« PredošláPokračovať »
he wrote the Paradise Lost, is further corroborated both by external and internal evidence. According to him, it was begun two years before the restoration of the king, and finished about three years after that event. It formed his solace and occupation during these months of concealment, to which a passage in the seventh book is, with much probability, supposed to allude.
Released, however, as we have seen, from his anxious durance, he withdrew to a small house in the Artillery Walk, near Bunhill Fields; a humble dwelling, suited to his reduced circumstances, where he continued to reside during the remainder of his life.
The poet, now experiencing the premature advances of age, with his name held up to public scorn, his hopes blighted, and his means of support withdrawn, had yet added to all these the bitterness of ungrateful children. His two elder daughters seem to have been destitute alike of affection and pity; and he who was, from his infirmities, so peculiarly dependent on domestic enjoyments, found there his sharpest sorrows. Such circumstances must almost have compelled him to seek again to supply their undutiful neglect by marriage; and, accordingly, shortly after this, in his fifty-fourth year, he married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshall, the daughter of a gentleman in Cheshire. He is said to have formed this attachment on the recommendation of his friend, Dr. Paget, an eminent physician of the city, to whom the lady was related.
The marriage was probably rather dictated by prudence and mutual respect than any deeper feelings; but Aubrey, to whom she was personally known, mentions her as a gentle person, of a peaceful and agreeable humour.” Her memory deserves to be had in grateful remembrance by the admirers of the great poet; she alleviated his sufferings, soothed his cares, and proved to him a tender and affectionate wife.
It is painful to reflect on this great and good man needing a protector against his own daughters; and with those who have proved so ready to avail themselves of every means of blasting his reputation, and casting a shadow around his great name, this has not been overlooked as a source of defamation. But there is some satisfaction in knowing that he had, in his youngest daughter, Deborah, one dutiful and favourite child, who deemed it no cruelty to be required to read to her blind father, or pen for him his immortal works.
The discovery of Milton's will, which had been long sought in vain, brought to light interesting information regarding his domestic life, exhibiting the suffering to which he was subjected by the ingratitude of those most bound to alleviate his misfortunes; while it brings out his own disposition in a remarkably pleasing and amiable light. It may in some degree account for the conduct of the daughters—though it cannot be an excuse for it—that they were early left without a mother, and their father from studious habits and his official duties, as well as his early loss of sight, was unable to take any charge of them, so that they may have been exposed to injurious influence from those around them. But, however it may be accounted for, their freatment of their father is proved to have been most heartless and cruel.
The will was set aside from some technical objection, and owing to the litigation consequent on its being disputed, a collection of evidence relating to its author has been preserved, of an unusually minute and interesting character. A servant gives evidence that her deceased master, a little before his marriage, had lamented to her the ingratitude and cruelty of his children; and it is shown that they had defrauded him in a way that must have been doubly felt by him, not only overreaching him in the economy of the house, but disposing of his books, and often bartering them with the hucksters at the door for any trifle they might offer.
We have already seen the dangers to which Milton was ex. posed at the Restoration, and abundant evidence exists to show that the rancorous feelings of the royalists followed him till his death; that they exulted over him in his poverty, and rejoiced at his sufferings as marks of the special vengeance of God, and a doom worse than the axe he had escaped.
The following story has been preserved, exhibiting this in a very characteristic manner :
The Duke of York, afterwards James II., expressed one day to the king, his brother, a great desire to see old Milton, of whom he had heard so much. The king replied that he had not the slightest objection to the duke's satisfying his curiosity; and, accordingly soon afterwards, Jaines went pri
vately to Milton's house, where, after an introduction, which explained to the old republican the rank of his guest, a free conversation ensued between these very dissimilar and discordant characters. In the course, however, of the conversation, the duke asked Milton whether he did not regard the loss of his eyesight as a judgment inflicted on him for what he had written against the late king. Milton's reply was to this effect: “If your highness thinks that the calamities which befall us here are indications of the wrath of heaven, in what manner are we to account for the fate of the king, your father? The displeasure of heaven must, upon this supposition, have been much greater against him than me—for I have only lost my eyes, but he lost his head.”
Much discomposed by this answer, the duke speedily took his leave. On his return to court, the first words which he spoke to the king were, “Brother, you are greatly to blame that you don't have that old rogue Milton hanged.” “Why, what is the matter, James? Have you seen Milton ?” “Yes,” answered the duke, “I have seen him.” 'Well," said the king, “in what condition did you find him ?” “ Condition ! why, he is old and very poor.” “Old and poor! Well, and he is blind toomis he not?” Yes, blind as a beetle." “Why, then," observed the king, "you are a fool, James, to have him hanged as a punishment: to hang him will be doing him a service; it will be taking him out of his miseries. No; if he is old, poor, and blind, he is miserable enough; in all conscience, let him live."
The story is so consistent throughout, and so characteristic of the different dispositions of the parties, that it bears internal evidence of authenticity, and exhibits very strikingly the gay and gloomy malignity of the two royal brothers, Charles and James.
The labours of Milton, altogether independent of his great Epic, were such as must have rendered his memory an object of interest to after ages; but his immortal poem, as we have
seen, was the object of his life, from which he turned only at the call of duty, and when the circumstances of his country summoned him to enlist his gifted mind in the cause of freedom.
His last wife, who survived him, in a state of widowhood, nearly fifty-five years, has recorded interesting information as to its progress. She states that her husband composed principally in the winter; and on his waking in the morning, would make her write down sometimes twenty or thirty verses. His natural disposition inclined him to deep and earnest study, and the loss of his sight must have greatly increased his proneness to contemplation, and indeed compelled him to find therein his chief enjoyment. His circumstances latterly precluded him from engaging a permanent assistant in the capacity of a private secretary, which was the only means that could have supplied in any measure his great loss. We find him, accordingly, subjected to many difficulties, and compelled to treasure his compositions in his memory until chance afforded him the aid of some friendly transcriber. The petty calls of daily domestic duties in his scanty household must have frequently broken in upon the rapt fervour of poetic thought, when he sought the aid of his wife's willing pen. A lively illustration is afforded of these difficulties, in the postscript to a Latin letter addressed to Heimbach, an accomplished German: “Let me obtain from you this favour, that if you find any parts of this incorrectly written, you will impute it to the boy who writes for me, who is utterly ignorant of Latin, and to whom I am forced (wretchedly enough) to repeat every single syllable that I dictate.”
He often made considerable pauses in the progress of his great work, doubtless sometimes occasioned by such difficulties, but also from that preference for the winter season to which his wife alludes. His nephew Philips, to whom we are indebted for an interesting and incidental narrative, remarks : “I had the perusal of the Paradise Lost from the very beginning—for some years as I went from time to time to visit him-in parcels of ten, twenty, or thirty verses 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 been shown any for a
considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, I was answered that his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal."
It is a curious fact in the history of the great Epic, that, when completely prepared for the press, it narrowly escaped suppression from the ignorance or malice of the licenser. This office, which had been abolished during the Protectorate, was restored by Charles II. Under the new regulations, poetry came within the province of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the fate of the Paradise Lost was accordingly committed to the judgment of the Rev. Thomas Tomkyns, one of his chaplains. The reverend licenser was doubtless prepared to find treason in every line, and speedily pounced on a wellknown passage in the first book, as containing Treason in its most malignant form :
"As when the sun new risen
Perplexes monarchs.” The particulars of this fortunate escape from so dangerous an obstruction have not been preserved; but much as we may now be disposed to smile at the absurd objection, the world has cause to rejoice that party malice and rancour did not succeed in strangling the immortal poem in its birth.
Milton was accustomed, as we have already mentioned, to employ his daughters to read to him, as well as to transcribe from his dictation; but on their expressing dislike to such occupations in the service of their blind father, he at once dispensed with their assistance, and set them to learn the working of embroidery in gold and silver—an art which, at that time, formed one of the chief employments of females of rank and fortune. From that time forward, he always engaged some young man for this honourable service. Shortly after his last marriage, his kind friend, Dr. Paget, who had been his adviser in the choice of a wife, introduced to him the amiable but singular Thomas Ellwood, who added to the most conscientious adherence to the tenets and practices of the Quakers, an ardent thirst for lear ng, and a keen relish for poetry.