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concentration, as well as the multiformity of nature which these works evince. He seems one of his own angels, now talking familiarly to Adam, and now plucking up, and tossing to and fro, the rooted hills of heaven. “Truly,” says Johnson, “he was born for whatever was arduous, and difficulties vanished at his touch.” After the plague was over, and the city cleansed, Milton had returned to Banhillfields. Ereleaving Chalfont, he had commenced, at Ellwood's suggestion (who had playfully asked him, since he had sung Paradise Lost so well, to give the world something on Paradise Found), and finished “Paradise Regained.” To this, on returning to town, he added “Samson Agonistes,” and published them both in one volume in 1671. That Milton pref “Paradise Regained” to the larger work has often been asserted, but is not true. According to Phillipps, he merely expressed his mortification at finding it treated as so much inferior to the “Paradise Lost.” At this feeling few will now be astonished. That the “Paradise Regained” is not so long as the other is, of course, admitted. Its plan did not permit such lofty and daring flights; but in Homeric simplicity, in sustained dignity, in calmness of spirit, and nice beauty of image and language, it is superior, and may rank as the Odyssey of his genius. More of this, however, afterwards. But the time was now come when this great spirit was to put off this tabernacle, and join his starry kindred in those regions calm, of mild and serene air, where his imagination and heart had long taken up their permanent abode. The “Lord had shut him in” in his darkened framework, as Noah in the ark of old; but he was now to open the ark and let him forth free, and free for ever. His disease was gout, attended with a general decay of the vital powers. Feeling himself near his end, he sent for his brother Christopher, then a bencher in the Inner Temple, to aid him in making his will. In fine keeping his death took place, amid the stillness and solemn pause of a Sabbath-day. This was the 8th of November 1674. It was a quiet and Godlike dismissal. There were attendants in the room, but they did not notice the moment of his expiration, it was so easy. Milton died, as he had lived, alone.
It is with a certain severe satisfaction that we contemplate the death of such a man. We feel that tears and lamentations were here unbecoming, and would mar the solemn sweetness of the scene. With serenity—may, joy—we witness this majestic manchild caught up to God and to his throne. Were we to behold a star re-absorbed into its source, melted down in God, would it not generate a delight, graver, indeed, but as real, as had we stood by its creation? and although there were no shouting as on its natal morn, might there not be silence, the silence of joyous wonder, among the sons of God? Thus died Milton, the prince of modern men. He accepted death as gently and complacently as the sky receives into its arms the waning moon.
His remains were followed to the grave by “all his learned and great friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the vulgar.” He was buried next his father in the chancel of St Giles, Cripplegate. The stone laid at first on his grave was speedily removed, and no monument was raised over his dust till 1793, when a marble bust from Bacon's chisel was, at the instance of Mr Whitbread, erected in the middle aisle of the church. Fifty-six years previous, Benson had procured the admission of his bust into Westminster Abbey. But what need of busts or monuments, any more than of degrees or titles, to him 2 The plain name, John Milton, more securely preserves his memory,
“Than if a pyramid formed his monumental fane.”
This part of our task is now nearly done. The personal appearance, habits, and manners of the great Poet, are too familiar to require lengthened remark. He was of the middle size, neither lean nor corpulent, his skin fresh and fair, his eyes gray, his features regular, his hair light-brown, parted at the fore-top, and hanging in curls upon his shoulders. In his food and liquor he was not an anchorite, but extremely temperate, his rule being, Not too much. His days were regulated by an exact and severe system. He was in conversation affable and easy, although his temper was severe, and he was a “good hater.” His favourite enjoyment was music, and his favourite instrument the organ. His life, even in youth, and in the countries of the south, was entirely unstained by sensual impurities. His literature was enormous. The languages, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish, hung like keys from his girdle, and he had employed them to unlock all the treasures they commanded. His favourite book was the Bible in the original, and next to it, Homer and Euripides in Greek, Ovid in Latin, Dante in Italian, and Spenser, Shakspere, and Cowley in English. Liberty and religion were the two master passions of his soul, although his views of the former were rather ultra, even for our age, and although in theology he was very far from what is called orthodox, being a Millennarian, an Arminian, an Anti-sabbatarian, and verging on Arianism. His personal piety has never been questioned. It was not obtrusive nor unctuous, and would not tell in our “religious obituaries,” but was manly, enlightened, sincere, and fervid. And yet Milton does not seem to have been a happy man. Domestic infelicities, public affairs, and personal neglect, seem latterly to have made him sour, though never savage. In fact, this earth was a sphere too narrow for him. He was “before all ages.” Space was his only fitting abode, and eternity his only adequate day. And when we look at him and the other men of his time, we are tempted to say, “There were giants in those days,” while we have fallen on the days of little men; nay, to cry out with her of old, “I saw gods ascending from the earth, and one of them is like to an old man, whose face is covered with a mantle.”
The measure is English heroic verse without rhyme, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; rhyme being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter and lame metre; graced, indeed, since by the use of some famous modern poets, carried away by custom, but much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse, than else they would have expressed them. Not without cause, therefore, some both Italian and Spanish poets of prime note have rejected rhyme both in longer and shorter works, as have also long since our best English tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, trivial, and of no true musical delight; which consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings, a fault avoided by the learned ancients both in poetry and all good oratory. This neglect, then, of rhyme so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar readers, that it is rather to be esteemed an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem, from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming.