« PreviousContinue »
CHARLES LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER,
ON HIS PUBLICATION OF
MILTON DE DOCTRINA CHRISTIANA.
As one whose footsteps by some ancient stream,
Of time forgotten, sculptur'd trunk or urn,
Waketh, nor hasteneth onward, till he learn,
Benhall, Nov. 1831.
1 See Miltoni Eleg. in Obitum Præs. Wintoniensis.
ON being requested to compose a brief Memoir of the Life of Milton, adapted to the edition to which it was to be attached, I naturally searched for information among the former biographers of the Poet.
Though the present Life is too contracted in its plan, and, perhaps, too slender in its materials, to pretend to rank among the laboured and established biographies of Milton, yet I must observe that in the arrangement of the subject, in the opinions delivered, or the inferences drawn, it is dependent on none that has preceded it. I have consulted all the former writers for information, without copying them; and I have attended respectfully to their reasoning, without servilely adhering to it. After being indebted to them for the necessary facts, and for occasional expressions, the remainder of the narrative has been the result of my own inquiries, and formed from the conclusions of my own judgment. To the poetry of Milton from my earliest youth down to the commencing autumn of my life, I have ever looked with a reverence and love not easily to be surpassed; for the sentiments adopted and avowed by him on the great and complicated questions of civil liberty and political rights, I have, as becomes my situation, and is suitable to the habits of my mind, expressed myself with that temperance of opinion and
moderation of language, which can alone expect to conciliate attention, or to command respect.
The account of Milton by his nephew Edward Philips,1 though less copious and instructive than might be expected, is interesting and valuable. It supplies us with many facts respecting the Poet's manner of life, his circumstances, and opinions. It was written by a person who had been educated in his youth by Milton, who had subsequently lived in habits of daily intimacy with him, and to whom Milton had mentioned many facts relating to himself.
The biography by Toland was composed not many years after the death of the Poet; and he enriched his materials with communications from members of Milton's family. The book is written in a grave and manly style, with high admiration of its subject; and it abounds with judicious reflections on the events of the time. This work, together with those of Philips and of Wood, has formed the basis of all the subsequent biography.
Next, I believe, in order of time, appeared the life written. by the elder Richardson, the painter. He was an ingenious, inquisitive, and amiable man, but a singularly quaint and man
1 E. Philips mentioned Milton's name in his Theatrum Poetarum, 1675. An. Wood, in 1691, gave an account of Milton in his Fast. Oxon. for A. D. 1635, part. i. fol. 480, ed. Bliss. Langbaine also gave some mention of him in 1691. The Life of Milton in the Biographia Britannica, (A. D. 1760,) was by Dr. Nicholls.
2 'I heard some particulars,' says Toland, 'from a person that had been once his amanuensis, which were confirmed to me by his daughter, now dwelling in London, and by a letter written to me at my desire by his last wife, who is still alive. I perused the papers of one of his nephews, learned what I could in discourse with the other, and lastly consulted such of his acquaintance as, after the best inquiry, I was able to discover.' Life, p. 9. Toland's Life was published in 1698 with Milton's prose works; separately in 1699; and by Mr. T. Hollis in 1761.
nered writer. To him we are indebted for some further particulars of the Poet's life, for the most part gathered from the communications of Pope, or from the descendants of Milton's family.
Doctor Birch, who was remarkable for his industrious and indefatigable researches, added considerably to the amount of our information; and he first gratified the curiosity of the learned by an account of the manuscripts of Milton existing at Cambridge, and by transcripts of the variations which they exhibited from the established text.
Johnson's biographical memoir, and the criticism attached to it, have excited so much discussion, and have been met by such variety of judgments, that I shall content myself with observing, that the character and the opinion of the Poet and the Biographer were, in many important points, extremely dissimilar; that a violent tory and high churchman undertook to write the life of a republican and a puritan; that a man, remarkable for his practical wisdom, his strong sense, and his rational philosophy, delivered his judgments on the writings of one, distinguished for his high imagination, his poetical feeling, his speculative politics, and his visionary theology. Johnson came, it must be owned, with strong prejudice and much dislike to his subject; and nothing perhaps saved Milton from deeper censure1 but his biographer's conviction of his sincerity,
3 The variations in the Cambridge MSS. were imperfectly and incorrectly printed by Dr. Birch, and were given by T. Warton from a more minute and careful examination of the manuscript. See his edition of Milton's Poems (2nd ed.), p. 578. A very few have escaped even him. Peck's new Life of Milton was published in 1740: an abstract of its contents will be seen in a note in this Life, p. xxx.
4 Cowper, in his Letters (second series, vol. i. p. 316-319), says, 'His criticisms on Milton and Prior are the two capital instances in which he has offended me.'-I have
his admiration of his learning, and his reverence for his piety. Had Johnson lived in the Poet's days, he would have stood by the side of Salmasius in the field of controversy, and opposed Milton on every question connected with the interests of society, the existence of the monarchy, and the preservation of the church. Johnson would have acknowledged no government that was not dependent on the throne, and he would have reverenced no ecclesiastical institution that was not united to a hierarchy. It would be curious to guess what his expression would have been, had he lived to read the defence of Polygamy, the denial of the eternal generation of the Son, the inferiority of the Holy Spirit, and the open avowal of Arianism. Bolt Court would have grown darker at his frown, as he directed the thunder of his wrath against an impracticable philosophy he would have despised, and an erratic theology he would have detested.
To disarm the severity of this criticism, and to represent in fairer lights and with softer colours those circumstances which had excited the indignation of the critic, seems to have been the chief purpose5 for which Mr. Hayley's Life was written. I cannot say much that is favourable to its execution; but we are indebted to him for first calling the attention of the learned to that singular Italian drama,6 the Adamo of Andreini, and
seen the copy of Johnson's Life of Milton which Cowper used, and have read his marginal observations, in which he has strongly expressed his opinion of the incorrectness of Johnson's reasoning, and the injustice of his criticism. If I rightly recollect, he left off, disgusted with the work, before he had read the half of it.
5 Hayley is called by Mr. Todd, the affectionate biographer; but temperance and impartiality are the qualities required when the subject of the biography has become a matter of history.
6 I much question whether Milton ever read the numerous obscure Italian poems, VOL. I.