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IN TWELVE BOOKS,
Three Poets in three distant ages born,
WITH THE LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
King Charles I. at the court of France, introduced him to the acquaintance of Grotius, who at that time was honored with the same character there by Christiana, Queen of Sweden. In Rome, Genoa, Florence, and other cities of Italy, he contracted a familiarity with those who were of highest reputation for wit and learning, several of whom gave him very obliging testimonies of their friendship and esteem.
Returning from his travels, he found England on the point of being involved in blood and confusion. He retired to lodgings provided for him in the city; which being commodious for the reception of his sister's sons, and some other young gentlemen, he undertook their education.
In this philosophical course he continued, without a wife, till the year 1643, when he married Mary, the daughter of Richard Powel, of Forest hill in Oxfordshire, a gentleman of estate and reputation in that county, and of principles so very opposite to his son-in-law that the marriage is more to be wondered at than the separation which ensued, in little more than a month after she had cohabited with him in London. Her desertion provoked him both to write several treatises concerning the doctrine and discipline of divorce, and also to pay his addresses to a young lady of great wit and beauty; but before he had engaged her affections to conclude the marriage treaty, in a visit at one of his relations, he found his wife prostrate before him, imploring forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not to be doubted but an interview of that nature, so little expected, must wonderfully affect him; and perhaps the impressions it made on his imagi. nation, contributed much to the painting of that pathetic scene in Paradise Lost, in which Eve addresses herself to Adam for pardon and peace. At the intercession of his friends, who were present, after a short reluctance, he generously sacrificed all his resentment to her tears.
“Soon his heart relented
Now at his feet submissive in distress.” And after this re-union, so far was he from retaining any unkind memory of the provocations which he had received from her ill conduct that when the king's cause was entirely suppressed, and her father, who had been active in his loyalty, was exposed to sequestrations, Milton received both him and his family to protection and free entertainment, in his own house, till their affairs were accommodated by his interest in the victorious faction.
A commission to constitute him Adjutant General to Sir William Waller, was promised, but soon superseded, by Waller's being laid 'aside, when his masters thought it proper
to new model their army. However, the
keenness of his pen had so effectually recommended him to Cromwell's esteem; that when he took the reins of government into his own hand, he advanced him to the Latin Secretary, both to himself and the Parliament; the former of these preferments he enjoyed both under the usurper and his son, the other until King Charles II. was restored. For some time he had an apartment for his family at Whitehall: but his health requiring a freer accession of air, he was obliged to remove thence to lodgings which opened into St. James' Park. Not long after his settlement there his wife died in childbed, and much about the time of her death, a gutta serena which had for several years been gradually increasing, totally extinguished his sight. In this melancholy condition, he was easily prevailed with to think of taking another wife, who was Catharine, the daughter of Captain Woodcock, of Hackney; and she too, in less than a year after their marriage, died in the same unfortunate manner as the former had done; and in his twenty-third sonnet he does honor to her memory.
Being a second time a widower, he employed his friend Dr. Paget to make choice of a third consort, on whose recommendation he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Mr. Minshul, a Cheshire gentleman, by whom he had no issue. Three daughters, by his first wife, were then living; the two elder of whom are said to have been very serviceable to him in his studies; for having been instructed to pronounce not only the modern, but also the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, they read in their respective originals, whatever authors he wanted to consult, though they understood none but their mother tongue.
We come now to take a survey of him in that point of view, in which he will be looked upon by all succeeding ages with equal delight and admiration. An interval of about twenty years
had elapsed since he wrote the Mask of Comus, L'AL legro, IL Penseroso, and Lycidas, all in such an exquisite strain, that, though he had left no other monuments of his genius behind him, his name had been immortal; but neither the infirmities of age and constitution, nor the vicissitudes of fortune, could depress the vigor of his mind, or divert it from executing a design he had long
conceived of writing a heroic poem. The fall
of man was a subject that he had some years before fixed on for a tragedy, which he intended to form by the models of antiquity, and some, not without probability, say, the play opened with that speech in the fourth book of Paradise Lost, line 32, which is addressed by Satan to the sun. Were it material, I believe I could produce other passages, which more plainly appear to have been originally