« السابقةمتابعة »
Johnson thoroughly. The flagellation of Milton, over which it is easy to perceive that Johnson chuckled, seems to be in fact what the tale of " The three Crows" is in fable. Every probability is against it: there is not a fact to support it. We may readily believe that some of Milton's foes would have gladly availed themselves of the report, especially More, Du Moulin, or Salmasius, had it been known during his life.
Upon thin chapter, St. John remarks :— "The Rev. Mr. Mitford and Sir Egerton Brydges admit, perhaps too readily, that Milton underwent what, in University cant, is termed 'rustication.' That he was expelled from College, or subjected to personal chastisement, no one now believes; nor was there ever a man, not wholly blinded by prejudice, who could seriously entertain the opinion. Johnson, supposing he was serving his party, by reviving and giving currency to the calumny, prefaces his fiction with affected reluctance and concern. 'I am ashamed to relate,' he says, 'what I fear is true—Milton was one of the last students in either University that suffered the public indignity of corporal correction.' If he really felt shame, it was because he feared, or rather was persuaded, that what he was about to say was not true. This could have been his only apprehension. To have discovered some foundation for his slander would to him have been matter of joy and gratulation, not of sorrow. His pretended fear, therefore, was as hypocritical as his narrative is destitute of truth."
When Johnson remarks upon Milton's declining to enter the Church (and it is probable he did this from the same notion which led him from the University), he says—
"One of his objections to academical education, as it was then conducted, was, that men designed for orders in the Church were permitted to act plays—' writhing and unboning their clergy limbs to all the antic and dishonest gestures of Trinculos, buffoons, and bawds, prostituting the shame of that ministry, which they had or were near having, to the eyes of the court ladies, their grooms, and mademoiselles.' This is sufficiently peevish in a man who, when he mentions his exile from College, relates with great luxuriance the compensations which the pleasures of the theatre afforded him. Plays were, therefore, only criminal when they were acted by academics."
What Johnson means by luxuriance in the passage just cited it is difficult to discover. There is no passage in Milton's writings to warrant such a phrase.
"From all which the reader is required to infer neither more nor less than that Milton was a contemptible hypocrite. But the case stands thus: when he descanted on the pleasures of the theatre, 'with great luxuriance,1 he was a youth, somewhere about eighteen; the 'Apology1 was written between thirty and forty; in the interval, therefore, time and opportunity had been afforded him to correct his boyish notions of the theatre, had they been wrong. Suppose, however, he had all his life entertained a partiality for the stage, does it necessarily follow that he must behold with 'luxuriance' the ministers of Christ dishonouring their sacred calling by the personation of coarse and indecent characters? This is all he here blames, as Johnson might have discovered, had he read the passage with attention."
It is true that Milton refused to enter the ministry of the Church of England, because he could not subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles. "Whoever became a clergyman must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that could not retch, he must strait perjure himself." He thought it better to preserve a blameless silence, rather than take upon himself the office of speaking—an office bought and begun with servitude and forswearing.
That is a wonderful error of Johnson, but a type of his whole Biography, in which he says, "Scarcely any man ever wrote so much, and praised so few. Of his praise he was very frugal," &c, &c.—which passage proves that he knew little of Milton's writings. No, there is no frugality in his praise. When did Johnson ever commend, without a large qualification ?— Never, even when he spoke of the highest names. But Milton frugal indeed—
"What hoods my Shakspear for hia hallowed bones 1"
How heartily he praises his great compeer ! and Jonson's "learned sock," and Chaucer, who called up "the story of Cambuscan bold."— Sometimes names crowd upon him. "No time will ever abolish the agreeable recollections I cherish of Jacob Gaddi, Caroli Deodati, Frescobaldi Culbellero, Bonomatthai, Clementillo) Francisco, and others." Then he speaks, in his Areopagitica, "of our sage and serious poet, Spenser, whom I dare be bold to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas."
His works abound in praise of men of the highest worth. It would detain the reader through a very long chapter, if all the falsehoods and sneers of Johnson were formally answered; for the life is lengthy, and these abound upon every page. The simplest event is not recorded without some implication. Passing over his loose method of speaking of Milton's visits to Lady Margaret Leigh, a married lady, the daughter of the Earl of Marlborough, with whom Milton occasionally conversed, and to whom he has inscribed a sonnet,—his changing his party, and leaving the Presbyterians for the Puritans—" He that changes his party by humour, is not more virtuous than he who changes it for interest."— The fact is, Milton changed his party because he did not choose to change his principles. He protested against the exorbitant pretensions of the Presbyterians. He found them inimical to liberty. "Presbyter" he found to be "priest writ large." There is a pre-eminently vile passage in reference to Milton's Latin secretaryship under Cromwell, after he had received much honour and some reward for writing his "Defence of the People of England." "Milton, having now tasted the honey of public employment, would not return to hunger and philosophy, but continued to exorcise his office