« AnteriorContinuar »
questration, Milton received both him and his family to protection, and free entertainment, in his own house, till their affairs were ac commodated 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A commission to constitute him adjutant general to sir William Waller was promised, but soon superceded, by Waller's being laid aside, when his masters thought it proper to new model their army; However, the keenness of his pen had so effectually recommended hm to Cromwell's esteem, that, when he took the reins of gove e nment 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. iny a freer accession of air, he was obliged to remove from thence to lodgings which opened into St. JamesPark. 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 Woodcock, 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 her memory.
Being a second time a widower, he employed bis 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 originals, 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 elapsed since he wrote the Mask of Comus, L' Allegro, Il Penseroso, 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, wbich he intended to form by the models of antiquity; and some, not without probability say, the play opened with that speech in the fourth book of Para
* 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 accidentally 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 I 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 of 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 respects 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 all kinds were his aversion. His deportment was erect, open, affable ; his conversation easy, cheerful, irstructive; his wit on all occasions at command, facetious, grave, or satiric as the subject required. His judgment, when disengaged from religious and political speculations, 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 iminense 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 such amazing excursions into the ideal world, when in composing his divine work he was tempted to range,
Beyond the visible diurnal sphere. With so many accomplishments, not to have had some faults and misfortunes to be laid in the balance, with the fame and felicity of writing Paradise Lost, would have been too great a portion for humanity.
The measure is English heroic verse without rhyme, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin ; rhyme being no neces. sary, adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter, and ląme metre; graced, indeed, since, by the use of some famous modern poets, carried away by custom, but much to their own vexation, hinderance, and constraint, to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse than else they would have expressed them. Not without cause, therefore, some, both Italian and Spanish poets, of prime note, have rejected rhyme, both in longer and shorter works, as have also long since our best English tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, trivial and of no true musical delight; which consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings, a fault avoided by the learned ancients, both in poetry and all good oratory. This neglect then of rhyme so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar readers, that it is rather to be esteemed an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem, from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming.