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Of Bacchus and his revellers, the race
Of that wild rout that tore the Thracian bard
How peculiarly affecting are these beautiful verfes, when the history of the poet fuggefts that he probably wrote them while he was concealed in an obfcure corner of the city, that resounded with the triumphant roar of his intoxicated enemies, among whom drunkenness arose to such extravagance, that even the festive royalifts found it neceffary to issue a proclamation, which forbade the drinking of healths. How poignant at this time must have been the perfonal and patriotic feelings of Milton, who had passed his life in animating himself and his country to habits of temperance, truth, and public virtue, yet had the mortification of finding that country, so dear to him, now doubly difgraced; firft, by the hypocrify and treacherous ambition of republicans, to whose pretended virtues he had given too eafy credit; and now, by the mean licentious fervility of royalists, whose more open though not more dangerous vices his upright and high-toned spirit had ever held in abhorrence. For his country he had every thing to apprehend from the blind infatuation with which the parliament had rejected the patriotic fuggeftion of Hale (afterwards the illuftrious chief juftice) to establish conftitutional limitations
to the power of the king at the critical period of his reception. The neglect of this measure contributed not a little to fubfequent evils, and the reign of Charles the Second was in truth deformed with all the public mifery and disgrace which Milton had predicted, when he argued on the idea of his re-admiffion. For his own perfon, the literary champion of the people had no lefs to dread from the barbarity of public vengeance, or from the private dagger of fome overheated royalist, who, like the affaffins of Doriflaus in Holland, and of Afcham in Spain, might think it meritorious to feize any opportunity of destroying a fervant of the English republic. When royal government, restored to itself, could yet defcend to authorise a mean and execrable indignity against the dead body of a man so magnanimous and fo innocent as Blake, it was furely natural, and by no means unbecoming the fpirit of Milton, to fpeak as he does, in the preceding verfes, of evil days and evil tongues, of darkness and of danger.
"This darknefs (fays Johnson) had his eyes been better employed, had undoubtedly deserved compaffion." What! had Milton no title to compaffion for his perfonal calamity, because he had nobly facrificed his fight to what he esteemed an important discharge of his public duty ?-Oh egregious morality! to which no feeling heart can subscribe. No, fay his implacable enemies, he loft his eyes in the vindication of wickedness: but admitting their affertion in its full force, justice and humanity ftill contend, that, instead of diminishing, it rather doubles his claim to compaffion; to fuffer in a spirited defence of guilt, that we mistake and
esteem as virtue, is, perhaps, of all pitiable misfortunes, what a candid and confiderate mind fhould be most willing to pity.
But Johnson proceeds to fay, "of evil tongues for Milton to complain required impudence at least equal to "his other powers; Milton, whose warmest advocates must "allow, that he never spared any asperity of reproach or ❝ brutality of infolence."
These are, perhaps, the most bitter words that were ever applied by an author, illustrious himself for great talents, and still more for christian virtue, to a character pre-eminent in genius and in piety. By fhewing to what a marvellous degree a very cultivated and devout mind may be exafperated by party rage, may they ferve to caution every fervid spirit against that outrageous animofity, which a difference of fentiment in politics and religion is fo apt to produce. It would feem almost an affront to the memory of Milton to vindicate him elaborately from a charge, whose very words exhibit fo palpable a violation of decency and truth.
His coldeft advocates, inftead of allowing that he never fpared any brutality of infolence, may rather contend, that his native tenderness of heart, and very graceful education, rendered it hardly poffible for him at any time to be infolent and brutal. It would have been wonderful indeed, had he not written with some degree of asperity, when his antagonist Salmafius afferted, that he ought to suffer an ignominious and excruciating death. Against the unfortunate (but not innocent) Charles the First, he expressly declares
clares, that he published nothing till after his decease; and that he meant not, as he fays in one of his Latin works, to infult the Manes of the king, is indeed evident to an unprejudiced reader, from the following very beautiful and pathetic fentence, with which he begins his answer to the Eikon Bafilike:
“To descant on the misfortunes of a person fallen from fo high a dignity, who hath alfo paid his final debt, both to nature and his faults, is neither of itself a thing commendable, nor the intention of this difcourfe." Those who fairly confider the exafperated state of the contending parties, when Milton wrote, and compare his political compofitions with the favage ribaldry of his opponents, however mistaken they may think him in his ideas of government, will yet find more reason to admire his temper than to condemn his afperity.
If in a quiet study, at a very advanced period of life, and at the distance of more than a century from the days of the. republic; if a philofopher fo fituated could be hurried by political heat to speak of Milton with fuch harsh intemperance of language, though writing under the friendly title of his biographer, with what indulgence ought we to view that afperity in Milton himself, which arose from the immediate preffure of public oppreffion and of private outrage; for his spirit had been enflamed, not only by the fight of many national vexations, but by feeing his own moral character attacked with the moft indecent and execrable calumny that can incite the indignation of infulted virtue. If the fafcinating powers of his facred poem, and the luftre of
of his integrity, have failed to foften the virulence of an aged moralist against him in our days, what must he not have had to apprehend from the raging paffions of his own time, when his poetical genius had not appeared in its meridian fplendor, and when most of his writings were confidered as recent crimes against thofe, who were entering on their career of triumph and revenge? Johnfon, indeed, afferts in his barbarous cenfure of Milton's exquifite picture of his own fituation, that the poet, in speaking of his danger, was ungrateful and unjust; that the charge itself feems to be falfe, for it would be hard to recollect any reproach caft upon him, either serious or ludicrous, through the whole remaining part of his life; yet Lauder, once the affociate of Johnson in writing against Milton, exprefsly affirms, that it was warmly debated for three days, whether he should fuffer death with the regicides or not, as many contended that his guilt was fuperior to theirs. Lauder, indeed, mentions no authority for his affertion; and the word of a man so fupremely infamous would deserve no notice, were not the circumftance rendered probable by the rancour and atrocity of party fpirit. To what deteftable exceffes this fpirit could proceed we have not only an example in Lauder himself (of whofe malignity to the poet I fhall have fubfequent occafion to fpeak) but in that collection of virulent invectives against Milton, compofed chiefly by his contemporaries, which Lauder added as an appendix to his own moft malignant pamphlet. The most fingular and indecent of these invectives, whose fcurrility is too gross to be transcribed, has been imputed to that very copious writer, Sir Roger L'Eftrange;