Page images

at this epoch. Let us contemplate Milton while such things were the rage. He had now withdrawn himself from the angry and harsh contests in which he had been so many years engaged, and was contemplating battles, a thousand-fold more exalted, of rebel angels with almighty power. Never, in his more worldly employments, seeing things but in their grandest phases, with what calm scorn must he now have looked down upon the petty witticisms of what the Court and nation now considered the brilliant emanations of poetic genius! Davenant was his friend, and Milton may have found some fine things in Gondibert; but there are no traces that the two poets had at this period any familiarity or intercourse. I do not recollect that Milton and Cowley were acquainted ; nor do Milton's early poems seem to have come under Cowley's notice: if they had, he would assuredly have quoted them in his • Prose Essays.'*

The conduct of those who were now re-admitted to power was too well calculated to confirm the poet's hatred of monarchy: but in silent solitude and darkness he worked complacently on. Conscious of his own superiority of genius, he did not regard the loud applauses of the mob in favour of others. He did not wonder that the dissolute in life should have no taste for the pure spiritualities

•'* In fact, when they appeared in 1645, he was in the King's service, and personally attended His Majesty ; and he died in 1667, before the second edition of the poems, and the very year in which the Paradise Lost' was published.

of true poetry : he relied upon the rewards of posterity with a just and sure faith. While others were groping upon earth in sensual pleasures, he lived by his imagination in heaven: his outward blindness did but strengthen his inward light. Perhaps but for this blindness his creative faculties had not been sufficiently concentrated to produce his great poem. Something of this opinion he seems himself to have entertained; thus drawing comfort from his misfortune. He was now shut out from worldly distractions; and the day was as the covering calm of night to him. The humility of his fortune, the singularity of his habits, all aided contemplation. The Muse can never live, except feebly and languidly, amid material luxuries: she delights in the majesty of thought, the scorn of all sublunary pleasures.

The poet, in his long intercourse with the busy world, had, like others, shown the human passions of anger, bitterness, contempt, and invective;-he now threw them all off: they nowhere appear in the sublime poetry be now produced, unless perhaps by slight allusion in a few passages of • Samson Agonistes,' where the memory of the past revives a few stings.

In 1665 Milton married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshul, daughter of Sir Edward Minshul, knight, of an ancient Cheshire family. She survived him above fifty years, and, retiring to Nantwich in Cheshire, died there in 1727.

Ellwood, the quaker, now undertook to read to him, for the sake of the advantage of his conversation and instruction.* When the plague raged in London, 1663, Ellwood received Milton and his family into his house at Chalfont, St. Giles, in Buckinghamshire. Here Ellwood says it was that the poet communicated to him the manuscript of Paradise Lost.'

Bishop Newton remarks, that considering the difficulties “under which the author lay, his uneasiness at the public affairs and his own, his age and infirmities, his not being now in circumstances to maintain an amanuensis, but obliged to make use of any hand that came next to write his verses as he made them, it is really wonderful that he should have the spirit to undertake such a work, and much more that he should ever bring it to perfection.”

At this time he addressed a beautiful Latin letter to his friend Peter Heimbach, a German, of which the following is Hayley's translation :

“If, among so many funerals of my countrymen, in a year so full of pestilence and sorrow, you were induced, as you say, by rumour to believe that I also was snatched away, it is not surprising; and if such a rumour prevailed among those of your nation, as it seems to have done, because they were solicitous for my health, it is not unpleasing; for I must esteem it as a proof of their benevolence towards me. But by the

* See Ellwood's • Autobiography,' and see T. Warton's character of this book in Todd, 1. 187.

graciousness of God, who had prepared for me a safe retreat in the country, I am still alive and well; and, I trust, not utterly an unprofitable servant, whatever duty in life there yet remains for me to fulfil. That you remember me after so long an interval in our correspondence, gratifies me exceedingly; though, by the politeness of your expression, you seem to afford me room to suspect that you have rather forgotten me, since, as you say, you admire in me so many different virtues wedded together. From so many weddings I should assuredly dread a family too numerous, were it not certain that in narrow circumstances, and under severity of fortune, virtues are most excellently reared and most flourishing. Yet one of these said virtues has not very handsomely rewarded me for entertaining her; for that which you call my political virtue, and which I should rather wish you to call my devotion to my country, (enchanting me with her captivating name,) almost, if I may say so, expatriated me. Other virtues, however, join their voices to assure me that wherever we prosper in rectitude, there is our country. In ending my letter, let me obtain from you this favour; that if you find any parts of it 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. I still rejoice that your merit as an accomplished man, whom I knew as a youth of the highest expectation, has

advanced you so far in the honourable favour of your prince. For your prosperity in every other point you have both my wishes and my hopes. Farewell.”

London, August 26th, 1666.”

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »