Imágenes de páginas

This is the first of many remarks, replete with detraction, in which an illustrious author has indulged his fpleen against Milton, in a life of the poét, where an ill-fubdued propensity to censure is ever combating with a necessity to commend. The partisans of the powerful critic, from a natural partiality to their departed master, affect to consider his malignity as existing only in the prejudices of those who endeavour to counteract his injustice. A biographer of Milton ought therefore to regard it as his indispensible duty to show how far this malignity is diffused through a long series of obfervations, which affect the reputation both of the poet and the man; a duty that must be painful in proportion to the fincerity of our esteem for literary genius ; fince, different as they were in their principles, their manners, and their writings, both the poet and his critical biographer are assuredly entitled to the praise of exalted genius. Perhaps in the republic of letters there never existed two writers more deservedly distinguished, not only for the energy of the mental faculties, but for a generous and devout desire to benefit mankind by their exertion.

Yet it must be lamented, and by the lovers of Milton in particular, that a moralist, who has given us, in the Rambler, such sublime leffons for the difcipline of the heart and mind, should be unable to preserve his own from that acrimonious spirit of detraction which led him to depreciate, to the utmost of his power, the rare abilities, and perhaps the still rarer integrity, of Milton. It may be faid,


that' the truly eloquent and fplendid encomium, which he has bestowed on the great work of the poet, ought to exempt him from fuch a charge, The fingular beauties and effect of this eulogy shall be mentioned in the proper place, and with all the applause they merit; but here it is just to recollect, that the praise of the encomiast is nearly confined to the sentence he passes as a critic; his more diffufive detraction may be traced in almost every page of the biographer: not to encounter it on its first appearance, and wherever it is visible and important, would be to fail in that justice and regard towards the character of Milton, which, he, perhaps, of all men, has most eminently deserved.

In the preceding citation it is evidently the purpose of Dr. Johnson to degrade Milton below Cowley, and many other poets, distinguished by juvenile compofitions ; but Mr. Warton has, with great taste and judgment, exposed the error of Dr. Johnson, in preferring the Latin poetry of Cowley to that of Milton. An eminent foreign critic has bestowed that high praise on the juvenile productions of our author, which his prejudiced countryman is inclined to deny. Morhoff has affirmed, with equal truth and liberality, that the verses, which Milton produced in his childhood, discovered both the fire and judgment of maturer life: a commendation that no impartial reader will be inclined to extenuate, who peruses the spirited epistle to his exiled preceptor, composed in his eighteenth ycar.

Some of his English verses bear an earlier date. *The first of his juvenile productions, in the language

which he was destined to ennoble, is a paraphrase of the hundred and fourteenth psalm ; it was executed at the age of fifteen, and discovers a power that Dryden, and other more presumptuous critics, have unjustly denied to Milton, the power of moving with facility in the fetters of rhyme: this power is still more conspicuous in the poem he wrote at the age of seventeen, on the death of his fister's child; a composition peculiarly entitled to the notice of those, who love to contemplate the early dawn of poetical genius. In this performance, puerile as it is in every sense of the word, the intelligent reader may yet discern, as in the bud, all the striking characteristics of Milton; his affectionate sensibility, his superior imagination, and all that native tendency to devotional enthusiasm,

Which sets the heart on fire,
To spurn the fordid world, and unto Heav'n aspire,

Admirably trained as the youth of the poet was to acquire academical honour by the union of industry and talents, he seems to have experienced at Cambridge a chequered fortune, very similar to his deftiny in the world. It appears from some remarkable passages in the Latin exercises, which he recited in his College, that he was at first an object of partial severity, and afterwards of general admirati

He had differed in opinion concerning a plan of academical studies with some persons of authority in his college, and thus excited their displeasure. He speaks of them as highly incensed against him;



but expresses, with the most liberal sensibility, his surprise, delight, and gratitude, in finding that his enemies forgot their animosity to honour him with unexpected applause.

An idle story has been circulated concerning his treatment in College. “ I am alhamed," says Dr. Johnson, “ to relate what I fear is true, that Milton was the last student in either University that suffered the public indignity of corporal punishment." In confirmation of this incident, which appears improbable, though supported by Mr. Warton, the biographical critic alledges the following passage from the first Elegy:

Jam nec arundiferum mihi cura revisere Camum,

Nec dudum vetiti me laris angit amor; Nec duri libet ufqué minas perférre magistri,

Cæteraque ingenio non fubeunda meo. Nor zeal nor duty now my steps impel

To reedy Cam and my forbidden cell; 'Tis time that I a pedant's threats disdain,

And fly from wrongs my soul will ne'er sustain.

Dr. Johnson considers these expressions as an absolute proof, that Milton was obliged to undergo this indignity; but they may suggest a very different idea. From all the light we can obtain concerning this anecdote, it seems most probable, that Milton was threatened, indeed, with what he considered as a punishment, not only dishonourable but unmerited; that his manly spirit disdained to fubmit to it; and that he was therefore obliged to acquiesce in a short exile from Cambridge.

[ocr errors]

he says,

In speaking of his academical life, it is necessary to obviate another remark of a fimilar tendency.

“ There is reason,” says Johnson, “ to suspect that he was regarded in his college with no great fondness.” To counteract this invidious insinua. tion we are furnished with a reply, made by Milton himself, to this very calumny, originally fabricated by one of his contemporaries ; a calumny, which he had so fully refuted, that it ought to have revived no more! he begins with thanking his seviler for the aspersion : “ It has given me,”

an apt occasion to acknowledge publicly “ with all grateful mind, that more than ordinary “ favour and respect, which I found, above any of

my equals, at the hand of those courteous and « learned men, the Fellows of that College, where“ in I spent some years; who, at my parting, after “ I had taken two degrees, as the manner is, figni“ fied many ways how much better it would con¢6 tent them that I would stay, as by many letters, “ full of kindness and loving respect, both before " that time and long after, I was assured of their “ fingular good affection towards me.”—Profe Works, vol. 1, p. 15.

The Latin poems of Milton are yet entitled to more of our attention because they exhibit lively proofs, that he possessed both tenderness and enthufiafm, those primary conftituents of a poet, at an early period of life, and in the highest degree: they have additional value, from making us acquainted with several interesting particulars of his youth, and


« AnteriorContinuar »