Imágenes de páginas

of Master of Arts: that he then retired to his father's house, and left behind him a memory which was cherished with affection and respect by the greater part of the fellows of his college, who had always been assiduous in cultivating his regard.

I have referred to the general conduct of the university at this time as offensive to Milton's moral tastes. In stating this dislike he specially observes upon the practice of acting plays, on the part of those who had entered, or were about to enter upon the duties of the Christian ministry;" writhing and unboning their clergy limbs to all the antick and dishonest gestures of Trincolos, buffoons, and bawds, prostituting the shame of that ministry which they had, or were near having, to the eyes of courtiers and court ladies, their grooms and mademoiselles.” This passage affords Dr. Johnson an opportunity of gratifying his splenetic prejudice in the treatise which, with much respect for that extraordinary man, I can only characterize as his infamous life of Milton. After noticing the pleasure which Milton states that he had enjoyed in early life from theatrical entertainments, Dr. Johnson closes his remarks with the following sneer : “ Plays were therefore only criminal when they were acted by academics.” It is scarcely necessary to point out the disingenuous sophism into which Johnson's bigotry here betrayed him. It was not the circumstance that the plays were acted by academics that offended Milton's sense of propriety, but that they were acted by men ostensibly devoted to the ministry of the gospel. If Dr. Johnson was unable to recognize this distinction, he is to be pitied; but it is hard to conceive that such language should have been written by a man who thoroughly appreciated the licentiousness of the stage in the time of the Stuarts, and who in a later and a purer day, was withheld confessedly by moral considerations from meeting his friend Garrick in the green-room.

That Milton quitted the university without gaining a fel. lowship, or taking orders, is also the subject of Dr. Johnson's

animadversion. “ He went to the university," says the Doctor, “ with a design of entering into the Church, but in time altered his mind." The more correct statement would be, that his father desired that the great intellectual powers, of which he gave early promise, should be thus devoted; and it is easy to conceive that the deep religious sentiments of the youth were favourable to this design. But whatever may have been his tendencies at the early age at which he entered the university, more mature reflection induced him to abandon all intention of becoming a clergyman. For this he gives us his own motives in his Treatise entitled “ The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy,” in the following words : :-“ The Church, to whose service, by the intentions of my parents and friends I was destined of a child, and in mine own resolutions; till coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded the Church, that he who would take orders must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that would retch, he must either straight perjure or split his faith; I thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing."

It is recorded of Dr. Johnson, that when asked by a lady who was better instructed in such matters, why he had in his Dictionary given, as the meaning of the word “pastern," “ the knee of a horse,” he proudly replied, “ Ignorance, madam, sheer ignorance.” This confession the learned lexicographer could well afford. But it is surprising he should have perilled so great a reputation by publishing the following remarks on this statement of Milton :—“These expressions are, I find, applied to the subscription of the Articles; but it seems more probable that they relate to canonical obedience. I know not any of the Articles which seem to thwart his opinions; but the thoughts of obedience, whether canonical or civil, raised his indignation.”

It is obviously unnecessary to have recourse to the suppo

sition that it was only the canons of the Church of England that he refused to subscribe. It is altogether unsupposable that such a mind should have voluntarily subjected itself to such a yoke. It is sufficiently remarkable that Dr. Johnson should have seen nothing in the Articles which could thwart the maturer judgment of Milton. The 20th, to which we have already adverted, by its denial of the right of private judgment would be sufficient to vitiate the entire code in the view of such a mind as Milton's. It is equally surprising that Dr. Johnson should have forgotten the 37th, on the powers of civil magistrates, which not only asserts the ecclesiastical supremacy of the reigning monarch, but, in immediate connection with this, declares his right to punish 6 with the civil sword the stubborn and evil doers,” thus sanctioning the infliction of pains and penalties for religious faith and practice; a principle which the lofty and generous nature of Milton held in utter detestation. As little justice is there in the remark which follows that “the thought of obedience, whether canonical or civil, raised his indignation.” So far from this, he pays throughout his writings, as he did throughout his life, a devout reverence to the authority of law both human and Divine. But his was a dignified submission. He could discern the distinction between rational obedience and the prostration of the whole nature before a tyranny which strove to lord it alike over the body and the soul. Indeed, an unworthy and disingenuous spirit pervades this performance; and he who would maintain a high opinion of Dr. Johnson's integrity and candour, will do well to avoid his Life of Milton.






On leaving the university, in 1629, he spent five years, probably the happiest of his life, at Horton, in Buckinghamshire, whither his father had retired from business with a competent fortune. In his “Second Defence of the People of England,” having been led, as before observed, by the slanders of his antagonist to a brief recapitulation of the events of his early life, he thus refers to this period of his history :: “ Here (at Cambridge) I passed seven years in the usual course of instruction and study, with the approbation of the good, and without any stain upon my character, till I took the degree of Master of Arts. After this I did not, as this miscreant feigns, run away into Italy, but of my own accord retired to my father's house, whither I was accompanied by the regrets of most of the fellows of the college, who showed me no common marks of friendship and esteem. On my father's estate, where he had determined to pass the remainder of his days, I enjoyed an interval of uninterrupted le re, which I entirely devoted to the perusal of the Greek and Latin classics ; though I occasionally visited the metro

polis, either for the sake of purchasing books, or of learning something new in mathematics or in music, in which I, at that time, found a source of pleasure and amusement. In this manner I spent five years,


mother's death." It is not at all surprising that Milton should have omitted from this narrative the fact that during this interval the most admired of his minor poems were composed. The Comus, which critics unite in designating as the most exquisite dramatic poem which perhaps the genius of man has ever produced, was composed in 1634, when its author was but twenty-five years of age. Lycidas was written in 1637; and there is every reason to believe that the Arcades, L’Allegro, and Il Penseroso were also composed during Milton's residence at Horton. The poem

of Comus is too well known to require description, and certainly nothing need be added to the eulogies with which it has been loaded by the choicest minds of every succeeding generation. The plot of the masque of Comus is said to have been suggested by the circumstance of Lady Alice Egerton, the youthful daughter of the Earl of Bridgwater, having when travelling been accidentally separated from her companions in the night, and having wandered for some time in a forest by herself. It is not often that Dr. Johnson exposes himself to the shafts of ridicule. There is, indeed, too much of him to be the fit object of such light missiles; yet, what other treatment is merited by such an observation as the following in reference to a master-piece of genius, such as the Comus ?—"It was presented at Ludlow, then the residence of the Lord President of Wales, in 1634, and had the honour of being acted by the Earl of Bridgwater's sons and daughters," all of whom the reader should be informed, by the way, were under fourteen

age. That Johnson, in presence of the majesty of Milton, should exhibit this “ falling-down-deadness of manner” before the little boys and girls of an earl, is certainly contemptible enough. Of the poem itself it is

years of

« AnteriorContinuar »