Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

defence appeared, that several friends advised Milton not to hazard his credit against a name so eminent as that of Salmasius. Never did a literary conflict engage the attention of a wider circle; and never did victory declare more decidedly in favour of the party from whom the public had least expectation. Perhaps no author ever acquired a more rapid and extensive celebrity than Milton gained by this conteft. Let us however remark, for the interest of literature, that the two combatants were both to blame in their reciprocal use of weapons utterly unworthy of the great cause that each had to sustain; not content to wield the broad and bright sword of national argument, they both descended to use the mean and envenomed dagger of perfonal malevolence. They have indeed great authorities of modern time to plead in their excuse, not to mention the bitter disputants of antiquity. It was the opinion of Johnson, and Milton himself seems to have entertained the same idea, that it is allowable in literary contention to ridicule, vilify, and depreciate as much as possible the character of an opponent. Surely this doctrine is unworthy of the great names who have endeavoured to support it, both in theory and practice; a do&rine not only morally wrong, but prudentially defective ; for a malevolent spirit in cloquence is like a dangerous varnish in painting, which may produce, indeed, a brilliant and forcible effect for a time, but ultimately injures the success of the production ; a remark that may be verified in perusing the Latin prose of Milton, where elegance of language and energy of sentiment

fuffer

suffer not a little from being blended with the tiresome af-perity of personal invective.

It is a pleasing transition to return from his enemies to his friends. He had a mind and heart peculiarly alive to the duties and delights of friendship, and seems to have been peculiarly happy in this important article of human life. In speaking of his blindness, he mentions, in the most interesting manner, the assiduous and tender attention, which he received on that occasion from his friends in general ; some of them he regarded as not inferior in kindness to Theseus and Pylades, the ancient demigods of amity. We have lost, perhaps, some little poems that Aowed from the heart of Milton, by their being addressed to persons who, in the vicissitudes of public fortune, were suddenly plunged into obscurity with the honours they had received. Some of his fonnets that we possess did not venture into public till many years after the death of their author for political reasons ; others might be concealed from the same motive, and in such concealment they might casily perish. I can hardly believe that he never addressed a verse to Bradshaw, whom we have seen him praising so eloquently in prose; and among those whom he mentions with esteem in his Latin works, there is a less known military friend, who seems still more likely to have been honoured with some tribute of the poet's affection, that time and chance may have destroyed; I mean his friend (verton, a soldier of eminence in the service of the parliament, whom Milton describes « as endeared to him through many years by the “ fimilitude of their pursuits, by the sweetness of his man

ners,

ners, and by an intimacy surpassing even the union of “ brothers *.” A character so highly and tenderly esteemed by the poet has a claim to the attention of his biographer. Overton is commended by the frank ingenuous Ludlow as a brave and faithful officer ; he is also ridiculed in a ballad of the royalists as a religious enthusiast. He had a gratuity of 300l. a year conferred on him for his bravery by the parliament, and had risen to the rank of a major general. Croinwell, apprehensive that Overton was conspiring against his usurpation, first imprisoned him in the tower, and afterwards confined him in the island of Jersey. A letter, in which Marvel relates to Milton his having presented to the Protector at Windsor a recent copy of the Second Defence, expresses at the same time an affectionate curiosity concerning the business of Overton, who was at that time just brought to London by a mysterious order of Cromwell. He did not escape from confinement till after the death of Oliver, when, in consequence of a petition from his sister to the parliament, he obtained his release. Soon after the restoration, he was again imprisoned in the Tower with Colonel Desborow, on a ruinour of their being concerned in a treasonable commotion; but as that rumour seems to have been a political device of the royalists, contrived to strengthen the new government, he probably regained his freedom, though we know not how his active days were concluded. The anxiety and anguish that Milton must have indured in the various calamities to which his friends

a

* Te, Overtone, mihi multis ab hinc annis et studiorum fimilitudine, et morum suavitate, concordia plufquam fraternâ conjunctislime.Prose Work, Vol. II. p. 400.

were

were exposed on the vicissitude of public affairs, formed, I apprehend, the severest sufferings of his extraordinary life, in which genius and affliction seem to have contended for pre-eminence.

Some traces of the sufferings I allude to, though mysteriously veiled, are yet visible in his poetry, and will be noticed hereafter. Not to anticipate the severest evil of his deftiny, let me now speak of a foreign friend, in whofe lively regard he found only honour and delight. On the publication of his defence, Leonard Philaras, a native of Athens, who had distinguished himself in Italy, and risen to the rank of envoy from the duke of Parma to the court of France, conceived a flattering desire to cultivate the friendship of Milton. With this view he sent him his portrait, with very engaging letters, and the highest commendation of the recent defence. The reply of Milton is remarkable for its elegance and spirit; after thanking his correspondent for presents so agreeable, he says,

66 * If " Alexander

* Cuin enim Alexander ille magnus in terris ultimis bellum gerens, tantos se militiæ labores pertulife teftatus fit, της παρ' Αθηναίων ευ odtias švenc ; quidni ergo mihi gratuler, meque ornari quam maxime putem, ejus viri laudibus, in quo jam uno priscorum Atheniensium artes, atque virtutes illæ celebratiffimæ, renafci tam longo intervallo, et reflorescere videntur. Quâ ex urbe cum tot viri disertissimi prodierint, eorum potiflimuin fcriptis ab adolescentia pervolvendis, didicifle me libens fateor quicquid ego literis profeci. Quod fi mihi tanta vis dicendi accepta ab illis et

quasi transfusa ineffet, ut exercitos noftros et claffes ad liberandain ab Ottomanico tyranno Græciam, eloquentiæ patriam, excitare poftem; ad quod facinus egregium nostras opes pene implorare videris, facerem profeéto id quo nihil mihi antiquius aut in votis prius effet, Quid enim vel fortislimi olim viri, vel eloquentissimi gloriofius aut se dignius esse duxerunt, quam vel fuadendo vel fortiter faciendo . ελευθερες και αυτονόμες ποιείσθαι τες "Έλληνας?, Verum et aliud quiddam præterea tentandum eft, mcâ quidem sententia longe maximum, ut quis antiquam in animis Græcorum virtutem,,

induftriam

« Alexander in the midst of his martial toil confessed, that “ he laboured but to gain an eulogy from Athens, I may “ think myself fortunate indeed, and esteem it as the highest “ honour, to be thus commended by the man in whom “ alone the genius and virtue of the ancient Athenians seem, " after so long an interval, to revive and flourish. As your

city has produced many most eloquent men, I am per“ fectly willing to confess, that whatever proficiency I have “ made in literature is chiefly owing to my long and in« cessant study of their works. Had I acquired from them “ such powers of language as might enable me to stimulate

our fleets and armies to deliver Greece, the native seat of " eloquence, from the tyranny of the Turks (a splendid

enterprize, for which you almost seem to implore our “ assistance) I would assuredly do what would then be

among the first objects of my desire; for what did the “ bravest or most eloquent men of antiquity consider as

more glorious or more worthy of themselves, than by per“ suasive language or bold exploits to render the Greeks “ free, and their own legislators.” He closes his letter by observing very justly, that “ it is first necessary to kindle in " the minds of the modern Greeks the spirit and virtue “ of their ancestors,” (politely adding) that “if this could be

accomplished by any man, it might be most reasonably

[ocr errors]

induftriam, laborum tolerantiam, antiqua illa ftudia dicendo, fufcitare atque accendere poffit. Hoc fi quis effecerit, quod à nemine potius quam abs te, pro tua illa insigni erga patriam pietate, cum fumma prudentia reique militaris

peritia, summo denique recuperandæ libertatis priftinæ ftudio conjunctâ, expectare debemus; neque ipsos fibi Græcos neque ullam gentem Græcis defuturam efle confido. Vale. Profe Works, vol. 2. p. 575.

" expected

« AnteriorContinuar »