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A writer of a sanguine imagination, who delineates a public character he admires in the glowing colours of affection, has rarely the good fortune to find the personage whom he has praised acting in perfect conformity to his panegyric; but Milton, in one particular circumstance, had this rare felicity, in regard to the friend whom he fo fervently commended ; for Bradshaw resisted the tyrannical orders of Cromwell, in the plenitude of his power, with such firmness, that we might almost suppose him animated by a defire to act up to the letter of the eulogy, with which he had been honoured by the eloquence and the esteem of Milton. This will fufficiently appear by the following anecdote in Ludlow's Memoirs, who, after speaking of Oliver's usurpation, and the universal terror he inspired, relates how he himself was summoned, with Bradshaw, Sir Henry Vane, and colonel Rich, to appear before the usurper in council.
“ Cromwell (says Ludlow) as soon as he saw the “ lord president, required him to take out a new com“ mission for his office of chief justice of Chester, which " he refused, alledging that he held that place by a grant “ from the parliament of England, to continue, quamdiu " fe bene gefferit ;' and whether he had carried himself " with that integrity, which his commission exacted, he
was ready to submit to a trial by twelve Englishmen, to “ be chosen even by Cromwell himself.”
This opposition to the usurper was assuredly magnanimous, and the more so as Bradshaw persisted in it, and actually went his circuit as chief justice without paying any regard to what Cromwell had required. The odium which
the president justly incurred in the trial of Charles seems to have prevented even our liberal historians from recording with candour the great qualities he possessed: he was undoubtedly not only an intrepid but a fincere enthusiast in the cause of the commonwealth. His discourse on his death-bed is a sanction to his fincerity ; he regarded it as meritorious to have pronounced sentence on his king, in those awful moments when he was passing himself to the tribunal of his God. Whatever we may think of his political tenets, let us render justice to the courage and the consistency with which he supported them.—The mind of Milton was in unison with the high-toned spirit of this resolute friend, and we shall foon fee how little ground there is to accuse the poet of servility to Cromwell; but we have first to notice the regular series of his political compositions.
Soon after his public appointment, he was requested by the council to counteract the effect of the celebrated book, entitled, Icon Basilike, the Royal Image, and in 1649 he published his Iconoclastes, the Image Breaker. The saga
. city of Milton enabled him to discover, that the pious work imputed to the deceased king was a political artifice to serve the cause of the royalists; but as it was impossible for him to obtain such evidence to detect the imposition as time has since produced, he executed a regular reply to the book, as a real production of the king, intimating at the same time his suspicion of the fraud.
This reply has recently drawn on the name of Milton much liberal praise, and much injurious obloquy. A Scot
tish critic of great eminence, Lord Monboddo, has celebrated the opening of the Iconoclastes as a model of English prose, or, to use his own just expressions, “a specimen of noble " and manly eloquence.”. Johnson, from the fame work, takes occasion to infinuate, that Milton was a dishonest man. A charge so serious, and from a moralist who professed fuch an attachment to truth, deserves fome discussion..7. As fac“ tion (says the unfriendly biographer) seldom leaves a man “honest, however it might find him, Milton is suspected of -.« having interpolated the book called Icon Bafilike, by in
serting a prayer taken from Sidney’s Arcadia, and im
puting it to the king, whom he charges, in his Iconoclastes, “ with the use of this prayer as with a heavy crime, in “ the indecent language with which prosperity had en" boldened the advocates for rebellion to insults all that is
venerable and great.
A simple question will show the want of candour in this attempt to impeach the moral credit of Milton. By whom is he suspected of this dishonesty ? His severe biographer: sinks the name of his own old and dishonourable associate in de-preciating Milton, and does not inform us that it was the in(famous Lauder, who, having failed to blast the reputation of
the poet, with equal impotence and fury pursued his attack against the probity of the man in an execrable pamphlet entitled “ King Charles the First vindicated from the Charge " of Plagiarism brought against him by Milton, and Milton “ himself convicted of Forgery.” Instead of naining Lauder, who persisted in trying to fubftantiate this most improbable charge, Johnson would insidioully lead us to believe, that
the respectable Dr. Birch supported it, though Birch, who had indeed printed, in the appendix' to his Life of Milton, the idle story which Lauder urges as a proof of Milton's imposture, had properly rejected that story from the improved edition of his work, and honourably united with another candid biographer of the poet, the learned bishop of Bristol, in declaring that “ such contemptible evidence is
not to be admitted against a man, who had a soul above “ being guilty of so mean an action.”
There are some calumnies so utterly despicable and abfurd, that to refute them elaborately is almost a disgrace : did not the calumný I am now speaking of belong to this description, it might be here observed, that a writer who published remarks on' Johnson's Life of Milton, in which thë asperity of that biographer is opposed with superior afperity, has proved, with new arguments, the futility of the charge in question. Instead of repeating these, let me observe, that the attempt of Johnson to revive a base and fufficiently refuted imputation against the great author whose life he was writing, is one of the most extraordinary proofs that literature can exhibit how far the virulence of political hatred' may pervert a very powerful mind, even a mind which makes moral truth its principal pursuit, and affiduously labours to be just. This remark is not made in enmity to Johnson, but to shew how cautioiis tlie inost cultivated understanding should be in watching the influence of
any hoftile prejudice. Milton himself may be also urged as an example to enforce the same caution ; for though he was certainly no impostor in imputing the prayer in question to
the king, yet his considering the king's use of it as an offence against heaven, is a pitiable absurdity ; an absurdity as glaring as it would be to affirm, that the divine poet is himself profane in assigning to a speech of the Almighty, in his
poem, the two following verses :
Son of my bosom, son who art alone
Because they are partly borrowed from a line in Virgil, addressed by a heathen goddess to her child :
“ Nate, meæ vires, mea magna potentia folus.”
The heat of political animosity could thus throw a mist over the bright intellects of Milton; yet his Iconoclastes, taken all toge her, is a noble effort of manly reason; it uncanonized a fictitious faint, who assuredly had no pretension to the title.
Having thus signalized himself as the literary antagonist of Charles, when the celebrated Salmasius was hired to arraign the proceedings of England against him, every member of the English council turned his eyes upon Milton as the man from whose spirit and eloquence his country might expect the most able vindication. In 1651, he published his defence of the people, the most elaborate of all his Latin compositions; the merits and defects of this signal performance might be most properly discussed in a preliminary discourse to the prose works of Milton; here I shall only remark, that in the composition of it he gave the most fingua