« PreviousContinue »
general, where he was entrusted to give some instruction in the languages to the lady his daughter." It must be remarked that Milton's chief duty was to prepare state documents, as Cromwell took care, by himself, and with the aid of his council, to control and direct the whole operation of government through all its departments. Milton's blindness (while it did not prevent him from discharging his duties promptly and effectively through his secretaries) was dexterously used by Cromwell as a state engine. Cromwell having, from reasons of state policy, artfully delayed signing the treaty with Sweden, replied to the incessant importunities of the ambassador, that Mr. Milton, on account of his blindness, was necessarily obliged to proceed slowly, and that he had not as yet put the articles into Latin—" upon which the ambassador was greatly surprised that things of such consequence should be entrusted to a blind man, for he must necessarily employ an amanuensis, and that amanuensis might divulge the secrets of the articles; and it was wonderful too that there should be only one man in England who could write Latin, and he a blind one!” Here it may be worth while to record one of many proofs of the extraordinary intelligence conveyed to the foreign office under the vigilant administration of Cromwell. The Dutch were about to send an ambassador to England to treat of peace; but the emissaries of the British government had the art to procure a copy of his instructions in Holland, which were delivered by Milton to his nephew, Phillips, to translate for the use of the council, before the plenipotentiary had taken shipping for England; and an answer was prepared for him before he arrived in London.
Milton's state letters will remain as authentic and valuable memorials of those times, to be admired equally by critics as by statesmen ; and those, particularly, about the persecutions of the Protestants in Piedmont, who can read without emotion? The oppression suffered by the Protestants he felt keenly, and strained every effort to avert; and it must be allowed that Cromwell nobly supported him. (See Letters to the duke of Savoy, to the prince of Transylvania, to the king of Sweden, to the states of Holland, Switzerland, and Geneva, to the kings of France and Denmark.)
Cromwell was not a man to be befooled or intimidated when he once formed a resolution; and his memorable menace, that if these persecutions did not cease, British ships of war should display their flags at Civita Vecchia, and the sound of his cannon should be heard at the Vatican, extorted by fear those tolerations which reason, humanity, or religion would plead for in vain. It appears that while Foreign Secretary, he was allowed by Cromwell and the parliament “a weekly table for the entertainment of foreign ministers and persons of learning, such especially as came from Protestant states." After the death of Cromwell, Milton, being continued as Secretary under Richard Cromwell and the parliament, published, in 1659, “ A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes ;” and “ Considerations touching the likeliest Means of Removing Hirelings out of the Church;" both addressed to the Parliament. Finding that affairs were every day tending more and more to the subversion of the Commonwealth, and the restoration of the royal family, he published what he considered the last voice of expiring liberty, his “ Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth, compared with the Dangers of readmitting Kingship in this Nation.” But the republican fever had subsided, the nation was weary of commotion, and the monarchy was restored with the approbation of all the friends of tranquillity and order.
THE RESTORATION-HIS PARDON-PARADISE LOST-HIS DISINTERESTEDNESS
AND POVERTY - PARADISE REGAINED, SAMSON AGONISTES, ETC. — HIS DEATH-HIS HABITS.
After the Restoration, Milton found it necessary to conceal himself in the house of a friend, in Bartholomew Close, Smithfield, till the storm should blow over. On the 16th of June, 1660, it was ordered by the House of Commons, that “the attorneygeneral proceed by indictment against John Milton, and that he
be sent for in custody of the serjeant-at-arms." But it having been subsequently reported that he had absconded, his “ Defensio," and his “ Iconoclastes” were burned, according to proclamation, by the common hangman, at the Old Bailey. There is a prevalent story, that, in order to blind the court party, he was reported to be dead, and that a mock funeral was got up for him ; which when Charles heard, on his secure re-establishment in power, he laughed heartily, observing, equivocally, that he was glad the old scholar was put out of harm's way. eventually included in the general pardon, and then surrendered to the serjeant-at-arms. On the 15th of December, 1660, it was ordered by the House of Commons that “ Mr. Milton, now in custody of the serjeant-at-arms, be forthwith released, paying his fees.” Here there is an extraordinary proof of Milton's independence, and resistance to what he considered wrong or oppression. An ordinary man would have been glad to escape from the fangs of danger at any sacrifice : not so Milton : he boldly complained of the excessive fees demanded by the serjeant; and the complaint was referred to the committee of privileges. “So courageous was he” (says Bishop Newton)“ at all times in defence of liberty, against all encroachments of power; and though a prisoner, would yet be treated as a free-born Englishman." Long dissertations have been written to explain the causes of the extension of the royal prerogative of pardon to Milton. Mr. Secretary Morrice, Sir Thomas Clarges, and Sir Thomas Davenant, whose life he was instrumental in saving when taken prisoner in 1650, and two aldermen of York, are mentioned severally and collectively as his efficient intercessors. Andrew Marvel too formed a considerable party for him in the House of Commons. But I think that a single glance at the position of the court, and at Milton's life and condition at that time, will show that he was wafted on to safety on a confluence of reasons of state. He was not directly involved in the murder of the late king. He never took arms against him-never, by speech or writing, recommended his execution. He had no direct power in ordering the event, as a member of the legislature; he was not one of his judges ; he therefore did not fairly come within the sweep
of the royal retaliation, life for life ; and his delinquent books, the “Defensio" and “ Iconoclastes," burned by the common hangman, were published after the king's death. Besides, it was the policy of Charles II. not to be needlessly sanguinary. Enough was already done for revenge, and the display of the royal power : something remained to be done by way of example, for conciliation, and an ostentation of the royal clemency. Who, then, could be a better object than the greatest ornament of his empire ? a man as well known all over Europe as at home, for the vastness of his genius and his learning; whom scholars from all parts of the continent used to visit as a great intellectual curiosity. It appears from Aubrey's narrative, that “several foreigners of distinction had been induced to visit England, in order to see Oliver Cromwell, lord-protector, and John Milton." Moreover, Milton was most intimate with many of the loyal nobility, and with those members of the council already mentioned. It may be added also, that Charles was far from being an enemy to the Muses.
After his pardon he removed into Jewin Street, near Aldersgatestreet, where, in his infirm state of health, requiring some better attention than that of servants, he married, by the advice of his friend Dr. Paget, Elizabeth Minshul, of a respectable family in Cheshire, and a relation of that gentleman. All his wives were virgins. He himself says, “I fully agree with them, who, both in prudence and elegance of spirit, would choose a virgin of small fortune, honestly bred, before the wealthiest widow.” Soon after, he was offered a continuance of his employment, as Latin Secretary, which he magnanimously declined. When his wife urged him to accept it, he replied, “ Thou art in the right; you, as other women, would ride in your coach ; for me, my aim is to live and die an honest man.” Being now in want of some person to read and write for him, he took into his employment, at the recommendation of Dr. Paget, young Elwood, a Quaker, to whose instruction he paid great attention. Says Elwood, “Observing that I used the English pronunciation, he told me that if I would have the benefit of the Latin tongue, not only to read and understand Latin authors, but to converse with foreigners, I must
learn the foreign pronunciation ; and he accordingly instructed me. He pronounced the c like the English ch, and sc like sh. And having a curious ear, he understood by my tone, when I understood what I read, and when I did not; and accordingly he would stop me, examine me, and open the most difficult passages to me.” He soon left Jewin Street, and removed to a small house in the Artillery Walk, leading to Bunhill Fields, where he continued till his death. In 1661 he published his “ Accidence commenced Grammar ;" and a tract of Sir W. Raleigh, entitled " Aphorisms of State." When the plague broke out in London, in 1665, he removed to Chalfont St. Giles, in Buckinghamshire, where Elwood had obtained the situation of tutor, some time before, in the family of a wealthy Quaker. When Milton could no longer remunerate him for his services, after he had completed his education, Elwood provided a house for his benefactor. While there, he one day gave Elwood, who visited him constantly, a large MS. roll, telling him to return it safe, after he had read it.
“ Paradise Lost." On his returning the paper, Milton asked him what he thought of it; “which,” says Elwood, “I modestly but freely told him : and after some discourse about it, I pleasantly said to him, “ Thou hast said much of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of “ Paradise Found ?"! He made me no answer, but sat some time in a muse; then broke off that discourse, and fell upon another subject." When Elwood afterwards called upon him in London, Milton showed him his “ Paradise Regained,” and in a pleasant tone said to him, “ This is owing to you, for you put it into my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which before I had not thought of." He remained in Chalfont about ten months, from June or July 1665, till the following March or April, when he returned to his house in London. On his return, his
and growing infirmities, so far from relaxing his literary exertions, seemed to have given them fresh impetus. There was, however, one melancholy check: his circumstances had become much straitened. He lost 2,0001. which he deposited in the Excise Office before the Restoration; his London property was destroyed by the great fire ; and other property was frittered away through