Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors]



Quem tu, Dea, tenupore in omni
Omnibus ornatum voluisti excellere rebus. LUCR.

The author of the “ Defence of the People
of England” and of the “ Paradise Lost,” has
engaged too much of the attention of his spe-
cies not to invite their curiosity to the cir-
cumstances of his life, and the peculiarities
of his character. His biographers have been
numerous; and every source of information,
respecting him, has been explored with a de-
gree of solicitous minuteness, which bears
honourable testimony to the impression of his
importance. Unfortunately, however, the
part, which the great Milton acted on the
political theatre of his calamitous times,
has exposed him to the malignity of party,
and this pest, that neither dies nor sleeps-m.

[ocr errors]

Dec dulci declinat lumina somno,

has been ever watchful to diminish the pride

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of his triumph; and to obscure that glory, which it could not extinguish.

MA During the immediate agitation of the political conflict, while interest is directly affected, passion will necessarily be excited; illa and the weapons of passion are seldom delicately fashioned, or scrupulously employed. When the good or the great, therefore, are exposed to falsehood by contemporary malignity, and are held up, with questioned vir

inte tues and imputed vices, to the execration, instead of the applause of their species, we acknowledge the cause of the fact in the cora ruption of man, and it forms the subj of our regret rather than of our surprise. But when, after a lapse of years sufficient to

. obliterate the very deepest trace of temporary interest, we observe the activity of pas, sion stagnating into the sullenness of rancour; and see these heroes of our race subjected to the same injuriousness of malice, which they had suffered from their personal adversaries, we stare at the consequence of unexpected depravity, and are astonished in as great a degree as we are afflicted.

This remark is immediately to our present purpose; for this generation has witnessed an attempt on the character of our great writer, which would have done credit to the


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

virulence of his own age. We have seen a
new Salmasius, unimpelled by those motives
which actuated the hireling of Charles, re-
vive in Johnson; and have beheld the virtu-
ous and the amiable, the firm and the con-
sistent Milton, who appears to have acted,
from the opening to the close of his life,-

“ As ever in his great Taskmaster's eye,"

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

exhibited in the disguise of a morose and a
malevolent being;—of a man impatient him-
self of the social subordination, yet oppressive
to those within his power; of a wretch, in

utórt, who from pride, austerity, and pru-
dence, was at once a rebel, a tyrant, and a
sycophant. This atrocious libel has long since
reflected discredit on no one but its author;
and its falsehood has been so clearly demon-
strated by many able pens, and particularly
by those of Blackburne' and of Hayley, that
a new biographer of Milton might well be ex-
cused from honouring it with his notice. But
regard to the cause of morals, and the best
interests of man, seems to justify that indigo
nation, which would brand, again and again,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

. Francis Blackburne, Archdeacon of Cleveland, author of the Confessional. He published, without his name, in 1780, very able and acute remarks on Johnson's Life of Milton.

Hayley's Life of Milton.


the hand lifted in violation of the illustrious dead. The dead, indeed, are at rest from their labours, and, far from the reach of human malice, are in possession of their reward; but it is discouraging to the weakness of the living, and is consequently calculated to diminish the incentives to virtuous exertion, when it is perceived that no endowments of nature, no accumulations of knowledge, no just and sacred appropriation of talents can secure the distinguished mortal from those insults of posthumous calumny, which may bring him from the eminence that he has gained, and may level him with the vulgar of the earth.

Though few, if any, immediate references will be made in the following work to the modern biographers of Milton, to many of them the author must necessarily have contracted important obligations; of some of which he is conscious, thougii of others he may be ignorant. He takes therefore this opportunity of making a general acknowledgment to those who have preceded him on his subject, and particularly to the accurate Dr. Birch, and the liberal Mr. Hayley. More solicitous to avoid the charge of

• Toland's Life of Milton is an able and spirited work. Whate ever may be the demerits of this author in some essential re

« PreviousContinue »