Picturâ Veterum," a learned treatise on the painting of the Ancients, and who was intimate with our author, speaks in the most favourable terms of the extent of his literary acquisitions, of his unblemished morals, of his mild and pleasing manners.

i Nicholas Heinsius, who then resided at Venice, bears testimony, from information collected on the spot, to the purity (the Italians called it austerity) of Milton's conduct during his visit to Italy, and rescues him in this instance from the slanders of Salmasius. N. Heinsiusk also professes his admiration of the “ Defence of the People of England," but

In a letter to Isaac Vossius dated from Venice on the 18th of Feb. 1653, N. Heinsius, after treating the abominable calumnies of Salmasius respecting Milton with contempt, proceeds to say-Imo invisus est Italis Anglus iste (Miltonus) inter quos multo vixit tempore, ob mores nimis severos; cum et de religione libenter disputaret, &c. -A little before, the letter-writer had spoken of Milton's Latin poetry: Poemata ejus mihi ostendit Holstenius. Nihil illa ad elegantiam apologiæ. In prosodiam peccavit frequenter. Magnus igitur Salmasianæ crisi campus hic apertus: sed quâ fronte alienos iste versus notabit cujus Musis nihil est cacatius ? [Ib. iii. 669.).

k In a letter to J. F. Gronovius dated from Amsterdam, on the 1st of June 1651, N. Heinsius says “ Misit (Salmasius) duas in hanc urbem nuper epistolas, rabiei Sycophanticæ non inanes, quibus omne se virus in me conversuruin minatur quod Miltoni scriptum probari a me intelligat. Ego vero et dixi et dicam porro malam a Miltono causam tam benè actam quam Regis infelicissimi causam pessime egit Scrilonius. Burm. Syll. iii. 270.

speaks with disrespect of the writer's Latin poetry, as greatly inferior in merit to his prose composition, and as censurable for its frequent offences against quantity. On the subject of this charge we have already had occasion to remark; and it may now be necessary only to observe that, if we except the scazons addressed to Salsilli and the ode lo Rouse, in both of which pieces the poet may be regarded as guilty rather of new and unwarrantable fabrics of verse than of violations of quantity, the accusation, though not groundless, seems to overpass the occasion and to be too strong for the actual delinquency.

As the “ Iconoclastes” and the “ Defence of the People of England” were composed between the closes of the years 1649 and 1651 they were of course completed before the author's removal to Petty-France, which did not take place till the beginning of 1652. On the second of May, in this year, his family was increased by the birth of his fourth child, Deborah; and the mother dying in childbed, he was left, with three orphan daughters, in domestic solitude, and in a state rapidly advancing if it had not already reached to total blindness. The prediction of his physicians was now to experience its fatal accomplishment. His sight, naturally weak

and impaired by incessant study from the earliest periods of his life, had for several years been sensibly declining, and, when he engaged in his last great work, had discovered, as we have remarked, symptoms of approaching extinction. In the course of that honourable labour he entirely lost the vision of one eye; and that of the other closing soon afterward, he was resigned to entire darkness, and “ for the book of knowledge fair” was

« Presented with an universal blank

Of Nature's works."

Of this completion of his misfortune the date is by no means accurately settled. All his biographers, with the exception of Mr. Todd, place the melancholy consummation in 1654; but it unquestionably happened in some antecedent period. In his letter to Philaras, written in the autumn of 1654, Milton speaks of his loss of sight as of no very recent misfortune; and we know that when he was visited by his Athenian friend, at a time not greatly posterior to the publication of the “ Defence,” he was then totally blind. Mr. Todd has noticed in Thurloe's State Papers a letter from the Hague, dated June the 20th, 1653, in which Milton is mentioned as blind;

and it must not be forgotten that the writer of the “ Regii sanguinis Clamor,” published in 1652, upbraids him with his blindness as an infliction of the Divine wrath, and selects for the motto of his work Virgil's description of the eyeless Cyclops

Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.

A monster horrid, hideous, huge, and blind. We must conclude therefore, that his total loss of sight soon followed the publication of his answer to Salmasius, and happened early in 1652.

The fortitude, with which he supported himself under this afflicting privation, is admirably discovered in that sonnet to his friend Cyriac Skinner, of which I have already spoken with praise and which I shall now transcribe. I could never read it without paying to its author the profound homage of my respect.


CYRIAC, this three years day, these eyes, though clear

To outward view of blemish or of spot,

Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of sun, or moon, or star throughout the year,

? Vous avez en Angleterre un aveugle, nomme Milton, qui le renom d'avoir bien escrit-v. i. p. 261.

Or man or woman :-yet I argue not

Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?

The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied
In liberty's defence, my noble task,

Of which all Europe rings from side to side:
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask,

Content, though blind, had I no better guide.

[ocr errors]

He was forewarned, as we have observed, of the contingent calamity, and, in the alternative of evils, he preferred the loss of sight to the dereliction of duty. The magnanimity. of Achilles, to which he alludes in the following interesting passage in his “ Second Defence," can scarcely be considered as superior to his own.

“Aded ut cum datum mihi publicè esset, illud in Defensionem Regiam negotium, eodemque tempore et adverså simul valetudine, et oculo jam penè altero amisso, conflictarer, prædicerentque disertè medici, si hunc laborem suscepissem, fore ut utrumque brevi amitterem, nihil istâ præmonitione deterritus, non medici, nè Esculapii quidem Epidaurii ex adyto vocem, sed divinioris cujusdam intus monitoris viderer mihi audire; duasque sortes, fatali quodam natu, jam mihi propositas, hinc cæcitatem inde officium; aut oculorum jacturam necessarið fa-'

« VorigeDoorgaan »