« EelmineJätka »
For FEBRUARY, 1795•.
ART. I. The Poetical Works of John Milton. With a Life of the Author by William Hayley. Vol. I. Folio. pp. 350. 41. 45. Boards. Boydell and Nicol. 1794.
TH HOUGH the memory of few authors has received the homage of more biographical tributes than that of Milton, yet the public will probably think themselves obliged to the fpirited undertakers of the prefent fplendid edition of his poetical works, for having engaged a writer fo juftly efteemed as Mr. Hayley, to compose a new life of that" immortal man," who was the glory of his age and country! Thofe, too, who cherish with peculiar regard the remembrance of Milton as a patriot, as well as a poet, will rejoice in the profpect of his recovering, from the juftice of a biographer congenial with him in manly and liberal fentiments, that moral luftre of character which it was fo manifeftly the aim of his laft prejudiced, though able, biographer to fully and obfcure. Nor will they be difappointed; fince it has been, according to Mr. H.'s own declaration, his chief purpose to give fuch a delineation of Milton's life as might rather make him more beloved than more admired;' and fince nothing can furpafs the folicitude with which he has attempted to obliterate every moral ftain, and to exhibit him as no less a model of superior virtue than an example of unrivalled genius.
It is, indeed, difficult for a writer fetting out with fuch a defign not to deviate from the path of the fair and judicious biographer, into that of the partial apologist and panegyrift; nor, perhaps, will Mr. H. be altogether acquitted, even by the best friends of Milton, of the charge of having indulged fuch a deviation. From the warm admirers of Dr. Johnfon he may ex pect, too, a ftill feverer charge; that of being an intemperate cenfurer. He, however, who violates candour in his treatment of others, has little right to expect that the rules of candour will ⚫ VOL. XVI. always
always be fcrupulously observed towards himself; and the indignation of generofity is more excufable than that of party.
Two principal attacks have been made by Johnson and others on the moral character of Milton; that of aufterity and unamiableness of temper, and that of political prostitution. Thefe, accordingly, are the accufations which his present biographer particularly labours to repel. With refpect to the first, he begins with an attempt to illuftrate the poet's native disposition from the fpirit of his juvenile compofitions, especially in the Latin and Italian languages; and in thefe there is nothing of fuavity, kindness, fenfibility, filial and friendly affection, gratitude, and all the gentle and benignant emotions of the mind, which Mr. Hayley does not deduce in their higheft perfection to decorate his hero. Though, from the facility with which Milton contracted friendships with many amiable and eftimable characters, we are convinced that he himself muft have appeared in the light of an amiable as well as an extraordinary youth, yet we own that we are furprized to find Mr. Hayley, himself a poet, laying fo much ftrefs on the poetical fentiments which a youth of warm imagination, and of great reading, could not but find ready for ufe on every occafion, whether real or fictitious. If it be a juft remark (as we believe it is,) that even the letters called familiar of a writer by profeffion are little to be regarded as tranfcripts of his genuine feelings, how much lefs can we depend on poetical and compli mentary effufions, which call fiction to their aid in the firft procefs of their formation? Is it poffible that Mr. H. can feriously adduce, as an inftance of a firft paffion, an Ovidian elegy, in which the young copyift defcribes, in the most ingenious terms that he could find, the impreffion made on his heart by a fudden view of fome unknown fair? Is the following line that of one who felt the paffion which he paints?
Findor, et hæc remanet; fequitur pars altera votum.
It seems to be more evinced, by these early displays of the fentiments of Milton, that he poffeffed a native elevation of foul, a warm admiration of fuperior excellence, and a kind of prophetic breathing after that high fame which he afterward attained. Yet, with refpect to this laft, we would not decidedly view it as a characteristic feature of his mind; fince equally bold anticipations and eager afpirations may be found in the early productions of much inferior geniuses, to whom the practice of antiquity had given a model of thought and expreffion. It is not our intention to follow the footsteps of the biographer through this part of his performance. We fhall briefly obferve that, with much elegant ingenuity, and an amiable
ardour in favour of his great fubject, he does indeed fuccefsfully counteract many of the malignant remarks made by the Tory biographer; yet fometimes, by overftrained comments, farfetched fuppofitions, and amplification of trivial circumstances, Mr. H. weakens the confidence which we fhould defire to place on his fagacity and love of truth. If a man were always allowed to be the expofitor of his own actions and their motives, who would ever appear criminal?
With refpect to the fide which Milton took during the troubles of his country, all apology must be either unnecessary or useless. They who deteft him as a rebel to his king, and they who revere him as the champion of liberty, will continue to feel as they have begun, unless their own political opinions alter. The charge of deserting his principles, however, and of flattering an ufurper, certainly requires a refutation from those who would vindicate his moral excellence. This Mr. Hayley has attempted, but, we fear, with more ingenuity than folidity. The defence is built partly on Milton's poetical caft of mind, difpofing him to view things through the medium of the imagination, and partly on the profound hypocrify by which Cromwell difguifed his actions:-but Milton was at that time much more a prose writer than a poet, and the moft obnoxious paffage refpecting Cromwell is in Latin profe; and if, after Cromwell's attainment of the protectorate, Milton was unable to fee into his real character, we can only defend his fincerity at the expence of his difcernment.
The indecent acrimony with which Milton carried on his literary controverfies is in part juftly imputed to the spirit of the times; yet we confess that it leaves on our minds fome impreffion of a naturally ftern and morofe fpirit; nor, in the family difagreements in which it was his misfortune to be involved, are we prepared to conclude with Mr. H. that he was always and entirely in the right, and never provoked the want of affection. and gratitude which he experienced. Many excufes, indeed, may be made for him. His blindness would naturally inculcate fufpicion; while his change of fortune, and the narrowness of his circumftances, might produce rigour and parfimony. After all, is it neceffary that the ferious, the learned, the lofty, the fublime Milton, the fevere difciplinarian, the zealous champion,-in fine, the writer of Paradife Loft, fhould be the most amiable of mankind? Is fuch an union of qualities probable? We acknowlege that, under the delicate varnish with which his portrait is gloffed by the foftening brush of his prefent biographer, we fcarcely diftinguish its bold and prominent features. That he was a man of high virtue and principle, of very few failings in public or weakneffes in private life, we are well convinced; and the
more from reading this fpirited and elegant tribute to his memory but he had a character,-and character can scarcely be faid to fubfift in an accumulation of all human excellencies.
The following liberal paffage, which we shall transcribe as a fpecimen of the ftyle and fpirit of this work, admits an exception to that gentleness and mildness of temper which, in general, the writer wishes to reprefent as characteristic of Milton:
The ftrength and the acuteness of fenfation, which partly conftitute genius, have a great tendency to produce virulence, if the mind is not perpetually on its guard against that fubtle, infinuating, and corrofive paffion, hatred against all whofe opinions are oppofite to our own. Johnfon profeffed in one of his letters, to love a good bater; and in the Latin correfpondence of Milton, there are words that imply a fimilarity of fentiment; they both thought there might be a fanctified bitterness, to ufe an expreffion of Milton, towards political and religious opponents.. Yet furely these two devout men were both wrong, and both in fome degree unchriftian, in this principle. To what fingular iniquities of judgment fuch a principle may lead, we might perhaps have had a moft striking and a double proof, had it been poffible for thefe two energetic writers to exhibit alternately a portrait of each other. Milton, adorned with every graceful endowment, highly and holily accomplished as he was, appears, in the dark colouring of Johnson, a most unamiable being; but could he revifit earth in his moral character, with a wish to retaliate, what a picture might be drawn by that fublime and offended genius, of the great moralift who has treated him with fuch excess of afperity! The paffions are powerful colourists, and marvellous adepts in the art of exaggeration; but the portraits executed by love (famous as he is for overcharging them) are infinitely more faithful to nature, than gloomy sketches from the heavy hand of hatred; a paffion not to be trusted or indulged, even in the minds of the highest purity and power, fince hatred, though it may enter the field of conteft under the banners of juftice, yet generally becomes fo blind and outrageous from the heat of contention, as to execute, in the name of virtue, the worst purposes of vice. Hence arifes that species of calumny the most to be regretted, the calumny lavished by men of talents and worth on their equals or their fuperiors, whom they have rafhly or blindly hated for a difference of opinion. To fuch hatred the fervid and oppofite characters, who gave rife to this obfervation, were both more inclined perhaps by nature, and by habit, than Chriftianity can allow.'
Of the apologetical paffages, we think that the following is one of the moft juft and happy. It is in anfwer to Johnson's aflertion that the predominant defire of Milton may be fufpected to. have been rather to destroy than to establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty, as repugnance to authority:
• Such a fufpicion (fays Mr.H.) may indeed be harboured by political rancour, but it must be in direct oppofition to juftice and truth; for of all men who have written and acted in the fervice of liberty, 3 there
there is no individual who has proved more completely, both by his language and his life, that he made a perfect diftinction between liberty and licentioufnefs. No human spirit could be more fincerely a lover of juft and beneficent authority, for no man delighted more in peace and order, no man has written more eloquently in their praise, or given fublimer proofs of his own perfonal attachment to them, by the regulation of his own orderly and peaceful ftudies. If he hated power, as Johnfon afferts, in every established form, he hated not its falutary influence, but its pernicious exertions. Vehement as he occafionally was against kings and prelates, he fpoke of the fetaries with equal indignation and abhorrence, when they also became the agents of perfecution; and as he had fully feen, and very forcibly expofed, the grofs failings of republican reformers, had his life been extended long enough to witnefs the revolution, which he might have beheld, without fuffering the decrepitude or imbecillity of extreme old age, he would probably have exulted as warmly as the ftaunchest friend of our prefent conftitution can exult, in that temperate and happy reformation of monarchical enormities.'
We may add that fimilar calumnies, raised against the foes of abufed or ufurped power in the prefent day, admit, to our certain knowlege, in many inftances, a fimilar refutation.
This life of Milton is of confiderable extent, and is obviously intended to be full and complete as a biography of the poet, though not as a critical differtation on his productions. Of matter of this kind there is little, befides fome remarks in defence of the plan of Paradife Regained, and of the poetical language and verfification of Milton. Some large quotations from the Latin poems of the author are occafionally introduced, chiefly by way of moral illustration, to which Mr. Cowper has permitted his friend to annex tranflations borrowed from a verfion of all thofe pieces, which, judging from these specimens, we should be happy to announce to our readers.
Three fine portraits, referring to different stages of Milton's life, are given with thefe memoirs.
The first fix books of Paradife Loft occur in this volume, to which are prefixed elegant frontifpieces engraven by Simon, Earlom, and Schiavonetti, from the defigns of Weftall. To characterize the typographical magnificence of the work, we need only say that it is from Bulmer's prefs.
ART. II. The well-bred Scholar; or Practical Effays on the best Methods of improving the Tafte and affifting the Exertions of Youth in their literary Purfaits. By William Milns, Member of St. Mary Hall, Oxford, and Master of the City Commercial School, George Yard, Lombard-Street. 8vo. pp. 560. 75. Boards. Rivingtons. 1794•
'HE improvement of the understanding, and the regulation of the paffions, have ever been the profeffed objects of educa