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For FEBRUARY, 1795.
Art. I. The Poetical Works of John Milton. With a Life of the
Author by William Hayley. Vol. I. Folio. pp. 350. 41. 45.
of more biographical tributes than that of Milton, yet the public will probably think themselves obliged to the spirited undertakers of the present splendid edition of his poetical works, for having engaged a writer so juftly eateemed as Mr. Hayley, to compose a new life of that “ immortal man,” who was the glory of his age and country! Those, too, who cherish with peculiar regard the remembrance of Milton as a patriat, as well as a poet, will rejoice in the prospect of his recovering, from the justice of a biographer congenial with him in manly and liberal sentiments, that moral lustre of character which it was so manifestly the aim of his last prejudiced, though able, biographer to fully and obscure. Nor will they be disappointed; since it has been, according to Mr. H.'s own declaration, his chief purpose to give such a delineation of Milton's life as might • rather make him more beloved than more admired;' and since nothing can surpass the solicitude with which he has attempted to obliterate every moral stain, and to exhibit him as no less a model of superior virtue than an example of unrivalled genius.
It is, indeed, difficult for a writer setting out with such a design not to deviate from the path of the fair and judicious biographer, into that of the partial apologist and panegyrist; nor, perhaps, will Mr. H. be altogether acquitted, even by the best friends of Milton, of the charge of having indulged such a de. viation. From the warm admirers of Dr. Johnson he may exon pect, too, a ftul severer charge; that of being an intemperate censurer. He, however, who violates candour in his treatment of others, has little right to expect that the rules of candour will VOL. XVI.
always always be scrupulously observed towards himself; and the in: dignation of generosity is more excusable than that of party.
Two principal attacks have been made by Johnson and others on the moral character of Milton; that of austerity and unamiableness of temper, and that of political prostitution. These, accordingly, are the accusations which his present biographer particularly labours to repel. With respect to the first, he begins with an attempt to illuftrate the poet's native dispofition from the spirit of his juvenile compositions, especially in the Latin and Italian languages; and in these there is nothing of suavity, kindness, sensibility, filial and friendly affection, gratitude, and all the gentle and benignant emotions of the mind, which Mr. Hayley does not deduce in their highest perfection to decorate his hero. Though, from the facility with which Milton contracted friend thips with many amiable and eftimable characters, we are convinced that he himself mult have appeared in the light of an amiable as well as an extraordinary youth, yet we own that we are surprized to find Mr. Hayley, himself a poet, Saying so much stress on the poetical sentiments which a youth of warm imagination, and of great reading, could not but tind ready for use on every occasion, whether real or fictitious. If it be a just remark (as we believe it is,) that even the letters called familiar of a writer by profession are little to be regarded as transcripts of his genuine feelings, how much less can we depend on poetical and complia mentary effusions, which call fiction to their aid in the first process of their formation? Is it possible that Mr. H. can seriously adduce, as an instance of a first paffion, an Ovidian elegy, in which the young copyift describes, in the most ingenious terms that he could find, the impression made on his heart by a sudden view of some unknown fair? Is the following line that of one who for the passion which he paints ?
Findor, et hæc remanet ; fequitur pars altera. Vetun. It seems to be more evinced, by these early displays of the Sentiments of Milton, that he possessed a native elevation of soul, a warm admiration of fuperior excellence, and a kind of prophetic breathing after that high fame which he afterward attained. Yet, with respect to this
last, we would not decidedly view it as a characteristic feature of his mind; since equally bold anticipations and eager aspirations may be found in the early productions of much inferior geniuses, to whom the practice of antiquity had given a model of thought and expression.
It is not our intention to follow the footsteps of the biographer through this part of his performance. We fhall briefly observe that, with much elegant ingenuity, and an amiable 4
ardour in favour of his great subject, he does indeed successfully counteract many of the malignant remarks made by the Tory biographer ; yet sometimes, by overstrained comments, fara fetched fuppofitions, and amplification of trivial circumstances, Mr. H. weakens the confidence which we should defire to place on his fagacity and love of truth. If a man were always allowed to be the expositor of his own adions and their motives, who would ever appear criminal?
With respect to the side which Milton took during the troubles of his country, all apology must be either unnecessary or useless. They who deteft him as a rebel to his king, and they who revere him as the champion of liberty, will continue to feel as they have begun, unless their own political opinions alter. The charge of deserting his principles, however, and of Aattere ing an usurper, certainly requires a refutation from those who would vindicate his moral excellence. This Mr. Hayley has attempted, but, we fear, with more ingenuity than rolidity. The defence is built partly on Milton's poetical cast of mind, dispofing him to view things through the medium of the imagination, and partly on the profound hypocrisy by which Cromwell disguised his actions :-but Milton was at that time much more a prose writer than a poet, and the most obnoxious palfage respecting Cromwell is in Latin prose; and if, after Cromwell's attainment of the protectorate, Milton was unable to see into his real character, we can only defend his fincerity at the expence of his discernment.
The indecent acrimony with which Milton carried on his literary controversies is in part juftly imputed to the spirit of the times; yet we confess that it leaves on our minds some impresfion of a naturally stern and morose spirit; nor, in the family disagreements in which it was his misfortune to be involved, are we prepared to conclude with Mr.H. that he was always and entirely in the right, and never provoked the want of affection and gratitude which he experienced. Many excuses, indeed, may be made for him. His blindness would naturally inculcate sulpicion; while his change of fortune, and the narrowness of his circumstances, might produce rigour and parsimony. After all, is it necessary that the serious, the learned, the lofty, the sublime Milton, the severe disciplinarian, the zealous champion, --in fine, the writer of Paradise Lost, should be the most amiable of mankind? Is such an union of qualities probable! We acknowlege that, under the delicate varnilh with which his portrait is glosed by the foftening brush of his present biographer, we scarcely distinguish its bold and prominent features. That he was a man of high virtue and principle, of very few failings in public or weaknesses in private life, we are well convinced ; and the K 2
more from reading this spirited and elegant tribute to his memory : but he had a character,-and character can scarcely be said to subsist in an accumulation of all human excellencies.
The following liberal passage, which we shall transcribe as a fpecimen of the style and spirit of this work, admits an exception to that gentleness and mildness of temper which, in general, the writer wishes to represent as characteristic of Milton:
· The Arength and the acuteness of sensation, which partly conftitute genius, have a great tendency to produce virulence, if the mind is not perpetually on its guard againit that subtle, infinuating, and corrosive paffion, hatred against all whose opinions are opposite to our own. Johnson professed in one of his letters, to love a good bater; and in the Latin correspondence of Milton, there are words that imply a fimilarity of sentiment; they both thought there might be a fanètified bitterness, to use an expression of Milton, towards political and religious opponents.. Yet surely these two devout men were both wrong, and both in fome degree unchristian, in this principle. To what singular iniquities of judgment such a principle may lead, we might perhaps have had a moit striking and a double proof, had it been possible for these two energetic writers to exhibit alternately a portrait of each other. Milion, adorned with every graceful endowment, highly and holily accomplished as he was, appears, in the dark colouring of Johnson, a moit unamiable being ; but could he revisit earth in his moral character, with a wish to retaliate, what a picture might be drawn by that sublime and offended genius, of the great moralist who has treated him with such excess of asperity! The passions are powerful colourists, and marvellous adepts in the art of exaggeration; but the portraits executed by love (famous as he is for overcharging them), are infinitely more faithful to nature, than gloomy sketches from the heavy hand of hatred; a pasion not to be trufted or indulged, even in the minds of the highest purity and power, since hatred, though it may enter the field of contest under the banners of juftice, yet generally becomes fo blind and outrageous from the heat of contention, as to execute, in the name of virtue, the worit purposes of vice. Hence arises that species of calumny the most to be regretted, the calumny lavished by men of talents and worth on their equals or their superiors, whom they have rafhly or blindly hated for a difference of opinion. To such hatred the fervid and opposite characters, who gave rise to this observation, were both more inclined perhaps by nature, and by habit, than Christianity can allow.'.
Of the apologetical passages, we think that the following is one of the most just and happy. It is in answer to Johnson's allertion that the predominant defire of Milton may be suspected to have been rather to destroy than to establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty, as repugnance to authority:
Such a suspicion (says Mr.H.) may indeed be harboured by political rancour, but it must be in direct opposition to justice and truth ; for of all men who have written and acted in the lervice of liberty,
there is no individual who has proved more completely, both by his language and his life, that he made a perfect distinction betiveen liberty and licentiousness. No human spirit could be more sincerely a lover of just and beneficent authority, for no man delighted more in peace and order, no man has written more eloquently in their praise, or given sublimer proofs of his own personal attachment to them, by the regulation of his own orderly and peaceful studies. If he hated power, as Johnson afferts, in every established form, he hated not its salutary influence, but its pernicious exertions. Vehement as he oce casionally was against kings and prelates, he spoke of the sectaries with equal indignation and abhorrence, when they also became the agents of persecution ; and as he had fully seen, and very forcibly exposed, the gross failings of republican reformers, had his life been extended long enough to witness the revolution, which he might have beheld, without suffering the decrepitude or imbecillity of extreme old age, he would probably have exulted as warmly as the staunchest friend of our present constitution can exult, in that temperate and happy reformation of monarchical enormities.'
We may add that similar calumnies, raised against the foes of abused or usurped power in the present day, admit, to our certain knowlege, in many instances, a similar refutation.
This life of Milton is of considerable extent, and is obviously intended to be full and complete as a biography of the poet, though not as a critical differtation on his productions. of matter of this kind there is little, besides some remarks in de. fence of the plan of Paradise Regained, and of the poetical language and versification of Milton. Some large quotations from the Latin poems of the author are occasionally introduced, chiefy by way of moral illustration, to which Mr. Cowper has permitted his friend to annex translations borrowed from a verfion of all those pieces, which, judging from these specimens, we should be happy to announce to our readers.
Three fine portraits, referring to different stages of Milton's life, are given with these memoirs.
The first fix books of Paradise Lost occur in this volume, to which are prefixed elegant frontispieces engraven by Simon, Earlom, and Schiavonetti, from the designs of Weftall. To characterize the typographical magnificence of the work, we need only say that it is from Bulmer's press.
ART. II. The well-bred Scholar; or Practical Essays on the best
Methods of improving the Taste and affifting the Exertions of
The improvement of the understanding, and the regulation