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To praise upon mere authority can answer no good purpose; the repetition of false praise will add to its nauseousness: but there can be no certainty of merit, unless we strictly establish principles which shall become a test to it. The endless diversity of capricious opinion puts everything afloat: we can trust to nothing but the concurrence of all ages and all nations. If, therefore, we find that what was laid down by Aristotle has received the sanction of posterity under all changes of manners and varieties of countries, reason enjoins us to rely upon it as truth: I take, therefore, Aristotle's four requisites of good poetry to be undeniable. By these rules Milton must ever stand where he has been placed-at the head of his art, if art it may be called. But the extraordinary thing is, that he has no second in this combination of merits,taat he stands alone! There are those whom this will offend; but it is the stern truth. If fable, in the sense in which Aristotle uses it, is a necessary essential, the conclusion is incontrovertible.
Of all the fifty-two poets whose Lives have been written by Johnson, and of whom not less than seventeen are mere versifiers, and several of them mediocre versifiers,Dryden and Pope stand, in common estimation, next to Milton. But however I may sin against the popular opinion, I persevere in saying that they are deficient in this first essential, to which I have alluded: I assert that they have no poetical invention. Pope's "Rape of the Lock" will scarcely be objected to me; nor Dryden's "Fables," which are all borrowed. Sir William Temple's observation of the rarity of poetical genius, so often cited, is thus verified. Single qualities may not be uncommon; it is the union of all the essentials which so seldom occurs. Milton had them all; and each in the most eminent degree. Pope may be said to have had the last three: Dryden wanted the first, and, perhaps, the third.
So far as poetry is to be considered not only the voice of pleasure, but the voice of wisdom, whatever fiction is contrary to probability, is not only not praiseworthy, but culpable. It justly brings poetry into contempt, and gives it the name of an idle, empty art. I prefer even insipidity and triteness to extravagance; the effort to surprise is always vicious. The poet's business is to exhibit nature, but nature in an exalted state: hence I cannot approve Crabbe's poetry, however true to life his descriptions may be. On the other hand, I must admit that Byron in his fictions goes sometimes far beyond nature. These are small names, even the last, to mention after Milton, whose fables utter the songs of angels and archangels; and whose sanctity, elevated into the highest sublimity, keeps due music with the choirs of Heaven! Not but Byron might, if he had been equally devout, have followed Milton in this track.
I am conscious what talents far above mine it requires to treat adequately the subject I have here undertaken: but others, as weak as I am, have already entered on the task with less respectfulness and less love, and I am willing to attempt to wipe away some of the stains they have left. For fifty years I have had an unquenchable desire to refute Johnson's perverse criticisms and malignant obloquies. I know not by what spell his authority over the public is still great. To almost every new edition of Milton, except Todd's and Mitford's, Johnson's Life of the Poet has continued to be reprinted. This repetition surely becomes nauseous.
But he who gains novelty at the expense of truth, pays too dear for it; and gains what is not worth having. Nothing is more easy than to stimulate for a moment by what is new, though unfounded: but sobriety of judgment, and nicety of taste, must give their sanction to what is pronounced. All inconsiderate and unmeasured praise is hurtful. I have forborne to commend any composition of this mighty poet without long and calm thought. I have considered that the powers of Johnson entitled him to a cool and careful consideration before I ought to venture to contradict his opinion; but that, when I could no longer doubt, no force of authority ought to restrain my expression.
But much greater authority than Johnson's on a poetical question is on my side :— Dryden, Addison, Gray, the Wartons, Cowper, Hayley, and innumerable others.
It would be almost superfluous to say more of Milton's merits as a poet, after all that I have said: recapitulation in his case would probably weaken its effect. He had not only every requisite of the Muse; but every one of the highest order, and in the highest degree. His invention of poetical fable, and poetical imagery, was exhaustless, and
always grand, and always consistent with the faith of a cultivated and sensitive mind. Sublimity was his primary and unfailing power. His characters were new, surprising, gigantic, or beautiful; and full of instruction, such as high wisdom sanctioned. His sentiments were lofty, comprehensive, eloquent, consistent, holy, original; and an amalgamation of spirit, religion, intellect, and marvellous learning. His language was his own sometimes a little rough and unvernacular; but as magnificent as his mind: of pregnant thought; naked in its strength; rich and picturesque, where imagery was required; often exquisitely harmonious, where the occasion permitted; but sometimes strong, mighty, and speaking with the voice of thunder.
I can scarcely go further, to constitute the greatest poet of our nation, and, in my opinion, of the world: for surely, taking dignity of fable and other characters into the question, Homer and Virgil cannot be compared with Milton! And, to fortify me, Addison and Dryden have come to the same conclusion.
In moral character the poet stands among the noblest and the best. His spirit was as holy, and his heart as sanctified, as his writings: for this we must admit the testimony of his own repeated declaration in the face of malignant enemies, and the foulest passion of detraction. But, as humanity cannot be perfect, he was provoked by diabolical slander into recriminations unbecoming the dignity of his supreme genius, and devout heart. His politics were severe, and, in my apprehension, wrong; but they were conscientious. The principles which he entertained, the boldness of his mind pushed to an unlimited and terrible extent: and thus he was brought to justify the decapitation of Charles I. I would forget this, if I could; because, remembering it, I cannot but confess that I feel it a cloud upon his dazzling glory: but as Horsley said on another occasion:
One passing vapour shall dissolve away,
MEMORANDA RELATING TO THE FAMILY OF POWELL OF FOREST-HILL, OXFORDSHIRE. "Milton married in 1643, a daughter of Justice Powell of Sandford, in the vicinity of Oxford, and lived in a house at Forest-hill, about three miles from Oxford."
TODD'S LIFE OF MILTON, Vol. 1. p. 25, ed. 109. NOTHING can possibly be more erroneous. The families of Powell, alias ap Howell, of Sandford, and Powell of Forest-hill, were not in the remotest degree connected: the former were Roman Catholics. Milton's first wife was Mary, daughter of Richard Powell of Forest-hill. About twenty years ago, the writer, being strongly impressed with the incorrectness of the above statement, and residing for a few months at Oxford, compiled a pedigree of the family of Powell of Sandford, by which the fact is proved to demonstration. There were then no memorials of the family in the church of Foresthill; and the earliest register commencing A. D. 1700, no notice respecting them could be gleaned from that source. It is probable they came gradually into prosperity under the wings of the Bromes. One Richard Powell is "remembered" as "a servant" (perhaps bailiff or steward) under the will of George Brome of Halton, and is mentioned before the testator's armourer.
Richard Powell of Forest-hill, and Sir Edward Master of Ospringe, in Kent, were executors under the will of George Brome's widow, Eliz. (made 8th September, 1629) [roved February 6th, 1634-5.
The will of Edmund Brome of Forest-hill, made November 8th, 1625, was proved August 12th, 1628, by Richard Powell (sole executor), Milton's father-in-law. There is no pedigree of the family to be met with; but the following are some memoranda respecting the will of Richard Powell of Forest-hill, Esq., made December 30th, 1646,
proved March 26th, 1647, by his widow, Anne; and on May 10th, 1662, by his son Richard; by which act the effect of the power so given to the mother was done away with. One of the attesting witnesses was John Milton his son-in-law; but the original will not being now (1831) at Doctors' Commons, curiosity will be disappointed in the expectation of seeing the poet's handwriting.
The testator names as executor, in the first place, his eldest son Richard; and in the second, in case of said Richard's unwillingness to act, his wife Anne; and in the third place, in case of said Anne being unwilling to do so, his friend Mr. John Ellstone of Forest-hill, to whom he gives twenty shillings for a ring. He appoints as overseers his loving friends Sir John Curson and Sir Robert Pye, Knights, and gives to them twenty shillings each for a ring.
He devises his house, &c., at Forest-hill (alias Forsthall) and alludes to his recently compounding for the same at Goldsmiths' Hall, to his eldest son Richard, subject, however, to as follows:-Payment of debts and funeral expenses, &c., satisfying a bond to Anne his, the testator's wife, in reference to her jointure, and which the testator was not able at that period (1646) to discharge out of his personal property; and the remainder was then to be divided into two parts: one of them to belong to the said Richard, and the other to be divided among such of his brothers and sisters as might not have been already, at the time of the testator's decease, provided for; and the sisters to have one-third more apiece than their brothers.
The testator desires that his daughter, Milton, may be had regard to, as to the sufficiency of her portion; and more, if his, the testator's estate will bear it.
His houses and lands at Wheatley, and all other properties of the testator, not so above specifically bequeathed, &c., are given to his said son Richard.
The marriage portion, £1000, promised to John Milton by his father-in-law, was never paid, according to the biographies of the poet. His distresses in the royal cause prevented, probably, the payment of it.
[I am indebted for this information to the kindness of Mr. Frederick Holbrooke of Parkhurst, Bexley.-ED.]
DESCENDANTS OF MILTON.*
"MILTON'S direct descendants can only exist, if they exist at all, among the posterity of his youngest and favourite daughter Deborah, afterwards Mrs. Clarke, a woman of cultivated understanding, and not unpleasing manners, known to Richardson and Professor Ward, and patronized by Addison, who intended to have procured a permanent provision for her, and presented with fifty guineas by Queen Caroline. Her affecting exclamation is well known, on seeing her father's portrait for the first time more than thirty years after his death :-'Oh, my father, my dear father!" She spoke of him,' says Richardson, 'with great tenderness; she said he was delightful company, the life of the conversation, not only by a flow of subject, but by unaffected cheerfulness and civility.' This is the character of him whom Dr. Johnson represents as a morose tyrant, drawn by one of the supposed victims of his domestic oppression.
"Her daughter, Mrs. Foster, for whose benefit Dr. Newton and Dr. Birch procured Comus to be acted, survived all her children. The only child of Deborah Milton, of whom we have any accounts besides Mrs. Foster, was Caleb Clarke, who went to Madras in the first years of the eighteenth century, and who then vanishes from the view of the biographers of Milton. We have been enabled, by accident, to enlarge a very little this appendage to his history. It appears from an examination of the parish register of Fort St. George, that Caleb Clarke, who seems to have been parishelerk of that place, from 1717 to 1719, was buried there on the 26th of October of the latter year. By his wife Mary, whose original surname does not appear, he had three children born at Madras:-Abraham, baptized on the 2d of June, 1703; Mary, baptized on the 17th of March, 1706, and buried on December the 15th of the same year; and Isaac, baptized the 13th of February, 1711. Of Isaac no further account appears. Abraham, the great-grandson of Milton, in September, 1725, married Anna Clarke; and • From a critique on Godwin's 'Lives of Milton's Nephews,' in Edinburgh Review, No. L
the baptism of his daughter, Mary Clarke, is registered on the 2d of April, 1727. With her all notices of this family cease. But as neither he nor any of his family, nor his brother Isaac, died at Madras, and as he was only twenty-four years of age at the baptism of his daughter, it is probable that the family migrated to some other part of India, and that some trace of them might yet be discovered by examination of the parish registers of Calcutta and Bombay. If they had returned to England, they could not have escaped the curiosity of the admirers and historians of Milton. We cannot apologize for the minuteness of this genealogy, or for the eagerness of our desire that it should be enlarged. We profess that superstitious veneration for the memory of that greatest of poets, which regards the slightest relic of him as sacred; and we cannot conceive either true poetical sensibility, or a just sense of the glory of England, to belong to that Englishman, who would not feel the strongest emotions at the sight of a descendant of Milton, discovered in the person even of the most humble and unlettered of human beings."*
MILTON'S AGREEMENT WITH MR. SYMONS FOR "PARADISE LOST."
DATED 27TH APRIL, 1607.
"THESE Presents made the 27th of day April 1667, between John Milton, Gent. of the one part, and Samuel Symons, printer, of the other part, wittness That the said John Milton in consideration of five pounds to him now paid by the said Samuel Symons, and other the consideracōns herein mentioned, hath given, granted and assigned, and by these pñts doth give, grant and assign unto the said Samll Symons, his executors and assignees, All that Booke, Copy, or Manuscript of a Poem intituled Paradise Lost, or by whatsoever other title or name the same is or shall be called or distinguished, now lately licensed to be printed, together with the full benefitt, profit, and advantage thereof, or wch shall or may arise thereby. And the said John Milton for him, his exrs and admrs, doth covenant wth the said Sam" Symons, his ex" and ass3, that he and they shall at all times hereafter have, hold and enjoy the same and all impressions thereof accordingly, without the lett or hindrance of him the said John Milton, his exrs or asss, or any person or persons by his or their consent or privity. And that he the said John Milton, his exrs or admrs, or any other by his or their meanes or consent, shall not print or cause to be printed, or sell, dispose or publish the said book or manuscript, or any other book or manuscript of the same tenor or subject, without the consent of the said Sam Symons, his exrs or asss: In concideracōn whereof the said Samell Symōns for him, his exs and admrs, doth covenant with the said John Milton, his exrs and asss, well and truly to pay unto the said John Milton, his exrs and admrs, the sum of five pounds of lawfull english money at the end of the first Impression, which the said Sam" Symōns, his exrs or asss, shall make and publish of the said copy or manuscript, which impression shall be accounted to be ended when thirteen hundred books of the said whole copy or manuscript imprinted, shall be sold and retailed off to particular reading customers. And shall also pay other five pounds, unto the said John Milton or his asss, at the end of the second impression to be accounted as aforesaid, And five pounds more at the end of the third impression, to be in like manner accounted. And that the said three first impressions shall not exceed fifteen hundred books or volumes of the said whole copy or manuscript, a piece. And further, that he the said Samuel Symōns and his ex's, admrs, and ass shall be ready to make sath before a Master in Chancery concerning his or their knowledge and belief of or concerning the truth of the disposing and selling the said books by retail, as aforesaid, whereby the said Mr. Milton is to be entitled to his said money from time to time, upon every reasonable request in that behalf, or in default thereof shall pay the said five pounds agreed to be paid upon every impression, as aforesaid, as if the same were due, and for and in lieu thereof. In witness whereof, the said parties have to this
While the grandson of Milton resided at Madras, in a condition so humble as to make the office of parish-clerk an object of ambition, it is somewhat remarkable that the elder brother Addison should have been the governor of that settlement. The Honourable Galston Addison died there in the year 1709.
writing indented, interchangeably sett their hands and seales the day and yeare first above written. JOHN MILTON. (Seal).
Sealed and delivered in Benjamin Greene, servt to Mr. Milton.
the presence of us,
Reed then of Samuel Simmons five pounds, being the Second five pounds to be paidmentioned in the Covenant. I say recd by me,
Witness, Edmund Upton.
I do hereby acknowledge to have received of Samuel Symonds Cittizen and Statōner of London, the Sum of Eight pounds: which is in full payment for all my right, title, or interest, which I have or ever had in the Coppy of a Poem Intitled Paradise Lost in Twelve Bookes in 8vo-By John Milton Gent. my late husband. Witness my hand this 21st day of December 1680.
Wittness, William Yopp, Ann Yopp.
Know all men by these pssents that I elizabeth Milton of London Widdow, late wife of John Milton of London Gent: deceased-have remissed released and for ever quitt claimed And by these pssents doe remise release & for ever quitt clayme unto Samuel Symonds of London, Printer-his heirs Executs and Administrators All and all manner of Accoñ and Accoñs Cause and Causes of Accoñ Suites Bills Bonds writinges obligatorie Debts dues duties Accompts Summe and Sumes of money Judgments Executions Extents Quarrells either in Law or Equity Controversies and demands-And all & every other matter cause and thing whatsoever which against the said Samuel Symonds-I ever had and which I my heires Executers or Administrators shall or may have clayme & challenge or demand for or by reason or means of any matters cause or thing whatsoever from the beginning of the World unto the day of these pssents. In witness whereof I have hereunto sett my hand and seale the twenty-ninth day of April in the thirty-third Year of the Reigne of our Sovereign Lord Charles by the grace of God of England Scotland ffrance and Ireland King defender of the ffaith & Anno Dni. 1681. ELIZABETH MILTON.
Ligned and delivered in the pssence of Jos. LEIGH Wm. WILKINS.
COWLEY'S PREFACE TO HIS POEMS, 1656.
Ir has been already observed that Cowley had scarcely opportunity to become acquainted with the early poems of Milton; and his party attachments prevented even a wish for personal intimacy; he was engaged besides on active, sometimes foreign service, and, if he read the "Defensio" of the great republican, in all probability read it with horror.
Yet we find on authority not to be questioned, that Milton spoke of Cowley as a poet whom he valued, and named him with Spenser and Shakspeare. This is the more surprising, as Cowley was by ten years the younger man, and his writings had never appeared in a body till 1656, when he returned to England from the Continent, and published them in folio. This volume was, there can be no question, read to Milton in his blindness: the congeniality of their studies, and their religious feelings, led him to estimate highly the only rival that Cambridge had bred to him in Latin verse; and though unnoticed in the volume upon his table, the PREFACE spoke to him, as by the inspiration of Urania herself. Let the reader imagine the blind bard listening to the following exquisite admonitions, which he alone fully comprehended; and the expectations which of all mankind he only could gratify; and upon which he was then earnestly and silently meditating:
"When I consider how many bright and magnificent subjects the holy Scripture affords and proffers, as it were, to poesy, in the wise managing and illustrating whereof, the Glory of God Almighty might be joined with the singular utility and noblest delight of mankind; it is not without grief and indignation that I behold that divine science employing all her inexhaustible riches of wit and eloquence, either in the wicked and beggarly flattery of great persons, or the unmanly idolizing of foolish women, or the wretched affectation of scurril laughter, or at best on the confused antiquated dreams of senseless fables and metamorphoses. Amongst all holy and consecrated things,