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man, who had a soul above being guilty of so mean an action.”
There are some calumnies so utterly despicable and absurd, that to refute them elaborately is almost a disgrace; did not the calumny I am now speaking of, belong to this description, it might be here observed that a writer who published remarks on Johnson's Life of Milton, in which the asperity of that biographer is opposed with superior asperity, has proved, with new arguments, the futility of the charge in question. Instead of repeating these, let me observe, that the attempt of Johnson, to revive a base and sufficiently refuted imputation against the great author, whose life he was writing, is one of the most extraordinary proofs, that literature can exhibit, how far the virulence of political hatred may pervert a very powerful mind, even a mind which makes moral truth its principal pursuit, and assiduously Jabors to be just. This remark is not made in enmity to Johnson, but to shew how cautious the most cultivated understanding
should be in watching the influence of any hostile prejudice. Milton himself may be also urged as an example to enforce the same caution ; for though he was certainly no impostor in imputing the prayer in question to the king, yet his considering the king's use of it as an offence against heaven is a pitiable absurdity as glaring as it would be to affirm, that the divine poet is himself profane in assigning to a speech of the Almighty, in his poem, the two following
Son of my bosom, son who art alone
Because they are partly borrowed from a line in Virgil, addressed by a heathen goddess to her child :
“ Nate, meæ vires, mea magna potentia solus.
The heat of political animosity could thus throw a mist over the bright intellects of Milton ; yet his Iconoclastes, taken altogether, is a noble effort of manly reason ; it
uncanonized a fictitious saint, who assuredly had no pretension to the title.
Having thus signalized himself as the literary antagonist of Charles when the celebrated Salmasius was hired to arraign the proceedings of England against him, every member of the English council turned his eyes upon Milton, as the man from whose spirit and eloquence his country might expect the most able vindication, In 1651, he published his defence of the people, the most elaborate of all his Latin compositions ; the merits and defects of this singular performance might be inost properly discussed in a preliminary discourse to the prose works of Milton; here I shall only remark, that in the composition of it he gave the most singular proof of genuine public spirit that ever patriot had occasion to display ; since, at the time of his engaging in this work, the infirmity in his eyes was so alarmin g, that his physicians assured him he must inevitably lose them if he persisted in his labour. “On this occasion,” says Milton to a savage antagonist, who had reproached him
with blindness) “ * I reflected that many had purchased with a superior evil a lighter good, glory with death; to me, on the contrary, greater good was proposed with an inferior evil; so that by incurring blirdness alone, I might fulfil the most honorable of all duties, which, as it is a more solid advan
* Unde fic mecum reputabam, multos graviore malo minus bonum morte gloriam, redimisse: mihi contra majus bonum minore cum malo proponi; ut possem cum cæcitate sola vel honestissimum officii munus implere quod ut ipsa gloria per se est solidius, ita cuique optatius atque antiquius debet esse. Hac igitur tam brevi luminum usurâ, quanta maxima quivi cum utilitate publica, quoad liceret, fruendum esse statui. Videtis quid prætulerim, quid amiserim, qua inductus ratione: desinant ergo judiciorum Dci calumniatores maledicere, deque me somnia sibi fingere: sic denique habento me sortis meæ neque pigere neque pænitere : immotum atque fixum in sententia perstare; Deum iratum neque sentire, neque habere, imo maximis in reb usclementiam ejus et benignitatem erga me paternam experiri atque agnoscere; in hoc præsertim, quód solante ipso atque animum confirmante in ejus divina voluntate acquiescam ; quid is largitus mihi sit quam quid negaverit sæpius cogitans ; postremo nolle me cum suo quovis rectissime facto, facti mei conscientiam permutare, aut recordationem ejus gratam mihi semper atque tranquillam deponere.- Prose Works, vol. 2. p. 376.
tage than glory itself, ought to be more eligible in the estimation of every man ; I resolved therefore to make what short use Imight yet have of my eyes as conducive as possible to public utility : you see what I preferred, and what I lost, with the principle on which I acted ; let slanderers therefore cease to talk irreverently on the judgment of God, and to make me the subject of their fictions ; let them know that I am far from considering my lot with sorrow or repentance; that I persist immovable in my sentiment; that I neither fancy nor feel the anger of God, but, on the contrary, experience and acknowledge his paternal clemency and kindness in my most important concerns, in this especially, that, by the comfort and confirmation, which he himself infuses into my spirit, I acquiesce in his divine pleasure, continually considering rather what he has bestowed upon me, than what he has denied. Finally, that I would not exchange the consciousness of my own conduct for their merit, whatever it may be, or part with a remembrance, which is to my