Page images

pardon was signed, he once more took a house in Holborn, near Red-Lion-Fields; and thence removed to Jewin-street, near Aldersgate. All these places have been rebuilt, and no house of Milton is now to be found in these thickly populated parts. People have often wondered why Milton always showed such a preference for the city. There were many reasons. In the first place, he was born and brought up till his seventeenth year in it: the associations of youth form strong attractions. In the second, as Dr. Johnson considerately tells us, Aldersgate-street and the like were not then so much out of the world as now. Besides this, after the Restoration, it would be far more agreeable to Milton to be at some distance from the West-end, where cavaliers and courtiers were now flaunting with newlyrevived insolence; and nothing but taunts, insults, and the hearing of strange and most odious doings could have awaited him. Here Milton married his third and last wife, Elizabeth Minshull, of a good family in Cheshire, with whom he seems to have lived in great affection, so much so, that he wished to leave her all that was left him of his property.

From Jewin-street he made his last remove, as to his London residences, into Artillery-walk, Bunhill-fields. Bunhill-fields were, probably, in those days, open, and airy, and quiet; at present, with the exception of the Artillery Ground itself, and the thickly-populated burial-ground which contains the bones of Bunyan and De Foe, the whole of that neighbourhood is covered with a dense mass of modern houses. Artillery-walk, Bunhill-fields, is no longer to be found. The nearest approach that you get, even to the name, is Artillery-place, Bunhillrow, which is merely a row of new houses adjoining the Artilleryground, and a new church which has been erected in that busy, ordinary, and dingy street, still called Bunhill-row. Besides an Art of Logic, his Treatise of True Religion, Heresie, Schism, Toleration, and what best means may be used against the growth of Popery; his Familiar Letters in Latin; and a translation of a Latin Declaration of the Poles in favour of John III, their heroic sovereign-the two last published in the last year of his life; his residence in Bunhill-fields was made remarkable by the publication of Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson


Agonistes. He left, moreover, in manuscript, a Brief History of Muscovy, and of other less known Countries lying eastward of Russia as far as Cathay, which was published in 1682, and his System of Theology, which was long supposed to have perished, but has been recovered and published of late years, much to the scandal of the orthodox.

Thus to the last did this wonderful man live and labour. Never did any man less "vapour away his patriotism." There is something singularly interesting and impressive in our idea of him, as he calmly passed his latter days in his quiet habitation in Bunhill-fields. He had outlived the great battle of king and people, in which extraordinary men and as extraordinary events had arisen, and shaken the whole civilized world. Charles I, Laud, and Strafford, had fallen in their blood; the monarchy and the church had fallen. Pym, Hampden, Marvel, Vane and the dictator Cromwell, had not only pulled down the greates throne in Europe, but had made all others seem to reel by the terrific precedent. All these stern agents, with the generals Ireton, Harrison, Lambert, Fleetwood, and their compeers, who had risen from the people to fight for the people, were gone, like the actors in an awful tragedy who had played their rôle; some had perished in their blood, others had been torn from their graves; the monarchy and the church, the peerage and all the old practices and maxims, were again in the ascendant, and had taken bloody vengeance; yet this one man, he who had incited and applauded, who had defended and made glorious through his eloquence and his learning the whole republican cause, was left untouched. As if some especial guardianship of Providence had shielded him, or as if the very foes who pulled the dreaded Cromwell from his grave, feared the imprecations of posterity, and shrunk from the touch of that sacred headthere sate the sublime old man at his door, feeling with grateful enjoyment the genial sunshine fall on him. There he sate, erect, serene, calm, and trusting to God the Father of mankind. He had lived even to fulfil that long deferred task of poetic glory; the vision of Paradise Lost passed before him, and had been sung forth in the most majestic strains that had ever made classical the English tongue. His trust in Providence had been justified;

[blocks in formation]

he had served his country, and had yet not missed his immortality. The great and the wise came from every quarter to converse with him; and the wonderful passages through which he and his nation had lived, were food for the musings of the longest day or the most solitary moments.

Many have thought that those melancholy lines in Samson Agonistes, commencing,—

"O loss of sight! of thee I most complain,"

were his own wretched cogitations. But Milton, unlike Samson, had no weak seductions from the path of his great duty to reproach himself with; and far likelier were it, that the whole apostrophe to light spoken in his own character in the opening of the third book of Paradise Lost, was the more usual expression of his feelings :

"Thee I revisit safe,

And feel thy sov'ran, vital lamp; but thou
Revisit'st not these eyes, that roll in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quench'd their orbs,
Or dim suffusion veil'd. Yet, not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Clear spring, or shady grove, or sunny hill,
Smit with the love of sacred song; but chief
Thee, Sion, and the flowery brooks beneath,
That wash thy hallowed feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit: nor sometimes forget
Those other two equalled with me in fate,
So were I equalled with them in renown,
Blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides,
And Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old:
Then feed on thoughts, that voluntary move
Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful bird
Sings darkling, and, in shadiest covert hid,
Tunes her nocturnal note."

Such is the view that Richardson has given us of him in his declining days:-"An ancient clergyman of Dorsetshire, Dr. Wright, found John Milton in a small chamber hung with rusty green, sitting in an elbow chair, and dressed neatly in black; pale, but not cadaverous; his hands and fingers gouty, and with chalk stones. He used also to sit in a grey, coarse cloth coat, at

the door of his house in Bunhill-fields, in warm sunny weather, to enjoy the fresh air; and so, as well as in his room, received the visits of people of distinguished parts as well as quality.”

Much pains have been taken to represent Milton as morose and exacting in domestic life; and as proof of it has been adduced, the leaving of him by his first wife, and the statement that he made his daughters read to him in Latin and Greek, though he would not allow them to learn a syllable of those languages. If these things were true, I should be the last man to defend them, or to endeavour to gloss them over; but they are at least very doubtful. We must remember that these were the charges of his enemies, and they were many and bitter, and by no means truthful. The causes for his wife's desertion we have already examined, and they reflect discredit on her and her family, and not on him. In that account, all that is generous and honourable lies on his side. As to his daughters, probably they did not wish to learn the classical languages; and how they could read in them, while ignorant of them, so as to satisfy his ear, is not so easily conceivable, when we recollect that when Elwood did not understand what he was reading, he immediately detected it, and stopped him. Be this however as it may, Dr. Newton tells us, that all who had written accounts of Milton agreed that "he was affable and instructive in conversation, and of an equal and cheerful temper." It is not so easy to excuse him for refusing to leave any of his property to his daughters, "because they had been very undutiful to him." No doubt he had much to complain of in that disposition which they had imbibed from their mother and her family, but it became a great man, like Milton, to cherish a great affection towards his own children, and to manifest towards them a great forgiveness.

There is an episode in the later life of Milton which we are made acquainted with by Thomas Elwood, the Quaker, and which has something very pleasing and picturesque about it. It is that of his abode at Chalfont St. Giles, in Buckinghamshire. Elwood, who was the son of a country justice of peace, was one amongst the first converts to Quakerism, and has left us a most curious and amusing autobiography. In this he tells us that, while Milton lived in Jewin-street, he was introduced to him as

a reader, the recompense to Elwood being that of deriving the advantage of a better knowledge of the classics, and of the foreign pronunciation of Latin. A great regard sprung up between Milton and his reader, who was a man not only of great integrity of mind, but of a quaint humour and a poetical taste. On the breaking out of the plague in London, Milton, who was then living in Bunhill-fields, wrote to Elwood, who had found an asylum in the house of an affluent Quaker, at Chalfont, to procure him a lodging there. He did so; but before Milton could take possession of his country retreat, Elwood, with numbers of other Quakers, was hurried off to Aylesbury gaol. The persecution of that sect subsiding for awhile, Elwood, on his liberation, paid Milton a visit, and received the MS. of Paradise Lost to take home and read. With this, Elwood had the sense to be greatly delighted, and, in returning it, said, "Thou hast said a great deal upon Paradise Lost; what hast thou to say upon Paradise Found?" Milton was silent a moment, as pondering on what he had heard, and then began to converse on other subjects. When, however, Elwood visited him afterwards in London, Milton showed him the Paradise Regained, saying, "This is owing to you, for you put it into my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont; which before I had not thought of."

Thus in this abode at Chalfont, we hear the first mention of Paradise Lost, and to it we owe Paradise Regained. It is supposed that Milton wrote the whole of the latter poem there, and that he must have done, or the greater part of it, from his being able so soon after his return to show it to Elwood.

It says much for the proprietors of the cottage at Chalfont, and for the feeling of the country in general, that this simple dwelling has been sacredly preserved to this time. You see that all the others near it are much more modern. This is of the old framed timber kind, and is known, not only to the whole village, but the whole country round, as Milton's house. Mr. Dunster, in the additions to his edition of Paradise Regained, says that the cottage at Chalfont "is not pleasantly situated; that the adjacent country is extremely pleasant; but the immediate spot is as little picturesque or pleasing as can well be imagined."

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »