Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

against him, the spirit of the gospel may be thought, by fineere Christians, to allow him all the latitude for which he contends ; the most rigid opponent of his doctrine may be frequently charmed with his rich vein of fervid eloquence and christian philanthropy.

His three publications on divorce were followed by Colasterion, a reply to a nameless answer against his doctrine. This work is an angry invective, in which he endeavours, but not happily, to overwhelm his antagonist with ridicule.

In the account which he gives of his own compositions, in his Second Defence, he speaks of his treatise on divorce, as forming a part of his progressive labour to vindicate liberty in various points of view; he considered it in three different shapes, ecclesiastical, domestic, and civil; he thought it of high moment to establish a more enlarged fyftem of domestic liberty, at a time when connubial discord was so common, in consequence of civil dissension; when, to use his own forcible expression, alluding probably to his particular situation, “ the wife might be found in the camp “ of the enemy, threatening ruin and slaughter to her hus“ band.” He seems to exult in saying, that his doctrine of divorce was more abundantly demonstrated, about two years after his publication, by the illustrious Selden, in his Uxor Hebræa *.

Those

. Cum itaque tres omnino animadverterem libertatis esse species, quæ nisi adfint, vita ulla tranfigi commodè vix possit, ecclefiafticam, domesticam, seu privatam, atque civilem,

deque prima jam scripsissem, déque tertia magistratum fedulò agere viderem, quæ reliqua secunda erat, domefticam mihi defumpfi; ea quoque tripartita, cum videretur effe, fi

res

Those who love not Milton, affect to speak scornfully of his writings on this subject, and intimate, that they were received at first with universal contempt; but this was far from being the case; they were applauded by many, on whose judgment the author set the highest value, though they were made a source of indecent mirth by the vulgar ; and we may reasonably conclude, it was this circumstance that induced him to wish he had written them in Latin. To the low ribaldry, with which they were attacked, he alludes in the sonnet, celebrated for the following admirable lines on the hypocritical or intemperate affertors of liberty,

That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,

And still revolt when truth would set them free;

Licence they mean, when they cry liberty,
For who loves that, inust first be wise and good.

This noble sentiment he has inculcated more than once in prose; and as his life was in harmony with his precept, it might have taught his enemies to avoid the grofs abfurdity of representing him as the lover of anarchy and confu

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

fion. Never was a mind better constituted, than Milton's, to set a just value on the prime blessings of peace and order ; if he ran into political errors, they arose not from any fondness for fcenes of turbulence, but rather from his generous credulity respecting the virtue of mankind; from believing that many hypocrites, who affected a wish to establish

peace and order in his country, on what he esteemed the sureft foundation, were as fincere and disinterested as himself.

“ From this time (fays Johnson) it is observed, that he “ became an enemy to the Presbyterians, whom he had fa« voured before. He, that changes his party by his hu

mour is not much more virtuous than he that changes “ it by his interest; he loves himself rather than truth.” Notwithstanding the air of morality in this remark, it may be questioned, if ever an observation was made on any great character more invidious or more unjust. When the Prefbyterians were favoured by Milton, they spake the language of the oppressed; on their being invested with power, they forgot their own pleas for liberty of conscience, and became, in their turn; persecutors; it was the consistency of virtue, therefore, in-Milton, that made him at one time their advocate; and at another their opponent: fo' far from loving himself better than truth, he was perhaps of all mortals the least felfish.-He contended for religion without seeking emoluments froni the church; he contended for the state without aiming at any civil or military employment: truth: and justice were the idols of his heart and the study of his life"; if he sometimes failed of attaining them, it was not because he loved any thing better; it was becaufe he over

shot

fhot the object of his sincere affection from the fondness and ardour of his pursuit.

His wife still persisted in her defertion, but he amused his mind under the mortification her conduct had occasioned by frequent visits to the Lady Margaret Ley, whose manners and conversation were peculiarly engaging. Her father, the Earl of Marlborough, had held the highest offices in a former reign, and of his 'virtues she used to speak with such filial eloquence as inspired Milton with a sonnet in her praise.

He continued also to manifest his firm affection to the public good, by two compositions 'intended to promote it; the little tractate on education, addressed to Mr. Hartlib, who had requested his thoughts upon that interesting subject, and his Areopagitica, a speech for the liberty of un-, licenced printing. The latter has been re-printed, with a spirited preface by Thomson, a poet whom a passion for freedom, united to genius, had highly qualified as an editor and eulogist of Milton.

Had the author of the Paradise Lost left us no composition but his Areopagitica, he would be still entitled to the affectionate veneration of every Englishman, who exults in that intellectual light, which is the noblest characteristic of his country, and for which England is chiefly. indebted to ! the liberty of the press. Our constant advocate for freedom, in every department of life, vindicated this most important privilege with a mind fully sensible of its value; he poured all his heart into this vindication, and, to speak of his work in his own energetic language, we may justly

cal)

call it, what he has defined a good book to be, “the pre“cious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured

up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

His late biographer, instead of praising Milton for a service so honourably rendered to literature, seems rather desirous of annihilating its merit, by directing his farcastic animosity against the liberty of the press. " It seems not more rea“ fonable,” says Johnson, « to leave the right of printing “ unrestrained, because writers may be afterwards censured, “ than it would be to sleep with doors unbolted, because

by our laws we can hang a thief.”

This is servile sophistry ; the author's illustration of a thief may be turned against himself. To suffer no book to be published without a licence, is tyranny as absurd as it would be to suffer no traveller to pass along the highway without producing a certificate that he is not a robber.

Even bad books may have their use, as Milton observes ; and I mention this observation, chiefly to shew how liberally he introduces a just compliment to a great author of his own time, in support of this idea. “ What better witness,” says the advocate for unlicenced printing, can ye expect I “ should produce, than one of your own, now sitting in par“ liament, the chief of learned men reputed in this land, “ Mr. Selden, whose volume of natural and national laws

proves, not only by great authorities brought together, “ but by exquisite reasons and theorems almost mathema“ tically demonstrative, that all opinions, yea errors, known, « read, and collated, are of main service and assistance to"wards the speedy attainment of what is truest.” This

N

eulogy

« AnteriorContinuar »