Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

tic personage too clearly proved her unworthy; yet Milton cannot fairly be charged with servile adulation. Christina, when he appeared as her eulogist, was the idol of the literary world. The candour with which she spake as a queen on his defence of the people would naturally strike the author as an engaging proof of her discernment and magnanimity; he was also gratified in no common degree by the coolness with which she treated his adversary; for Salmafius, whom she had invited to her court for his erudition, was known to have lost her favour, when his literary arrogance and imbecility were exposed and chastised by the indignant spirit of Milton. The wretched Salmafius, indeed, was utterly overwhelmed in the eňcounter ; he had quitted France, his native country, where he honour. ably disdained to purchase a pension by flattering the tyranny of Richlieu, and had settled in Leyden as an asy?um of liberty; he seemed, therefore, as one of his Parisian correspondents observed to him, " to cancel the merit of his former conduct by « writing against England.” Salmasius was extravagantly vain, and trusted too much to his great reputation as a scholar; his antagonist, on the contrary, was so little known as a Latin writer before the defence appeared, that several friends advised Milton not to hazard his credit against a name fo eminent as that of Salmasius. Never did a literary conflict engage the attention of a wider circle; and never did victory declare more decidedly in favour of the party from whom the public had least expectation. Perhaps no author ever required a more


rapid and extensive celebrity than Milton gained by, this contest. Let us however remark, for the interest of literature, that the two combatants were both to blame in their reciprocal use of weapons utterly unworthy of the great cause that each had to sustain; not content to wield the broad and bright sword of national argument, they both descended to use the mean and envenomed dagger of personal malevolence. They have indeed great authorities of modern time to plead in their excuse, not to mention the bitter disputants of antiquity. It was the opinion of Johnson, and Milton himself seems to have entertained the same idea, that it is allowable in literary contention to ridicule, vilify, and depreciate as much as possible the character of an opponent. Surely this doctrine is unworthy of the great names who have endeavoured to support it, both in theory and practice; a doctrine not only morally wrong, but prudently defective; for a malevolent fpirit in eloquence is like a dangerous varnish in painting, which may produce, indeed, a brilliant and forcible effect for a time, but ultimately injures the success of the production; a remark that may be verified in perusing the Latin prose of Milton, where elegance of language and energy of sentiment suffer not a little from being blended with the tire. some asperity of personal invective.

It is a pleasing transition to return from his encmies to his friends. He had a mind and heart

peculiarly alive to the duties and delights of friend. ship, and seems to have been peculiarly happy in this important article of human life. In speaking


[ocr errors]

of his blindness, he mentions, in the moft interesting manner, the affiduous and tender attention, which he received on that occafion from his friends in general; fome of them he regarded as not inferior in kindness to Theseus and Pylades, the ancient demigods of amity. We have lost, perhaps, some little poems that flowed from the heart of Milton, by their being addressed to persons who, in the vicissitudes of public fortune, were suddenly plunged into obscurity with the honours they had received. Some of his fonnets that we possess did not venture into public till many years after the death of their author for political reasons; others might be concealed from the same motive, and in such concealment they might easily perish. I can hardly believe that he never addressed a verse to Bradshaw, whom we have seen him praising fo eloquently in prose; and among those whom he mentions with esteem in his Latin works, there is a less known military friend, who seems still more likely to have been honoured with some tribute of the poet's affection, that time and chance may have destroyed; I mean his friend Overton, a soldier of eminence in the service of the parliament, whom Milton describes " as endeared to him through many

years by the similitude of their pursuits, by the " sweetness of his manners, and by an intimacy “ furpassing even the union of brothers *.” A

"Te, Overtone, mihi multis ab hinc annis et ftudiorum fimilitudine, et morum fuavitate, concordiâ plusquam fraternå conjunctiflime. Profe Work, Vol. II. p. 400.



character so highly and tenderly esteemed by the poet has a claim to the attention of his biographer. Overton is commended by the frank ingenious Ludlow as a brave and faithful officer; he is also ridiculed in a ballad of the royalists as a religious enthusiast. He had a gratuity of 3col. a year conferred on him for his bravery by the parliament, and had risen to the rank of a major general. Cromwell, apprehensive that Overton was conspiring against his usurpation, first imprisoned him in the Tower, and afterwards confined him in the island of Jersey. A letter, in which Marvel relates to Milton his having presented to the Protector at Windsor a recent copy of the Second Defence, expresses at the same time an affectionate curiosity concerning the business of Overton, who was at that time juft brought to London by a mysterious order of Cromwell. He did not escape from confinement till after the death of Oliver, when, in consequence of a petition from his sister to the parliament, he obtained his release. Soon after the restoration, he was again imprisoned in the Tower with Colonel Desborow, on a rumour of their being concerned in a treasonable commotion; but as that rumour seems to have been a political device of the royalists, conțrived to strengthen the new government, he probably regained his freedom, though we know not how his active days were concluded. The anxiety and anguish that Milton must have indured in the various calamities to which his friends were exposed on the vicissitude of public affairs, formed, I apprehend, the feverest sufferings of his extraor

dinary life, in which genius and affliion seem to have contended for pre-eminence.

Some traces of the sufferings I allude to, though mysteriously veiled, are yet visible in his poetry, and will be noticed hereafter. Not to anticipate the severest evil of his destiny, let me now speak of a foreign friend, in whose lively regard he found only honour and delight. On the publication of his defence, Leonard Philaras, a native of Athens, who had distinguished himself in Italy, and risen to the rank of envoy from the duke of Parma to the court of France, conceived a flattering desire to cul. tivate the friendship of Milton. With this, view he fent him his portrait, with very engaging letters, and the highest commendation of the recent de fence. The reply of Milton is remarkable for its elegance and spirit; after thanking his correspondent for presents so agreeable, he says, “ * If Alexander

66 in

* Cum enim Alexander ille magnus in terris ultimis bellum gerens, tantos se militiæ labores pertuliffe teftatus fit, ons tag? Aonucciwv ev dožices &vera ; quidni ergo mihi gratuler, meque ornari quam maxime putem, ejus viri laudibus, in quo jam uno prifcorum Atheniensium artes, atque virtutes illæ celebratiffimæ, renafci tam longo intervallo, et reflorescere videntur. Quâ ex arbe cum tot viri disertiffimi prodierint, eorum potiffimum scriptis ab adolefcentia pervolvendis, didicisse me libens fateor quicquid ego literis profeci. Quod fi mihi tanta vis dicendi accepta ab illis et quasi transfusa ineffet, ut exercitus nostros et classes ad liberandam ab Ottomanico tyranno Græciam, eloquentiæ patriam, excitare poffem ; ad quod facinus egregium noftras opes pene implorare videris, facerem profecto id quo nihil mihi antiquius, aut in votis prius effet. Quid enim vel fortislimi olim viri, vel


« AnteriorContinuar »