Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

cause several other servants of the Council fit for that employment were then absent.”

The malevolent feelings cherished towards Milton appear in the following paragraph: it is founded upon a few lines at the commencement of the Seventh Book of Paradise Lost.

Standing on earth, not rapt above the pole,
More safe I sing with mortal voice, unchang’d
To hoarse or mute, though fallen on evil days,
On evil days though fallen, and evil tongues,
In darkness and with dangers compass'd round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while thou
Visit'st my slumbers nightly, or when morn
Purples the east.”

One might have expected that the situation of Milton, reduced to blindness, and left in widowhood, would have called forth, even from Dr. Johnson, the expresssion of sympathy, at least have prevented his heaping upon him the. contumelious charges of “ingratitude” and “ injustice,” the “asperity of reproach, and the brutality of insolence."

“ Milton being now cleared," says Dr. J., “from all effects of his disloyalty, had nothing required from him but the common duty of living in quiet, to be rewarded with the common right of protection; but this, which, when he sculked from the approach of the king, was perhaps more than he hoped, seems not to have satisfied him : for no sooner is he safe than he finds himself in danger, fallen on evil tongues, and with darkness and with danger compassed round. This darkness, had his eyes been better employed, had undoubtedly deserved compassion; but to add the mention of danger was ungrateful and unjust. He was fallen indeed on evil days: the time was come when regicides could no longer boast their wickedness. But of evil tongues for MILTON to complain, required impudence at least equal to his other powers; Milton, whose warmest advocates must allow, that he never spared any severity of reproach, or brutality of rudeness."'--P. 135.

My opinion is, that there is nothing in any of Multon's

works which will justify any of the above charges, even were they stripped of the foul-mouthed epithets by which they are ornamented and strengthened; nothing equal in “impudence” “asperity,” or “brutality,” to this passage from the modest, calm, and classical pen of Dr. Johnson, The charge against Milton, of “sculking from the approach of the king,” might have been brought, with equal propriety, against the Apostle Paul, when, for the purpose of preserving himself from being apprehended by Aretus the king, he consented to be let down over the wall of the city in a basket! Was this prudent precaution to secure his liberty, and probably his life, to have been a sculker, one who hid himself for shame or mischief? Richardson

says, in his Notes on the above lines, p. 291, “This is explained by a secret piece of history, for which we have good authority. Paradise Lost was written after the Restoration, when Milton apprehended himself to be in danger of his life. First from publick vengeance, (having been deeply engaged against the royal party,) and when safe by a pardon, from private malice and resentment.

He was always in fear; much alone, and slept ill; when restless, he would ring for the person who wrote for him, (which was his daughter commonly,) to write what he had composed, which sometimes flowed with great ease.”

The following paragraph is not quoted for its malignity, but its inaccuracy. Speaking of “Paradise Regained,” Dr. Johnson says:

“He could not, as Elwood relates, endure to hear Paradise Lost preferred to Paradise Regained."-P. 141.

Now, Elwood relates nothing like it! Yet, upon this mistake, the Dr, makes these remarks:

“ Many causes may vitiate a writer's judgment of his own works. On that which has cost him much labour he sets a high value, becaase he is unwilling to think he has laboured in vain.

What is produced with toilsome efforts is considered with delight, as a proof of vigorous faculties and fertile invention ; and the last work, whatever it be, has necessarily most of the grace of novelty. Milton, however it happened, had this prejudice, and had it to himself.”—P. 141.

Dr. Johnson, speaking of his last work, says:

“ 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.' But this little work is modestly written, with respectful mention of the Church of England, and an appeal to the Thirty-nine Articles. His principle of toleration is, agreement in the sufficiency of the Scriptures; and he extends it to all who, whatever their opinions are, profess to derive it from the sacred books. The Papists appeal to other testimonies, and are therefore, in his opinion, not to be permitted the liberty of either publick or private worship; for though they plead conscience, We have no warrant,' he says, 'to regard conscience, which is not grounded in Scripture.' Those who are not convinced by his reasons, may be perhaps delighted with his wit. • The term Roman Catholick is,' he says, one of the Pope's Bulls: it is particular, universal, or catholick schismatick.' He has, however, something better. As the best preservative against Popery, he recommends the diligent perusal of the Scriptures, a duty from whieh he warns the busy part of mankind not to think themselves excused."--P. 142.

One would almost think that the “ respectful mention” made by Milton of the Church of England, and “the appeal to the Thirty-nine Articles,” were such an atonement for all his former misdeeds in having exposed the errors of its constitution, and the pride of its bishops, that even the implacability of Johnson's mind had been placated, and his fierce wrath removed. What he has said upon those topics is as follows: “ With good and pious reasons, therefore, all Protestant churches, with one consent, and particularly the Church of England, in her Thirty-nine Articles, and elsewhere, maintain these two points, as the main principles of true

religion, that the rule of true religion is the word of God only, and that their faith ought not to be an implicit faith; that is to believe though as the church believes, against or without express authority from Scripture.” In confirmation of this statement, he refers to the Sixth Article, entitled, Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation." The Nineteenth, entitled, “Of the Church;" and the Twentieth, in so far, of course, as it relates to his subject, viz. “ It is not lawful for the church to ordain any thing contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another,” &c. That Milton should have appealed in his old age, and respectfully too, to the Articles of the Church of England, simply on the ground of her Protestantism, is not at all at variance with his attacks upon her prelates, for their persecuting other Christians, when he wrote his immortal exposures of those things in which, notwithstanding her professed Reformation, she resembled the Church of Rome. But Dr. Johnson either could not, or would not see, the difference of his expressing his approbation of those principles which are purely Protestant, when writing against Papists; and the reasons which he assigned why he could not ex animo subscribe to other things in the same articles which he considered to be as unscriptural as similar ones in the Church of Rome: there is a very wide difference between writing freely of her excellencies, and “subscribing slave,” with an oath into the bargain, to her acknowledged defects.

Dr. Johnson will not suffer his ashes to rest undisturbed :

“ His widow, who after his death retired to Namptwich in Cheshire, and died about 1729, is said to have reported that he lost two thousand pounds by entrusting it to a scrivener; and that in the general depredation upon the church, he had grasped an estate of about sixty pounds a year, belonging to Westminster

Abbey, which, like other shares of the plunder of rebellion, he was afterwards obliged to return.”—P. 145.

And so, Dr. Johnson, because his widow "is said to bare reported" this strange story, you have thought fit to give it the sanction of your authority that “he took a share in the plunder of rebellion!" Would any man, who had a grain of modesty, have made such a spiteful charge, without better evidence than that of his widow having reported, “it is said, he had grasped an estate of about sixty pounds a year, belonging to Westminster Abbey!"

Dr. Johnson, in the following remarks, has not perhaps mixed up so large a portion of his gall, though he has fallen into the common errors of all his biographers; who have concluded, that because he was not seen in the street going to church with a prayer-book under his arm, and because he did not ring a bell to call his household to family prayer, have concluded that he never worshipped God either publicly or privately!!

“ His theological pinions," says Dr. J. “are said to have been first Calvinistical; and afterwards, perhaps, when he began to hate the Presbyterians, to have tended towards Arminianism. In the mixt questions of theology and government, he never thinks he can recede far enough from popery or prelacy; but what Bandius says of Erasmus seems applicable to him, magis habuit quod fugeret, quam quod sequeretur. He had determined rather what to condemn; than what to approve. He has not associated himself with any denomination of Pro. testants ; we know rather what he was not, than what he was. He was not of the Church of Rome; he was not of the Church of England.”—P. 147.

But there were a vast many Protestant congregational churches, with which he might have associated himself, and I doubt not but he did, at least as a devout worshipper, though he has not left any record of his having done so. The fact is, that as to the peculiar principles of the Baptists, he was associated with them: he was reckoned among them

« AnteriorContinuar »