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Kan by his biographers; every house in which he resided is historically mentioned as if it were an injury to neglect naming any place that he honoured by his presence.
The king, with lenity of which the world has had perhaps no other example, de. clined to be the judge or avenger of his own or his father's wrongs; and promised to admit into the act of oblivion all, except those whom the parliament should except; and the parliament doomed none to capital punishment but the wretches who had immediately cooperated in the murder of the king. Milton was certainly not one of them; he had only justified what they had done.
This justification was indeed sufficiently offensive; and (June 16) an order was issued to seize Milton's Defence, and Goodwin's Obstructors of Justice, another book of the same tendency, and burn them by the common hangman. The attorneygeneral was ordered to prosecute the authors; but Milton was not seized, nor per. haps very diligently pursued.
Not long after (August 19) the flutter of innumerable bosoms were stilled by an act, which the king, that his mercy might want no recommendation of elegance, rather called an Act of Oblivion than of Grace. Goodwin was named, with nine. teen more, as incapacitated for any public trust; but of Milton there was no ex. ception.
Of this tenderness shown to Milton, the curiosity of mankind has not forborn to inquire the reason. Burnet thinks he was forgotten: but this is another instance which may confirm Dalrymple's observation, who says, “ that whenever Burnet's narrations are examined, he appears to be mistaken.”
Forgotten he was not; for his prosecution was ordered; it must be therefore by design that he was included in the general oblivion. He is said to have had friends in the house, such as Marvel, Morrice, and sir Thomas Clarges : and undoubtedly a man like him must have had influence. A very particular story of his escape is told by Richardson ? in his Memoirs, which he received from Popc, as delivered by Bet. terton, who might have heard it from Davenant. In the war between the king and parliament Davenant was made prisoner, and condemned to die; but was spared at the request of Milton. When the turn of success brought Milton into the like dane ger, Davenant repaid the benefit by appearing in his favour. Here is a reciproca. tion of generosity, and gratitude so pleasing, that the tale makes its own way to cre. dit. But, if help were wanted, I know not where to find it. The danger of Da. venant is certain from his own relation; but of his escape there is no account. Beta terton's narration can be traced no higher; it is not known that he had it from Davenant. We are told that the benefit exchanged was life for life; but it seems not certain that Milton's life ever was in danger. Goodwin, who had committed the same kind of crime, escaped with incapacitation; and, as exclusion from public trust is a punishment which the power of government can commonly inflict without the help of a particular law, it required no great interest to exempt Milton from a censure little more than verbal. Something may be reasonably ascribed to veneration and compassion, to veneration of his abilities, and compassion for his distresses, which made it fit to forgive his malice for his learning. lle was now poor and blind;
? It was told before by A. Wood in Ath. Oxon. Vol. II p. 412, 2d edit. @ · VOL. VII.
and who would pursue with violence an illustrious enemy, depressed by fortune and disarmed by nature 3 ?
The publication of the Act of Oblivion put him in the same condition with his fellow-subjects. He was, however, upon some pretence now not known, in the custody of the sergeant in December; and when he was released, upon his refusal of the fees demanded, he and the sergeant were called before the House. He was now safe within the shade of oblivion, and knew himself to be as much out of the power of a griping officer as any other man. How the question was determined is not known. Milton would hardly have contended, but that he knew himself to have right on his side.
He then removed to Jewin-street, near Aldersgate-street; and being blind, and by no means wealthy, wanted a domestic companion and attendant; and there. fore, by the recommendation of Dr. Paget, married Elizabeth Minshul, of a gentle. man's family in Cheshire, probably without a fortune. All his wives were virgins : for he has declared that he thought it gross and indelicate to be a second husband: upon what other principles his choice was made cannot now be known; but marriage afforded not much of his happiness. The first wife left him in disgust, and was brought back only by terrour; the second, indeed, seems to have been more a favourite, but her life was short. The third, as Philips relates, oppressed his children in his life-time, and cheated them at his death.
Soon after his marriage, according to an obscure story, he was offered the con. tinuance of his employment, and, being pressed by his wife to accept it, answered, “ You, like other women, want to ride in your coach; my wish is to live and die an honest man.” If he considered the Latin secretary as exercising any of the powers of government, he that had shared authority, either with the parliament or Cromwell, might have forborn to talk very loudly of his honesty ; and if he thought the office purely ministerial, he certainly might have honestly retained it under the king, But this tale has too little evidence to deserve a disquisition; large offers and sturdy rejections are among the most common topics of falsehood.
Ile had so much either of prudence or gratitude, that he forbore to disturb the new settlement with any of his political or ecclesiastical opinions, and from this time devoted himself to poetry and literature. Of his zeal for learning in all its parts, he gave a proof by publishing, the next year (1661), Accidence commenced Grammar : a little book which has nothing remarkable, but that its author, who had been late. ly defending the supreme powers of his country, and was then writing Paradise Lost, could descend from his elevation to rescue children from the perplexity of grammatical confusion, and the trouble of lessons unnecessarily repeated.
About this time Elwood the quaker, being recommended to him as one who would read Latin to him for the advantage of his conversation, attended him every afternoon except on Sundays. Milton, who, in his letter to llartlib, had declared that, to read Latin with an English mouth is as ill a hearing as law French, required that Elwood should learn and practise the Italian pronunciation, which, he said, was necessary, if he would talk with foreigners. This seems to have been a task troublesome without use. There is little reason for prefering the Italian pronunciation to our own, except that it is more general; and to teach it to an Englishman is only to make him a foreigner at home. He who travels, if he speaks Latin, may so soon learn the sounds which every native gives it, that he need make no provision before his journey; and if strangers visit us, it is their business to practise such conformity to our modes as they expect from us in their own countries. Elwood com. plied with the directions, and improved himself by his attendance; for he relates, that Milton, having a curious ear, knew by his voice when he read what he did not un. derstand, and would stop him, and open the most difficult passages.
3 A different account of the means by which Milton secured himself is given by an historian lately brought to light. “Milton, , Latin secretary to Cromwell, distinguished by his writings in favour of the rights and liberties of the people, pretended to be dead, and had a public funeral procession. The king applauded his policy in escaping the punishment of death, by a seasonable show of dying.” Cunningham's History of Great Britain, vol. I. p. 14, R.
In a short time he took a house in the Artillery Walk leading to Bunhill Fields; the mention of which concludes the register of Milton's removals and habitations. He lived longer in this place than any other.
He was now busied by Paradise Lost. Whence he drew the original design has been variously conjectured by men who cannot bear to think themselves ignorant of that which, at last, neither diligence nor sagacity can discover. Some find the hint in an Italian tragedy. Voltaire tells a wild and unauthorised story of a farce seen by Milton in Italy which opened thus: 66 Let the rainbow be the fiddlestick of the fid. dle of Heaven.” It has been already shown, that the first conception was a tragedy or mystery, not of a narrative, but a dramatic work, which he is supposed to have begun to reduce to its present form about the time (1655) when he finished his dise pute with the defenders of the king.
He long before had promised to adorn his native country by some great perfor. mance, while he had yet perhaps no settled design, and was stimulated only by such expectations as naturally arose from the survey of his attainments, and the con. sciousness of his powers. What he should undertake, it was difficult to determine. He was long choosing and began late..
While he was obliged to divide his time between his private studies and affairs of state, his poetical labour must have been often interrupted; and perhaps he did little more in that busy time than construct the narrative, adjust the episodes, proportion the parts, accumulate images and sentiments, and treasure in his memory, or preserve in writing, such hints as books or meditation would supply. Nothing particular is known of his intellectual operations while he was a statesman, for, having every help and accommodation at hand, he had no need of uncommon expedients.
Being driven from all public stations, he is yet too great not to be traced by cu. riosity to his retirement: where he has been found by Mr. Richardson, the fondest of his admirers, sitting before his door in a grey coat of coarse cloth, in warm sule' try weather, to enjoy the fresh air; and so, as in his own room, receiving the visits of the people of distinguished parts as well as quality. His visitors of high quality must now be imagined to be few; but men of parts might reasonably court the con. versation of a man so generally illustrious, that foreigners are reported, by Wood, to have visited the house in Bread-street where he was born.
According to another account, he was seen in a small house, neatly enough dres. sed in black clothes, sitting in a room hung with rusty green; pale but not cadas verous, with chalkstones in his hands. He said that, if it were not for the gout, his blindness would be tolerable. .
In the intervals of his pain, being made unable to use the common exercisesring he used to swing in a chair, and sometimes played upon an organ.
He was now confessedly and visibly employed upon his poem, of which the progress might be noted by those with whom he was familiar; for he was obliged, when he had composed as many lines as his memory would conveniently retain, to employ some friend in writing them, having, at least for part of the time, no regu. lar attendant. This gave opportunity to observations and reports.
Mr. Philips observes, that there was a very remarkable circumstance in the com. posure of Paradise Lost, “ which I have a particular reason,” says he, “ to remem. ber; for whereas I had the perusal of it from the very beginning, for some years, as I went from time to time to visit him, in parcels of ten, twenty, or thirty ver. ses at a time (which, being written by whatever hand came next, might possibly want correction as to the orthography and pointing), having, as the summer came on, not being showed any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal; and that whatever he attempted at other times was never to his satisfaction, though he courted his fancy never so much : so that, in all the years he was about this poem, he may be said to have spent half his time therein."
Upon this relation Toland remarks, that in his opinion Philips has mistaken the time of the year; for Milton, in his Elegies, declares, that with the advance of the spring he feels the increase of his poetical force, redeunt in carmina vires. To this it is answered, that Philips could hardly mistake time so well marked ; and it may be added, that Milton might find different times of the year favourable to different parts of life. Mr. Richardson conceives it impossible that “ such a work should be sus. pended for six months, or for one, It may go on faster or slower, but it must go on.” By what necessity it must continually go on, or why it might not be laid aside and resumed, it is not easy to discover.
This dependance of the soul upon the seasons, those temporary and periodical ebbs and flows of intellect, may, I suppose, justly be derided as the fumes of vain imagination. Sapiens dominabitur astris. The author that thinks himself weather. bound will find, with a little help from hellebore, that he is only idle or exhausted. But while this notion has possession of the head, it produces the inability which it supposes. Our powers owe much of their energy to our hopes; possunt quia posse vidcntur. When success seems attainable, diligence is enforced; but when it is admitted that the faculties are suppressed by a cross wind, or a cloudy sky, the day is given up without resistance, for who can contend with the course of Na. ture?
From such prepossessions Milton seems not to have been free. There prevailed in his time an opinion, that the world was in its decay, and that we have had the mis. fortune to be produced in the decrepitude of Nature. It was suspected that the whole creation languished, that neither trees nor animals had the height or bulk of their predecessors, and that every thing was daily sịnking by gradual diminution
realization Polanc may
This opinion is, with great learning and ingenuity, refuted in a book now very little known, An Apology or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World, by Dr. George Hakewill, London, folio, 1635. The first who ventured to propagate it in this sountry was Dș. Gabriel Goodman, bishop of Gloucester, a man of a versatile temper, and the author
Milton appears to suspect that souls partake of the general degeneracy, and is not without some fear that his book is to be written in an age too late for heroic poesy.
Another opinion wanders about the world and sometimes finds reception among wise men; an opinion that restrains the operations of the mind to particular regions, and supposes that a luckless mortal may be born in a degree of latitude too high or too low for wisdom or for wit. From this fancy, wild as it is, he had not wholly cleared his head, when he feared lest the climate of his country might be too cold for flights of imagination.
Into a mind already occupied by such fancies, another not more reasonable might easily find its way. He that could fear lest his genius had fallen upon too old a world or too chill a climate, might consistently magnify to himself the influence of the seasons, and believe his faculties to be vigorous only half the year.
His submission to the seasons was at least more reasonable than his dread of decayo ing nature, or a frigid zone, for general causes must operate uniformly in a general abatement of mental power; if less could be performed by the writer, less likewise would content the judges of his work. Among this lagging race of frosty groveller's he might still have risen into eminence by producing something which they should not willingly let die. However inferior to the herves who were born in better ages, he might still be great among his contemporaries, with the hope of growing every day greater in the dwindle of posterity. He might still be a giant among the pigmies, the one-eyed monarch of the blind.
Of his artifices of study, or particular hours of composition, we have little account, and there was perhaps little to be told. Richardson, who seems to have been very diligent in his inquiries, but discovers always a wish to find Milton discrimi. nated from other men, relates, that 66 he would sometimes lie awake whole nights, but not a verse could he make; and on a sudden his poetical faculty would rush · upon him with an impetus or æstrum, and his daughter was immediately called to se. cure what came. At other times he would dictate perhaps forty lines in a breath, and then reduce them to half the number.”
These bursts of light, and involutions of darkness, these transient and involuntary excursions and retrocessions of invention, having some appearance of deviation from the common train of nature, are eagerly caught by the lovers of a wonder. Yet something of this inequality happens to every man in every mode of exertion, manual or mental. The mechanic cannot handle his hammer and his file at all times with equal, dexterity; there are hours, he knows not why, when his hand is out. By Mr. Richardson's relation, casually conveyed, much regard cannot be claimed. That in his intellectual hour Milton called for his daughter " to secure what came,” may be questioned; for unluckily it happens to be known that his daughters were never taught to write; nor would he have been obliged, as is universally confessed, to have employed any casual visitor in disburthening his memory, if his daughter could have performed the office.
The story of reducing his exuberance has been told of other authors, and, though doubtless true of every fertile and copious mind, seems to have been gratuitously transferred to Milton.
of a book entituled, The Fall of Man, or the Corruption of Nature proved by Natural Reason. Lond. 1616 and 1624, quarto. He was plundered in the Usurpation, turped Roman Catholic, and died in obscurity, See Athen. Oxon, Vol. I. p. 727. H.