Page images

tical enough to think that the nation, agitated as it was, might be settled by a pamphlet, called . A ready and easy Way to establish a free Commonwealth ;' which was, however, enough considered to be both seriously and ludicrously answered.

The obstinate enthusiasm of the commonwealth-men was very remarkable. When the King was apparently returning, Harrington, with a few associates as fanatical as himself, used to meet, with all the gravity of political importance, to settle an equal government by rotation ; and Milton, kicking when he could strike no longer, was foolish enough to publish, a few weeks before the Restoration, ' Notes upon a Sermon preached by one Griffiths, intituled, The Fear of God and the King. To these notes an answer was written by L'Estrange, in a pamphlet petulantly called “No Blind Guides.'

But whatever Milton could write, or men of greater activity could do, the King was now about to be restored with the irresistible approbation of the people. He was therefore no longer Secretary, and was consequently obliged to quit the house which he held by his office; and, proportioning his sense of danger to his opinion of the importance of his writings, thought it convenient to seek some shelter, and hid himself for a time in Bartholomew-Close, by West-Smithfield.

The King, with lenity of which the world has had perhaps no other example, declined to be the judge or avenger of his own or his father's wrongs; and promised to admit into the Act of Oblivion all except those whom the Parliament should except; and the Parliament doomed none to capital punishment but the wretches who had immediately co-operated in the murder of the King. Milton was certainly not one of them; he had only justified what they had done.

This justification was indeed sufficiently offensive; and (June 16) an order was issued to seize Milton's · Defence,' and Goodwin's Obstructors of Justice,' another book of the same tendency, and burn them by the common hangman. The Attorney-general was ordered to prosecute the authors; but Milton was not seized, nor perhaps very diligently pursued.

Not long after (August 19) the flutter of innumerable bosoms was stilled by an act, which the King, that his mercy might want no recommendation of elegance, rather called an Act of Oblivion than of Grace. Goodwin was named, with nineteen more, as incapacitated for any public trust; but of Milton there was no exception.

[ocr errors]

Of this tenderness shown to Milton the curiosity of mankind has not forborne to inquire the reason. Burnet thinks he was forgotten; but this is another instance which may confirm Dalrymple's observation, who says that whenever Burnet's narrations are examined, he appears to be mistaken.'

Forgotten he was not; for his prosecution was ordered ; it must be therefore by design that he was included in the general oblivion. He is said to have had friends in the house, such as Marvel, Morrice, and Sir Thomas Clarges : and undoubtedly a man like him must have had influence. A very particular story of his escape is told by Richardson in his Memoirs, which he received froin Pope, as delivered by Betterton, who might have heard it from Davenant. In the war between the King and Parliament, Davenant was made prisoner and condemned to die; but was spared at the request of Milton. When the turn of success brought Milton into the like danger, Davenant repayed the benefit by appearing in his favour. Here is a reciprocation of generosity and gratitude so pleasing, that the tale makes its own way to credit. În Cunningham's History of Great Britain, a different account of the means by which Milton secured himself is given. 'Milton, Latin secretary to Cromwell, distinguished by his writings in favour of the rights and liberties of the people, pretended to be dead, and had a public funeral procession. The king applauded his policy in escaping the punishment of death, by a seasonable show of dying.'

The contrivance was not unlikely to succeed, if practised, with Charles II., whose resentment was capable of being diverted by the dexterity of wit.

The publication of the Act of Oblivion put him in the same condition with his fellow-subjects. He was, however, upon some pretence now not known, in the custody of the serjeant in December; and when he was released, upon his refusal of the fees demanded, he and the serjeant were called before the house. now safe within the shade of oblivion, and knew himself to be as much out of the power of a griping officer as any other man. How the question was determined is not known. Milton would hardly have contended, but that he knew himself to have right op his side.

He then removed to Jewin-street, near Aldersgate street; and, being blind and by no means wealthy, wanted a domestic companion and attendant; and therefore, by the recommendation of Dr. Paget, married Elizabeth

He was

Minshul, of a gentleman's family in Cheshire, probably without a fortune.

Soon after his marriage, according to an obscure story, be was offered the continuance of his employment, and being pressed by his wife to accept it, answered, You like other women, want to ride in your coach; my wish s to live and die an honest man.' If he considered the Latin Secretary as exercising any of the powers of government, he that had shared authority either with the Parliament or Cromwell, might have foreborne to talk very loudly of his honesty; and if he thought the office purely ministerial, he certainly might have honestly retained it under the King. But this tale has too little evidence to deserve a disquisition ; large offers and sturdy rejections are among the most common topics of falsehood.

He had so much either of prudence, or gratitude, that he forebore to disturb the new settlement with any of his political or ecclesiastical opinions, and from this time devoted himself to poetry and literature.

About this time Elwood the Quaker, being recommended to him as one who would read Latin to him for the advantage of his conversation, attended him every afternoon, except on Sundays. Milton, who, in his letter to Hartlib, had declared, that to read Latin with an English mouth is as ill a hearing as Law French, required that Elwood should learn and practise the Italian pronunciation, which, he said, was necessary, if he would' talk with foreigners. Elwood complied with the directions, and improved himself by his attendance; for he relates, that Milton, having a curious ear, knew by his voice when he read what he did not understand, and would stop him, and open the most difficult passages.

In a short time he took a house in the Artillery-Walk, leading to Bunhill-fields; the mention of which concludes the register of Milton's removals and habitations. He lived longer in this place than any other

He was now confessedly and visibly employed upon his poem Paradise Lost,' of which the progress might be noted by those with whom he was familiar; for he was obliged when he had composed as many lines as his memory would conveniently retain, to employ some friend in writing them, having, at least for part of the time, no regular attendant. This gave opportunity to observations and reports.

Mr. Philips observes that there was a very remarkable circumstance in the composure of Paradise Lost,'which I have particular reason,' says he,' to remember ; for whereas I had the perusal of it from the very begining

the years

for some years, as I went from time to time to visit him, in parcels of ten, twenty, or thirty verses at a time (which, being written by whatever hand came next, might possibly want correction as to the orthography and pointing), having, as the summer came on, not been showed any for a considerable while, and desiring the reason thereof, was answered, that his vein never happily flowed but from the Autumnal Equinox to the Vernal; and that whatever he attempted at other times was never to his satisfaction, though he courted his fancy never so much; so that, in all

he was about this poem, he may be said to have spent half his time therein.'

When the plague (1665) raged in London, Milton took refuge at Chalfont in Bucks: where Elwood, who had taken the house for him, first saw a complete copy of Paradise Lost, and, having perused it, said to him, . Thou hast said a great deal upon Paradise Lost; what hast thou to say upon Paradise Found !”

Next year, when the danger of infection had ceased, he returned to Bunhill-fields; and designed the publication of his poem. A license was necessary, and he could expect no great kindness from a chaplain of the archbishop of Canterbury. He seems, however, to have been treated with tenderness; for, though objections were made to particular passages, and among them to the simile of the sun eclipsed in the first book, yet the license was granted; and he sold his copy, April 27, 1667, to Samuel Simmons, for an immediate payment of five pounds, with a stipulation to receive five pounds more when thirteen hundred should be sold of the first edition ; and again five pounds after the sale of the same number of the second edition ; and another five pounds after the same sale of the third. None of the three editions were to be extended beyond fifteen hundred copies.

The first edition was of ten books, in a small quarto. The titles were varied from year to year: and an advertise. ment and the arguments of the books were omitted in some copies, and inserted in others.

The sale gave him in two years a right to his second payment, for which the receipt was signed April 26, 1669. The second edition was not given till 1674; it was printed in small octavo; and the number of books was increased to twelve, by a division of the seventh and twelfth; and some other small improvements were made. The third edition was published in 1678; and the widow, to whom the copy was then to devolve, sold all her claims to Simmons for eight pounds, according to her receipt given

[ocr errors]

Dec. 21, 1680. Simmons had already agreed to transfer the whole right to Brabazon Aylmer for twenty-five pounds, and Aylmer sold to Jacob Tonson half, August 17, 1683 half, March 24, 1690, at a price considerably enlarged. In the history of Paradise Lost' a deduction thus minute will rather gratify than fatigue.

Three years after his 'Paradise Lost' (1667), he published his History of England,' comprising the whole fable of Geoffery of Monmouth, and continued to the Norman Invasion. Why he should have given the first part, which he seems not to believe, and which is universally rejected, it is difficult to conjecture. The style is harsh ; but it has something of rough vigour, which perhaps may often strike, though it cannot please.

The same year were printed Paradise Regained ;' and Sampson Agonistes,' a tragedy written in imitation of the Ancients, and never designed by the author for the stage. As these poems were published by another bookseller, it has been asked whether Simmons was discouraged from receiving them by the slow sale of the former ? Why a writer changed his bookseller a hundred years ago, is difficult to discover. Certainly, he who in two years sells thirteen hundred copies of a volume in quarto, bought for two payments of five pounds each, has no reason to repent his purchase.

When Milton showed Paradise Regained' to Elwood, * This,' said he, 'is owing to you; for you put it in my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which otherwise I had not thought of.'

His last poetical offspring was his favourite. He could not, as Elwood relates, endure to hear Paradise Lost preferred to Paradise Regained.

His polemical disposition again revived. He had now been safe so long, that he forgot his fears, and published a * Treatise of true Religion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration, and the best Means to prevent the Growth of Popery.'

He now reprinted his juvenile poems, with some additions.

In the last year of his life he sent to the press, seeming to take delight in publication, a collection of Familiar Epistles in Latin ; to which, being too few to make a volume, he added some academical exercises, which perhaps he perused with pleasure, as they recalled to his memory the days of youth, but for which, nothing but veneration for his name could now procure a reader.

When he had attained his sixty-sixth year, the gout, with which he had been long tormented, prevailed over the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »