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Had the prose works of Milton net merit but of occasionally affording us little sketches of his sentiments, his manners, and occupations, they would on this account be highly valuable to every reader, whom a passionate admiration of the poet has induced to wish for all possible acquaintance with the man. To gratify such readers I select very copiously from his various works those passages, that display, in the strongest point of view, his moral and domestic character. It is my firm belief, that as this is more known, it will become more and more an object of affection and applause; yet I am far from surveying it with that blind idolatry, which sees no defect, or with that indiscreet partiality, which labours to hide the failing it discovers; a biographer must have ill understood the nature of Milton, who could suppose it possible to gratify his spirit by homage so unworthy; for my own part, I am persuaded his attachment to truth was as sincere and fervent as that of the honest Montaigne, who says, " I would come again with all my heart from the other world to give any one the lye, who should report me other than I was, though he did it to honor me."
I shall not therefore attempt to deny or to excuse the fatiguing heaviness or the course asperity of his ecclesiastical disputes. The sincerest friends of Milton may here agree with Johnson, who speaks of his controversial merriment as disgusting; but when the critic adds, such is his malignity, that "Hell grows darker at his frown," they must abhor this base misapplication, I had almost said, this profanation, of Miltonic verse.
In a controversial treatise, that gave rise to such an imputation, we should expect to find the polemic savagely thirsting for the blood of his adversaries: it is just the reverse. Milton's antagonist had, indeed, suggested to the public, with infernal malignity, that he was a miscreant, "who ought, in the name of Christ, to be stoned to death." This antagonist, as Milton supposed, was a son of Bishop Hall, and
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scrupled not to write thus outrageously against one, who (to use the milder words of our author) " in all his writing spake not that any man's skin should be razed."
u The style of his piece," says Johnson, in speaking of this apology, " is rough, and such, perhaps, is that of his antagonist." The different degrees of roughness, that the two writers displayed, give a singular effect to this observation of the critic, who confounds the coarse and intemperate vehemence of the one with the outrageous barbarity of the other. Milton sometimes wrote with the unguarded and ungraceful asperity of a man in wrath; but let equity add, that when he did so, he was exasperated by foes, who exerted against him all the persecuting ferocity of a fiend.
The incidents of his life were calculated to put his temper and his fortitude to the most arduous trials, and in the severest of these he will be found constant and exemplary in the exercise of gentle and beneficent virtue. From the thorns of controversy he was plunged into the still sharpersidue of his long life in the filial piety and tender protection of the poet.
At the time appointed, Milton solicited the return of his wife; she did not condescend even to answer his letter: he repeated his request by a messenger, who, to the best of my remembrance (says Philips) reported, that he was dismissed with some sort of contempt. This proceeding, in all probability (continues the biographer, whose situation made him the best judge of occurrences so extraordinary) was grounded " upon no other cause but this, namely, that the family, being generally addicted to the cavalier party, as they called it, and some of them possibly engaged in the king's service, who by this time had his head-quarters at Oxford, and was in some prospect of success, they began to repent them of having matched the eldest daughter of the family to a person so contrary to them in opinion, and thought it would be a blot in their escutcheon when that court came to flourish again; however,, it so incensed our author, that he thought it would be dis