« הקודםהמשך »
tained of seeing foreign countries. Sir Henry Wotton, at that time provost of Eton College, gave him a letter of advice for the direction of his travels. Having employed his curiosity about two years in France and Italy, on the news of a civil war breaking out in England, he returned, without taking a survey of Greece and Sicily, as at his setting out the scheme was projected. At Paris the Lord Viscount Scudamore, Ambassador from King Charles I. at the Court of France, introduced him to the acquaintance of Grotius, who at that time was honoured with the same character there by Christiana, Queen of Sweden. In Rome, Genoa, Florence, and other cities of Italy, he contracted a familiarity with those who were of highest reputation for wit and learning, several of whom gave him very obliging testimonies of their friendship and esteem.
Returning from his travels, he found England on the point of being involved in blood and confusion. He retired to lodgings provided for him in the City ; which being commodious for the reception of his sister's sons, and some other young gentlemen, he undertook their education.
In this philosophical course he continued, without a wife, till the year 1643; when he married Mary, the daughter of Richard Powel, of Foresthill in Oxfordshire, a gentleman of estate and reputation in that county, and of principles so very opposite to his son-in-law, that the marriage is more to be wondered at than the separation which ensued, in little more than a month after she had cohabited with him in London. Her desertion provoked him both to write several treatises concerning the doctrine and discipline of divorce, and also to pay his addresses to a young lady of great wit and beauty; but, before he had engaged her affections to conclude the marriage treaty, in a visit at one of his relations, he found his wife prostrate before him, imploring forgiveness and reconciliation, It is not to be doubted but an interview of that nature, so little expected, must wonderfully affect him; and perhaps the impressions it made on his imagination, contributed much to the painting of that pathetic scene in Paradise Lost, in which Eve addresseth herself to Adam for pardon and peace. At the intercession of his friends, who were present, after a short reluctance, he generously sacri. ficed all his resentment to her tears :
Soon his heart relented
And after this re-union, so far was he from retaining any unkind memory of the provocations which he had received from her ill conduct, that when the king's cause was entirely suppressed, and her father, who had been active in his loyalty, was exposed to sequestration, Milton received both him and his family to protection, and free entertainment, in his own house, till their affairs were accommodated by his interest in the victorious faction.
A commission to constitute him Adjutant-General to Sir William Waller was promised, but soon superseded, by Waller's being laid aside, when his masters thought it proper to new-model their army. However, the keenness of his pen had so effectually recommended him to Cromwell's esteem, that when he took the reins of government into his own hand, he advanced him to be Latin Secretary, both to himself and the Parliament; the former of these preferments he enjoyed both under the usurper and his son, the other until King Charles II. was restored. For some time he had an apartment for his family at Whitehall; but his health requiring a freer accession of air, he was obliged to remove from thence to lodgings which opened into St. James's Park. Not long after his settlement there his wife died in child-bed, and much about the time of her death, a gutta serena, which had for several years been gradually in
• Book X.
creasing, totally extinguished, his sight. In this melancholy condition, he was easily prevailed with to think of taking another wife, who was Catharine, the daughter of Captain Woodcock, of Hackney ; and she too, in less than a year after their mar. riage, died in the same unfortunate manner as the former had done; and in his twenty-third sonnet he does honour to her memory.
Being a second time a widower, he employed his friend Dr. Paget to make choice of a third consort, on whose recommendation he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Mr. Minshul, a Cheshire gentleman, by whom he had no issue. Three daughters, by his first wife, were then living; the two elder of whom are said to have been very serviceable to him in his studies; for having been instructed to pronounce not only the modern, but also the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, they read in their respective originals, whatever authors he wanted to consult, though they understood none but their mother tongue.
We come now to take a survey of him in that point of view, in which he will be looked upon by all succeeding ages with equal delight and admi. ration. An interval of about twenty years had elapsed since he wrote the Mask of Comus, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas, all in such an exquisite strain, that though he had left no other monuments of his genius behind him, his name had been immortal; but neither the infirmi. ties of age and constitution, nor the vicissitudes of fortune, could depress the vigour of his mind, or divert it from executing a design he had long conceived of writing an heroic poem.* The fall of man was a subject that he had some years before fixed un for a tragedy, which he intended to form by the models of antiquity; and some, not with. out probability, say, the play opened with that speech in the fourth book of Paradise Lost, 1. 32. which is addressed by Satan to the sun. Were it
• Paradise Lost, Book IX. line 26.
material, I believe I could produce other passages, which more plainly appear to have been originally intended for the scene: but, whatever truth there may be in this report, it is certain that he did not begin to mould his subject in the form which it bears now, before he had concluded his controversy with Salmasius and More, when he had wholly lost the use of his eyes, and was forced to employ, in the office of an amanuensis, any friend who accidentally paid him a visit. Yet, under all these discouragements, and various interruptions, in the year 1669 he published his Paradise Lost, the noblest poem (next to those of Homer and Virgil) that ever the wit of man produced in any age or nation. Need I mention any other evidence of its inestimable worth, than that the finest geniuses who have succeeded him, have ever esteemed it a merit to relish and illustrate its beauties?
And now perhaps it may pass for a fiction, what with great veracity I affirm to be fact, that Milton, after having with much difficulty prevailed to have this divine poem licensed for the press, could sell the copy for no more than fifteen pounds; the payment of which valuable consideration depended upon the sale of three numerous impressions. So unreasonable may personal prejudice affect the most ex lent performances !
About two years after, he published Paradise Regained; but, Oh! what a falling off was there! --of which I will say no more, than that there is scarcely a more remarkable instance of the frailty of human reason than our author gave, in preferring this poem to Paradise Lost.
And thus having attended him to the sixty-sixth year of his age, as closely as such imperfect lights as men of letters and retirement usually leave to guide our enquiry would allow, it now only re. mains to be recorded, that, in the year 1674, the gout put a period to his life, at Bunhill, near London; from whence his body was conveyed to St. Giles's church, by Cripplegate, where it lies interred in the chancel; and a neat monument has lately been erected to perpetuate his memory.
In his youth he is said to have been extremely handsome; the colour of his hair was a light brown, the symmetry of his features exact, enlivened with an agreeable air, and a beautiful mixture of fair and ruddy. His stature (as we find it measured by himself) did not exceed the middle-size, neither too lean nor corpulent; his limbs well proportioned, nervous, and active, serviceable in all respects to his exercising the sword, in which he much delighted ; and wanted neither skill nor courage to resent an affront from men of the most athletic constitutions. In his diet he was abstemious; not delicate in the choice of his dishes; and strong liquors of all kinds were his aversion. His deportment was erect, open, affable; bis conversation easy, cheerful, instructive ; his wit on all occasions at command, facetious,“ grave, or satirical, as the subject required. His judgment, when disengaged from religious and political speculations, was just and penetrating, his apprehension quick, his memory tenacious of what he read, his reading only not so extensive as his genius, for that was uni. versal. And having treasured up such immense store of science, perhaps the faculties of bis soul grew more vigorous after he was deprived of sight; and his imagination, (naturally sublime and enlarged by reading romances, of which he was much enamoured in his youth) when it was wholly abstracted from material objects, was more at liberty to make such amazing excursions into the ideal world, when in composing his divine work he was tempted to range
Beyond the visible diurnal sphere. With so many accomplishments, not to have had some faults and misfortunes to be laid in the ba. lance with the fame and felicity of writing Para. dise Lost, would have been too great a portion for humanity.