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L'ETA PRECORSE, E LA SPERANZA; E PRESTI
HE character of MILTON has been scrutinized with
all the minuteness of investigation, which opposite passions could suggest. The virulent antagonist and the enraptured idolater have pursued his steps with equal pertinacity: nor have we wanted men of learning and virtue, who, devoid of prejudice and enthusiasm, both in politics and in poetry, have endeavoured to weigh his merits exactly in the balance of truth and reason.
What new light then can be thrown upon a life, whose incidents have been so eagerly collected, and so frequently retailed ? What novelty of remark can be expected in a review of poems, whose beauties and blemishes have been elaborately examined in critical differtations, that almoft rival in excellence the poetry they discuss ? Assuredly but little; yet there remains, perhaps, one method of giving a
degree of interest and illustration to the life of Milton, which it has not hitherto received; a method which his accomplished friend of Italy, the Marquis of Villa, in some measure adopted in his interesting life of Tasso; and which two engaging biographers of later date, the Abbé de Sade and Mr. Mason, have carried to greater perfection in their respective memoirs of Petrarch and of Gray. By weaving into their narrative selections of verse and prose from the various writings of those they wished to commemorate, each of these affectionate memorialists may be said to have taught the poet
he loved “ to become his own biographer ;” an experiment that may, perhaps, be tried on Milton with the happiest effect ! as in his works, and particularly in those that are at present the least known, he has spoken frequently of himself.--Not from vanity, a failing too cold and low for his ardent and elevated mind; but, in advanced life, from motives of justice and honour, to defend himself against the poisoned arrows of Nander; and, in his younger days, from that tenderness and fimplicity of heart, which lead a youthful poet to make his own affections and amusements the chief subjects of his song. The
great aim of the subsequent account is to render full and perfect justice to the general character of Milton. His manners and cast of mind, in various periods of life, may appear in a new and agreeable light; from the following collection and arrangement of the many little sketches, which his own hand has occasionally given us, of his passions and pursuits. Several of these, indeed, have been fondly assembled by Toland or Richardson ; men, who, different as they
vere in their general sentimentsand principles, yet sympathized completely in their zeal for the renown of Milton; delighting to dwell on his character with “ that shadow of friend
ship, that complacency and ardour of attachment, which,
as Pope has observed in speaking of Homer, we naturally “ feel for the great geniuses of former time.”—But those who have endeavoured to illustrate the personal history of the great English Author, by exhibiting passages from some of his neglected works, have almost confined themselves to selections from his prose.
There is an ampler field for the study of his early temper and turn of mind in his Latin and Italian Poetry : here the heart and spirit of Milton are displayed with all the frankness of youth. I select what has a peculiar tendency to shew, in the clearest light, his native disposition, because his character as a man appears to have been greatly mistaken. I am under no fear that the frequeney or length of such citations exposed to censure, having the pleasure and advantage of presenting them to the English reader in the elegant and spirited version of a poet and a friend—with pride and delight I add the name of Cowper. This gentleman, who is prepared to oblige the world with a complete translation of Milton's Latin and Italian poetry, has kindly favoured me with the liberty of transcribing, from his admirable work, whatever I wish to insert in this narrative. Since I am indebted to Milton for a friendship, which I regard as honourable in the highest degree, may I be indulged in the hope of leaving a lasting memorial of it in these pages.
A book, devoted to the honour of Milton, may admit, I hope, without impropriety, the praises due to a living author, who is become his poetical interpreter ; an office which the spirit of the divine bard may be gratified in his having assumed; for, assuredly, my friend bears no common resemblance to his most illustrious predecessor, not only in the energy and hallowed use of poetical talents, but in that beneficent fervour and purity of heart, which entitle the great poet to as large a portion of affectionate esteem, as he has long possessed of admiration.
JOHN MILTON was born in London, on the gth of December, 1608, at the house of his father, in Bread-street, and baptized on the 20th of the fame month. His christian name descended to him from his grandfather. The family, once opulent proprietors of Milton, in Oxfordshire, lost that estate in the civil wars of York and Lancaster, and was in debted, perhaps, to adversity for much higher distinction than opulence can bestow. John, the grandfather of the poet, became deputy ranger in the forest of Shotover, not far from Oxford; and intending to educate his son as a gentleman, he placed him at Christ-Church, in that university; but being himself a rigid Papist, he disinherited the young and devout scholar, for an attachment to the doctrines of the Reformation, and reduced him to the necessity of quitting the path of literature for a less honourable but more lucrative profession.
The discarded student applied himself to the employment of a scrivener, which has varied with the variations of life and