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and ear were musical. He was vigorous and active, delighting in the exercise of the sword. Of his figure in his declining days, the following sketch has been left by Richardson.—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 gray coarse cloth coat, at the door of his house near Bunhill Fields, in warm sunny weather, to enjoy the fresh air. And so, as well as in his room, he received the visits of people of distinguished parts, as well as quality.12.
His domestic habits were those of a severe and temperate student. He drank little wine, and fed without any luxurious delicacy of choice. In his youth, he studied till midnight; but warned by the early decay of sight, and his disordered health, he afterwards changed his hours, and rested in bed 43 from nine till four in summer, and five in the winter months. If at these hours he was not disposed to rise, he had a person by his bedside to read to him. When he had risen, he had a chapter in the Hebrew Bible read to him, and then studied till twelve. He then took some exercise for an hour in his garden, dined,
42 Richardson's Life of Milton, 1734, p. iv.
43 The bed on which Milton died was given by Mr. Hollis to Akenside the poet, who was delighted with the present. See Hollis's Memoirs, p. 112.
44 Milton had taught his two younger daughters to pronounce exactly the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French, without understanding the meaning of the languages. This at length became so irksome, that, on their expressing their uneasiness, they were sent out to learn embroidery, &c. Elwood, Ed. Philips, and Skinner read to him. He used to say, in his daughters' hearing that one tongue was enough for a woman. v. Philips' Lifc, p. 42.
played on the organ, and either sang himself, or made his wife sing, who had a good voice, though not a musical ear. He then again studied till six; entertained his visitors 46 till eight; and supped upon olives, or some light thing, 46 and after a pipe of tobacco, and a glass of water, went to bed. That Milton and his wife used to dine in the kitchen, as appears in the affidavit of their maid-servant, Mary Fisher, I suppose might be owing to the homely and simple custom of the times among plain people, and cannot be adduced as a mark of poverty or meanness.
He composed much in the night and morning, and dictated in the day, sitting obliquely in an elbow chair, with his leg thrown over the arm. Fortune, as Johnson observes, appears not to have had much of his care. He lost, by different casualties, about four thousand pounds : yet his wants were so few, and his habits of life so unexpensive, that he was never reduced to indigence. He sold his library before his death, 47 and left his
45. He was visited by the learned, much more than he did desire.' v. Aubrey Lett. iii. p. 443. Foreigners came much to see him, and admired him, and offered to him great preferments to come over to them; and the only inducement of several foreigners that came over, was to see O. Protector and Mr. J. Milton: and would see the house and chamber where he was born. He was much more admired abroad than at home.'
46 It was when he was infirm and sick, that he addressed his wife, as Mary Fisher tells us she overheard, 'Who having provided something for deceased's dinner which he very well liked, he spake to his said wife, these or the like words, as near as this deponent can remember. “God have mercy, Betty, I see thou wilt perform according to thy promise, in providing me such dishes as I think fit while I live; and when I die, thou knowest I have left thee all.”' Milton had two servant-maids, Mary and Elizabeth Fisher. See his Will. His man-servant was B. Green. See Milton's Agreement in the Appendix.
47 He is said to have borrowed fifty pounds of Jonathan
widow about fifteen hundred pounds. Fenton says, “Though he abode in the heritage of oppressors, and the spoils of the country lay at his feet, neither his conscience, nor his honour could stoop to gather them.'
It has been agreed by all, that he was of an equal and cheerful temper, and pleasing and instructive in conversation. His daughter said, “her father was delightful company, the life of the conversation; and that, on account of a flow of subject, and an unaffected cheerfulness and civility. Richardson says, “that Milton had a gravity in his temper, not melancholy, or not till the latter part of his life; not sour, nor morose, or ill natured, but a certain serenity of mind, a mind not condescending to little things :' and Aubrey adds, that he was satirical.'
His literature was unquestionably immense ; his adversaries admitted that he was the most able and acute scholar living. With the Hebrew, and its two dialects, he was well acquainted ; in the Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish languages, he was eminently skilled. In Latin, his knowledge was such as to place him in the first rank of writers and critics. His Italian sonnets have been praised even by Italians. He himself relates that his round of study and Hartop of Aldborough in Yorkshire, who died in 1791, at the age of 138. He returned the loan with honour, though not without much difficulty, as his circumstances were very low. Mr. Hartop would have declined receiving it, but the pride of the Poet was equal to his genius, and he sent the money with an angry letter, which was found among the curious possessions of the venerable old man.' See Easton's Human Longevity, p. 241. Toland says, 'towards the latter part of his time he contracted his library, both because the heirs he left could not make a right use of it, and that he thought he might sell it more to their advantage than they could be able to do themselves.' v. Life, 142.
reading was ceaseless; and that his life had not been unexpensive in learning and voyaging about. The classical books, in which he most delighted, were Homer, whose two poems, Toland says, he could almost repeat without book, Ovid's * Metamorphoses, and Euripides ; his copy of the latter poet, with some critical observations in the margin, is now, I believe, in the possession of Sir Henry Halford.f Lord Charlemont possessed his Lycophron, in which some critical remarks were made. As a further proof of the diligence and exactness with which he read books of not common occurrence, I shall mention, that I have seen a copy of the Sonnetti of Varchi that belonged to him, in which the most curious ex-pressions, and the more poetical passages were underlined, and marked with extraordinary care. He is said to have read Plautus repeatedly, in order to rail with more choice phrase at Salmasius. Plato and Demosthenes are supposed to have been his favourite authors in Greek prose; and among the Roman historians, he has decreed to Sallust 48 the palm of superiority. His skill in Rabbinical literature, in which he has not been followed by his commentators, was unusually great. Of the English poets, it is said he set most value on Spenser, Shakespeare, and Cowley.
* Deborah, his daughter, informed Dr. Ward, that 'Isaiah, Homer, and Ovid, were works which they were often called to read to their father. In his Prolusiones, p. 81, he calls • Ovidius poetarum elegantissimus.'
+ T. Warton has traced this book from its possessor, Bishop Hare, in 1740, to Mr. Cradock, who bequeathed it
See some to Sir Henry Halford. See his Milton, p. 569. letters concerning it in Cradock's Memoirs, vol. iv. p. 137– 140.
48 See his Latin Letters (ed. 1674), p. 53.
Spenser 49 was apparently his favourite. Johnson seems surprised at his approbation of Cowley, a poet whose ideas of excellence are so different from his own; these are facts for which it is difficult to account; Scaliger preferred Statius to Virgil; and who would have supposed that Rubens could have said, if he were not Rubens, he would wish to be Poëlemberg.
That Milton read the works of those dramatic poets who were the contemporaries or successors of Shakespeare, is evident, from his having transplanted some of their beautiful expressions into his works : and he mentions in his Apology for Smectymnus, that he was much enamoured of romances in his youth. His character of Dryden was, that he was a good rhymist, but no poet; for we may well suppose that the charms of Dryden's poetry possessed few attractions for his mind. There was nothing in it lofty or imaginative enough for one, who had been used to delight in richer creations of fancy, to listen to wilder melodies, to gaze upon more magnificent visions, and to repose amid the bowers of paradise. In Dryden's pages of satire, and in his pictures of society, there were no visionary shadows, no gorgeous colors brought from fairy land, no harps or hallelujahs of adoring saints, no swellings of unearthly music, no purpureal gleams of passing wings, none of the glories of romance, and none of the terrors of the Apocalypse.
The political opinions of Milton were those of
49 · Milton acknowledged to me that Spenser was his original.' v. Dryden's Pref. to his Fables, p. xx. and Ded. to Juvenal, p. 126. Pearce says, 'that he could point out to Bentley, “a hundred words (I believe) in Milton to be met with in no author before him.",
V. p. 198.