صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

quotations from Milton's Prose Works. Toland for the most part selects passages to exhibit Milton's religious and political sentiments, Richardson to delineate his personal history and feelings, his private rather than his public character; and together they exhibit almost all the passages of either description which appear in the later biographers. Rolli, in the following year, prefixed to his translation of the Paradise Lost into Italian verse a respectable account of Milton's Life. He drew upon no new resources indeed, and gave no new information, but his observations are his own, and some of them ingenious. And this Life as well as Bayle's derives an interest from the circumstance that the writer was a foreigner. Dr. Birch, however, who gave an account of Milton in the General Dictionary, and again with his edition of the Prose Works in 1738, added a little to the information already extant, from his own acquaintance with Milton's widow, and from Professor Ward's conversations with Milton's daughter, Mrs. Clarke. These Lives indeed I have not examined, because Dr. Birch afterwards published another with his second edition of the Prose Works in 1753, and this is one of the most complete and accurate accounts at present extant; it may not be written in a very engaging style perhaps, but it is sensible and impartial, and has the merit of specifying minutely his authority for every circumstance. Peck's New Life of Milton, in 1740, contains very little, if any, original information concerning Milton's life, being chiefly occupied with critiques upon

his poems.

It gives indeed some curious particulars about books, editions, pictares, &c. but Warton's notes contain every thing that

is valuable of this kind; and Peck does not appear a person whose authority is to be followed implicitly.

From all the most considerable of his predecessors, Bp. Newton introduced into his narrative nearly every thing that was most deserving of notice. And it will have already appeared, that the lives by Wood, Philips, Toland, Richardson, and Birch, (with the addition indeed of one or two circumstances from Elwood's account of his own life, and from Kennet's Historical Register,) and some passages in Milton's works, which would undoubtedly have been contradicted at the time, bad they been incorrect, furnish all the authentic materials for the Life of Milton. Bp. Newton indeed conversed with Mrs. Foster, the grand-daughter of Milton, who was alive till 1754; but her information was exceedingly inaccurate ; and Milton's last surviving daughter died in 1727, and his widow in 1730. With the latter indeed the author of the accurate Life of Milton in the Biographia Britannica (A.D. 1760) professes to have been acquainted; but this account so much resembles the Life by Dr. Birch, that it might almost pass for his production, if the severe remarks on Milton's character in several of the notes did not indicate a different hand.

From this period, at any rate, we have only to expect that species of novelty in the accounts of Milton's life, which will continually result from the different points of view in which his works and character will be regarded by men of various feelings and parties. Johnson's Life of Milton is sufficiently novel from this cause. It cannot indeed be denied that he supplies several observations not less just than forcible ; but he

[ocr errors]

is sometimes sophistical, usually harsh and caustic; praise seems extorted from him; and his view of Milton's character is upon the whole prejudiced and unjust. His account will always be read, however, not only for its own merits, such as they are, but because scarcely any succeeding Life is without allusions to it. The edition of the Lives of the Poets, published in 1794, supplied me with one or two useful notes upon the Life of Milton. An anonymous writer, usually understood to be Archdeacon Blackburne, wrote his Remarks professedly upon the Life by Johnson; and although they are full of asperity, and written ad hominem, yet they frequently disprove Johnson's attacks acutely and thoroughly. Mr. Hayley is exceedingly anxious also to advocate Milton's cause, but is not a little perplexed in his endeavours to eulogize at once both the poet and his biographer. Hayley's mind, indeed, was not sufficiently powerful to enable bim to decide on Milton's character either as a man or as a poet; yet there is some elegance amidst his feebleness, and his remarks are not unfrequently just and candid. Dr. Symmons certainly regarded neither Johnson nor Warton with any favour, and in his zeal for Milton's reputation attacks both these writers with merciless severity. His adıniration for Milton's character indeed scarcely knows any bounds; his unwil. lingness to censure, equals Johnson's reluctance to praise, him; and though the latter is undoubtedly the more ungracious fault of the two, still both detract from the impartiality of just biography. In his criticisms upon Milton's works, Dr. Symmons appears to write with more candour and discrimination; occasionally

also he can notice calmly the weak points in his author's character and sentiments; and his work upon the whole, not to speak of some very prominent faults in its style as well as its general execution, will not be consulted without advantage by those who have been chiefly conversant with unfavourable portraits of Milton. Mr. Todd's Account of Milton's Life and Writings is a very unassuming performance, but evidently drawn up with his usual industry and fidelity. His industry however, as there was in fact nothing new to be discovered respecting Milton himself, has tempted him to indulge too frequently in the insertions of curious but irrelevant matter. Mr. Godwin professes to have written his Lives of E. and J. Philips, the nephews of Milton, with a constant view to the illustration of Milton's character, and now and then he throws a little, and but a little, new light upon it. It may be as well to mention, that his Appendix contains a reprint of Philips's Life of Milton, as the original publication is not very easily procured.

With the exception of the articles already noticed in biographical Dictionaries, I have met with no others which need be particularly described. Those in the French works of this kind appear to be for the most part derived from Toland through Bayle. There are several independent and sensible accounts in the English biographical works ; but it was not to be expected that they should add any thing to the stock of information of which the public was already possessed. The most ample of these is the Life in Rees's Encyclopædia, but it is evidently an echo of the life by Dr. Symmons.

reason.

Most of the preceding Lives have supplied me with some little particular or other which the tastes of different readers inight desire to be subjoined to Bp. Newton's Life; and their relative value will sufficiently appear from the preceding list of Milton's biographers. And if some of these notes should seem to be at vari. ance with this account of their authors, it will be understood that they were often selected for this very

A sentence of praise, for instance, from Johnson, or of censure from Dr. Symmons, carries with it peculiar weight on account of the bias of these writers in the opposite direction.

A comparison of several Lives of Milton is necessary perhaps after all for those who would form a just estimate of his character and principles. A masterly delineation of them, as well as a complete and impartial review of his works, especially his prose writings, may be regarded as even now a desideratum in English literature. Few subjects would in fact require so considerable a range of knowledge, united with so much sound judgment and candour: and if such a review of his works and character appeared, it may yet be doubted whether it would presently secure a wide and general approbation. As for the dates and facts, even to the minuter incidents, of Milton's personal history, they have long since been determined with all the accuracy which the nature of the subject admits or requires.

E. H, Oriel College, Nov. 9, 1824.

« السابقةمتابعة »