ePub 版

a thorough republican, which Johnson thinks was founded on an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence. This conclusion is so uncharitable and unjust, that it must recoil with injury on him who made it. No one can read Milton's writings, or contemplate his life, without being persuaded that his first desire was the freedom, and through that, the happiness of his country. Other great and good men were republicans as well as Milton: and who amid the difficulties of those evil days, was to direct his line of conduct so clearly as to say, that no other course could be pursued with innocence and safety? I am not called upon to express an opinion as to the justice of the cause which he espoused, but I am bound to vindicate his character from the charge of being influenced in his great patriotic exertions by any feelings but those of a good and elevated nature. Men of most enlightened minds, of most inflexible virtue, of the most devoted attachment to their country, were seen opposed to each other in the senate and the field. There was a great and complicated question before them, the dangers and difficulties of which thickened as it advanced : good and brave men looked on it in different shades of sorrow or of hope, according to their tempers or habits of thought; and that which Milton contemplated as the bright dawning of a more glorious day, came lowering with such clouds and darkness, as to sink the virtuous heart of Falkland even to despair.

Harrington 50 had observed, that the troubles of the times were not to be attributed wholly to wilfulness or faction, neither to the misgovern

60 See Burnet's Introd. to Milton's Prose Works, i. p. 9.


[ocr errors]

ment of the prince, nor the stubbornness of the people, but to a change in the balance of property, which since Henry the Seventh's time had been daily falling into the scale of the commons, from that of the king, and the lords ;' thus, as a sensible and temperate writer observes, the opulence and independence of the commons tended to produce a popular government, and the introduction of mercenary armies to aggrandize the

Hence the contest between the king and the people, the one to extend his prerogative, the other to augment their privileges. The petition of rights collected the grievances of the nation into one view, and stated the acknowledged limits of the prerogative, and the undisputed rights of the people.” Putting aside all favorite and partial views, and looking at the question with an equal indifference, it may be said, that all must have seen the necessity of amending the manner in which the government was conducted, what wonder if some objected even to the form ? The dispute in fact, as Dr. Balguy observes, was a conflict between governors who ruled by will

, not by law; and subjects who would not suffer the law itself to control their actions. Milton might have despaired (for he had no example at home before him) of seeing that limited and legal monarchy, which we never possessed till the reign of the Stuarts had passed away: and which for the first time erected the safety of the throne, on the secured liberty of the subject, and the inviolable sanctity of the laws. Periods like the one we are contemplating, occasionally recurring, and long and secretly prepared, produce, when they arrive, great ferment and desire of change in the minds of men : nor must we too severely blame those who, in the ardour of hope, aspire to a perfection that human institutions have never reached, and who, disgusted with the real abuses of the past, would turn to the imaginary advantages of the future. Milton wished for a republic, best securing, as he thought, the liberty and happiness of the people ; great then was his indignation, when he saw the Presbyterian synod throw away surplice and cope, and yet put on all but the old episcopal robes; and the man of little less than divine virtue,' the father of his country, the leader of her armies, the most glorious of her citizens, the founder and protector of her liberty; him who had despised the name of king for majesty, yet more majestic ; * whom God manifestly favoured, that he was in all things his helper ! when he saw this bold imperious usurper put off the Puritan's cloak, lay down his battered breastplate, and stepping on the neck of crowned fortune,' take possession of the empty throne. He hated popery, as it was slavish, ignorant, antichristian, and idolatrous : deep therefore was his sorrow, when he spoke of the dissoluteness of a returning court, of a queen in most likelihood outlandish and a Papist, and a queen mother with their sumptuous court, and numerous train. In disappointment and disgust he turned away from sights like these, to contemplate the example of the United Provinces, which he calls a potent and flourishing republic!

The biographers of Milton, when speaking of his family, have mentioned his brother Christopher, and his sister Anne. It appears, by a more diligent inquiry, that the names of two other sisters, Tabitha and Sarah, are mentioned in the baptismal register, and the death of Sarah only is recorded. Christopher was a royalist, and after his brother's death became a judge. In the rebellion he compounded for his estate, the fine levied upon him being two hundred pounds. He long resided at Ipswich, and in a neighbouring village, and was buried in the porch of St. Nicholas, in March, 1692. He was knighted by James the Second. Philips says of him that he was a person of a modest and quiet temper, preferring justice and virtue before all worldly pleasure and grandeur, but that in the beginning of the reign of James the Second, for his known integrity and ability in law, he was by some persons of quality recommended to the king, and at a call of serjeants received the coif, and the same day was sworn one of the Barons of the exchequer; and soon after made one of the judges of the Common Pleas : but his years and indisposition not well brooking the fatigue of public employment, he continued not long in either of these stations, but, having his Quietus : est,' retired to a country life, his study and devotion. This is the person whom Dr. Symmons calls an

* Such are the expressions used relating to Cromwell, and the titles given to him by Milton, in the second defence, &c.

old dotard.' Toland's account of him certainly is less favourable: he says, " that he was of a very superstitious nature, and a man of no parts or ability, and that James, wanting a set of judges that could declare his will to be superior to our legal constitution, appointed him one of the Barons of exchequer.” His sister Anne was married first to a Mr. Philips, and after his death to a Mr. Agar; by her first husband she had two sons, Edward and John, whom Milton educated, who were persons of cleverness and learning, and both of whom were authors. Edward's af


fection and respect for his uncle is displayed in every page of his biography. Milton had children only by his first wife; and three daughters, Anne, Mary, and Deborah were the fruits of his marriage.* Anne, though deformed, married, and died in childbed. Mary died single. Deborah, the youngest, married Abraham Clark, a weaver, in Spitalfields, and lived seventy-six years to August, 1727. This is the daughter of whom public mention is made. She could repeat the first lines of Homer, of the Metamorphoses, and some of Euripides, from having often heard them. To her Addison made a present, and queen Caroline sent her a purse of fifty guineas. She is reported to have been the favourite of her father; though, in consequence of a disagreement with her stepmother, three or four years before Milton's death, she left his house and went to reside with a lady named Merian in Ireland. On being shown a portrait which strongly resembled Milton, she exclaimed with transport, 'Tis my father! 'tis

my dear father ! 51 When she was introduced to Addison, he said, “Madam, you need no other voucher, your face is a sufficient testimonial whose daughter you are.' 62 She appeared to be

* Dr. Birch transcribed the registry of the birth of Milton's children from his own writing, in a blank leaf of his wife's Bible; his son John was born on Saturday, March 16, 1650. His three daughters each received £100 as their fortune, from their stepmother Elizabeth, and the three receipts bearing their three signatures were sold among the books and manuscripts of James Boswell, Esq. in 1825. See also Mr. Todd's Life, (first ed.) p. 186, note.

61 It was when Faithorne's crayon-drawing was shown to her by Vertue the engraver, that she cried out, Oh Lord! that is the picture of my father! how came you by it?' and stroking down the hair of her forehead, she said, just so my father wore his hair.' v. Todd's Milton, (second ed.) p. 237.

52 See Birch's Life, p. lxxvi.; and see a letter from Vertue



« 上一頁繼續 »