Page images

It is owing to a fuller detail of the emotions which may be supposed to agitate a great and virtuous mind from such an awful visitation, that we enter with a deeper sense of fellow feeling and commiseration into the fate and fortunes of Ossian. Yet pathetic as are the frequent allusions which the Bard of the Highlands has made to his loss of sight, they are faint and evanescent in their impression on the mind, when compared with the effect which has resulted from the history of a similar infliction in the person of our divine MILTON.

The privation which has for ever associated the memory of Homer and Ossian with sentiments of pity and endearment, appears to have fallen upon them in the decline of life, and as one of the numerous infirmities of old age; an infliction, it is true, at all times, severe and distressing, but when, as in the case of Milton, it occurs in the very vigour of life, more peculiarly does it render the sufferer an object of interest and attention.

But this circumstance, important as it is, is by no means the most distinguishing feature in the history of Milton's blindness; it is to the

very striking fact, that he voluntarily sacrificed his eye-sight to his sense of duty, that we owe much of that deep admiration mingled with love and compassion which now accompanies the memory of this sublime poet.

It was about the year 1644, as we learn from his letter to Leonard Philaras, and when he was but thirty-six years of age, that his sight first became weak and dim, occasioned partly by protracting when very young, his studies to a late period of the night, and partly by the frequent recurrence of head-ache. He had lost nearly the use of the left eye, and experienced considerable weakness in the other, when, in 1649, he was called upon by the Government of England to reply to the Defensio Regia of Salmasius, a task from which, though forewarned that the utter extinction of his eyes would be the result of the undertaking, his patriotism and sense of duty would not suffer him to shrink. Nothing can, indeed, exceed the magnanimity and self-devotedness with which, notwithstanding the prediction of his medical friends, he entered upon his difficult and dangerous labour; and, when subsequently

his enemies reproached him with his blindness as a judgment from heaven, nothing perhaps in mere human composition can surpass the moral grandeur of his defence.* "When," says he,

* « Cum datum mihi publicé esset illud in defensionem regiam negotium, eodemque tempore et adversâ simul valetudine, et oculo jam pené altero amisso, conflictarer, prædicerentque diserté medici, si hunc laborem suscepissem, fore ut utrumque brevì amitterem, nihil istâ præmonitione deterritus, non medici, nè Æsculapii quidem Epidaurii ex adyto vocem, sed divinioris cujusdam intus monitoris viderer mihi audire; duasque sortes, fatali quodem natu, jam mihi propositas, hinc cœcitatem inde officium; aut oculorum jactaram necessariò faciendam, aut summum officium deserendum: occurrebantque animo bina illa fata, quæ retulisse Delphis consulentem de se matrem narrat Thetidis filius.

Διχθαδίας κῆρας φερεμεν θανάτοιο τελοσδε.
Εἰ μὲν κ ̓ αὖθι μενων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
Ωλετο μὲν μοι νόστος ἀταρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται.
Εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ ἴκωμαι φίλὴν ἐς πατριδα γαῖαν,
Ωλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν ἐπὶ δηρὸν δὲ μοι αιὼν

"Unde sic mecum rebutabam, multos graviore malo minus bonum, morte gloriam, redemisse; mihi contrà majus bonum minore cum malo proponi: ut possem cum cocitate solâ vel honestissimum officii munus implere; quod ut ipsa gloria per se est solidius, ita cuique optatius atque antiquius debet esse. Hac igitur tam brevi luminum usurâ, quantâ maximâ quivi cum utilitate publicâ, quoad liceret, fruendum esse statui. Videtis quid prætulerim, quid amisserim, quâ inductus ratione : desinant ergò judiciorum Dei calumniatores maledicere, deque

"the office of replying to the Royal Defence' was publicly assigned to me, though I had to struggle with ill health, and having already lost nearly one of my eyes, was expressly forewarned by my physicians that, if I undertook the laborious work in question, I should soon be deprived of both; undeterred by the warning, I seemed to hear the voice, not of a physician, or from the shrine of Esculapius at Epidaurus, but of an internal and more divine monitor: and conceiving that by some decree of the fates, the alternative of two lots was proposed to me, either to lose my sight or to desert a high duty, I remembered the twin destinies, which the son of Thetis informs us his mother brought back to him from the oracle of Delphi :

me somnia sibi fingere: sic deneque habento; me sortis meæ neque pigere neque pœnitere; immotum atque fixum in sententiâ perstare; Deum iratum neque sentire, neque habere, immò maximis in rebus clementiam ejus et benignitatem erga me paternam experiri atque agnoscere; in hoc præsertim, quod solante ipso atque animum confirmante in ejus divina voluntate acquiescam; quid is largitus mihi sit quàm quid negaverit sæpius cogitans; postremo nolle me cum suo quovis rectissime facto, facti mei conscientiam permutare, aut recor dationem ejus gratam mihi semper atque tranquillam deponere." Prose Works, Symmons' Edition, vol. v. p. 216.

"As the goddess spake, who gave me birth,

Two fates attend me whilst I live on earth.

If fix'd I combat by the Trojan wall,
Deathless my fame, but certain is my fall;
If I return, beneath my native sky
My days shall flourish long, my glory die."

"Reflecting therefore with myself, that many had purchased less good with greater evil, and had even paid life as the price of glory, while to me, the greater good was offered at the expense of the less evil, and an opportunity furnished, simply by incurring blindness, of satisfying the demand of the most honourable duty; a result more substantial, and therefore what ought to be by every one considered as more satisfactory and more eligible than glory itself. I determined to dedicate the brief enjoyment of my eye-sight, so long as it might be spared me, with as much effect as I could to the public service. You see then what I preferred, what I sacrificed, and what were my motives. Let these slanderers of the divine judgments, therefore, desist from their calumnies, nor any longer make me the subject of their visionary fantasies; let them learn, in fine,

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »