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nence in London to whom the lady was dis-, tantly related, he married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, the daughter of a gentleman of Cheshire. The domestic situation of Milton was now such as almost to compel him to seek for the aid and the protection of a wife. At fifty-four years of age,
he was in a great degree submitted by his blindness to the power of others; and by his studious habits, from the indulgence of which all his resources of pleasure were derived, he was peculiarly disqualified for the management of a family. He had not indeed been wholly without the counsels and assistance of a female friend; for he had been indulged during this period with the intimacy of Lady Ranelagh, the favourite and accomplished sister of the celebrated Robert. Boyle.
This estimable Lady, who had placed her son under Milton's care, seems to have been assiduous in discovering her sense of his high worth by rendering to him every service, which his circumstances could require her's would enable her to offer.. In one of the four letters to his pupil, which were published with his familiar epistles, he speaks of her, at that time preparing to depart for Ireland, in terms of the most grateful affection: “ The absence," he says, “ of your most excel
lent mother must be equally lamented by us both; for to me she has supplied the place of every friend whom I could want.”
I But his infirmities were of a nature not to admit of substantial relief from any but a domestic friend; and for alleviation from the kindnesses of filial piety they unhappily solicited in vain. From the conduct of his daughters he experienced nothing but mortification and aggravated distress.
His nuncupative' will, which has lately been discovered in the Prerogative registry and was published by Mr. Warton,' opens a glimpse into the interior of Milton's house, and shows him to have been amiable and injured in that private scene, in which alone he has generally been considered as liable to censure, or rather perhaps as not intitled to affection. In this will, and in the papers connected with it, we find the venerable father complaining of his “ unkind children,” as he calls them, for leaving and neglecting him
Nunc discedens in Hiberniam mater tua præstantissima, cujus discessu uterque nostrûm dolere haud mediocriter debemus, nam et mihi omnium necessitudinum loco fuit, bas ad te literas ipsa perfert. Sept. 21, 1656.
P: W. vi. 132.
& This will, with the deposition of the witnesses, is published as an appendix to the preface of Mr. Warton's 2d edit, of Milton's Juvenile Poems, and is well entitled to the reader's notice.
because he was blind; and we see him compelled, as it were, by their injurious conduct to appeal against them even to his servants. We are assured also, by the deposition on oath of one of these servants, that his complaints were not extorted by slight wrongs, or uttered by capricious passion on trivial provocations : that his children, with the exception probably of Deborah, who at the time immediately in question was not more than nine years old, would occasionally sell his books to the dunghill women, as the witness calls them:—that these daughters were capable of combining with the maid-servant, and of advising her to cheat her master and their father in her markettings; and that one of them, Mary, on being told that her father was to be married, replied that “ that was no news, but if she could hear of his death that were something.
A wife, therefore, was necessary to rescue him from such undutiful and almost dangerous hands; and in the lady, whom his
Circumstanced as he was at this juncture, and with reference to his daughters, Milton might properly be regarded, like Lear, as
man, More sinn'd against than sinning;" and might, perhaps, feel
“ How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child."
friend selected for him, he seems to have obtained the assistant whom his circumstances demanded. In opposition to the unfavourable report made of her by Philips, and the hints on the subject of her temper suggested by Richardson, she appears to have been uniformly attentive and affectionate to her husband. She is the sole object of his regard in his will; and the general harmony of their union is attested by all the depositions to that instrument. If her temper ever deserted her, it was in consequence of her husband's inattention to the advancement of his worldly fortunes: and when an offer was made to him, soon after their marriage, of a restitution of his official siluation, she is said to have pressed, with much earnest and troublesome importunity, his acceptance of the proffered benefit. But to be in office under the new government, and under Charles whom he saw polluted with the blood of his friends, was abhorrent from all his principles and his feelings, and he silenced the solicitalions of the lady with, 6 You are in the right: you as other women would ride in your coach: my aim is to live and die an honest man.”
The fact is mentioned by Richardson; and rests upon authority which seems to be decisive. Richardson received it About the time of his marriage, or probably a little before it, he published a short treatise entitled, " Accidence commenced from Henry Bendyshe (a grandson, I believe, of the Protector's) who was an intimate in Milton's house, and who had heard it mentioned by his family. No less doubtful testimony would induce me to admit so strong an instance of the placability of Charles. To Thurloe, however, it is certain that a similar offer was made; and we can only infer from these, what we may collect from other instances of his conduct, that Charles's prudence could sometimes prevail over his revenge; or that his inattention to business, in consequence of his unrestrained pursuit of pleasure, induced him to resign the management of these affairs into the hands of others, who were not actuated by his passions.
I am not surprised that Dr. Johnson should treat this circumstance as an obscure story; and place it among those " large offers and sturdy rejections," which his own feelings taught him to consider as the visions of romance, and to be classed with "" the most common topics of falsehood." Any other language would have been inconsistent from the lips of the pensioned advoeate of government in some of its most unconstitutional and unfortunate measures. Dr. Johnson's admirers must forgive me, if, with considerable respect for his moral and intellectual character, I am tempted to observe that he actually wanted the power to comprehend the greatness and elevation of Milton's mind.
Mrs. Milton survived her husband, in a state of widowhood, nearly fifty-five years, dying at Namptwich in her native Cheshire, about the year 1729. She related that her husband composed principally in the winter; and on his waking in the morning would make her write down sometimes twenty or thirty verses. On being asked whether he did not frequently read Homer and Virgil, she replied that, “he stole from nobody but the muse who inspired him." To a lady, inquiring who the muse was, she answered, “ it was God's grace and the Holy Spirit that visited him nightly.”. (Newton's Life of Milton.).