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HIS LAST WRITTEN WORDS.
run into that stupidity which we now seek all means so warily to avoid, the worst of superstitions, and the heaviest of all God's judgments-Popery.'1
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PASSAGES FROM MILTON'S POETRY.
A little onward lend thy guiding hand
To these dark steps, a little further on;
For yonder bank hath choice of sun or shade :
The breath of Heav'n fresh blowing, pure and sweet,
The last words of his last prose work, Of True Religion, Heresy, Schism, and Toleration, published in 1673, a year before his death.
2 Samson Agonistes, I-II. Richardson says in his Remarks on Milton, 1734:-' I have heard many years since, that he used to sit in a grey coarse cloth coat at the door of his house, near Bunhill Fields, in warm sunny weather, to enjoy the fresh air, and so, as well as in his room, received the visits of people of distinguished parts, as well as quality. And very lately I had the good fortune to have another picture of him from an ancient clergyman in Dorsetshire, Dr. Wright; he found him in a small house, he thinks but one room on a floor, in that, up one pair of stairs, which was hung with a rusty green, he found John Milton, sitting in an elbow-chair, black cloaths, and neat enough, pale, but not cadaverous, his hands and fingers gouty, and with chalk-stones. Among other discourse he expressed himself to this purpose, that was he free from the pain this gave him, his blindness would be tolerable.' Samson Agonistes, his last poem, published in 1671, together with Paradise Regained, is throughout painfully autobiographical. In it he gives vent to his long pent-up feelings of sorrow, indignation, and resignation.
But chief of all,
O loss of sight, of thee I most complain !
Annull'd, which might in part my grief have eas'd,
Of man or worm; the vilest here excel me,
Without all hope of day!
O first created beam, and thou great Word,
And silent as the moon,
When she deserts the night
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
Since light so necessary is to life,
There is evidence that his children were undutiful and unkind to him, and combined with his maid-servant to cheat him in marketings, and sold his books, and even wished his death.
HIS CALAMITOUS STATE.
And almost life itself, if it be true
That light is in the soul,
She all in every part; why was the sight
And not, as feeling, through all parts diffus'd,
I was His nursling once and choice delight,
Under His special eye
Abstemious I grew up and thriv'd amain;
But now hath cast me off as never known.2
God of our fathers, what is man!
That Thou towards him with hand so various,
(Or might I say contrarious?)
Temper❜st Thy providence through his short course,
Not evenly, as Thou rul'st
The angelic orders, and inferior creatures mute,
Irrational and brute.
Nor do I name of men the common rout,
1 Samson Agonistes, 66–102.
2 Ibid. 633-640.
That wand'ring loose about,
And people's safety, which in part they effect:
Amidst their height of noon,
Changest Thy countenance and Thy hand, with no regard
Of highest favours past
From Thee on them, or them to Thee of service.
Nor only dost degrade them, or remit
To life obscur'd, which were a fair dismission,
But throw'st them lower than Thou didst exalt them high; Unseemly falls in human eye,
Too grievous for the trespass or omission;
Oft leav'st them to the hostile sword
Of heathen and profane, their carcases
To dogs and fowls a prey, or else captiv'd;
Or to the unjust tribunals, under change of times,
And condemnation of the ingrateful multitude.
With sickness and disease Thou bow'st them down,
Though not disordinate, yet causeless suff'ring
So deal not with this once Thy glorious champion,
My wife! my traitress! let her not come near me.
Out, out hyæna! these are thy wonted arts,
Her husband, how far urg'd his patience bears,
Samson Agonistes, 667-709. The prayer of the last two lines was signally answered both in Milton's own case, and in that of Samson's, as we shall presently see.