« AnteriorContinuar »
HIS WILL - FAMILY LITERARY PARTIALITIES HIS CHARACTER OF
From his noncupative will (a will not taken down in writing and signed by the testator, but orally delivered before witnesses), lately discovered, some circumstances connected with his domestic affairs, not generally known, have been brought to light. A copy of it was lodged in the Prerogative Court, soon after his death, by his brother, the chief witness, and ran thus :-" The portion due to me from Mr. Powell, my former wife's father, I leave to the unkind children I had by her, having received no part of it. But my meaning is, that they shall have no other benefit of my estate than the said portion, and what I have besides done for them; they having been very undutiful to me. All the residue of my estate I leave to the disposal of Elizabeth, my loving wife.” The portion, it seems, was 1000l. From his brother's testimony, the above declaration was made on or about the 20th of July, 1674. The evidence of his female servant, (Fisher,) in corroboration, went to prove, that on several occasions he declared at dinner, a few months before his death, to his wife, in her hearing, that as she made so much of him when alive, by getting nice things for him, and showing him various other attentions, he would leave her all after his death, as he had already provided for his children, who showed him but little gratitude. The evidence of a former servant (for it seems he kept only one servant—a female) went to show, that his daughter, Mary, expressed to her a wish to hear of his death, and advised her to cheat him in marketing ; and that he often complained that his daughters, who did not live with him for five or six years before his death, stole and sold his best books. It
appears also, from the evidence in the case, that Powell, though in his life-time extravagant, left at his death a competent fortune, and ordered by his will the 10001. to be paid to Milton's children. Milton's will was contested by his daughters, and was pronounced invalid by the judge, Sir Lionel Jenkins, on three grounds1st, there was no rogatio testium, or asking of the witness to note the words spoken at the time by the testator; 2d, they were not the same words sworn to by the several witnesses, and uttered by him at the same time ; 3d, they were not spoken in his last illness.
His sister married Mr. Phillips, who rose to the office of Secondary in the Crown Office in Chancery: after his death, she married Mr. Agar, who succeeded him : her son Milton's pupil, and for a long time secretary. His brother was made a judge in the time of James II. (having, it is said, become a papist,) but retired, and died at Ipswich, leaving two daughters, and a son who succeeded to the offices filled by his aunt's husbands. Milton's daughters, who were taught the trade of embroidery in gold and silver, by which they earned their bread, could read many ancient languages, though they did not understand them. This is not surprising; for it was in accordance with the domestic strictness of those times.
His youngest daughter, Deborah, his amanuensis "for Paradise Lost," was subsequently married to a master weaver, Mr. Clarke, in Spitalfields, and is represented as an intellectual woman.
Her youngest daughter, who was married to a man named Foster, a weaver, in Spitalfields, kept a little chandler's shop in Cock Lane, near Shoreditch Church. Her condition attracted public sympathy; the Queen, Addison, and others, presented her with purses of gold; and, in 1750, the Mask of Comus was acted for her by way of benefit, which brought her 1301. ; yet so simple and secluded was her mode of life, that she did not know the meaning of a benefit. She used to speak of her grandfather with a kind of reverential awe. They all thought him inspired. Though his descendants were numerous, the race is supposed to be now extinct.
Milton's reading embraced,- for his industry was as indefatigable
as his genius was boundless,—the whole range of ancient and modern learning ; but, in the maturity of his age and intellect, he became fastidious in the subjects of his study. He then began to confine himself, as appears from many passages in his prose works, to an intense meditation of the standard writers, when he contemplated that work which he triumphantly anticipated his "country would not willingly let die.” Of all these, ancient and modern, he was a complete master. Those who had best opportunities of knowing him tell us, that there were certain authors among them who were his peculiar favourites. The Hebrew Bible was the subject of his daily study. Homer, Euripides, Plato, Xenophon, and Demosthenes, were his favourites among the Greeks. Among the Latins, Ovid and Sallust. Among the English, Spenser, (whom he used to call his master,) Shakspeare, and Cowley. Among the Italians, Tasso and Dante. It appears he set but little value on the French writers. Some of these partialities may appear to many men strange; but they should, I think, consider the cast and structure of Milton's mind.
There runs through Euripides a high and continued tone of moral sentiment, which was congenial to Milton's taste, and which was more than a counterbalance to the daring sublimities of Æschylus. The one was a steady guide; the other may present dangerous allurements: and he did not want the example of sublimity; for he possessed within him, in the most eminent degree, the elements of the highest sublimity. The fancy and versality of Ovid, together with the vast variety of subjects he descants on, could furnish the mind of Milton with more intellectual food, than the judicious imitations, or the methodical evenness of Virgil. And Sallust, (whom Tacitus copies, both imitating Thucydides,) from his concentration of thought, his purity and vigour of style, was more to his purpose, than the poetic imagery and declamatory diffuseness of Livy. Of Cicero's works, (except the philosophical,) he seems to have been no high admirer. Cicero, like most of the Latin authors, borrowed much from the Greeks; and Milton, who knew the originals thoroughly, preferred to follow him whenever he drew from the primitive source. Hence his speeches, often cast in the mould of Demosthenes, have little of the verbose swell of Cicero. Dryden was a constant visitor of his ; yet he spoke of Dryden as a mere rhymer. But it must be recollected, that Dryden had not then reached the meridian of his fame, or intellectual vigour.
It has been often remarked, that his occasional vituperations in · his prose essays, are not very consonant with his general character of a sedate, tolerant, and composed reasoner. The following passage will be enough to show, that he sometimes thought it necessary, in the fiery warfare he was engaged in, to hurl fiery bolts against his adversaries : for thus he speaks in his “ Apology for Smectymnuus :”—“Some also were endued with a staid moderation, and soundness of argument, to teach and convince the rational and sober-minded; yet not therefore is that to be thought the only expedient course of teaching, for in times of opposition, when either against new heresies arising, or old corruptions to be reformed, this cool impassioned mildness of positive wisdom is not enough to damp and astonish the proud resistance of false and carnal doctors; then (that I may have leave to soar, as the poets use) Zeal, whose substance is ethereal, arming in complete diamond, ascends his fiery chariot drawn by two blazing meteors, figured like beasts, but of a higher breed than any the zodiac yields, resembling two of those four, whom Ezekiel and St. John saw; the one visaged like a lion, to express power, high authority, and indignation; the other of countenance like a man, to cast derision and scorn upon perverse and fraudulent seducers : with these the invincible warrior Zeal, shaking loosely the slack reins, drives over the heads of scarlet prelates, and such as are insolent to maintain traditions, bruising their stiff necks under his flaming wheels."
It is vulgarly imagined, that his republicanism tended to inculcate a system of general equality. Nothing can be more erroneous. He has left living records in his writings, that he contemplated no such absurdity. No; he only wished for constitutional freedom, such as we now enjoy ; and had he lived in these times, he would have been a bold defender of our modern and limited monarchy, if not of our now more tolerant Church. He opposed the hierarchy and monarchy of his time, because he
conceived both hostile to civil and religious liberty. It was against their abuse of power he contended; and it cannot be denied that there were abuses. If he advocated the abolition of those institutions, it was because he did not imagine they could be brought under popular control through the independence of parliament. However, hear himself. At the opening of his “ Areopagitica,' he says, “When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, there is the utmost bound of civil liberty that wise men look for.” There is nothing extravagant in this Whig and Tory say the same. This liberty we now enjoy ; but his contemporaries did not. So he also says, in “Paradise Lost”
for orders and degrees jar not With liberty, but well consist."Indeed, the subject and scope of “Paradise Lost" present a moral, that revolt against a just monarch is an act of high guilt, and that nothing but high misdemeanour on the part of the sovereign ruler could warrant it.
No man ever showed a more fervid patriotism than he does. Whenever he speaks of the regeneration of his country, he becomes enthusiastic and poetic in the highest degree. One example is enough. He thus alludes to the regeneration of England, in his “ Areopagitica :"_“ Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation, rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: methinks I see her as an eagle muing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam ; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance ; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms."
It has been asked, and often, why did Milton, the REPUBLICAN, so closely unite himself with the usurper, and the autocrat, Cromwell? Milton justifies himself in the following passage, near the end of his “ Defensio Secunda." It is one of the most remarkable in all his prose works, or even in all English history. The picture of such a man, drawn by such a master, is indeed a