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poet or the student; and he was impelled to unite himself with the apostles of freedom, the founders of civil and religious liberty; this has provoked the ire of every apologist of despotism since, who has mentioned his name; at every page of his life, they deplore the sad infatuation of this man, who "forsook the muses" to write for the Puritans; it is amusing to listen to the lugubrious notes of these mourning critics. The blaze of this astounding genius is beyond all dispute: had he been of less note as a poet, or a scholar, all honour had been denied him; but the mind of Milton is the noblest product of the English soil. He was, indeed, the many-sided man; and, therefore, as there is no denying to him immeasurable learning, and wonderful genius, pity is expressed for this defect and stain upon his memory—that he wrote in defence of liberty—that he poured a torrent of overwhelming eloquence and sarcasm upon prelatical assumption — that he wrote against a king. "Seduced by the gentle eloquence of fanaticism, he listened no more to the wild and native wood-notes of Fancy's child.'' Thomas Warton and Sir Egerton Brydges never tire of pouring forth their mournful plaints over the desertion of Milton from the service of Poetry to the service of Liberty; it is easy to perceive that the laments of these mournful Tories would not have been heard had he chaunted the high praises of prelates and kings:—here is a melancholy string of dolorous moanings from Sir Egerton Brydges—
"Now Milton's evil day began; he entered into the stormy controversies which blind the imagination, and harden and embitter the heart. It was not for sublime talents like his, to entangle themselves in these webs; his mighty genius could not move under the oppressive weight of so much abstruse, and, I will add, useless, though multifarious and astonishing, learning! I cannot help lamenting that Milton spent so many years in these bitter political and sectarian squabbles: 'coarser minds' would have done for that work. He was always powerful—sometimes splendid; but here his passions were human, and too often mingled with earthly dross. Whatever merit Milton might have in the able and learned discharge of his political services, it is deeply to be lamented that his brilliant and sublime faculties were so employed. How the slumbering fire of his rich and ever-varying fictions must have consumed his heart and his brain. How he jnust have fretted at the base intrigues of courts and councils, and the turpitude of human ambition. To make a man of business requires nothing but petty and watchful observation, cold reserve and selfish craft: to catch the moment when caution in others is asleep; to raise hopes, yet promise nothing; to seem to give full information, and yet to be so vague that every thing is open to escape.—How can the poet practise such arts as these I He is lost in himself; he is wrapped up in his own creations. He lost nineteen precious years of his middle life, in those irritating occupations, from the age of thirty-two to fifty-one: after that age, he occupied the remaining fourteen years of his life principally in poetry. ... It is melancholy to think how much of grand invention, which he might, in these long years have put forth, has been lost to the world."
So also Thomas Warton commenting upon the frustrated intention of Milton to proceed to Sicily and Athens:—u Countries" says he, "connected with his finer feelings, interwoven with his poetic ideas, and impressed upon his imagination by his habits of reading, and by long and intimate converse with the Grecian literature. But so prevalent were his patriotic attachments that, hearing in Italy of the commencement of the national quarrel, instead of proceeding forward to feast his fancy with the contemplation of scenes familiar to Theocritus and Homer, the pines of Etna, and the pastures of Peneus, he abruptly changed his course, and hastily returned home to plead the cause of ideal liberty. Yet in this chaos of controversy, amidst endless disputes concerning religious and political reformation, independency, prelacy, tithes, toleration, and tyranny, he sometimes seems to have heaved a sigh for the peaceable enjoyments of lettered solitude, for his congenial pursuits, and the more mild and ingenuous exercises of the Muse. In a Letter to Henry Oldenburgh, written in 1654, he says,—'Hoc cum libertatis adversariis inopinatum certamen, diversis longe et amcenioribus omnind me studiis intentum, ad se rapuit inmtum.' And in one of his prose tracts, " I may one day hope to have ye again in a still time, when there shall be no chiding. Not in these noises." And in another, having mentioned some of his schemes for epic poetry and tragedy, 'of highest hope and hardest attempting,1 he adds, ' With what small willingness I endure to interrupt the pursuit of no less hopes than these, and leave a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse
disputes, from beholding the bright countenance of Truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies,1 &c. He still, however, obstinately persisted in what he thought his duty. But surely these speculations should have been consigned to the enthusiasts of that age, to such restless and wayward spirits as Prynne, Hugh Peters, Goodwin, and Baxter. Minds less refined, and faculties less elegantly cultivated, would have been better employed in this task:
And cheeks of sorry grain, will serve to ply
This sort of language is disgraceful. It exhibits either strange ignorance of the times in which Milton lived, or servility to despotism— perhaps, a disposition towards despotism.— Very far from being in unison with the generous spirit of noble minds. In this spirit most of the editors of Milton have regarded him.— From this condemnation we must exempt, however, the present Bishop of Winchester, who edited Milton's "Treatise on Christian Doctrine," when he was the courtly librarian