Page images
PDF
EPUB

ders this story not very probable; and besides Mr. King
was not elected by the college, but was made fellow by
a royal mandate, so that there can be no truth in the
tradition; but if there was any, it is no sign of Milton's
resentment, but a proof of his generosity, that he could
live in such friendship with a successful rival, and after-
wards so passionately lament his decease. His method of
writing controversy is urged as another argument of his
want of temper: but some allowance must be made for
the customs and manners of the time. Controversy, as
well as war, was rougher and more barbarous in those
days, than it is in these. And it is to be considered too,
that his adversaries first began the attack; they loaded
him with much more personal abuse, only they had not
the advantage of so much wit to season it. If he had en-
gaged with more candid and ingenuous disputants, he
would have preferred civility and fair argument to wit
and satir: “ to do so was my choice, and to have done
“ thus was my chance," as he expresses himself in the
conclusion of one of his controversial pieces. All who
have written any accounts of his life agree, that he was
affable and instructive in conversation, of an equal and
chearful temper; and yet I can easily believe, that he had
a sufficient sense of his own merits, and contempt enough
for his adversaries.

His merits indeed were fingular; for he was a man not only of wonderful genius, but of immense learning and erudition; not only an incomparable poet, but a great mathematician, logician, historian, and divine. He was a master not only of the Greek and Latin, but likewise of the Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac, as well as of the modern languages, Italian, French, and Spanish. He was particularly skilled in the Italian, which he always preferred to the French language, as all the men of letters did at that time in England; and he not only wrote elegantly in it, but is highly commended for his writings by

h 2

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

the

!

[ocr errors]

the most learned of the Italians themselves, and especially
by the members of that celebrated academy called della
Crusca, which was established at Florence for the refin-
ing and perfecting of the Tuscan language. He had read
almost all authors, and improved by all, even by roman-
ces, of which he had been fond in his younger years;
and as the bee can extract honey out of weeds, so (to use
his own words in his Apology for Smedłymnuus) " those
“ books, which to many others have been the fuel of
“ wantonness and loose living, proved to him so many
- incitements to the love and observation of virtue." His
favorite author after the Holy Scriptures was Homer.
Homer he could repeat almost all without book; and he
was advised to undertake a translation of his works, which
no doubt he would have executed to admiration. But
(as he says of himself in his postscript to the Judgment of
Martin Bucer) “ he never could delight in long citations,
“ much less in whole traductions.” And accordingly there
are few things, and those of no great length, which he
has ever translated. He was possessed too much of an
original genius to be a mere copyer. “Whether it be
“ natural disposition, says he, or education in me, or that
6 my mother bore me a speaker of what God made my
" own, and not a translator.” And it is somewhat re-
markable, that there is scarce any author, who has writ-
ten so much, and upon such various subjects, and yet
quotes so little from his contemporary authors, or so sel-
dom mentions any of them. He praises Selden indeed
in more places than one, but for the rest he appears dif-
poled to cenlure rather than commend. After his leve-
rer studies, and after dinner as we observed before, he
used to divert and unbend his mind with playing upon
the organ or bass-viol, which was a great relief to him
after he had lost his fight; for he was a master of music,
as was his father, and he could perform both vocally and
instrumentally, and it is said that he composed very well,

tho

!

CON

tho' nothing of this kind is handed down to us. It is also said that he had some skill in painting as well as in music, and that somewhere or other there is a head of Milton drawn by himself: but he was blessed with so many real excellences, that there is no want of fictitious ones to raise and adorn his character. He had a quick apprehension, a sublime imagination, a strong memory, a piercing judgment, a wit always ready, and facetious or grave as the occasion required: and I know not whether the loss of his fight did not add vigor to the faculties of his mind. He at least thought so, and often comforted himself with that reflection.

But his great parts and learning have fcarcely gained him more admirers, than his political principles have raised him enemies. And yet the darling passion of his soul was the love of liberty; this was his constant aim and end, however he might be mistaken in the means. He was indeed very zealous in what was called the good old cause, and with his spirit and his resolution it is somewhat wonderful, that he never ventured his person in the civil war; but tho' he was not in arms, he was not unactive, and thought, I suppose, that he could be of more service to the cause by his pen than by his sword. He was a thorough republican, and in this he thought like a Greek or Roman, as he was very conversant with their writings. And one day Sir Robert Howard, who was a friend to Milton as well as to the liberties of his country, and was one of his constant visitors to the last, inquired of him how he came to side with the republicans. Milton answered among other reasons, because theirs was the most frugal government, for the trappings of a monarchy might set up an ordinary commonwealth. But then his attachment to Cromwell must be condemned, as being neither consistent with his republican principles, nor with his love of liberty. And I know no other way of accounting for his conduct, but by presuming (as I

[ocr errors]

think we may reasonably presume) that he was far from entirely approving of Cromwell's proceedings, but considered him as the only person who could rescue the nation from the tyranny of the Presbyterians, who he saw were erecting a worse dominion of their own upon the ruins of prelatical episcopacy; and of all things he dreaded spiritual slavery, and therefore closed with Cromwell and the Independents, as he expected under them greater liberty of conscience. And tho' he served Cromwell, yet it must be said for him, that he served a great master, and served him ably, and was not wanting from time to time in giving him excellent good advice, especially in his second Defense: and so litile being said of him in all Secretary Thurloe's state-papers, it appears that he had no great share in the secrets and intrigues of government; what he dispatched was little more than matters of necessary form, letters and answers to foreign states; and he may be justified for acting in such a station, upon the same principle as Sir Matthew Hale for holding a Judge's commission under the usurper: and in the latter part of his life he frequently expressed to his friends his entire satisfaction of mind, that he had constantly employed his strength and faculties in the defense of liberty, and in opposition to slavery.

In matters of religion too he has given as great offense, or even greater, than by his political principles. But still let not the infidel glory: no such man was ever of that party. He had the advantage of a pious education, and ever expressed the profoundest reverence of the Deity in his words and actions, was both a Christian and a Protestant, and studied and admired the Holy Scriptures above all other books whatsoever; and in all his writings he plainly showeth a religious turn of mind, as well in verle as in prole, as well in his works of an earlier date as in those of later composition. When he wrote the Doctrin and Disciplin of Divorce, he appears to have

been

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

been a Calvinist; but afterwards he entertained a more favorable opinion of Arminius. Some have inclined to

believe, that he was an Arian; but there are more exi. press passages in his works to overthrow this opinion,

than any there are to confirm it. For in the conclusion
of his treatise of Reformation he thus solemnly invokes
the Trinity; “ Thou therefore that fittest in light and glo-
"ry unapproachable, Parent of Angels and Men! next
" thee I implore Omnipotent King, Redeemer of that loft
" remnant whose nature thou didst assume, ineffable and
“ everlasting Love! And thou the third subsistence of di-
• vine infinitude illumining Spirit, the joy and solace of
“ created things! one Tri-personal Godhead! look upon
“ this thy poor, and almost spent and expiring Church
“ &c.” And in his tract of Prelatical Episcopacy he en-
devors to prove the spuriousness of some epistles attribu-
ted to Ignatius, because they contained in them heresies,
one of which heresies is, that “ he condemns them for
“ ministers of Satan, who say that Christ is God above
“ all.” And a little after in the same tract he objects to the
authority of Tertullian, because he went about to “prove
“ an imparity between God the Father, and God the Son."
And in the Paradise Lost we shall find nothing upon this
head, that is not perfectly agreeable to Scripture. The
learned Dr. Trap, who was as likely to cry out upon
heresy as any man, asserts that the poem is orthodox in
every part of it; or otherwise he would not have been at
the pains of translating it. Neque alienum videtur a
ftudiis viri theologi poema magna ex parte theologicum;
omni ex parte (rideant, per me licet, atque ringantur
athei et infideles) orthodoxum. Milton was indeed a dis-
senter from the Church of England, in which he had been
educated, and was by his parents designed for holy or-
ders, as we related before; but he was led away by early
prejudices against the doctrin and disciplin of the Church;
and in his younger years was a favorer of the Presbyte-

« PreviousContinue »