« AnteriorContinuar »
L'Estrange; and if a pen employed so favagely against Milton could obtain public encouragement and applause, he might surely, without affectation or timidity, think himfelf exposed to the dagger of some equally hostile and more fanguinary royalist. L'Estrange, for such sufferings in the cause of royalty as really entitled him to reward, obtained, not long after the restoration, the revived but unconstitutional office of licenser to the press. It was happy for literature that he poffesfed not that oppressive jurisdiction when the author of the Paradise Lost was obliged to folicit an imprimatur, since the excess of his malevolence to Milton might have then exerted itself in such a manner as to entitle both the office and its possessor to the execration of the world. The licenser of that period, Thomas Tomkyns, chaplain to archbishop Sheldon, though hardly so full of rancour as L'Estrange (if L'Estrange was the real author of the ribaldry ascribed to him) was absurd or malignant enough to obstruct, in some measure, the publication of Paradise Loft. "He, among other frivolous exceptions (says Toland) would needs suppress the whole poem, for imaginary treason in the following lines :
By 'what means the poet was happily enabled to triumph over the malevolence of an enemy in office we are not informed by the author, who has recorded this very interesting anecdote; but from the peril to which his immortal work was exposed, and which the mention of a licenser to the press has led me to anticipate, let us return to his personal danger : the extent of this danger, and the particulars of his escape, have never been completely discovered. The account that his nephew gives of him at this momentous period is chiefly contained in the following sentence:
" It was a friend's house in Bartholomew Clofe where he lived till the act of oblivion came forth, which, it pleased God, proved as favourable to him as could be hoped or expected, through the intercession of some that stood his friends both in council and parliament; particularly in the House of Commons, Mr. Andrew Marvel, a member for Hull, acted vigorously in his behalf, and made a considerable party for him.”
Marvel, like the superior author whom he fo nobly protected, was himself a poet and a patriot. He had been associated with Milton in the office of Latin secretary in 1657, and cultivated his friendship by a tender and respectful attachment. As he probably owed to that friendship the improvement of his own talents and virtues, it is highly pleasing to find, that he exerted them on different occasions. in establishing the security, and in celebrating the genius of his incomparable friend. His efforts of regard on the present emergency are liberally described in the preceding expression of Philips; and his friendly verses on the publi
cation of the Paradise Lost deserve no common applause; for the records of literature hardly exhibit a more just, a more spirited, or a more generous compliment paid by one
poet to another.
But the friendship of Marvel, vigilant, active, and beneficial as it was, could not secure Milton from being seized and hurried into confinement. It appears from the minutes of the House of Commons, that he was prisoner to their serjeant on the 15th of December. The particulars of his imprisonment are involved in darkness; but Dr. Birch (whose copious life of Milton is equally full of intelligence and candour) conjectures, with great probability, that on his appearing in public after the act of indemnity, and adjournment of Parliament, on the 13th of September, he was seized in consequence of the order formerly given by the Commons for his prosecution.
The exact time of his continuing in custody no researches have ascertained. The records of Parliament only prove, that on the 15th of December the House ordered his release ; but the fame upright and undaunted spirit, which had made Milton in his younger days a resolute opposer. of injustice and oppression, still continued a characteristic of his declining life, and now induced him, disadvantageously situated as he was for such a contest, to resist the. rapacity of the parliamentary officer, who endeavoured to extort from him an exorbitant fee on his discharge. He. remonstrated to the house on the iniquity of their servant; and as the affair was referred to the committee of privileges,
he probably obtained the redress that he had the courage to demand.
In this fortunate escape from the grasp of triumphant and vindictive power, Milton may be considered as terminating his political life: commencing from his return to the continent, it had extended to a period of twenty years ; in three of these he had been afflicted with partial but in creasing blindness, and in six he had been utterly blind. His exertions in this period of his life had exposed him to infinite obloquy, but his generous and enlightened country, whatever may be the state of her political opinions, will remember, with becoming equity and pride, that the sublimest of her poets, though deceived as he certainly was by extraordinary pretenders to public virtue, and subject to great illusion in his ideas of government, is entitled to the first of encomiums, the praise of being truly an honest man : since it was assuredly his constant aim to be the steady disinterested adherent and encomiast of truth and justice; hence we find him continually displaying those internal blessings, which have been happily called, “ the clear witnesses of a benign nature,” an innocent conscience, and a satisfied understanding.
Such is the imperfection of human existence, that miftaken notions and principles are perfectly compatible with elevation, integrity, and satisfaction of mind. The writer must be a Nave of prejudice, or a fycophant to power, who would represent Milton as deficient in any of these noble endowments. Even Addison seems to lose his rare Christian candour, and Hume his philosophical precision, when
these two celebrated though very different authors speak harshly of Milton's political character, without paying due acknowledgment to the rectitude of his heart. I trust, the probity of a very ardent but uncorrupted enthusiast is in some measure vindicated in the course of these pages, happy if they promote the completion of his own manly wish to be perfectly known, if they impress a just and candid estimate of his merits and mistakes on the temperate mind of his country.
END OF THE SECOND PART.