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conscience, by contrasting their actual servility with the manly condition from which they had fallen. It is, in fact, natural to shun whatever engenders a sense of humiliation; and, to justify their conduct in so doing, men will discover reasons, good or bad, that, if they cannot stand well in their own eyes, they may at least seem to each other to be under the influence of some rational principles of action. Hence the lettered slaves who sprang up under the fostering patronage of Charles II., and his most dissolute and despicable court, whose principal aim it was to depose the Almighty from his throne in the hearts of their countrymen, laboured with all the earnestness of hirelings to dim the glory of Milton, and those other holy and magnanimous men, who, with high and honest views, had sought to command for themselves and their brethren the full enjoyment of liberty, religious and civil.
By this horde of unprincipled sophists the defender of the people of England was maliciously confounded with that host of nameless fanatics that, during the troubles of the commonwealth, had issued forth from the crannies and dark places of society, filling the land, like locusts, with the unceasing murmur of their bigotry. The slanders of Salmasius, Morus, Dumoulin, and others of that stamp were re-minted, and issued by royal authority. Every art which malice could suggest, or baseness invent, was put in practice to cover the memory of the commonwealth with obloquy; and Milton, as its most formidable defender, though, by the interference of powerful friends, he escaped the king's axe, which was sharpened to deprive England of the Paradise Lost,-yet could not fail, both during life and afterwards, to be held up as an object of abhorrence by all whom the re-establishment of servitude supplied with dishonourable bread. Even Hobbes, himself a persecuted man, and one whom the consciousness of genius should have inspired with nobler thoughts, could not resist the promptings of his slavish temper, to inflict a paltry wound on the MAN OF THE COMMON
Such, it appears to me, is the true cause why the prose works of Milton have so long been condemned to dust and cobwebs. For when once the spawn of the Restoration had heaped upon them, as on a brood of Titans, whole mountains of contumely and falsehood, and thus almost wholly concealed their existence from the public, a taste for a very different order of books was formed throughout the land; for books filled, like Rochester's, Sedley's, Wycherly's, with unspeakable coarseness and obscenity, with impiety, irreligion, and the most ignoble adulation; and it is easy to imagine that among the admirers of bacchanals so gross and godless, an author such as Milton, in port and majesty like a prophet, and with garments scented by the sacred incense of the altar, must have proved an unwelcome guest. Vice rapidly relaxes and enervates the mind; and the public, growing daily more and more familiar with grovel
ling sentiments, and the licentious passions which, during Charles the Second's reign, constituted the breath of literary inspiration, soon became entirely incapable of deriving pleasure from compositions such as Milton's, where profligacy receives no countenance. Their religious character, therefore, once their passport to popularity, now stood in the way; for to quote a verse of Scripture seemed to smell of republicanism. And, although Sir Robert Filmer, and some few others, endeavoured to combat the advocates of democracy with their own weapons, by forcing certain mangled texts into the service of absolute power, it was upon the whole thought dangerous, at court, to make any reference to the great storehouse and armoury of the Roundheads.
Cast, by these means, into temporary oblivion, they were long suffered to remain in it. For most literary men are too intent on advancing their own reputation, to turn aside, with some risk of endangering it, to rescue from undeserved neglect the orphan remains of genius. They fear, at least in the service of the dead, to rouse the serpent guardians of prejudice; and with a worldly prudence, for which, according to their characters, men will blame or commend them, relinquish to others, bolder or less wise, the task of doing justice to those who can no longer actively vindicate themselves.
But this policy, however laudable it may be considered by others, I can neither admire nor adopt. In the common intercourse of life we are grateful to whomsoever instructs or amuses us, much more to him who begets in our minds a love of the good and beautiful; and if, in our presence, his character be misprised, or evil-spoken of by others, we would generously, in consideration of what we owe him, hazard something to vindicate his good name. The same course we should, I think, pursue when he who affords us instruction or delight is dead, and therefore no longer able to explain, develope, or defend his opinions, by the misrepresenting, perhaps, of which he suffers in the estimation of mankind. It seems to be our duty to labour with an earnestness proportioned to the benefits he may have conferred on us, to obtain for him, as far as our influence extends, a hearing. It signifies nothing to plead our inability. Love is fertile in expedients; and he who with honest enthusiasm, undertakes to serve the greatest man, when suffering from injustice, will find, like the mouse in the fable, that even the most distinguished for strength may be indebted to his weakness. And who can describe the delight with which the student bends over the page of Milton? with which he witnesses the kindling of that impetuous spirit, when rousing all his energies to contend for his own glory, or the glory of his country? Who but must love him-who but must, in spirit, embrace him with tears of pleasure, when soaring, in the fervour of his eloquence, to a height of grandeur never surpassed by man, he pours forth his noblest sentiments in defence of
freedom? And who now, at this distance of time, can listen to those bursts of enthusiasm, so frequent in his works, even though lisped by the lips of a child, without the most tumultuous emotions of mingled rapture and wonder.
All these things considered, it appears to be matter of astonishment,-notwithstanding the causes we have enumerated,--that men should so generally have abstained from the perusal of works so palpably excellent. Yet Addison, who, in the Spectator, endeavoured to do justice to Paradise Lost,-which had also, until then, experienced a considerable share of neglect,-took no pains to rescue the prose treatises from the same fate. But the causes that had at first thrown them into the shade were still in operation. And though, soon after the Revolution of 1688, Toland had meritoriously sought to bring them once more into notice, his success was extremely partial; for few or no references are made to any of them by the writers of what has been absurdly called the Augustan age of English literature.
In the year 1738, however, when the minister was supposed to be meditating some grievous restrictions on the press, Thompson the poet, an ardent lover of liberty, published an edition of the Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, with a spirited preface. Dr. Birch had, indeed, a few years earlier edited the whole of the prose works, first in folio, and, a second time, in quarto, with a laborious biography of the author prefixed. Gradually, from that period to the present, these trophies of the commonwealth have attracted, among the lovers of literature, more and more notice; and it should not be forgotten that among those who have done most service in this way are several clergymen of the Church of England.
Of Dr. Johnson, who, unfortunately for himself, is numbered among those that have written the Life of Milton, I must necessarily speak; but, though of all his adversaries, from the days of Salmasius and Dumoulin to the present, he may be regarded as the most mischievous and unjust, it is very far from being my desire to remember his hostility with bitterness: for he too, in spite of many failings, was a good man, and a distinguished writer. It is now, however, very generally acknowledged, that in undertaking a Life of Milton he ventured upon what he was unfit to execute; and if, at the same time, his libel were omitted in the Lives of the Poets, and condemned to the oblivion it deserves, the following remarks would be in some measure unnecessary. But so long as that production is reprinted, and circulated, every honest and impartial man, however favourably disposed in other respects towards Johnson, must, when Milton is his subject, do his best to defend him from its envenomed calumnies.
Dr. Johnson, no matter how, and perhaps both the cause and manner were unknown even to himself, had early imbibed principles favourable to arbitrary power; and, notwithstanding that he ac
cepted of a pension from a prince of the house of Hanover, is suspected of having been secretly a Jacobite. He was, besides, constitutionally averse from the sportive pranks of freedom, which, by demanding the grounds of opinions in reality based upon a cloud, would have seriously ruffled his gravity. He loved to exercise, in his own person, a sort of dictatorship; and, with a consistency not often found in such petty despots, was willing the government should exercise the same despotic authority over him. In Milton, however, he discovered a man the most impatient of servitude; who had, moreover, contributed, in no small degree, to the downfall of the Stuarts, defended the tyrannicide of his countrymen, and overwhelmed with contempt all who thought as Johnson thought. It was, therefore, natural, and almost excusable, in the successful essayist and biographer, to aim at crushing the reputation of the old democratical puritan, by accusing him of plagiarism, domestic tyranny, laxity of morals, and insinuating, cautiously, a charge of irreligion.
The only motive which, had he well calculated, might have deterred him, would have been a consideration of the irreparable injury he must thus inflict on his own fame, by passing down to posterity as a wrong-headed sophist, insensible to the beauty of liberty and truth, destitute of sympathy for mankind at large, and sold, no matter for what reward, to the enemies and oppressors of the people. Such, at least, has been the result, such his punishment; and as Milton rises higher and higher towards the zenith, Johnson must set. They cannot dwell together in the same heaven of fame, or if they do, Johnson's star must" pale its ineffectual fire" in the neighbourhood of Milton's glory.
This, in many respects, no doubt, is to be regretted; but some good will spring from it, if it teach us, as the example of an execution teaches, to blame with less acrimony the illustrious dead. With respect to myself, no example is necessary to cause me to speak of Johnson with moderation, for I honour his memory, as I do that of every other good man; but honouring Milton's much more, as that of one every way greater and better, the reader, I trust, will pardon me the warmth I cannot but feel when dishonour and obloquy are attempted to be thrown, by what hand soever, upon his most venerable name. At first sight, Johnson's attack appears to be grave, and conducted without any remarkable outrage on public decency. It has little of the buffoonery, scurrility, and coarse invective with which Aristophanes attacks Socrates. He does not accuse the poet of filching a cloak, of measuring flea-leaps, of causing himself to be suspended in a basket between heaven and earth, to escape, while under the œstrum of meditation, the hebetating influence of the grosser atmosphere. His charges of impiety are less broadly insinuated, though introduced with inferior skill; but, in several points, no less likely in modern times to tell against the
accused, he excels the ancient libeller in adroitness. Knowing how pre-eminently loyal and attached to their kings the English are accounted, he substitutes, in his pleading, the word "regicide" for "tyrannicide;" represents the poet devoured by the most offensive vanity, which, he says, not only led him to entertain ridiculously lofty ideas of himself, but enviously and grudgingly to defraud other men of their just praise; affirms, that in his domestic government, he was a tyrant, a bad husband, a bad father, one who, with the means of doing better in his possession, gave his children a wretched penurious education; that, on returning from his travels, he most unpatriotically engaged in the instruction of youth; which Johnson, who had tried it himself, endeavours to confound with mechanical employments by calling it a "trade;" nay, more, that he pushed his republican habits so far as to adopt an abstemious system of diet, which to an elegant epicure and diner-out, like Johnson, must have appeared still worse than writing against the bishops. To crown all, to sum up his numerous delinquencies in one fearful word, he insinuates, but hesitates to assert positively, that Milton was POOR-that he suffered hunger; but that yet, in the midst of his indigence, his proud heathenish spirit looked with intolerable scorn upon tyrants and slaves, and dared to dream of eternal fame.
The fox which, in the fable, escaped from a trap with the loss of his nether bushy appendage, abhorred ever after ali allusion to tails. So Johnson felt out of temper when the course of his narrative led him to speak of poverty. Nevertheless, he who, in writing to a bookseller, could subscribe himself the " Dinnerless," might have been expected to exhibit some sympathy for genius in distress. But this, perhaps, was weakness. The recollection of how frequently he had sat down hungry-not with Philosophy, for that he never knew, but with Criticism and Biography-was no doubt painful; and, falling on better days, he was tempted to despise the wisdom which, like his own erewhile, knew not how to provide itself with a dinner.
Another sore point with Johnson was, that Milton should be said to have rejected, after the Restoration, the place of Latin Secretary to Charles the Second. Few men heartily believe in the existence of virtue above their own reach. He knew what he would have done under similar circumstances; he knew that, had he lived during the period of the commonwealth, a similar offer from the "Regicides" would have met with no "sturdy refusal" from him; he knew it was in his eyes no sin to accept of a pension from one whom he considered an usurper: how, then, could he believe, what must have humiliated him in his own esteem, that the old blind republican, bending beneath the weight of years and indigence, still cherished heroic virtue in his soul, and spurned the offer of a tyrant! Oh, but he had filled the same office under Oliver Cromwell! Milton regarded "Old Noll" as a greater and better Sylla, to whom, in the motto to his work against the restoration of kingship, he compares