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Lost; but it is pleasant to see great works in their seminal state, pregnant with latent possibilities of excellence ; nor could there be any more delightful entertainment than to trace their gradual growth and expansion, and to observe how they are some times suddenly advanced by accidental hints, and sometimes siowly improved by steady meditation..
Invention is almost the only literary labour which blindness cannot obstruct, and therefore he naturally solaced his solitude by the indulgence of his fancy, and the melody of his numbers. He had done what he knew to be necessarily previous to poctical excellence; he had made himself acquainted with scemly arts and affairs ; his comprehension was extended by various knowledge, and his memory stored with intellectual treasures. He was skilful in many languages, and had by reading and coinposition attained the full mastery of his own. He would have wanted liule help from books, had he retained the power of perusing them.
But while his greater designs were advancing, having now, like many other authors, cauglit the love , of publicacion, he ainused himself, as be could, with little productions. He sent to the press (1658) a manuscript of Raleigh, called the Cabinet Council; and next year gratified his malevolence to the clergy, by a Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Cases, and the Means of removing Mirelings out of the Church.
Oliver was now dead; Richard was constrained to resign : the system of extemporary government, which had been held together only by force, naturally fell into fragments when that force was taken away: and Milton saw himself and his cause in equal danger. But he had still hope of doing something. He wrote letters, which Toland has published, to such men as he thought friends to the new commonwealth ; and even in the year of the Restoration he bated no jot of heart or hope, but was fantastical enough to think that the nation, agitated as it was, might be settled by a pamphlet, called A ready and easy way to establish a Free Commonwealth ; which was, however, enough considered to be both seriously and ludicrousiy answered.
The obstinate enthusiasm of the commonwealthmen was very remarkable. When the King was apparently returning, Harrington, with a few associates, as fantastical as himself, used to meet, with all the gravity of political importance, to settle an equal government by rotation ; and Milton, kicking when he could strike no longer, was fool. lish enough to publish a few weeks before the Re. storation, Notes upon a sermon preached by one Griffiths, intituled, The Fear of God and the King; To these notes an answer was written by L'Estrange, in a pamphlet petulantly called No Blind Guides.
But whatever Milton could write, or men of greater activity could do, the King was now about to be restored with the irresistible approbation of the people. He was therefore no longer secretary, and was consequently obliged to quit the house which he held by his office; and proportioning his sense of danger to his opinion of the importance of his writings, thought it convenient to seek some shelter, and hid himself for a tine in BartholomewClose, by West Smithfield.
I cannot but remark a kind of respect, perhaps unconsciously, paid to this great man by his biographers: every house in which he resided is histo. rically mentioned, as if it were an injury to neglect naming any place that he honored by his presence.
The King, with lenity of which the world has had perhaps no other example, declined to be the judge or avenger of his own or his father's wrongs ; and promised to admit into the Act of Oblivion all, except those whom the parliament should except: and the parliament doomed none to capital punishment but the wretches who had immediately co-operated in the murder of the King. Milton was certainly not one of them; he had only justified what they had done.
This justification was indeed sufficiently offensive; and (June 16) an order was issued to seize Milton's Defence, and Goodwin's Obstructors of Justice, another book of the same tendency, and burn them by the common hangman. The attor., ney-general was ordered to prosecute the authors;
but Milton was not seized, nor perhaps very diligently pursued.
Not long after (August 19) the flutter of innumerable bosoms was stilled by an act, which the King, that his mercy might want no recommendation of elegance, rather called an Act of Oblivion than of Grace. Goodwin was named, with nineteen more, as incapacitated for any public trust; but of Milton there was no exception.
Of this tenderness shewn to Milton, the curiosity of mankind has not forborn to enquire the reason. Burnet thinks he was forgotten; but this is another instance which may confirm. Dalrymple's observation, who says, that whenever Burnet's * narrations are examined, he appears to be mis"taken.'
Forgotten he was not; for his prosecution was ordered; it must be therefore by design that he was included in the general oblivion. He is said to have had friends in the house, such as Marvel, Morrice, and Sir Thomas Clarges: and undoubt. edly a man like him must have had influence. A very particular story of his escape is told by Richardson in his Memoirs, which he received from Pope, as delivered by Betterton, who might have heard it from Davenant. In the war between the King and Parliament, Davenant was made prisoner, and condemned to die; but was spared at the request of Milton. When the turn of success brought
Milton into the like danger, Davenant repayed the benefit by appearing in his favor. Here is a reciprocation of generosity and gratitude so pleasing, that the tale makes its own way to credit. But if help were wanted, I know not where to find it. The danger of Davenant is certain from his own relation : but of his escape there is no account. Betterton's narration can be traced no higher; it is not known that he had it from Davenant. We are told that the benefit exchanged was life for life; but it seems not certain that Milton's life ever was in danger. Goodwin, who had committed the same kind of crime, escaped with incapacitation; and as exclusion from public trust is a punishment which the power of government can commonly inflict without the help of a particular law, it required no great interest to exempt Milton from a censure little more than verbal. Something may be reasonably ascribed to veneration and compassion; to veneration of his abilities, and compassion for his distresses, which made it fit to forgive his malice for his learning. He was now poor and blind; and who would pursue with violence an illustrious enemy, depressed by fortune, and disarmed by nature + ?
+ A different account of the means by which Milton secured himself is given by an historian lately brought to light. Milton,
Latin secretary to Cromwell, distinguished by his writings in 'favour of the rights and liberties of the people, pretended to be dead, and had a public funeral procession. The King applauded his policy in escaping the punishment of death, by a 'seasonable shew of dying. Cunninghami's History of Great Britain, vol. i. p. 14. R.