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FROM a family and town of his name in Oxfordshire, our au thor derived his descent: but he was born at London, in the year 1608. His father, John Milton, by profession a scrivener, lived in a reputable manner on a competent estate, entirely his own acquisition, having been early disinherited by his parents for renouncing the communion of the church of Rome, to which they were zealously devoted.
Our author was the favourite of his father's hopes, who, to cultivate the great genius which early displayed itself, was at the expense of a domestic tutor, whose care and capacity his pupil hath gratefully celebrated in an excellent Latin elegy. At his initiation he is said to have applied himself to letters with such indefatigable industry, that he rarely was prevailed upon to quit his studies before midnight; which not only made him frequently subject to severe pains in his head, but likewise occasioned that weakness in his eyes, which terminated in a total privation of sight. From a domestic education he was removed to St. Paul's school, to complete his acquaintance with the classics, under the care Dr. Gill; and, after a short stay there, was transplanted to Christ's College, in Cambridge, where he distinguished himself in all kinds of academical exercises. Of this society he continued a member till he commenced master of arts; and then, leaving the university, he returned to his father, who had quitted the town, and lived at Horton, in Buckinghamshire, where he pursued his studies with unparalleled assiduity and success.
After some years spent in this studious retirement, his mothe died, and then he prevailed with his father to gratify an inclination
he had long entertained of seeing foreign countries. Sir Henry Wotton, at that time provost of Eton College, gave him a letter of advice for the direction of his travels. Having employed his ca riosity about two years in France and Italy, on the news of a civil war breaking out in England, he returned, without taking a sur vey of Greece and Sicily, as at his setting out the scheme was projected. At Paris the lord viscount Scudamore, ambassador from king Charles I, at the court of France, introduced him to the acquaintance of Grotius, who at that time was honoured with the same character there by Christiana, queen of Sweden. In Rome. Genoa, Florence, and other cities of Italy, he contracted a familiarity with those who were of highest reputation for wit and earning, several of whom gave him very obliging testimonies of their friendship and esteem.
Returning from his travels, he found England on the point of being involved in blood and confusion. He retired to lodgings provided for him in the city; which being commodious for the reception of his sister's sons, and some other young gentlemen, he undertook their education.
In this philosophical course he continued, without a wife till the year 1643, when he married Mary, the daughter of Richard Powell, of Forest-Hill in Oxfordshire, a gentleman of estate and reputation in that county, and of principles so very opposite to his son-in-law, that the marriage is more to be wondered at than the separation which ensued, in little more than a month after she had cohabited with him in London. Her desertion provoked him both to write several treatises concerning the doctrine and discipline of divorce, and also to pay his addresses to a young lady of great wit and beauty; but, before he had engaged her affections to conclude the marriage treaty, in a visit at one of his relations, he found his wife prostrate before him, imploring forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not to be doubted but an interview of that nature, so little expected, must wonderfully affect him; and perhaps the impressions it made on his imagination, contributed much to the painting of that pathetic scene in Paradise Lost,* in which Eve addresseth herself to Adam for pardon and peace. At the intercession of his friends who were present, after a short reluctance, he generously sacrificed all his resentment to her tears:
soon his heart relented
Towards her, his life so late and sole delight
And after this reunion, so far was he from retaining any unkind memory of the provocations which he had received from her i!! conduct, that when the king's cause was entirely suppressed, and her father, who had been active in his loyalty, was exposed to se.
Book x, page 171
questration, Milton received both him and his family to protection, and free entertainment, in his own house, till their affairs were accommodated by his interest in the victorious faction.
A commission to constitute him adjutant general to sir William Waller was promised, but soon superceded, by Waller's being laid aside, when his masters thought it proper to new model their army However, the keenness of his pen had so effectually recommended him to Cromwell's esteem, that, when he took the reins of gov ernment into his own hand, he advanced him to be Latin secretary, both to himself and the parliament; the former of these preferments he enjoyed both under the usurper and his son, the other until king Charles II was restored. For some time he had
an apartment for his family at Whitehall: but his health requir ing a freer accession of air, he was obliged to remove from thence to lodgings which opened into St. James' Park. Not long after his settlement there, his wife died in childbed; and much about the time of her death, a guttaserena, which had for several years been gradually increasing, totally extinguished his sight. In this melancholy condition, he was easily prevailed with to think of taking another wife, who was Catharine, the daughter of captain Wood cock, of Hackney; and she too, in less than a year after their marriage, died in the same unfortunate manner as the former had done; and in his twenty-third sonnet he does honour to he memory.
Being a second time a widower, he employed his friend Dr. Paget to make choice of a third consort, on whose recommendation he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Mr. Minshul, a Cheshire gentleman, by whom he had no issue. Three daughters, by his first wife, were then living; the two elder of whom are said to have been very serviceable to him in his studies; for having been instructed to pronounce not only the modern, but also the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, they read in their respective origi nals, whatever authors he wanted to consult, though they understood none but their mother tongue.
We come now to take a survey of him in that point of view, in which he will be looked upon by all succeeding ages with equal delight and admiration. An interval of about twenty years had lapsed since he wrote the Mask of Comus, L' Allegro, 11 Pense roso, and Lycidas, all in such an exquisite strain, that though he had left no other monuments of his genius behind him, his name had been immortal; but neither the infirmities of age and constitution, nor the vicissitudes of fortune, could depress the vigour of his mind, or divert it from executing a design he had long conceived of writing an heroic poem.* The fall of man was a subject that he had some years before fixed on for a tragedy, which he intended to form by the models of antiquity; and some, not without probability ay, the play opened with that speech in the fourth book of Pari
* Paradise Lost, Book IX, page 213
dise Lost, 1. 32, which is addressed by satan to the sun Were it material, I believe I could produce other passages, which more plainly appear to have been originally intended for the scene: but whatever truth there may be in this report, it is certain, that he did not begin to mould his subject, in the form which it bears now, before he had concluded his controversy with Salmasius, and More, when he had wholly lost the use of his eyes, and was forced to employ, in the office of an amanuensis, any friend who acciden tally paid him a visit. Yet under all these discouragements, and various interruptions, in the year 1669, he published his Paradise Lost, the noblest poem (next to those of Homer and Virgil) that ever the wit of man produced in any age or nation. Need I mention any other evidence of its inestimable worth, than that the finest geniuses who have succeeded him, have ever esteemed it a merit, to relish and illustrate its beauties?
And now, perhaps, it may pass for a fiction, what with great veracity 1 affirm to be fact, that Milton, after having with much difficulty prevailed to have this divine poem licensed for the press, could sell the copy for no more than fifteen pounds: the payment of which valuable consideration depended upon the sale of three numerous impressions. So unreasonably may personal prejudice affect the most excellent performances!
About two years after, he published Paradise Regained; but Oh, what a falling off was there!of which I will say no more, than that there is scarcely a more remarkable instance of the frailty of human reason than our author gave, in preferring this poem to Paradise Lost.
And thus having attended him to the sixty-sixth year of his age, as closely as such imperfect lights as men of letters and retirement usually leave to guide our inquiry would allow, it now only remains to be recorded, that, in the year 1674, the gout put a period to his life, at Bunhill, near London; from whence his body was conveyed to St. Giles' church, by Cripplegate, where it lies interred in the chancel, and a neat monument has lately been erected to perpetuate his memory.
In his youth he is said to have been extremely handsome; the colour of his hair was a light brown, the symmetry of his features exact, enlivened with an agreeable air, and a beautiful mixture of fair and ruddy. His stature, (as we find it measured by himself) did not exceed the middle size, neither too lean nor corpulent; his limbs well proportioned, nervous and active, serviceable in all re spects to his exercising the sword, in which he much delighted and wanted neither skill nor courage to resent an affront from men of the most athletic constitutions. In his diet he was abstemious not delicate in the choice of his dishes; and strong liquors of al. kinds were his aversion. His deportment was erect, open, affable; his conversation easy, cheerful, instructive; his wit on all occasions at command, facetious, grave, or satirical, as the subject required. His judgment, when disengaged from religious and political specu lations, was just and penetrating, his apprehension quick, his me
mory tenacious of what he read, his reading only not so extensive as his genius, for that was universal. And having treasured up such immense store of science, perhaps the faculties of his soul grew more vigorous after he was deprived of sight: and his imagination, (naturally sublime and enlarged by reading romances, of which he was much enamoured in his youth,) when it was wholly abstracted from material objects, was more at liberty to make suc amazing excursions into the ideal world, when in composing hi divine work he was tempted to range,
Beyond the visible diurnal sphere.
With so many accomplishments, not to have had some faults and nisfortunes to be laid in the balance, with the fame and felicity of writing Paradise Lost, would have been too great a portion for aumanity.