« ForrigeFortsæt »
as war, was rougher and more barbarous in those days than it is in these. It is to be considered too, that his adversaries first began the attack; they loaded him with much more personal abuse, only they had not the advantage of so much wit to season it. If he had engaged with more candid and ingenuous disputants, he would have preferred civility and fair argument to wit and fatyr. To do so was 'my choice, and to have: “ done thus was my.chance," as he says himself. All who have written any accounts of his life agree, that he was affable and instructive in converfation, of an equal and chearful temper; and yet I can easily be. lieve, that he had a fuffcient sense of his own merits; and contempt enough for his adversaries:
His merits indeed were singular: for he was a mar not only of wonderful genius, but of immense learning and erudition; not only an incomparable poet, buta. great mathematician, logician, hiftorian, and divine, He was a master not only of the Greek and Latin, butlikewise of the Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac, as well! as of the modern languages, Italian, French, and Spanish. He was particularly skilled in the Italian, which he always preferred to the French language, as all the men of letters did at that time in England; and he not only wrote elegantly in it, but is highly commended for his writings by the most learned of the Italians themselves. He had read almost all authors, and improved by all, eren by romances, of which he · had been fond in his younger years: and as the bee can extract honey out of weeds, fo (to use his own words) ." those books, which to many others have been the 66 fuel of wantonnels and loose living, proved to him " so many incitements to the love and observation of “ virtue." His favourite author, after the holy scriptures was Homer: Homer he could repeat almost with. out book; and he was advised to undertake a transla. tion of his works, which no doubt he would have executed to admiration. But (as he says of himself) " he never could delight in long citations, much less "s in whole traductions.” Accordingly there are few things, and those of no great length, which he has
ever translated. He was poffefsed too much of an original genius to be a mere copier. Whether it be * natural difpofition,” says he,“ or education in me,
or that my mother bore me a speaker of what God " made my own, and not a translator.” It is fomewhat remarkable, that there is scarce any author who has written so much, and upon such various subjects, and yet quotes fo little from his contemporary authors, or so seldom mentions any of them. He praites Selden indeed in more places than one; but for the rest, he appears disposed to censure rather than commend. He was a master of music, as was his father, and he could perform both vocally and instrumentally; and it is said that he composed very well, though nothing of this kind is handed down to us. It is also said, that he had some skill in painting, and that somewhere or other there is a head of Milton drawn by himself. But he was blessed with fo many real excellencies, that there is no want of fictitious ones to raife and a. dorn his character. He had a quick apprehension, a fublime imagination, a ftrong memory, a piercing judgment, a wit always ready, and facetious or grave as the occasion required. I know not whether the Joss of his fight did not add vigour to the faculties of his mind. He at least thought fo, and often com: forted bimself with that reflection.
But his great parts and learning have scarcely gained him more admirers, than his political principles bave raised him enerries. And yet the darling paf. fion of his foul was the love of liberty; this was his constant aim and end, however he might be mistaken in the means.
He was indeed very zealous in what was called the good old cause; and with his spirit and bis resolution, it is somewhat wonderful that he never ventured his person in the civil war: But though he was not in arms he was not inactive, and thought, I. fuppofe, that he could be of more service to the cause by his pen than by his sword. He was a thorough republican; and in this he thought like a Greek or Roman, as he was very conversant with their writings. One day Sir Robert Howard, who was a friend to
Milton, as well as to the liberties of his country, and was one of his constant visitors to the last, inquired of him, how he came to side with the republicans ? Milton answered among other reasons, because theirs was the most frugal government, for the trappings of a monarchy might set up an ordinary commonwealth. But then his attachment to Cromwell must be condemned, as being neither confiftent with his republican principles, nor with his love of liberty. I know no other way of accounting for his conduct, but by presuming (as I think we may reasonably presume) that he was far from entirely approving of Cromwell's proceedings, bat confidered him as the only perfou who could rescue the nation from the tyranny of the Prefbyterians, who he iaw were erecting a worse dominion of their own upon the ruins of prelatical episcopacy; and of all things he dreaded fpiritual flavery, and therefore closed with Cromwell and the Independents, as he expected under them greater liberty of conscience. And though he served Cromwell, yet it must be said for him, that he served a great master, and served him ably, and was not wanting from time to time in giving him excellent good advice, especially in his Second Defence. And so little being said of him in all Secretary Thurloe's state-papers, it appears that he had no great share in the secrets and intrigues of government; what he dispatched, was little more than matters of neceffary form, letters and answers to foreign states. And he may be justified for acting in such a station, upon the same principle as Sir Matthew Hale for hold. ing a judge's commillion under the Usurper. In the latter part of his life he frequenily expressed to his friends his entire fatisfaction of mind, that he had constantly employed his strength and faculties in the defence of liberty, and in opposition to flavery.
In matters of religion too he has given as great of, fence, or even greater, than by his political princ.pies. But still let not the infidel glory: no luch man wasever of that party. He had the advantage of a pious education, and ever expressed the profoundest reverence of the Deity in his words and actions, was both. a
Christian and a Protestant, and Audied and admired the holy Scriptures above all other books whatsoever. In all his writings he plainly showeth a religious turn of mind, as well in verse as in profe, as well in his works of an earlier date as in those of latter composition. When he wrote the doctrine and discipline of divorce, he appears to have been a Calvinist; but af. terwards he entertained a more favourable opinion of Arminius. Some have inclined to believe that he was an Arian; but there are more express paffiuges in his works to overthrow this opinion, than any there are to confirm it. For in the conclusion of his treatise of reformation, he thus folemnly invokes the Trinity: “ Thou therefore that sittest in light and glory un" approachable, Parent of angels and men ! next " thee I implore, Omnipotent King, Redeemer of that " loft remnant whose nature thou didst assume, inef. “ fable and everlasting Love! and thou the third sub" ftance of divine infinitude, illumining Spirit, the " joy and folace of created things ! one tri-personal ! Godhead! look upon this thy poor and almoft fpeot " and expiring church,” &c. And, in his tract of Pre!atical episcopacy, he endeavours to prove the fpuri, ufness of some epistles attributed to Ignatius, because they contained in them herefies, one of which heresies is, that “ he condemns them for ministers of Satan, “who say that Christ is God above all.” And a lito tle after, in the same tract, he objects to the authority of Tertullian, because he went about to prove an
imparity between God the Father and God the “ Sun.” And in Paradise Lost we shall find nothing upon this head that is not perfectly agreeable to Scripture. Dr. Trapp, who was as likely to cry out upon heresy as any man, asserts that the poem is orthodox in 'tery part of it; or otherwise he would not have beurn it the pains of translating it Milton was indeed a duienter from the church of England, in which he had been educated, and was by his parents designed for holy orders: But he was led away by early prejudices against the doctrine and discipline of the church. In his younger years he was a favourer of the Presby
terians; in his middle age he was best pleased with the Independents and anabaptists, as allowing greater liberty of conscience than others, and coming nearest in his opinion to the primitive practice; and in the latter part of his life he was not a professed member of any particular fect of Christians, frequented no public worship, nor used any religious rite in his family. Whether so many different forms of worship as he had feen had made him indifferent to all forms; or whether he thought that all Christians had in some things corrupted the purity and fimplicity of the gospel; or whether he disliked their endless and uncharitable difputes, and that love of dominion and inclination to persecution, which he said was a piece of Popery inseparable from all churches; or whether he believed, that a man might be a good Christian without joining in any communion; or whether he did not look upon himself as inspired, as wrapt up in God, and above all forms and ceremonies, it is not easy to determipe. To bis own master be ftandeth or falteth. But, if he was of any denomination, he was a sort of a Quietist, and was full of the interior of religion, though he so little regarded the exterior; and it is certain was to the last an enthufiaft rather than an infidel. As enthusiasm made Norris a poet, fo poetry might make Milton an enthufiaft.
His circumstances were never very mean, nor very great; for he lived above want, and was not intent upon accumulating wealth. His ambition was more to enrich and adorn his mind.. His father supported him in his travels, and for some time after. Then his pupils must have been of fome advantage to him, and brought him either a certain ftipend, or considerable presents at least; and he had scarcely any other method of improving his fortune, as he was of no profeflion. When bis father died, he inherited at pinder son's share of his estate, the principal part of which I: believe was his house in Breadftreet. Not long after he was appointed Latin Secretary, with a falary of zco l. a.
2. year ; so that he was now in opulent circum-. kances, for a man, who had always led a frugal and