« AnteriorContinuar »
LIFE OF JOHN MILTON.
FROM a family and town of his name in Oxford. other cities of Italy, he contracted a familiarity with shire, our author derived his descent; but he was those who were of highest reputation for wit and born at London, in the year 1608. His father, learning, several of whom gave him very obliging John Milton, by profession a scrivener, lived in a tesämonies of their friendship and esteem. reputable manner on a competent estate, entirely his own acquisition, having been early disinherited Returning from his travels, he found England on by his parents for renouncing the communion of the point of being involved in blood and confusion. the church of Rome, to which they were zealously He retired to lodgings provided for him in the city; devoted.
which being commodious for the reception of his
sister's sons, and some other young gentlemen, he Our author was the favourite of his father's hopes, undertook their education. who, to cultivate the great genius which early displayed itself, was at the expense of a domestic In this philosophical course he continued, without tutor; whose care and capacity his pupil hath a wife, till the year 1643, when he married Mary, gratefully celebrated in an excellent Latin elegy. the daughter of Richard Powel, of Forest-hill in Ox. At his initiation he is said to have applied himself fordshire, a gentleman of estate and reputation in to letters with such indefatigable industry, that that county, and of principles so very opposite to he rarely was prevailed upon to quit his studies his son-in-law, that the marriage is more to be won. before midnight: which not only made him fre- dered at, than the separation which ensued, in little quently subject to severe pains in his head, but more than a month after she had cohabited with likewise occasioned that weakness in his eyes, which him in London. Her desertion provoked him both terminated in a total privation of sight. From a to write several treatises concerning the doctrine domestic education he was removed to St. Paul's and discipline of divorce, and also to pay his ad. School, to complete his acquaintance with the dresses to a young lady of great wit and beauty ; classics, under the care of Dr. Gill; and after a
but before he had engaged her affections to con. short stay there, was transplanted to Christ College
clude the marriage treaty, in a visit at one of his in Cambridge, where he distinguished himself in relations, he found his wife prostrate before him, all kinds of academical exercises. Of this society imploring forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not he continued a member till he commenced Master to be doubted but an interview of that nature, so of Arts: and then, leaving the university, he re little expected, must wonderfully affect him; and turned to his father, who had quitted the town perhaps the impressions it made on his imagination, and lived at Horton in Buckinghamshire, where contributed much to the painting of that pathetic he pursued his studies with unparalleled assiduity soene in Paradise Lost, in which Eve addresseth and success.
herself to Adam for pardon and peace. At the in
tercession of his friends, who were present, after a After some years spent in this studious retirement, short reluctance, he generously, sacrificed all his his mother died, and then he prevailed with his resentment to her tears father to igratify an inclination he had long entertained of seeing foreign countries. Sir Henry Wot.
"Soon his heart relented ton, at that time provost of Eton College, gave him Towards her, his life so late and sole delight, a letter of advice for the direction of his travels. Now at his feet submissive in distress." Having employed his curiosity about two years in France and Italy, on the news of a civil war break. And after this re-union, so far was he from retain. ing out in England, he returned, without taking a ing any unkind memory of the provocations which survey of Greece and Sicily, as at his setting out he had received from her ill conduct, that when the the scheme was projected. At Paris the Lord Vis-king's cause was entirely suppressed, and her father, count Scudamore, ambassador from King Charles I. who had been active in his loyalty, was exposed to at the court of France, introduced him to the ac. sequestrations, Milton, received both him and his quaintance of Grotius, who at that time was hon- family to protection, and free entertainment, in his oured with the same character there hy Christiana, Queen of Sweden. In Rome, Genoa, Florence, and
• Book X.
own house, till their affairs were accommodated by passages, which more plainly appear to have been his interest in the victorious faction.
originally intended for the scene: but whatever truth
there may be in this report, it is certain that he did A commission to constitute him Adjutant General not begin to mould his subject, in the form which it to Sir William Waller, was promised, but soon bears now, before he had concluded his controversy superseded, by Waller's being laid aside, when his with Salmasius and More, when he had wholly lost masters thought it proper to new-model their army. the use of his eyes, and was forced to employ, in However, the keenness of his pen had so effectually the office of an amanuensis, any friend who acci. recommended him to Cromwell's esteem, that when dentally paid him a visit. Yet, under all these dishe took the reins of government into his own hand, couragements and various interruptions, in the year he advanced him to be Latin Secretary, both to him- 1669 he published his Paradise Lost, the noblest self and the Parliament; the former of these prefes poem (next to those of Homer and Virgil) that ever ments he enjoyed both under the usurper and his the wit of man produced in any age or nation. Need son, the other until King Charles II. was restored. I mention any other evidence of its inestimable For some time he had an apartment for his family worth, than that the finest geniuses who have sucat Whitehall: but his health requiring a freer ac ceeded him have ever esteemed it a merit to relish cession of air, he was obliged to remove thence to and illustrate its beauties? lodgings which opened into St. James' Park. Not long after his settlement there his wife died in child And now perhaps it may pass for a fiction, what bed, and much about the time of her death, a gutta with great veracity I affirm to be fact, that Milton, serena, which had for several years been gradually after having with much difficulty prevailed to have increasing, totally extinguished his sight. In this this divine poem licensed for the press, could sell melancholy condition, he was easily prevailed with the copy for no more than fifteen pounds; the pay. to think of taking another wife, who was Catharine, ment of which valuable consideration, depended the daughter of Captain Woodcock, of Hackney; upon the sale of three numerous impressions. So and she too, in less than a year after their marriage, unreasonably may personal prejudice affect the died in the same unfortunate manner as the former most excellent performances ! had done; and in his twenty-third sonnet he does honour to her memory.
About two years after, he published Paradise Re
gained; but, oh! what a falling off was there of Being a second time a widower, he employed his which I will say no more, than that there is scarcely friend Dr. Paget to make choice of a third con a more remarkable instance of the frailty of human sort, on whose recommendation he married Eliza reason, than our author gave in preferring this poem beth, the daughter of Mr. Minshul, a Cheshire gen to Paradise Lost. tleman, by whom he had no issue. Three daughters, by his first wife, were then living; the two elder of And thus having attended him to the sixty-ninth whom are said to have been very serviceable to him year of his age, as closely as such imperfect lights, in his studies : for having been instructed to pro
as men of letters and retirement usually leave to nounce not only the modern, but also the Latin, guide our enquiry, would allow, it now only remains Greek, and Hebrew languages, they read in their to be recorded, that in the year 1674, the gout put respective originals, whatever authors he wanted to a period to his life, at Bunhill, near London; from consult, though they understood none but their whence his body was conveyed to St. Giles' church, mother-tongue.
by Cripplegate, where it lies interred in the chancel;
and a neat monument has lately been erected to We come now to take a survey of him in that perpetuate his memory. point of view, in which he will be looked upon by all succeeding ages with equal delight and admira In his youth he is said to have been extremely tion. An interval of about twenty years had elapsed handsome. The colour of his hair was a light brown, since he wrote the Mask of Comus, L'Allegro, Il the symmetry of his features exact, enlivened with Penseroso, and Lycidas, all in such an exquisite an agreeable air, and a beautiful mixture of fair and strain, that, though he had left no other monuments ruddy His stature (as we find it measured by himof his genius behind him, his name had been im- self) did not exceed the middle size, his person neimortal; but neither the infirmities of age and consti- ther too lean nor corpulent; his limbs well propor. lution, nor the vicissitudes of fortune, could depress tioned, nervous, and active, serviceable in all re. the vigour of his mind, or divert it from executing spects to his exercising the sword, in which he much a design he had long conceived of writing a heroic delighted; and wanted neither skill nor courage to poem. The fall of man was a subject that he had resent an affront from men of the most athletic con. some years before fixed on for a tragedy, which he stitutions. In his diet he was abstemious; not deliintended to form by the models of antiquity; and cate in the choice of his dishes; and strong liquors some, not without probability, say, the play opened of all kinds were his aversion. His-deportment was with that speech in the fourth book of Paradise erect, open, affable; his conversation easy, cheerful, Last, line 32, which is addressed by Satan to the sun. instructive; his wit on all occasions at command, Were it material, I believe I could produce other facetious, grave, or satirical, as the subject required.
His judgment, when disengaged from religious and • Paradise Lost, Book IX. line 26.
political speculations was just and penetrating, nis apprehension quick, his memory tenacious of what
LIFE OF JOHN MILTON.
vu he read, his reading only not so extensive as his excursions into the ideal world, when, in compos genius, for that was universal. And having trea ing his divine work, he was tempted to range sured up such immense store of science, perhaps the faculties of his soul grew more vigorous after he was
“Beyond the visible diurnal sphere." deprived of sight; and his imagination (naturally With so many accomplishments, not to have had sublime and enlarged by reading romances, of some faults and misfortunes to be laid in the balance which he was much enamoured in his youth,) with the fame and felicity of writing Paradise Lost, when it was wholly abstracted from material ob would have been too great a portion for humanity. jects, was more at liberty to make such amazing
Or, if a work so infinite he spann'd,
Well might'st thou scorn thy readers to allure
Pardon me, mighty Poet, nor despise