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vidow about fifteen hundred pounds. Fenton ays, “Though he abode in the heritage of oppressors, and the spoils of the country lay at his feet, neither his conscience, nor his honour could stoop to gather them.'
It has been agreed by all, that he was of an equal and cheerful temper, and pleasing and instructive in conversation. His daughter said, her father was delightful company, the life of the conversation; and that, on account of a flow of subject, and an unaffected cheerfulness and civility.' Richardson says, “that Milton had a gravity in his temper, not melancholy, or not till the latter part of his life; not sour, nor morose, or ill natured, but a certain serenity of mind, a mind not condescending to little things:' and Aubrey adds, that he was satirical.'
. His literature was unquestionably immense ; his adversaries admitted that he was the most able and acute scholar living. With the Hebrew, and its two dialects, he was well acquainted, in the Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish languages, he was eminently skilled. In Latin, his knowledge was such, as to place him in the first rank of writers and critics. His Italian sonnets have been praised even by Italians. He himself relates that his round of study and Hartop of Aldborough in Yorkshire, who died in 1791, ai the age of 138. He returned the loan with honour, though not without much difficulty, as his circumstances were very low. Mr. Hartop would have declined receiving it, but the pride of the Poet was equal to his genius, and he sent the money with an angry letter, which was found among the curious possessions of the venerable old man.' See Easton's Human Longevity, p. 241. Toland says, “towards the Patter part of his time he contracted his library, both because
e heirs he left could not make a right use of it, and that he wought he might sell it more to their advantage than they ould be able to do themselves.'
v. Life, 142.
reading was ceaseless; and that his life had not been unexpensive in learning and voyaging about. The classical books, in which he most delighted, were Homer, whose two poems, Toland says, he could almost repeat without book, Ovid's * Metamorphoses, and Euripides ; his copy of the latter poet, with some critical observations in the margin, is now, I believe, in the possession of Sir Henry Halford.+ Lord Charlemont possessed his Lycophron, in which some critical remarks were made. As a further proof of the diligence and exactness with which he read books of not common occurrence, I shall mention, that I have seen a copy of the Sonnetti of Varchi that belonged to him, in which the most curious expressions, and the more poetical passages were underlined, and marked with extraordinary care. He is said to have read Plautus repeatedly, in order “ to rail with more choice phrase at Salmasius.' Plato and Demosthenes are supposed to have been his favourite authors in Greek prose ; and among the Roman historians, he has decreed to Sallust 48 the palm of superiority. His skill in Rabbinical literature, in which he has not been followed by his commentators, was unusually great. Of the English poets, it is said he set most value on Spenser, Shakespeare, and Cowley.
* Deborah, his daughter, informed Dr. Ward, that * Isaiah, Homer, and Ovid, were works which they were often called to read to their father. In his Prolusiones, p. 81, he calls Ovidius poetarum elegantissimus.'
+ T. Warton has traced this book from its possessor, Bishop Hare, in 1740, to Mr. Cradock, who bequeathed it to Sir Henry Halford. See his Milton, p. 569. See some letters concerning it in Cradock's Memoirs, vol. iv. p. 137
Spenser 49 was apparently his favourite. Johnson seems surprised at his approbation of Cowley, a poet whose ideas of exellence are so different from his own; these are facts for which it is difficult to account; Scaliger preferred Statius to Virgil ; and who would have supposed that Rubens could have said, if he were not Rubens, he would wish to be Poëlemberg.
That Milton read the works of those dramatic poets who were the contemporaries or successors of Shakespeare, is evident, from his having transplanted some of their beautiful expressions into his works : and he mentions in his Apology for Smectymnus, that he was much enamoured of romances in his youth. His character of Dryden was, that he was a good rhymist, but no poet; for we may well suppose that the charms of Dryden's poetry possessed few attractions for his mind. There was nothing in it lofty or imaginative enough for one, who had been used to delight in richer creations of fancy, to listen to wilder melodies, to gaze upon more magnificent visions, and to repose amid the bowers of paradise. In Dryden's pages of satire, and in his pictures of society, there were no visionary shadows, no gorgeous colours brought from fairy land, no harps or hallelujahs of adoring saints, no swellings of unearthly music, no purpureal gleams of passing wings, none of the glories of romance, and none of the terrors of the Apocalypse.
The political opinions of Milton were those of a thorough republican, which Johnson thinks was founded on an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence. This conclusion is so uncharitable and unjust, that it must recoil with injury on him who made it. No one can read Milton's writings, or contemplate his life, without being persuaded that his first desire was the freedom, and through that, the happiness of his country. Other great and good men were republicans as well as Milton; and who amid the difficulties of those evil days, was to direct his line of conduct so clearly as to say, that no other course could be pursued with innocence and safety? I am not called upon to express an opinion as to the justice of the cause which he espoused, but I am bound to vindicate his character from the charge of being influenced in his great patriotic exertions by any feelings but those of a good and elevated nature. Men of most enlightened minds, of most inflexible virtue, of the most devoted attachment to their country were seen opposed to each other in the senate and the field. There was a great and complicated question before them, the dangers and difficulties of which thickened as it advanced : good and brave men looked on it in different shades of sorrow or of hope, according to their tempers or habits of thought; and that which Milton contemplated as the bright dawning of a more glorious day, came lowering with such clouds and darkness, as to sink the virtuous heart of Falkland even to despair.
49 • Milton acknowledged to me that Spenser was his original,' v. Dryden's Pref. to his Fables, p. xx. and Ded. to Juvenal, p. 126. Pearce says, “that he could point out to Bentley, * a hundred words (I believe) in Milton to be inet with in no author before him.")
v. p. 198.
Harrington 50 had observed, that the troubles of the times were not to be attributed wholly to wilfulness or faction, neither to the misgovern
50 See Burnet's Introd. to Milton's Prose Works, i. p. 9.
ment of the prince, nor the stubbornness of the people, but to a change in the balance of property, which since Henry the Seventh's time had been daily falling into the scale of the commons, from that of the king, and the lords ;' thus, as a sensible and temperate writer observes, the opulence and independence of the commons tended to produce a popular government, and the introduction of mercenary armies to aggrandize the
Hence the contest between the king and the people, the one to extend his prerogative, the other to augment their privileges. The petition of rights collected the grievances of the nation into one view, and stated the acknowledged limits of the prerogative, and the undisputed rights of the people.” Putting aside all favorite and partial views, and looking at the question with an equal indifference, it may be said, that all must have seen the necessity of amending the manner in which the government was conducted, what wonder if some objected even to the form ? The dispute in fact, as Dr. Balguy observes, was a conflict between governors who ruled by will, not by law; and subjects who would not suffer the law itself to control their actions.
Milton might have despaired (for he had no example at home before him) of seeing that limited and legal monarchy, which we never possessed till the reign of the Stuarts had passed away: and which for the first time erected the safety of the throne, on the secured liberty of the subject, and the inviolable sanctity of the laws. Periods like the one we are contemplating, occasionally recurring, and long and secretly prepared, produce, when they arrive, great ferment and desire of change in the minds of men: nor must we too severely