« AnteriorContinuar »
REV. JOSEPH WARTON, D. D. &c.
My pleasant and respectable Friend!
IN prefixing your name to this yolume, I feel
and confess the double influence of an affecti-
The kind and friendly manner in which you
alone have induced me to inscribe a more ample copy of it to that literary veteran, whose applause is so justly dear to me. I have additional inducements in recollecting your animated and enlightened regard for the glory of Milton. It is pleasing to address a sympathetic friend on a subject that interests the fancy and the heart. I remember, with peculiar gratification, the liberality and frankness, with which
lamented to me the extreme severity of the late Mr. Warton, in describing the controversial writings of Milton. I honour the rare integrity of your mind, my candid friend, which took the part of injured genius and probity against the prejudices of a brother, eminent as a scholar, and entitled also, in many points of view, to your love and admiration. I sympathize with you most cordially in regretting the severity to which I allude, so little to be expected from the general temper of the critic, and from that affectionate spirit, with which he had vindicated the poetry of Milton from the misrepresentations of cold and callous austerity. But Mr. Warton had fallen into a mistake, which has betrayed other well-disposed minds into an unreasonable abhor
rence of Milton's profe; I mean 'the mistake of regarding it as having a tendency to fubvert our existing government. Can any man justly think it has such a tendency, who recollects that no government, similar to that which the Revolution established for England, existed when Milton wrote.
His impassioned yet disinterested ardour for reformation was excited by those grofs abuses of
which that new fettlement of the state very happily corrected.
Your learned and good-natured brother, my dear friend, was not the only man of learning and good-nature, who indulged a prejudice, that to us appears very extravagant, to give it the gentlest appellation. A literary Paladine (if I may borrow from romance a title of distinction to honour a very powerful historian) even Gibbon himself, whom we both admired and loved for his literary and for his socłal accomplishments, surpailed, I think, on this topic, 'the severity of Mr. Warton, and held it Kardly compatible with the duty of a good citizen to republish, in the present times, the prose of Milton, as he apprehended it might be productive of public evil. For my own fart, although
46 I am
I sincerely respected the highly cultivated mind that harboured this apprehension, yet the apprehension itself appeared to me somewhat similar to the fear of Falstaff, when he says, “ afraid of this gunpowder Percy, though he be · dead.” As the prose of Milton had a refe
" rence to the distracted period in which it arose, its arguments, if they could by any means be pointed against our existing government, are surely as incapable of inflicting a wound, as completely dead for all the purposes of hostility, as the noble Percy is represented, when he excites the ludicrous terror of Sir John: but while I presume to describe the prose of Milton as inanimate in one point of view, let me have the justice to add, that it frequently breathes so warm a spirit of genuine eloquence and philanthropy, that I am persuaded the prophecy of its great author concerning it will be gradually accomplished; its defects and its merits will be more temperately and justly estimated in a future age than they have hitherto been. The prejudices fo recently entertained against it, by the two eminent writers I have mentioned, were entertained at a period when a very extraordinary
panic possessed and overclouded many of the most elevated and enlightened minds of this kingdom-a period when a retired student could hardly amuse himself with perusing the nervous republican writers of the last century, without being suspected of framing deadly machinations against the monarchs of the present day; and when the principles of a Jacobin were very blindly imputed to a truly English writer of acknowledged genius, and of the purest reputation, who is, perhaps, of all men living, the most perfectly blameless in his sentiments of government, morality, and religion. But happily for the credit of our national understanding, and our national courage, the panic to which I allude has speedily passed away, and a man of letters may now, I presume, as safely and irreproachably peruse or reprint the great republican writers of England, as he might translate or elucidate the political visions of Plato, a writer whom Milton passionately admired, and to whom he bore, I think, in many points, a very striking resemblance. Perhaps they both pos-, fessed too large a portion of fancy and enthusiasın to make good practical statesmen; the visiona