« PreviousContinue »
heart, and singleness of purpose, what his conscience dictates, his courage proclaims. Impetuous, fearless, and uncompromising, he pushes on his inquiries, till they end in a defence of the death of the monarch, and the substitution of a visionary republic, in politics; in a denial of the eternal existence of the Son, in theology; and in the defence of a plurality of wives, in morals. Yet it must be remembered, that he lived in an age when men were busy pulling down and building up; a fermentation was spreading over the surface, and dissolving the materials of society. Old faith was gone; old institutions were crumbling away. Long, splendid vistas of ideal perfection opened before men's eyes, dazzling their senses and confounding their judgments.72 Gray-headed men, men grown old in the business of life, and in the pursuit of practical wisdom, yielded to the siren influence. It pervaded the senate, the city, and the camp. What wonder then, if the Poet, the visionary by his profession, the dreaming theorist, the man dwelling in ideal worlds and abstract notions, should be led astray?
Such are some of the singular opinions advanced in this curious and late-discovered document of Milton's faith.73 They serve to show us that its author is every where the same; the same severe and uncompromising investigator of truth, the same fearless and independent judge of its reality; in the honesty of his opinions uninfluenced, in the sanctity of his morals unblemished, in the fervour of his piety unquestioned. But there was, both in his political and religious opinions, a visionary attempt at perfection, a grasping after the ideal and the abstract, a lofty aspiration after the most exalted means, that, while
72 See the Areopagitica, p. 317, ed. Burnet. 'Behold now this vast city, &c. There be pens and heads there sitting by their studious lamps; musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas wherewith to present, as with their homage and fealty, the approaching reformation; others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement,' &c.
73 It has been more than once remarked, that little mention is made of Milton by his contemporaries. His name does not occur in the pages of Clarendon. Thurloe speaks of him only as a blind old man, who wrote Latin letters. Sir W. Temple does not name him, and R. Baxter passes over him in silence. Whitelocke mentions him only once, and that casually.
they supplied his imagination as a poet, in its boldest and most extended flights, unqualified him for the more cautious and practical character of the theologian and the statesman. In Milton was united for the first and perhaps for the last time, the imagination of the poet and the belief of the Puritan: of materials so opposite was his exalted character composed; yet both were perhaps equally necessary for the erection of the costly fabric of his fame. Had he not been a poet, he would not have been distinguished above other men of like persuasion with himself; men of vigorous minds and unquestioned integrity, the Vanes, the Sydneys, the Fleetwoods of the age. As a scholar, perhaps, he would have still stood eminently distinguished and alone; but Harrington excelled him in political wisdom, and Hall and other prelates in theological learning. Had he not been imbued with the austere feelings, the solemn and severe religion of the Puritans, we should indeed still have possessed from his genius creations of surpassing beauty; but they would have been altogether of a different kind. We should have had the enchantments of Comus, the sounds of revelry, and Circe's cup; but we should have wanted the songs of a higher mood, the voice of woe, the sorrows and the pride of the Hebrew captive. We should not have been carried back, as it were by vision, into the dark and austere learning of the Sanhedrim, and had the teraphim, and the ephod, pall and mitre, and “the old Flamen's vestry" brought before our eyes. We should still have possessed the noblest Epic of modern days, but its argument would not have been the talk of angels, the sullen despair, or the haughty resolves of rebellious spirits, the contrition of fallen man, or the decrees of eternal wisdom. We should have had tales of chivalrous emprize, 'of gentle knights that pricked along the plain,' the cruelty of inexorable beauty, and the achievements of unconquerable love. Its scenes would not have been laid in the bowers of paradise, or by the thunderous throne' of heaven, nor where the wings of the cherubim fan the mercy-seat; but amid royal halls, in the palaces of magicians, and islands of enchantment. Instead of the serpent, with hairy
mane, and eye of carbuncle, gliding among the myrtle thickets of Eden, we should have jousts and tournaments, the streaming of gonfalons, the glitter of dancing plumes, the wailing of barbaric trumpets, and the sound of silver clarions; battles fiercer than that of Fontarabia, and fields more gorgeous than that of the cloth of gold. What crowds of pilgrims and of palmers should we not have beheld journeying to and fro with shell, and staff of ivory, filling the port of Joppa with their gallies? What youthful warriors, the flowers of British chivalry, should we not have seen caparisoned, and in quest of the holy Sangreal? The world of reality, and the world of vision, would have been equally exhausted to supply the materials. The odors would have been wafted from the "weeping woods" of Araby: the dazzling mirrors would have been of solid diamond: and the flowers would have been amaranths, from the Land of Faery. Every warrior would have been clothed in pyropus and in adamant. We should have watched in battle not the celestial sword of Michael, but the enchanted Caliburn; we should have had not the sorrows of Eve, and the fall of Adam, but the loves of Angelica, or the exploits of Arthur.
MILTON Confines himself to praise of the fellows, but he makes not the slightest mention of the Master, Doctor Bainbridge, who is recorded to have been a most rigid disciplinarian, and that on those very points which Milton particularly disliked. He admits that his disposition could not brook the threats of a rigorous master, by whom it is most reasonable to suppose he meant Dr. Bainbridge, the head of his college. Walker's Lit. Anecdotes, p. 202.
P. xxvii. Gaddius (de Scriptoribus non Ecclesiasticis) mentions that 1. Scaliger read the two poems of Homer in twenty-one days; and the remainder of the Greek poets in four months.
P. xxxii. That the manner and genius of that place (Paris) being not agreeable to his mind, he soon left it.' Wood's Fast. Ox. vol. ii. 1635, col.
P. xxxiii. Leo Holsten, who received Milton kindly at Rome, had resided some time in England, making researches in the libraries. He maintained a friendly correspondence with N. Heinsius, to whom he had shown much civility when Heinsius was at Rome. I read through the collection of Holsten's letters, with the hope of finding some addressed to Milton, but in vain; Milton did not maintain a correspondence with the scholars on the continent.
P. xxxv. I have heard it confidently related, that for his said resolutions, which out of policy and for his own safety might have been then spared, the English priests at Rome were highly disgusted, and it was questioned whether the Jesuits, his countrymen there, did not design to do him mischief. Wood's Ath. Ox. vol. ii. col. 481.
P. xxxviii. Took a larger house, where the earl of Barrimore sent, by his aunt the lady Ranelagh, Sir Thomas Gardiner of Essex, to be there with others (besides his nephew) under his tuition; but whether it were that the tempers of our gentry would not bear the strictness of his discipline, or for what other reasons I cannot tell, he continued that course but a while. Wood's Ath. Ox. vol. ii. col. 483.
P. xlv. Wherefore though he sent divers pressing invitations, yet he could not prevail with her to come back, till about four years after, when the garrison of Oxford was surrendered (the nighness of her father's house
to which having for the most part of the mean time hindered any communications between them); she of her own accord returned, and submitted to him, pleading that her mother had been the chief promoter of her forwardness. Wood's Ath. Ox. vol. ii. col. 481.
P. lv. Bishop Gauden addressed three letters, Jan. 25, Feb. 20, March 6, 1661, to Lord Clarendon, in which he lays claim for services in the royal cause: in one of his letters he says, 'Nor do I doubt but I shall, by y Lordship's favor, find the fruits as to something extraordinary, since the service was soe; not as to what was known to the world under my name, in order to vindicate the crowne and the church, but what goes under the late blessed king's name, the Eizov, or portraiture of hys majesty in hys solitudes and sufferings. This book and figure was wholly and only my invention, making and designe; in order to vindicate the King's wisdome, honor, and piety. My wife indeed was conscious to it, and had an hand in Disguising the letters of that Copy which I sent to the King in the Isle of Wight, by favour of the late Marquise of Hertford,' &c. In answer to which, Lord Clarendon writes, March 13, 1661, I do assure you am more afflicted with you, and for you, than I can expresse; and the more sensibly, that it is the only charge of that kind is laid upon me, which in truth I do not think I do deserve. The particular which you often renewed, I do confesse was imparted to me under secrecy, and of which I did not take myself to be at liberty to take notice; and truly when it ceases to be a secret, I know nobody will be gladd of it but Mr. Milton; I have very often wished I had never been trusted with it.' Edinb, Rev. vol. xliv.
P. lix. It was the usual practice of Marchmont Nedham, a great crony of Milton, to abuse Salmasius in his public Mercury, called Politicus (as Milton had done before him in his Defensio), by saying, among other things, that Christiana, Queen of Sweden, had cashiered him her favour, by understanding that he was a pernicious parasite and promoter of tyranny. Wood's Ath. Ox. vol. ii. col. 484.
P. lxviii. Mrs. Katharine Milton, wife to John Milton, Esq. was buried in St. Margaret's Church, in Westminster, Feb. 10, 1657. Reg. Book. Milton then lived in a new house in Petty France, when Mr. Harvey, son of Dr. Harvey, of Petty France, Westminster, told me, Nov. 14, 1770, that old Mr. Lownde assured him, that when Mr. Milton buried his wife, he had the coffin shut down with twelve several locks, that had twelve several keys, and that he gave the keys to twelve several friends, and desired the coffin might not be opened till they all met together. Kennet. Wood's Ath. Ox. vol. ii. col. 486.
P. lxviii. The late Reverend Mr. Thomas Bradbury, an eminent dissenting minister, used to say, that Jer. White, who had been chaplain to O. Cromwell, and whom he personally knew, had often told him that