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LIFE OF MILTON.
Quem tu, Dea, tempore in omni
The author of the “ Defence of the People of England” and of the “ Paradise Lost” has engaged too much of the attention of the world not to invite its curiosity to the circumstances of his conduct and the peculiarities of his mind. His biographers have been numerous; and every source of information respecting him has been explored with a degree of solicitous minuteness, which bears honourable testimony to the impression of his importance. Unfortunately however, the character which the great Milton sustained, on the political theatre of his calamitous times, has exposed him to the malignity of party; and this undying and sleepless pest has been
.“ Nec dulci declinat lumina somno." Party resembles the “ Fama malum," the allegorical monster of Virgil, in more than this particular of sleeplessness; for it is
ever watchful to diminish the pride of his triumph, and to obscure that glory which it could not extinguish.
During the immediate agitation of the political conflict, while interest is directly affected, passion will necessarily be excited ; and the weapons of passion are seldom delicately fashioned or scrupulously employed. When the good or the great therefore are exposed to falsehood by contemporary malignity, and are held up, with questioned virtues and imputed rices, to the execration instead of the applause of their species, we acknowledge the cause of the fact in the corruption of man, and it forms the subject of our regret rather than' of our surprise. , But when, after a lapse of years sufficient to obliterate the very deepest trace of temporary interest, we observe the activity of passion stagnating into the sullenness of rancour; and see these heroes of our race subjected to the same injuriousness of malice which they had suffered from their personal adversaries, we stare at the consequence of unexpected depravity, and are astonished in as great a degree as we are afflicted.
also“ ficti pravique tenax,"—tenacious of falsehood and wrong; "et magpas territat urbes," and it alarms and agitates great cities, breaking the repose and concord of large communities of men.
This remark is immediately to our present purpose: for this generation has witnessed an attempt on the character of our great writer, which would have done credit to the virulence of his own age. We have seen a new Salmasius, unimpelled by those motives which actuated the bireling of Charles, revive in Johnson; and have beheld the virtuous and the amiable, the firm and the consistent Milton, who appears to have acted, from the opening to the close of his life,
“ As ever in his great Taskmaster's eye,"
exhibited in the disguise of a morose and a malevolent being ;-of a man, impatient himself of the social subordination, yet oppressive to those within his power; of a wretch who, from pride austerity and prudence, was at once a rebel, a tyrant, and a sycophant. This atrocious libel has long since reflected discredit on its author alone; and its falsehood has been so clearly demonstrated by many able
pens, and particularly by those of Blackburne and of Hayley,' that a new biographer
Francis Blackburne, Archdeacon of Cleveland, author of the Confessional. He published, without his name, in 1780, some very able and acute remarks on Jobpson's Life of Milton ; and they have very properly been republished in the “ Memoirs of Thomas Hollis," of which the Arch. eacon was the compiler.
Hayley's Life of Milton..
of Milton might well be excused from honouring it with his notice. But a regard to the cause of morals and the best interests of man seems to justify that indignation which would brand, again and again, the hand lifted in violation of the illustrious dead. The dead, indeed, are at rest froin their labours; and, far from the reach of human malice, are in possession of their reward: but it is discouraging to the weakness of the living, and consequently calculated to diminish the incentives to virtuous exertion, when it is perceived that no endowments of nature, no accumulations of knowledge, no just and sacred appropriation of talents can secure the distinguished mortal from those insults of posthumous caluinny, which may bring him down from the eminence that he has gained, and level him with the vulgar of the earth.
Though few, if any immediate references will be made in the following work to the modern biographers of Milton, to many of them the author must necessarily have contracted important obligations; of some of which he is conscious, though of others he may be ignorant. He takes therefore this opportunity of making a general acknowledgement to those who have preceded him on his subject, and particularly to the ac
curate Dr. Birch and the liberal Mr. Hayley. More solicitous to avoid the charge of deficiency than that of obligation, he has freely availed himself of assistance from whatever quarter it could be obtained; and if his circumstantial or imperfect detail should neither fatigue attention nor disappoint curiosity, his end will be accomplished and his wishes, of course, completely satisfied. His anxiety has been solely to display truth; and, not professing himself to be exempt from those prejudices which cling to every human being, he has been studious to prevent them from disturbing the rectitude of his line or from throwing their false tints upon his canvass.
The lineage and ancestry of a great man are apt to engage inquiry; as we are desirous of knowing whether the virtue or the intellect, which we are contemplating, be a spring gushing immediately from the bosom of the earth, or a reservoir, (if the allusion may be permitted,) formed and supported by a long
Toland's Life of Milton is an able and spirited work. Whatever may be the demerits of this author in some essential respects, his merit as the biographer of our great Poet is certainly considerable, and entitles him to an honourable station among the asserters of historic truth. The admirers of Milton are under great obligations to him.