« ElőzőTovább »
The publication of the Act of Oblivion put him in the same condition with his fellow-subjects. He was, however, upon some pretence now not known, in the custody of the serjeant in December; and, when he was released, upon his refusal of the fees demanded, he and the serjeant were called before the House. He was now safe with. in the shade of oblivion, and knew himself to be as much out of the power of a griping officer, as any other man. How the question was determined is not known. Milton would hardly have contended, but that he knew himself to have right on his side.
He then removed to Jewin-street, near Aldersgate-street; and being blind and by no means wealthy, wanted a domestic companion and at. tendant; and therefore, by the recommendation of Dr. Paget, married Elizabeth Minshul, of a gentleman's family in Cheshire, probably without a fortune. All his wives were virgins; for he has declared that he thought it gross and indelicate to be a second husband: upon what other principles his choice was made, cannot now be known ; but marriage afforded not much of his happiness. The first wife left him in disgust, and was brought back only by terror ; the second, indeed, seems to have been more a favourite, but her life was short, the Hindus Philips relates, oppressed his children it is ble time and cheated them at his death. ;
Soon after his marriage, according to an obscure storya bawffered the continuance of his, ein.
ployment, and being pressed by his wife to accept it, answered, “You, like other women, want to
ride in your coach ; my wish is to live and die an honest man.' If he considered the Latin secretary as exercising any of the powers of government, he that had shared authority, either with the parliament or Cromwell, might have forborne to talk very loudly of his honesty ; and if he thought the office purely ministerial, he certainly might have honestly retained it under the king. But this tale has too little evidence to deserve a disquisition ; large offers and sturdy rejections are among the most common topics of falsehood.
He had so much either of prudence or gratitude, that he forbore to disturb the new settlement with any of his political or ecclesiastical opinions, and from this time devoted himself to poetry and literature. Of his zeal for learning in all its parts, he gave a proof by publishing, the next year (1661), Accidence commenced Grammar; a little book which has nothing remarkable, but that its author, who had been lately defending the supreme powers of his country, and was then writing Paradise Lost, could descend from his elevation to rescue children from the perplexity of grammatical confusion, and the trouble of lessons unnecessarily repeated,
About this time Elwood the quaker, being recommended to him as one who would read Latin to him, for the advantage of his conversation, at
tended him every afternoon, except on Sundays. Milton, who, in his letter to Hartlib, had declared, that to read Latin with an English mouth is as ille hearing as Law French, required that Elwood should learn and practise the Italian pronunciation, which, he said, was necessary, if he would talk with foreigners. This seems to have been a task troublesome without use. There is little reason for preferring the Italian pronunciation to our own, except that it is more general; and to teach it to an Englishman is only to make him a foreigner at home. He who travels, if he speaks Latin, may so soon learn the sounds which every native gives it, that he need make no provision before his journey; and if strangers visit us, it is their business to practise such conformity to our modes as they expect from us in their own countries. Elwood complied with the directions, and improved himself by his attendance; for he relates, that Milton, having a curious ear, knew by his voice when he read what he did not understand, and would stop him, and open the most difficult passages.
In a short time he took a house in the Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill Fields; the mention of which concludes the register of Milton's removals and habitations. He lived longer in this place than any other.
He was now busied by Paradise Lost. Whence he drew the original design has been variously
conjectured by men who cannot bear to think themselves ignorant of that which, at last, neither diligence nor sagacity can discover. Some find the hint in an Italian tragedy. Voltaire tells a wild and unauthorised story of a farce seen by Milton in Italy, which opened thus : Let the Rainbow be the Fiddlestick of the Fiddle of Heaven. It has been already shown, that the first conception was a tragedy or mystery, not of a narrative, but a dramatic work, which he is supposed to have begun to reduce to its ptesent form about the time (1655) when he finished his dispute with the defenders of the king
He long before had promised to adorn his native country by some great performance, while he had yet perhaps no settled design, and was stimu. lated only by such expectations as naturally arose from the survey of his attainments, and the consciousness of his powers. What he should undertake, it was difficult to determine. He was long chusing, and began late,
While he was obliged to divide his time between his private studies and affairs of state, his poetical labor must have been often interrupted ; and perhaps he did little more in that busy time than construct the narrative, adjust the episodes, proportion the parts, accumulate images and sentin ments, and treasure in his memory, or preserve in writing, such hints as books or meditation would supply. Nothing particular is known of his in.
tellectual operations while he was a statesman; for, having every help and accommodation at hand, he had no need of uncommon expedients.
Being driven from all public stations, he is yet too great not to be traced by curiosity to his retirement: where he has been found by Mr. Richardson, the fondest of his admirers, sitting before his door in a grey coat of coarse cloth, in warm sultry weather, to enjoy the fresh air; and so, as in his own room, receiving the visits of people of distinguished parts as well as quality. His visitors of high quality must now be imagined to be few; but men of parts might reasonably court the conversation of a man so generally illustrious, that foreigners are reported, by Wood, to have visited the house in Bread-street where he was born. • According to another account, he was seen in a small house, neatly enough dressed iu black clothes, sitting in a room hung with rusty green ; pale but not cadaverous, with chalkstones in his hands. He said, that if it were not for the gout, his blindness would be tolerable.
In the intervals of his pain, being made unable to use the common exercises, he used to swing in a chair, and sometimes played upon an organ.
He was now confessedly and visibly employed upon his poem, of which the progress might be noted by those with whom he was familiar ; for he was obliged, when he had composed as many lines as his memory would conveniently retain, t.