Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and the reasons for that retirement are sufficiently pointed out in his second sonnet to Skinner, written in 1655:

Cyriack, this three years day these eyes, though clcar,
To outward view, of blemish or of spot,
Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year,
Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not
Against Heav'n's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask ?
The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied
In liberty's defence, my noble task,
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask

Content, though blind, had I no better guide." The European fame of the author of the Defensio pro Populo Anglicano' was not overstated by the poet. Aubrey says, “ He was mightily importuned to go into France and Italy; foreigners came much to see him and much admired him, and offered to him great preferments to come over to them; and the only inducement of several foreigners that came over into England was chiefly to see 0. Protector and Mr. J. Milton; and would see the house and chamber where he was born. He was much more admired abroad than at home.” Milton must indeed have felt that, during the four or five years in which he communicated to foreign nations, in his own powerful and majestic style, the wishes and opinions of a strong and resolved government, he was filling a part which, however obnoxious might be his principles, could not forbear to command the respect of the highest-minded men of all countries. As Milton continued to reside in Westminster for several years after he had been compelled by blindness to resign his office, there is little doubt that his intimacy was close and confidential, not only with his own immediate friends, Marvell, and Skinner, and Harrington, who according to Anthony Wood belonged with him to the political club which met at the Turk's Head in Palace Yard—but with the more powerful leaders in the Commonwealth, and with “Cromwell, our chief of men." The celebrity of the Rota Club gave rise probably to the assertion that “Milton and some other creatures of the Commonwealth had instituted the Calves' Head Club,"* which met on the 30th of January to revile the memory of Charles I. by profane ribaldry and mock solemnities. Milton, however stern a controversialist, was of too lofty a nature to stoop to such things. Pepys, in his Diary of January 1660, gives us a pretty adequate notion of the nature of the proceedings at this political club, the Rota, of which Harrington was the founder :-"I went to the Coffee Club, and heard very good discourse; it was in answer to Mr. Harrington's answer, who said that the state of the Roman government was not a settled government, and so it was no wonder that the balance of prosperity was in one hand, and the command in another, it being therefore always in a posture of war : but it was carried by ballot that it was a steady government, though it is true by the voices it had been carried before that it was an unsteady government; so to-morrow it is to be proved by the opponents that the balance lay in

* Secret History of the Calves' Head Club. Harleian Miscellany.

one hand and the government in another.” All this, after the real business of the Long Parliament, looks like boys' play ; but it was one mode by which the heat of political theorists quietly smouldered away without explosion. Wood says, “The discourses of the members about government and ordering a commonwealth were the most ingenious and smart that ever were heard; for the arguments in the Parliament House were but flat to them." Yet these smart and ingenious things told for little when the genius of Cromwell was no more. While Harrington was declaiming, Monk was bringing in Charles II. The Rump Parliament, which had overthrown the feeble government of Richard Cromwell, was very shortly after cast down by the force of popular opinion. Pepys describes the following city scene on the 11th of February, 1660, after Monk had bearded the Parliament:-“ In Cheapside there was a great many bonfires; and Bow-bells and all the bells in all the churches were a-ringing. Hence we went homewards, it being about ten at night. But the common joy that was everywhere to be seen! the number of bonfires ! there being fourteen between St. Dunstan's and Temple Bar; and at Strand Bridge I could at one time tell thirty fires. In King Street seven or eight: and all along burning, and roasting, and drinking for rumps, there being rumps tied upon sticks and carried up and down. The butchers at the Maypole in the Strand rang a peal with their knives when they were going to sacrifice their rump. On Ludgate Hill there was one turning of the spit that had a rump tied upon it, and another basting." These were symptoms that could not be mistaken. In three months after Charles was on the throne; and Milton was proscribed. Up to the last moment he had lifted up his voice against what he called “the general defection of a misguided and abused multitude." In the 'Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth' we have almost his last words of solemn exhortation in connexion with public affairs :-“What I have spoken is the language of that which is not called amiss, the good old cause : if it seem strange to any, it will not seem more strange, I hope, than convincing to backsliders : thus much I should perhaps have said, though I were sure I should have spoken only to trees and stones, and had none to cry to but with the prophet, ‘0 earth, earth, earth !' to tell the very soil itself what her perverse inhabitants are deaf to. Nay, though what I have spoke should happen (which Thou suffer not who didst create mankind free! nor Thou next who didst redeem us from being servants of men !) to be the last words of our expiring liberty." This was prophetic. For thirty years no such words were again heard; and in “Paradise Lost' there is but one solitary allusion to his position, with reference to public affairs and public manners :

“More safe I sing with mortal voice, unchang d

To hoarse or mute, though fall'n on evil days,
On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues ;
In darkness, and with dangers compass'd round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while thou

slumbers nightly, or when morn
Purples the east: still govern thou my song,
Urania, and fit audience find, though few.
But drive far off the barbarous dissonance
Of Bacchus and his revellers, the race
Of that wild rout that tore the Thracian bard
In Rhodope, where woods and rocks had ears

Visit'st my

To rapture, till the savage clamour drown'd
Both harp and voice; nor could the Muse defend

Her son.”
Milton, upon the Restoration, was in hiding, it is said, at a friend's house in
Bartholomew Close. He was well concealed; for the proclamation for his appré-

[graphic][ocr errors]

[Entrance to Bartholomew Close, from Smithfield. From various old Views and existing Remains.]

hension, and that of Goodwin, says, “ The said John Milton and John Goodwin are so fled, or so obscure themselves, that no endeavours used for their

apprehension can take effect, whereby they may be brought to legal trial, and deservedly receive condign punishment for their treasons and offences." Johnson thinks that the escape of Milton was favoured. Unquestionably his judicial murder would have been the most disgraceful act of the restored government. It is said that in 1650 Milton saved the royalist Davenant, and that in 1660 Davenant saved the republican Milton. Milton's Iconoclastes' and Defensio' were burnt by the common hangman; but he was rendered safe by the Act of Indemnity.

We have thus very hastily and imperfectly traced Milton through his public life. In the remaining fourteen years he was perhaps happier than in the confident and cheerful thoughts of his active existence. He was then truly “like a star, and dwelt apart.” He was wholly devoted to the accomplishment of those great labours which he had shadowed forth in his youth. He clung to London with an abiding love, and from 1660 to 1665 he lived in Holborn and Jewin Street. During this period he completed “Paradise Lost.' When the great plague broke out he found a retreat at Chalfont. From this period his abode, up to the time of his death in 1674, was in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields. It was here that Dryden visited him. Aubrey records this visit; and amongst " his familiar

learned acquaintance” mentions " Jo. Dryden, Esq., Poet Laureat, who very much admired him, and went to him to have leave to put his · Paradise Lost' into a drama in rhyme. Mr. Milton received him civilly, and told him he would give him leave to tag his verses.” This anecdote forms a link between Milton and his literary successors ;—and here we stop.

We subjoin a note on the subject of the burial-place of Milton which we have received from the very ingenious artist and antiquary, Mr. Fairholt, whose drawings have often contributed to enrich these pages :

In 1790, Philip Neve, the antiquary, published a pamphlet entitled 'A Narrative of the Disinterment of Milton's Coffin in the Parish Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, on Wednesday, the 4th of August, 1790. After telling us that the particular spot of Milton's interment had for many years past been ascertained only by tradition, and that many of the principal parishioners had wished the coffin to be dug for, that the real fact might be established, Neve adds—"The entry among the burials in the register-book, 12th of November, 1674, is ·John Milton, gentleman, consumpcon, chancell. The church of St. Giles was built in 1030, was burnt down (except the steeple) and rebuilt in 1545; was repaired in 1682, and again in 1710. In the repair of 1682 an alteration took place in the disposition of the inside of the church; the pulpit was removed from the second pillar, against which it stood, north of the chancel, to the south side of the present chancel, which was then formed, and pews were built over the old chancel. The tradition has always been that Milton was buried in the chancel, under the clerk's desk; but, the circumstance of the alteration in the church not having of late years been attended to, the clerk, sexton, and other officers of the parish have misguided inquirers by showing the spot under the clerk's desk in its present position as the place of Milton's interment.” The parish officers, digging then where the pulpit formerly stood, discovered the cofin, but disturbed not the remains; but this was afterwards done by other parties who heard of the discovery. Mr. Fairholt adds, In my drawing I have represented the sexton pointing out the right spot to a lady and gentleman thing not done at present.

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

66

About the middle of the fourteenth century a pestilence broke out in the heart of China, which, sweeping across the deserts of Cobi and the wilds of Tartary, found its way through the Levant, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Germany, France, and at last England, destroying at every step a large proportion of the population, and in some parts sweeping it entirely away. It entered England by the western coast, and, according to Stow, "scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive;" and as there were not sufficient labourers to till the soil,

All her husbandry did lie in heaps,

Corrupting in its own fertility." In London the state of things must have been frightful indeed, where the plague (which reached it in November, 1348) had to deal with a great population, packed as closely as possible in dirty, narrow, and ill-ventilated streets. The horrors of such a period have been made familiar to us by the genius of De Foe, in connection with a similar calamity, three centuries later; we shall not, therefore, dwell upon them here. But we may notice that, among the numerous characteristic features of the pestilence of 1348, was the appearance of a new species of fanaticism, which had its origin in Germany, and was brought hither by individuals of that country. These performed public penance ; "sometime,” says

VOL. II.

I

« AnteriorContinuar »