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E'PER VECCHIEZZA IN LUI VIRTU NON MANCA.
DRITTO EI TENEVA IN VERSO IL CIEL IL VOLTO.
IN beginning to contemplate the latter years of Milton, it
may be useful to remark, that they afford, perhaps, the most animating lesson, which biography, instructive as it is, can supply; they shew to what noble use a cultivated and religious mind may convert even declining life, though embittered by a variety of afflictions, and darkened by perfonal calamity.
On regaining his liberty, he took a house in Holborn, near Red Lion Fields, but soon removed to Jewin-street, and there married, in his 54th year, his third wife, Elizabeth Minshall, the daughter of a gentleman in Cheshire. As the misfortune of blindness seems particularly to require a female companion, and yet almost precludes the unhappy sufferer from selecting such as might suit him, Milton is said to have formed this attachment on the recommendation of his friend Dr. Paget, an eminent physician of the city, to whom the lady was related. Some biographers · have spoken harshly of her temper and conduct; but let me observe, in justice to her memory, that the manuscript of Aubrey, to whom she was probably known, mentions her as a gentle person, of a peaceful and agreeable humour.
That she was particularly attentive to her husband, and treated his infirmities with tenderness, is candidly remarked by Mr. Warton, in a posthumous note to the testamentary papers relating to Milton, which his indefatigable researches at length discovered, and committed to the press, a few months before his own various and valuable labours were terminated by death. These very curious and interesting papers afford information respecting the latter days of the poet, which his late biographers were so far from poffefling, that they could not believe it existed. Indeed, Mr. Warton himself had concluded, that all farther enquiries for the will must be fruitless, as he had failed in a tedious and intricate search. At laft, however, he was enabled, by the friendship of Sir William Scott, to rescue from oblivion a curiosity fo precious to poetical antiquarians. He found in the
prerogative register the will of Milton, which, though made by his brother Christopher, a lawyer by profession, was set aside from a deficiency in point of form—the litigation of this will produced a collection of evidence relating to the testator, which renders the discovery of those long forgotten papers peculiarly interesting; they shew very forcibly, and in new points of view, his domestic infelicity, and his amiaable disposition. The tender and sublime poet, whose sensibility and sufferings were so great, appears to have been almost as unfortunate in his daughters as the Lear of Shakespeare. A servant declares in evidence, that her deceased master, a little before his last marriage, had lamented to her the ingratitude and cruelty of his children. He complained,
that they combined to defraud him in the æconomy of his house, and sold several of his books in the basest manner. His feelings on such an outrage, both as a parent and as a fcholar, must have been fingularly painful; perhaps they suggested to him those very pathetic lines, where he seems to paint himself, in Sampson Agonistes :
I dark in light, expos'd
of cthers, never in my own,
Unfortunate as he had proved in matrimony, he was probably induced to venture once more into that state by the bitter want of a domestic protector against his inhuman daughters, under which description I include only the two eldest; and in palliation even of their conduct, detestable as it appears, we may observe, that they are entitled to pity, as having been educated without the inestimable guidance of maternal tenderness, under a father afflicted with loss of sight; they were also young : at the time of Milton's last marriage his eldest daughter had only reached the age of fifteen, and Deborah, his favourite, was still a child of
His new connection seems to have afforded him what he particularly fought; that degree of domestic tranquillity and comfort essential to his perseverance in ftudy, which appears to have been, through all the vicissitudes of fortune,
the prime object of his life ; and while all his labours were under the direction of religion or of philanthropy, there was nothing too arduous or too humble for his mind. In 1661 he published a little work, entitled, “ Accidence commenced Grammar,” benevolently calculated for the relief of children, by shortening their very tedious and irksome progress in learning the elements of Latin. He published also, in the same year, another brief composition of Sir Walter Raleigh's, containing (like the former work of that celebrated man, which the fame editor had given to the public) a series of political maxims; one of these I am tempted to transcribe, by a persuasion that Milton regarded it with peculiar pleasure, from its tendency to justify the parliamentary contention with Charles the First. Had the misguided monarch observed the maxim of Raleigh, he would not, like that illustrious victim to the vices of his royal father, have perished on the scaffold.—The maxim is the seventeenth of the collection, and gives the following instruction to a prince for preserving an hereditary kingdom.
“ To be moderate in his taxes and impositions, and, when need doth require to use the subjects purse, to do it by parliament, and with their consent, making the cause apparent to them, and shewing his unwillingness in charging them. Finally, fo to use it, that it may seem rather an offer from his subjects, than an exaction by him.”
However vehement the enmity of various persons against Milton might have been, during the tumult of passions on the recent restoration, there is great reason to believe, that
his extraordinary abilities and probity so far triumphed over the prejudices against him, that, with all his republican offences upon his head, he might have been admitted to royal favour had he been willing to accept it. Richardson relates, on very good authority, that the post of Latin fecretary, in which he had obtained so much credit as a scholar, was again offered to him after the Restoration ; that he rejected it, and replied to his wife, who advised his acceptance of the appointment, “ You, as other women, would ride in your coach; for me, my aim is to live and die an honest man.”. Johnson discovers an inclination to discredit this story, because it does honour to Milton, and seemed inconsistent with his own ideas of probability. “ He that had shared authority, either with the Parliament or Cromwell,” says Johnson, might have forborne to talk very loudly of his honesty.” How miserably narrow is the prejudice, that cannot allow perfect honesty to many individuals on both sides in a contest like that, which divided the nation in the civil wars. Undoubtedly there were men in each party, and men of great mental endowments, who acted, during that calamitous contention, according to the genuine dictates of conscience. Those who examine the conduct of Milton with impartiality will be ready to allow, that he possessed not only one of the most cultivated, but one of the most upright minds, which the records of human nature have taught us to revere. His retaining his employment under Cromwell has, I trust, been so far justified, that it can no more be represented as a blemish on his integrity. His office, indeed, was of such a nature, that he might, with