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There seems not to have been much written against him, por any thing by any writer of eminence. The antagonist that appeared is styled by him, a serving man turned solicitor. Howel, in his letters, mentions the new doctrine with contempt: and it was, I suppose, thought more worthy of derision than of confutation. He complains of this ne. glect in two sonnets, of which the first is contemptible, and the second not excellent.
From this time, it is observed, that he became an enemy to the presbyterians, whom he had favoured before. He that changes his party by his humour, is not more virtuous than he that changes it by his interest: he loves himself rather than truth.
His wife, and her relations, now found that Milton was not an unresisting sufferer of injuries; and, perceiving that he had begun to put his doctrine in practice, by courting a young woman of great accomplishments, the daughter of one dr. Davis, who was however not ready to comply, they resolved to endeavour a re-union. He went sometimes to the house of one Blackborough, his relation, in the lane of St. Martin's-le-Grand, and, at one of his usual visits, was surprised to see his wife come from another rom, and implore forgiveness on her knees. He resisted her entreaties for a while: “but partly,” says Philips,“ his own generous nature, more inclinable to reconciliation than to perseverance in anger or revenge, and partly the strong intercession of friends on both sides, soon brought him to an act of oblivion and a firm league of peace.” It were injurious to omit, that Milton afterwards received her father and her brothers in his own house, when they were distressed, with other royalists.
He published about the same time his Areopagitica, a speech of mr. John Milton for the liberty of unlicensed printing. The danger of such unbounded liberty, and the danger of bounding it, have produced a problem in the science of government, which human understanding seems hitherto unable to solve. If nothing may be published but what civil authority shall have previously approved, power must always be the standard of truth: if every dreamer of innovations may propagate his projects, there can be no settlement; if every murmurer at government may diffuse discontent, there can be no peace; and if every sceptic in theology may teach his follies, there can be no religion. The remedy against these evils is to punish the authors; for it is yet allowed that every society may punish, though not prevent, the publication of opinions which that society shall think pernicious; but this punishment, though it may crush the author, promotes the book; and it seems not more reasonable, to leave the right of printing unrestrained, because writers may be afterwards censured, than it would be to sleep with doors unbolted, because by our laws we can hang a thief.
But, whatever were his engagements, civil or domestic, poetry was never long out of his thoughts.
About this time (1645) a collection of his Latin and English poems appeared, in which the Allegro and Penseroso, with some others, were first published.
He had taken a large house in Barbican for the reception of scholars; but the numerous relations of his wife, to whom he generously granted refuge for a while, occupied his rooms. In time, however, they went away; and the house again,” says Philips, now looked like a house of the muses only, though the accession of scholars was not great. Possibly his having proceeded so far in the education of youth may have been the occasion of his adversaries calling him pedagogue and schoolmaster; whereas it is well known he never set up for a public school, to teach all the young fry of a parish; but only was willing to impart his learning and knowledge to his relations, and the sons of gentlemen who were his intimate friends, and that neither his writings nor his way of teaching ever savoured in the least of pedantry.”
Thus laboriously does his nephew extenuate what cannot be denied, and what might be confessed without disgrace. Milton was not a man who could become mean by a mean employment. This, however, his warmest friends seem not to have found; they therefore shift and palliate. He did not sell literature to all comers at an open shop; he was a chamber-milliner, and measured his commodities only to his friends.
Philips, evidently impatient of viewing him in this stale of degradation, tells us that it was not long continued ; and, to raise his character again, has a mind to invest him with military splendour: “ He is much mistaken," he says, “if there was not, about this time, a design of making him an adjutant-general in sir William Waller's army. But the new-modelling of the army proved an obstruction to the design.” An event cannot be set at a much greater distance than by having been only designed, about some time, if a man be not much mistaken. Milton shall be a pedagogue no longer; for, if Philips be not much mistaken, somebody, at some time, designed him for a soldier !
About the time that the army was new-modelled (1645), he removed to a smaller house in Holborn, which opened backward into Lincoln's-inn-fields. He is not known to have published any thing afterwards till the king's death, when, finding his murderers condemned by the presbyterians, he wrote a treatise to justify it, and to compose the minds of the people.
He made some Remarks on the articles of peace between Ormond and the Irish rebels. While he contented himself to write, he perhaps did only what his conscience dictated; and if he did not very vigilantly watch the influence of his own passions, and the gradual prevalence of opinions, first willingly admitted, and then habitually indulged ; if objections, by being overlooked, were forgotten, and desire superinduced conviction; he yet shared only the common weakness of mankind, and might be no less sincere than his opponents. But, as faction seldom leaves a man honest, however it might find him, Milton is suspected of having interpolated the book called Icon Basilike, which the council of state, to whom he was now made Latin secretary, employed him to censure, by inserting a prayer taken from Sidney's Arcadia, and imputing it to the king; whom he charges, in his Iconoclastes, with the use of this prayer, as with a heavy crime, in the indecent language with which prosperity had emboldened the advocates for rebellion to insult all that is venerable or great : “ Who would have imagined so little fear in him of the true all seeing Deity, as, immediately before his death, to pop into the hands of the grave bishop that attended him, as a special relique of his saintly exercises, a prayer stolen word for word from the mouth of a heathen woman praying to a heathen god ?"2
The papers which the king gave to dr. Juxon on the scaffold the regicides took away, so that they were at least the publishers of this prayer; and dr. Birch, who had examined the question with great care, was inclined to think them the forgers. The use of it by adaptation was innocent; and they who could so noisily censure it, with a little extension of their malice, could contrive what they wanted to accuse.
King Charles the second, being now sheltered in Holland, employed Salmasius, professor of polite learning at Leyden, to write a defence of his father and of monarchy; and, to excite his industry, gave him, as was reported, a hundred jacobuses. Salmasius was a man of skill in languages, knowledge of antiquity, and sagacity of emendatory criticism, almost exceeding all hope of human attainment; and having, by excessive praises, been confirmed in great confidence of himself, though he probably had not much con. sidered the principles of society or the rights of government, undertook the employment, without distrust of his own qualifications; and, as his expedition in writing was won. derful, in 1649 published Defensio Regis.
To this Milton was required to write a sufficient answer; which he performed (1651) in such a manner, that Hobbes declared himself unable to decide whose language was best, or whose arguments were worst. In my opinion, Milton's periods are smoother, neater, and more pointed: but he delights himself with teasing his adversary as much as with confuting him. He makes a foolish allusion of Salmasius, whose doctrine he considers as servile and unmanly, to the stream of Salmacis, which, whoever entered, left half his virility behind him. Salmasius was a Frenchman, and was unhappily married to a scold. Tu es Gallus, says Milton, et, ut aiunt, nimium gallinaceus. But his supreme pleasure is to tax his adversary, so renowned for criticism, with vicious Latin. He opens his book with telling that he was used persona, which, according to Milton, signifies only a mask, in a sense not known to the Romans, by applying it as we apply person. But, as Nemesis is always on the watch, it is memorable that he has enforced the charge of a solecism, by an expression in itself grossly solecistical, when, for one of those supposed blunders, he says, as Ker, and I think some one before him, has remarked, propino te grammatistis tuis vapulandum. From vapulo, which has a passive sense, vapulandus can never be derived. No man forgets his original trade: the rights of nations, and of kings, sink into questions of grammar, if grammarians discuss them.
Milton, when he undertook this answer, was weak of body and dim of sight; but his will was forward, and what was wanting of health was supplied by zeal. He was rewarded with a thousand pounds, and his book was much read; for paradox, recommended by spirit and elegance, easily gains attention; and he, who told every man that he was equal to his king, could hardly want an audience.
That the performance of Salmasius was not dispersed with equal rapidity, or read with equal eagerness, is very credible. He taught only the stale doctrine of authority, and the unpleasing duty of submission; and he had been so long not only the monarch but the tyrant of literature, that almost all mankind were delighted to find him defied and insulted by a new name, not yet considered as any one's rival. If Christina, as is said, commended the Defence of the People, her purpose must be to torment Salmasius, who was then at court; for neither her civil station, nor her natural character, could dispose her to favour the doctrine, who was by birth a queen, and by temper despotic.
That Salmasius was, from the appearance of Milton's book, treated with neglect, there is not much proof; but to a man, so long accustomed to admiration, a little praise of his antagonist would be sufficiently offensive, and might incline him to leave Sweden, from which, however, he was dismissed, not with any mark of contempt, but with a train of attendance scarcely less than regal.
He prepared a reply, which, left as it was imperfect, was published by his son in the year of the restoration. In the beginning, being probably most in pain for his Latinity, he endeavours to defend his use of the word persona; but, if