« EdellinenJatka »
wild youny man.” Dr. Barrow’s letter was delivered to Skinner, before witness, in the following month, by a Mr. Perwich, who writes thus to the Secretary of Sir Joseph Williamson :—“ I found him much surprised, and yet at the same time slighting any constraining orders of the Superior of his College, or any benefit he expected thence; but as to Milton’s works [20/u'ch] he intended to have printed, though he saith that part which he had in MSS. are no way to be objected to either with regard to royalty and [g” or] government, he hath desisted from causing them to be printed, having left them in Holland ; and that he intends, notwithstanding the College summons, to go for Italy this summer.”
It is probable however that Skinner was induced to return to England, where he had an interview with Sir Joseph Williamson, who prevailed on him to surrender his manuscripts; and as Sir Joseph, instead of, as had been the custom, carrying away his papers when he went out of office, left them after him, Milton’s treatise remained undiscovered and unknown till the time arrived when it could be published without injury to his fame.
M1L'roN’s own Latin poems supply a few incidents of his life; and in his Apology for Smectymnuus and his Defensio Secunda, he has furnished us with several interesting circumstances of his early life and his travels on the Continent. From his Latin letters also a few particulars may be gleaned.
John Aubrey, the celebrated antiquary, who was personally acquainted with Milton, left in manuscript several circumstances relating to the biography of the poet. These furnished materials to Wood for his account of Milton in the Athens: Oxonienses, and they have been published in the present century.
Edward Phillips, the poet’s youngest nephew, when publishing a translation of his uncle’s Latin Epistles in 1694, prefixed to it an account of his life. This, though more brief than were to be desired, is extremely interesting, and is valuable as being the work of one so intimately connected with its subject. But we must recollect that it was probably written from memory only, more than twenty years after the death of the poet, and nearly half a century from the time that Phillips had been residing in his house. It may therefore not be free from error.
In 1698, four years after_ Phillips, John Toland, the well-known deistic writer, prefixed a Life to the folio edition of Milton’s prose works. It is written in a grave and manly tone, and furnishes some additional particulars. His account of his materials is as follows :—“ I heard some particulars from a person that had once been his amanuensis, which were confirmed to me by his daughter, now dwelling in London, and by a letter written to me, at my desire, by his last wife, who is still alive. I perused the papers of one of his nephews, learned what I could in discourse with the other, and lastly consulted such of his acquaintance as, after the best inquiry, I was able to discover.” It may surprise one after this to find the Life so meagre as it is ; but the truth is, biography is an art, and those who do not possess it are unable to make a proper use of the materials which may be at their disposal.
In 1725 Elijah Fenton prefixed an elegant sketch of Milton’s Life to an edition of his poems; but it contained nothing that was not previously known. '
Jonathan Richardson, the painter, published in 17 34f—1]1 conjunction with his son, who possessed the learning in which he was himself deficient—Notes on Milton, to which he prefixed a Life, containing a few particulars not to be found in those of Toland or Phillips, and which he had obtained from Pope, or from the poet’s granddaughter.
The learned and laborious Dr. Thomas Birch, edited in 1738 a new edition of the prose works; and in the Life which he prefixed to it, his researches enabled him to add several interesting particulars. He was the first to direct attention to what is called the Cambridge Manuscript of Comus and some of the other poems.
Newton’s edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost appeared first in 1749. The Life is tamely but impartially written, and contains hardly any additional matter.
The Life of Milton has since been written by the vigorous but strongly prejudiced Johnson, the tame and super-elegant Hayley, the dry and ponderous Todd,* the impetuous and violent Symmons, the just, moderate, and elegant Mitford, and others; but of necessity they could add little to the previous stock. Thomas Warton had however, in the second edition of the Minor Poems, in 1791, brought to light from the archives of Doctors’ Commons, Milton’s Nuncupative Will and the Depositions connected with it, which furnish some very interesting particulars respecting the domestic life of the poet in his latter years. Early in the present century, Mr. Lemon discovered in the State Paper Oflice various documents relating to the Powell family, and also made extracts from the Orders of Council during the time of Milton’s secretaryship, all of which appeared for the first time in 1809 in Todd’s second
* We trust we shall be excused when we say that,in our opinion, Todd’s Life of Milton is the very beau idéal of bad biography.
edition of the Poetical Works. Finally, in 1823, the researches of Mr. Lemon brought to light the long-lost De Doctrina Christiana, and some documents connected with it, which will be found in the Bishop of \Vinchester's Preliminary Observations, and in the later editions of Todd’s Milton. Additional particulars relating to Milton and his family have been discovered by Mr. Hunter, and published by him in his tract entitled ‘ Milton.’
For our account of Milton’s family and friends we have been chiefly indebted to Warton in his edition of the Minor Poems, and to Godwin’s Lives of Edward and John Phillips.
THE MILTON FAMILY.
The account of the Milton family given in the text, and derived from Phillips and Aubrey,—which last had his information chiefly from Milton himself or his brother,—may be regarded as the family account. We are therefore disposed to look on it as being, like such accounts in general, true in the main, though possibly incorrect in some of the particulars. Among the'circumstances which we should feel inclined to regard as correct, are those of Milton’s grandfather having held an employment under the Crown, and his having sent his son to the adjacent University. These points however have been of late contested by the learned and ingenious Mr. Hunter, in his tract on Milton. We will here state his objections.
“Much,” says he, “ as I have seen of documentary evidence relating to Shotover at that period, such as Presentments and Accounts, which are the kind of documents in which we might expect to find the name, I have seen no mention of any Milton having held any oflice in the Forest, but only having transactions with those who did so.” He does not however inform us of what years these documents were ; and if they were no older than those of which he gives the date, they cannot be held to prove anything either way.
Among the Records of the Exchequer, Mr. Hunter tells us, is a series of Rolls, named the Recusant Rolls, in which are entered the fines levied on Recusants, as those were termed who did not show their acquiescence in the Reformation by attending at their parish churches. “Each county,” says Mr. Hunter, “is treated apart; and in the Roll for Oxfordshire, of the forty-third of Queen Elizabeth, 1601, we find the name of ‘ Richard Milton, of Stanton‘ St. John, yeoman.’ On the 13th of July, 1601, this person was fined in the sum of £60, for not having resorted to his parish church for the three months following the 6th of December, 1600. This was ruinous work to a family of but slender fortunes; but he was not subdued by it, for a second fine, of the same amount, was imposed upon him soon after, for not having attended church from the 13th of July, 1601, to the 4th of October following, nor having made his submission, nor promised to be conformable, pursuant to the statute of the twenty-third of Elizabeth.”
“ We have therefore,” he pursues, “found a Milton, living on the borders of Shotover Forest, a man of a certain substance, and so zealously attached to the ancient form and order of the English Church, that he ventured to incur the severe and extreme penalties that were imposed upon him; and since he lived at the close of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, which is the chronological period of the grandfather of the poet, it can hardly be doubted, that in this Richard Milton of Stanton St. John, we have found the poet’s grandfather, by whom his father is said to have been disinherited.”
This is certainly rather like jumping to a conclusion. Might it not have occurred to the mind of so acute a person as Mr. Hunter, that Milton’s grandfather might have been dead in 1601, and that his son John might have been an only son, if not an only child, and so the family have been extinct in Oxfordshire? He himself acknowledges that the phrase, “ natus genere honesto,”* which Milton uses when speaking of himself, would not be very correct if his grandfather had been only a yeoman; and he endeavours to get over this difliculty by supposing, that the yeoman of the R011 was written“ by no friendly hand,”—a perfectly gratuitous assumption. He also acknowledges the fact of the Spread Eagle being the armorial ensign of Milton’s family, and he has not shown that the yeomen of those days were entitled to have armorial bearings.
Mr. Hunter’s doubt as to the University education of Milton’s father is thus stated :—
“ We are told that he was sent by his father to Christ Church, but no trace of him as a inember of that house is now to be found;
* This answers to Pope’s “ Of gentle bloods,” when speaking of his family of both sides, i. e. belonging to the gentry. Heinsius says, “ L. Elzevirus adfirmat certo sibi constare hominem (Milton) esse nobili loco natum.”