found this grand-daughter of a man, who will be an ever-by the learned Mr. Professor Mason among some lasting glory to the nation, has now for some years other old papers, which, he says, belonged to Sir with her husband kept a little chandler's or gro- Henry Newton Puckering, who was a consideracer's shop for their subsistence, lately at the lower ble benefactor to the library: and for the better Holloway, in the road between Highgate and preservation of such truly valuable relics, they were London, and at present in Cock Lane, not far collected together, and handsomely bound in a thin from Shoreditch Church. Another thing let me folio by the care and at the charge of a person, mention, that is equally to the honour of the pre- who is now very eminent in his profession, and sent age. Though Milton received not above ten was always a lover of the Muses, and at that time pounds, at two different payments, for the copy of a fellow of Trinity College, Mr. Clarke, one of his Paradise Lost, yet Mr. Hoyle, author of the trea- Majesty's council.

« PreviousContinue »