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after gaining such extensive celebrity as a political disputant, cast off the mortal vesture of a polemic, and arose in the purest fplendor of poetical immor, tality?
Biographers are frequently, accused of being influenced by affection for their subject; to a cer, tain degree it is right that they should be so ; for what is biography in its fairest point of view ? ą tribute paid by justice and esteem to genius and to virtue ; and never is this tribute inore pleasing or more profitable to mankind, than when it is liberally paid, with all the fervour and all the fidelity of friendship : the chief delight and the chief uti, lity that arises from this attractive branch of literature consists in the affectionate interest, which it displays and communicates in favour of the talents and probity that it aspires to celebrate; hence the most engaging pieces of biography are those that have been written by relations of the deceased. This remark is exemplified in the life of Agricola by Tacitus, and in that of Racine, the dramatic poet, written by his son, who was also a poet, and addrefled to his grandson.
It has been the lot of Milton to have his life frequently described, and recently, by a very powerful author, who, had he loved the character he engaged to delineate, might, perhaps, have satisfied the admirers of the poet, and closed the list of his nu. merous biographers. But the very wonderful mind of Johnson was fo embittered by prejudice, that in delineating a character confessedly pre-eminent in
eminent accomplishments, in genius, and in piety, he perpetually endeavours to represent him as una
miable, and instead of attributing any mistaken opinions that he might entertain to such fources as charity and reafon conspire to suggest, imputes them to fupposed vices in his mind, most foreign to his nature, and the very worst that an enemy could imagine.
In the course of this narrative I have considered it as a duty incuinbent upon me to notice and counteract, as they occurred, many important strokes of the hostility which I am now lamenting; these become still more remarkable in that portion of the biographer's labour to which I am at length arrivedi; it is in diffecting the mind of Milton, if I may use such an expression, that Johnson indulges the injurious intemperance of his hatred. « be suspected (he says) that his predominant de** fire was to destroy rather than establish; and that " he felt not so much the love of liberty as repug
nance to authority.” Such a suspicion may indeed be harboured by political rancour, but it must be in direct opposition to justice and truth ; for of all men who have written or acted in the service of liberty, there is no individual, who has proved more completely, both by his language and his life, that he made a perfect distinction between liberty and licentiousness. No human fpirit could be more sincerely a lover of just and beneficent authority; for no man delighted more in peace and order; no man has written more eloquently in their praise, or given sublimet proofs of his own personal
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attachment to them by the regulation of his own orderly and peaceful studies. If he hated power (as Johnson asserts) in every established form, he hated not its falutary influence, but its pernicious exertions. Vehement as he occasionally was against kings and prelates, he spoke of the fectaries with equal indignation and abhorrence when they also became the agents of persecution; and as he had fully feen, and has forcibly exposed, the gross failings of republican reformers, had his life been ex. tended long enough to witness the Revolution, which he might have beheld without suffering the decrepitude or imbecility of extreme old age, he would probably have exulted as warmly as the ftaunchest friend of our present constitution can exult, in that temperate and happy reformation of monarchical enormities.
Johnson also intimates, that he was a shallow politician, who supposed money to be the chief good, though with fingular inconsistency he at the same time confesses, “, that fortune seems not to have had much of his care."
Money, in fact, had so little influence over the elevated mind of Milton, that from his want of attention to it he sustained such losses as, according to his nephew's expression, might have ruined a man less temperate than he was." Two thoufand pounds he is said to have lost by entrusting it to government, and as much in a private loan, without fufficient security.
“ Towards the latter part of his time,” fays one of his early biographers," he contracted his library,
both because the heirs he left could not make a right use of it, and that he thought he might sell it more to their advantage than they could be able to do themselves. His enemies reported, that poverty constrained him thus to part with his books; and were this true it would be a great disgrace, not to him (for persons of the highest merits have been often reduced to that condition) but to any country that should have no more regard to probity or learning. This story, however, is so false, that he died worth fifteen hundred pounds, besides all his goods."
Such are the remarks of Toland on the pecuniary circumstances of the poet; they shew with becoming spirit, that he was not reduced by absolute indigence to the sale of his library; yet every reader, whose literary feelings are acute, must the old age of Milton was not guarded and enlivened by such affluence as might have saved him from a measure, in which those who have a passion for þooks must suppose him to have suffered some degree of mortification.
The necessities into 'which many deserving men of letters have fallen towards the close of life, and in various countries, may be regarded as an universal disgrace to civilized society, which the improving refinement and liberality of mankind ought effectually to remove. Literature, which is so eminently beneficial to a nation, is frequently ruinous to worthy individuals moft fervently attached to it; and it should be regarded as a duty, therefore, by every polished people, to provide a public fund, which might afford a becoming competence to the
advanced life of every illustrious scholar, whose public labours entitle him to that honourable diftinction. Such meritorious veterans in literature as Milton and his late aged biographer should have been preferved, in their declining days, from every Shadow of indigence, by the public gratitude of the nation to whom they had devoted their intellectual fervice. What friend to letters and to genius could fail to wish affluent comfort to the closing life of such authors, however he might condemn the exceffes of republican severity in the one, or those of fervile and cenforial bigotry in the other ?
There can hardly be any contemplation more painful, than to dwell on the virulent exceffes of eminent and good men; yet the utility of such contemplation may be equal to its pain. What mildnefs and candour should it not instil into ordinary mortals to observe, that even genius and virtue weaken their title to refpect, in proportion as they recede from that evangelical charity, which should influence every man in his judgment of another.
The strength and the acuteness of senfation, which partly constitute genius, have a great tendency to produce virulence, if the mind is not perpetually on its guard against that subtle, insinuating, and corrofive passion, hatred against all whose opinions are opposite to our own. Johnson professed, in one of his letters, to love a good hater ; and in the Latin correspondence of Milton, there are words that imply a similarity of sentiment; they both thought there might be a fanctified bitternefs, to use an expression of Milton, towards political and religious