« PredošláPokračovať »
the dishonesty of his agents, or his own want of worldly diligence and caution. He was unable, therefore, to employ a regular amanuensis, or reader, but was obliged to receive either the occasional and gratuitous services of some friend, or some inexperienced youth whose services he requited by instruction. There is an interesting passage in his own writings, which shows his disinterestedness, and gives a subsidiary explanation of his embarrassments. “ These my services I gratuitously gave to religion, and my country; and I got no return but the preservation of my life. I have had, however, my reward, in an honest conscience, and an honest reputation. As to others, some have obtained honours, and some emoluments. But for me,- no one ever saw me playing the courtier myself, or soliciting any thing through my friends, or ever knew me with suppliant look hanging at the doors of the Council Chamber, or at the vestibules of ministers. I usually kept myself at home, living on my own means, which, though much diminished in the civil commotions, and by oppressive taxation, yet yielded me a scanty subsistence."
The following melancholy passage, from his letter to his German friend Heimbach, counsellor to the Elector of Brandenburgh, dated London, August 26th, 1666, will convey some idea of his condition at this time:"Let me obtain from you this favour, that if you find any parts incorrectly written, and without stops, 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 letter that I dictate.” But independently of his increasing bodily afflictions and poverty, he was haunted with perpetual fears of assassination, ever since the Restoration ; which kept him awake whole nights, and prevented him from appearing much abroad, unless when some trusty friend came and conducted him stealthily through byways, at dusk, to take a little necessary exercise. His formal pardon did not disarm the different parties to whose designs his honest and independent stand for the religious and political liberties of his country presented such a barrier, and whose rancour time or distance could not mitigate. Milton was well apprised of the inveterate hostility of these parties ; and saw awful proofs of their determined
purposes. To this state of feeling he pathetically alludes, Paradise Lost, vii. 25, &c.
“ Paradise Lost” was published in 1667. In 1670 he published his “ History of Britain," especially the part now called England, which he was unable, from other pursuits, to bring down later than the Norman Conquest. In this year the “Paradise Regained," and " Samson Agonistes," were licensed, though not published till the following year. They were published by Starkey, of Fleet-street. There is a current belief that Milton always preferred “ Paradise Regained" to " Paradise Lost :" I find, however, no authority for this story. His nephew, Phillips, only says, that when his literary friends would decry, in their admiration of “Paradise Lost,” the other poem
so much inferior, he could not hear with patience any such thing," Though
Though “ Paradise Regained” is vastly below the “ Paradise Lost” in all the chief excellences of epic poetry-invention-sublimity of thought-beauty of imagery and diction, and variety of action, yet it is at least equal to it in sentiment, if not superior in argument. On sentiment and argument Milton rested much of his literary fame, and they were more congenial to his taste than scenes of turbulence and battle: for he says, “Paradise Lost," ix. 28, he was "not sedulous by nature to indite battles.” He only meant then, not that “Paradise Lost” was praised too much, but that“ Paradise Regained," though generally inferior, was dispraised too much ; and the more this latter poem is examined, the more will Milton's judgment receive the reader's sanction. Thus many, familiar with the Iliad, decry the Odyssey, because they have not carefully read it. "Samson Agonistes," the last of his poetical pieces, is the only tragedy he finished, though he sketched out the plans of several; and it is said he was determined to the choice of this subject by the similiarity of his own circumstances to those of Samson-blind and helpless among his enemies. “ It is written," says Newton, (and all the best critics agree in this opinion) “ in the very spirit of the ancients; and equals, if not exceeds, any of the most perfect tragedies which were exhibited on the Grecian stage when Grecian literature was in its glory.” As this work was
never intended for the stage, (indeed, our stage and its arrangements are not suited to the representation of pieces constructed on the Grecian model,) it has not been divided into acts and
Bishop Atterbury, however, had a serious intention of getting it divided into acts and scenes, (as he requested Pope to do it,) and getting it acted by the scholars of Westminster School. But his commitment to the Tower put an end to this design. It has since been brought on the stage, in the form of an oratorio, Handel's music having been adapted to it, as it has been to L'Allegro and Penseroso. In 1672, he published his “ Artis Logicæ Plenior Institutio ;" and the following year “ A Treatise of True Religion,” and “The Best Means to prevent the Growth of Popery,” which had greatly increased through the negligence, if not the connivance, of the king, and the more open encouragement of his brother, the duke of York, afterwards James II. His principle of toleration is agreement in the sufficiency of the Scriptures; and he is for extending it to all who, whatever their opinions are, profess to derive them from the sacred books, and from these only; thus professing to unite all classes of religious reformers against their common foe-Popery. In 1674 he published, in Latin, his “ Familiar Epistles to Eminent Men," which contain curious and interesting opinions and characters of celebrated individuals, ancient and modern ; and also some of his “ Academical Exercises.” A System of Divinity, which he had been long compiling, he did not live to publish. The MS. was discovered in 1823, in the old State Paper Office, Whitehall; and has been published by the present bishop of Winchester, to whose care it was entrusted by George IV. It appears this system has been drawn from the Bible solely ; whereas another system, before mentioned, was drawn from able divines as well. His last literary work was a translation of the “ Latin Declaration of the Poles in favour of John III.," their heroic sovereign. His "History of Muscovy" was not published till after his death.
The gout, with which he had been long and violently afflicted, now took a determined hold of his system, which began to sink rapidly. Such, however, was his firmness and cheerfulness of mind,
that, during the paroxysms of the disease, he would converse, play on the organ, or sing, with his wonted animation ; till at last, his constitution being utterly exhausted, he expired (and so calm and insensible was his transition from life to death, that those in the room were not for some time aware of his dissolution) on Sunday, the 8th of November, 1674, within one month of his completing his sixty-sixth year. He was buried near his father, in the chancel of St. Giles's church, Cripplegate ; his funeral being attended by a large concourse of the nobility and literati then in London. Some years after his death, his tomb-stone was removed for the purpose of facilitating certain improvements in that part of the church; particularly the erection of steps to the communion table, and was not replaced. It is therefore impossible now, as the entire space is evenly flagged over, to ascertain the exact position of his tomb. The sexton has told me that it lies under the clerk's desk, which is at the angle of the aisle and chancel, on the right as you go up : but from an examination of the place, I am disposed to believe that it is nearer the communion table. Opposite the desk and pulpit, there is affixed to one of the pillars a marble bust of him, executed by Bacon, at the expense of the late Mr. Whitbread, in 1793. It represents him in his old age, much wasted, but calm and contemplative; and is considered an admirable like
Dr. Wright, an old clergyman in Dorsetshire, who visited him some time before his death, says,—"I found him in a small house, which had, I think, but one room on a floor ; in that, up one pair of stairs, which was hung with a rusty green, I saw John Milton, sitting in an elbow chair, with black clothes, and neat enough ; pale, but not cadaverous; his hands and fingers gouty, and with chalk stones. Among other discourse, he expressed himself to this purpose, that were he free from the pain of the gout, his blindness would be tolerable." In his mode of living he was an example of sobriety and temperance, being very sparing in the use of wine, or strong liquors. In his diet, too, he was very abstemious, though choice in the quality; "eating and drinking,” according to the distinction of the philosopher, "that he might live, and not living that he might eat and drink,” His
gout, therefore, if not brought on by his studious and sedentary life, must have been hereditary. In his youth he generally sat up at his studies till midnight; but in after life, finding this custom injurious to his eyes and health, he changed his habits, and went to bed and rose early. In the Introduction of his “Apology for Smectymnuus," he gives the following account of himself :-“Those morning haunts are where they ought to be, at home; not sleeping, or concocting the surfeits of an irregular feast, but up and stirring; in winter, often ere the sound of any bell awake men to labour or to devotion ; in summer, as oft with the bird that first rouses, or not much tardier, to read good authors, or cause them to be read, till the attention be weary, or memory have its full freight; then, with useful and generous labours, preserving the body's health and bardiness, to render lightsome, clear, and active obedience to the mind, to the cause of religion, and our country's liberty.” At his first rising, in after life, he usually had a portion of the Hebrew Bible read to him, and then spent an hour or two in contemplation, and breakfasted ; then studied till twelve ; after this, took some exercise, and then dined, (generally in his kitchen, like most of the Londoners of moderate circumstances in his time ;) and after dinner played on the organ, and either sang himself, or desired his wife (who, he said, had a good voice, but no ear,) or one of his daughters to sing ; then he went up to study again till six, when his friends came to visit him, till eight; then he went down to supper, which was usually olives, or some light thing : and after supper he smoked his pipe ; drank a glass of water; and went to bed. In summer he would sometimes sit at the door of his house, and there receive his visitors. His youngest daughter, who was his favourite, and for a long time his principal amanuensis, used to say that "he was delightful company; the life of the conversation, not only on account of his flow of subject, but of his unaffected cheerfulness and civility." Isaac Vossius, in a letter to N. Heinsius, 1651, on the authority of his uncle, Francis Tunius, the writer of “De Pictura Veterum,” describes him as “courteous, affable, and endowed with many virtues ;" and Heinsius, in a letter to Gronovius, mentions this as his general character.